I Am Not A Fly Fisher

This past weekend I did two things I’ve never done before: 1) took a writing retreat; and 2) fly fished. Let’s just say neither turned out quite like I’d hoped, but the weekend wasn’t a total wash.

In my previous post, I talked about my current WIP and how difficult it is to write. I’ve been stuck in a particular spot for the last couple weeks. I know where the story goes, what happens, how everything goes down, but the words wouldn’t work. They kept coming out all wrong and nothing I did made them any better.

I planned writing nights to focus solely on working through the problems, but life kept intervening. A conference call at work that ran hours over. A meeting at church. A run away dog. Hang out time with friends. Every time I wanted to write, something came up that took me away from it. Every time I finally got to sit down with my manuscript, the coffee shop would be loud and packed, or the words wouldn’t budge from my stubborn brain.

So I figured a writing retreat was just what I needed. I found a cabin a few hours away on one of the best trout fishing rivers in the country (or so the internet proclaimed). One that was nice and secluded, with a good kitchen so I could cook and not have to leave all weekend. Hubs loves fishing, so he loaded up on fly-fishing gear and came along. Just us, the river, and words.

Or so I thought.

A couple things I hadn’t planned on happened. Upon arriving at our adorable cabin–which was as promised, nice kitchen, hot tub, riverfront, and so secluded I thought the car was going to slide off the sketchy one-lane dirt road and down the extremely steep hill to the side–we learned our section of the river was below a dam. Meaning the water was prone to random rapid rises. Random, because even though the folks at the dam posted a schedule of when they would be releasing the water, they never stuck to it. And rapid as in within ten minutes the water rose several feet and the current sped up enough to sweep everything–people included–down river. Suffice it to say, this made for a bit of a nerve-wracking fishing trip for Hubs, and for distracted writing time for myself. Every time he’d don his waders and pick his way to the center of the river, we had to choose a reference point to keep an eye on in case the dam released. Of course he was distracted by trying to fly-fish (did I mention he’d never done it before? We stayed up the night before watching instructional videos online. Yep, we’re professionals, ha!), and I was nervous he wouldn’t notice the water rising until it was too late, so I ended up down at the dock writing long-hand and watching a seam on a rock.

Further complications were my fear of getting hooked by an overeager cast (which almost happened once and made me understandably fearful), the enthusiastic four-wheeler riders at the cabin down the way, and the fact that all the trout the river was supposed to be teaming with were nowhere to be seen. Frustrated, Hubs found a public park/hatchery a little ways down and talked me into going with him the next day.

Despite all this, I managed to get words down. Four-wheeler-ers aside, the woods were pretty quiet. Not to mention a large part of my WIP occurs in the woods, so being right in the thick of it inspired a couple new scenes. By the end of the day I’d typed up what I’d written and was feeling so good I decided to treat myself by hopping into Hubby’s waders and getting in the water. The dam had released by this point, so I didn’t wade out into it or anything. I stayed on/by the ladder on our dock, but it was a neat experience.

So neat that the next day I decided to give it another shot. We went down the park Hubs had found, only about a five minute drive once we got off the steep, sketchy dirt road. Hubs fished for a couple hours while I sat at a picnic table continuing the scene I’d been working on the previous day, still writing long-hand. The words came a little, but it was still a lot of [insert action here] and [write something along these lines], and I was grateful when Hubs said he’d had enough. Nothing was biting and our stomachs were grumbling. Before we left though, I wriggled back into the waders and slipped into the water, fishing pole in hand, ready to try this fly fishing thing for real.

Like I said at the beginning, I’d never fly fished before. I had, however, watched all the instructional videos. I knew what to do. I confidently strode through the water and tugged the line out to the right length. I locked my wrist, whipped the line back and forth, and released, expecting the line to float out over the water.

Nope.

It wrapped around my wrist and went absolutely nowhere. I tried again. Nothing. Over and over. Finally it went a little ways, but nothing like the smooth cast in the videos. Hubs had struggled the first day, but he picked it up pretty quick. We’d watched the same videos, I had my hand in the right place, moved the rod like I was supposed to, surely I’d get the hang of it too, right? Wrong. I fought that line the entire time, and the more I fought, the more frustrated I got, and the worse things went. When I finally gave up and waded back to shore, Hubs showed me a video he’d recorded.

Holy crap, I looked goofy! Arm raised like the Statue of Liberty. Rod extended way behind my head. It was terrible. You can actually see the moment I realize it won’t work and give up. My shoulders slump. I turn to the shore and shrug. Then hang my head and wade back–not even gracefully gliding through the water like I thought. I clomp over the rocks like a little kid dressing up in their parent’s shoes (the wading boots were a men’s 11 and I’m a women’s 9, so not sure why I thought I’d do anything but clomp).

