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Stepping Up My Writing Game

November is right around the corner, which carries with it the promise of a long-yearned-for fall here in Southern California and the craziness of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Two years ago, I dove in to the NaNoWriMo mosh pit and hammered out the bare bones beginning of a novel that has haunted me since. My novel wakes me up at night (thankfully not as often as the baby), sneaks up behind me in the store and whispers in my ear, distracts me from my paid gig. These two women, my main characters, hum in my blood and enter my dreams. I.MUST.WRITE.THIS.THING. If for no other reason than to get some peace. Well, actually, there are some other folks knocking on the door, trying to push these two out of the way, so peace won’t be mine for long, but it never is for a writer anyway.

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Because my life structure isn’t conducive to carving out time to spend crafting my novel and because I work best on deadlines, I have decided to step up my writing game. No longer content to rely on my once-monthly deadline for my critique group, I signed up for Novel Writing III with the UCLA Writers Program. No need for Novel Writing I and II for me, right? I’ve been doing this all my life (the writing thing). I’ve been critiquing and dutifully sitting in seminars and webinars. And I have more than 50 pages done on my novel. Except for the fact I just yesterday decided to completely restructure it. No biggie.

So, our first assignment is to post 5 pages of our novel to give people a feel for it. And I, of course, want to knock it out of the park. I want those 5 pages that burst the heart, engage the funny bone and the tear ducts, that make someone think of them hours later. I want the 5 pages that will show these people the artistic genius I know I am.

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It would be all the art to all the people. You can already tell where this is going, can’t you? My first mistake was that I read two other submissions before looking for my 5 pages. Uh oh. Stiff competition. Not that I’m competing. Not that I can. Wow, turns out Novel I and Novel II have really paid off for some folks. *gulps*

Second mistake is that I didn’t give myself some space before looking for my 5 pages. Honestly, I couldn’t find 5 that I LOVED, so I settled for 5 that were okay. Tiny tearlets collected in the corners of my eyes, threatening to spill onto my keyboard, as I copied and pasted. You’re okay at this, but not great, my lizard brain chided me. I think it was taunting me with a glass of bourbon, too. Bastard.

So, sad, dejected me sucked it up and headed to the park with the kids and the husband. I tried to stay in the moment when my daughter lit up the late afternoon with her two-tooth smile as I pushed her in the swing. I tried to be present as my son held my hand and explained the importance of pretending that all of our pumpkin lights were glowing, even the one that needs the new bulb. But, once they went to bed, I unleashed the hot, molten crazy on my poor, exhausted husband, who I am pretty sure just wanted to sit in silence with his glass of wine and watch James Bond.

Luckily, he has gotten quite good at listening to me and also doing whatever it is he does inside his own brain. That’s the gift of nearly 14 years of marriage.

As I talked it out, I realized that I have put my writing dreams out there for all the world to see, and also to trounce on or ridicule. And not only have I put my dreams out there, I’ve started to put my product out there. Something more than my blog posts, anyway.

I started talking and sharing about it for two reasons. First, I want to hold myself accountable. Nothing works quite like having to answer the question, “So, how’s your novel coming along?” It’s especially effective when people think you can’t do it and follow up your “in progress” response with, “Oh, well, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You have a job, kids, a life. You can do that sort of thing when you retire.” But, I don’t want to do it then. I want to do it now. I need to do it now. Which brings me to the second reason.

Writing is my passion, my love, my home. It has been what I turn to when needing to process any emotion or situation. It entertains me, fills me, delights me. So, to spend my time telling you about my job doesn’t really help you know any more about me, particularly since there is very little I can discuss about it. Likewise, telling you about my views on politics or religion or any other social issue will hint at the truth of me, but never really get you there. If you want to know my heart, talk to me about my writing. Or my kids.

In forcing myself to be more than a closet writer, though, I am forcing myself to test myself. Do I have what it takes to be an agented, published author (my dream and goal)? Is my work something readers will enjoy? Am I good enough to make it?

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Like everyone, I want to contribute something beautiful, but also of deep value.

How many writers do you know? How many people have a novel, a screenplay, or a set of poems they have been tinkering with for years, talking about getting it published someday? The desire to write is near universal. So what separates those who “make it” from those who don’t? There’s the “ass in chair” quotient that divides the talkers from the doers. Talent comes into play somewhere. Appeal to the masses shouldn’t be discounted.

I see many indie authors on Twitter pushing their books 24/7. While it irritates me to have my feed turn into one giant billboard, particularly when they all advertise for each other, so you see each post multiple times, I’ll admit that it both frightens and daunts me. I want an agent. I know I’ll have to do my own marketing (thank goodness for those years in public relations), but I want someone to love my work as much as I do and to travel down that path with me. I want an enthusiastic partner. I want my writing to move someone to the point they want to represent me. *cue the haunting strains of But, what if….*

Which all brings me back to my class-induced panic attack. I am wading in deeper and shit’s about to get real. I will be faced with some serious truths about the current level of my writing. And if I really want to do this thing, I can’t just weep in a corner every time someone doesn’t like my work. I need to put on my big girl pants and take it. I just hope beyond hope the feedback I get isn’t that I am relegated to the minor leagues, or worse, shouldn’t be playing the game at all.

Photos courtesy of (in order of use): http://www.flickr.com/photos/okaycity, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mindfulone, and http://www.communitysketchbook.blogspot.com

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6 comments on “Stepping Up My Writing Game

  1. No one is going to say those awful things. By virtue of sticking with it, putting your writing out there, honing your craft by enrolling in a course you think *might* be a notch above your skill level, you’re in the game. You’re doing it.

    Yeah, talent, discipline, ass in chair. But don’t forget, all art– writing included– is a game of attrition. Success comes to those who stick it out, year after year, and don’t just put their dreams on hold until they “retire.”

    I like that line: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.

    • I like that line: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.
      So true. I’ve also heard it said that not all writers who are published are the best. They are just the most persistent.
      And you are correct about the class. I’ve actually gotten some complimentary feedback already, so it seems it is just my usual internal freak out. Good blog fodder, at least.

  2. Many times when I’m writing, I’ll check what I’ve typed, checked the time, and realize with a start that I’d written a single sentence in 1/2 hour. But it was a good sentence. And sometimes for that evening it will be the only sentence. But it’s enough to gain me some sleep.

    It’s good to be tormented by your ideas – it proves that they are strong enough to push through your daily chores and demand to be written down. Even if its a handful of sentences a day, you are chiseling away at that final story of yours.

    Telling me that writing is your passion, your love and your home tells me that you’re good enough, and ready to take on any class panic.

    • Thanks, Aubrey. A fellow writer gave me the sage advice of trying to advance the manuscript by just one sentence a day. Often I get more. But, like you, if I get one good one, I am thrilled.

  3. I think what you feel is universal to most of us, plugging away at our own novel/blog/screenplay/etc. I haven’t met a single writer who feels worthy. That is the beauty of it. It keeps us humble. Good luck with the class and keep us posted (I have yet to take that step myself!)

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