Thursday, October 10, 2013

Extraneous Words and Today's Small Word Count

Yesterday I cut about 1500 words from a short story to enter it into a Writer's Digest contest. I thought it was going to be impossible. After all, in a short story, everything is necessary, right? That's how it should be. I'd written the story over a year ago in one stream-of-consciousness sitting, gave it a little editing and sent it in for a grad school workshop. Haven't touched it since.

So when I started looking for places to cut, I didn't think I could lose any scenes. Instead, I took it line by line. My last grad school advisor taught me how to ruthlessly slash and burn unnecessary words when my grad lecture came out to be fifteen minutes too long. I was very resistant at first. Not that I thought what I'd written was absolutely brilliant. But I'd argue that all of my sentences were losing their style for the sake of making things shorter. In the end, though, I know the lecture benefited from all that cutting.

And it turns out, my short story did, too. It took a few passes, but in one day I managed to cut all of those 1500 words without losing anything at all from the actual story.

So that's my success for the week. Though it makes me wonder why we can't just write our sentences in the best, simplest way to begin with. But I guess sometimes we need to write our rough drafts the way we talk. With lots of um's and just's and really's.

Now with my contest entry submitted, I was determined that today would be the day I would get back on track with my novel. I'm already behind a whole week (meaning 10 pages) on my goal. And the second week is half over. So by the 14th I know I need to write 20 pages.

I'm in the middle of a scene right now. Usually, transitions are hard for me. Getting your characters into the scene you know is going to happen next. But once I'm in the middle of a scene, the writing just flows. Not today. Not the last five times I've opened my laptop to look at this scene. And it shouldn't be a difficult scene. I think I'm just having a really hard time getting back into a disciplined writing schedule. Writing because you know you need to. Writing when you have nothing to say. The part of being a writer that isn't fun.

I love putting words into sentences. It's what I do. So I wrote this blog post. Because it's just not going to happen for my novel today. But I did manage to write 275 words of the novel. That's something. I only hope my days start going better than this really soon.

I guess this post is pretty boring.

That's how my brain feels today.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MFA=Master of WHAT?

So at 27 years old, I finally earned my MFA in Writing. A Master’s degree. But now, three months later, I have to ask myself: This makes me a master of what exactly? A master of waiting tables. A master of editing other people’s resumes. A master coffee-maker. A master of marathoning TV shows. Certainly not a master of writing.

Because I haven’t written more than a page of my novel since I finished school. Me. The girl whose main goal in life is to get published. But the thing is, I write all the time. I scribble new story ideas on a Post-It. I jot down a few lines of a poem, even though I’m clearly not a poet. I type up pages-long e-mails to friends.

Now I write blog posts.

I just can’t make myself sit my butt down to finish this damn novel. The first of my classmates, the brilliant and wonderful Cassie Beasley, has already signed with an agent. And a friend who didn’t even need to finish school, the now famous Cora Carmack, already has three books out and is working on three more. While I am thrilled for them and believe they couldn’t deserve it more, any time I feel myself starting to get jealous, I have to remind myself... I haven’t even finished my novel! 

I know I can’t begrudge others their successes when, right now, the only person standing in the way of my own is myself. I keep telling myself that after so many years of school, I deserve a long break. If I want to sit on the couch all day eating junk food and watching (and re-watching) TV shows on DVD, then I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But after seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, two seasons of Supernatural, two seasons of Queer as Folk, and a season of Doctor Who... I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t only a much needed vacation. Maybe there’s a tiny part of me that is scared to sit down and try to finish my novel because I’m afraid I can’t do it. Or afraid when I do finish it, and try to get it published, I’ll fail. 

If that’s the case, then that part of me needs to be squashed like a bug. Except not really, because I’m the kind of annoying person who refuses to kill bugs, no matter how tiny. I’m sure we all have that fear of failure. I don’t think I can make it go away. But what I can do is use it. I can become more determined to get my novel published and prove myself wrong. Of course, I’d also be proving myself right, because for my entire life, I have believed that I would be a writer. I shouldn’t say entire life. 

The first time I remember having this conviction was in the third grade. When I wrote a story about my class just for fun, showed my teacher, and she had me read it to the whole class. And the class asked me to write a new story for them every week. That was when I knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I wrote those stories on my dad’s old typewriter. Back then, I’m sure I didn’t realize that doing it for the rest of my life entailed sitting at my kitchen table in pajamas, downing cups of coffee, and pulling my hair out. 

Even if I did, I don’t think it would have scared me away. I just have to remember that this is worth it. All of that time I invest (when I could be watching the Doctor save the universe instead) will be worth it when I’m holding a printed copy of my novel in my hand. And when strangers, instead of just my grandmother, start telling me that they liked my story. So it’s time to make a plan and dive back in to my writing. 

The goal: finish at least a draft of this novel by the end of the year. That means writing about 50 pages a month for the next three months. Boy, that’s going to cut way back on my time lusting after Jared Padelecki as he kills a demon. 

I joke about my TV addiction, but the truth is, I’m simply addicted to stories. And for a writer, that’s probably the best addiction you can have. I think all writers understand the value of experiencing other people’s stories. Whether that comes from reading a book, watching TV or a movie, listening to a song, or sitting around a campfire while your drunken friends talk about the time they almost got arrested. The art of storytelling can come in many forms, and just because my chosen form is the novel, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t study other forms. They’re all stories. And they all help inspire me to create my own.

So I guess this was my pep talk to myself. 


Do or do not. There is no try.

I started this blog because... well, at first I was procrastinating. But, like I said, I can’t not write. And if I’m not writing my novel, well at least I’m writing something.