The Merry-Go-Round

I finished editing Wandering Soul recently. Again. When I reached the end, there were a few concerns I needed to check (such as, I thought I might have removed too many dialogue tags – nope, it’s all good). During that final check, I noticed more things I could fix.

A very dangerous thought presented itself.

I had edited another book. Which meant I was now a better editor. If I went back and edited the book again, it would be even better. But at that point, I would have edited another book. Which would have made me a better editor. It didn’t matter that it was the same book. The experience would still fine-tune my editing ability. I could edit that book over and over again for the rest of my life, never writing another word.

At what point do I stop?

I have been on that merry-go-round before. There will always be things I can fix (or think I should fix) in my novels. Wandering Soul is ready for my editor’s red pen. If I keep working on it now, I risk being too familiar with the words to see further things that really do need to be fixed.

I realized that I could keep polishing the same shiny bumper, or I could go design and build a new car. At that point, the decision became obvious.

I’ll be in the garage.

Autumn

Autumn is my favorite season for writing. There’s a heady mix of activity and introspection as I get ready for the year’s end while looking ahead to the winter. The steel gray of the sky contrasting with the brightly colored leaves holds a particular creative magic. The weather is cool and crisp, perfect for activity or for sitting inside with a book and a cup of tea. The shorter daylight hours leave more time for dreaming.

This year, I’m going to try to slow down and savor the autumn. Holidays are approaching, and I know life will get busier before it settles into winter. There’s always so much going on, but I know I’ll miss out on more if I try to do too much. As the days wind down, I’m making an effort to slow my pace, to stop and look, to really see everything and everyone surrounding me.

Those We Love

When I wonder what to work on next, I usually look to my characters for the answer. Which of them is in the worst state right now? Who is enduring the most emotional turmoil? Is anyone in mortal danger? What I’m really asking is, who has the most at stake?

At the moment, I have a character who just realized he and his best friend can finally become lovers (and hasn’t yet realized what that will cost them), a couple making out for the first time (and unaware of the danger approaching them), and a woman sitting alone in a dark room holding herself responsible for things completely outside of her control that are already done and over with.

The first two couples are in imminent mortal danger, but are having a lot of fun where I left off in writing their stories. The last is in no physical danger whatsoever, but she’s in that dark room. Who has the highest stakes at the moment? That woman sitting alone. She’s questioning everything she thought she knew about herself. Hers is the story I want to write next because I can’t leave her there.

That emotional investment in my characters is what propels me forward in my writing. I care about these fictional people. I want them to find their way, to build a life for themselves that will result in more happiness than sorrow. That’s what keeps me showing up at the page day after day, and what I hope will keep the readers turning pages, unable to stop until they know that this character they now also love is going to be okay.

I want my readers to have a fun, thrilling adventure when they read my books. More than that, my goal as an author is for the love I feel for my characters to come through in my writing and for my readers to love them as well.

Letting Go

The first novel I wrote that had a beginning, middle, and end was a dark fantasy romance novel. I rewrote it seven times. Each draft was about 100,000 words long. I designed a cover, wrote the back-jacket blurb (I can still recite it without missing a beat), and filled page after page with back-story and notes. I would not be surprised if I actually wrote over a million words on that one project.

I finally sent it out. The rejection form letter I received was kind and not discouraging. The absolutely pristine state of my manuscript was a wake-up call, though. From the look of it, no one read past the first page.

Instead of editing it and sending it right back out, I hit the pause button on my writing for a bit and started asking myself some really hard questions. What was I trying to accomplish with my writing? What did I really want to say? Did I actually have the tools to say it?

I decided I needed to educate myself, to build new skills and develop those I already had. I spent the next few years reading about the craft, doing exercises, joining a writing group, finding a book club, and writing, writing, writing. Flash fiction, novellas, rough drafts. I dabbled in different genres, looking for what fit, looking for my voice. As it started to emerge, I kept asking those hard questions. Was I just writing for myself? Or did I want to pursue writing as a career?

Every answer helped me figure out what to do next, what to read, what to write. But the very first thing I had to learn was to let go.

If I had kept writing that first book over and over again, I wouldn’t have found my genre, I wouldn’t have found my voice, and I doubt I would ever have found my readers. By letting go of that first book, by letting go of my original ideas and preconceptions about writing and what it meant to be a writer, I was able to grow. And that first skill, of knowing when to shelve a project, a scene, a character, serves me in every word I write today.

The Magic Pencil

I sat down to write the other day, and couldn’t find my pencil. I specifically bought this pencil for my writing. While allowing myself to search for a few brief moments, I realized what trouble I would be in if I had turned this basic tool into a Magic Pencil, an indispensable tool that was vital to my writing process. If I had attached too much significance to it, my writing session could have been over before it began. This is why I don’t let myself form muse-attachments anymore.

Early in my research into writing, most of the people who mentioned this phenomenon were in favor of it. They said to write in the same place every day, at the same time. They advised having an inspiring picture, a special notebook, or other triggers to your creativity, all symbols meant to tell your muse, your writer’s intuition, “Now is the time to create.”

I’ve worked with symbols and the subconscious quite a bit in my life, and only one writer pointed out the danger of this plan. What if your schedule suddenly changes and you lose your key writing time? What if you move? What if you lose your magic writing pencil?

I used to have an entire room dedicated to my writing, with a huge desk, drawings of my characters on the walls, maps, charts, all kinds of triggers for ideas. I had special gorgeous journals and favorite fountain pens. Over time, the journals became spiral notebooks, the fountain pens became mechanical pencils, and my desk turned into a portable plastic folding table I can set up anywhere in my home in two minutes. I’ve never been more productive.

I let myself write free-hand, type, use dictation software, pens, pencils, journals, notepads, napkins; whatever is in arm’s reach becomes my writing tools, and I am never at a loss. I write at coffee shops, in bed, at the library, on the floor, in the kitchen, on the couch, at the park. The various scenery isn’t a distraction. It feeds my settings, enriches my descriptions, and reminds me that writing is a vital part of my life, but not my entire life. It lets me write anywhere, anytime, and maintain balance.

Symbols can be motivating and helpful, especially when you’re starting out. But it’s important to be conscious of how you’re using them.