Category: Writer

On Crippling Self-Doubt and Writing Fiction

Preambling Background Noise

So I’ve written two 50,000+ word manuscripts in the past year and I’m doing NaNoWriMo again in order to finish a third.

I took the first manuscript, a “new adult” angsty romance that I think mostly sucks, and set about editing it. I spent a month revising it, filling in missing pieces and making it into something that felt closer to a real book. I ended up with over 60,000 words and sent it to a friend for some feedback. Working in a vacuum sucks! So it will be good to get some feedback. Maybe it’s not as bad as I am convinced it is.

I started my second manuscript with a burst of creative energy after NaNoWriMo last year and then the world got in the way for a few months before I picked up it up again, determined to make fiction writing a habit. The second manuscript is maybe a little closer to my heart (the laws of the universe tell me this means that it’s either much better or much, much worse than the first one).

I’m working on five short romances built around a given place and theme for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It turns out I don’t like the pace of 1700-ish words a day. I am super happy with about 1,000. So I’m struggling with this fiction writing thing but not just with word count, which I’m sure I can meet so long as nothing majorly unexpected happens.

The Heart of the Matter

The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been listening to podcasts, studying, immersing myself in the the world of self-publishing as an author because I was very fascinated by it and this all started as a lark and a strong desire to learn on my part, but now I’d like to actually do something with all these words I’ve written. I’ve dug into it and it just feels so tedious and overwhelming and a lot more like marketing than writing, so much so that I want to just go for a long walk and not write anything.

But, of course, these distractions are absurd. I’m writing because it’s pleasurable. I don’t think I’d take any pleasure in the marketing of it (at least not so far). And I don’t want to be stuck writing the same story over and over (it seems the most successful self-publishers are genre or style specific). But then I had to ask myself: What does success look like for me?

So I had to give myself a talking to and remind myself that I do have a job (that I actually like!). I am under no obligation to become a marketing professional. I make enough money to live comfortably. Ultimately, I have to focus on the craft (because I do want to write well and continue to improve and I’ve already given myself permission to suck in order to learn from it) and forget the rest.

I think the real problem is that I’ve been making the craft of writing itself secondary to the business of self-publishing. It seems lots of self-published writers are treating writing as a kind of sport–a race–that they are working on in order to improve their time and their bottom line and they assume that volume will eventually lead to quality.

So I’m stuffing all my self-doubts and going back to focusing on the quiet joys of story and structure.

I’m also giving myself permission to suck at marketing.

Novel Thoughts: The Terrifying Prospect of Self-Editing

Right after I finished NaNoWriMo last year I had a burst of creative energy that resulted in a slightly more personal work, a novel based on some geographical truths but features a fictional plot.

In the last two months I’ve dedicated myself to writing at least 1,000 words a day, and that’s really given me a source of pride and joy that I wasn’t expecting. I just wanted to see if I could do it, how I would feel about it, and what I’d end up with.

So my second 50,000-word manuscript is complete and this one I actually have some pride in. It’s a mess, to be sure. Lots of holes to be filled in, entire subplots added, scenes taken away. And I’m not even sure if this is my completed first draft, but it feels like a good place to take a break and get a little distance from it (though not a whole year as I did with my last effort).

I’ve been trying to decide what to do next and I’m thinking I should take on a different challenge for a little while. I am considering editing the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. It’s a weak effort, and I understand that it might not be worth finishing and polishing but working on it might actually teach me how to edit my work, how to revise and rewrite and rework with a set timeline in mind. It’s also slightly terrifying to contemplate. For some reason, I keep thinking of the process as a kind of self-editing and it wasn’t until I started to write this post that my thoughts solidified and I realized that my job is not to edit my work in the way I would someone else’s but to continue to flesh it out, strengthen my voice, tighten up everything and continue to enrich this little world I’m trying to create. And that process sounds so much more interesting than what I’d built it up to be in my head.

The most exciting part of this process thus far is just how often I surprise myself.

Novel Thoughts: Making Writing a Habit

*reposting from a couple of days ago because the post appears to be corrupted*

So I did NaNoWriMo last year and I won, which was personally illuminating in many ways. And the novel itself was fairly mediocre to downright bad. Pretty quickly after I finished my 50,000 words I started to work on a different story. One that came out of nowhere (though it was inspired by a real moment in my life). And then I dropped it for ages.

