Getting to the End

Writing Process

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I’ve spent the past six weeks cutting over 30,000 words from my restaurant book MS. I changed the antagonist, cut out several characters, and majorly altered one of my MC’s story arcs. But I’d been picking at the last two chapters for several days, trying to figure out how to tie everything together, and nothing felt quite right.

Because the ending I was writing, the one full of hope and triumph and restorative justice was not real.

Specifically, the bad guy getting brought to justice by a working criminal justice system…was bullshit.

I wanted it to be real. I wanted every problem to have a solution. Every thread to be neatly tied up in a bow. But that feeling that was nagging at me, gnawing at me and driving me nuts, was the stronger desire to tell the truth.

This story does end on a hopeful note but it’s not because these characters and this community were rescued by the police or the government or a more powerful “white savior” character. It’s hopeful because, after everything we see these characters go through, all of the pain and injustice and every day prejudice that exhausts the mind, body, and spirit, that beats it down to dust, we also get to see them rise. We see them save themselves and each other.

One of the characters tells my male MC that “resiliency is its own reward.”

It’s not what the MC wants to hear. It’s not what any of us want to hear. We want to hear that when you work hard, when you do the right thing, you have earned the right to happiness, to safety, to the bare basics of a beautiful life in this country. But that is not the truth. And this story does not lie and say that it is.

That is why I love the ending of this book so much more than I loved the previous fifty versions. Because it does not lie. It is heartfelt. It is heroic. But most importantly, it is honest.

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Get on the Dang Bus

Writing Process

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I rewrite the first chapter of everything a million times. It is inevitable.

Because it comes first, it is usually garbage. I don’t know the characters well enough yet to know their thoughts and how those thoughts will affect their actions. I usually know what the character wants but I don’t know enough about the obstacles in their way in order to start planting them from the beginning.

At this point I have more questions than answers, which means everything is full of holes. I patch as I go, moving forward and backward, answering questions that lead to answers, which usually lead to more questions.

A few times in the initial drafting process I go back to the beginning and rewrite certain scenes with this knew information. The more things are illuminated, the more I have to go back and weave in those bits of light, which usually illuminates other things I hadn’t realized or thought of and basically the process is never ending.

With my latest WIP, the main character wants to be a musician. More immediately, he wants to audition for a prestigious music school. I have started this scene with him on the bus, anxious as he thinks about what he’s about to do, how he’s about to expose himself, how he might fail. But it didn’t feel urgent enough.

After I got to know him a little better I went back and rewrote the scene so that it starts with him waiting at the bus stop. He’s thinking about the sounds of his neighborhood, how those sounds live inside him. He’s worried what the judges at this fancy music school will think of those sounds. But again, there was no immediacy. The conflict was all in his head. Not out where the reader could see it, taste it, smell it, feel it.

I spent some more time figuring him out. This week I rewrote the first chapter for the third time and I started it in a completely different setting. In the first two versions my main character is just sitting there. I needed him to move. I needed this desire to literally drive him out of his comfort zone. Instead of meeting him in a passive state we find him DJing an eight-year-old’s birthday party, which is running long and possibly keeping him from getting to his audition on time.

We watch him squirm and sweat and try to balance the expectations of his real world with his desire to leave it. To become someone different. To escape his circumstances and change his life. He’s not just thinking about his fears and the possibility of failure. He’s wearing them like a second skin.

It hurts to watch and as he runs six city blocks we ache with hope for him. When he realizes that the bus has left without him, we ache with something else.

This is what matters in a first chapter: How do I make this person’s pain or hope or fear transferrable to the reader? How do I make these feelings leap off the page and hijack the heart of a complete stranger? How do I weave lies so well they are truth? The kind of truth that pricks and stings and reminds us in the best and worst ways that we are alive.

As a writer, that is my job. My only job. Make people feel because when we feel we are aware of our own consciousness, the miracle of our existence. We are reminded that feeling is the point of all of this. That it’s not enough to sit and think and dream and wonder. We have to make moves. We have to wade into the muck for those jewels. We have to put ourselves in situations that make us feel things. Hard things. Hopeful things.

