Friday, February 25, 2011

Writing In Books

Do you?

When I was in college I had no problem with it. As an English major, writing in the margins was an easy way to take notes. And there was something romantic about scribbling my thoughts in the margins. My preferred weapon writing implement was a pencil. Although on occasion, I did use a pen in my Shakespeare anthology *shudder* and in the used paperbook novels I bought cheap at 2nd hand stores. I am proud to say that I never took a highlighter to any of my literature books. (I saved those for my sociology and psych books).

I kind of regret writing in my Shakespeare book, a pretty blue hardcover with thin paper pages. But to prepare for and takes notes during classroom discussions, I wrote in the margins and underlined phrases. Some of the notes were questions that arose when I read and some were notes to my friend who sat next to me in class.

Today, I rarely mark up my books. And I take careful measures to avoid food spillage. I have been known to underline very, very faintly in pencil in a couple of books, but even that causes me to sweat, and inevitably I go back and erase them. Some of you know that I have been involved in online reading groups. Rather than mark up my books I either fill up index cards with notes (great because they double as book marks), or I rip scraps of paper and use them to mark relevant parts of the novel, then write about them in a notebook when I have time. There's something sacred about a clean page - black type on white paper.

What about you? Do feel compelled to write your thoughts in your books as you read or does the thought make you feel queasy?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Like You

At my high school, it was traditional to give and receive carnations on Valentine’s Day. White meant “let’s be friends,” pink meant “I like you,” and red meant “I love you.” I never got any reds and I can’t recall a pink either. But thankfully, so we wouldn’t feel like complete losers walking the corridors with empty hands, white were given among friends. It’s nice to be liked.

A few days ago I noticed it was my 6 month blog anniversary. I want to express my thanks to all of you who have stopped by and followed during that time. A special thanks to those who take the time to read my ramblings and leave a comment. It means so much to me, especially because I was so unsure about blogging when I first started. And let's be honest, who doesn’t love to see a new comment after writing a post?

I’ve really enjoyed blogging about my writing journey over the past 6 months. My hope is that someone else can relate to what I've been thinking about and that we can connect in the knowledge that we’re not alone – that someone else gets it. Writing doesn’t have to be solitary. Isn’t it cool how we can click a link to another writer’s blog and read how she works through writer’s block or how he approaches revision? Or click on a literary agent’s blog and gain incredible insight into the publishing world or learn tips on querying? Blogging is a lot of work, but it’s rewarding, too. I learn something new every day.

So to all of you,
a virtual pink carnation
I like you.

(photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Breaking My Own Rules

I love rules. I love to know what's expected and how things are done. Give me structure! Give me order! *ahem* sorry.

Anyway, these are some of the rules I try to follow in my writing:

1. Don't begin a novel with the main character waking up (this time).
2. Don't begin a novel by asking a rhetorical question.
3. Lose the extra words that clog sentences: that, just, very, feel, so, well, etc
4. Keep adverb/adjective use to a minimum.
5. Finish one first draft before starting another.

Now, #5 is to keep me from getting sidetracked from my current WiP. I've been guilty of this in the past - either because of a plot problem or because, over time, I thought it wasn't good enough. Last November during NaNoWriMo, I had an idea for a YA novel that I was excited about. When I dropped out of the NaNo, I put my 1,000 word draft aside to focus back on Nitpicky with the goal of finishing it this year. I’ve had some ups and downs with this draft (Nitpicky) and right now I’m struggling with a bit of self doubt. Those nagging questions are plaguing me again: Is the conflict big enough? Are my characters too flat? Is this idea original enough?

At the same time, I’ve been getting flashes of ideas for the novel I’ve temporarily named, After. I open up my Word file and quickly type up each new idea before I lose it and then close it again. However, I’ve been tempted to just turn away from Nitpicky and let loose with After. But then I’d have to break one of my rules which is hard for me. Why? Because then I begin judging myself: If I’m a writer, shouldn’t I plough through the tough spots and keep going? Shouldn’t I finish at least one WiP? (started 4, finished 0 – not very good stats) Am I running away from my problems to the new, shiny idea instead of working through the crud?

I guess I’m trying to figure out if I want two projects going on at the same time. After will still be there when Nitipicky is finished. However, my new ideas have been inspired by music this time – a totally new experience for me. I even have the beginnings of a playlist for After which is something I haven’t used in the past. Because I love music so much, I’m fascinated and excited by the ideas that burst through a listen of these songs. I suppose either way the writing practice will be good for me and the stronger of the two novels will prevail. I can always rewrite the other later on if the desire is still there.

I’d love to know if anyone else struggles with this.
Do you work on more than one writing project at a time? Do you find it easy or hard to switch from one novel idea & set of characters to another? How do you keep them separate in your head?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Unrequited Love

“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p. 687)

Valentine’s Day is one of the most fun days of the year if you’re in elementary school exchanging cards and candy. It can also be a special day for lovers, especially the newly in love who can’t stop thinking about each other and want to spend every second together. Even couples who have been together for a long time may celebrate or simply wish each other a “Happy Valentine’s Day, hun,” with a peck on the cheek and a hug.

But for those who don’t have a significant other it can feel like the loneliest day of the year. It can be especially excruciating if you long to be with a particular someone who doesn’t share the same feelings.

In my lifetime I can remember 4 serious cases of unrequited love that I suffered through. Two of the four were boys I developed a crush on in school; one in middle school, one in high school. I thought about these boys all day long; Does he ever notice me? Will he talk to me? Would he ever feel the same way about me? The other two boys were good friends of mine at different times in my life.

