My Struggle with Perfectionism


Do you know your biggest obstacle against creativity? As a writer, perfectionism has kept me from making a good deal of progress. Much is said about Writer’s Block or the phobia of cliches being reasons why we don’t make progress. We rarely address a hidden problem. It’s the idea of striving to write a scene identical to what we see in our heads.

It’s easier to daydream than to write. It takes no effort to hold an image or play out a scene in your mind. Depending on how long it’s been marinating there, we struggle to get it on paper. Nothing on the page can do justice to what we imagine during long nights of insomnia, and this frustrating truth can keep us in a loop—write, rewrite, repeat.

Rewriting is necessary, but how do we know when it’s time to stop? It’s tempting to believe that if we rewrite a scene enough, it will become identical to what we see in our heads. With this myth deceiving us, we don’t notice when it is time to move on to other scenes. At what point do we wind up rewriting so much that we undo the story instead of making progress?

Since the beginning of April, I’ve been working to ensure my series will be finished. A day does not pass when I don’t write a page of backstory. In this ritual I expand on world building, delve into characters, and elaborate on their motives; I work out things readers might never find out, things I as an author must know.

I’ve been using basic legal pads. This makes a difference, because when I use pretty journals I’m afraid to ruin them. Every night I fill a page and store it in a binder. Disciplining myself this way, I have begun to sort through the jungle of my fictional world. A few years ago I confused myself by seeing one book instead of the world, and it was a disaster when the time came for revisions.

These pages of backstory won’t make a novel, but I’ll have a map to follow. Seeing my progress as I gather pages into the binder has made the end more achievable. With the big picture in mind, I don’t focus too much on one chapter; until the series is published, nothing’s set in stone.

There were scenes pining to be written which I ignored by rewriting chapter five over and over again. Perfectionism blinded me to reveals that deserved attention, if only so they would be well-done in the future. First drafts aren’t perfect and we’re not meant to spend all our time on them.

Perfectionism is our friend when it reminds us not to settle for sloppy writing. It becomes the enemy when it stops progress. If years have passed and you can’t move forward but universes continue to expand in your mind, it’s time to reel in that perfectionism.

I’m allowing myself to outline scenes for the second and third novels. They’re not the final breaths on which I’ll tell the story; they’re not perfect. My goal is to have material for editing; these scenes will also help me have an idea of where I’m going. In addition, when I get bold scenes out of my mind, it’s easier to focus on edits.

Every creative medium has its challenges. Have you worked out how to beat yours? Does perfectionism loom over you like it does me? If you have overcome that habit, I hope you can give some advice! Let’s help fill the world with stories by removing blocks from each others’ paths.

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The Forest of Heldbreath


Imagine your mind is a forest. The edge of the forest is a place where you pause and get distracted–a place of heldbreath, of course.

Sometimes we wait at the edge of heldbreath for days, months, or years. I’ve been lurking there for several weeks, skillfully talking myself out of a very important task.

Should I start editing now? I asked myself, then laughed and shrugged it off, eager to examine the next tree.

Some writers enjoy edits more than they do writing. I have never been one of those writers; in my haste to move on and write other stories, I put off edits again and again…and again.

In the forest of heldbreath, it’s easy to pretend we aren’t procrastinating. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in that place; the only difference now is that I’m writing about it, giving this place a name and personality.

Heldbreath is procrastination.

I inched away from editing until it was a small place hidden by the trees. I know where it is! Somewhere in that general direction – between two oak trees – it might be that hollow, or perhaps the one after?

Two weeks ago I searched the forest of heldbreath, looking for the corner where my manuscript for The Autumn Prince was. I found myself surprised by the short length of the novel, and thought this couldn’t take long.

It would be quicker if I would keep walking and stop procrastinating.

It’s easy to get distracted while searching the forest of heldbreath; we can convince ourselves we are where we’re supposed to be, when it’s quite far. I want a decent, clean version of The Autumn Prince this summer; I will wander the forest heldbreath in circles until I make it.

Have you been to the forest of heldbreath? Of course you have, we’re both human! Let’s meet at the edge and talk about the goals we will meet someday.