Most importantly, it reminds us that we must be actors in our own lives. We have to stop sitting and waiting for life to arrive. We have to get on the dang bus even if we have to chase it down six city blocks. With every breath and every step, we have to chase this life. Even if we’re wearing our fears like a second skin, the weight slowing us down, we have to chase this life.

When Art imitates Strife

Mental Health, Writing Process

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75,000 words in and this book is finally taking shape. Themes are beginning to emerge and the characters’ thoughts and actions are creating the conflict instead of me just dropping them into unfortunate circumstances. Things are starting to make sense.

A little too much sense.

See, I thought I was writing a story about two teenagers bonding over their love of Antonia La Singla and Diego Vargas; their dead parents and the ghosts they left behind. But it turns out I’m telling a story about what happens when those ghosts get under our skin, when we hold onto them so tightly that they become a part of us in ways we don’t even realize.

It’s a story about overcoming stage fright but it’s also about all of the other fears that hold us back–the fear of loving and being loved, the fear of letting go, the fear of leaping into the unknown.

This book has been such an agonizing slog through time and space and twisted metaphors because how can I get these characters to the other side of fear if I’m still stuck at the starting line myself? Every word is a step we are both taking towards freedom. Sometimes we get lost, we backtrack, we go in a direction that doesn’t make sense.

But the only way out is through.

I have to fight through the mess to make it something new. I have to dig through the muck of my own mind. I have to pull out the weeds. This book might not be a cure or even a sense of closure. But if I keep tilling the soil and praying for rain it might just be a safe place to plant the seeds.

It’s a Book-shaped Thing

Writing Process

I started this manuscript on December 12th, 2017. I have been trying to coax out a story from this mess in my head for over a year. And today, at 7:35 PM I have finally reached 70,000 words. It is finally a book-shaped thing.

Finally.

I wasn’t sure I would ever reach the point when this story started to feel like an actual story instead of a bunch of manic vignettes about two complete strangers who refused to reveal themselves to me no matter how much I bargained or begged. I was so afraid they’d stay strangers forever. That I would never know them and therefore never get to tell their story.

But today, I had a breakthrough. In the same way I’ve been guilty of thinking too small and too narrow and too fearfully about my own life, I was thinking much too small in regards to this story. I thought it was a love story. It’s not just love story. I struggled to see past these characters’ brokenness. There was so much beauty buried underneath.

I’m finally in that creative sweet spot between knowing and surprise and it feels like that place at the mid-point of the fall when the parachute finally opens. It feels like freedom.

My Writing Process

Writing Process

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Yesterday’s post got me thinking about the value of indie authors being transparent about the diversity of their experiences and how seeing that every writer life is different can help us alleviate so much stress, envy, and anxiety from the creative process.

I don’t post about my personal experience as a writer because I think it should be the blueprint for all other indies. I try to be transparent about the ups and downs of my own writer life in order to show that I’m still just trying to figure things out and that I can still be “trying to figure things out” while also making good money from writing, which is proof that there is no perfect formula for self-publishing success.

This is good news. This means that despite what advice is floating around online, despite what other indies are doing (including me) there is no right way to do this writing thing. There is only your way, and as long as your way honors your beliefs and values and safeguards your health and well being, then your way is the best way. Keep doing it.

I think after reading about my own writing process, you’ll also begin to see that sometimes the best way actually means no way and that’s still okay too.

My writing process looks different during the school year than it does in the summer and for the purpose of full transparency, last year while I was teaching there were many months when it was pretty much nonexistent (hence why I’m still working on a novel that was supposed to come out in April).

