Monday, April 21, 2008

Homework Ideas for Beginners.

The last time I had homework it involved nutrition, food safety regimes, menu planning, visiting hotels to interview the executive chef, and all the myriad details involved in a 3rd year chef apprenticeship. This time around, it's a little different. No food, just words. Beginnings in fact.

Three different stories, three different beginnings. One, a rewrite of a story that's already been begun. I was happy about the rewrite exercise, it allowed me to move beyond a year long stint of writing block on that particular novel. The second exercise was a piece of cake, since we could use something we already had written, if it fit the criteria. Phew!

The third piece? With eye strain and a neck-tension-induced headache, I wrote six different versions of the one story. Longhand. Each one sucked more than the last. Somehow, this story idea needed a different emphasis on the opening scene than what the exercise required. Woohoo! Filed that for later reference. But, crap! Now I needed a new story idea with less than thirty six hours until deadline.

Spent the next day doing homework of a different kind; chores. Fun, fun, fun! After a walk to clear my head and a tasty dinner to stimulate the senses, I sat down at the computer to write. And sat. And stared. Then fartarsed about on the internet hoping to trick an idea into slipping into my brain while I wasn't looking.

With less than twenty four hours to go until deadline, I gave up. Shut down the computer and called a friend to say happy birthday. Four hours later, got off the phone from her, managed a far too quick clean of my teeth, then fell into bed. Where the vision of an Aunt-in-law's afghan rug nagged insistently for ten minutes. Ten whole minutes that thing swam in my brain before I realised it had been haunting me all day.

Snuggling deeper into the doona I squished my eyes shut, ostensibly focusing on the afghan, but really hoping to slip off to sleep. No such luck. Just as my day was ending, the story was finding its beginning. There in my mind's eye a brand new scene for the exercise unfolded. All centered on that afghan. After playing it through a few times, I figured it was burned into my brain pretty good, so I could finally go to sleep.

"Now, now," said my muse. "None of that, thank you! You know what happened last time you tried that trick, after I managed to get your attention with a story idea at this time of night."

Sigh! Yeah, I forgot all the important details and was left with crap. With no help for it, I snuck back out of the room. (Hoping not to wake my husband, because he had to get up in less than three hours.) I grabbed the same pen and notepad I'd been using for the aborted earlier attempts, curled up on the couch in my fluffy dressing gown and scribbled furiously for the next twenty minutes.

I've been asked many times, "Where do you get your ideas from?" While saying "from the idea fairy" has such a nice ring to it, the more nebulous, "Pretty much from everywhere and everyday life" is my usual response. In this case, an afghan rug that I'd seen for all of an hour and a half, nearly two months ago.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Making it Count.

This, or others like it, is a little something that many authors use to keep their readers appraised of the progress on their latest novels. The total word limit is mostly a guess, since I can never be sure how many words it will take to tell the story. It is something it aim for though. And I likes me a goal.

1,243 / 120,000 words. 1% done!

They do have their uses, but it can also be misleading. Especially when in the second or consecutive drafts, because progress can often be measured by tightening up what you already have, or replacing it with a much better, albeit shorter, scene.

So, I tend to use word metres more as a memory aid. A reminder that I have people out there interested in the finished product. That I AM making progress, even on the days I feel like I'm blindfolded and walking in circles. Each word I write, is another step counted on the journey to improvement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'd forgotten how good it feels.

My brain had been non-functioning for so long. First frozen with indecision and low self esteem, then addled by the antibiotic reaction. I'd forgotten how it feels to have the words flowing. Immersing myself in my characters for hours, as they share their lives with me, leaves me with a crick in my neck. But it's great coming back to the pain that means the premises have been vacant in a good way.

I'm writing again. And writing in tune with my characters instead of trying to decipher their semaphore past the fog. I want to keep writing, but having already been at it for three hours straight this evening, I know I need to take a break. Dammit.

