Writing Group Woes

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m really struggling without a writing group.  My group has historically performed two functions for me: they alpha read my short stories and the beginnings of my novels to let me know what’s working and what isn’t, and they provide a constant source of motivation to keep writing.

I’ve been without a writing group for several months, now.  This blog kind of fills the accountability function, but it doesn’t do it as well.  And it certainly can’t alpha read for me.

I’ve checked meetup.com from time to time to see if anyone has a writing group in my area.  This last time, I found a group that seems to meet at least semi-regularly nearby.  At the same time, some of my online friends from my last writing group are talking about getting the band back together.  I’m not sure that I have the energy to explore both, so I’m left with the dilemma of deciding whether to push to get my old group, who I know is good, to actually commit to meeting, or whether to go try out this new group.

I’ll make a decision shortly and let you know how it goes.

Progress Update

Apologies for the slightly late update.  I wrongly thought I’d be able to get an update in after work before going to an event with friends.  It turned out I was wrong, and they wanted to go earlier than I thought.

In good news, I’ve overcome the motivation hurdle.  On Friday, I made myself sit down and write at work on my lunch.  And then I remembered that it’s not actually that bad, and it’s something I can do.  By the end of the hour, I was half-way through revising the short story I promised myself three weeks ago that I would shop around.  I intend to finish that tomorrow.  And the crises (yes, multiple) at work have slowed down, so I should be able to take my lunches back for writing.  And eating.  And other things I haven’t been able to do on my lunches lately.

Feedback from some of my beta readers on my novel is also starting to come in, which is helping with the motivation issue.  Other than my friend who loves YA and devoured it in two days (and had some criticisms that were helpful), it seemed like most of my beta readers are dragging their feet about reading it.  One simply forgot, my husband reads from a hard copy before bed and tends to move through things slowly, so on and so forth.  I think I was a little ambitious about when I could expect the beta reader feedback.

One of the things that has been dragging on my motivation is that I just feel like this revision process is taking so long.  I wrote the book in about a year, finished last December, and now it’s nearly September.  That’s almost as long to revise it as to write it!  But this whole experience has been a learning experience, with some things going faster and others going slower than I thought they would, so I don’t know why I’m even surprised.

Recharging

What I have recently discovered about working on a single writing project for a long period is that it’s really difficult to just jump right in to a new project.  I even have something that I briefly worked on for a new writing group that is already started.  I’m having three major problems right now: 1) letting the plague novel go, 2) finding the motivation to do something new, and 3) the “shoulds.”

First, letting the plague novel go is the most major of the major problems.  My natural inclination is to finish the project that I started.  While I have practiced multitasking, which is necessary in my day job, it’s just not the way I’m wired.  I know that getting the plague novel out of my head before I pick it back up will be good for me.  Stephen King said so, and I practiced it with short stories and found it to be true.  Coming back to something with fresh eyes just helps.  That doesn’t make it easy to tell my brain to stop making improvements as I get feedback on, though.

Second, I pushed really hard on my second revision (the putting the hand-written revisions in the computer revision), and the result is burn out.  I don’t want to write.  Compounded with only wanting to write on the plague novel, this is a serious issue.

And third, none of the things that I “should” do are appealing. I should fix up some of my old short stories and try to sell them again now that I have more practice, I should work on the story that I wrote the first chapter of and do important things like outline it and scrap the first chapter because it’s cool but it sets the wrong tone for the rest of the story, I should list some other ideas and find one that appeals to me, etc. etc.  I know what I should do. I just don’t want to do it.

Leaving me in a quandary.  In know that the solution is to just sit down and write.  But I don’t want to.  It’s writers’ block to the Nth degree.  But if I can’t get through this, I can’t be a writer.

 

Changing Gears

I’m excited that my plague novel revisions are quickly moving to the point where I can give the manuscript to beta readers, but maybe not for the reasons you would expect. I’m mostly excited that I’ll be able to work on other things while I’m waiting for them to read it and give me feedback.

I have about six short stories in various states of completion that I would really like to get ready to submit. I have two more that are submission-ready, but I haven’t put the time and energy into trying to find somewhere new to submit them after I got my last set of rejections. Every now and then I have to take a break from rejections or I start to get discouraged. Now I have reached the point where I am ready to give it another go. What better time to work on submissions than when I am trying to take a break from my novel?

