Hitting the Path

When you’re a writer, there are ideas and there’s inspiration, which might not pan out, or can remain a bit aimless. And then there’s finding your platform with sudden, clear epiphany and finally understanding the story you must write. Plots and premises fall in line. Character development takes form. Research becomes fun and satisfying. And the work happens, because you both want and need it to.

The road ahead of me with my novel-in-progress is long, but for the first time in years I have direction. And, possibly, for the first time ever, a story which suits and fits me (and my writing) perfectly.

I wish this for all writers.

Writing (Again) as NaNo Begins (Again)

Tomorrow is November 1st, which to many writers means the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), when one tries to write a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days. Who’s participating this year?

Last fall was my first attempt at the challenge. I’ve never been an outliner, but I did a lot of prep work leading up to day one, studied my characters, discovered each backstory, and then had what I felt was a successful month of writing. I did additional work in the months that followed, and by then had almost 37k words. A solid place to find my draft, I thought. My goal at that point was to plug away, finish and edit and seek beta readers and edit more and polish and, hopefully, if all went well, begin querying the book to agents by the end of 2015. (A pretty lofty intention, I know, but you’ve got to work toward something, right?)

But in the spring I decided to lay my WIP aside. Single motherhood, plans to move my family, and a significant career shift that required months of coursework and exams — all in addition to a full-time day job — left little choice but to put the writing on hold. I told myself I’d get back to it once all the changes had shaken down.

That time is now. We’re settled into our new home (and loving it), I’m a month into my new day job (and loving it), and so no time like the present to throw myself into that project once again. Just as NaNo 2015 kicks off!

#amwriting #fiction #NaNo2015

A Million Little Complaints*

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Anchor Books, Sept. 2005 source: Amazon

I tried reading James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, the chronicle of a hard life and harder recovery from said life. That is, I gave it six pages’ worth of my time.  I couldn’t go any further.

I bought a trade paperback copy secondhand a year or so ago, and so well after its debut and after his story was debunked, Frey himself labeled a fraud.

I bought it aware of the controversy but still intrigued, thinking I wanted to know what the hype—that which was original, and what came later—was all about. I expected that at some point the title would wink at me from my TBR bookshelf, and I’d give it a look.

Wikipedia offers the book was “originally sold as a memoir and later marketed as a semi-fictional novel following accusations of literary forgery.”

That wink came last night, but my look didn’t last long.

I feel indignant. Rather pissed off, actually, since — regardless of the amount of work and level of creativity put into the manuscript — Frey’s dishonesty removes all literary integrity. Which to my mind thumbs a nose at all those serious writers (myself included) who stick to an unspoken creed of truth in effort and transparency in craft. That he tried to pass off something largely fabricated as hard truth is unacceptable. He fooled industry insiders and readers alike, made a mockery of others’ efforts. I can’t respect that.

Not to mention, it’s tough to take as “real” from the get-go. Had the controversy never come about, had it originally been sold as fiction — and forget literary license — I’d have never thought the opening scene plausible. I would have been (and was) turned off immediately.

“I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I’m in the back of a plane and there’s no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood.” (pg 1)

We learn Frey has no idea why he’s on the plane, how he arrived at this condition, and where he might be going. Supposedly, according to the flight attendant, a woman not a bit disturbed by his presence or appearance, he was brought onto the plane by “a Doctor [sic] and two men.”

He is hurt and vile? He was in recent contact with a doctor but hasn’t been cleaned or stitched or bandaged? Frey is not perceived as a threat, whether to himself or anyone around? He has no escort, and no police have been contacted, no law enforcement awaits him?

And don’t get me started… The author was allowed to publish conversations with no quote marks or dialogue tags? To capitalize words, many of them over and over again, that have no business being capitalized? For more than 400 pages? I can’t respect that, either. (And my wordy OCD tendencies can’t handle it.)

You almost have to wonder, was this effort a marketing ploy from the beginning, something publishers and editors and PR reps were potentially in on? For shame.

I bought the book used—am glad only the thrift store pocketed proceeds from me. And I will in turn donate this copy. Maybe it’ll find its way to someone who will give it a better look than I did.

Have you read it? What did you think?

