Saturday, March 29, 2008

Step One - Taking Inventory of Your Writing

To move forward, you kind of need to know where you’ve been.

I did something today that I think would benefit a lot of my fellow writers who are struggling. See, I save rejection letters. I know, sounds kind of morbid, but it's really very smart and helpful. I will admit that even with time, there's a sting to seeing those rejections, but there's a lot of information in those letters too. (Hint, if you don't do so, start saving your rejection letters in a nice neat folder.)

I got my rejection folder out today and put the rejections from publishers for each story in a pile of its own. Just the novel-length fiction stuff, since that's what I've decided to concentrate on.

I was shocked when I realized a lot of things by digging through those rejections. First, the pile for my last completed manuscript was small. I had only sent it out to publishers twice. Only two times! And, gulp, the last time was in 2002. That was a hard blow. It's 2008. That means in the last six years I haven't completed one novel-length story and haven't even sent my old fiction stuff out to one publisher.

Kind of hard to make a sale when the work is in your computer. (I've told that to hundreds of starting writers over the years. I always say, "Finish that manuscript, set it aside and double check your homework on where you are going to send it, give it a last polish, then get that query in the mail and get to work on that next manuscript. After all, you can't get published unless you finish the manuscript, often a number of them first, and send them out." That's very true.)

Too bad some where along the way I stopped listening to myself.

I learned some good things too though, by looking through my rejections. The ones from the last couple years I was submitting work was personal rejections with comments from the editors on what they felt worked and what they felt didn't. They were also mostly rejections on completes, since it seemed almost every query earned me a request for a complete or at least a partial. In other words, I was doing something right. I was getting some where.

By 2000, I hadn't written fiction for a number of years, doing freelance writing instead because it offered something fiction didn't--a steady paycheck that came every other week. In 2000 I went back to romance, but looking over my records I discovered I gave it a very short two year go, and then I lost my father, and put all writing aside for a while. I've started back a few times since then, but never really got the ball rolling. I got close a couple of times, and then something else big happened, and I just gave right in. I even went back to non-fiction a little over a year ago and completed a book, found an agent for it, and it's been shopped around. Still, I've done little more than start and stop with my fiction since I stopped writing it for fulltime non-fiction work.

The truth is, I'm not in my twenties any more. Okay, or my thirties. It's time to, excuse my French, but as my mom used to say, "It's time to piss or get off the pot." As I've mentioned before, I've tried to get off the pot, but it's like I've got an evil twin in me that loves writing and loves writing fiction best of all and won't let me forget about it.

That's why I sat down and went through those records today. I've been working hard on making fiction writing a daily -- at least five days a week anyway -- habit for me. It's not getting much easier, so I've decided I've got to be doing something wrong, or maybe I'm wrong, and I can walk away and just haven't tried hard enough. Before I toss in the towel on all of the years of work I've put into romance writing and helping other writers write it, I've decided to step back and take a long hard look at what has worked for me, what hasn't, and what I want and what my writing goals really are.

I started with those rejection letters today. If you are kind of in the same spot, that might be a good place for you to start too, even if you don't have them all in one folder, you probably have them jotted down or recall most of them. Maybe you even have better records, like of when you started each manuscript and when you completed it.

If you look over any of the dates above, and you find that they are way far apart, maybe like me, you need to get your ducks in a row, make a plan, set some goals, apply your butt to the chair and get to it -- or get off the pot.

Okay, so now I need a plan and a goal, oh, and some ducks.

To be continued....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting Back to Writing

As many of you know, I've been sick for a long time. I was in bed for months, but I'm getting well enough to get back to life. Well enough to get back to writing. Every time I've taken a break from writing though, getting back to it seems almost as hard as getting through what ever took me away from it. They say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. That doesn't mean you're likely to go jump back on one either though.

When we take a long break from writing, I don't think we forget how to do that either, it's the jumping back on, or jumping back in as it may be, that gives us the trouble.

I still know how to write, and the story I was working on and the one I was editing are both still alive in my mind, but it's like they are on life-support. Getting them breathing again, getting me writing again, might take a little CPR.

Having been through this before, I know there comes a point where you just have to stop putting it off, set a date and jump in. I started Monday. It was supposed to be Monday morning, but I had some really important things I had to handle first. Like, well, there was these dirty clothes in the bathroom, and I found grime in the kitchen sink. Oh, and Monday's are good days to pay the bills, and who wants to start writing when you have a backlog of mail in the in box. Then the dogs did kind of need a bath, and there was.... See, all very important things that couldn't be put off. Right?

Finally I took hold of myself, forced my butt into the computer chair, fought with my hand to keep it from opening up my e-mail program, and made it open the file that held my incomplete manuscript instead -- and then stared at it for a good fifteen minutes as my brain rebelled and other things tried to call me away.

