Writing Groups, Critiques, Scrivener, and Long Drives

January 28, 2013

Photo courtesy of Jim Brekke — unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera on the trip.

I’ve had an incredibly enriching weekend for my writing life. On Friday I put my dog in the back of the car and made a 7-hour trek up to my old stomping grounds in Duluth, Minnesota. Along the way, I stopped to visit a friend that I met at writer’s camp when we were both 15, and I received some more valuable feedback for my Rumplestiltskin retelling. I’m excited to put it through another round or revisions this month, and possibly start submitting it this year. I’m particularly interested in submitting this to ebook markets because of its awkward length (it’s neither a short story or a novel at about 28,000 words.) If you know of a market that might be a good fit, I’d love to know about it!

My friend has also just finished her degree in graphic and web design, so we got the opportunity to brainstorm the webpage I want to set up soon for my freelance work.

In Duluth, I met with my speculative fiction writing group in person for the first time in almost a year (one of whom has just started her own blog here). What a treat! There’s so much more laughter when I get to be there in person and can catch everyone’s facial expressions and the nuances in their voices. I submitted the first eight pages of my Rapunzel retelling, and it was eye-opening to have some thoughts other than my own on the piece. It’s always fascinating, and enlightening, to see what other minds and eyes find in the words you’ve written. I’m realizing more and more how complicated this revision is going to be. But I’m still looking forward to it!

Which leads to a few more of my thoughts on using Scrivener for writing. I didn’t like that there wasn’t an easy way for me to export just part of the document to another format (.doc or .rtf), so that to convert just a few pages to submit to the group, I had to either copy and paste them or export more than I needed and then delete everything that wasn’t ready for review. Also, the font conversion was absolutely appalling when I opened it in Windows, with weird spacing issues every time I used an apostrophe. So I’m still on the fence about whether using Scrivener for rewrites is a good fit. (I do think the conversions would have been a little cleaner if I hadn’t already stripped formatting to import the document into Scrivener in the first place.)

HOWEVER, I also used Scrivener for brainstorming and outlining a set of concept albums I’m working on when I had to wait for new tires to be put on my car Friday morning (and thank goodness, because I needed those good tires to get me through Winter Storm Luna on my drive home last night). And I LOVED Scrivener’s features for this part of the creation process. I loved being able to create a notecard for each plot development, with the option to include as much or as little information about the scene as I wanted. And I love how easy it is to move ideas around and resort them as I develop the story around the music I’m using. This isn’t a writing project per se, in that the songs will tell the story and I”m just stringing them together, but it’s still too big for me to hold in my brain. And right now, Scrivener is holding all those details quite nicely, and making this step of the process very easy and energizing rather than overwhelming. Because the initial creation process is always the most daunting to me, Scrivener might be just what I need to get through it with less stress.

While in Duluth, I stayed in a bedroom above a friend’s shop out in the woods. Quiet, private, and the perfect place to read Thomas Merton and journal about my return to the city I love more than any other. And of course, all that driving time isn’t bad for getting the creative juices flowing, either. The hardest part is finding the time to implement them all once I’m back home.


5 Ways Marriage has Improved my Writing

October 8, 2012

I was terrified of getting married. I’ve always placed a high premium on my independence, and I think part of that was to protect my writing. Relationships take time and energy — and any time and energy given elsewhere is time and energy taken away from writing. I’d seen relationships where one’s significant other actively interfered with their beloved’s passion. In college, a writer friend of mine was dating a girl who scorned his writing, making it something he had to do almost in secret. My sister dated several men who were “jealous” of the devotion she had to her passion, horses, because it meant time spent away from them. When my mom got married, she gave up her horses because there wasn’t a place for them on my dad’s farm. Being single allowed me to avoid this quagmire of competing passions.

I also had a semi-conscious belief that intimate relationships were a liability in my dream to become a writer. I thought loneliness was part of my calling. It was not for me to engage intimately with others, but to observe; to ponder; to record. If I got swept up in a love affair of my own, so much of my creative energy would go in that direction, and I wanted that energy for writing. (There’s a belief that sexual energy and creative energy exist on the same chakra, and perhaps being raised Catholic contributed to my idea that celibacy was the best life path if I wanted to devote myself wholly to my creativity.) If I got caught up in my own life, it might wipe clean the dozens of lives I imagined in my head, each of them providing a different outlet for all the things I wasn’t experiencing on my own. If I was close to someone to whom I could pour out my soul, how many pages in my journal would be left empty? I wanted to live many lives, not just one. And so I held back from living my own, from carving out a singular path that would close off other options, and thus, close off a bit of imaginative possibility.

