Writer Recharge: A Meltdown and Refusing to Give Up

Writer Recharge

So, last week I felt in really good shape to meet my Writer Recharge goals. I’d had a number of trusted beta readers read through the first couple chapters of my WIP in preparation for my YA workshop at Djerassi. They all loved it and only had minor things I needed to fix.

Then came my workshop. The group liked my story—loved the idea of it actually—and really liked how I handled chapter 2. But once one writer made a suggestion to change an important part of chapter 1, everyone seemed to jump on board with rewriting the story. I know I should’ve been flattered that they cared enough about the story to want it to be as good as they thought it could be, but I walked away from the critique feeling like shit. Like the whole opening of the book was wrong and needed to change, which would change the arc of the characters and the story and the almost 60,000 words that came after. And I couldn’t understand why no one else who’d read it hadn’t told me how bad it was.

Then I went to my room and cried. And cried. And cried some more.

It was by no means a bad critique. The other writers were so encouraging and professional and downright lovely, not just about my pages, but about everyone’s pages all week. I couldn’t have been with a more supportive, wonderful group. I just didn’t know how to take their suggestions and make them fit with my vision of the story. I was overwhelmed. And the self doubt took advantage of me for a bit.

But what got me out of my funk and back to the keyboard was thinking about the Writer Recharge goal I made to finish the first draft this month. I didn’t want to let something that was mostly in my head keep me from reaching that goal. Or from finishing a story I love.

So, I went on a hike with Rebekah, who talked through some of the group’s ideas and then switched to fangirling and swooning over The Raven Boys when I wasn’t ready to face revisions yet, and I talked with some of the other girls over a couple glasses of wine and started to feel better about what I needed to do. And then I had my one-on-one with Nova. She was so patient and wonderful and laid out my first chapter on a table and helped me figure out what suggestions would work with my story and how I could change a few small things in the opening and rework one scene to add in some more tension. And I left that meeting with a new plan that fit so well with the story I wished I had thought of it sooner.

I still have about 10,000-12,000 more words to finish the draft and an opening chapter to revise/gut/rewrite, but I’m not willing to let this story go. Not now. Hopefully not ever.

Yield to Whim

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Inspirational sign as you drive down to the Djerassi house/barn.

To say that my YA Writers Workshop and Retreat at Djerassi with Nova Ren Suma was inspiring is almost an insult. It was inspiring and encouraging and peaceful and productive and mind blowing and delightful and so many other things.

The mornings were filled with sitting in the barn watching the fog roll in and out while we critiqued each other’s work, offered words of encouragement and praise for the sheer talent within the group; the afternoons with holing up in our rooms or the barn or some scenic spot outside to write. At night, we gathered in the living room of the house with glasses of wine and full bellies to listen to readings of fairytales and ghost stories and dystopian worlds and magical abilities.

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Fog-drenched path from the house to the barn.

We shared stories of querying and working with agents and getting book deals. We talked about our cats/dogs/kids and favorite books and our progress on our WIPs. We became friends and instant fangirls for each other.

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Left to right: Zoe, Me, Rebekah, Elle

And when I had a meltdown about the opening of my WIP and cried for hours because I didn’t know how to incorporate all of the excited ideas they had for my book, they wouldn’t let me give up. They listened to my self-doubt and reminded me that they loved the story and just wanted to see it live up to its potential, and in Nova’s case, sat down with a print out of my pages and calmly talked me through how the revisions could easily be handled by moving this bit here and taking out that part there and adding in this one small thing that would tie it all together so nicely.

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My writing space and outline for my WIP.

And I came home feeling invigorated and excited about making this book into something they would all love.

Everything about this past week—from the enthusiasm and kinship felt from and with the other writers, to the romantic fog that hugged the top of the mountain, to the sculptures tucked into redwoods and mud-slicked hills, to late-night wine-fueled talks about books and life—made me so incredibly grateful that I have stories in my head and people to share them with.

A Week of Writing (And a Little Fangirling too)

Tomorrow I leave for my Djerassi YA Writer’s Retreat. I was beyond thrilled (and stunned) when I was accepted into the Djerassi program this past fall. The competition was fierce. I know this for a fact because I know a number of other writers who applied as well. And since I adore them and their writing, I knew it was going to be tough to get in. And that if I did, I’d be in very good company.

As it turns out, there were so many applicants, that Djerassi asked Nova Ren Suma to come back in June to lead a second retreat. My CPs and I were split up between the two groups. But tomorrow along with going to California for an amazing week of writing and talking about books and critiquing each other’s work, I also get to hang out with my very dear friend (or as M calls her, my girl crush) Rebekah. There will be copious amounts of excited flailing, laughing, fangirling over books (The Raven Cycle books! The Lynburn Legacy books! Eleanor & Park!) and characters (our own–Math! Paul! Alistair! Aiken!–and other people’s too–see those in the previously mentioned books) and authors (Nova!) and writing and plotting and working through our books in person instead of just online or through texts. (There will also whiskey.)

And there will be serious amounts of learning. From Nova and the other amazing writers who are going with us. I plan to put all of that knowledge and experience to good use on my WIP while I’m there. To come home with a manuscript that is thousands of words heavier and the determination to finish the first draft by the end of the month. And I will be grateful for every second of it.