After that, I began by reading over the last chapter I had written. Funny how I recalled some of it so well and wondered if someone else had written other parts of it while I had been away. I had to resist the urge to go back to page one and read the whole story away. I need to do that I'm sure, but I needed to write first. In the end, before I closed the file, I wrote two pages. Yes, two pages, that's it. Those were two very hard pages to write. It felt like trying to get ice out of a cactus.

The next day, I found things to do, and I didn't feel very well, but I opened that manuscript a little sooner than the first day, and I did two pages again. The last half a page was a real push. I had wanted to go up a page and do three, but I knew when it was time to call it a day and let myself be satisfied with what I had accomplished. Today, I've already done my two pages, hoped for three again, but didn't make it again. It's early enough though, that there's a chance I might get brave enough to give it another try. No, I'm not going to count this as writing, since it's non-fiction and my goal is fiction.

I'm not going to be too hard on myself either. After all, I'm in training. At least that's the way I look at it. My husband runs marathons. The full ones. You know, the 26.2 mile ones! (Bless his crazy little heart.) He trains for weeks before one. When he starts out, he doesn't run 26.2 miles, or even 13 miles, or eight. He starts small and just keeps building. It's a daily thing for him.

When I first got where I could get out of bed again, walking through the house left me winded and feeling like I had been doing one of his workouts. Being up on my feet for more than a little while left my back feeling like it would break just from holding me up right. I didn't push myself and go outside and walk for an hour...although I used to walk at least an hour five days a week. I just kept walking around the house, standing longer, sitting longer. Slow day after slow day. Now I can walk for thirty minutes or more before I start wearing down. I can stand up for an hour and half or longer before my back screams enough. I got here, and will get further, by taking it easy on myself, going at my own speed, and getting back to what once was my normal at a comfortable pace for my body.

I'm handling my writing the same way. Right now my goal is to write at least five days a week. Even if it's only two pages, or even if it's less. I'll keep building, letting my writing muscles get stronger, and one day I'll be back to where I was. I've never been one of those writers who can put out twenty pages a day, but on good days I used to be able to pull ten or so. I will again, if I hang in there and don't give up.

By the way, friends have asked me why I don't just give up. If it's that hard to get back to it, then why not just call it a day and move on to something else? I've asked myself that before. Okay, I've screamed that at myself a lot of times.

This is not by far my first long spell away from writing. I didn't write for over a year after I lost my mother, for months after my father died, for months after we recovered from hurricane Katrina. One time I just found myself depressed with all of the rejections and with all the wasted time I had put into my writing and gotten no where. Another time I gave up my fiction writing to do freelance non-fiction for a few years so I could help pay the bills. When I started the freelance work, I thought I could do both, but I was so drained by the time I finished my deadline and turned in my work each week, there just was no writing left in me for my fiction.

So, if I've had to fight so many times to get back to my fiction, why keep fighting? I wish I knew. I've tried to walk away for good a number of times. I really have.

The same thing happens every time though. Once the bad gets better and I start getting over that black spell of time, whatever it may be, the characters in my stories won't stay out of my head. I think about my storylines, about my characters, I plot things out, build in more conflict, map out whole scenes in my mind. Openings for new stories pop into my thoughts, new characters show up and whisper something like, "Do you want to know why I fell in love with him?" The next thing I know, even if I'm not writing, it's taking up such a big part of my life, that there's just no way to completely give it up.

That means the choice becomes either keeping these stories growing only in my mind, or sitting back down at the computer, opening up Word, and getting on with it. It's like one part of me fights getting back to it, but another part fights just as hard to get back to it, and I'm just caught in the middle and finally have to give in and go with the stronger part--that writer in me that won't say die. (Wonder if there's a 12-step program out there for it?)

So, here I go again!

If you've got that stronger writer part in you, and you can't get away from it even when you try your best. Maybe it's time you give in and start back. Answer that character that won't leave you alone, that story that keeps plotting itself out even as you try to block it. If I'm brave enough to give it another go for the I-don't-know-how-manyth time, I know you are.

All we have to do is take one step at a time...or just write one word at a time. The story you finish this time might be the one that helps you reach whatever your goal is.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Last Update of My Sister's Grandbaby

I want to thank everyone who sent prayers, light and good wishes for my sister's grandbaby. Each time I asked, there was an outpouring of the above. I'm very grateful for each and every message and post that was sent. This time I'm asking for those same things for my sister and her daughter. The baby lost his fight last weekend. They said he wouldn't make it to two years, but he made it two months longer than that. It was a hard two years though. He went through so much, hurt so much, that as sad as I am that he is gone, I'm glad that he isn't hurting or having to fight anymore. He was a strong little boy who smiled through things that would have made a grown man cry.