Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Meet Me in Denver

Will any of you be in Denver in July for the RWA National Conference? If so, please find me and say hello! I’ll be the one with the short hair [subtext: look for my badge] staying at the hotel.

Seriously, though, I would love to meet up with people. Those of us from All The Kissing are having an event (that makes it sound so formal! It’s a drop-in-and-say-hello thing) on Friday, July 20 at 8pm at 16Mix inside the downtown Denver Sheraton. There…um…might be some swag to give away too, if that’s a motivating factor for you. Here, have some details.

If you can’t be there, stop by and say hello at the Golden Heart® Ceremony luncheon on Thursday afternoon! The vegan option last year was very tasty, but I might be too filled with nerves to eat my lunch this time.

One thing is certain: I will be so delighted to put names with faces, faces with names, faces with voices and Twitter handles, share a few laughs, and enjoy every last moment.

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Writing Through the Tough Times

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’ve never met a career as soul-crushing and disheartening as writing.

I’ve also never met a career that can be as exciting and fulfilling.

So what’s the truth of it? Honestly, my truth will vary from yours and yours will vary from the next person, and so on. I can only speak with authority to what it means for me. As a writer, a human being, someone struggling to get her words out there, I will tell you that there are days when I want to just stop. That’s disheartening. That’s so tough.

Writers need thick skins. We hear that all the time, and it’s a universal truth. People either will or will not like our stories. Agents either will or will not be willing to try to sell them. Editors either will or will not accept them for publication. Small presses either will or will not be accepting that type of story. Critique partners, beta readers, reviewers, random people on the street–you get the picture. As a writer, there is no shortage of people willing to voice an opinion on the quality and marketability of our work.

We have to learn to be incredibly selective about who we listen to, and why we listen to those people. I’m not saying I don’t look for feedback, because I do. I enter judged contests. I’ve got a plethora of critique partners and beta readers. I’m actively querying, which puts my work out for scrutiny by agents and publishers, all of whom have different criteria for what they like and for what they’re looking to represent.

We also hear this all the time: writing is subjective. If that’s not a universal truth, I’m not sure what is. One reader will love the chemistry between characters. Another will hate it, or say it leaves them cold. One reader finds our work full of that elusive thing called voice. Another says they’re not a fan of the author’s voice. There’s an opinion for everything. With the short pieces I’ve had published, the reviews I’ve received have been all over the place. Sometimes I go back and reread them if only to remind myself how subjective this business really is. There is no one work of literature out there that’s universally loved, no one book that finds itself universally despised. That’s simply the way it is.

So why do we keep writing? A lot of people will say they write because they can’t not write. Some people will say it’s simply a learned skill or a job, and they do it every day because it’s what’s expected of them. I’ve always said I write because I have stories to tell. Will everyone want to read them? No. Will someone want to? Yes.

That’s why I write through the tough times. Those times when I think my life would be better served if I just gave up on writing and did something “useful” instead. But I’ve noticed something, and I don’t think I’m alone in this: when I don’t write for stretches (I can’t say how long because it varies), I get cranky. Unhappy. Depressed. Distressed. All those things make me want to not write. But if I power through them after a reasonable amount of time and make myself sit down and write, inevitably I feel better. More complete. Creative in new ways. I have more energy, more drive, more enthusiasm for the other things life has to offer.

And yes, I can do something “useful” and be a writer. Thankfully, those aren’t mutually exclusive.


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What Are You Up To?

Every time I hear that question, I mentally add the words my Juanita and think of Lowell George and Little Feat and their song Fat Man in the Bathtub. It’s off the excellent live album Waiting for Columbus, in case you’re looking for something to listen to.

I haven’t heard it for a while, but I can fix that. Hold please…there. Now I’m listening to it. I do best with music most of the time, but curiously not really when I’m writing a first draft. There, I don’t want anyone else’s words filtering into my subconscious.

I haven’t been writing a first draft. After a fairly epic NaNoWriMo where I churned out some 90,000 words of first draft, I took December off. I don’t like to edit too quickly after drafting–the work needs to sit for a while. In fact, I wrote a blog post over at All the Kissing about keeping on with your NaNo novel, and another one about being kind to yourself during the editing process. Every now and again, it’s good to take a break. Honestly, I’d reread my NaNo draft so many times that I couldn’t see the words on the page any more. I knew the MMC (that’s “male main character” for those of you who don’t write romance) needed a better arc and I decided to reorder a lot of what happened in the book, although overall I was pretty pleased with my first/zero/garbage draft. But I also knew I needed some breathing space.

Instead of working on that book, I went back and re-read my Pitch Wars manuscript and decided that needs work too, although nothing as extensive as a complete rewrite. Having worked on two more books in the series, there are little characterization tidbits I need to go in and firm up. Otherwise, it’s still pretty good.

Thumbs up!

