Everything I Know About Writing...
Greetings and salutations my foxy family. How's everyone doing today? Are you hydrated? Getting some rest? Taking your meds?
I'm doing all three (maybe I could be hydrating a bit more?) and am mostly trying to just let myself rest for these first few weeks of June. Getting away from the classroom has rarely been this much of a relief. I love love love my kiddos--but the never ending litany of what the world expects from teachers continues to be overwhelming.
But y'all came her for book and writing things, so allow me to get back on topic. I recently finished a huge overall restructure and revision of my Harpy Girls manuscript. I drafted this story over a 2 month period in the spring of 2020. Now, in June of 2022, it marks 2 years I've spent on this manuscript, which is the longest I've spent on an individual manuscript since my first one (4 years!) My other 2 manuscripts were about 1.5 years from zero draft to querying.
However, this wasn't a step back in my overall progress or skill level (even though it freaks me out that the last query I sent was in September of 2020!!). There was a perfect storm of things that have prevented me from getting this revision done sooner and while I cursed them and complained about it, I have finally come to accept that this is how it's going to play out. Which is a very typical me thing to do. I want to be DOING. I want to have irons in the fire. I want to be looking toward that NEXT THING. Instead I've been treading water, and frustratingly, sometimes fighting the current to get back upstream. But in the end, it needed the time it needed. Here's hoping I remember that lesson as I move on to my next project (highly unlikely, I shall stresssssssssssssss!)
Writing is a never ending process and it's a process that you never stop learning about. There is always craft things to learn. But there's also bigger ideas that need to stay malleable if I expect to stay grounded in an industry where there is so much emphasis on outside markers of success. When I allow myself to reflect on where I was as a writer and where I am now, it's actually been a pretty cool journey. So here are 5 things I've learned:
1)Time away from my manuscript is almost always the answer!
When I first started taking this writing thing seriously, I NEVER STEPPED AWAY from a manuscript. It didn't make any sense to me, why would I let it sit? I would lose my momentum, my love of the project, I would forget details... But now, six years into this, stepping away has become one the most important things I do. I write a zero draft, I let it sit for a month or two while I work on something new (or revise an older project). Then I take a break between each major revision. I'm usually waiting for beta feedback during those subsequent breaks, but even if I'm not, I make myself take a minimum of a 2 week break before I dive back in. Forgetting details is one of the most fantastic things you can do for editing and revising. Sometimes I get to a sentence or bit I included for a very specific reason and I read it and am like "WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN??" and then I cut it because if I, the creator can't understand the significance of that line it obviously was not as vital as I originally thought (and sometimes I do this with whole passages or scenes). Its as close as I can get to reading my story for "the first time"
More importantly, It's allowed me to not burn out creatively--which is something that publishing makes difficult. There's so much emphasis on churning out stories and ALWAYS being creative. But taking time to just exist and replenish my creative well has been a tough lesson for me to learn. I can't deny the benefits though. For me, I had to work through a lot of guilt over *NOT* doing things. Like not writing for days, not picking up a manuscript to do a read through, not working on queries or synopsis. Taking a break is so hard to do in our world that says GO GO GO GO all the time.
So yes, I still feel some sort of way that I've spent so much time on Harpy Girls and it's STILL not winging its way into agents' inboxes, but the amount of down time between versions were exactly what it needed. And combined with #2, it has led me to a pretty gosh dern stellar version of this story that I absolutely love.
2) Listen to what people tell you even when you disagree (especially if you do)
This is always a tricky one, but it's absolutely one of the most important things you can do as a writer. And, before I lose you with the "especially if you do disagree" bit, there's always a caveat there, so read on my friends.
I feel like this was something I was fairly good at coming into this because of my equestrian background in dressage. I routinely paid people obscene amounts of money to tell me precisely what I was doing wrong, even when--especially when--it was something I thought I was doing pretty darn good. And if I wasn't going to listen to them, why was I paying them? Having people critique my writing has been a bit more painful because it feels more personal, but I've worked hard to learn to separate the two. A critique of my writing isn't someone dunking on me (I mean, they might be, sadly, those people do exist) but if someone is telling me what they're seeing in my manuscript or pushing me to do something different or BETTER, it's because they see potential there and they have confidence I can do it. So when someone suggests something I don't like or that I disagree with, I've learned to stop myself from shutting down and thinking "they just don't get me". Instead I analyze what they're saying and, depending on the relationship I have with them, I pushback and I question. I want to understand what the root of the problem is. I want to understand why they feel that way. It has always lead to fantastic discoveries, or a better way to double down on my original idea and make it clearer (which has always been an acceptable answer to all of my readers)
And! The cool thing about writing in today's world is that barring some freak accident, you can save multiple versions of your work. So do whatever weird thing your CP/Beta/Mentor/Editor suggested. If you hate it, coolio, you can just go back to the original version. If you don't then voila, you've made your manuscript stronger. Or! You might find a way to spin what they wanted with what you wanted. These are the people you're going to for advice and guidance. No matter what, even if you've taken time away from your manuscript, you're too close to it. You need outside logic and perspective to make sure you're getting it right. If your reader isn't picking up what you're putting down, then you aren't communicating it the right way.
Do I take all the advice given to me about my manuscript? No. But I do take close to 95% of it either directly or indirectly. It's made me a better writer and it's made my stories stronger. This version of Harpy Girls is absolutely a testament to that. Because I listened. It's a balance between protecting the heart of my story with realizing that my execution of said story needed some tweaks.
