Kids

This is a bit of a tangent from trying to chronicle my writing journey, but I realized, it’s as much a part of the journey as rough drafts, revisions, and the submission process.

Balancing writing with kids.

DH and I were “older” when we had kids, and we’d already been married seven years when our first child was born. DH had agreed to be the primary care giver as my day job is more demanding. And many of you are laughing at this.

DH does an amazing job with our two little ones. It’s just biology that’s against us. When they were very little and needed to be nursed, that was mom. When they get hurt or sick or injured, they want mom. When they want to play, however, they are daddy’s angels.

With all the illnesses we’ve been up against lately, they have needed a lot of mommy time. A part of me is frustrated, and a part of me melts when they want to climb into my lap and cuddle.

After we had our first child, I stumbled across a bunch of research showing that childless people are happier. As there are no guarantees that children will support you in your old age, and given how insanely expensive children are (read a mortgage payment a month per child for daycare), the study recommended socking that money away and using that to pay for your care in your later years.

At the time, I was mortified. What had we done? Would this precious little bundle really cause us that much trauma? Of course I was high on new mommy hormones when I thought of her as precious. She taught me the error of my ways as she howled, not cried but howled, every time I put her down. Wouldn’t tolerate a baby sling or Bjorn, either. I learned to do everything, and I mean everything, one handed so she was always in my arms.

So the answer is more complex for me than the research indicates. Some of the happiest moments, angriest moments, and proudest moments have come because of the kids.

It’s more like a roller coaster than the steady state happy we were at before kids. The baby babbles happily in the background as I write this, making me smile even now. That smile will morph into endless frustration tonight when she refuses to sleep and thinks 2 am is playtime when we have to be up for work in a few hours.

My writing journey includes them with it. Sometimes detouring me or slowing down my progress, but never maliciously. Never on purpose. They are little and need a lot of me right now, and I am trying to keep that in perspective. Trying to remember all the people that have told me how much you’re going to miss it when they’re not this little.

I wonder if those people’s kids had them up at 2 am every night.

Getting Better?

Maybe I’m getting better at writing. With over a year of working at it under my belt, and over two hundred thousand words between multiple drafts, I feel like it’s possible.

I started reading the Devil’s Due again, and I feel like the writing itself is pretty decent. Not perfect, no, but not nearly as awful as I was bracing for on an early rough draft. Maybe it’s because I am comparing it to the work of mine I found that is almost 8 years old. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m getting better.

I am a bit concerned with the plot, particularly for the hero. As well as his motivation. But in the early part of the story, which is where I’m revising right now, I feel like I am bringing both the desert world the heroine lives in and both of their personalities to life.

I need to figure out how to bring the end game villain into the early part of the story even though he’s on the other side of an ocean. Tricky, but I need to lay the groundwork so it doesn’t feel contrived later. Also trying to work in some of the fantasy pantheon important to the later plot early without making it too much tell and not enough show. And making sure the heroine stays strong despite starting the story as a slave.

Interestingly, this is the first time I can remember where the characters have their own “theme” song. Whenever I want to get into the heroine’s head, I put on I am Invincible by Cassadee Pope. Whenever I want to get into the hero’s head, it’s The Heart Wants What It Wants by Selena Gomez. If I want to be reminded of the hero, it’s Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift (I know, but don’t judge.) The musical accompaniment has helped me tremendously. I’m not sure why, but I’ll take any help my muse sends my way.

I’m worried that I’m looking at my work through “rough draft goggles”. Sorta like beer goggles, and just like beer goggles, sometimes you need a friend to talk some sense into you. It can be so helpful to get a little quality feedback early on so you don’t have such massive rewrites later.

Not ready to show anyone the story, not yet, but I have started running some of the characters past DH.

We have that long car trip coming up, so here’s me hoping the kids sleep and DH is feeling like talking about my fictional characters.

No Whining

I fuss (okay, maybe yell) at my oldest child to stop whining. Every day. Multiple times a day.

So, I don’t want to devolve into whining myself even if it’s been a rough few weeks.

 

My little one had pneumonia. We got through it.

Had some career stuff really stressing me out. I got through it

My daycare closed due to a power outage. We coped.

My older child woke up vomiting, and I lost a whole afternoon I had planned to spend writing, cleaning up and taking care of her. We managed.

 

Yes, it’s taken me longer than I had wanted to get through this revision of Knight of Valor. I didn’t really get the “sit down and read it all the way through without interruption” experience I wanted. And I won’t have time for that until  the kids are in college. I’ll make do.

