Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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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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Twitter Pitch Contests

It only took me about three years to realize that Twitter, as a whole, is much more fun if I actually participate. See, I’m an extrovert, but I’m also shy (those things aren’t mutually exclusive). I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the way I present myself on social media, and don’t ever intend to give the wrong impression of myself. I find Twitter to be a difficult medium. 140 characters isn’t much space to get the point across.

Recently I stumbled on something there called Agent Match. For those of you following along, you probably know I’ve been writing and have one book honed enough to shop (I have three, but Book #1 needs work on the opening chapters and Book #3 is in the revision phase). Book #2, the one I’m putting out there, is a spinoff novel featuring a minor character from a novella I wrote a few years ago. Writing it was a blast, because it was like writing fanfiction for my own characters. It fairly flew off my fingertips and onto the page. Then I sat on it, and sat on it, and sat some more until the requisite amount of time passed. I only knew it was the requisite amount of time because I stopped feeling all ooh and aah when I read it, which meant I could finally look at it with a critical (editorial) eye. But I digress! I actually worked on a query letter for it, which is fairly decent compared to some of the other query letters I’ve seen, and got brave and submitted to one agent as a test. She requested a partial (yay!) but rejected it. So I went back to the drawing board, incorporated some of the changes I’d been resisting but knew really made sense, and now I’m ready again.

That’s where Agent Match comes in. It’s a very kind Twitter pitch contest in that there’s no “competition” round. Many of the pitch contests start out with a certain number of entries (queries, samples, what have you) and send them to review, where only a subset are allowed to progress to the next round, and so on. Agent Match isn’t like that. The woman running it, the lovely Samantha Fountain, took the first 150 entries that followed her required format. I made it in, figuring I really had nothing to lose

Little did I know how much I had to gain. Samantha lined up twenty-three agents and editors; they’ll look over the blurbs on February 10 and 11 and if interested, request more information from the authors. Simple enough, right? She didn’t stop there, however. A number of these agents & editors have given up a half hour of their time to participate in twitter-based chats with the Agent Match participants… and anyone else who wants to ask them questions. This type of generosity with time and expertise has been absolutely invaluable for me.

At first I spent a lot of time worrying that my questions would be stupid. Much like I did when I was a little kid in school, I hung out quietly in the back of the classroom letting questions burn holes in my throat but not asking them. Then I remembered there really are no stupid questions, and started asking away. Not recklessly; all my questions have been ones where the answers have been of interest to me as an author. Some have been based around query letters, some around genres, some around wish lists, some around advice. It’s been great.

Agent Match (the actual reveal of our blurbs for agent consumption) hasn’t even happened yet, and I’ve learned so much already! Even if nobody’s interested in my story this time around, I know what I want and need to do to rework my blurb, to reword my jacket copy, and to punch up my query letter. I’ve been able to take part in all but two of the chats (lucky me!) and have started to get a real feel for what agents are looking for and how to present information to them. That alone makes me feel like a winner! As a bonus, I’ve made quite a few new Twitter contacts and have gone back to using it again more regularly.

Would I do this again? You bet. I’ll probably even be brave enough to test the waters on one of the elimination-round pitch contests. I look at it this way: if we never open a door, we’ll never know what’s behind it. The worst that can be there is nothing.

Feel free to join me on Twitter at @notsuestorm (and yes, I will be happy to tell the “not Sue Storm” story if anyone wants to hear it).


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Taking the Plunge – Overcoming Fear

What’s stopping us as writers from pressing that SUBMIT button? From sending that email? From putting my work out there?

Self-doubt is probably my worst enemy. I can write and write and write, but if I never share it then it’s nothing but an extended exercise in hedonism. Some of my biggest what-if enemies in this process are:

  • What if my story’s not good enough?
  • What if it needs one more edit pass?
  • What if there’s not enough diversity?
  • What if the plot arc doesn’t conform to the standards of the genre?
  • What if no one likes it?

and the biggest thing:

  • What if I’m not good enough?

When I look at these, there’s one overriding driving force: fear. Nerves are one thing, but being out-and-out afraid is something else altogether. As we all know, rejection is a writer’s middle name. So how do we deal with that very rational fear of rejection?