Writing: The Learning Process


Too many writers talk and act as if writing were slow torture. As New York sports writer Red Smith once observed, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” If you want to write, here’s a secret: the writer’s struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing.
From Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

You’re never done growing as a writer. I realized this when I saw the differences reading my novels, Dissonance and Serenade. Only a year after Dissonance’s release—a year of obsessive practice and reading—my skill had improved.

Serenade surprised me. I often found myself staring at a sentence and thinking, “Did I write that?” Time and practice will help you grow, and you will find it worth the effort.

Dissonance and Serenade each have different qualities that make them special. I love Dissonance because:

  • It was the first book I finished. I’d written stories in the past, but something about them didn’t feel complete, even as first drafts.
  • When I released Dissonance, I was doing more than putting a story out for an audience. I was proving I could overcome my own insecurity by giving my work a chance. It was the first time I walked past fear, following a dream.
  • It has heavy backstory. I have three bound copies of previous drafts; each could stand on its own, trailing off into a different adventure. Same story, different breath…same dream, different night.

I am proud of Serenade because:

  • When I wrote it, I was able to plan where each scene would go, meaning I had a clearer path. Unlike with Dissonance, there won’t be three bound versions of Serenade; I’d found a manner of plotting that worked for me. Instead of same dream, different night, this book is one vivid dream.
  • Reading Serenade showed me that my hobby was so much more than a hobby. For a long time, writing has been something I did because I enjoyed it, but my work was read only by my closest friends. Serenade opened my eyes to the fact that, with time and hard work, my audience will grow.
  • This second completed work on my shelf is a reminder that, just like Allie has a long story waiting to be told, my own journey has just begun.

I’m excited that there’s room for improvement in my writing. I’m eager to learn what my weaknesses are, then work until I surprise myself with more growth. This homework is exciting, rewarding, and fun.

So where do I start? With the basics, of course.

writingtools

I found the book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer at a yard sale, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for well over a year. Today I decided to page through it; to my delight, I found there are exercises.

I will never be finished learning to write, so may as well enjoy the lessons. If Dissonance and Serenade were the first two “chapters” of my journey, I’m gearing up to embark on the third.

What books do you believe are most helpful when it comes to improving as a writer? Do you delight in constructive criticism, or does it sound overwhelming? (If so, don’t worry–you have reason to be overwhelmed!)

On Mermaid Tales & Short Stories


dissonanceeditcollage

I may have completed edits for Serenade (which I still expect to release sometime in October,) but that doesn’t mean I’ve stepped away from these characters and their adventures.

It has been a fun week of world-building and character profiling. My personal copy of Dissonance is currently full of sticky notes! They were placed to mark facts I would like to expand on in future books. The first book focused more on characters than setting, leaving plenty of room for creativity in future installments.

In the process of taking notes for backstory and character personalities, I accidentally worked out a rough outline for Book 3. I have always wanted to write a world involving mermaids, and can finally get to that when I work on Allie’s next adventure. With the help of some friends, I have worked out some of mermaid culture, and it’s more complex than I had anticipated.

It would seem backstory is a lot easier to work on than a blurb for Serenade. I will try to have it ready this weekend, though; in the past I have been very good at procrastinating, but want to change that. There will never be a blurb if I don’t sit to type it up.

Another habit I’ve been working on is writing a little every day; a lot of that random fiction has been shared on this blog. It’s a way to control plot bunnies and make sure my Muse doesn’t get bored. Short stories are an interesting new form of writing; I look forward to practicing and getting better. I’ve been reading collections of short stories, starting with a book of Mark Twain’s work, and for Halloween I’m going to try Lovecraft.

How have your stories been treating you? Do you have a specific method for world-building? Do you work on detailed character profiles?

I would love to hear your advice!

On Finishing Serenade & Old Clichés


There is a curious emptiness many writers feel when a project is finally done. I’ve finished editing Serenade, and find myself searching for ways to pass the time—plotting a new novel, or working on my TBR pile.

