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Posts from the ‘Work in Progress (WIP)’ Category

Start Running (even if you need a bucket)

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My family spent many hours watching the Olympics this summer.  It surprised me how taken my young sons were with track and field.  They especially loved the sprint races.  Every night we crowded around the television to watch Usain Bolt or Allyson Felix run their hearts out. However, these sprint races were hard for me to watch.  With each crack of the starter pistol, I found myself getting more and more tense. My hands would sweat, my heart would pound and at times I had to physically leave the room.

These sensations took me back to running cross-country in junior high school.  I loved it… and I hated it. Before every race, my stomach tied up in knots.  My arms ached from the adrenaline coursing through my body. I dreaded that starter pistol.  I used to hear the starter pistol in my nightmares. I used to wish that the pistol would jam and or the race monitor would faint before he could pull the trigger.

In spite of my hatred, the pistol always fired.  And there I was standing at the starting line with no choice but to run or scurry back to my parents waiting with anticipation.  Peer pressure was the only thing that got my feet moving.  All of my pimply-faced, lanky runner friends were already skipping along the hilly course in front of me.  The dread of public humiliation always got me going.  That and my coach yelling at me from the sidelines, “Start running!”

Start running I did – every time.  And once I settled in, my arms loosened up and my stomach (although still a bit queasy) untied its knots.  Two miles later, I would find myself still running.  Somtimes I surprised myself and finished the race ahead of the pack.  Other times (the majority of the time), I arrived at the finishing chute solidly in the middle.  Regardless of my race time, I always finished.

Over time, and after many races spent wondering whether I would need the bucket my mother so discreetly placed next to the start line, I realized that I was a dependable and solid runner. However, being armed with this hard-earned knowledge that I was consistent never made it any easier to get my feet off the starting line. The nausea never went away.

This is the way I feel about writing most days.  Today I find myself at yet another starting line.  I took the summer off from fiction writing (and blogging) to focus on my paid non-fiction work.  I have to admit, pulling myself out of the fiction “race” was a relief.  Isn’t it always easier to not write at all than to line up at the starting line and face the blank page in front of you?

I knew I couldn’t stay away too long though.  The stories keep coming and the characters keep talking to me when I’m drifting off to sleep at night.  So I’m lined up for the race again.  I unearthed my 3/4-completed draft and dragged it to the start line.  The problem?  I’ve been in the starting blocks for three weeks now.  I’ve wasted more time thinking about starting the race than seems humanly possible.  It’s harder as an adult.  I don’t have my posse of pimply-faced friends threatening to whisper snidely behind my back if I don’t get off the start line.  It’s just me and the computer.

Rationally I know the minute I get my feet off the blocks, I’ll settle in to an even pace.  My body will loosen up and I’ll begin the process of one foot (or in this case, finger) in front of the other.  But this morning as I type this, I’m still crouched in the blocks with my puke bucket tucked securely by my side.  Have you seen that Geico commercial?  I’m thinking about hiring my own posse of junior high girls to follow me around.  Instead of “Ew…seriously…so gross,” I’ll pay them to say “really…coward…start writing.”  Any takers?

When to dig up that dusty, old manuscript… and when to let it die

Sunrise at my house yesterday – Beautiful!

On Monday, I mentioned that one of my writing goals for 2012 is to resuscitate Sliver of Souls. Sliver of Souls (SOS) was my 2009 NaNoWriMo project that I threw into a drawer promptly upon finishing it.  Here are the misguided reasons why:

  1. No one sells their first novel. SOS was my first completed novel, and who gets their first novel published?  I believed it was a training-ground – the perfect experiment in discipline and long-fiction writing so that I could dip my toes into the world of novels. I figured I would write a few more to build my skills and then try to sell my second or third novel.
  2. The subject matter doesn’t fit my personality.  SOS could be called a paranormal romance.  No ghosts or vampires, but it tells the story of Maggie, a girl who believes she’s displaying early signs of long-term schizophrenia, but is actually experiencing visions from her past lives.  I’ve always wanted to write literary fiction or historical fiction or historical literary fiction, but never dreamed of writing paranormal fiction, let alone a paranormal romance about a 19-year-old girl.
  3. I’m not a YA author. How would I spin it? Young Adult? Paranormal? YA Paranormal? I never set out to write a YA novel, and technically SOS doesn’t have to fit into this category.  However, the age of the protagonist and the “coming of age” themes that are woven throughout certainly lend themselves to this genre. To be clear, I love YA fiction, I just never thought of myself as a YA author.
  4. It’s too complicated.  It’s too cliche.  Every writer fights this fear.  It’s that damn internal editor again.  Of course it’s cliche.  It’s a first draft!  Three-quarters of the content in first drafts is cliche drivel that is cut and reworked into something more original. And, yes it’s complicated, but the ideas were clear in my mind when I set out to write it.  So with some massive revisions, couldn’t it be reworked to make the ideas more clear.

Now let me dispel those misguided myths and fill you in on the reasons that SOS has been pulled out of the vault:

  1. Lots of people have sold the first novel they ever wrote. Google “authors who sold the first novel they wrote” and you can read multiple success stories.  Take The Help by Kathryn Stockett as an example.  It was the first novel she ever wrote and she banged on doors, sent out queries and revised until she was blue in the face. Look at the success that book has had.
  2. Maybe I’m not giving my personality enough credit.  During the four busy and tenuous weeks of 2011’s NaNoWriMo, I thought back to 2009.  It should be said that I cleared the decks for my novel project in 2009, and this year I was juggling multiple projects. However, SOS came easy to me back in 2009.  I was excited to sit down every night and write.  Maggie and her band of present-life and past-life cohorts flew onto the page.  In 2011, I was excited about Ivy and her quirky mother Delilah, but it was much more like a dental extraction to get them out of my brain and onto the page.  I chalked it up to the challenge of writing about events that occurred 25 years before I was born.  But, there may be more to it than that.  I woke up a week ago with a whisper in my brain, “Maybe writing SOS was easier for a reason.” Maybe I shouldn’t pigeon hole myself as a literary/historical fiction writer.  Who says I can’t or shouldn’t write a paranormal romance? Stranger things have happened.
  3. I’m not a published fiction author – so who am I to say that I’m not a YA author? I’m a published non-fiction writer, but this fiction thing is new to me.  So again, why should I limit myself in the fiction world before I’m even out of the gate?  Maybe YA is my niche and I didn’t even know it.  I had a realization a few months ago that the majority of my fictional protagonists are females between the ages of 16 and 20. I currently have six fiction projects either on paper, in notes or swimming in my brain.  Four of the six protagonists fit into that 16-19 year old category.  Hmmm… maybe there’s something to this YA genre after all.
  4. Revision can solve many problems.  Maybe the story is too complicated – right now.  Maybe parts of it are a little cliche – right now.  But SOS also has some gems hidden amongst the blather. As much as revision terrifies me (such an overwhelming project), I also love it.  There is nothing better than pulling out my red Uniball fine-point pen and my stack of Post-it notes and getting to work tearing apart a manuscript and putting it back together.  I love the fact that I get as many chances as I want to get it right.   In the case of Sliver of Souls, I think it’s time to take advantage of those second chances.

What about you? Have you ever revived a retired project? Do you struggle with defining your perfect writing genre?

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