I will say that going back and rereading something I wrote over a year ago leads me to appreciate how much I’ve grown as a writer since then. I suppose no work of fiction is ever really done. There are always things about it that can be finessed and improved. I also suppose that part of learning to be a writer is knowing when to let go and say enough. Time to let it go, send it off, send it to bed, shelve it–whatever the right thing is to do in the moment.

I reached that point with Book 2 in the series at the beginning of November. I’m pleased with it. It’s ready. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, because go up a paragraph. There’s always room for improvement. But at some point we have to let our babies leave the nest, right?

During December, though, I did a few things that weren’t writing. I visited family. I got back into my favorite art and crafts. I read, re-read, but didn’t touch my NaNo novel. I read a few books. I woke up to snow on Christmas morning, just in time to get to the Seattle airport (that was a fun trip; there wasn’t enough de-icing equipment at SeaTac but I made it to Arizona and my mom eventually). Mostly, I lived like a normal person, whatever that is. A normal person who didn’t churn out a 90k book in 30 days.

I’m so proud of myself.

Now I’m reading a manuscript for a critique partner. I’ll be reading a book sent to me for a review next, and finally getting back to my own series (oh, I decided on a SERIES TITLE for it too, which was fun, because it’s a theme common to all the books in it). I told people I wanted to wait to revise Book 3 until the ideas were so overflowing I could no longer contain them. I’m getting to that point. Dreaming about the characters, thinking about their story arcs, creating ways to improve them and make them more multidimensional than they already are.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, my Juanita, my sweet chiquita. Here, have some Little Feat.


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Striving for Positivity

I’ll never get published, I hate my writing!

Oh, yeah, I love what I wrote.

I’m a fraud, people will find me out!

Damn, I’m incredibly competent.

I’m going to drop out of all social media!

Wow, look at this great conversation.

Nobody likes me.

I love you all!

 

This is what the inside of my brain looks like today. Which brings me to an important point about exclamation marks (seriously). Look at the list above. All the negative sentiments are emphasized with them, and none of the positive ones…until the last. Because that’s where I’ve ultimately ended up today.

Look, writing is a tough business. There’s precious little praise and entire dung heaps of rejection. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s biting our nails. It’s looking for validation anywhere we can find it. It’s the inevitable feelings of worthlessness, followed by the inevitable (but generally short-lived) feelings of competence. Like a good game of table tennis, we go back and forth, back and forth.

Last night I had to fill out a form detailing my occupation for the past ten years, and I left off writer. Why? Because in my brain–in that space I was in at the time–I decided I had no viable proof that I could call myself a writer. My published stories have gone out of print. I don’t write regularly on this blog any more. I’m not agented. I’m not even sure which of my works I’m going to pitch in the face-to-face sessions I have lined up. That old enemy of mine, self-doubt, made a roaring comeback.

It’s so easy to harp on all the bad things and forget the good ones.

But really, I am a writer and self-doubt will slink away like it always does, tail between its legs. Back into the darkness. Still, at times like this I am so appreciative of my friends and my writing community. Without you guys, I might fill with too much self-loathing and be one of those people who announces they’re quitting the writing world forever, see you on the other side. When I’m smart I remind myself it doesn’t matter what stage of our career we’re in–just starting, manuscript complete, querying, agented, on sub, published–we all have the same nagging doubts and fears.

So let me ward that off for you. When you sit there and ask yourself am I good enough? the answer is yes. When you wonder if you’ll ever be successful, the answer is yes. When you think you can’t possibly do this for one more day, the answer is you can. 

Now all I have to do is remember that myself.


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I said that last time. It became a pastime.

Bonus points! I got you here using Hamilton lyrics!

Seriously, though: we’re moving again. Last time I told myself it was our last move for a long time, but it hasn’t really been all that long. So it goes. Onward and upward, and hopefully this time will be the last time for a great many years.

I’m excited for it, but it’s put a cramp in my writing style. Today was a good day, though. For the first time in many weeks, I had a few uninterrupted hours to write so I took advantage of it. Getting back in the swing of this story felt so good.

Honestly, I’ve tried not writing and I just get cranky and depressed. It’s better for me (and for the world around me) if I take the time I need to be creative.


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Hello, life and everything

Sunrise this morning was bright red under a perfectly flat line of clouds. If it hadn’t been 5-something in the morning, I would’ve taken a picture of it for you.

Oh, my poor neglected blog, I’ve missed you. I’m always of a mind to tell you that if I have nothing to say, it’s better not to try to force a post. Like so many other people I’ve been digging my way out from the dark days of winter. Here in northern California it’s been raining pretty much non-stop, so when the sun finally peeked out a few days ago I was reminded of the time I spent at the beach sand bars as a child. When the tide went out, hermit crabs would emerge from their shells. Timidly at first, because a wave could always come crashing back down on them, but eventually they’d get brave enough to peek out and stay out, and finally to start scuttling around.