5 Things NaNoWriMo Taught Me This Year

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I just finished (and won!) my fifth NaNoWriMo. I’m still in that hazy, how-in-the-hell-did-I-survive-that mode and wondering why I put myself through it year after year. I’m tired—like down in the bones, every cell in my brain is fried, I could sleep for a week tired. And it’s one of the best feelings ever.

NaNo isn’t for the faint of heart or those with serious ADD. It takes concentration and determination and in some cases the ability to say “I’m not going to make 50,000 words and that’s okay because what words I do make will bring me that much closer to writing the end.” But getting to 50,000 words this year was hard. Harder than previous years. Despite that though, I managed to make it, and I learned a few important things along the way.

5. Knowing you’ll be using this book in a workshop/retreat with an author you admire/respect/fangirl over causes a lot of stress

A few months back, I applied for a spot in a YA writers workshop/retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. The main draw was that it was bring led by YA magical realism writer and all around cool chick Nova Ren Suma. After taking the class with her this past spring, it renewed my desire to interact with other writers. That class gave me some of my closest writing friends to date and a support group I am grateful for every damn day. On Halloween (aka the All NaNos Eve) I got my acceptance. (Insert serious flailing and squeeing with my friend Rebekah who also got in to the Feb workshop with me and our other CPs who are going in June!) I had planned all along to use the novel I would write this NaNo as the MS I workshopped at the retreat. Stupid, stupid, Sus. Instead of giving me the extra push to write when I wanted to take a break, all it did was make me stress about what I was going to do if the story wasn’t Nova-worthy and I wasted this amazing opportunity to work with her because I couldn’t get my shit together. (For the record, Nova is way too nice to ever tell anyone their work isn’t good enough, but I respect her too much to turn in something half-assed or merely perceived as half-assed by me.)

4. Writing chronologically is not for me

This is not new to me. I’ve never written a book in order from start to finish, but seeing as how I knew I needed to have a minimum of 50 pages ready for my workshop at Djerassi in February, I was determined to try. I made it partway into Week 2 before abandoning this plan. And here’s why: I write what excites me. When I get stuck on one scene, I don’t have to struggle through it just to keep in order. I can jump around and write a swoony scene or a fight scene or a big emotional revelation scene and get myself unstuck. I’m pretty sure this is the only way I’ve made it through every NaNo I’ve done. I’m glad I tried something new, and that I have 80ish pages straight through that I’m very happy with, but I just. could. not. do. it. anymore.

3. Being prepared won’t eliminate the inevitable Week 2 freak out

This book was the most prepared I’ve ever been for NaNo. I had a full scene-by-scene outline for the whole story, character sketches with photos, a Pinterest board of inspiration and who knows what else. And then Week 2 swooped in, laughed in my face, told me my book was shit, and then kicked my ass just because it could. What’s worse, Week 2 was right. My plot leaned toward the epic side of things (with big deaths and shocking betrayals and a love story so big it would be, as VMars’ Logan Echolls said, “spanning years and continents, lives ruined, bloodshed epic”). What I had planned was over the top and trying to be something my stories just simply are not. Not to mention one character was so disjointed I couldn’t even write him because I had planned for him to be one way (broken over the death of his sister) and was writing him to be something completely different (flirty, and swoony, and dealing with his loss like a healthy person). And I had no clue how to get myself out of the mess I’d made by trying too hard. I was thisclose to slamming my computer shut and quitting. Which leads me to…

2. Husbands and caramels save lives in November

M cares about my writing in so much as that he cares about me and I care about my writing. He’s not the type of husband to be my first reader (or even my tenth). He’ll read things if I ask him to, but what I write is just not his thing. And that’s okay. But when I descended into full on freak out mode, he calmly sat there with me, asking questions about the characters, making me dig deeper into their motivations and desires and hangups and flaws. He talked strategy and plausibility of plot. He didn’t laugh when I practically whined about how damn hard writing is or when I almost started crying because it seemed like the only logical thing to do (because, yeah, Week 2 is that much of a bitch). And somehow he got me through it. Then I went and reworked most of my plot and rewarded myself with a caramel because some days (or weeks in this case) will try to kick your ass, and when you survive it’s definitely cause for celebration.

1. NaNoing with other writers kicks ass

Over the past couple NaNos, I’ve convinced a few writer friends to do it with me. We’d touch base at work or sporadically though email, and that support was great. This year, however, four of my CPs decided to do it too. We spent the month cheering each other on; joining in on writing sprints; emailing fun scenes we’d written and inspirational quotes to each other; encouraging each other when one of us had a hard day; sending goodies, including caramels, mix CDs, “In case of NANo emergency break glass” vodka and other hole-up-in-your-room-and-not-talk-to-anyone writing essentials, and celebratory champagne. And on the days when I wanted to sit and read a book instead of writing, I’d make myself keep going because I didn’t want to have to tell these girls that I’d given up for no good reason.

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I’m still a long way from being done (at least 15,000 words I think) but even after a month as difficult as November was, I still love this story and these characters and will see them through to the end.