When Ivan and I were still dating, we watched Phoebe in Wonderland, a movie about a little girl with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD tendencies whose family, especially her mother, struggles to accept her illness. The mother in the movie is a writer — and as the movie progresses, we discover that a significant part of her internal struggle is caused by the tension she feels between her responsibilities as a wife and mother, and her desire to write. Ivan asked, “Are you afraid having a family will interfere with your writing?”

I said, “Yes.”

We didn’t speak of it further than that, but the fact that that fear was out in the open meant that I no longer faced it alone. And after the dust settled from the wedding and the honeymoon and the move, I found that the opposite of my fear has come true. Marriage allowed me to focus more on my writing than I’ve ever been able to before because …

  1. Two people means two incomes, which means if I make a little less money per week because I’m doing a little more writing, the lights will stay on and I won’t starve.
  2. Two people means shared chores, which also frees up more time for writing. I still do a fair amount of dishes and laundry, which offer prime daydreaming time.
  3. My husband has dreams of his own. As the co-founder of Coppergoose.com, and as someone who works full-time in addition to pursuing his own business, he needs time while he’s “off” to devote to developing the site. This benefits my writing in two ways: First, seeing him pursue his passion goads me into giving the same sort of attention to mine. Second, when he’s wrapped up in Coppergoose work, it’s a prime time for me to get some writing done. In particular, he takes a half-day off every Friday to devote to Coppergoose. I’ve begun doing the same, using that time to focus on research and development related to my writing, something that was usually on the back burner so that I could use all my writing time for actually, well, writing.
  4. He’s an additional reader, which means additional feedback. I often read acknowledgments by authors in which they mentioned a spouse as a first reader and valued critiquer, and I always hoped that I could someday have such a marriage relationship. Last week, Ivan finished reading my most ambitious novel, then gave me 45 minutes of “big picture” feedback that I’m still mulling over — and he brings the novel up occasionally when additional feedback strikes him. He’s not another writer, which means his feedback is pure reader feedback. This is a good compliment to my writers’ group feedback, which comes from their dual perspectives as writers and readers.
  5. Most importantly, I now live with someone who cares about me reaching my dream as much as I do. Ivan doesn’t often ask me what I’m writing, and he doesn’t give me the kind of accountability that my writers’ group or my writer friends do when they ask about progress on specific projects. But he does ask me, particularly when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, “Are you getting enough time for writing?” Fortunately, the answer has not been no yet — but I know that if it ever is, I’ll have someone to help me correct that.

I’m not about to advocate marriage as a “solution” to any writer’s woes (or as a solution to anything, really). Unlike many people, I don’t see being alone as the worst possible outcome, but being with someone to whom I’m ill-suited. I still think that the single life provides particularly fertile ground for writing, especially if you have the self-discipline to make the most of that freedom and alone time. I was incredibly fortunate that, before Ivan, I had friends who stayed up past their bedtimes to read my drafts and who asked, “When am I going to get another Lacey story?” So while I don’t advocate marriage for the sake of writing, I do know this: writing can be lonely. If you have people in your life who truly care about you reaching your goals, who see writing as a worthy pursuit even if it’s just “for the sake of writing,” who ask you when your next draft will be ready or whether you’re getting enough time for writing, keep those people in your life. And if you are going to balance an intimate relationship with your dream of writing, you could certainly do worse than having it be with one of those people.

NaNoWriMo: One Week Down, Three to Go

November 7, 2011

Well, the first week of NaNoWriMo is behind me. The first couple days, as I successfully wrote my target word count (about 1700), walked my dog, did some freelance work, made it to work on time, continued to plan my wedding, AND made progress on the anthology I’m editing, I thought, “Hey, nothing to this! I’m going to be just fine!”

By the end of the week, I remembered, “Oh yeah — I have to keep up this pace all month long.”

