Time for a writing update! In the midst of the difficulties and upheaval of feeling like God is taking sheers to my life and pruning every branch of my life, I’ve been trying to press on in my writing.
I had quite lofty goals: finish the first draft of Mercy and Justice by the end of 2016, polish Chrysalis by February 28th, query Chrysalisin March, in addition to revising my three plays and work on writing a new one.
Sometimes my ambitions are…rather ambitious.
Especially when I am going through a hard season.
I’ve had to drastically scale back my expectations of my writing output. For the past few months it’s been easier to draw than to write, and since I couldn’t get the “correct” word count in per day, I gave up on it entirely for a time.
Until someone encouraged me to do small steps. Instead of expecting to write 1,000 words each day, I bumped it back to 100. I did that for a time and then bumped it up to 400. It’s slow but it’s steady work.
Over the last couple of weeks of writing 400 words, I’ve finally crept past the 90K mark for Mercy and Justice, leaving me with less than 20K words to go. It’s taken a while, but I feel like I can see the finish line.
This would not have happened if I kept pushing myself to do 1,000 words each day. The number was too daunting for where I am right now. I may have written at that word count in the past, but it is not doable for me at this moment.
I’ve learned that even though I’m writing fewer words in a session, I am getting more done by consistently pecking away than I would if I kept trying, and failing, to write more. This way, I don’t burn out, don’t feel guilty, and I enjoy (usually anyway) the 20 – 40 minutes it takes to get the words out.
Somedays 400 words become 900 or even 1,500! Yesterday I didn’t wasn’t able to get the words in, and I was exhausted, so I didn’t push myself to write because I had gotten enough words down on Saturday to make up for it. Today I’m excited to get back to it. Maybe I’ll stop at my quota, maybe I’ll get more down. Either way, I will be 400 words closer to “The End.”
Sometimes, slow and steady is the only way to press on.
It’s been a while. Part of that has been because of having a production, rehearsals, and needing to work on the adaptation for Peter Pan, but part of it has been thanks to Michael Hyatt. If you haven’t checked out his blog, do so. He has lots of really valuable information on how to be an effective leader, efficient worker, and powerful communicator.
For all that I love and appreciate his writing, I confess it’s been tripping me up. I think in the long run it will be good, but in the moment it has caused me to slow down and re-evaluate my blog and website both for my personal use and for my theatre.
He has a lot to say about building a platform, all useful stuff, especially for us aspiring writers. Reading it makes me want to redo everything and refocus. But it’s hard to know what on. These are the questions that I’ve been mulling over my head:
1) Can I focus on building a platform for both my hired job (the theatre) and my hobby job (writer, artist) or do I need to just do one and let the other be for the time, or maybe permanently?
2) How do I figure out what I should focus most on in building the platform, especially blog posts? For instance, on my personal site, I waffle back and forth between writing about personal struggles, to writing, to art, to whatever I feel like.
Michael Hyatt suggests niching yourself as tightly as possible so that your message is clear and devoid of muddiness. I love doing posts about all three of those main topics – struggles of faith, writing, and art.
How do I choose? Should I maybe separate blogs for each topic? (That’s an unlikely one…given how it’s hard for me to get one post in a week as it is!)
3) Am I really communicating anything of value to others?
4) If so, what is it? What is the most valuable content I’ve offered?
Michael suggests doing a reader survey, but with how few readers I have, I don’t know if that would even work.
5) Should I keep trying?
I don’t have answers to all or any of these yet. I have ideas. But life right now is so consumed by theatre that I don’t have much time to sit down and flesh them out. I am hoping for some time over the summer while I am traveling. Michael has a book called “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World” that I want to read, and also a class you can take called Platform University that I want to try…but too busy right now. Maybe in the fall.
What about you, my friends who try to get a platform? What are you struggling with right now? Or how are you succeeding?
This flash fiction piece is written by my good friend, Sorina Higgins. Enjoy! May it spark some creative juices of your own.
The other day, I overheard someone talking about soap operas and suspended animation in the same conversation. So I said soap operas would be a lot better if they included SF elements. I tweeted out this story yesterday on @SorinaHiggins. Here it is in full.
