1st Draft Done!

On November 30, 2012, I birthed a bouncing baby novel (50,221 word, 186 pages, middle grade/YA, thank you nanowrimo!) Though a joyous moment, I was tempted to tell the doctor to tie my tubes — I am not doing this 30-day thing again, (but then again, that’s how I felt last November 30. No really, 2.5 kids and a dog is enough.)

After writing for hours a day, all I wanted to do was read. So upon penning the proverbial “The End” I did not want to write another word, which is why I haven’t blogged since, and am simply enjoying a good old fashion library book (yes, they still exist and yes, I still borrow them). I haven’t even written our family’s Christmas update, yet!

I also keep getting story ideas; so I’m tempted to jump to the next project without polishing the last. Any seasoned writers out there who can help with my pseudo-schizophrenic writing problem? (Seriously, I can use tips here.) Until there’s a solution, I shall engage in both simultaneously.

I am super excited to have pushed this baby out, I believe it has great potential! But I’ll leave it be for a few weeks, the distance is good and I can bask in the sunlight of being “done” just a little longer. But then comes the growing pains, the hard work of editing and making each sentence “sing.” Maybe one day it will grow up to be a mature young book, by God’s grace, one that will make people laugh and bless them, too.

A Month of Crazy Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.com). That means if you go to the website I indicated in parens, you can join thousands (maybe even millions? who knows, I’m bad in math) of crazy writers all over the world and write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.

That breaks down to 25 days of writing (for me, because I take a break on Sundays) which equals 2,000 words, roughly 5 type-written pages, or 7 book pages per day! If I’m fast, I can write 2 pages/hour. But when I’m slow, it can take all day. So you do the math… I’m going to be busy in November — oops, that’s today! So how many words have I written? 114, just what I’ve written above and that doesn’t even count 😦

This will be my 2nd year participating. Last year, I wrote “The Gifted Zaylin” which is still being edited. At the end of last November, I said it would be my last. And here I am now, considering the task once again. I may or may not finish this time. No promises, just a goal. So why do it?… Besides being an excellent exercise in writing every day, for me, it’s like having a baby. Eventually, you forget how painful it is. You see the cute little toes of a novel, grow into a walking toddler and then the thing you created starts to talk. And you love it when it’s sleeping (or working well) and you “hate it” when it’s not listening (or not working), but it’s alive and wants to thrive. So you forget the pain of birth and you do it all over again. Why, oh why? That’s why.

So if you dare, join me (or cheer me on). Buy a book or two on writing a novel, create a loose plot, then write with wreckless abandon. Then we’ll hug and kiss on the other side of November, with a novel (good or bad) in one hand and a glass of sparkling apple cider in the other (I am writing for young adults, after all).

When the euphoria of finishing ebbs away, the real tough part begins, taking the story deeper and doing the hard work of editing. It’s all part of the wonderful process or birthing a bouncing baby book.

The Neurosis of This Writer

Recently, I was stressed (again). So I listed all I’m doing (on a daily, weekly and monthly basis). Then I listed all that I wish I were doing and all that I wish I weren’t doing. Then I listed my priorities. If I had a few more days to kill, I’d add to my already existing lists (what to blog list, how to save $ list, bucket list, fix-it list, grocery list, to do list, to read list, to watch list, to learn list, to write about list). Then I’d add lists within my lists: all the people I want to call (many of you are probably on that list), all the prayers I want God to answer, all the places I want to visit before I die… you get the point. I have a lot of things on my mind and I like lists.

The Go Go’s (and I) sang a song in the 80’s, “I am the girl of 100 lists…” Yup, that’s me, to a “T.” Lists help me feel organized and in control, except when I have so many lists, I can’t keep track anymore. I think I’m getting to that stage. Maybe I’ve gone beyond.

So why do I make these lists? Well, it is a form of writing for this writer. But I suppose there’s a deeper issue; I don’t know? Maybe you can help me here? It’s stressing me out to just think about it. I’m tempted to list the possibilities.