It’s tempting to keep searching the document for things to edit, but I’ve already made all the changes suggested by my beta readers. I checked for typos and inconsistencies; I mended paragraphs and smoothed out sentences. Any changes I could make now would be for the sake of doing something to the manuscript, which wouldn’t necessarily help it. I have to sit back now and work on something else, because Serenade is as close to ready as it’ll ever be.

There is a point where you know you’ve done all you can for a book, that it can stand on its own, and it’s almost time for a book release. This is an exciting feeling, for sure, but it also brings the emptiness—the sensation that you need to be working on something, writing something. There’s almost a feeling of betrayal—why isn’t your manuscript around to help you anymore?

It’s attachment, it’s habit, and it can be bittersweet. It’s also liberating, because now I can start plotting my next novel.

Thank you for providing support on this journey as I went through the beta rounds, made edits, and even procrastinated work! I don’t know exactly when the book will be out. It’ll probably be in October, because that’s my favorite month (Halloween!)

Also—Serenade is shorter than Dissonance by a couple of chapters, and I feel perfectly okay with that. A struggle I had throughout the writing process was fear of not making it the length I wanted. I read the manuscript this morning, though, and feel that it said what it needed to. It’s not worse because of those couple thousand missing words. Quality over quantity—it’s an old cliché, but a lesson I learned, and a piece of advice I will keep with me whenever I am working on a new book.

How do you deal with the emptiness after you finish writing a project? Are there specific ways in which you pass the free time?

Edits & Expectations


I’ve been on hiatus for several weeks now. Yesterday, it took a long time for me to muster the courage to open Serenade and start final edits. Perhaps I was afraid it would need rewriting.

In the past, I could only make my stories better by rewriting entire chapters. This time, it’s not the case. I worked hard to shape it up before the second beta round, apparently with good results!

Once I got to work, I managed to control my impulse to over-edit. I don’t need to rewrite every sentence. Some need deleting, sure, and a word has to be changed here and there. Nothing drastic, though.

skyfall

With three chapters edited, I’ve managed to pick out some quotes that stayed in place throughout the drafting process, like the one above. Sometimes, though, it feels like I’m reading a chapter for the first time.

That hiatus helped. Space is necessary if you want to make progress, once the time  comes to edit. It’s important to see your manuscript with fresh eyes. I’m happy with edits so far, and not scared like I was earlier.

Do you follow a specific routine during the editing process? Is paper necessary for you to spot errors in your manuscript, or do you work better with the flexibility of a Word document? We all go about it differently; I’d love to hear your point of view!

Road to Serenade – Day 1


When you’re a writer, time goes by slowly. Maybe it’s because we play with time in the stories we tell; everything appears bigger and full of mystery.

It feels like years have passed since I started drafting Serenade. I completed the first version in early January, and in the time since then, I’ve learned a lot about writing and the story itself.

I’ve been on a writing hiatus for several weeks, but it’s time to get back to work. Because of the second beta round, I have wonderful feedback to work with. Some friends were patient enough to read the manuscript twice, for the spring and summer beta rounds. I don’t know where I would be without them!

On the first day of edits, I’m going to spend a lot of time rearranging my desk (hahaha…) and figuring out how to organize the critique. Each reader commented on different aspects of the novel, so I got to see it from many perspectives; I realized books take shape depending on the reader.

I’m confident that, once combined, all the feedback will help me turn Serenade into a novel many people will enjoy. I already think it’s better than Dissonance, and the next book will certainly be better than both of them.

I will be blogging as I edit, sharing excerpts and venting frustrations. Thank you for having accompanied me all year as I worked on this new story. I hope you get to read it soon!

Dealing with Manuscript Fright


manuscript fright

Writing a book is one of the most difficult things in the world. Having just finished a novel this week, I feel like it’s the most difficult thing.

Even now that I have an almost-complete draft, putting it away for a month remains a challenge. My mind won’t settle; it keeps insisting that I have one more change to make, a change that can’t wait until my hiatus ends.