If Soap Operas Met Science Fiction
“Darling!” He exclaimed, on his knees. “I’ll do anything for you! What do you want me to do? Leave my wife and kids? Run off with you to the Riviera? Buy you a yacht?”
“Hold out your arm,” she said.
She put out one hand, and purple suction cups blossomed from each fingertip. Schlook! They squelched onto his forearm, sucking little bubbles of flesh up into their moist interiors. He hollered in shock, then the yell turned into a gurgle as he felt what was being vacuumed through his veins, out through his skin, into her body.
It was energy. Pure energy. She was converting his caloric intake, his body’s electrical impulses, and every ounce of stored-up fat into a stream of vivid energy, melting him, draining him.
As he went limp and oozed slowly to the floor, she turned to the wall of her penthouse—his first gift to her when their fling had begun. She pressed her suction-cup fingertips to the wall and exhaled, long and slow. The marble wall changed to silver metal. The windows flickered as banks of control panels blinked into life. Her sequined designer dress slid from her body, which was scaly and sinuous.
The last thing he saw as he dissolved into oblivion was her spaceship detaching itself from the top of the apartment building and soaring off over Manhattan, and the last words he heard were:
“Never mind the Riviera, darling. You’ve given me the stars.”
During March the fabulous Bethany Jennings ran a twitter party called #WIPJoy. She created a question for us to answer about our current work-in-progress each day. It was a blast answering the questions and getting to know more about other novels. Here is the compilation of all of my answers.
1. Details about the WIP: Chrysalis is a NA SFF novel that follows Joyel, a woman who is kidnapped as a child and trained to kill her family.
2. How long have I been working on it? Where am I at ? I put pen to paper in ’13. The MS is complete but needs revisions. I’m using a structure workbook to figure out what to change.
3. Mood and Atmosphere in 5 words: Dark. Brutal. Hopeful. Cutting-edge. Medieval.
4. You might enjoy my book, CHRYSALIS, if you like psychological drama, soft science fiction, and complicated ethics.
5. Name a song that reminds you of your book: Thrice’s “The Alchemy Index” all volumes
6. Glimpse into the Protagonist. “I’m a bloody woman, Rubaan, and I hate myself. I just want to be free.”
7. When is my MC maddening to me? When she is so darn stubborn she keeps pushing everyone away from her.
8. The thing I love the most about Joy are her fierce warrior skills and her toughness.
9. Share a line about the antagonist: Anson smiled and wiped the blood off his blade onto her unscathed cheek. “How are you going to stop me, Joy?”
10. Could I be friends with my antagonist? Not unless he brainwashed me. Anson is cruel, so very cruel.
11. What makes my antagonist formidable? His determination and access to tech in a world that banned technology.
12. What puts Anson and Joy at odds? Anson kidnapped Joy and tried to brainwash her to kill her family. She never completely crumbles and she hates him
13. What fears do your characters overcome? Joy feels being healed from the trauma. Rubaan fears Joy will kill herself. They both fear that Anson will win.
14. A Cliffhanger: She plunged. He fired. Both yelled.
15. What scares me the most about writing CHRYSALIS is never finding an agent and having to go the indy route
16 What scares me most about sharing CHRYSALIS? It’s so very dark. It will offend some and worry others.
17. A line about fear: Joy squared off with her grandmother, stance confident so none of her fear would be detected. #Chrysalis
18. A way I wish I was like my characters: Hummingbird fights the dark and sad with cheerfulness, forcing beauty into those situations. I wish I did that.
19. How has writing this made me braver? Writing this book has made me brave by making me more vulnerable with people and pushing me to reach out to others
20. A line about a cool setting: Eraantis or the Arboretum? Eraantis was smooth, manufactured, and bright. The Arboretum was rough, hewn, and dim.
21. A line that makes me smile. “Good old Gaabiel gleefully found Gilbon. I love alliterations, don’t you?”
22. A line (or several) that make you feel the pain:
23. An intense line (or several) (and yes, I cheated a used a line twice):
24. A line (again several) about love:
25. A line (last time for several lines) that amuses me:
26. A line that wrings my heart: “I don’t want be healed. Don’t stop me. I don’t want to be healed. Can’t you understand that?”
