Oh my god, I SUCK

Seriously.  I last posted a blog in MAY?

Summer was a blur.  I teach high school for a living, and once June arrives, man, I’m DONE.  Although I did manage to play Camp NaNoWriMo in July, and wrote a really crappy first draft of an adult romance novel.  The good thing about crappy drafts is they can be polished in revision.  Yay, revision!

Wait, did I seriously just say that?  I hate revision.

November 1 is right around the corner.  Like Thursday.  And I’ve been waffling on NaNoWriMoing this year or not.  I have a lot on my plate – in addition to the high school gig, I took on an adjunct professor position at the local community college. I teach ENC 1101 two nights a week (and love it)!  So I have two fewer nights to exercise, rest, and oh, yeah, WRITE.

What I will likely do then, is bend the NaNo rules a little.  I have a WIP that’s about 12000 words.  I may simply shoot for finishing that novel that’s been languishing for a couple of years now.  I love the concept but the plot isn’t coming together the way I wanted it to.  So maybe what I need is to power through, write, as Anne Lamott says, the Shitty First Draft, and then figure out the rest in revision.

I used to think writing was so easy.  The ideas come easy, for me.  Finishing?  Totally another story.  My favorite companion always tells me everything is about discipline.

I suck at discipline.

But sometimes, you need to bust your own ass to get things done, or they remain nothing but dreams forever.

Hello, November – I’m finishing my WIP in you!

Can’t Write in a Vacuum

Though writing is essentially a solitary sport, one of the requirements for bettering your book is honest critique to help in the revision process.  If you plan on traditionally publishing, you want to have a polished manuscript to query to agents.  But how do you polish?

I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  I live in South Florida, and the Florida chapter of SCBWI is awesome.  We have a big conference in Miami each January and a workshop in Orlando each June.  There are also smaller workshops offered in several cities throughout the state.  So this has given me a great opportunity to meet other writers on all levels – newbies, veteran but still unpublished, published, veteran published.  So there are plenty of opportunities to find critique groups or beta-reading partners.

It’s important to have other sets of eyes on your book before you submit it for representation (or to self-publish, whatever your road is).  Fresh eyes can find plot holes, see flaws in characterizations, and make recommendations to help strengthen your manuscript.  I just had my mentor/bestie read my unrevised first draft of a YA novel, and she gave me so many good notes for revision that I almost can’t wait to dig in to it. (I hate revising.)

So when you write, to paraphrase Stephen King, write with the door closed.  But throw that baby open and invite other writers or really strong beta readers to give you feedback as you head into the revision mode!

When I First Found the Muse.

A lot of my friends are posting about summer camps for their kids.  I started thinking, how cool would it be to have a summer camp where kids who love to write could come and do writing exercises, share work, and feel accomplished at the end of the summer program?  Kind of made me wish I had a place and insurance and all the practical stuff to go along with “Hey, let’s take some teen writers and collect them for a couple of hours a day for a few weeks and see what comes out of it!”

And that reminded me of one summer, I believe it was the summer between 5th and 6th grades, the transition between elementary and middle school.  My parents sent my brother and me to the city-sponsored camp, held at my elementary school.  It was a fairly standard camp, I guess, that allowed a lot of freedom to play with adult supervision.  And I remember meeting a couple of girls my age with whom I would sit down for a little while each day, and we wrote “our books.”  We brought notebook paper from home and made “book covers” with construction paper and crayons.  I was ever the hopeless romantic then, and my two “books” that summer were called True Love and Love’s Arrow.  I still have them.  They are prime examples of Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts.”

Something else happened that summer.  I’d just come off a really bad year of being what we would now call bullied, but back then, “picked on” would have been the phrase of choice.  In our summer camp was a boy who had been in my 5th grade class.  I remember at the end of the summer he came up to me and apologized for treating me badly.  He said I was really nice and he was sorry he hadn’t gotten the chance to know me better.  It didn’t make up for his climbing on the bandwagon with the kids who teased me mercilessly, but it was proof, even for a minute, that I was NOT as worthless as I’d felt.

And for me, those two things combined compelled me to go on writing.  It started out as company when I had no friends to speak of, then morphed into catharsis when I’d put mean people into my books and give them horrible deaths, disfigurements, or teen pregnancies.  (Yes, I watched soap operas as a young person. What gave it away?)  Now, writing is so ingrained in me that even if I’m not actively writing, I’m still thinking about writing in some way.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Distractions

I’m still working toward a writing career.  I’m at the stage where I’ve finally snagged an agent, and have given her a few more requested revisions on my manuscript.  The next step of the road to publication is for my agent to now put my manuscript out on sub to publishing houses and wait for the bidding war to get my book a publisher.

Okay, the bidding war is a fanciful dream.  I just want to be published by a decent house.

But in the meantime, ideally, what I should be doing is writing more books.  I have a bunch of ideas I generated in January, and tried to start working on a couple of them.  However, I do have a full-time job that takes up time.  I teach high school, and it’s almost the end of the school year, which means testing and reining the ferrets in until final exams and the last day of school.  So by the time I get home in the afternoons, I don’t feel like writing.

Another distraction I’ve recently discovered is Doctor Who.  My favorite companion turned me on to the Whoverse, and I’m in love.  I’m binge watching like crazy.  But the cool thing about Who is the WRITING.  As a writer, I appreciate great story, and the writers for Doctor Who really understand great story.