The revisions are done. The read through is done. I have sent it off for a final review to make sure I didn’t break anything as I was took the characters out of the blank rooms I’d put them in and worked to bring their world to life for the reader.

I will get through the query letter and synopsis sometime in the next week. Then, I will figure how to work the Writer’s Digest electronic subscription I have to send it off for its first rejection.

I will get this story submitted. Not sure when. Not exactly on my timeline, but it will get done.

As I am tidying up Knight of Valor for submission, I need to keep my writing skills sharp. I feel like I have come a long way in the last 15 months in terms of both quality and quantity. I finished the rough draft of The Devil’s Due, and it needs a strong first edit that usually involves a huge chunk of fresh writing and rewriting. I have been thinking about this second manuscript more, considering additional detail I should add.

I have a very long car trip in my future to see extended family (with 2 small children. Joy!). Perhaps the car ride will be quiet enough I can do some thinking, maybe even some writing on the laptop. We’ll see.

I am not giving up. I am not backing down. But sometimes there are a few unexpected pit stops on the journey.

In Search of Word Count

My characters love to talk.

Okay, maybe they don’t, but I’ve had it drilled into my skull that you have to show and not tell. No one wants to read exposition. And that’s mostly true. So if you start your story by jumping right in, how do you give backstory to help explain why your characters are making the choices they are? How do you build the world, especially a fantasy world? The dialogue can’t be stilted either. You can’t hide exposition in, “Bill, as you know . . .” Well, I suppose you can, but why even bother with the cover of dialogue?

But if two characters have never met before and are thrown together in an intense situation? This might be an opportunity to let them talk to each other and see if some of those details come out.

I worked very hard to make the dialogue flow like real conversations. That was one thing I received a head nod on from those that have helped me with the story. People sounded like people. The conversations felt like you were eavesdropping.

However, as I was working on adding details so the characters aren’t hanging out in sensory deprivation chambers, I realized I had a critical scene where the two protagonists really talk to each and open up to each other and . . . it’s too long. The timing is inappropriate given the conflict in the story.

So, what was supposed to be an easier rewrite of adding some texture to the manuscript just took a turn. I need to cut the scene in half, at least. Then, I need to figure out which of the cut pieces needs to get shuffled elsewhere and which I need to let go. I had sort of known this in the back of my head as I’d been editing it before, but I glossed over it and lied to myself that it wasn’t that long.  Not willing to lie to myself as I prep this to start querying it.

My issue is compounded by the fact that I was trying to get to 80,000 words on this manuscript. I thought I was at 76,000 to start with, but I couldn’t find that file. No idea where the 76,000 came from (wishful thinking?), but the largest file I found was 71,000. Reading through it, I’m pretty sure that is the latest version. Even with all of the sensory description I’ve added, I am still not to  76k. Cutting this dialogue scene eats another few thousand.

But, it’s the right thing to do. So I’m doing it.

I’m approximately 30% of the way through the story, so there is the possibility I will find enough blank rooms and hurried transitions that need fixing to get me to 80k.

If not, I’ll have to take a hard look at the work and decide if the story needs something else, and not just for word count.

I did say that my work starts with a skeleton and I build from there.

Losing the Magic

Revision is sucking some (or all) of the magic out of writing.

Writing isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, but there is something magical about bringing characters to life and seeing them through their trials.

Revisions are necessary, and I am the first to admit that I need revisions. Lots of them. I rely on them to take my work from words thrown on the page to something (hopefully) better and understandable by brains other than mine. Whether I am revamping character arcs, removing unnecessary that’s, or trying to show rather than tell, there is something about the mechanics that eats the story.

I’ve heard other authors say the same thing, sometimes a bit derisively toward new authors. And no, I don’t think writing is meant to be rainbows, sparkles, and fairy feathers. But how much it loses was brought home to me when I came across a piece of my old, badly written work. I didn’t remember much about the story when the Word file lit up my screen. Checking the date on it, I last saved it eight years ago.

Not even sure why I started reading it, but I did, and I was hooked. I wanted to see what happened. I learned to love these old and forgotten characters all over again. I wanted to see them succeed even through the grammar mistakes, typos, and some areas written so badly I cringed and skimmed through them.

I must have struggled with the ending eight years ago as there were four different ones (labeled as such). The last one I settled on was by far the best. Glad I didn’t stop with the crummy first one.

I hope I feel that same elation, that same need to know what happens, (although I hope I’m not cringing at sections) about the current story I’m working on when I go back and read it with fresh eyes. I have been so lost in polishing it I’ve started to wonder if the story itself is worth telling. Will anyone care what happens to the protagonists? Do I care anymore?