27. What kind of relationship is at the heart of CHRYSALIS? Daughter-father relationships. Multiple, really complicated ones.
28. If I could enter the world of CHRYSALIS I’d probably go to the Butterfly Sanctuary or…to Beauty.
29. How do I feel about CHRYSALIS right now? Somewhere between discouraged and determined to finish it no matter what.
30. Has writing it made me cry? Oh yes. I’ve cried over re-writes and seeming dead-ends and over my character’s pain.
31. What makes me proudest about my WIP? Probably my stubborn refusal to give up.
Book review time! I’m excited to sing the praises of author K.M Weiland of Helping Authors Become Writers. If you have not visited her site go now, especially if you are a writer. I’ve read two of her books, with a third in queue. Today I’m going to give my thoughts on Structuring Your Novel and her dieselpunk novel Storming.
This book is transformative.
I bought it last summer to help prepare my Robin Hood retelling, Mercy and Justice. I also bought the workbook which I used extensively in planning out the characters, events, details, plot points, everything. What I loved about K.M Weiland’s book is that it is an easy read, filled with great examples from film and literature, and walks you step by step through how to structure your novel.
It was during the reading of the book that I realized that my first novel, Chrysalis, was unsound and would need to be restructured. But Nanowrimo was coming so I focused on my goal: preparing Mercy and Justice.
Writing the first half of Mercy and Justice was a breeze compared to writing Chrysalis. It helped that I had learned a lot about style since my first attempt at writing, but having a strong structure made the writing flow. I knew where I was going and what had to be accomplished in each scene.
In December I finished the first half of Mercy and Justice and decided to go back to revising Chrysalis. I have been dutifully working on it the last three months, not by re-writing any words, but by going through the workbook, thinking through the questions, exploring different possibilities, rearranging the scenes so that they fall into the right plot and pinch points.
I finished that last weekend, so once I create the scene chart for my story I can rewrite it! Even though nothing has been altered in the manuscript, the story is much stronger. I was surprised by how the structure workbook impacted the story, especially the last half, but I am also thrilled with it
Whether you want to prep or evaluate your novel, this book is an excellent option. In addition to reading this, I would suggest that you read through her Character Arc series on her blog. I found those to be incredibly helpful and go to a deeper level of structuring your work.
I am probably not the most objective reviewer of this book. I’m not a huge fan of Steampunk and Dieselpunk has even less of an appeal. But I bought the book as a way to support Ms. Weiland who has given so much to the writing community.
And I’m glad I did. I enjoyed reading it. The protagonist, Hitch, is fun and has a hilarious outlook on the world. I enjoyed Jael who started out with a nice touch of mysteriousness. The concept was interesting and engaging, and the structure was solid. (No surprise there.)
It’s a fun book. If you enjoy small town life of the 1920’s you may well love this book. Despite being well written and having a solid cast I don’t think it has won me over to the dieselpunk genre, but it was worth the read.
There were several things I really respected about the piece:
Walter. I loved his character. His narrative was one of my favorite perspectives.
The brave, brutal, and unexpected death of a character.
Hitch’s journey. When you first meet Hitch flying in the sky his positive outlook and charm makes you think he’s a great guy. As you learn more about him, you realize…not so much. It’s not all his fault, but…he had a lot to do with his issues. But as the story progresses he becomes the man you think he is in the opening chapter.
I had a couple of issues: the plot felt dragged on past necessity in the second half, especially in the third act (even though all the points were in the right places), and I thought that the reveal was held off too long from the reader. It made sense that Hitch didn’t know it until it was told him, but I eventually got annoyed by the repeated hints that there was a secret without the information.
Other than that a fun read. I am looking forward to reading her next book which drops a superhero somewhere in history.
I haven’t forgotten that I am neglecting working through the questions about eating. But life has been busy, full, and exciting, and I don’t have time to sit down and write a thoughtful blog post (that’s my excuse anyway), so it’s time for a writing update.
After praying through goals and priorities in life, I decided that playwriting needs to be my focus. I start writing a novel because I wanted to learn how to write, and I have learned so much, but the allure of becoming a world famous, bestselling author distracted me from why I set out to learn how to write in the first place: plays.