One of these friends in particular, I thought was seriously the one. I was attracted to him, he was smart, loved to read, loved the same music that I did, played piano beautifully, so witty – I was totally smitten and miserable because he didn’t feel the same way. We stayed friends for around 7 years or so; through dating and breaking up with other people, through going in different directions during our college years, but my love for this boy always returned full force. Eventually, we admitted that we both had feelings for each other and we did kind of date, but it never blossomed into anything permanent. He went on to pursue a PhD. (and a different girl) and I was left with a broken heart. However, my eyes were opened and I finally accepted that we were not the same in some pretty significant ways, ways that really mattered to me, and eventually, I was able to move on.

In my current WiP, two of my characters are experiencing a bit of unrequited love. The pain and heartache during those brooding days and tearful nights I lived through, along with the many journal entries devoted to these perfect-in-my-mind boys, have given me much experience to draw from.

Though you may have experienced or may be in the throes of unrequited love, you never know when the love of your life might find you. Remember how I mentioned that I had another friend I was pining after? While I was lovesick and brooding daily, two friends asked me (separately) if I would go out with a friend of theirs because they thought we’d be a good match. After much reluctance on my part (mainly because I was waiting for my guy friend to come to his senses and realize he wanted me - didn't happen), I said ok. We went on our first date, less than 2 years later we were married, and have been happily married for 16 years. You just never know!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Do You (I) Write?

Over the weekend I visited Barnes and Noble to pick up Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie for my son’s English assignment. While I was there I bought two writing books for myself. I love Betsy Lerner’s blog, so I picked up her revised and updated book, The Forest for the Trees.

I’m on Chapter 3. I love this book. I love Betsy Lerner.

Early on, Lerner reflects on why we write. And so I thought I’d try to put into words why I write. This is hard for me because it has to do with how I see and think about things, it’s an expression of emotion, it’s an otherness that’s difficult to explain. Ultimately it's a means of connecting and sharing experiences with others.

The Whys - Some of these reasons are why I wrote when I was young, some are why I write now.
  1. So I didn't have to talk. As a child I was extremely shy. "She's so quiet," was uttered by every elementary teacher I ever had. Other kids thought I was either quiet or a snob because I didn't talk. I’m not a natural conversationalist and I often stumble over words when I talk. It’s like these thoughts swirl around in my head and when I try to express them orally I often struggle for the correct words – not all the time, but it happens. However, I always thought writing was an "easy" way to express myself.
  2. As a teen I always had a yearning to express my joys, fears, anger, angst through writing. It became my release. I used to pour my heart out into my journals and when I reread those entries my mind and heart travel back to that time.
  3. I've always been emotional, creative, and imaginative as a child - always thinking about everything: the natural world – the sky, the ocean, a dirty snowbank (of which there are lots right now) and people – appearance, motivations, personalities, beliefs, body language, etc. I love how words can come together to create a world with characters that we care about that seem real.
  4. I’m a solitary person. And I’m (finally) okay with that.
  5. However, there’s still a part of me who wants that brass ring – call it validation, call it recognition, call it pride. I want to prove to myself that I can write a novel and, I admit, to prove to those in high school and college who asked Suzanne who?
  6. Praise feels good. When a teacher enters your poem to a children's publication or an essay to a citywide contest - that feels awesome. When a friend tells me, "Your letters make me laugh," you want to send her another.
  7. Mostly I write to connect with kids. The teen years were a time of highs and lows, trying to figure out what and who were important to me, struggling with self-esteem, wanting to desperately belong somewhere other than my family. I remember that time in my life, and often feel similar twinges in social situations today that take me back. I want to wrap that emotion and self discovery around a story that my readers can relate to – maybe recognize themselves in my characters - to let them know that they’re not alone, and that it’s okay to laugh at themselves, feel pain and sadness, and that they have the power to overcome anything.

Now it's your turn. Why do you write?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rejection Newbie

Yesterday, I got my first taste of writer’s rejection. It didn’t taste very good – bitter with an awful after taste. But it didn’t really bring me down, either. After all, over 1500 people entered Nathan’s contest. There were so many excellent first paragraphs and I read them all.

I read each paragraph (about 900 at the time) to determine whether or not I felt confident enough to submit my own. Would I at least have a chance against the other entries? In the end, I don’t really know. I find it very difficult to judge my own writing, but I went for it anyway. I entered with the same mindset as when I buy a lottery ticket. Occasionally, when some of the national lotteries get into the multiple million dollar prizes, we buy a ticket, dream about what we would do with the money, and then go along with our everyday lives. A part of me wondered what I’d do if my paragraph was recognized, even in a tiny way. But I knew that there were many more that were a lot better and the experience has driven me to work harder to improve my craft.

There were many great first paragraphs and l learned a lot about what I like as a reader, and how easy it was to move on to another if the first line felt too heavy, too cliché, too action heavy. Every word is important whether writing a paragraph or a good, solid query to stop an agent in his/her reading tracks when they receive hundreds a week. First impressions hold a lot of weight.

I also learned how subjective the process is. Certainly, a good handle on craft launched the writers into the finals: voice, inventiveness, humor, suspense, that "je ne sais quois" that hooks a reader into wanting more. However, before the finalists were announced, we (the blog readers) were asked to post which paragraphs grabbed our attention. The differences in our choices reflected how different our tastes are as readers. In fact, of those who posted their favorites only a few made the honorable mentions or finals (one happened to be one of my favorites).

So yeah, it’s a bummer and Nathan’s favorites and my favorites were mostly different – little consolation in this crazy quest for publication, but I’ll take it. Will I try again next year? Absolutely.