Fortunately or unfortunately, revising a novel and writing short fiction are entirely different creatures. I am going to have to get my brain back in the mindset for short fiction. Normally how I do this is… reading short fiction. Not only does it get my brain in gear, it lets me know what is currently being read. Not that I write to the market, really, but when I have 200 ideas it helps me to decide which to focus on. So during my novel break, I predict there will be visits to the library and short fiction websites. That will feel a lot less like work then nitpicking over aspects of pacing and character.

I also have a story that has been percolating in my head since November and that I have started working on for my writing group. I only have the first chapter and the vaguest of sketch outlines. At this point, I’m writing myself into that story to see if I would be interested in writing it fully. It’s exciting to have an entirely new project.

Yes.  This is my idea of a writing break: writing other things. If I ever thought for a minute that I could go back to just being a reader, this fact should really set my head straight.

Seeing Ideas Through

I don’t understand or sympathize with people that claim that they can’t come up with any ideas for stories.  My problem is usually that I have too many ideas, not too few.  That’s the main reason why I never finished anything when I was a teen and in my early twenties.  I used to get a flashy new idea and then put down whatever I was working on to start immediately working on the new idea that I was excited about.

One way that I’ve grown as a writer is that I no longer do that.  As I’ve been working on revising my plague novel, ideas about other things to write keep popping into my head.  Usually these are just disparate ideas–a plot point or a setting point or a character that really doesn’t have anything attached to it.  I have a big Word document for these ideas where I just throw them until a couple of them stick to each other and turn into a story idea.  A lot of these ideas happen when I’m driving and now that I have a phone I can control with voice commands, I can voice-to-text my ideas down for me so that I can put them into my file later.

In November, an idea that I had when I was driving coalesced around an idea that I had when I was sitting in the woods waiting for some deer to happen by.  I got very excited about it, but it has nothing to do with my plague novel.  It’s a completely different story in a completely different setting.  I’m very excited about it.  But for now, I need to see the plague novel through to the end.  I need to finish my plague novel and then I can turn this new idea into something amazing and wonderful.

Predictions and Goals

I’ve almost reached the point where I expected to be done with the first major set of revisions with my plague novel.  It turns out I’m only about half-way through.  This isn’t the first time I’ve made an initial prediction about when I think I’ll be done with something, only to be extremely off.

I ended up way ahead of schedule as far as the actual writing went (before I even started this blog, I predicted that I could write a chapter a week and finished in about 6 months, so it should have only been 24 chapters).  And now I’m way behind schedule as far as the first revision goes, because I predicted I could do about 30-50 pages a week.  It’s been about 10 weeks, so I should be somewhere between 300 pages and done.  In reality, I’m only about 150 pages in, so that’s more like 15 pages a week.

I think part of it is that this is the first time I’ve actually finished a manuscript.  It’s the first time I’ve decided to set aside at least an hour a day and devote it to writing.  I had no idea what to expect going in, so I might as well pull deadlines out of a hat.

Even so, I think setting deadlines for myself has been very helpful.  When I’m exceeding expectations, I’m really happy with myself, and a happy me is a more dedicated me.  When I’m not meeting my expectations, I don’t beat myself up, but it does make me focus on what I have been doing and where I could show some improvement, and it also gives me a baseline idea of how fast I can work for future projects.  And no matter what, I have a much better idea of what to expect from myself in the future.

I wish I could go back to January, though, and tell Past Me that 50 pages a week in revisions on 7 hours a week is a crazy rate.  That’s 7 pages an hour, which is fine when things are going great, but I am definitely not clocking 7 pages an hour when I’m trying to fix broken chapters.

Why I Hesitate to Talk to Non-Writers, Part 1

A lot of my acquaintances are surprised to learn that I’m a writer.  This is because I always engage in a mental cost-benefit analysis before I decide whether to tell someone that I write.  It isn’t that I am shy about discussing my work.  Though I used to be extremely hesitant to discuss what I’m writing, now that I have a bunch of rejections under my belt, I have stepped past the point of caring whether people think I have a stupid idea or not.