This doesn’t mean I am stopping to write novels, by no means, but it is taking a back seat. My goal for the year is to write two hours of fiction work a week. That way I can still work on revising CHRYSALIS and hopefully finish the first draft of MERCY AND JUSTICE this year. My plays have been keeping me very busy though, so I am struggling to reach my two hour goal.
On the play front I am submitting RIFTON DINER and LOVE LABORS HAPPILY EVER AFTER to play contests. My theatre group will be performing LOVE LABORS HAPPILY EVER AFTER in June with rehearsals starting this Thursday. This past weekend was filled with last minute revision scrambles. I’ll be interested to see what changes happen through the rehearsal process. I am also pursing the possibility of a workshop production of RIFTON DINER in the fall which I am very excited about.
On the novel front I’ve gotten half way through MERCY AND JUSTICE. I’m over 50,000 words in and ready to switch from Marian’s perspective to Robin’s perspective. I am taking a break on the writing of this novel to go back to CHRYSALIS, but am taking a chapter at a time to my writing group for feedback. So far I have really enjoyed working on the story. I love the legend of Robin Hood, and it is such a privilege to make those characters and stories mine. One frustration with it is that Marian is rather more melodramatic than I would like her to be…we’ll see if I can tame that down in the revision, but I fear she may be stubborn and refuse to lose her flowery way of thinking and viewing her world.
In some ways I feel like I am back to the drawing board with CHRYSALIS. I am using K.M Weiland’s “How to Structure Your Novel” workbook to help me think through what needs to be revised. Often when I work on it, it is discouraging because I fear that the book is in such a bad state that I need to re-write the whole thing and that it isn’t worth the trouble. But I remind myself that that is being melodramatic (Marian comes by it honestly). I am determined to push through, no matter how long it takes!
One exciting piece of writing news is that one of my play adaptations, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, got accepted for publication. I should have more news about that soon. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I’ll have positive news about the play competitions I am submitting to as well!
That’s my writing update. It is keeping my life full. Between writing lesson plans, plays, and novels, I am typing my life away. But what a life. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, except getting published. That would be nice.
My brother used to go tandem riding a lot with his little sisters, me being one of them. If I remember correctly, I only ever rode once. The break-neck speed at which we “rode” down hills was an experience I didn’t need to repeat. Worse than roller coasters.
Despite my dislike of tandem bicycling I had discovered that I am an accidental tandem writer. Being a novel writer and a playwright, I often have at least one project in each category brewing at the same time. I go back and forth between which pot I stir depending on deadlines, interests, time, etc.
I’m working on my second grouping of play and novel, and as I thought about my third grouping I realized a trend. I write plays and novels that are complimentary to each other and work in tandem.
My first full play, Rifton Diner, and my first decent novel, Chrysalis, both have several similarities: daddy issues, recovery from trauma, bitterness, and a cheerful character who helps bring the protagonist out of her darkness. Chrysalis is quite dark and explores the issue of trauma in greater depth while Rifton Diner has a more light-hearted approach. One of my students attended read throughs for both works and found Rifton Diner to be much more enjoyable and not as heart-wrenching.
My current grouping is the play Love Labors Happily Ever After and the novel Mercy and Justice. The similarities are not as strong with this group, but they are there in subtle ways. In both of these works I am beginning to explore questions of love and why we tend to define women by their relationship status. Again, the play is a comedy and is a much more amusing take on it. Mercy and Justice is much more serious and also deals with questions of ethics and civil duty, so the romantic element is not as important. The strongest link between them is found in the female protagonists. Ella and Marian would get along very well I think and agree with each other’s words.
My future grouping may not be written at the same time as I am focusing more on my plays than my novels, but they are at least in development together. Love Labors Happily Ever After is about to complete it’s third draft and will be performed in June by my theatre company. Once rehearsals start I can move on.
No title yet, but my next play will be about the early pioneers of feminism. If I can ever get finished with Mercy and Justice and Chrysalis, which are taking much longer than I expected, then I can move on to They Will Know We are Christians by Our Jean Jumpers.
