Behind the Curtain

When you start to study the craft of writing, to really roll up your sleeves and dig into the guts of the matter, you have to let go of something. You have to let go of being surprised. Sure, there will still be moments and pieces that catch you off guard, but they’ll be fewer and farther between. The more you study storytelling, the more patterns emerge. You start seeing plot twists and surprise endings from a mile away.

For me, my knowledge reached critical mass many years ago during a movie. Before that moment, I was almost always surprised by stories, experiencing each moment as it unfolded along with the characters. But after months of research, with books that actually warned me that they were pulling back the curtain, I sat through the first fifteen minutes of the movie and then started to cry. I suddenly and with perfect clarity realized they were going to kill off my favorite character, a character I had loved since my childhood (the people I was with were very confused until they saw it unfold).

After that, I started to predict plotlines with eerie accuracy. But it was the cost of understanding structure in a way that would make my writing stronger. Not being surprised as often isn’t really that bad. I still enjoy the stories I watch and read, and now I can appreciate them for the craftsmanship as well as the content. Sacrificing some of the magic to become a magician is a price as an author I’m willing to pay.

Time

The most insidious form of procrastination for my writing hides in plain sight. “I don’t have time to write.” And yet, I have time to check my email, play a video game, or look at cute cat pictures on the Internet. I think we’ve all slid down this rabbit hole before.

I’m doing my best to fight it, and have started by testing what I can actually get done in a set amount of time. I recently told myself I didn’t have enough time to write because I only had fifteen minutes available. But I made myself get out my laptop anyway and closed off all distractions and wrote. Fingers to the keys, I wrote as hard and fast as I could. The word count was close to 800.

800 words in fifteen minutes. Let me put that another way. I aim for most of my novels to be 80,000 words. That’s 1/100 of a novel in just fifteen minutes. That might not seem like a lot. I’d have to do that a hundred more times to reach my goal, right? But the time is going to pass anyway. I could spend it on a video game (and sometimes I do – we all need to recharge), or I could spend it creating something, getting something out of myself that’s sometimes clawing, sometimes whining, sometimes singing to get out.

When I tell myself, “I don’t have time to write,” I see it for the tactic that it is. What I’m really saying is, “I don’t have as much time to write as I want.” That’s just one of the challenges of a writer’s life. Building skills, practicing, and seeing through my own diversion attempts all help me to become a better writer, a better person, and to live the life I choose.

The Call

Many famous authors talk about their rejection letter collections, and thinking about it that way is how I’ve handled mine. When I send out queries, I’ve armored by writer’s heart by thinking of rejections as additions to my collection. There was always hope alongside that shield that someday I’d get some amazing news instead. That day has happened. I have received… The Call.

Thankfully, The Call came in email form, because my speech rapidly deteriorated into a high-pitched and incomprehensible, “SQUEEEEEEE,” when I figured out what was going on. While reading the email, I kept waiting for the polite decline. My brain sort of stalled as my subconscious picked up on something strange… something off about this rejection letter. And then it hit me – it wasn’t a rejection letter!

I started to cry, I stopped breathing for a few seconds… repeatedly. It took a while to calm down enough to explain to my family why I was freaking out (the fact that I was laughing and hugging everybody undoubtedly reassured them). I barely slept that night, or the next night, or the next, and I did not care a bit.

I am extremely happy to be sharing this news with everyone. I am now officially contracted with Samhain Publishing for my first book! And I get to work with the wonderful Holly Atkinson!

The last two weeks have been a flurry of activity and I will most definitely be writing more about this experience here in the weeks to come. For now, I wish all my writing friends the best of luck with their own queries, stories, and journeys.

Trust

There is a tiny voice inside every artist that tells us what to do with our works. “Change that line. This isn’t in character. This scene doesn’t belong here.” The more we create, the more we listen to that voice, the stronger it becomes. The easier it is to hear.

I first became aware of it when I started obsessively drawing one particular actor over and over. I started out spending two hours on a piece. By the tenth or eleventh portrait, I was spending two days. Long days. Hours spent hunched over the Bristol paper with pencils of all different graphite densities. Toward the end of the later pieces, I started to feel something new. “A few changes here and there and then… It’s done.” I had never experienced art that actually felt finished before. I knew there were parts of the piece that weren’t perfect, things that I could fix. But my muse was satisfied. It was giving me permission to move on.

With writing, I’ve started experiencing the same thing. Finding the particular moment in the story to start a piece, knowing when to introduce characters, figuring out the best order for the scenes and which to tell or leave out. It doesn’t all happen in the first draft. The editing process is still long and hard. But the more I listen to that inner voice, the better the pieces end up. I’ve learned to trust it.

When I speak of my muse now, I’m talking about my writer’s intuition. It didn’t suddenly appear one day. I educated it through a lifetime of stories. Learning from my successes and mistakes and those of others as well  (sometimes the mistakes are even more enlightening). Watching as other artists broke the rules in a way that somehow worked. And always practicing, integrating the craft skills that are leaned through the curious phenomenon of osmosis.

Read and write. Read and write. As much as you can. And then, learn to trust, to listen to that tiny voice inside yourself that tells you when a piece is ready to edit, to share with your beta readers, and finally, to send out into the world.