To make matters worse, Serenade is a sequel. I have to check the first book, Dissonance, to make sure I don’t publish a sequel with contradictions. Because I’ve spent the last six months editing my work, I can’t even seem to get through my first novel without correcting each sentence, and it’s already published!

Over time, our writing styles change. I don’t hate my writing, though—it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes I come across lovely passages and surprise myself, thinking, “Did I write that?” Other times, I struggle with the impulse to rewrite and edit everything.

In theory, I could rewrite everything—it’s a benefit of being an indie author. That doesn’t make it the right choice, because no matter how many times I rewrite a novel, I will never be satisfied with my own work.

If you’re a writer, you probably won’t be, either. Most writers struggle to recognize our own talent, because we are always comparing ourselves to other authors. It’s a wall we can’t get past.

My voice will never be like Bestselling Author #1. My imagery will never be lyrical like that of Bestselling Author #2. I’d like to forget the feeling that they’re so much more talented than me, but my brain won’t allow it.

The only way to get better at my craft is to practice, ignoring those thoughts.

I keep writing, even though I never feel good enough. I keep writing, even though I can’t see my own progress. I keep writing, because I have stories to tell. I may not be poignant as Bestselling Author #3 now, but I’ll never improve if I give up.

Besides, those bestsellers I compare myself to struggle with this, as well. Most writers are haunted by the very same conflict. In the end, it’s our choice—will we let the ghosts silence us, or will we continue on the storyteller’s journey?

I’ve made my decision. It’s your turn.

Writing Update: The Spontaneous Novella


As I stated in this post, when I am immersed in a writing project my blog suffers. It’s been weeks since my last post; every day I had the intentions of writing a review, since I did quite a bit of reading despite the writing and edits, but there never seemed to be time.

Since my last post, I’ve made a surprising amount of progress with projects. Serenade went through heavy edits and will soon begin the second beta round. Not only that, though—in my free time after I finished the round of edits, I started a novella.

Perhaps I had the story in me for so long that all I needed was an outline to help gain momentum. A couple of weeks after I started the project, I finished with a 41k manuscript. It’s a first draft nobody can read yet, but it was refreshing to know I could start something new and make progress.

It’s related to Dissonance and Serenade—it’s a novella based on the character Meredith, whose backstory is powerful. It seemed fitting to give her a spotlight. I learned how different a character can look when seen through the eyes of another protagonist.

Every writer should try seeing their characters from new angles, discovering strengths and weaknesses. It’s not necessary to write a whole book, but you learn quite a bit by exploring a different perspective for a few paragraphs.

Later I will write a blog post about this. Today I just wanted to update the site so it isn’t so dead—I promise I was doing something productive! There are two manuscripts on the way now.

I hope you’ve had a good summer so far! What books have you enjoyed most over vacation?

Writing Update: On Short Novels


I’m taking another break from editing Serenade, and thought this an appropriate time for an update. I get so caught up in the editing process that I forget to tell people how I’m doing.

I’ve learned many things since editing began, but perhaps the biggest lesson is that my books tend to be short. It’s been a cause of frustration, since I’ve always thought books should be longer as the series progresses (looking at Harry Potter as an example.)

It means I fell into the comparison trap. If the Fallen Faery Tale series winds up being a collection of short, well-written books, I’ll be happy. Future readers will be happy, too!

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what to do for my word count to increase. Whenever I focus on my book length, the story quality decreases. Not only that, I stop enjoying  the storytelling process.

diss1

What should I do? I’m going to let the story be. I can’t make a tale longer than it wants to be. It takes away from the magic of writing! Besides, some of the best books written are short.

I’ve created a rule I’m struggling to follow: I’ll only worry about writing the amount of words required to tell a good story. It is not my goal to write a long story, but a good one.

Don’t get me wrong—long books are wonderful, too. I just haven’t come up with a plot that could comfortably stretch into one. There are some plot bunnies whispering “it’ll be me!” but I’m refusing to look at them yet, as they would become distractions.

My goal right now is to release Serenade. I’ve been working hard, which is why my blog lost momentum in the last two weeks. It’s all for a good cause.

Until Serenade is ready, why not give Dissonance a try? Find it here!