It looks like I’ve come to the point in my writing career that I don’t even remember stuff I’ve written. I cleaned out a file cabinet that I have been putting off for – oh maybe years – and was amazed to find a stack of notebooks and envelopes. These were written under a different name and address – maiden name, parent’s house – so I imagine it’s during college.

This suspicion is confirmed by a notebook. It begins with a page of assignments, but then is followed by pages of goofy choose-your-own-adventure type stories I wrote about my friends and me, while feigning to take notes during college classes. There are a bunch of song lyrics replaced with further adventures of college girls – you know – boys, parties, fun.

Then I find envelopes labeled to publishers or magazines. I don’t even remember hearing many of these names before! Inside are cover letters and articles I printed up on my parent’s crappy old printer. Seeing that they were never mailed, I imagine I was too chicken-shit at the time to actually submit them. I read them and thank God they were never published, the way most writers cringe when they read their earlier work.

Then I ease up a little. Sure, they’re bad, but maybe they were essential for practice. I later published an article on living abroad for one of the publishers I targeted, Transitions Abroad, had two related stories published in the anthology, Europe from a Backpack, and include one of the themes in my book Journey of a Woman Marine. These pages are filled with details I’ve long since forgotten, written from the perspective of a 20-something itching for travel overseas. I scan over the words, “Oh, but I was smitten” and laugh. Was I talking about Paris or the French guy? Does it matter?

Finding all this old crap inspires me to keep working on my new novel, which by the way has a lot of crap so far. Didn’t Anne Lamott write about Shitty First Drafts? This draft is definitely shitty. The only problem is that I keep trying to make it unshitty, instead of keep moving forward to finish the first draft. (Note to self – continue with the crap for now. )

So  have any of you had a similar experience finding things you’ve written about and long since forgotten? How about shitty first drafts? Tell me about it.


{February 25, 2012}   A Writer’s Mood Swings

“I’m never going to finish this book! There are too many things I don’t know about and I can’t find the answers. My characters are one-dimensional. It was a stupid, stupid idea!”

The next day, read the novel: “This is pretty good. I like these characters. I can see what drives them and their conflict.  All I have to do is figure out a few things and write them into the story.”

The next several days: put off writing by doing all kinds of tasks to reorganize book. Do research on the Internet, rewrite half-assed outline, come up with yet another writing/revision schedule, import document into a software program so I can move scenes around, print out what I’ve written because I decide I want to read it on paper and jot notes. In other words, deluding myself to think I’m writing my book when there is actually no writing involved.

Several more days: procrastinate by working on unappealing tasks–even taxes–to avoid tackling problems in my book.

Get bummed out because I’ve been working on this book for what seems like forever and see no end in sight. Why did I become a writer anyway? Why do I seek out impersonal rejection on a regular basis by people (agents and editors) who I’ve never met?

Find a note from a reader who says they couldn’t put down one of my books and stayed up all night. Remember that I’ve loved writing since sixth grade and took on that role in every job I’ve had. Recall authors speaking at conferences who’ve felt the same way I do in this isolating field. Look at how much I’ve written so far instead of what’s left to go. Remember the way I’ve finished previous books is to get on a routine and have a clear deadline ahead.

Get over the self-doubting, suck it up, and bring my netbook to a cafe without Wifi. I have to resist the frequent temptation of looking something up on the Internet and straying off track. Write a few good pages and get excited about the book again.

Repeat all of the above multiple times.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

{February 12, 2012}   Writing Conferences

I just came back from a day long event in Boston — The Mystery Writers of America held several courses at the Sheraton. If you’re interested in writing mysteries, I encourage you to attend events like this. MWA and Sisters in Crime have fantastic speakers come to speak on a variety of topics on writing. Their annual Crimebake conference in November is now a must-attend event for me. I also attend conferences held by the Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Every time I attend a writers conference, I come back full of ideas and inspiration.

In a mystery I’ve been working on since Nanowrimo 2010, I’m stuck in the middle chapters. The beginning and ending are written; it’s the unfolding of events in the middle that’s giving me a hard time. So sometime this week, I decided the voice was wrong. I needed to change it from third person to first and started rewriting the 50,000 plus words I already have down. Yikes!

During one of the speakers presentations, she mentioned how you as a writer will come across obstacles like this and want to rewrite your book changing something major. I am so glad she made me stop and think about this. When I went back to my mystery this morning, I realized what an impact it would have on the book to change the POV. Yes, it would have the better identification through a first-person narrative, but it would lose much of the bigger picture. In essence, it would be a completely different story. So I’m stopping myself.

It’s very reassuring to know you’re not alone when you hit a roadblock in your novel. And I guess the main point is to keep moving forward. Good luck!

et cetera