When I write, I write about things that I am grabbling with. Right now I am thinking a lot about the framework with which I raised and wrestling with some of the shortcomings I see, while trying to not overlook the amazing parts as well. One of shortcomings I am trying to figure out how much I disagree with is the way women are dealt with in the very conservative Christian culture. I am really looking forward to processing more of that through writing the play and the novel. I am hoping that I will be working on my first draft of both projects in 2017.
All that to say that I write about issues, themes, characteristics in tandem. Do any of you other writers experience a similar phenomenon?
Ana Spoke, author of Shizzle, Inc., is having a contest for a free book cover. She designed the cover for her book, and it is really fun. I haven’t given up hope that Chrysalis will be picked up by an agent/editor/publisher for traditional publishing, but I am considering self-publishing avenues as well. A free book cover would be a big help in that endeavor.
All I have to do to enter is give the pitch for my book. Here it is. Feedback on ways to improve is, of course, welcome.
A New Adult Science Fiction novel.
Joyel is a weapon, a genetically engineered ten year old. When the ruthless faction leader Anson kidnaps Joyel she must fight to save her soul. Anson spends ten years brainwashing her, demanding that she view him as father, embrace a new identity as Joy, and to kill for him. But Joy is determined to be subject to no man.
Cutting is how Joy copes with the years of abuse, etching her hatred of Anson into her skin until the time to mete out revenge has come. Despite her rage, now twenty-year-old Joy struggles to strike out against the man she calls father. Discovering Anson’s plans to restart the genetic program she was spawned from in order to raise an army forces Joy to act. To no longer be a pawn, she must kill Anson and destroy the monster she has become. If she doesn’t, she will never be free.
CHRYSALIS asks which is more important: to know who you are, or to whom you belong?
I am done with Nanowrimo! In my mind I won even though I only reached 30,000 words. That was my goal. I knew it would be nigh impossible for me write 50,000 words in the month of November when I was acting in a show and had major rehearsals for the show I am directing. (which is opening this week. Check out Players of the Stage’s website for information. If you live in the Lehigh Valley you should come!)
Now that I am finished with Nano (Geek alert…every time I see this nickname for the Nanowrimo I think about Borg technology) I have some lessons learned to share.
Trying to be Superwoman Will Burnout Your Brain.
I have blogged about my superwoman complex before, the burning craze to prove that I am successful. Some of it is because I have big goals (ie: get a building for my theatre, write a play that wins a tony, publish four novels that impact culture, and the list goes on) but most of it is because I stake my life and worth in being able to impress people.
This is one of my greatest inhibitors to my ability to act and direct. Before I would go onstage for The Mouse Trap I’d have to rehash in my brain that I didn’t need to impress my director, my fellow cast mates, or the audience. I would have to remind myself that I am perfect in Christ and that gives me the freedom to perform my hardest and with self-abandon, not fearing people’s reactions. Sometimes playing the tapes backstage worked to help me relax before I went on stage. Other nights I had to replay those thoughts while I was performing.
Theater is just one way in which I try to be Superwoman. Writing is another. I put so much pressure on myself to direct, act, get Players of the Stage’s founding documents together, write 50,000 words, and start and finish two drawings in the month of November, while also nannying twice a week, keeping a perfect house, exercising every day and reading four chapters of the Bible, two in the morning, two at night. Throw into the mix fatigue problems from chronic lyme….
Just writing that paragraph hurts my brain. What was I thinking? Clearly I’ve been struggling more with trying to find worth in others and my accomplishments than I was aware…. Every time I slip into fighting to be Superwoman I lose the enjoyment of my craft, and I burn out. Every time.
You’d think I’d learn this by now. If only I could be perfect and be amazing enough to never try and be superwoman again…. Yes, that is the twisted logic of my brain.
Rehearsing All the Dialogue in Your Mind Can Make it Difficult to Write it on the Page
I tend to create my stories by acting out the scenes and conversations that I want to take my characters through. This method of exploring characters and dialogue has been very helpful for me in writing the first draft of my plays, and even helped somewhat in writing Chrysalis, but I spent so much of my driving time rehashing every conversation that I often had trouble transferring the concepts from play-acting to novel-prose.
I would sit down to write a section I knew well. I knew what Marian said and how Robin rebutted. I knew what insinuations Sir Guy would make and the tactful way that Marian would avoid his advances. I thought it would be an easy transfer, but it was not. All I knew was the dialogue, I knew none of the narration that would make the transitions to get me from one concept to the next.