The problem is that I’ve found that the vast majority of non-writers that I talk to writing about fall into two camps: (1) you’re not ever going to get published and you’re going to make any money at it so why bother, or (2) oh that’s so cool can I read what you’re writing.  In other words, they’re either a downer or a supporter.

Talking to supporters makes me enthusiastic to write.  But I don’t like to talk with downers.  They approach the whole idea of writing from a place that is completely foreign to me.  I usually find the conversation depressing.  A conversation with a downer about writing usually ruins my ability to sit down and plug away at a draft for a couple of hours at best, or ticks off a malaise that keeps me from writing for weeks or months at worst.

How people are going to react to me telling them that I’m a writer is a complete toss-up.  The old adage ‘appearances can be deceiving’ is extremely true when it comes to trying to figure out which camp a person falls into.  I’ve had people that look as nerdy as I am unexpectedly turn out to be downers, or they might even be hostile to the very idea of someone presuming to try to write something.  And I’ve had people that look like non-readers wax enthusiastic to me about their favorite YA authors.

As a result, my default is that I wait to talk to people about writing until I have a better idea of whether they’ll be a downer or a supporter.  This entire process would be a lot less complicated if the downers would refrain from doing certain things.  The next time I get a few moments for a substantive post (nanowrimo is still alive and well in my house), I’ll give a few examples of statements from downers, my personal answers to the statements, and why the statements are hurtful.

Writing When and Where I Can

One of the hardest things about working full-time and writing part-time is just finding the time to write.  When I was in college, I used to have to spend between half an hour and an hour reviewing what I’d written so that I could get into the mindset of my characters.  If I didn’t have a chunk of a couple of hours free, I just wouldn’t write.  This isn’t a luxury I have any more.  I rarely have hours-long chunks of time just sitting around.

As I may have mentioned before, another thing I used to do was write in a specific notebook.  There were actually two notebooks, one with the character sketches and one with the story.  I would find myself wanting to write but then I would become frustrated because it’s not very easy to transport two notebooks everywhere.  I wouldn’t have them with me at all times.  So I would find myself writing when I had big chunks of time alone in my dorm room.  Again, not something that happens these days.

Now I have a writing tablet.  It’s a tablet with a keyboard attachment that I use solely for writing.  I’ll pull it out when I’m in the doctor’s office waiting room and write a couple sentences.  I’ll put it out when I’m waiting in my car and write a couple sentences.  I definitely take it to work so that I can write at lunch.

But most importantly, even if I don’t have the tablet with me, I can write things down on whatever scrap of paper I have handy and put it into the tablet later.  I used to think that writing the same scene twice was a waste of time.  But I’ve long since gotten over the idea that every sentence, paragraph, and scene I write has to be perfect the first time.  And when I realized that I can push perfectionism off to the second (or third, or fifth, or tenth) draft, and that there will be second, third, and tenth drafts, I realized that typing up a scene that I’ve already handwritten isn’t a waste of time.  Anything that allows me to convert more of my ‘wasted’ time into writing time is a very useful.

Obligatory First Post

So this is my new website.  I thought I’d set out what I’m hoping to do here, so that I stay focused and on topic.  And when I write down rules, I’m a lot more likely to follow them.  Maybe that’s just my lawyer brain.

The goal is to post frequent updates.  What do I mean by frequent?  I like blogs best when they update at least once a week.  I’d like to shoot for twice a week.  I don’t make any promises about length.  In fact, I intend to limit myself to devoting no more than 15 minutes to a single post.  The goal is for the blog to keep me motivated and excited about writing, not for it to take over my life and use up all of my useful writing time.

My life is pretty jam packed with work and family and volunteering and writing and gaming.  So I’ve been asking myself, why add a blog on top of that?  Here’s my answer in a simple syllogism: Thinking about the process of writing keeps me motivated to write; writing about things makes me think about them; therefore, writing about my process of writing will keep me motivated to continue writing.

Besides, I like the idea of accountability, even if I’m only accountable to myself (and my writing group).  I’ll post later about how valuable my writing group has been to me.

So here’s where I’m at with writing.  I have a couple completed short stories and a few in various states of not-yet-ready-to-sell.  I’ve put those in my Works in Progress page.  I’m also about half way through chapter 13 on my novel.  I’ve almost hit my 15 minutes and I’m sure to spend more time writing about that later… a lot more time… so I’ll leave it at that.