So fly fishing is not my thing. I tried and failed. Gloriously, I might add. That’s one video no one other than me and Hubby will ever watch. But I did realize something: I’d been fighting my story the same way I fought the fly rod. I was struggling against the story, so the story wasn’t flowing.

Sometimes your story gets away from you and you have to wrangle it back in. The line gets twisted around the pole and doesn’t flow out when you cast. You wrestle with it and fight it and sometimes it’s like it takes on a mind of it’s own, determined to make your life miserable.

That’s when you stop.

I bet if I watched a video of me trying to write over the past few weeks, I ‘d see the same thing I saw when fishing. I’d literally watch myself get dejected and give up. I’ve been struggling, trying to make the story do what I wanted it to do instead of letting it work the way it’s meant to work.

There’s a key difference between fly fishing and spinner fishing. I’ve always spinner fished, where you let the reel do all the work. It controls the line, you just flick your wrist. Fly fishing is a completely different world. A fly reel is basically a line holder. It’s up to the fisher to make the line work.

I am not a fly fisher. I’m a spinner fisher through and through.

When we returned to the cabin that afternoon, I stopped trying to fly fish my story. I stopped struggling against the words. I paused and let the story turn in the direction it needed. And for the first time all weekend, I felt like I had the perfect cast.

Sometimes you just need to stop trying. Take a breath. Listen to your story. Like a spinner reel, let the story do all the work and just go along for the ride.

Hubs finally caught a fish on our last night, and I finally caught my story again. So overall, I think my little retreat was a success.

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My Writing Process Blog Hop

The awesome Jamie Dodson has chosen me to participate in a blog hop on my writing process. Jamie writes these excellent books on a teenage pilot set a few years before World War II. His post on his process, and his Nick Grant books, can be found here, so check it out!

As for the hop, I have a few questions to answer, so here it goes:

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I don’t like talking about WIPs much. I guess I think I’ll jinx it or something, but I will say this much. Right now I’m writing a dark YA contemporary. And when I say dark, I mean dark. When my MC, Nate, was fourteen, he shot and killed his neo-nazi father in self-defense. Now he has to live with the repercussions of his decision and figure out how to move on. This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. Both because of the research, which makes me feel so skeezy (of all the topics I’ve researched for stories, bruising patterns, torture devices, etc., this has been the only one coffee shop internet has banned the sites) and because the things I have to actually write. As difficult as it is to write, though, I feel like it hits on some important topics.

2. How do you think your work differs from other writers in your genre?

Oh man, this is a tough one because I don’t stay squarely in one genre. I’ve flitted from MG adventure, to urban fantasy, to sci-fi, to contemporary thriller, to dark contemporary. The only really consistent theme is that my writing gets pretty dark and is very fast-paced but descriptive. (In fact, I’m having to really focus on slowing the pace in the WIP). I also like to throw in weird twists. I came up with a more typical contemporary plot several months ago. When I told Hubby the story idea he made a face and said “that doesn’t quite sound like a Sarah book.” I tried writing it and he was right. It was too straight for me. I need little unexpected curves and turns at the end, or it just doesn’t work.

3. Why do you write what you write?

I write the stories that pop into my head, which is apparently a kind of twisted place. My favorite books growing up were mysteries, ghost stories, scary things. Agatha Christie and Carolyn Keene and Stephen King and R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. These are my influences, the twisty, less-than-normal, mysterious stories. These are the types of stories that stuck in my head and affect the way my own words come out. I tend to write the things you don’t see, the world’s underbelly, the things that happen in the dark. Hidden worlds and thieves and secret government torture chambers and hackers and hate. I’ve mentioned that I’m afraid of the dark, so I like to draw the dark things out of their corners and bring them into the light. Shapes have a way of shifting in the light. I like exposing the monster that’s really just a coat hanging from the door.

4. What is your writing process, and how does it work?

My process breaks down into eight steps that I like to refer to as the Rinse and Repeat cycle.

1. I get an idea. A vague premise. My WIP idea came from an actual news story headline. I tuck these ideas in a folder in Evernote and come back to them when I finish whatever manuscript I’m working on when the idea hits. I take each vague idea and think about how the character got to that place and where they’re going and why. If an idea grips me and won’t let go, I write a query. I like to write the query first, when the plot is simple, before it gets muddied with side plots and secondary characters. Now that I have an agent, this has become a critical step. If I feel strongly about something, I’ll just send that one with a “hey, this is where I think I’m going next.” Otherwise, I write queries for a few ideas and send them to her for her thoughts. Last time, she really liked two different ideas. I couldn’t choose, so I decided to give them both a shot and see what stuck. The first is the story I mentioned in question 2. It didn’t work, so I moved on to the next one.