I wish I had all the answers. I can’t tell you how to get past it. All I can do is describe my own two-step process.

First, I ask myself exactly what I’m afraid of: rejection or acceptance? I can deal with rejection, but the real mystery is what happens if something gets accepted? What will people expect of me? What will I expect of myself? Being human, we all have a little fear of the unknown and what it might bring. For me, fear of acceptance is an unreasonable thing to have hanging around, so right after I acknowledge its presence (yes, it’s allowed to exist even if I don’t like it) I will drop-kick that sucker right the hell out of my way and move on with things.

Second, I look at my list of what-ifs and remind myself that even if all those things come true, I won’t be any worse off than I am now. When I look at it that way, it becomes a no-brainer. There’s no reason not to submit or to query or to enter that contest or to send my words out to someone for critique or feedback. The worst that will happen is I’ll hear the word no.

Come on in, the water's fine!

Come on in, the water’s fine!

I’ll tell you a story: when I was little, we went to a lake in upstate New York for vacation. I was a shy kid, extremely introverted. There was a dock, and I spent a lot of time sitting on that dock wondering how cold the water was, how deep it was, whether there were leeches, whether or not I might drown if I jumped in… you get the picture. But one day the sun was so hot and the water so inviting that a glaze of recklessness overtook me, compelling me to jump into that water. I did, and it was cold and dark and scary at first, but I paddled my way back up to the surface feeling so much better than I had before. Leeches or not, I’d reached the point where I couldn’t not go for that swim.

Enough said.


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Post-NaNo Jitters

Now that it’s been a few weeks since NaNoWriMo ended and I’ve done most of the research I needed to do to support that novel I worked on, it’s time to make a first revision pass. On the one hand, I’m really excited about this! How fun to get to go back and look at what I wrote! How embarrassing to see how many sentences ended up being pure garbage! (When I’m knee-deep in visualizing a scene I write with my eyes closed, and I’m never quite sure what that will produce.) What a delight to finally reread and see if the story actually measures up to what I remember, or if it’s terrible, or if it’s got plot holes big enough to fly airplanes through, or if the characters are plastic or wooden or, since the story takes place around a rock band, if the lyrics are so cringeworthy* that I have to run and hide.

On the other hand, the whole prospect makes me kind of nervous. By the way, “kind of” is one of my crutch phrases in writing. It’s there far too frequently, along with “pretty much”, “just,” and wide-spread comma abuse, but wiser brains than mine have said we can’t break bad habits until we recognize them. I consider those bad habits fully recognized.

Since NaNoWriMo ended I’ve read four books — a luxury I haven’t had in a while — and have written quite a bit of non-NaNo-related fiction. I miss the rigidity of my self-imposed 2000-words-a-day goal, and I miss the statistics chart by which I measured my progress. There are other ways to do it, but none that I’ve found as satisfying.

I’m going to start my first revision pass tomorrow. I know there are plot points that developed later on in the story contradicted by the early stuff, so I’ll be on the lookout for those, and make the story progression logical (I hope). I also have a much better working title than the one I used in November. In filling out the post-NaNo survey today, I took great satisfaction in checking off the box next to “I plan to revise this and submit it for traditional publishing” or whatever their phraseology was. I wanted to write something commercial, something less in the realm of what’s considered literary fiction. The real reason for any nerves comes from that: did I manage to meet that goal? I guess I’ll find out.

*Daniel Radcliffe used that word in an interview. It’s since become one of my favorites, even if spell check refuses to recognize it.


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Hello.

I’m brand new on Ello now.

Do you ever get social media paralysis? At new sites, we have the opportunity to rebrand ourselves. What we post becomes a part of who we are and how we act. I like to consider what I put on sites like Ello and Twitter before I let them become a part of my public record.

What to do! Staring at the blank page anywhere fills me with more than a little bit of apprehension.

(If you’d like an Ello invite, let me know.)


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It’s never writer’s block…

…it’s just that I was trying to force myself to write the wrong story.

Epiphanies aren’t just the province of writers. We all have them on a regular basis. They’re usually called aha moments—I only know the term epiphanies because I studied way too much James Joyce once upon a time—but whatever we call them, they’re undeniable. Little bolts from the blue, little pieces of wisdom that settle down and land on our shoulders. We roll our eyes, slap our foreheads, shrug, acknowledge, and get on with things.