So I guess the point of this meandering blog post is to say to embrace your distractions.  You never know what you can weave into your next story.

Making the Time to Write

I am guilty of not following my own advice.  I’m a high school English teacher.  After a day of wrangling recalcitrant teenagers, I have little energy for much else.  My health is not optimal as a result, and I don’t write.  I need to write.

So I guess I’m writing today’s blog to myself, as well as to anyone who finds his or her way across it.  There are as many different ways to write as there are writers.  One of my writing friends gets up at 4am to make sure she gets her writing in.  I am so NOT a morning person.  It takes everything I have to drag my butt out of bed just to make it to school on time.  So that’s not something that works for me.  That’s important too – to know if you’re at your best in the morning, afternoon, or nighttime.  I’ve had friends who wrote after their families went to bed and the house was quiet.  My furry daughter gets bent out of shape when I leave her in bed and go to my computer.  She suddenly wants to leave the room.

Clearly, something has to give in my world for writing time to happen.  I miss the year I taught creative writing – once the kids were working on their assignments, I’d write with them.  As education fixates more heavily on standardized test prep, I don’t have the luxury of creative writing time with my kiddos so often.  It’s not tested.

The way I see it, I’m going to have to make some evening time to get some writing done.  As soon as I figure out, of course, which project is next in my queue.  I have over 40 ideas right now, and not a clue which one will actually become my next book.

Ah, the challenges of a writing life bent into a teaching life!

Life Gets in the Way

This is a writing blog, but two things happened this week that I really wanted to talk about.  The first is the #metoo movement that spurred Lin Oliver and the SCBWI to shore up their harassment policy, and the second is the Parkland school shooting.

I saw the School Library Journal article in which women finally started naming names of those they were harassed by at various conferences and meetings of SCBWI.  And it hurt my heart.  A couple of the names shared were authors I’d previously respected, whose works I’d read and shared with my students, and one I’d even met and was friends with on Facebook (I unfriended him when the news broke and was backed up by multiple victims, though he staunchly denies it still).  I went back in my head to all the conferences I’d attended, and tried to think of any time in my professional life – as a writer, a teacher, or in the Corporate America jobs I held before teaching – I had felt sexually harassed by anyone.  I couldn’t think of any.  For anyone who doesn’t know me personally, I stand 6’1” in bare feet, and I’m a person “of size.” (a pretty euphemism for clinically obese.)  Perhaps it’s the intimidation factor that kept me protected from the harassment felt by other women.  I’m often told I can be intimidating. And if that’s the case, I’m thankful.  But I stand with all of my fellow SCBWI members who are victims, and I’m glad they finally feel brave enough to shout down their victimizers.

While I was thinking about this, and how I wanted to address it from a personal standpoint, I got a text message driving home after school on Wednesday from a friend in the next county asking if I was okay, as the news was reporting a school shooting in my county.  I live a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The school at which I teach is maybe twelve miles from MSD.  And though I am grateful that I didn’t personally know any of the murdered victims, my heart hurts.  I can’t focus or concentrate.  Because as I just told the few students who came to school today, two days post-tragedy, when it happens in your backyard, it becomes more REAL.  I sympathized with victims’ families of every school shooting from Columbine forward, but in my heart, I don’t think I ever believed it could happen HERE.  And the fact that it not only DID happen here, and at the LAST school in the district you would expect it COULD happen to, makes it a real possibility that someday, I might have to decide whether to defend my students with my own life.

That is NOT anything any teacher should have to do.

I took a Facebook break yesterday because I was getting very angry at people who kept saying gun control wasn’t the problem, mental illness isn’t the problem, and blaming this boy’s actions on the fact that the “system let him down.”  Poor baby was probably bullied, many who had never met this boy declared on social media.  And yet, reports from people who DID know him were AFRAID of him.  Who’s AFRAID of a victim?

I don’t have the answers, and I wish I did.  But I really wish the armchair quarterbacking would stop.  I wish we lived in a country in which we value our children’s lives more than we value the 2nd Amendment and our faulty interpretation of it.  But we don’t, so I will have to keep on doing what I do – trying to care for all my students in the best way I can, and hope I continue to live another day to keep entering my classroom to educate my babies.

Thanks for reading my rambling today.  I’ll go back to writing about writing next time.

The Waiting Game

A lot of pursuit of publication boils down to being patient.

You have to be patient while you develop your craft into something worthy.

You have to be patient through the query process and hope to find a match for your manuscript.

You have to be patient while your agent works with her other clients and you to shop all of you to editors.

That’s where I am right now.  Hopefully, soon, my agent will begin sending out my manuscript, and then I wait to see who might be interested in buying it.  Then it’s more waiting games to find out what edits the editor might want, and then waiting for the publication date to arrive (I’m thinking positively here).

But in the meantime, the next book isn’t going to write itself.  During the month of January, I managed to scribble 33 ideas into my little StoryStorm notebook.  That’s added to the four or five ideas I have on my flash drive already.  So lots of ideas.  (Not to mention my former-rockstar roommate wants me to write his biography SOON.)

Now the problem is deciding which idea to develop and work on.

There are worse problems to have!