As a writer, you are part artist and part entrepreneur. Your days are spent writing (art), learning and practicing (craft), and engaging in business. [Read more…]
Last Saturday morning, I hit the freeway and headed west for my very first book fair as an author. [Read more…]
I usually post every Friday about issues facing us older women, but I’m also a writer and occasionally I’ve got to spout off about that, so bear with me.
I’ve been working on my novel, Dakota Blues, for a few years now. It’s taking a long time because I’m learning as I go. That’s cool; I’m teaching myself to write. I read everything I can get my hands on, attend conferences, and ask for feedback from my critique group. Recently I hired an editor.
Wendy’s feedback was really helpful. She made some observations relative to pace, tension, and the believability of characters. Like a wise professor, she also complimented me and I felt empowered. With the changes she recommended, my manuscript will be perfect.
I’m not as disciplined as some people. My friend Kathryn for example will get up at four in the morning and write until lunchtime almost every day. She’s a Ferrari; I’m more a touring convertible.
I sometimes wonder why I’m working so hard to create a work that, in this publishing environment, will probably not earn a lot of money, if any. I could be playing with my granddaughter,
What would my life be like if I weren’t, in effect, starting a small business at the age of 57?
What drives me? Am I stupid?
Well, maybe. But here’s what else:
- I have four more books in my head about the experiences of middle-aged women. I want to share these with you, but they have to wait their turn and Dakota Blues is first.
- I don’t know.
That’s right. For a girl who hates the idea of sleepwalking through her life, I cannot tell you what drives me to write. Mom says I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. If I stopped writing, I think it would be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Now that I’m immersed in Dakota Blues, I love my characters. To me, they’re like real people who are in prison, slipping notes to me through the bars. I have to set them free.
Kindle readers can contact me at LMSpreen@yahoo.com.
I apologize, but the link I originally included with this post was taken down. However, if you’re writing anything at all, including memoir, read anything Jane Friedman has to say, and you’ll feel so much smarter. For example, here’s a post called Using the Fallacy of Memory to Create Effective Memoir. Thanks for visiting.
I’ve been a writer all my life. When I was a kid I invented genealogies for my “families” of toy plastic horses. I kept records of my scientific experiments in the back yard (How does dirt settle overnight in a jar of water? Can you splice a twig from a plum tree onto a peach tree?) Mostly I kept a journal – one of those small flowery jobs with a tiny gold key for the lock. No, I didn’t save it.
I was always a writer, always kept a journal. I’m in my fifties now, and I have journals going way back. The oldest was written in the hospital when my son was born. He’s in his thirties now. Actually, it’s not a whole journal, just the happy pages I saved.
After my first divorce I wrote about the first house I ever bought on my own, not much more than a chicken coop on a busy highway in a bad part of town. On weekends I’d do laundry and grocery shopping and pay bills and take Danny to T-ball practice and come home and mow and water the lawn and get good and dirty and then shower and change and pour a glass of wine and sit on the porch. I wrote in my journal and watched the sun go down across the freeway.
I wrote about my tough new job in management. Back then there weren’t that many women at that level, and I was only twenty-nine, and kind of stupid about people. And I wrote about being lonely. Boyfriends didn’t seem to stick. I didn’t have time to worry about not pursuing a writing career, but I had gratifications. One day I got a letter back from Barbara Bush. Yes, that Barbara Bush. She liked the one I wrote her about a TV appearance at Wellesley with Mrs. Gorbachev. Said I was “dear to write.” I framed it. Wouldn’t you? Eventually I got my BA, eighteen years after I’d graduated from high school. I know it seems like a long time but I was working fulltime and raising my boy. I was the first and only one to graduate in my family so it hardly mattered how long it took.
I never quit writing, mostly in my journal. I even started a novel: a hundred pages of first chapters, about a lady truck driver. I wrote a letter to a trucking magazine asking lady drivers to write to the shiny new PO box named after the book: “Jackknife.” This was how you did it before email. Along the way toward my second divorce I was filling up the pages of my journals. Another husband without a job. This one slipped back into a pre-marital drug addiction. I wrote and wrote.
After a lifetime spent carrying my own water and everybody else’s, I met a prince. I quit my job and started writing. When I got a copy of The Desert Woman with my memoir in it, and a breezy “Thanks!” from editor Barbara McClure, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. I got my own regular column: “The Personnel Office” with the Riverside Business Journal. I’ve written for Palm Desert Magazine , and I’ve finished my “practice novel” and am working on Dakota Blues, my first real one. I attend writing conferences whenever I can and work hard to polish my craft. I’m still journaling, maybe more now than ever. I’ve got thirty years of memories in a box in the garage. I tried to put them on my computer recently. Thought it would be a good thing to do.
Wrong. You know how you think you grow and change and get smarter as you get older? What if you really don’t? See, you have your imagination to tell you it has happened, but I have my actual words, written in cursive with a fountain pen, mostly. I had to stop that project. I was having nightmares.
Have you ever asked a writer, “Why do you write?” Go ahead. It’s illuminating in the way they kind of freeze. I couldn’t tell you either, except that writing, the world of writing, and the company of writers nurture me somehow. Why do I write? Why do I breathe?