3)Don't be afraid to put your heart and soul into your story
THIS ONE FOLX. This has been a huge process for me. Four (five??) years ago, I thought I had put SO MUCH of myself into SAMM. And at the time, it was a lot of myself. Then I started Harpy Girls and I finally exhaled and let myself bleed onto the pages. I know, this sounds dramatic, but for me, a Scorpio that was raised to suppress ALL FEELINGS because sharing anything is BAD AND HORRIFIC, this has been a revolution. There is so much of me in each of my 3 POVs for this story. If you know me know me, you KNOW what parts of me ended up in each POV.
And it's weird because I read it and I'm like WELL THIS IS OBVIOUS, but the reality is that my potential readers will not know what's *me* and what's just made up nonsense from my head unless I tell them. So I had to learn to be more vulnerable in my writing and to be more honest with the words I put down on the page. For me, I have to be slightly uncomfortable with the truths I'm writing. Because they're truths I may not be ready for but that still need to exist in the world because someone, somewhere also needs to hear(read) that truth. Being vulnerable is terrifying (it has objectively never worked out well for me in the past), so here's hoping that being secretly vulnerable will help get me find an even stronger voice and confidence in my writing.
The second part of this is that I get some fantastic praise from CPs and agents on my writing--but there is always something missing, something that just doesn't quite hook them (more so with agents than my CPs--their support and belief in my stories and characters is truly amazing). And I feel very strongly (look at me feeling things!) that it was this emotional piece. We'll see how it goes with Harpy Girls when she's in the trenches, but I know that for now, this story has *me* written between every line and I'm incredibly proud of that.
4)Nothing about writing or publishing is fair
This has been a tough one. Throughout my entire life, I've been told that if I just work hard enough, I will succeed, I'll have earned the things I'm chasing after. And, friends, I'm here to say that's a load of BS. I have yet to encounter a single facet of my life that has been a legit meritocracy. And publishing is absolutely, 100% NOT. All writers work hard, that's a fact. But we also know there are a ton of fantastic books out there that aren't published and have been rejected by agents and editors because it wasn't *quite right* for them. I watch friends and mutuals on both sides of this fence--the ones that are getting the deals and the ones that are continually passed over. And they all work equally hard. They are all talented. So much of publishing is just pure luck. It's a luckocracy.
I'm well aware of the privilege I have querying as a white author--but it still bears repeating that nothing about publishing actually makes sense or is based on what you deserve or even remotely fair. Learning that lesson has been a tough road for me because it involved undoing decades of gaslighting by society that if I JuSt WoRk HaRdEr I WiLl SucCede! Because, let me tell you, I have run myself ragged and my CPs lament right along with me that my books haven't been picked up by an agent or publisher yet. Which is the perfect segue into the fifth and final think I've learned.
5)Be annoyingly arrogant and obnoxious about how much you love your story and characters
If you read that last bit about how my CPs are like HOW ARE YOU NOT AGENTED YET??? I'm not just being egotistical. Maybe a little, but, my writing is good. I've made it my business to understand how stories work, how to engage the reader, how to use dialogue tags...(srsly, me and dialogue tags have gone toe to to more times than I can count). I know I can improve. I want to improve. I know there are more stories and better writing inside me. But right now, I also know that aside from having a copyedit pass, my manuscript is as tight and fantastic as books that are currently being published. My writing crew are fantastic advocates and cheerleaders, but I learned I had to be my biggest cheerleader.
I had to be the one imagining AU situations for my characters. The one watching a TV show or movie and making the connections between it and my story (For example, Vi from Arcane is a lot like Edria in Harpy Girls). I have to see memes or GIFs or twitter games and make the jokes that no one else is going to get. Because I get them and that makes me all warm and fuzzy. People scrolling my timeline or my insta might be like, wtf, this girl is weird. Who is she even talking about?? But I know and I need that for my story. I need to be my fan base right now. If I don't have confidence in how awesome and amazing my story is, why should anyone else? So I do. And I pester my friends with random pictures, memes, face casts or just weird observations about my characters and stories.
This was another tough one for me to wrap my brain around. My first introduction to the online writer scene was rampant with self-depreciation, something I am an expert in (just talk to my therapist, she'll confirm) and I let that guide me. Then one day, I realized I how much I hated it and it was making me hate myself and I slowly started to shift. Now I'm obnoxiously confident and I'm sure someone sees my tweets about writing and is like "Who does MF-er think she is? She isn't even published! How dare she be confident about her writing!" And, my friends, that's what capitalism wants you to believe (you weren't expecting this to take a political turn, were you??). If you aren't making money (preferably for some old white dude) you aren't doing something worth while and how dare you be proud of it.
Well, uh, I am. I'm proud of my writing and how much I've
learned on this journey so far.
Of course, your mileage may vary--these are just my observations and my experiences. And while I've learned a lot of writing craft, these are the 5 big principles that keep me grounded and keep my head on straight. I'm writing for myself and I'm writing for the people who need these stories. I know you're out there (even if publishing doesn't). What's one of your driving principles for writing, a truth that gets down to the heart and soul of why you write? Drop a comment below!
As always, thanks for reading, I love sharing my rambles on writing (basically putting #5 into practice. CONFIDENCE)