2. When I settle on an idea, I start with a synopsis to figure out what actually happens. I know “synopsis” is a frightening word. Trust me, I know. But mine isn’t meant for other eyes. Half the time I don’t even have a character name, it’s just “girl” or “dude.” I’m not a plotter, but I need something to provide structure to work from. The times I’ve taken off without any sort of guide ended disastrously. And that’s all this is, a loose structure that I typically end up deviating from when I start writing.

3. Then I write the first chapter. If the story and the character’s voice grab me, I keep going. If I hit 5,000 to 10,000 words and still love the character, I keep going. If it’s not working–the voice is inconsistent, or the story doesn’t flow–I stop and move on to the next idea. Seriously, I have too many ideas to waste time on the ones that aren’t working.

4. I have an amazingly awesome CP who I’ve been working with since my second manuscript. We swap a few chapters at a time as we write. So I’ll write a chapter or two, send it to her, she’ll critique and I’ll edit, then move on to the next chapter, rinse and repeat. I’m in a couple other critique groups that work this way too. I’ve learned I don’t do well with waiting for feedback until I finish the whole manuscript. I tend to get overwhelmed at the amount of work I have to do, and I get locked in on certain things I’ve already written, so it works better for me to edit as I go.

5. When I hit about 15,000 words, I’ll send it to my agent. She’s very editorial, which I love and is one of the main reasons I wanted to work with her. Her ideas are brilliant. I like to get her input before I get too deep in the manuscript because, like I said, revisions are hard. When she read the beginning of my previous WIP she thought it started in the wrong place and wouldn’t get seen in the current market, so I revised and ended up with a much stronger book. If I’d waited, I would’ve had a lot of extra work ahead of me. As it was, I just had to re-do the beginning and the rest flowed from there.

6. When I finish the whole thing, I get it printed at a local shop (300 some odd pages is a lot to print at home! It’s $15 and the print shop lady is super sweet). I read things differently on paper than I do on a computer. The tangibleness of paper makes the story more real. I edit on paper, type up the changes, and send to a couple beta readers. At least two. If they’re opinions are consistent, I revise, if they’re different, I get a third reader, then go with my gut. This is done as many times as necessary to get the best book I can write. Rinse and repeat. I print again, make any final minor tweaks and send to my agent.

7. My agent reads and lets me know if she thinks anything else should be added/removed/changed, we talk through the changes, I edit, and resubmit.

8. Final step, take a day or two to breathe and recharge, then start all over. Rinse and repeat.

If you want to read more about my process, how I find beta readers, how I tweak, etc. I wrote a couple other posts on these specific topics: Is Your Manuscript Ready? 10 Tips to Help Figure it Out; Beta Relationships; and Who’s Your Critic?

So, that’s it. That’s my process! I’m supposed to pass this along to two other writers, but I only have one because I’m a rebel.

Jill Van Den Eng is an author and journalist with a keen interest in the extraordinary tales of ordinary people. She earned a BA in journalism and returned to her hometown of Kaukauna, WI as a city news reporter. The city with a river dividing it left an impact, inspiring the setting in Van Den Eng’s debut YA novel, DIVIDED MOON.

In addition to writing, Van Den Eng enjoys reading YA and popular fiction, running, solving puzzles and getting outside. She is a master gardener who keeps an herb and vegetable garden outside her home office and a novice astronomer with a really big telescope.

Van Den Eng lives in Wisconsin with her husband, three sons, two lazy cats and one evil hamster. Check out her blog and read about her process at Jilly’s Book Blog.

The Fear

The longer I write, the more I try to make this a legit career, the more I realize one important thing. It never stops being scary.

Writing wasn’t that scary when I was younger. Those short stories and attempts at novels that failed before they ever got off the ground were all warm-ups. They were laps around an empty track. They were throwing a softball and shagging fly balls behind the house with my dad.

The first time I sat down with a book idea and actually began to write it in earnest, that’s when it got real. Committing an idea to the page and investing ninety-something-thousand words in it is a scary thing. At least, it was for me. Letting someone read it made me really nervous. (Later realizing I let them read that many words of crap embarrassed me to no end). Reading it in front of a critique group for the first time petrified me. I was no longer hidden in the back yard, I was on the practice field with the whole team.