Oh, you know: It was the holidays. I started a new job in February. It was suddenly summer and I wanted to go for long walks instead of sitting at my computer. Excuses piled up. But a few weeks ago I decided that I’d follow the advice I’d been avoiding for years: Write every day. Too vague! So I opted to write 1,000 words per day. And I have done so pretty faithfully for a few weeks. I’ve also deleted whole chapters and subplots and changed my mind and re-worked and so far I have 33,000 words that I can’t be sure will stay or go but I add to them every day (even if I cut them later).

Making writing a habit is working for me in ways I never expected. I have given myself other permissions that are also working for me, including: Writing scenes as they come to me regardless of the order they might appear in the novel. Writing scenes when I have no idea where they will end up going or even if they don’t move the overall plot forward. Writing in notes to be filled in later like “discuss her hatred of waitressing” or “add a second public humiliation”. It seems I’m always up for a second public humiliation.

But what it comes down is that I’m writing regularly. And it’s very often the highlight of my day. I don’t feel pressured to finish anything or to write to an audience. This is entirely for me and it’s the first time I’ve experienced real joy while writing (aside from the joy I used to feel when I saw my name in print in the trade magazines I’ve written for).

The process is different from the style of writing I’ve done in the past. Writing for trade publications is like digging in and solving a small puzzle. It’s a fun process but not as creative as I have craved for most of my career. I love this little story I’m writing, and I’ve fallen in love with these characters as they’ve slowly revealed themselves to me. I look forward to finding out what they’ll do next.


Book Review: Fat Chance by Robert Lustig

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and DiseaseFat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert H. Lustig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a diet book. It’s a book about nutrition, biology and public health and its science is spot-on.

I’ve done a ridiculous amount of reading on nutrition and diet books (both personally and as an editor) and this book is an excellent summation of everything out there today on what we currently know about the state of our food.

The bottom line is that our government is subsidizing foods that make us sick and have been for a long time, and it’s a primary reason we have seen an explosion in diabetes and obesity.

This book gives a thorough rundown (I didn’t think it was that technical but I’ve read quite a few of these things) on how sugared processed foods are basically toxic to human beings. Sugar and corn sugar (and fructose in particular) are the real culprits, according to Lustig and he builds a very powerful case against them in this book.

If you’re looking for how to apply this information to your own lives it comes down to cutting out sugar, eating processed food only when its coupled with higher fiber (3g per serving, min.), and exercising (not for weight loss benefits because exercise has very little impact on a person’s weight but because it’s essential to human health).

Lustig argues we need a public health policy that addresses the problems the low-fat diet has caused because low fat has translated to highly processed carbs via subsidies for corn. To put it simply: sugar, often in the form of processed carbs, destroys your body’s ability to properly regulate hormones, including the signals that tell you when you’re full.

Anyway, I’ve read lots of middling reviews for this book–people complaining that Lustig has a strong take on public policy (he’d like to regulate sugar the way we regulate tobacco or alcohol) and not a strong enough “diet” he’s selling. But I think that’s the strongest selling point for this book. Lustig isn’t looking to sell you anything but his ideas (yet–I’m sure the Fat Chance Diet is coming if this book sells well). And his ideas are based in solid evidence.

View all my reviews

Post-NaNoWriMo Thoughts on Authorship

I’ve always had an irrational reverence for book authors. Until I started working with them. Ha! Kidding like 85%!

So, for a brief period I was disenchanted with them because working with them can be challenging as a newbie book editor.

But that challenge is also what I love about them. Because they had the all-out cojones to write a whole book, edit it, send it out for feedback (and rejection), show it people they love (the horror) as well as perfect strangers and ask them to buy it. To PAY FOR IT. Can you imagine?

It’s all so deliriously insane when you think about it like that isn’t it? To believe in your little germ of an idea so much that you turn it into a full-length manuscript and truly believe you are worthy to be in the most sacred spaces –at book stores and libraries (say, next to authors whose last names start with K)!

