Monday, September 26, 2011

Blogging vs. Writing vs. Life

            I’ve been noticing a trend of late.  Quite a few of my Blogger friends, and others I follow, have cut back in their blogging.  Some were prolific bloggers who just couldn’t (or didn’t want to) keep up with posting every day.  Others were being forced into the meat grinder of nasty email replies and mean-spirited comments thus diminishing their spirit and prior enthusiasm for blogging.  A couple had book deals and deadlines that loomed overhead and so blogging was the furthest thing from their mind.  And still others were so absorbed into posting, and more importantly, commenting on their follower’s blogs that it left them little time to write themselves.  I fall into this last category.
            I’ve said quite a few times that I often find blogging tiresome.  It’s hard for me to find a unique topic that hasn’t been covered a thousand times in other writer blogs, and I’m pretty inexperienced so I don’t imagine that I would have enough to say of an educated nature when it came to writing or publishing.
It’s been nearly a year since I started my blog and in that time I’ve usually written about my own experiences and opinions about writing, querying, and trying to get published.  I’ve chosen not to write about my personal life or family unless it somehow related directly to my writing or blogging.  This makes the material I want to write about limited.  I’ve cut down my posting to once a week, but even that seems difficult at times.  And all during the week, I worry about what I should post about next.  It’s sucking the life and enjoyment I experience when writing.    
            Right now, I’m in the process of starting my next project, my new novel.  When I wrote my first novel, The Mistaken, I had no distractions whatsoever.  I wasn’t writing to get published.  I didn’t know I even wanted to write an entire novel, let alone try to get published.  I just knew I had this story that wanted to get out.  So I wrote.  Everyday.  For three months.  First on my outline then the story itself.  It was intensely pleasurable.  And when I was done, I was excited to take the next step.  That’s when I read that writers need to have a platform.
I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I started my blog as a means of creating a presence, but it immediately started to feel like a popularity contest.  I felt like I was back in my all-girls Catholic high school filled with rich kids who drove BMWs and Mercedes while I tooled around in my mother’s thirteen-year-old faux-wood-paneled station wagon. 
I kept at it though and I made some great friends and even garnered a few followers of my own.  That felt good.  But part of having a presence, building a platform, is assembling an army of followers who are both interested in what you have to say and might even buy your book someday if you ever manage to get an agent who can sell it to a publisher. 
This army building takes time.  A lot of time.  And a lot effort.  You have to troll through all the blogs and make friends and leave comments.  I do this sporadically and when I do, I tend to gain a few followers here and there.  I love that, seeing my follower count blip upward.  I love reading all the interesting things my friends have to say, and they say it all so much more eloquently than I.  But all this worrying and reading and commenting has taken away time from what I really want to do:  write another novel. 
I want to go back to the days when I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and sit at my computer and type.  I want to allow myself time to focus on my idea, to transform my premise into a plot with struggle and conflict.  Most all of my Blogger friends have regular day jobs and families to care for.  I don’t how they do it, work all day, come home and take care of the family then find time to develop an idea and write about it. 
Now, I have my own design company, but because of the economy, work has been limited.  Lately, however, I have had a near-constant stream of work to see to, deadlines to meet, clients to make happy.  I also have a sixteen-year-old son who is preparing for his last SAT this Saturday, which is also the day when all the college applications open up for Fall admission.  Yes, I know this is something that he should be doing on his own, but I will help him in every way possible. 
Trying to fit in time to write on my new project has fallen victim to all of this:  to querying agents, to keeping up with my friend’s blogs, to helping my son with his college preparation, to work.  It’s a difficult distraction and I’m frustrated that I can’t find the time to do it all, especially write my novel. 
Though I do understand how important it is to build a platform, I think it’s even more important to focus on the work, the writing.  If, by some miracle, I do land an agent, I want to show that I have more than one book in me, that I’m serious about this new career.  If that agent happens to get a publisher’s interest, I want to show that I’m worthy of a two-book deal or better.  And I don’t want to worry about that second book.  I want to know that it’s well developed and coming along before I have to focus back on revising the first book. 
Most importantly, though I love my first book and think (and hope) it’s good enough to publish, it seems that most writers don’t publish their first novel.  They chalk it up to time well spent learning the craft and gaining experience.  So I have to have another in the pipeline.  I can’t imagine ever being so in love with any other characters as I am with those in my first novel, but I am hoping to have a similar experience with this second one, so who knows, maybe it will be better and I will fall even more in love with them. 
I think most of the writers I’ve come to love have only gotten better as they’ve written more.  I certainly know all the rules now, whereas I didn’t the first time around.  But I know my limitations, and in order for me to write the best story possible, I need to focus.  This might mean I don’t come around as often to comment.  It certainly means I might not be posting as often.  And I know I won’t likely be recruiting any new followers. 
Something’s gotta give.  It can’t be my son, and I need the money so it won’t be the occasional work.  But what am I gonna do?  I gotta write.
So I ask you, how do you mange to write your WIP, work your day job, take care of the family, and still have the time, energy, and commitment to blog?                             