I can’t answer for others, but for me, the answer is yes, I do care about them. I’ve just lost the forest in the, well, not even the trees. More like the branches and leaves.

It also gives me a little hope. My older work may not be very good (and this was clearly a rough draft as it doesn’t look like it was even spell checked), but I cared about the characters. I slogged through a lot of stuff that needs work because I wanted to see what happened.  I even stayed up late one night because I wanted to get to the end and know how things worked out for them. I loved them and I had to know how their story ended. (I was pretty certain it was going to be a happy ending because I know me and I wrote it).

Magic returned.

 

The Choice – Part 2

A continuation of the flash fiction I participated in. Rough, much like flash fiction as I didn’t spend a lot of time revising. However, I am finding I rather like these characters . . .

 

Sylenea tugged on her nana’s hand. “You’re still mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you, little one,” Rhianna said as she stroked the girl’s copper curls.

“You wanted me to become a Priestess of Thalia, but the priestesses didn’t want me. I’m sorry they didn’t want me, Nana.”

“It’s not that they didn’t want you. You don’t have the Calling.”

“The Calling?”

“You don’t feel the pull to serve Thalia, and there’s no shame in that.”

Sylenea chewed her lower lip. “The priestesses were nice, but I don’t want to be one, if that’s what you mean.”

Rhianna nodded and hugged her close. “I know, and that’s okay. We’ll figure out what you’re destined to do. I just wish we could do it away from Emberfall.”

“Why? Emberfall is our home.”

“I think there are better teachers for you,” Rhianna hedged.

Sylenea brightened. “But they did say I’d make a good healer one day. They said the priestesses at the temple near us would train me.”

“So they did,” Rhianna agreed. “Do you want to train to be a healer?”

“I do, but you’re still sad. Did they say something else that makes you so sad?”

“Look, that’s where my sister Jyss works,” Rhianna said, changing the subject as she pointed to a castle peering out of the morning mists.

The dawn light colored the turrets pale purple, adding a whisper of mystery to the towers of the keep that looked like cut crystal. High walls encircled the castle, their covered parapets and guard towers promising protection in times of war.

Sylenea’s eyes widened. “Even from this far, I can tell its way bigger than Emberfall Manor. I didn’t think anything was bigger than Emberfall Manor.”

“Lord Emberfall wants you to believe that,” Rhianna said, her derision lost on Sylenea. “But Castle Darkshield is the ducal seat of this province, and Lord Emberfall must answer to the duke.”

“Aunt Jyss takes care of it all by herself?”

“No, but she is charge of the housekeeping staff. It takes a lot of people to run such a large place.”

“Is Aunt Jyss nice?”

“Very nice, and once she sees you, she’s going to fill you up with cakes, pies, and sweetmeats. Her son is about your age. You remember your cousin, Arkanear?”

Sylenea shook her head. “I don’t remember him or Aunt Jyss.”

“I suppose not. You were such a little girl when they last visited.”

Sylenea wrinkled her nose. “I wish Arkanear was a girl. Boys are such a bore.”

“Why do you say that?”

“All they ever want to play is mage battle, and I get stuck being the princess. I’m as good a mage as any of them.” Sylenea crossed her arms over her stomach and stuck out her chin.”

“So you are,” Rhianna said, trying to hide her fear. “So you are.”

Sylenea rubbed her stomach and looked toward the castle. “Let’s hurry. I’m hungry, and you said Aunt Jyss has cake.”

Rhianna laughed, took her daughter’s hand, and they walked to Castle Darkshield.

 

When they arrived at the castle, Jyss ran down the steps of the staff entrance and hugged her sister.

“You made it!” she beamed. She smiled and then hugged Sylenea. “Look how big you’ve gotten. Last time I saw you, you were knee high to a grasshopper.”

“I was never that little,” Sylenea protested.

“Maybe not.” Jyss hugged her again. “Doesn’t my sister feed you? You’re so thin. Come inside, you must be starving after such a trip.”

“Nana said you had cake.”

Jyss laughed. “I do, and fresh strawberry pie as well, but you’ll have to wait until after supper for that.”

Sylenea beamed at her, and Jyss ruffled her copper curls then led them into the stone castle. Holding tightly to her nana’s hand, Sylenea gaped up at the high ceilings, sparkling windows, and lavish tapestries. Her small feet were silent on the thick rugs, and fresh flowers filled crystal vases, their scent spilling through the lofty halls. Sylenea’s eyes saucered as her head turned from side to side.

As they walked through the halls back toward the kitchens, she spied a boy dressed all in black. He was sitting alone in one of the grand rooms, his spine erect as he read a book. His hair was darker than night, and when he looked up at her, she saw his eyes were as blue as a summer sky. His lips thinned when he saw her, and he scowled.