So I have always thought maybe I didn’t have anything that important to say. Not important enough to be next to Dean Koontz or Nicole Krauss let alone Shakespeare or Whitman! So maybe I still feel that way. But most books are read for pleasure and are not viewed as sacred artifacts. So maybe, just maybe, my voice could bring someone a smile and an escape hatch from their day (like Dan Brown but with longer paragraphs, fewer villains, and more romance).

Just maybe.

NaNoWriMo Winner (I Was Wrong About Everything)

I have often started and failed the “competition” that is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I have failed at it at least three times that I remember. Probably closer to five or six.

In the past I have come up with endless excuses for dropping out that included: this is a silly endeavor that will result in a poor product; this is a waste of time; this isn’t going anywhere so why bother?; I have real work to do!; I hate this story and the characters and myself for writing it; I am really too busy to do this in November!

Needless to say I was wrong about all of those things. And what I was really wrong about was that the lesson (for me) was the journey itself. It was the discipline (which I guess I thought I lacked). It was the journey I forced myself to go with characters (and myself) even when I disliked them (and me). I learned about my creative process. I learned about sticking with something I created even when it was going horribly off the rails. I learned I need to have a better road map for long-form fiction. I can’t keep everything in my head at once, it’s just not who I am.

More than anything? I learned that I really can do what I set out to do with the proper tools and mind-set. And that’s the most important lesson of all.

This has inspired me to tackle some further challenges. I am thinking of editing the entire thing–it needs A LOT of work to put it kindly. So the editing itself will be another journey.

Recently I’ve worked with and known a few people looking to self-publish their own manuscripts and I’m considering going through that process–not because I’m looking to be the next Jamie McGuire or Jessica Park (both self-published and had huge hits with their books that caught on like fire). What I’d like to do is understand the process so I’m of more help to my author clients.

Narcissism and The Dark Knight Rises

Overlong and utterly pretentious, The Dark Knight Rises is a story that seemingly could exist almost entirely in Bruce Wayne’s head.

When we meet up with Wayne, he’s ensconced at Wayne Manor, limping about alone for the last eight years with only his faithful servant Alfred as a companion. Poor Alfred, stuck with a dour, self-absorbed billionaire!

He’s lured out of retirement because of the alluring cat burglar who steals his mother’s pearls. She’s working with the bad guys — they are out to get Wayne’s business until the really bad guys turn on them and we realize they are out to destroy Gotham, Wayne’s beloved city.

You see, everything exists to revolve around Bruce Wayne. Alfred, as any good British servant, has no personal life beyond his love of Bruce Wayne. Lucius Fox, head honcho at Wayne Enterprises, exists solely to create clever war toys for Batman. Selina Kyle? Her entire story revolves around the idea that she wants a clean slate–from what beyond her life of crime we have no idea. But she’s really just a mirror for what Batman himself wants.

And the villain? I don’t want to give it away but that, too, revolves around Batman and his actions.

For a large chunk of the movie, Bruce Wayne is imprisoned and must find the strength–both physical and psychological–to escape. It’s a metaphor the film trumpets endlessly. And I found myself wishing that, in the end, the entire final quarter was simply the fantasies of a dying Bruce Wayne. It would have made more thematic sense to me.

Thoughts Sparked from Jessica Park’s Essay

Yesterday I posted a couple of excerpts from Jessica Park’s essay on how made her career thrive.  It got me thinking about how impossible it is to sell a novel that falls outside the traditional (or currently popular) boundaries. I like stories about young people who are struggling to establish themselves. And that’s a niche with no market. Nobody publishes books about college-age women that are not romance novels. Though that will likely change.

But then I took a look at Galley Cat’s Self-Published Bestsellers List for this week and found that a few of those novels–enough to notice–were also in that same gray area, the area publishers largely ignore.

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire would likely never have been published at a traditional house. It’s pretty controversial (and I don’t think I’d like it because I don’t enjoy mean boyfriends in my fiction) but it seems to have struck a chord. And it’s set among college-age people. Jessica Park’s book Flat-Out Love? Also features a college-aged protagonist. Slammed by Colleen Hoover? Protagonist is 18.

And that’s just from the list. Traditional publishers take note…you’re missing a market.