Part of my wanted to just throw down every line spoken by the character and forget about the rest of the book, but that didn’t work either. I’m still not a hundred percent why; it should be a seamless transition from mind to page, but my guess is that having worked out every word and detail of dialogue out before hand hampered my freedom to explore, and thus to write.
My new plan will be to continue to utilize my love of play-acting as a way of helping me create a story line and explore my character’s voice, but to stop rehearsing it once I have a sequence and outline planned out. That way I can play around but not be paralyzed.
The Internet is a Great Tool and a Great Distraction
(or a more honest way of putting it…I’m a social media addict)
This is obvious, right? I knew it before, but the truth of it really came home to me when I was trying to focus on writing my new novel Mercy and Justice. It was too easy to be distracted by Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes I would set a timer on my phone for twenty minutes to see how many words I could get written in that time, which would help me focus…until the timer beeped, then back to twitter I went! As if I really needed to check it every twenty minutes of my life….
I eventually realized that I was addicted to notifications and mentions, tweets and retweets, likes and shares. This ties back into my drive to make sure every one realizes I am superwoman. If I tweet something, or post something, I check compulsively to see if people have liked it, as if the number of twitter hearts and Facebook thumbs up defines my value.
Realizing this and seeing the amount of time that was taken away from writing my novel prompted me to install some apps on my phone and my computer to block Twitter, Facebook and e-mail at certain times in the day when I should be doing other things. I’m still tweaking these blocks, but I can already see how it has helped me reduce my social media time.
Dedication and Discipline go a Long Way
The great advantage to something like Nanowrimo is that it gives you a goal of writing so many words every day. I plan to take that challenge with me into the new year as I will be participating in the 365K word club, with the goal of writing 1,000 words every day, whether that be on a novel, blog post, or play.
Before Nanowrimo started, I sat down and wrote a five year plan for writing or revising and publishing the four novels, two adaptations, and three original plays that I currently have planned out. This means that in 2016 I will not participate in Nanowrimo, as I expect to be polishing up Mercy and Justice so it can be submitted for publication and working on revising play adaptations I’ve previously done.
I enjoyed the Nanowrimo experience and learned a lot about myself and my craft. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on my writing while pursing freedom from using my writing, or my acting, or my drawing, or my appearance, or my house as a way of validating myself. In Jesus, I am enough. Honestly, that right there is the biggest lesson I need to learn.
This will my first time. Excitement mounts with each passing day. The epic adventure I am about to embark upon starts November 1st: National Novel Writing Month.
Grandious prose aside, I am looking forward to participating. My first draft of my play Love Labors Happily Ever After took up the duration of the 3 Day Novel Contest, leaving me itching to write fiction. Since Chrysalis is simmering until the new year, I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write the first draft on my second novel, currently titled Mercy and Justice.
The story is a retelling of Robin Hood, split into two parts: the first from Marian’s perspective, the second from Robin’s.
I’ve always loved the legend of Robin Hood, growing up with Disney’s animated animal rendition of the tale (by far one of my favorite versions) and the Errol Flynn movie. I enjoyed most of the first season of BBC’s Robin Hood (let us not speak of the other two seasons) and read Stephen Lawhead’s Robin Hood trilogy set in a Welsh setting.
I don’t know when I decided to write my own version, I think it was during the second season of Robin Hood when Marian went crazy. The character portrayals of Marian throughout my lifetime was the primary reason I wanted to write my own.
With the exception of the foxy Maid Marian from Disney’s cartoon, I have found the reditions of Marian less than satisfying. She is either a damsel-in-distress, good for little else than her beauty, or she is a full fledged warrior woman.
I wanted to see a Marian who is useful, smart, and normal. There are damsels-in-distress and warrior women in the world, but in my experience and culture most of my female friends are somewhere inbetween trying to figure out what being a woman looks like.
That’s a question I’ve wrestled with myself and I love processing through writing, so this means a novel.
It’s a risk to take beloved characters and mess with them, but I hope by the final draft I’ll have done them justice.
Nanowrimo stars in three days! I’ll report back in December.