Part of this renewed burst of writing energy was being accepted into both the writing group and the workshop. The "homework" from both of those places has got the creative juices flowing. Even more importantly the fact of applying and being accepted, on the merits of my writing, and being invited to the workshop, for the same reason, has given me a confidence boost like I've only experienced once before. Actually, I think this boost is more meaningful. Because this time I'm fully committed to making my career work.

Ladies and Gents, the horse has deigned to drink from the trough! I believe in myself.

And now, the exciting life of an author continues. I have a hot date!

With the dishes.

{pats the keyboard} Tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Watch that first step, it's a doozy!

Over the last few weeks I went through a gradual but big revelation. Up until recently I've been paying lip service to my job. Sure I've told everyone who'll listen that I'm an author. Talked and talked about all this writing I'm doing, read all the how-to-write books I could spend my spondoolies on, and made much noise about it all...outwardly. Inwardly, was a whole 'nother story all together.

I've been very afraid to commit to this in my own heart and mind. I'd tried being a chef, and that didn't work out so well. For various reasons I failed, and was failed by those I found myself surrounded with in that career path. Failing at that dream was all right. I still had my biggest dream to fall back on. Writing has been my secret desire ever since I read Dragonflight, at approximately the age of ten. By subconsciously not giving my full commitment, within myself, about writing as a career, I could always say "Oh well, perhaps next time, if I try harder." Or I could blame others, somehow.

If, however, I do try my very best, then it is me that has failed and no one else. And if I fail at my biggest, brightest dream--seeing my name up there on book covers, knowing that my words could bring as much joy to even one person as Dragonflight bought to me all those years ago--what would that do to me? I'd be gutted. Completely and utterly, gutted. But, I realised the other week, by not trying my hardest, wasn't I already failing? Not only failing myself, but that one person who could have had their life enriched by my stories.


I'd been blaming other people in my life for not believing in me and trying to distract me from my chosen course, when it reality it was me that didn't have enough faith in myself. It was the helmswoman with a loose grip on the tiller. With that realisation, I ranted and raved, and cried, and overate for about a week, then got a grip on myself. (My usual response to unpalatable personal epiphanies) And when two opportunities came up very recently, I didn't run screaming into a pit of self loathing or reject them because I'm NOT WORTHY! I studied the opportunities, asked for advice from those I trusted, (if I'm to be completely honest, it included a few questions from me about any s'posed unworthiness) and then said yes to both opportunities.

One was to join an online workshop when invited to do so; the kind of workshop I've been desperately hunting for during the past two years. (It's not a face-to-face workshop like I prefer; but online and containing what I've been seeking, is better than in person and not quite what I need.) The second was to join another writing group. A writing group with a slightly different focus to the others I belong to, but a fabulous opportunity to brush up on skills in said differing way. So I jumped at the chance and applied. If my application isn't successful, well at least I tried. And if it is? Woohoo!

And now I find myself in yet another quandary. An exciting one, but still a quandary nonetheless. I'm going to have to learn time management. This is something that's never come easy for me. In all my creative efforts and most areas of my life, I'm a make it up as we go along kind of girl. I worry about things incessantly before the actual event takes place, but once it does, eh, anything goes. Bored with writing? Fine, switch to house work. Bored with house work? Switch to something else. That was fine and dandy while I wasn't serious about my writing. But now that I have truly made that commitment within myself, I know I'm gonna need to learn this skill and mighty pronto. Just like every other grown up who's running a household and holding down a job.

In many ways I feel like I've always done, when standing outside a place of new employment. That moment I take to gird my loins, knowing that inside is a whole lot of unknown. The girding is bolstered by the hope that in time I'll look back on my nervousness and wonder what the hell I was ever worried about. But still, there's that fearful moment of hesitation, every single time, without fail. And I find myself standing in that moment tonight. Stage fright is not comfortable, but it is a necessary step if I'm going to step out into the spotlight of my dreams.