Category Archives: writing process

And so, it begins…

Hello, Day Three of my freedom!

I still have a hard time believing this is true: I don’t have to get my sorry butt to the draining, soul-choking environment of office work anymore. Instead, I find myself actually excited to face every day! Don’t get me wrong: I’m still not what you’d call a morning person–not even remotely, in fact–but at least I actually see the point of getting out of bed now. It’s amazing what self-motivation can accomplish once it starts to stir inside you.

Thanks to the Twitter feed, we all know this whole following-my-dream experiment thing is a reality now: I did indeed hand in my resignation: December 28 marked my last day of formal employment… December 21, really, since I knew I wouldn’t really be in the office at all the week of Dec. 24-28, what with the stat holidays and some vacation time I had slotted in there since way back in the fall.

I still have moments of paralyzing panic, but over all, I’m doing ok so far–even if I’ve not accomplished what you’d say lots upon lots just yet…. This is, after all, very, very new. The holiday season was the holiday season (i.e., dead on the productivity side), up to and including New Year’s Day. So, that makes today, January 4, only the third day of my new work routine.

But I feel like in a way I am making some progress. Establishing a budding routine, for one thing. I’m still getting out of bed at the same time as Wonderful Husband, and getting my work day started by 9ish. So far, there hasn’t been any actual “writing,” but more some organizational stuff from the business side of things… which is just my incredibly petulant way of referring to updating my research on suitable agents. And bear in mind that I’m only leading off my new life with that because:

a) I do have an existing manuscript in “advanced” draft form. This means it is in “reasonable” shape, and I can probably (hopefully) get it submission-ready in a matter of a few weeks (maybe a month or two) of working full time on the last batch of feedback from my awesome, awesome beta readers.

And

b) I needed a gentle way to ease into this new-found freedom.

Next on the to-do list?

Pull out said latest draft from its virtual drawer (i.e., its special folder in my computer), and re-read it with fresh eyes, and with the feedback from the Awesome Betas also foremost in my mind. There are problems that need to be solved, sure, which can be a little daunting. But there were also some very neat ideas I’m eager to explore and incorporate.

Above all, I’ve got to keep reminding myself that this is my life now. I don’t need to stress about not having time to focus anymore. I just need to relax and get to work.

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The First Readers Club

Some writers have writing workshops and critique groups and they swear by them. Others (Stephen King comes to mind), prefer to share the first “shareable” incarnations of their manuscript with friends, neighbours, spouses, etc. In general terms, I don’t necessarily think one approach is better than the other. I just know what works for me. And what didn’t.

What did not work

Workshops. And gawd knows I attended my share–kinda comes with the territory of being enrolled in a Creative Writing program.

Now, this is just my personal perspective and I’m in absolutley no way knocking off their value. I’m not even saying that I didn’t get anything out of a workshop environment. In fact, if my inclinations had been more literary, I probably would have benefited a lot more. But what I wanted (even if at the time I didn’t know it), was a reader’s perspective. An educated reader’s perspective, to be more exact. I wanted to know what worked and what didn’t, what made someone want to keep reading and what stalled the story or was wordy or annoying or preachy or inconsistent with character voice and development.

And I wanted all this from an audience perspective, not from a colleague’s perspective. I didn’t want writers who were as aspiring as I was to read with a fine comb at hand, looking for things to say that may or may not benefit the story and story-telling. I didn’t want praise for my flowery language or criticism for attempting to write genre in a place where literary reigned undisputed. I wanted to know if my stories were a fun or engaging read. And if not, why not.

Well, I hardly ever got that from a workshop. In fact, I found myself altering my writing style to try a fit in with what was generally expected. Big mistake. At the end of the day, I was not cutting it with the literary crew and I was no longer cutting it with myself. I had allowed something to interfere with what had been my reason to go into Creative Writing in the first place: The sheer joy of telling a story and feeling the flow of words and the way characters start to become alive.

But I was young and impressionable, so I tried to be what I was not.

I did learn useful stuff from two particular workshop leaders, who were wise and modest enough to focus on craft, rather than on how convoluted symbolism arguably makes up for a story that lacks plot altogether.

(No, I’m not bitter. Really. I actually do enjoy the odd bit of literary fiction to this day. I always need to read something else right after, though–kind of like chasing rich, delicious Spanish coffee with something sweet and fluffy to balance out the taste buds…)

What [so far] seems to be working

Pick a select group of friends, relatives and/or acquaintances, based on their honesty, their background and, most importantly, their reading habits.

Of late, I’ve chosen to write Young Adult fiction. (When I say “of late,” I mean that’s what I’m currently working on, following an idea and draft first started a couple of years ago). So, other than Wonderful Husband, whose honesty and opinion as a writer himself I really value, I’ve selected mostly YA readers as members of my First Readers Club. Sure, there’s the good friend who has a background in film and whose insights on dialogue are proving invaluable, or the other close friend with a PhD in education, who is used to dealing with young people day in and day out.