I’ve been working on a story that’s close to being done. I’ve been working on it (to use the term loosely) for about four years. Honestly, I wrote and wrote and wrote like a train gathering steam, then simply stopped. I put it away for a little bit, went on to other things. When I came back to it recently I thought oh, good, this is almost done, it shouldn’t take any time at all to whip it into shape. What I found was that the same boulder that had stopped that train last time was still sitting squarely in the tracks.

None of my usual tricks worked. No amount of rereading, editing, reworking, outlining, theorizing, or fantasizing forced the words to flow. It’s not a bad story. In fact, it’s a really good one. It suffers a little from liking the main character too much, but that’s easy to fix. A little drama here, some extra trauma there… books are formulaic. They need to contain conflict, or the stories are flat. As writers, we don’t want them to be predictable. I know all these things, but on this one, even shaking them up and looking at them through the newest kaleidoscope lens wasn’t doing the trick.

One more time, I put it aside. I blamed a million things: I was traveling and didn’t have enough time to focus. I had too many other things to do. I wasn’t feeling great. I got distracted. There were other books to read, movies to watch, hungry mouthfuls of inspiration wanting to be fed. Excuses are a dime a dozen, they really are. I can come up with them at the drop of a hat.

The truth of the matter turned out to be that I was working on the wrong book. I’d just finished the first draft of a novel, to the tune of 75k words, and was feeling pretty good about it. In that hunter-like way, I looked around for the next thing because writing is a habit, just like exercise, and once we start it’s easier to keep going than it is to stop, relax, and have to start all over again. An opportunity presented itself and I figured this troublesome story, the one stopped in its tracks, was the perfect one to fit the opportunity. I still think it is.

The problem, though, was that the characters from the just-finished book weren’t done talking. I kept thinking about them, kept mulling over their lives, their experiences, what they were doing next, how they felt. Every time I started working on the stalled novel, I would sense the characters from the just-finished one like shadows in the background, moving restlessly, grumbling in little ghostly voices about how they weren’t done yet.

Finally, I caved. Even though I was traveling and conditions were far less than optimal for writing, I caved and gave one of them voice, and before I knew it those initial words on the page became 3500 words in the space of a few hours. That’s the pace I’m used to, not this scratching around only to have come up with a few hundred words three hours later. It felt good. The whole thing made me remember what it’s all about, as far as my heart goes. The words might be rough and might be edited out and might never be used, but it’s a great start.

Now if I can just find that same swing for the stalled story, I’ll be in great shape. First, though, back to the one that’s still picking up steam. Forward progress, onward and upward and all that. I still have a million things on my non-writing to-do list. I still have a lot of other writing projects to pick away at. At least now I’m confident they’ll all get done in due time. All I need to do is listen to the loudest voices.


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Taking an axe to the page

Sometimes, a piece of writing just doesn’t fit. Yesterday I wrote furiously and added about 4k words to my work-in-progress. Today I went back and chopped out 3500 words, but from the beginning. Those words just didn’t fit any more. I realized that what I’d written first was pretty much an outline sneakily disguised as chapter material, but that I’d gone on to write details from it a lot more eloquently later on. Time to take that first chapter and throw it in the outtakes heap. Part of it’s salvageable and I will rework it, but the bulk of it? Not so much, and I’m glad I recognized it. Why give away everything up front when you can describe it at leisure in ways that are hopefully a lot more emotionally charged?

It made me think that writing is really like playing with a set of scales. We add something to this part, take it away from another part, and see where it all evens out.  It’s all good.

On a separate note, those of you working on novels: does it ever feel like such a labor of love, but you’re never quite secure enough in it to think it really ought to see the light of day? Maybe it’s my mama bear instincts, wanting to protect my characters from the big bad world out there. These people are full of flaws and that’s what makes them interesting, but I always want them to shine for everyone else like they do for me.

It’s like watching a toddler take those hesitant first steps and thinking come on, baby, you can do it! then realizing you’d like to cherish that special moment for yourself. Or maybe it’s just stage fright.