Friday, January 28, 2011

The Benefits of Writer's Groups

One thing that has helped me a lot with getting motivated and staying motivated this past year has been writer's groups.  I joined two local writer's groups within a few months of attending the Pikes Peak Writer's conference: Pikes Peak Writer's and the National League of American Pen Women (which is not just for writer's, but also other artists and creative types, including musicians and photographers).  Each of these groups offers something different and both have monthly workshops/meetings that help with the craft.

One benefit of these writer's groups is that they provide a venue for writers to get together and chat about their craft, toss around ideas and attend classes. Being around other writers, whether they're just starting, are successful, or are in the same place I am, has been an inspiration to me and a great help.  I've found that they're very nice people, with many of them being eager to help other writers/authors.  There are some great helpful blogs out there, which I will eventually put on here.

To attend the NLAPW meetings, you need to become a member (or know someone who is and can bring you as a guest to certain specified events).  They're a national group, so you can find a local chapter here:

Pikes Peak Writer's offers free sessions you can attend called Write Brains, but they are located in Colorado Springs only.  You can visit their site at:  Click on "Write Brains" under "Events".

If you want to find something local, contact your local library district.  They tend to have author events, writing classes and the like.  The local Pikes Peak Library District has an improv writing workshop once per month, for instance, as well as a free mini-seminar for writers once per year.

Also, try searching online for anything writer/author-related in your city.  Once you start looking, it is surprising how much comes up.  Nearby cities may also have something worth looking into.  For instance, Manitou Springs does a lot with local authors and has their own writer's conference, as do other Colorado cities.  Getting out there with like-minded people can really give you a boost and get you revved up for your own progress.  It has helped me considerably!

Progress Note: I figured, since this was to keep me honest and push me, that I should include a note on my progress at the bottom of my entries.  I'm almost finished with my second edit and have made notes of a character I want to change throughout the novel, as well as some particular character interactions I want to change.  It's morphing and developing the more I go through it, and I'm finding that editing is challenging and, while not as fun as the writing, it does have its own element of enjoyment.  I try to read through it in snippets, because I find myself engrossed, which is a good sign, right?  Eventually, when I have it at a good place, I will see about reading it straight through to see if anything grabs me as I go through, either good or bad.  I'm hoping to give a couple volunteer readers the manuscript sometime around Valentine's Day.  Exciting!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Introduction

Well, hello!  I'm hoping to keep up with this blog somewhat consistently, but writing fiction comes first, as any writer reading this likely agrees with.

Last winter, I shut down a home business, the name of which shall remain unspoken.  Finding myself with a check for the limited inventory I'd been able to return, I decided it was time to invest in myself and my true dreams, not a pyramid scheme.  The timing was perfect, as I received an email from a friend reminding me that registration was open for the 2010 Pikes Peak Writer's Conference, which just happened to have one of my favorite authors, Kelley Armstrong, as a keynote speaker.

This struck me as being fortuitous, so then and there I decided to register for my first ever writer's conference.  As the big day approached, I readied the first couple pages of the manuscript I had begun, made sure it was in manuscript format and printed up the multiple copies called for in case I did actually get a Read & Critique session (which I ultimately did not).

Through all this, though, I still wasn't sitting down and writing the way I wanted to be.  These first few pages were a good portion of what I had accomplished.  Not a good start, but a start, all the same.

I was a bundle of nerves as I headed to that conference.  I had no idea what to expect.  I'd packed a book so I could hide in a corner and read, if need be, but as the day progressed, I found that people were friendly, and I soon had a couple women whose names I knew and who I enjoyed talking to between sessions.

The sessions I attended were wonderful, and I learned so much in my three days there, not only from the various speakers, but also from fellow attendees, some of whom were already published, others who were in various stages of where I am right now.  Throughout that weekend, I had such a mad itch to write, but I held back and began writing notes in the provided notebook they'd given us the first morning.  I started sketching out the village my characters lived in, the characters themselves, the plot points.  I'm not much of a plotter, but these details were just flowing out of me.  I wrote questions and notes for myself, made sketches and started jotting down possible character names.