Even though she doesn’t know me, I have a fantastic writing mentor in Jane Friedman, one of the top editors at the Writer’s Digest empire. She’s always posting a lot of great, free advice for writers all over the Web. I found this fantastic article on why netting and platforming is so important to do BEFORE you finish your first book.
I was so glad to find it because even though Dakota Blues isn’t quite polished enough to start querying, I’m netting like mad. I even took an officer position at the Palm Springs branch of American Pen Women to upgrade my netting skills and expand my reach. In that job, as in so much else that I’m doing, I’m working my ass off on a lot of things that don’t directly involve writing (e.g. raising money for scholarships for local women.)
I long to sit at my keyboard and hang out with my main two characters, Kristen and Frieda. They’re somewhere in the Black Hills, camping and bickering as usual, with newly-fired workaholic exec Kristen chompin’ at the bit to get back to the corporate world, but 90-year-old Frieda trying to put on the brakes because she knows that as soon as she arrives at her daughter’s house in Denver, she might as well curl up and die.
But I digress. I was thinking, “All this advertising and still no product!” However, Jane says if you wait until your book is done to start netting, you’re stoopid. Well, I’m paraphrasing. Miss F would never be so uncool. But that’s seriously her point, so adios! I gotta go platform…
I have to be honest. I have more ideas than I have years left in my life, even if I live to be 90. The reason is because I have a file called “Writing Ideas” and I keep throwing notes in it. This is not because I’m so brilliant and proactive.
It’s because I’m anxious and uptight: what if my books take off and everybody wants more? (I should be so lucky, right?)
I get ideas for short stories every now and then, too. I’ll be having my morning coffee and surfing around the news on the Internet when something will occur to me. I write it down on a scrap of paper and throw it in the “Writing Ideas” folder. It might come to nothing, but I might decide to pursue it.
I think you have to do this ahead of time if you want to have a writing career. Watch what grabs your attention repeatedly. Are you curious about bank robbers, people who live off the grid, poor people, rich people, lottery winners, serial adulterers, famous sports figures with secret lives, crooked politicians, polygamists, people who live in trailer parks and win the lottery, CEOs who lost their jobs in the Great Recession and become poor?
I find sociopaths, women who stay with abusive husbands, and rich people who lose everything fascinating, just for three. If I see anything on these topics that lights me up, I’ll cut it out, print it out, or make a note and throw it in my folder. I might do a bit of just-for-fun research on it, and that becomes part of my file, too.
But nothing’s ever going to happen if I don’t apply the BIC* protocol. So gotta run!
*Butt in Chair
I’m sorry, Julia, but I’m not enjoying your latest novel, “I See You Everywhere.” I’m on page – oh hell, I’m reading it on a Kindle, so I don’t know what page I’m on. Section 1169, or about 25% of the way through the book – and I’m not sure I’m going to finish it.
This is pretty shocking to me. I loved “Three Junes”, but this book is annoying. The reasons why should be important to any aspiring writer.
For one thing, the two main characters are too similar. Both the girls are flirts, often with each others’ beaux, both have numerous men in and out of their lives, both are territorial and jealous. One is dismissive and rude, the other is judgmental. Yet the story is about their conflict with each other.
Yes, yes, I know. They’re secretly alike, and maybe their discovery of same will turn out to be the nugget the reader will discover toward the end. Except I’m not motivated enough to get there. It’s more than a bit of work to keep them separate in my mind. The chapters alternate between narrators, though, so that helps because often you can’t tell who is speaking, certainly not from her behavior or speech patterns, and Glass doesn’t identify them, or give us markers by which we might.
Second, neither of the sisters is likeable. One is selfish to the point of narcissism, the other is self-absorbed. (Again, this differentiates them – how?) Both are whiny. Blake Snyder, who wrote Save the Cat, said there has to be a moment when your main character performs some action, however miniscule, that makes you want to root for him or her. I haven’t got there yet and I’m not sure I will.
It’s entirely possible that I’m reading this all wrong, stupid Kindle aside. But I don’t think so, and I don’t intend to take that kind of risk with my future readers.
I’ve got a friend whose story is so all over the place she’s ready to throw it in the trash. She says “I’m just so sick of it I just want to get it done and not have to think about it anymore.” Do you ever find yourself thinking the same thing? Sometimes this is because you’re trying to do too much, and there’s no theme or focus. At http://writerunboxed.com/2009/12/22/untangling-story-knots-in-six-steps/ Therese Walsh offers a strategy for helping you machete your way through it.
You might also ask yourself, “What am I trying to say? What is this story about?” In his wonderful book, “Save the Cat” (on screenwriting, but very applicable to a novel as well), Blake Snyder helps you focus your novel by perfecting your logline, or one-line. Once you know where you’re going, the next question is “how?” Sometimes we just start writing because we think it would be interesting, but to whom, and why?
Snyder also suggested you pretend your book’s been made into a movie (what a fabulous daydream, huh?) Now imagine a group of friends sitting around on a Saturday night debating which new movie to see, and yours comes up. What do they say about it? “It’s about a guy who…” Try it with your story. Can you do it? Does your one-line sound interesting enough to make anybody want to see your movie (read your book)? If you can create a good one-line, you’ll bring focus to your story. You’ll be able to figure out what scenes, characters, and plot twists support that focus, and what should be discarded as crapola.
Here’s another thing I hate about critique groups. [Read more…]