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*This post title, too, is a fabrication. My complaints aren’t that many. But at least I was upfront about it, yeah?

ETA: I know we writers are supposed to stick together, never openly dismiss another or his/her craft. Burn no bridges, keep the community strong, that sort of thing. And I’m sure Mr. Frey is a lovely person otherwise. If given the opportunity I would sit down with him and pick his brain, without offense. I just cannot stand behind this project.

Why I Haven’t Been Writing the Big Stuff

(And why it’s been quiet here on Woman, Determined.)

The little stuff I write everyday — texts, emails, social media posts, essays. Though none of that’s little, really, because as unaffecting as it can be to the small public on the other side of my content, it’s still part of what makes me a writer. It’s a piece of my efforts toward craft and expression, a consciousness in who I am—because “writer” isn’t just a label, it’s an essence—and the way I best communicate. That writing secures every brick in the foundation of how I seek to be understood, and how I understand the world, and that should count for something.

But my fiction, my larger project(s), my dream. That I haven’t been writing.

The manuscript I started, got pretty far with, during 2014’s National Novel Writing Month and afterward had to be set aside. It’s because last spring I made the decision to pursue a new day job, a rewarding career, to cultivate a better existence and future for myself and my girls.

I made the decision to join ranks with those in the insurance industry and since have been taking the required courses in preparation for the required licensing exams. (One down, one to go.) This came to be around the same time I was planning a residential move for us, too, to a town miles away.

STUDYING

A lot of my time has gone to studying.

Since I work full-time, and parent and run a household on my own, something had to give. So, in favor of priorities aimed at significant and imminent change for my family, the large-scale writing had to be tabled.

I’m so close to the other side of our full transition. Our new home makes us happy, my girls are settling at their new school, and my second and final licensing exam is scheduled for a few weeks from now. I’ll soon be training my replacement where I currently work and, after what I hope will be a spectacular and rejuvenating 1.5-week vacation, my shiny new insurance license and I will start our new and fulfilling job.

New, new, new. It’s exciting!

I opened the file for my novel-in-progress a few days ago, just to take a peek. I’m thrilled it’s still there, that the story and my characters and my visions for them have only been on pause. I look forward to picking up where I left off.

I will do that, and officially blow the dust off this here blog and other creative endeavors,  oh, maybe long about the time fall has blanketed the Midwest, reminding me of all the reasons it’s my favorite season.

The Matchmaker’s Match — and a Reader’s Review

Well-developed, relatable characters.

Comfortable pacing.

A little tension and some hesitation between the main characters—but not too much.

Beautiful prose, with that magical, flowing connection of words and sentences and paragraphs.

A strong, original author’s voice.

All things indicative of a masterful novel, and all things found in Jessica Nelson’s latest, The Matchmaker’s Match.

11695813_873392999413881_3958460882553523562_nDue to release in September, and published by Love Inspired Historical, Matchmaker carries us to early 19th century England. In this Regency tale of past mistakes and hope for what’s ahead, we meet Lady Amelia, a woman who holds fast to her independence. Give her a space of her own, freedom to paint, and the ability to conduct her successful matchmaking business on the sly, and she’s content.  What more could she need? Certainly not a love of her own… She won’t risk the hurt again.

We meet Lord Ashwhite, too. With both a disreputable record and a future — not just his — to save, he’s tasked with the unconscionable feat of finding a wife. Within three months! But he sees a possible chance to succeed, just maybe, if he can elicit assistance from the one woman experienced in helping others find love. Could Lady Amelia be the answer?

The Matchmaker’s Match is everything a good book should be, especially if you love romance, historical fiction, and wholesome-but-real stories.

And Jessica’s writing is everything good writing should be: thoughtful, deep, and borne from a true understanding of the craft, as well as personal drive.

You don’t want to miss it. Pre-order your copy today!

1174549_719608468125669_1584256527229352633_n copyAbout the author: Jessica Nelson believes romance happens every day, and thinks the greatest, most intense romance comes from a God who woos people to himself with passionate tenderness. When Jessica is not chasing her three beautiful, wild little boys around the living room, she can be found staring into space as she plots her next story. Or she might be daydreaming about a raspberry mocha from Starbucks. Or thinking about what kind of chocolate she should have for dinner that night. She could be thinking of any number of things, really. One thing is for certain, she is blessed with a wonderful family and a lovely life.