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Seed of Inspiration

            Last week was rough for me.  I didn’t have it in me to post anything here on my blog.  Nor did I write anything for my new project.  My inspiration had been crushed by a series of unfortunate events.  Yesterday, I decided to push through it and write the first page of my new novel even though I didn’t know where the story was going.  I did, however, know where it should start.  From this first page, I felt my inspiration blossom, and I wrote the entire first chapter, the seed, the inciting event. 
I read a terrific blog post last week by paranormal author Jami Gold titled Where Do You Get Your Ideas?.  In it she writes, “Story seeds often start small: a single line of dialogue, a single question, a single action.  And somehow our brain takes that nugget of information and turns it into a whole story.”  This is exactly how my last book started, with a question.  I asked myself this question and somehow the answer came through within the text of a 90,000 word novel.
This time, it’s working out to be a bit different.  This time, I’ve started with a single event that I know will spiral into chaos, turmoil, and tragedy.  Still, I have no idea how I’m going to get there, but at least I’ve started, I’ve pushed through that wall that’s been hanging me up for awhile now.
Last time, after asking myself that question, I wrote a complete outline detailing every thought, every movement and action the major characters would take.  That outline gave me immediate structure.  With it in front of me, I could just write, kind of like having a GPS on your car’s dash allows you to just drive, without having to stop and ask for directions or pore over a map. 
Well, I don’t have the luxury of a GPS this time around, but I think my muse left me a sparse trail of breadcrumbs before he took his leave.  I can’t see much of a trail to follow, but at this point, I do see the next crumb.  That’s something, at least.  And I’ll take it.  I’m hoping by the time I’ve found my way to the next crumb and written the second chapter, a new one will have appeared down the path, a new clue that tells me where I should turn. 
In the mean time, I’m letting my seed marinate in the fertile soil that is my brain.  The seed has finally sprouted.  It’s slowly pushing its way through the dense earth toward the surface, towards enlightenment.  I feel the heat of it pulling me upward, as well, out from under the crush.
My friend, Lisa Regan, wrote a hilarious post yesterday called Conversation With My Work In Progress where she describes the point-by-point argument she is having with her nearly finished novel and how she desperately needs its cooperation to see it completed.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.  It’ll brighten your day and put a smile on your face.  And if, like me, you’re struggling with an idea or your current WIP, it’ll let you know that you are not alone.   