Summer 2017:

7:00 AM–> Wake up *hey, I’m sleeping in a little*
*check KDP & Draft2Digital to calculate revenue for the past 24 hours and make sure nothing catastrophic has happened that will drastically change my projections for that month
*I’ve also been checking Tapas, which so far has not turned out to be as lucrative as I thought it would be *make a note to revisit Wattpad presence*
*Check email
*I should also be honest and say that I’m also simultaneously scrolling through Twitter while doing most of these other things

8:30 AM–> Writing time OR working out (it depends what time my Pure Barre class is that day *yes, I’ve joined the cult*)
*Right now, writing for me is writing this blog post but sometimes it means re-reading what I wrote the day before, making a few notes, and then getting back to work

12:00 PM –> Lunch, which is usually guacamole
*I’m lucky if I can hold my creative focus for this long. Sometimes I’ll write straight through, which usually leaves me with a HUGE writer hangover the next day, which I must recover from with the help of even more guacamole and a bunch of mindless shit on Bravo. But usually the three and a half hours between the beginning of my writing time and lunch are a combination of writing sprints and more Twitter checking

1:00 PM –> Writing Time Part II
*I try to grind out as many words as I can before my boyfriend gets home so I’m not glued to the computer screen while he’s trying to tell me about his day (sometimes this works but sometimes I’m nearing the end of a project–like now–and it’s more difficult to wrap things up, especially if I’ve finally found a bit of momentum)
*If my brain starts getting tired I’ll switch to blogging or reading (either my library books or blog posts/articles online). I’ve also started listening to podcasts a lot more lately

3:00 PM –> Try to relax *emphasis on TRY*

*Evenings* –> These are constantly changing…
*If my boyfriend wants to spend a couple of hours working on music before dinner I’ll try to get some more writing done
*If he’s doing live sound that night I’ll definitely make myself get some more writing done (I’ve felt guilty this summer taking writing breaks while he’s at work all day)
*If he’s exhausted from work I let myself be too and we watch TV until it’s time to go to bed, which for me is embarrassingly early *usually, 9 PM*

The next day…
*Sometimes I can get up and do it all again
*Sometimes I can’t
*When I was really in the meat of my novel this summer I found myself only able to write new material every other day and the days in between my brain only had enough energy for revisions. Sometimes I needed a break from both but anxiety over my looming deadline would force me to at least have the laptop open and my MS pulled up while I picked at it like a zombie

School Year 16/17:

August-October–> I was waking up every morning at 5:30 AM to spend a few hours working on The Daughter of the Night. It was miserable and I probably won’t ever do it again

November-December–> I hardly wrote at all and took a much needed break after all those early mornings and then people didn’t even like it and it really sucked and made me sad…

January-March–> Tried to write on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on Saturdays and revising on Sundays. Sometimes that meant writing on one of those days and sleeping on the other

April-May–> Pushed back my deadline to June; continued my weekend routine

June–> Pushed back my deadline to July; continued my weekend routine until school let out. Gave myself a week to recharge and then began my summer routine

July–> Even with my new summer routine of writing almost every day I still had to push my deadline back ONCE AGAIN to August

13 days in…and I’m praying I won’t have to push it back to September.

As you can see, I sort of need structure but I also need the flexibility to be kind to myself. What isn’t as visible from my descriptions above is how often I’ve actually been letting myself take breaks. Sometimes that means taking a 2-hour lunch in front of the TV before getting back to writing and sometimes that means doing no writing at all. It just depends on what my brain and body are telling me, which I think I’ve gotten much better at interpreting through the course of writing this novel.

What’s wrong with this way of doing things? Well, the novel still isn’t finished yet and it’s the only one I plan on putting out this year, mostly because I can’t produce anything at a faster rate. But because I know that about myself it’s not a huge disappointment. This means that instead of beating myself up every time I need to take a break I can just take a freaking break. After almost 8 novels I’m no longer trying to prove to myself that I can finish. I’m no longer trying to prove anything to anyone at all, except maybe to you. That YOU can come up with a routine that works for YOU and still achieve success. And the best part? It doesn’t have to be grueling. It can be kind. You can be kind to yourself and still reach the finish line, possibly more refreshed and more in love with writing than when you started.