Visit Jessica’s website HERE or her Facebook page HERE. She’s always got great stuff at both places. And Jessica has a handful of quality books in print, so check out her other titles on Amazon. Or just “google” her, she’s everywhere. 🙂

What Not to Say to a Writer of Books

Got a novelist in your life? Here’s how to handle the topic of writing with them (as generalized using my own experiences). I am not yet published in book form. Click About Janna above if you’re curious about my journey so far.

“Did you get that book published yet?” 

“That book” was five years and four manuscripts (or concepts) ago. It was written during another life, by someone I don’t even know anymore. It’s been trunked. I’ve moved on.

Whether or not “that book” got published doesn’t mean I haven’t been growing and gaining as a writer. Publication isn’t the only measure. Also, not every book makes it. There are books we don’t want to make it.

It is typically a long, multi-layered journey to publication. You may not realize that, of course, but it (along with the other points) makes the question feel insensitive and presumptuous to us. It’s like my asking someone who’s been steadily losing a lot of excess weight, “Did you win that marathon yet?”

Ask instead: “How’s your writing going?”

“What’s your book about?”

Nothing will shut a fiction writer down faster. It’s a simple question, yes, and perfectly innocent, but the answer is not easy, or often readily available, especially if the book isn’t completed. Why? Because it’s a process, a dream, a creation, and it takes up minutes and hours of our lives everyday, space in our heads, and we live with the characters, within the setting and circumstances. We hold all of that very close, because our work is special. Sacred. It cannot be stripped down to a cursory remark and laid bare for feedback on a moment’s notice.

Ask instead: “What are you working on?”

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Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

“I could write a book.” 

(Part 2: “It wouldn’t take me any time at all.”)

(Part 3: “I think it would be a bestseller.”)

If by chance this statement is made to one who defines themselves as a writer—who finds their existence, salvation, operation, utter being in it—by someone who’s never truly cared to craft even a proper and perfect sentence before, it’s a shot to the heart. Our every fiber is wrapped up in writing. There’s nothing flippant about it. Nothing impermanent or un-labored about it. Please don’t insult us by making an off-the-cuff statement that implies it doesn’t take a whole lot of all of you to write a book.

Ask instead: “If I wanted to try writing a book, where would I start?”

“Are you still writing?”

Even if I’m not making progress on a specific project every day, I am and will always be still writing. It is a way of life. See paragraph above. Your question is moot.

Say instead: Nothing. Just assume we’re always doing writerly things, in the same way you assume that yogi you know is always practicing, minding their center, carrying the discipline.

 What would you add to my list? Would you change anything?

Writer in a Library

I’d guess it’s different for every writer and creative, how willing you are to talk about your craft and passion.

Likely it comes down to how established you are (or feel) and at what stage your projects find you, but also what type of personality you have.

Last night my younger daughter and I went to the local library together. She had a couple books to return, wanted to look for others.

I had questions in mind for the staff—if I could find the wherewithal—to gain some library-related insight for the manuscript I’m working on.

I imagine another writer’s experience as something like this:

Walks in, head held high, swiftly approaches front desk. Looks clerk in eye, smiles. “Hi! I’m a writer and I’m working on a fiction project. I have a few research questions for you.” Asks said questions, engages in enthusiastic and informative exchange about, first, the library’s inner workings, and then second, being a writer and the novel-in-progress. Dazzles clerk, who is excited about real writer, right in midst, and who says, “Be sure we get a copy of that book once it’s been published!” Makes humble yet confident promise. Smiles more. Swiftly retreats with wave. Heads home, newly armed with mental notes of certain library specifications, to put last, perfect touches on what will be bestselling book in twelve months.