But for the most part, members of my six-person First Readers Club are YA readers. Like myself, these guys know the genre, they enjoy it, they go out of their way to read it. And they can in all honesty say, “yeah, I dig this. I would’ve totally picked it up in the store to start with” or, “you know, that part where Main Character’s friends do X is really not very believable because Y and Z… And what about XX?”  Or whatever. Sometimes they might even come up with easy fixes I just have been unable to see because I’m too close to the work.

In other words, this approach seems to be working for me so far. Of course, I’ve yet to receive feedback from two out of the First Six, but what I’ve seen so far seems to make sense to me. Seems to be the kind of feedback my current project can actually benefit from.

I am, after all, writing for readers, not writers. Or for the reader in the writers, and not the other way round. And while all writers should be readers, not all readers are writers.

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A bit of backstory

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been making up stories. First, my Barbies played them out. Then, I started to write them down. I must have been about 8 when I put together a collection of short original “fairy tales” (with actual fairies in them, if I recall correctly!) I had it Cerlox-bound and gave it to my mum for Mother’s Day or her birthday. My dad even made a couple of illustrations for that very first edition of Gloria’s works.

Many other stories followed, most of them written long-hand on old school notebooks. I’m not sure what drove me to it. Maybe I just loved books and reading and stories so much because my dad read to me every night since I was a baby. It might have just seemed natural for me to want to create those very things that brought me so much joy.

I must have been about 12 when I decided that I must be an author when I grew up, that there was nothing else in the world I was meant to be.

Of course, a lot of stuff happened in the over two decades since that momentous epiphany. Writing school does figure in there somewhere, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. But, by the time I left university, I decided that I needed to get a regular job with regular pay ASAP. That eventually led to eight years in corporate communications, where I have been fortunate enough to… well… basically WRITE for a living.

Except… Writing speeches, corporate documents, news releases and communications plans was hardly the kind of writing I had in mind when I was eight or 12 or 20…. But I’m good at it. And it’s paid the bills, which was a big thing for a little while.

All along, I’ve kept writing fiction on the side. Kept polishing, researching and writing some more. About five years ago, I finally started researching how to get said writings out into the world. I was petrified with fear. The whole querying and wooing of an agent and the horde of what-ifs stemming from that very first query sent out into the world… Scary stuff.

But, most importantly, serious stuff. And not just the querying. The writing. Taking writing fiction as seriously as I’ve had to take corporate writing all these years. Giving it the effort and the time and the dedication it deserves. Because, no matter what some people [who may or may not need only two hours of sleep a day] say, having a full-time job and becoming a decent fiction writer on the side? Not very likely. Not when your day job already involves hours at a computer and when there are also other commitments taking up time and energy (family, exercise, friends and, yeah, sleep).

And of all those commitments, which is the one that takes up the most hours and the most energy?

The full-time day job.

But what is one to do? One’s gotta eat and have shelter and clothing and…

Yes. I fully admit it: There is something to be said for the stability of knowing you’ll have a pay cheque every other week.

The thing is: That regular comfy pay cheque? It comes with a price tag. Many people are happy to pay it, or, even better, they don’t see it as a price tag at all. And quite frankly, I envy those people. I have a perfectly good job many folks would kill to have.

But I’m not happy.

Because the most hours of my week, the best hours of my days are wasted doing something that brings me no joy or satisfaction. Doing something that, personally, I couldn’t care less about. And, most importantly, those hours, those days are not spent doing what I should be doing–that is to say: honing and perfecting my own writing. And finding a way to make it pay.

Now, when I say “make it pay,” I don’t mean I have delusions of becoming a best-selling author. Not that it wouldn’t be cool or anything. But I know the odds are tough. And that’s not what my dream is anyway. My dream is simply to be published and be able to make an ok living from my own writing–not from writing speeches for other people, or making sure annual reports are written in English and not in corporate mumbojumbo.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, Wonderful Husband and I sat down to do some math and we came to a decision that has me both elated and terrified. A decision that will allow me the time and dedication to pursue a serious, long-overdue career in fiction writing.

The frightening thing is, I am fully aware that there are no guarantees that what I’ve written will find a home. But there is only one way to make my writing the best I possibly can. And only one way to seriously focus on researching the market and agents and everything else in the biz.  And that’s not going to happen while I eat my lunch, or in between loads of laundry. And, let’s face it, when you have a job that drains the soul out of you, there isn’t much in the way of motivation once you finally drag your sorry skeleton home at the end of the day.

And so, it gives me great–nay, GREAT!–pleasure to announce to the world that I will be quitting my decent and regular paying job by the end of the year. It’s probably about the scariest, stupidest and bravest thing I’ve done in my life. But if I’m ever going to do it, now is the time.

I cannot even worry about failing right now. I just have to try.

I’m starting this blog to keep myself motivated, to remind myself not to lose heart. And to keep in the loop all the friends and family who are cheering for me from the sidelines (hi dad! hi mum!).

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