Writing the second one wasn’t any easier. The writing improved, but that manuscript came with a new, even scarier step. Sending it to agents. Querying. Oh my gosh, querying. All of a sudden, I went from the practice field to a game. People were watching. What if I messed up? What would happen then?

A fair amount of tears, it turned out. Rejection. To be honest, the first rejections weren’t as scary as the requests for fulls. Knowing an agent had my work was ten times more frightening than the critique group reading it.

Each step in the writing process has come with a new fear. The fear of committing to a new idea then discovering it sucks. The fear of someone else reading my words and thoughts. The fear of rejection. Of judgment. Of revising and doing it wrong and having to do it all over again but still not getting it right. Of letting down my family and friends and agent and myself.

It doesn’t stop. It’s an infinite roller coaster that you never get off.

I just finished my fourth manuscript. I love it. SO. MUCH. This is a big deal. It’s uncharted territory. Don’t get me wrong, I usually like my writing, and there are always passages and phrases that I love in each manuscript. But upon finishing my final read through before I send it off to my agent, it hit me that I’ve completely fallen in love with this book.

Loving a book isn’t that different from romantic love. Before my husband, I had several boyfriends, each of whom I thought I had a deeper connection with than the last. It wasn’t until I found my husband, though, that I realized what true love is. Those feelings for those other boys all paled in comparison. I still like my other stories, and I still harbor a deep affection for my last manuscript. But I didn’t know true book love until this one.

And that scares me more than anything else has so far with my writing.

When I went on sub with the last book, it was pretty nerve-wracking. I made my standard color-coded spreadsheet. I jumped at every new email. I prayed someone would want it. The first rejections came and, even though I’d steeled myself, they stung. I cried. I wallowed for a bit, then I brushed myself off and moved on. I’d already starting writing another one–and I’d already started falling for it–so I had something to keep me preoccupied. Each rejection was a little easier to deal with. When six months went by and the list of editors with my sub dwindled, I was prepared. I knew we weren’t giving up on the book, just putting it aside awhile until the timing was right. It was hard, but I’d seen the writing on the wall. Instead of fretting, I threw myself into finishing the new book, and despite trying to keep it at arm’s length, I fell head over heels for it. So much so, that sending the final draft to my agent was the scariest thing I’d done.

Falling in love with your writing is a dangerous thing, and I really felt that danger for the first time when I submitted the draft. The more you love something you’ve written, the harder it is to tear it apart. “Kill your darlings” isn’t just a cliche. Writers can get so swept up with something small that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. I’ve never had a problem cutting into my writing. My agent signed me after a massive revision in which I reworked the entire story. She’s hands-on and editorial, which I love, and I know she knows her stuff. But I didn’t want to see this story carved to pieces. If she’d come back and said it needed major revisions, I would’ve heard her out and given it a shot, because I trust her and I know she sees things from a different vantage point, she sees the whole forest. It would’ve been hard, though.

Fortunately, she loved it too. No major changes, no ripping my baby to shreds. I was thrilled (and shocked, haha). Now it’s time for this one to go on sub. It should be old hat this time around. I’ve been here before. I’ve played a game under the lights in front of a big crowd. This time, though, I’m naked. I’m terrified to sub this. I actually cried when I found out it’s time to send it.

I’m not ready. I’m not ready for this manuscript to get rejected. I love it too much.

When I started writing seriously, I thought I would eventually reach a point where it isn’t scary anymore, where I’d be comfortable. There is no comfort in writing. Each step is just as terrifying, or more so, than the last. If the impossible happens (which I can hardly begin to hope for) and this book doesn’t get rejected, if someone wants it, then I have the fear of it getting ripped apart again. The fear of the whole publishing process. Of readers not buying it, or worse, hating it, or not caring at all. Of never selling another book.

It never stops. Just because you reach that next step in your journey, doesn’t mean it gets easier. Rejection doesn’t hurt less, you just get used to the pain. Fear doesn’t lessen, but you figure out how to cope (at least not until you get into Stephen King/John Grisham/John Green territory. I bet they don’t feel the fear anymore. Although, who knows, maybe they do?). I’m, obviously, still working on that coping bit. Maybe I’ll get the hang of it one day, but until then, I’m going to build my color-coded submission spreadsheet, eat some chocolate, wait to pounce on my phone when I get an email, and write another book to fall in love with.

Because regardless of how scary writing can be, I love it. I can’t imagine not doing it. Fear and all.