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I love vintage typewriters, and I love the color of this one. Image courtesy of Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

How my experience is:

Quietly enters library (because that’s rule), slinks around carefully. Guides daughter through required tasks. Makes eye contact with no one, but tells self, now would be perfect chance to ask, get details needed to get fictional “house of books” right. Feels anxiety in abdomen, would require talking. Fears clerk(s) would ask direct questions about being writer and novel-in-progress, would be forced to answer. Feels nervous anticipation now, too, unable to discuss such things with self-assurance that supports true potential, effort, dream. Thinks, If only I could write about it. Takes deep breath anyway. Approaches clerk (while daughter looks up titles in digital catalog) and tests voice. “I have a question for you.” Has floor now, no turning back. Mentions fiction project, researching libraries. Has brief conversation with two clerks, friendly and helpful but who neglect to ask about writing or book. Feels relief. No spotlight. Next second, feels disappointment. No one cares? No one wants to know experience, writerly goals, genre of novel? No spotlight. Sighs inside. Offers thanks for help. Thinks about how, even though already established in some ways, must continue working hard to prove self. Write. Write. Finish book. Get agent. Write. Find publisher. Write. Show them all. Reminds self could realistically take years. Welcomes wave of humility. Feels relief again, avoided explaining how much of not-easy journey still looms ahead. Says quiet goodbye, retreats (and beseeches daughter to come on, already). Drives home assuring self, It’s a library, they get scads of folks in there bragging about being a writer. It would be hard to take them all seriously, they’re just not easily impressed. Also tells self, But you’re doing this. You’re to be taken seriously, and you will be. You’re going to make it happen, and then they’ll ask for that copy of your book.

Commitment is the Thing

The raising of kids. Self-improvement. An exercise regimen. The writer’s craft. Doesn’t matter what it is.

Commitment — making a fixed decision toward achievement and allowing no other option — is the #1 factor in whether or not we make good things happen. Or really, whether things happen at all.

Read more HERE, in my featured post at Women Unplugged today.

Working Title: New Life

If you’ve been around since November, you might remember I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. After a lot of prep work before the challenge—meaning the most outlining I’ve ever done in my life as a writer—I was able to push out 35,000 words toward my novel-in-progress.

Since then I’ve taken a break from the manuscript, busy with life and letting it brew, but now am hitting it hard once again. The core story and all my characters remain (including a really awesome dog!), but I made the decision — correctly, I already know — to change the MC from Deke (the brother) to Janey (the sister), so the concept is more in keeping with Women’s Fiction. This is the genre I have for years been drawn to (as a writer AND a reader) and worked toward.

Deke will still play a supporting role in the book, and I love him for reasons I can’t articulate, but Janey is a compelling character whose story is more important to tell.

Stay tuned!

Calling It Good

I made a decision last night: I’m calling an end to my dogged push for more words.

It’s day 26 of National Novel Writing Month, and I’m at a count of 34,983. I’m about 15,000 shy of the 50,000 goal. But you know what? I’m incredibly happy with that. It’s roughly 35k words more than I had this time last month, and that is nothing to sneeze at. Am I right?

As for my novel-in-progress, I’ve come to that place writers meet—about two-thirds to three-quarters through the manuscript—where there’s a definitive lull, both in plot and pacing. It’s what’s slowed me down the last week. (I do know where I want my characters’ stories to end, I’m just not sure yet how to pull it all together.)

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freedigitalphotos.net

But I know I have some solid substance, and the better part of a story line to work with, so I’m ready to start revisions. No more forcing the words just for the sake of accumulating them. I fear that without taking an opportunity to assess what I already have, if I don’t begin revising, I won’t be able to accurately gauge what’s needed to flesh out the book, let alone conclude it.

Writing fast has benefited me, it’s for sure, but the draft lacks everything. Full and realistic characterization. Narration. POV and tense consistency. Cohesion. My voice, my style—I’m so ready to start making this story mine. And I’ve got to work on all of this sooner rather than later, or I’ll find myself aimless, with no sense for what direction to turn first.

Don’t count me out entirely. I will continue to write even through the last few days of this month’s challenge, and so my word count will keep growing, albeit at a slower speed. I’m just not going to strain myself for 15,000 more words. I can’t be sure they’d suit my novel, so I suspect that at this point the work would be wasted effort. Effort better put toward edits.

In the meantime I’m going to have a really fantastic Thanksgiving.

I’m going to celebrate the work I’ve already done.

And I’m going to gear up for the work that still remains, which I’m super-eager to dig into.