So far, I’ve written at my kitchen table, on my couch, in a random library in South Dakota, at a coffee shop, at the library where I work, and at my fiance’s half-finished house. This week, I plan to expand those locales to an airplane and a hotel room in Florida. I’ve fueled my writing with Powerbars, green tea, coffee, and Starbursts. And although I’m already exhausted, I’m grateful for the reminder NaNo gives me that, when there’s a will, there’s a way. There are so many excuses not to write, but in my performance-obsessed little finisher brain, during NaNo I make writing a priority and I find a way to make it work. No, I can’t keep up this pace all year long. But what I can do is remember how I managed to steal half an hour here, twenty minutes there, to write. And hopefully, I will keep doing that. Because if nothing else, NaNo at least makes me feel like a real writer.

My intention was to be a little more relaxed about NaNo this year, but so far, that ain’t really happening. I went to my first write-in last weekend, and found myself annoyed that most of the participants sat around talking about their novels instead of writing them (so I sequestered myself at the bar and kept driving toward that word count.) But I did have a virtual write-in with the friend who convinced me to do NaNo this year, and I exchanged several emails with another friend who is trying it for the first time. And since then, I’ve wondered if those folks who annoyed me at the coffee shop had something right. For a lot of people, NaNo is about the shared experience more than the word count. I’ve never been a social writer, but one thing I want to learn this November is to let go just a little bit. I’ve successfully been able to let go of the desire for perfection that keeps many people’s word counts low, I’ve successfully been able to embrace the mantra of “quantity not quality.” But next, I want to find a way to hold this “driven-ness” that overtakes me during NaNo a little more lightly, so that I might, once in a while, choose sitting around to chat over my word count. And so, at the end of it all, I can feel both accomplished and sane. A girl can dream!

Book Release Party: Eye of the Wolf

September 26, 2011

Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Duluth for Marie Zhuikov’s book release party. As she gave a presentation about the plight of the wolves on Isle Royale and how her book figured into that, I found myself flashing back to moments spent reading the manuscript on my parents’ couch in the middle of the night, making comments by the light of a small lamp; or curled up on the couch of my best friends in the twin cities, cozy indoors with wolves while a Minnesota winter loomed just outside the windows. I’m not sure of all the places life will take me as I read the published version of Eye of the Wolf, but I can’t wait to find out!

Marie is the first writer in my five-member speculative fiction writers group to publish a full-length book, and her success feels like a success for all of us — not just because we worked on the manuscript (and got a nifty mention in the acknowledgments!), but also because we know that Marie is “just like us” — a professional, dedicated, creative writer, yes, but also a woman who holds a full-time job (with freelance work on the side), is raising kids, walks her dog, and loves sweet potato fries. She’s a real person and not an elusive “author,” just as we all strive to be. With Marie’s success, it feels ever more attainable.

Marie’s book might be classified as a “paranormal romance,” but any genre label feels too small for it. Taking place in 1985 and based on Marie’s own experiences as a waitress on Isle Royale and her extensive research into wolf behavior (and the wolves on Isle Royale in particular), the book examines what might happen if the wolves on the island took the matter of their dwindling numbers into their own hands. They need to mate with new wolves to improve their gene pool, but the island setting doesn’t allow them to encounter new wolves. So the alpha male and female decide that they must “join” with two humans who will then help the wolves reach the mainland, their one hope for survival. What follows is a non-traditional werewolf story with such beautiful descriptions of setting that you might be booking a trip to Isle Royale for your next vacation. And when you do, you know the perfect reading material to bring with you.

[The book is still too new to be available online, but you can purchase a copy directly by contacting the publisher, North Star Press: E-Mail: info@northstarpress.com, Phone: (320)558-9062. I’ll update this post with links for purchasing the book online when they become available.]

Work in Progress: How Much Do You Share?

July 11, 2011

I’ve read the writing advice that one should not “talk about” one’s writing project before the first draft is complete. The idea is that, by talking about it, you’ll dispel some of the urgency, you’ll work through in speech what you would’ve worked out on paper, and that your idea will lose a little bit of its magic.

I try not to be one of those writers who is always yapping about my writing projects to anyone who breathes (luckily, I have a writers group at which we can all mutually yap about writing), but I have to admit that when an interested party presents her or himself, I have a hard time resisting diving right into the details. Last weekend, my fiance asked me how my Rumplestiltskin story was coming along. The seed that became the story came from something he said to me on Skype one night, so he has a bit of a vested interest in this particular tale. So I told him what I’d written already, as well as what I foresaw coming soon. I talked about it a lot, but I didn’t give away the ending.