For now, the bottom line is this: God created me this way. He created a passion in me, to want to experience much. Often this feels like a curse; I’ve become a Jack-Of-All-Trades and master of none, a jumbled mess of wants. But more than a curse, I am trying to see it as a blessing. And to write helps me go there, to go to God with the swirl of thoughts in my head. And to live in eternity gives me time to do it all.

The key is to do things for the right reasons (for me, it’s to glorify God), prioritize, and relax. There, just a list of 3. I’m getting better already.

Writing Journal: Rejected Rhino

Recently, my first short story submission was rejected from a children’s magazine. I won’t say which one, but it’s very well-known and rhymes with “this bites.”

Honestly, I’m not bitter. I knew going in that I would have to send in 100+ submissions before getting my first acceptance; so I have at least 99 more to go. Still, this rejection stings. And I’m sure every single one thereafter will also.

Everyone gets rejected: from a choice college, a job, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a loan… Unfortunately, I’ve entered and love a field where rejection is the norm. I am (or trying to be) a fiction writer for children. And as such a writer who is finally trying to get published, I must psychologically evolve into a rhino, thick-skinned and always moving forward.

Though I’ve written for newspapers, I feel like I’m learning to write all over again. The children’s book writing world and the business around it has its own unique challenges. And I am learning.

So as I prepare to send my work to agents, I ready my rhino dermis and resolve. Right now, I am a children’s writing nobody and maybe always will be. The glimmer of hope is in knowing that other writers believe in me and in what I’ve written so far. And maybe one day, just the right acquiring editor will also believe in the works I produce.

In the mean time, I try to remember why I write: because God gave me this passion, it glorifies Him when I do it, it feeds my soul because that’s how I was made, and the stories that bubble within are worth sharing.

So bring on the rejections. It’s part of the life I’ve chosen to embrace. I consider it a privilege to enter the arena with masters who have gone before me, who were rejected more times than they can count (J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Herman Melville, George Orwell, Judy Blume, Beatrix Potter, Madeline L’Engle, Dr. Seuss…) They continue, if still alive, their rhino-like efforts to keep doing what they are good at and love and so will I.

Angel at School: Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 (Aug. 21 and Sept. 5 respectively) Freddy upgrades his name to Fred on the first day of his fifth grade year. The plan is for his last year in elementary school to be his best. But when he meets an unexpected helper and situations don’t go his way, can it still be the best year yet?

A week later, Omar confronted his friend, standing in a bush looking lost. “Freddy, I mean Fred, you better stop that. People are talking.” He held up a poster with “Fred for President” in blue, vandalized with a black sharpie, “crazy bacon-scented plant lover” inserted with a carrot after Fred’s name.

“I didn’t write that part in black.”

“Of course you didn’t, dork.”

“Let me explain… I, um, lost something… or, um, someone. And they said they’d help me with the election.”

“Yeah, you need help. But you ain’t gonna find it in that bush.”

Hanging upside down from a tree branch, Fred’s angel called out, “Get out of there; and get ready for your speech. You’re up in 10 minutes.”

“Where have you been? You said you’d help me!”

Omar jumped, “Whoa, what’s that?”

Fred’s angel landed upright in front of Omar and turned cordial. “Hello. My name is Derf, that’s ‘Fred’ backwards. I’m Fred’s angel. Now, if you’ll excuse us; we’re late.”

Derf began to coach Fred, “Just give your speech. I have it all under control. By the way, did you like what I wrote on your poster?”

“What? People think I’m crazy. And it’s all your fault”

Omar trailed behind, “What’s going on?”

Fred’s teacher, Mrs. Wandawho stepped right on top of Derf. As he disappeared, she scooted Fred onto the stage. Lights blinded him; silence numbed his ears. Fred even thought he heard crickets.

“Uhhhh…”

A heckler (that sounded oddly like his angel) interrupted the quiet, “What did the plants tell you to say?” The auditorium erupted in laughter.

Fred was not about to lose control. “Hey! Uhhhh, vote for me because… because I’m a plant whisperer. I have a green thumb; and I can make our campus beautiful.”

The crowd went silent again. Then from the same corner as the heckler, a gum ball flew through the air, missing Fred’s head by an inch. And then another was hurled at him from the other side. Before Fred knew it, the gum balls that were handed out by another candidate were being pelted at him. He was being booed off the stage.