Her cousin Arkanear, Sylenea decided, and he was probably mad his mother had excluded him from the promised array of treats. Sylenea slid out from under her nana’s arm and raced across the hallway toward the boy.

Rhianna’s eyes widened in horror as she snatched at Sylenea and missed.

Jyss laid a hand on her arm and shook her head.

“Hi,” Sylenea said as she smiled and stood in front of the boy.

The boy’s scowl lifted, and he couldn’t help but smile back at her. “Hello.”

“I’m Sylenea.” She stuck out her hand.

“A pleasure, m’lady. I’m known as Vaundryn.” He took her hand and executed a perfect court bow over it.

“You’re not my cousin Arkanear then?”

His scowl returned. “You have me mistaken.”

“Sorry about that. I only ever met Arkanear once, and I was a baby then.” She looked at his pristine jacket, shined boots, and the silver embroidered crest on his lapel. “You’re dressed like you’re going to the temple. Are you about to leave?”

Vaundryn looked down at his play clothes. “No.”

“Good.” Sylenea grinned. “Aunt Jyss is giving us cake. I’m sure there’s enough for you if you want some. If not, you can have half of mine. Then we can go play. Anything but mage battles.”

Vaundryn said nothing.

“All right, we can even play mage battles. But I get to be a mage too.”

Vaundryn set his book aside.

“Well, do you want to come?”

“What kind of cake?”

“Who cares, its cake,” Sylenea said as she took his hand and towed him after her back to her nana and Aunt Jyss.

“Nana, this is Vaundryn. He can come and have cake, too, right?”

“Of course,” Rhianna said, her smile strained as she stared into the face of Duke Darkshield’s only child.

First Draft – Done!

I finished the first draft! It has a beginning, middle and end. All written.

It is only 55,000 words. It’s skeletal. It needs lots of beefing up. Some character development, especially for the heroine. I need a bit of foreshadowing. I need to introduce the end Villain sooner so he doesn’t feel contrived. I need to work on one section in particular as little happens there, and stuff should, but inspiration wasn’t coming. It will, but I didn’t want to lose the end of the story that my muse had shown me. And when the words are flowing, I try to take them whatever part of the story they’re writing.

Wheeeee! It’s done. I need a few minutes to bask in the glory of accomplishment. Nope, it’s not ready for anyone else to read. Nope, it’s not anywhere ready for submission. I have a long slog ahead with revisions. But I finished that glorious first draft that gives me the raw material to cut, polish and shine.

Time to put it aside, let the characters percolate, and start revising the piece that is close to submission ready. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be nice to visit some “old friends” and make their story richer with some scenic details. I mean, who doesn’t want to really smell the swamp they characters are riding through!

 

Progress

This is my busy season at work, although really, when isn’t it with the projects in the off season. There has been quite a bit of additional stress this year, especially with my little one getting pneumonia in the middle of it. Still, starting to see light.

On the writing front, I may be able to “finish” my first draft of that very difficult character. So exciting! After everything I went through, 80,000 words I wrote in two other attempts (which I may try to rework for different characters – like the story but I need a less ruthless hero to make them work), I finally may have a rough draft!

It’ll be short again, around 55,000 words. It’ll suffer from lack of description, and I already know one part that needs significant beefing up, but that will come during the first revision phase when I can focus on that rather than where the story is going.

Giddy sort of excitement as Stage 1 wraps up. And maybe a little sadness. I love the part where the characters are in your head “talking” to you. Granted, the rough revisions will bring that back as I rip at the guts of the story rather than focus on grammatical issues like should I use lie or lay.

I still need to work on the mostly finished manuscript, add a bit of flesh to its lean fame, and package it up for submission. It’s been a mixture of wanting to work on the first draft of the new manuscript combined with a bit of procrastination on the old. I hate rejection. It sucks. And I have a long line of it ahead of me to even have a chance to get the first one published.  Ugh.

Back to basking in the joy of an almost done rough draft. And not losing focus on that!

 

On Feedback

Mariah over at 600 Second Saga recently posted about feedback on writing.

This has been a tricky area for me as I am coming closer to finishing a project and preparing it for publication.

I don’t exactly broadcast that I’m a writer. Only a few members of my family and a couple of friends know. None of my co-workers do. I might be a full on closet writer, and I prefer it that way.

Part of it is I worry my work sucks. Back in my youth, when I did let the world know I wanted to be a writer, a lot of people wanted me to review their work. Almost all of it was terrible. Really, really terrible. I tried at first to give good feedback. When that backfired, I learned a “pretty good!” usually made them happy and let me get back to my work. But then I started to wonder if mine was that bad, too. It probably was.