When I got back home, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. His enthusiasm for what I told him about the story rekindled my enthusiasm for it, and my motivation to work on it. Yet, after I sat down to write a few scenes, I wondered if talking about it had taken away a bit of the crackle of mystery and secrecy that might have propelled me forward even more.

Ultimately, I think that anything that gets you back in your seat to write is a good thing, and this conversation did that for me even if it did dispel a bit of the dramatic tension I felt within myself. I can see where the advice not to talk about your work-in-progress comes from–I think we all know a writer or two who loves to talk about the books they “plan” to write, but who never actually gets anything written–but I also don’t think it applies in every situation, all the time (honestly, what kind of advice does?)

What about you? Do you share details about your work in progress? If so, with whom? And if not, why not?

Poem #15, Writers Group, and a Meeting w/ a Publisher

November 15, 2010

Cats for a Day

Every morning I used to ask my cat,
“Why don’t we switch things up a bit?
This time, you go to work,
and I lay around all day.”

She blinked, chirped, walked away.
I grumbled about how some people
just don’t pull their own weight.

But do you remember the time
we decided to play cats-for-the-day?
More commonly known
as playing hooky.

You had the day off work
and I had a bit of an ache in my arms
and my period —
not enough to keep me home,
except that you looked so cozy
in your bed, goading me:
“You should do it. Call in sick
and hang out with me.”

For seven years we shared small spaces
cheered each other up onto our soap boxes
had conversations in broken Spanish
played guitars and cards at the kitchen table.
Even then, I knew those nights of movies
and reading books aloud
were our glorious moments of stretching out
basking in the sun
just because it was there.
Two kittens dashed across
slippery tile floors
as two women lay on two sides
of the same wall
and reached out their voices
where their hands didn’t touch.
Except for the nights when talking
wasn’t enough and my body shook
and the tears came rushing down my face
as fast as you came rushing into my room.

But then one day, you wore an expensive white dress
and we had a big party
and that meant that it was time for you to share
small spaces with someone else,
curled up with him in bed just like
kittens curled up on the couch.

And so I have no regrets
about the half lie I once told
so that I could spend the day
beside you on a scratchy green couch.
Not an ounce of guilt
for when we finally gave in
to our desire to be
cats for a day.

I think I can officially count myself “caught up” for that one missing poem, since I technically wrote three poems on Saturday night, all of them about my childhood relationship with My Little Ponies (there was a My Little Pony pic that I used as a prompt in my Picto-Journal). Two of them were terrible, and really what just felt like a ‘warm-up’ for the third, which might actually be worth salvaging. But nobody ever said these poem-a-day creations had to be good! (If that were the case, I wouldn’t be able to count the dreadful six-liner I jotted out last night while my boyfriend was in the bathroom, but count it I did!!)

I met with my writers group tonight via webcam, which was an exciting change full of the suspense of wondering what-in-the-world-the-person-on-the-other-end-might-be-saying. Dropped connections, distorted voices, and frozen videos abound, but it was still really lovely to hear the voices and see the faces of my writing posse. They’ve promised to scope out better Internet possibilities. Technology could be so wonderful if only it would work!

I’ve been saving the best bit for last: I have a phone meeting on Friday with a publisher who is interested in an anthology of young, Catholic voices. I fielded his “fan-mail” to one of the Young Adult Catholics blog writers last week and decided to respond with a bit of a pitch. We had interest from a Catholic publisher over a year ago in doing a similar project, but his team decided our voices were just too dissident for their press. The press I’ll be talking with on Friday is much more comfortable with dissidence–and that’s the kind of press I like!

If You Love Poetry (or even if you don’t)

July 30, 2009

Tomorrow, July 31, is the last chance to submit poetry to WEbook’s Poetry Vote. Even if you don’t submit poetry, WEbook is worth checking out for the writers’ community it provides. When I put a few of my poems up, I didn’t expect to get much feedback on them, since I didn’t have time to really develop my relationship with the community there. Plus, the community is HUGE, and I suspected my poems would get lost amidst so much writing. But I received several comments, suggesting that this community really does what it says it does — connects writers with one another to improve everyone’s writing. Now that things are slowing down a bit, I plan to return the favor by leaving feedback on a few pieces.

If you DON’T love poetry, there’s a place for you, too. WEbook is teaming up with Level 4 Press for an upcoming anthology called “I hate poetry.” Even if you aren’t a WEbook member, you can submit your writing directly to Level 4.