Fred caught one in his mouth and chomped it down in size. The gum ball attack ceased as a collective gasp held the auditorium’s breath. Then one was thrown gently at his head and he caught it with his mouth, chomping that one. Then another. And another.

Soon it became a game of “catch the gum ball.” The mocking laughter turned into a fun cheering one. Kids started to count the number of gum balls entering Fred’s mouth. “sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…” Then the kids chanted “guru, guru, guru…” He was being pronounced “guru of gum.”

In the following week, Fred discovered that being “crazy” was a good thing in the musical theatre world. Though Fred wasn’t the lead, he had fun appearing and disappearing into smoke that surrounded a lamp. He even received personal pointers from Derf, “I know, it’s so cool to reappear, standing like this.”

And Fred was genuinely happy for Omar. “Congratulations for getting the lead.”

“Dude, don’t rub it in. You know I don’t want to even pretend to kiss Telly. Just my luck that she’s the princess.”

As Fred, the new class president, chewed on bacon that the cafeteria started selling, thanks to him, he walked through his handiwork: a beautiful campus with gardens of flowers, shrubs, and trees. And occasionally, he would hear a friendly echo through the trees, “This is your year so don’t you fear!”

Conferences and BIC

I’m a writer. To be exact, I’m a journalist. But for the past 9 months, and even more so this last weekend for 4 days, I’ve been learning that fiction writing for children is a whole ‘nother world!

Since Friday, I’ve had the pleasure of attending SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) International Conference in LA. Like many conferences, it was full of information, education, and inspiration (I cried at almost every keynote.)

But for me, this conference stood out! Not only was it the first one I’ve been to, providing an opportunity to have my material critiqued by a professional in the field (a publishing house editor, agent, or published writer), but it also allowed for camaraderie between like-minded masochists. Actually, this is probably true for just about any writer: we don’t do it for the money, for fame or for our egos, lest we go insane!

But truly, this was a learned and enriching experience. One of the standout teachings, among other things, was “Show, don’t tell.” (What in the world does that really mean?) Each time this was explained in its various forms, it sunk in a little deeper.

During the critique time, my journalism background could be sniffed from a mile away! Yes, I know English grammar and diction. That’s a good start. But I’m also a little too good  at “telling,” a big “no-no” in fiction. My critiquer even indicated that I was “reporting,” even though she didn’t know my background. This old dog must learn some new tricks, happily so.

Well, at least for the beginning of my novel, where I thought I had to build the scene and “tell” the reader what it’s like, I’ll have to rewrite and “show” the environment through my protagonist’s actions. To learn this and other useful tips, I purposely filled my weekend with breakout sessions that revolved around the craft of writing for this particular market; so I can honestly say, I have been enlightened!

Equally educational and exceedingly entertaining, were the people… a wonderfully loving community of people! New friends encouraged me and gave me hope. Those who were published were once like me, searching, wide-eyed, and serious about the task at hand. I came away feeling like I can do this thing; I can write, I can share a little beauty with this world, and be content… but to show up and do it well will be a lot of work!

Award winners and others shared their journeys, their rejections, the years of honing their craft, and the victories along the way. It takes a pouring out of their guts, but it’s all worth it for them, even fun. Remember, we’re masochist – but we don’t have to endure the agony part if: we write because we’re inspired, we’re made to do it, and we create for the sheer love of doing it, then leave the fruit of our labor to God.

And we don’t create in a bubble; we write in community, cheering each other on. I have my nurturing Redbud sisters, enthusiastic blogging friends, and now I add to my community, children’s book writers. So to give a shout out to my new peeps: Victoria, Cindy, Sophia, Rita, Elizabeth, Lilliam, and Pasadena area writers… thank you for the wisdom, rides, lunches, laughter, and encouragements. Now, go forth and write. Put BIC (butt in chair) and be mad with creation, but don’t go too mad!

For a unique and inspirational perspective for the artist (in 19 minutes!), download the TED app and listen to “Elizabeth Gilbert: your elusive creative genius” (Thank you for the tip, Stella! at stellarstops.com)