I even took a Writing for Publishing class, and the only thing I got out of it was meeting my DH. So, really, big win there. Writing wise, even the professor was terrible at giving constructive feedback.

I don’t even know what to ask the handful of people I trust.

I have never signed up for any kind of book swap or reading other people’s work and giving critique in order to receive it. As my only finished piece of work is novel length, I feel like these venues don’t work well other than knowing if the first few pages has a good enough hook.

I am extremely lucky that I have an excellent beta reader that I happen to be related to.

Finally, an area I have been seeing in posts lately is on paying professionals to edit, beta read, whatever. I agree, professionals need to be paid. I get paid to do my day job, and I’d stop going if they stopped paying me.

I have not paid a professional for help with my current manuscript. Not sure I will.

First, it’s hard for me to justify the expense to my family when my writing has never earned a dime. From what I’ve read about author’s advances and royalties, and comparing that to the fees professionals charge, there is the very real possibility you’d end up paying more than you’d ever earn. That’s fine if you can afford it. I can’t afford expensive hobbies right now.

Second, I don’t know how to judge quality. Some of the fees I’ve seen for a professional edit cost more than painting my house. I’ve got a pretty good idea if the painters did a good job painting or not. How do you know if an editor did a good job or not? How do you even find one? I found the painters through word of mouth because lots of people I know need their house painted. They were happy to tell me if someone did a great job or if they sucked. No one I know needs a book edited.

This is definitely a tricky area. On the one hand, you want to be viewed as a professional. Getting professional advice and services can make your work better. On the other hand, if it is a hobby (or still is one), and you aren’t a professional, it’s difficult to afford. And a part of me wonders if it’s worth it. As I have never been able to afford it, I can’t say.

Time: My Cruel Mistress

The synopsis is mostly done. I wrote it, revised a couple of times, and then sent it to my beta readers. They got back to me on changes, I made them, and sent it out for a final read as I made more than just their changes. So helpful to me to have a second set of eyes look at something, especially as they have both read the story.

Next step is to go through and make the changes my brother in law noted.  I have been working on my other piece and am currently 30k words into it. It’s been flowing lately, even if my characters aren’t doing what I had plotted for them to do. Still, it’s been a fun ride. This is the exciting part where things are happening and coming together. Not always as expected, not without a ton of rewrites lurking ahead, but still fun. I was so not expecting my cold and ruthlessly practical character to demand to do certain things I had thought totally out of character. He corrected me, and explained if he wants something, he is damn well going to get it. He’ll figure out a way. Like I said, so fun when the characters are coming to life.

But it gets back to one of my biggest challenges writing. Time. I want more time to revise that first story, more time to pour through agents to query, more time to work on the raw and unformed but exciting new piece. That doesn’t mention the time I wish I had to read novels, study other authors, and work to perfect my craft.

I love my family.

Need my day job.

Can’t go without sleep indefinitely (though both my kids have tested to see how long I can go).

Laundry waits for no one

Find it hard to ignore the howl of the internet, especially with everything happening in the presidential race, over in the middle east, etc.

I’m supposed to exercise

. . . I could go on.

The timing of my inspiration to take up writing again doesn’t help. Babies are just high maintenance. The kind of maintenance that cries at 2am for no reason, refuses to go to sleep until 10pm, and scares you witless with pneumonia.

Some things I can do better on to garner more time. I recently deleted a couple of apps off my iPad that were sucking way too much time. But others? Just not going to happen. The kids need my time and attention, and I want to give it to them. They are only going to be this little once. And we all have to eat, so keeping my day job.

It does bring home some advice I had read saying to make sure your manuscript is as perfect as you can get it before sending it off. Because if a publisher does bite, you are suddenly on their schedule and not yours. You are their day job. Time becomes even more precious.

There’s a not so secret part of me that wishes my work was amazing enough and I was lucky enough that my first novel would be a break out success and I could quit my day job. Realism, however, is a cruel mistress. I’ll be fortunate to get published at all, and most writers are doing well if they earn back the advance on their books. Most of those advances won’t support a family for long.

I suppose this is true for most hobbyists. It stings to think of my writing as a hobby given how seriously I take it, but really, that’s what it is.

We’d all like more time for these pursuits. I know people who enjoy horseback riding, basketball, and jewelry making. None of them feel like they have enough time for their passions either.

Do what you can with what you have.

Let’s see if I can get that book revised soon so I can package it up for its first round of rejections.