Even after the conference was over, I carried that notebook with me everywhere I went.  It wasn't unusual to see me jerk the book out of my bag at a restaurant or as the passenger in a car.

The kicker is, once all this started flowing, I was able to sit down and write; it just flowed out of me.  Something I'd heard long ago, that had been reinforced at the conference, was to only go forward during the first draft.  Don't go back and read what you've written or you risk being sidelined as you edit, edit, edit instead of moving forward.  I have found this to be magical advice, so far, but then...I'm not yet a published fiction writer.

Other advice that has proven just as important is as follows: Stop making excuses!!  Stop putting your dreams off!  This doesn't have to just refer to writing.  This can mean anything you have your heart set on, anything that you've been putting off.  I thought of all the time I wasted surfing Facebook or just mindlessly looking around online because I was so drop dead tired at the end of the day or because I was bored.  I didn't write during the day, because I felt I should be cleaning, playing with the kids, working for an online texting service job I'd taken for minuscule pay.

I constantly told myself I'd write when the kids were in school or when I finally got the house clean from top to bottom or when I accomplished every other thing on my to-do list.  Before I had kids, I did the same thing.  Back then I said I would write when I wasn't working so much overtime, when I had a baby and would "be sitting at home all day" (yes, you parents should all feel free to laugh at that one), when I finished my degree.  There was always something so important that it came before writing.

It took the conference to make me realize how wrong  and self-destructive that was.  I'd heard before that you should write like it was a job.  I had a dedicated space, but I wasn't using it.  Instead, that's where everything in my house went to pile up when I needed to clean in a hurry and there was no set place for that item.  This, of course, just gave me a different excuse ("I'll write when I get that office clean, but I just don't have the time to get that done.")

My biggest excuse has already been mentioned: my children.  Parenthood keeps a person busy.  And when that person isn't busy, chances are that they're tired.  Let me emphasize that word: TIRED.  I felt that I just couldn't be creative when I was...TIRED.  I felt the only time I could possibly find time to write was in the evening.  This was also true before I had kids, but was working full-time.

There were many ideas for making the time to write that made sense, but made me say, "But what if you have children?"  I credit Kelley Armstrong with helping me through that little excuse.  She had small children when she wrote her first book.  I was greatly encouraged by speaking to her about this, and it helped to strip away that last great excuse.

My son is now in kindergarten, but I have a three-year old daughter at home with me all day who demands my attention.  I figured she'd never let me sit and write, but I also felt it was time to try to work it out.  Most importantly, it was time to start writing during the day, rather than putting it off until after the kids got out of bed.  Notice that matches the recurring theme of not putting it off?  Even putting it off for a few hours can be destructive to your goals.

What I did was get her excited about sitting in my office with me.  I set up a little corner for her, with her own desk and chair.  I provided crayons, paper and coloring books.  She got to choose toys to bring in, and I brought her a snack and water bottle.  She happily sat down in her little corner and I turned to to my computer screen.  Music helped a lot.  This was an idea first presented to me by an English teacher my freshman year of high school.  She always played Enya for us as we did free-writing in class.  This may be why I took particular notice of the song lists appearing more and more in novels, lists of songs/artists they listened to while writing.  It took me awhile to pick through my CD's to find something that really seemed to represent the mood and plot of the book I was writing on, but I found a stack and it is still nestled there next to my computer.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Sometimes my daughter doesn't feel like sitting there playing quietly.  Also, I try to dedicate only a couple hours to writing during the day; the rest is spent playing with her, cleaning and doing those other things that I used to use as an excuse not to write.  I can still do it all, but I had to let perfection in my household go (not that my house was ever perfectly clean--that's not my bag, baby!  I'm no super housewife).  Sometimes my daughter comes up and talks my ear off instead of playing, and she wants me to talk to her.  Sometimes she brings me some of her toys and expects me to play with her.  You have to find balance here; certainly, no one would recommend ignoring your small child to get your writing done.  Or your boss.  Or whatever other issue there is.