Monday, September 12, 2011

Insecure Writer Loses Her Mojo

            This is a difficult day for me.  This post was originally supposed to correlate with Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer's Support Group, to be about the troubles I was having starting my next book, about being motivated to compile an outline, choose a POV, and establish the main characters.  This is a new problem for me.  My first book came to me virtually whole with all the characters in place and their story clear.  All I had to do was listen to the voice whispering over my shoulder and scratch out the outline. 
            I had a few muses along the way, folks who inspired me to write, who gave me visual stimulation to shape my main characters.  I simply kept them in mind as I churned out the words.  And it was easy.  Too easy.  I just wrote everyday for hours on end and after a couple of months, viola, I had an 85,000 word novel.  All the while, I read blog posts about writers who were having a hard time writing their stories and I honestly had a difficult time connecting with that. 
Not so anymore.  I get it.  Completely.  That’s where I am now.  Karma, you might say?  Hmm, perhaps.  
            This is not to say I don’t have a story, because I do.  It’s just not clear like it was the first time.  The plot is murky, at best, and I have no muse, no one that inspires me to develop my main character, the protagonist.  And the saddest part for me is that one of the men I used as a muse for my last book’s main character, Skylar, has just died.  He was a real man, young and vital, and now he is gone.  I didn’t know this particular muse personally.  He was an actor whose character work I found stimulating.  His face, or a composite of his and one other’s, played like a movie in my head as I wrote and revised my book.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to put this book behind me as I query for an agent and prepare to move on to my next project, but the death of my old muse feels like a nail in some proverbial coffin, or an omen, perhaps.  Today was the day I was going to start brainstorming in earnest, but now, it seems, his death has sapped my energy.  In some way, it’s like a death knell for my first novel.  How do I get inspired to move on when it feels like an old friend has passed?
No, I’m not the stalker type.  This man was a character to me.  But I am strongly linked to my book’s characters, so this man’s death feels terribly real to me, like my own protagonist has somehow died even though I wrote a happy ending for him.  What makes this harder still is that this man died of cancer, a normally highly curable cancer, one that a special and dear friend has had to battle in recent years.  This correlation comes a little too close to home for me and does touch me personally.  So now I’m sad and scared.  Therefore, no writing for me today, other than this post, that is. 
Though I know it won’t alleviate my anxiety, I was hoping that writing this would help purge my melancholy, help me move on, get over the shock that a strong, young man in the pinnacle of health, at the height of his career, can be brought down in a mere eighteen months.  It hasn’t.  I’m sad that life is so fragile.  Funny, I got off writing just this kind of thing in my novel, but in reality, it just sucks.  But I’ll move on, because that’s what we humans do, right?  We move on.
In the mean time, this very insecure writer has read a helpful post, also by the lovely Alex Cavanaugh, who recently wrote a piece as a guest on Elizabeth Mueller’s blog called Writing the Second Book.  Though his article focused more on writing a sequel, he gives some great tips for getting started on a second novel.  Just in the nick of time for me it seems!  You’re kind of like a guardian angel for me today, Alex.  Thanks for that. 
So, what about you?  Have any of you written a second book?  How was it different from your first one?  Did you have trouble starting?  Any tips?  And have any of you ever lost your mojo, or your muse, like I have?  How do I find it again?                    

Monday, September 5, 2011

Last of the Summer Fluff: The 7x7 Link Award

            Oh boy, I almost forgot to post about this.  It seems I missed so much while I was away, like Rachael Harrie’s Writers Platform Building Campaign.  I did manage to sign up for one of her groups, but since I missed the deadline, it didn’t work out.  My loss, for sure.

            Something else I forgot about was this little award I received from my BFF, Lisa Regan.  She got this little thing called The 7x7 Link Award and passed it along to me.  Now, I told myself I wasn’t going to do these things anymore, but since I have one more short trip this week before my summer is officially over, I thought I’d allow myself one last hurrah.
For this award, I’m supposed to categorically list my best blog posts:  Most Beautiful, Most Helpful, Most Popular, Most Controversial, Most Surprisingly Successful, Most Underrated, and Most Pride-worthy.  I only have about fifty posts to choose from, but I’ll do my best. 

So here it goes:

1.                  Most Popular:

Definitely “Stories Don’t Happen in a Vacuum” which has to do with backstory in a query letter.  It struck a chord with a lot of people back when I wrote it, but that post still gets 12 hits a day on average for whatever reason.

2.                  Most Beautiful:

This is a toss-up between “Finding My Book’s Theme:  Forgiveness” which deals with how my book’s theme relates to me personally, or “The Puzzle” which explains why I started to write my book in the first place.

3.                  Most Controversial:

Grading on content, I think this would have to be “To Prologue or Not” which asks whether I should I include my 250 word intro as a prologue.  People have diverse opinions about prologues, as do agents.  I’m still up in the air, but have included it with my three recent requests from agents. 

4.                  Most Helpful:

 Well, I’m not sure that this post was helpful to anyone else, but my “Gearin’ Up to Get Agent Blogfest Week 1” post garnered me so much helpful information that I rewrote my query into what I believe is my best one yet.

5.                  Most Surprisingly Successful:

That’s an easy one; it’s “Networking, Blogging and Other Fluff.”  While this post was over 1,800 words, it garnered me the most comments, I think because it struck a chord with so many of you writer/bloggers out there who are struggling to make connections with other writer/bloggers and have found camaraderie here within the Blogger ranks.

6.                  Most Under-Rated:

I guess it would have to be “My Thoughts On Writing vs. Publishing” which explains why, though I love writing for its own sake, I am so driven to find and land an agent and have my book traditionally published. 

7.                  Most Pride-Worthy:

I think I have two that qualify here.  The first is “Everyone Needs a Champion” where I speak of those few people who have helped me get through the most difficult periods in my life during this journey toward publication.  The other is “How I Was Saved” which is similar and tells how my friend, Lisa, kept me going.

Now for those I’d like to bestow this award upon:

Tara at More Than Fiction (Yes, Tara, both Lisa and I have requested your participation!)