That was the Bay area this week. It was like the aftermath of an apocalyptic event: the sun was finally out, and people stepped outside for the first time in a long time, shielding their eyes against the sudden onslaught of beauty pouring down on them.

rainy-street

But I spent a long time living in Oregon, and I know winter sunshine is more of a tease than a reality. We’re getting ready for another week or more of rain now, and I’m holding my breath along with the majority of the country in hoping that dam in Sacramento holds. In other news, okay, thank you for the much-needed water, skies, but you can stop for a while now.

As far as writing goes, I started a challenge to do a personal novel writing month this month. I decided to finish the novel I started during NaNoWriMo. Every day, the writing was a struggle. I hated all the words coming out. No, not all the words, just the way the story was unraveling, so I stepped back and took a break for a few days. I know this goes against the whole “don’t self-edit, don’t second-guess, just write every day” rule that usually works so well during NaNoWriMo, but I decided that in February I ought to play by my own rules.

I’m so glad I took the break, because the introspective navel-gazing made me realize I needed a reset. If I was going to tell this story, I needed a whole new book to tell it instead of tacking it on to the end of the November one. So I pulled up my big-girl panties and decided to scrap 3/4 of the 60,000 words I wrote in November, keep the other 1/4 as a standalone novella, and begin again. Now the writing is fun! Now I’m convinced I’m telling the right story the right way. What a relief. For a while there, I thought I’d forgotten how to enjoy writing.


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Walking a Fine Line

Most writers would tell you they’re natural introverts. Writing is a solitary occupation, so we get used to being alone. Living up in our brains, sharing that space with a plethora of characters we know well, trying to make them come alive on the page. Writing requires an immense amount of focus, a lack of distraction, a single-mindedness.

On the other hand, authors and prospective authors are supposed to make ourselves available. Be engaging and engaged on social media. Keep up a presence. Sometimes, that balance between introversion and extroversion can be nearly impossible to achieve. I’m of the school that asks how can I focus on writing when there are so many other things I should be doing? I’m not a marketer, I’m not a social media expert. I’m also one of those writers on the extroverted side of the scale, at least for the most part. I genuinely like interacting with people at least as much as I like interacting with my imaginary friends. I’m a sucker for face-to-face meetings and for editorial/story feedback. I can’t do this kind of work alone.

Then the kind of shit that took place today with Laura Silverman and Hannah Moskowitz happened. In case you don’t know, both these authors were attacked by a group of people leaving false, derogatory, hate-filled reviews on their Goodreads author pages. This was an intentional and choreographed action by people whose intentions were to defame and destroy these women. You don’t need any more of a rehash here; if you’re interested in more details look it up online (I won’t give any more airtime to hate groups). My first gut reaction was anger, but then something more subtle crept in.

You see, I was raised on the delicate arts of compromise and putting other peoples’ happiness before mine. A side effect of growing up that way means that I’m used to protecting other people at my own expense. It also means that for most of my life, I merged intentionally into the background. I’ve never been one to call attention to myself, or even to have a particularly strong self-image, quite honestly. So when the latest shitstorm happened on Twitter–after the anger subsided–I started to hear this little annoying voice that wanted to convince me to stay quiet, to stay out of the picture.

For most of my life I’ve listened to that voice. I’ve done everything I could not to be noticed. Today, though, something in me bent to the breaking point, and I’m glad it did. I joined the fray. I didn’t just point fingers at the injustice–that’s all too easy to do–but I did what I could to help shut it down. I flagged offensive reviews. I mouthed off to the powers that be. I gladly and repeatedly added my name to the list of people standing up and saying not on my watch to the haters out there.

No more walking that fine line.

The actions I took today might seem laughably small, but I had to start somewhere. When you grow up as I did with the intention of helping everything stay calm and serene, making waves is a bold step to take. I’ve long said that the only thing I’m intolerant toward is intolerance, and in a sense that’s still true. But finally, I’m tired of sitting on my feelings. I’m tired of being quiet. I’m tired of having to walk a fine line between what’s safe/comfortable for me personally and what’s right.

Fuck it. There’s too much hatred and anger in the world for me to be any kind of silent partner. Trying to stay apolitical no longer suits me. My conscience demands I stop, and I’m so glad to do it. I’m not turning this into a political blog–I have other outlets for that, and generally speaking this is my writing haven–but I will speak my mind. I will speak up for others, particularly for fellow writers. No one can be a voice for anyone else, but at least we can stand in solidarity. Let’s show those bastards what true community means.

You can pre-order Laura Silverman’s Girl Out of Water on Amazon or on IndieBound.

You can help combat the hate speech by flagging and reporting offensive reviews on both Laura’s and Hannah’s Goodreads pages.

You can send a message to Goodreads support and let them know you won’t stand for this nonsense.

Even more importantly, we can do this consistently for any author, any female gamer, any female comic book writer–you get the picture–under attack this way. We really are stronger together.

Flag, report, pre-order, order, read. I did.