Once I got started, I found it was easier to steal little moments to go write.  If the kids were happily engaged playing in their play room (which adjoins my office), why not fire up the computer and finish that scene so intently pounding around my brain?  I found that the book was always floating around in my mind, and that my subconscious would often work through an issue I was having.  This same thing happened when I was simply jotting notes in a notebook.  It was like I gave free license to the creative part of my mind to run wild and free, and it was so delighted to be freed that it took off at full speed, rolled in the grass, smelled some roses, and belted out ideas as it ran.

And then a funny thing happened.  I became more and more encouraged.  I shook off the excuses and just wrote.

So here I sit, starting this blog while my rough draft #2 rests downstairs in my office waiting for another read-through.  Are my various fears gone?  Absolutely not.  I have been fighting off this urge to psych myself out fairly constantly.  It turns out all those excuses I was throwing out had a lot to do with fear.  I feared that I couldn't do it, that I couldn't actually put down enough words and pull a plot through an entire novel-length project (I did).  I still fear that I won't be able to edit it well, that I'll give it over to my volunteer readers and they will secretly hate it and mock it.  I fear that I won't be done by the writer's conference this spring, or that I'll not get an appointment to pitch it, or that I will, but the agent will look at me like I'm a completely untalented imbecile.

What happens if any of that happens?  Does that mean it's done?  No!  One thing authors repeat over and over is that your first book [usually] doesn't get picked up right away [or ever].  I will probably get turned down, possibly over and over.  But I am trying to prepare myself for that, and I am determined to march on, despite those rejections.  I'll make myself a groovy little file for rejection letters if I have to, because each of those rejection letters will represent my having tried to sell that book.  Each of those rejections will be proof that I have sucked it up, pushed my fears down and attempted to take that step forward.  They can't knock me down, they can only push me forward.  This is what I tell myself.

Having said all that (and I realize I've said a whole lot), I am by no means where I think I should be to get this writing done.  I find I sometimes go several days between writing, and that the longer I go, the harder it is to drag myself down to my dungeon to start it up again.  Sometimes I may get down there as planned, but I may just write for twenty minutes.  I may get nowhere.  I may walk out of my office with more questions than answers.  Each of these things marks some manner of progress, though, because I made it happen, one way or another.  If I conquer that five-day slump, I have achieved something.  If I write for half an hour one day, that means I wrote, I did it.

I have so much to say, yet I don't really know where to go with this blog just yet.  I'd like to talk about the support I've received by joining local writer's groups, but maybe that's for another blog entry, another day.  Really, when I sat down to write this introduction, I had no idea what to say or what I should talk about, so I finally just started typing.  I felt if I set up the blog, but didn't write this first entry, it might not get written.  It might just sit here, all pretty and empty, and never be filled.  Instead, I forced myself to sit down and write this first entry.  I hope I haven't scared everyone away with my seemingly unending chatter, and that someone else out there reads this and can maybe see a little bit of how this has finally started taking shape for me.  I would love to hear from anyone who is in the same place as me, whether you are a writer or have another goal.  I would love to hear from you if you are in a different place, but similar circumstances.  Have you not gotten to where you dedicate time yet?  Or are you way ahead of me, but flagging?  And, hey, if you want to just lend support or chat about writing, there is no harm in that, either!  Every little bit helps.  The last year has taught me that, if nothing else (and I tend to think it has taught me plenty else).

It's hard to believe it has been almost a year since I began on this particular journey.  I hope you'll join me for the rest of it and hopefully celebrate my triumphs with me, as well as my let downs.

Either way, thank you for reading.  I hope to "see" you around!