Robin at Robin Weeks because I find her fascinating and brilliant!

Lora at Lora  Rivera Inside Writing because she’s talented and always writes about writing.

Joylene at Joylene Nowell Butler, Author because she’s a fellow thriller writer and published, too.

Hektor at Hektor Karl because he’s interesting and loves dogs!  You can’t get much better than that.  Well, okay, he’s very handsome, too!

People I’d love to see participate but am too much of a weenie to ask:

Alex at Alex J. Cavanaugh because EVERYONE loves Alex and I think he’s totally cool!

Julie at Julie Musil because she is chock full of fantastic writing advice.

Lynda R. Young at W.I.P. It because she’s wise and smart and gives great writing advice.

Now, I’m off to Portland to spend hours and hours at Powell’s City of Books.  Have any of you ever been there?  It's the largest book store in the world, taking up an entire city block, and is full of new and used books, any title you can imagine.  In other words:  HEAVEN!    

Sunday, September 4, 2011

100 Followers! Happy Dance Time!

            I thought I would bury this post on a Sunday since, statistically speaking, not many read over the weekend, but…WAHOO!  I just turned over 100 followers!  I never thought that would happen in a million years.  I must say, I am grateful for each and every one of you, and I promise to keep writing and posting articles on writing and publishing that will hopefully keep your interest.  Thanks again to all of you!    

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Coming Home, Housekeeping and Cheers!

            It’s been over two weeks since I last posted here on my blog.  As you know, I’ve been away from home.  I took my sixteen-year-old son on his college tour through California.  As daunting as the itinerary looked on paper, it proved even more so in reality.  Twelve schools in thirteen days, a rehearsal dinner, a wedding, a day-after brunch and a little sightseeing was just a wee bit much for me.  By the middle of day nine, I was thoroughly exhausted and sick as a dog.  And that was the day of the wedding rehearsal and dinner, one day before the wedding itself.  Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I wanted or expected.  Not one drink passed my lips and my feet only touched the dance floor to take photos of my family members as they frolicked with drunken glee.
            But the trip was not wasted.  Though I spent the last five days of it coughing and blowing my stuffy nose, I enjoyed my time with my son.  We spent many hours on the road together, talking about so many things.  We flitted from school to school, discussing the merits or drawbacks of each, what we liked and hated, and whether or not “that feeling” was there the moment we stepped out of the car.  Afterwards, we would be tourists and go to the beach, visit the city, tour a ballpark or have a nice meal.  He even managed to drag me to a San Francisco Giants baseball game though I was quite ill and wanted nothing more than to lay in bed and sleep.  All in all, it was a time of bonding I will cherish forever and never forget.  And the trip served its purpose; my son now has a list of his top schools to apply to:

            #1 - University of San Francisco
            #2 - University of California at Berkeley
            #3 - California State University at San Diego
            #4 - Santa Clara University
            #5 - California State University at San Francisco

My list would have been slightly different in that I loved the University of California at San Diego over Cal State San Diego and I would also change the order of the first four, but overall, we were on the same page about most schools.  There are many more to which he will apply, but these are his favorites.   
            While I was gone, many of you left comments of support, some commiserating with the experience of dropping their child off at college, or just wishing me luck and enjoyment.  I even received two awards over at Letters from Valentina Hepburn, but since I’ve already posted about both the Versatile Blogger and Irresistibly Sweet Blog Awards, I will simply thank Valentina and move on.
My plan was to get right back into posting about writing and querying and all that, but since returning only a day and a half ago, I am thoroughly exhausted.  I don’t remember the last time I spent two whole weeks away from home, and perhaps it’s just my advanced age or the fact that I’m still pretty sick, but I haven’t the energy to devote to a witty, dynamic post. 
            But if you would be so kind as to indulge me, I would like to mention one more thing.  My friend, Lisa Regan, emailed me two days ago, while I was still in California, reminding me that it was our one year anniversary, that is to say it was one year ago that we met online via Nathan Bransford’s website.  I had posted a request for a critique partner in one of Nathan’s forums and Lisa responded.  We hit it off immediately and have since become best friends.  She has inspired me to be the best writer I can be, while also teaching me more than I thought possible.
I’ve often referred to Lisa as my writing soul mate, but she is much more than that.  When I have exciting news to share or need cheering up, she is always the first person I turn to.  I could not imagine what my writing experience would have been like over the last year without her. 
So cheers, Lisa!  Here’s to many more years together!