(Also, this is the song (Lily Allen “The Fear”) I’ve been humming while writing this post. It will get in your head. You’ve been warned).

Just Write It

Yesterday, my amazing CP, Alison, wrote an equally amazing guest post for YAHighway. It got me thinking about my own writing process.

A couple weeks ago, I finally finished the manuscript I’ve been working on since June. Right before Christmas, I posted on Absolute Write looking for a couple beta readers. I told them I’d just finished my first draft and needed fresh eyes before submitting to my agent. I had some great people offer to read, and they all told me the same thing. When they saw the words “first draft,” they got really nervous, until they started reading and realized it read like a later draft.

“Well,” I said, “I guess technically it’s not a first draft when I think about it, but in a way it is.” Which, I realize, makes no sense. Around this time my agent tweeted that she’s convinced everyone’s first drafts are complete crap. Everyone.

This all got me thinking: what is a first draft?

See, I consider my first draft to be the first one I complete. When I type those last few words and lift my fingers from the keyboard, I have finished my first draft. But I don’t think it’s crap, necessarily (depends on the day, haha), because I’ve already worked it to death by the time I finish. Technically, I suppose, it could be thought of as a second draft, or even third–but that feels weird to me, since it’s the first time I’ve finished. See how I talk it in circles? It’s kind of confusing, so let’s back up.

Google “writing advice.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. One of the first links you’ll get is a post called 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors. I linked it for you in case you didn’t Google it. The very first tip comes from Ernest Hemingway. It says basically the same thing my agent tweeted. If you keep going through the links, though, or talk to the majority of writers, or read writing blogs or websites, you’ll inevitably see these words over and over again: “Don’t self-edit. Just write the first draft, then go back and edit later. Keep that momentum going.” Pretty much everyone hands out this little piece of advice like Halloween candy.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Don’t close the page just yet, hear me out.

Ever read Query Shark? Janet Reid gives excellent advice for writing queries. One thing she constantly harps on is following the rules. No rhetorical questions, no gimmicks, no first person, start with the plot, etc, etc. However, she says once you have a good grasp of the rules, they can be broken. The famous example of this is the wonderful Josin McQuein’s query. It breaks all the rules, but is so darn captivating it doesn’t matter. (The book, by the way, is also excellent. Go pick up a copy. Get Arclight while you’re at it. You’ll thank me for the cover alone. All the pretty!). Man, I’m all about some links today!

Janet’s query advice should extend to all writing. When you’re just starting, yes, follow the rules. If you’re having trouble getting motivated to write, by all means just get words on the page. Get the first draft down, however crappy and messy and convoluted it may be, and fix it later. I started this way. I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

But it didn’t work for me. By the time I finished, I had SO MANY WORDS! Plots that started and dropped off. Threads that twisted into a tangled mass. Characters that weren’t consistent. Revising was such a headache. I would look at the draft and think “I can never do this. It’s too much.” You know what? I was right. I got overwhelmed by the amount of work the first draft would need. It was like finding some pretty necklaces at a yard sale, but they’re all in a box together and the chains are intertwined. You try to tease out the couple you like, but everything is so tightly knotted you just throw the whole mess down and say screw it.

Then I found my CP. We started working together by exchanging a few chapters at a time, initially of a finished draft, and then of a WIP. I’d write a few, then she’d email and ask how the writing was going. So I’d send her the pages, she’d send feedback, and I couldn’t not go through her comments when I got them. (How do you like that little double negative? Here’s another). Then I couldn’t not incorporate changes and fix problems she’d noticed. Next thing I knew, I had a finished first draft that read more like a second. I self-edited. And I didn’t die. (By the way, I totally have this scene from Mean Girls in my head. Except insert “self-edit” for “sex,” and “write terribly” for “pregnant.”) My writing didn’t suffer. In fact, I think it got better.

My most recent WIP went through lots of changes I as wrote. I ended up plotting more than I ever have, even though I didn’t marry my outline or anything.The initial words that went on the page: yeah, they were crap, but I fixed them as I went.  I rewrote the beginning and moved chapters around. It went slower than any other ms I’ve written, which frustrated me. I’ve always thought of myself as a quick writer. When I think about it, though, it really took the same amount of time. Before, I wrote the first draft in three months, and revised for three. This time around it took six to get through the “first draft,” but it wasn’t the sloppy, just-get-words-on-the-page kind of draft I used to turn out. It was polished, edited, neat. Reading back through and revising was a breeze.

So, self-edit, or don’t self-edit. Revise chapter by chapter, or revise all at once. Follow the rules, or break the rules. It doesn’t matter. Just write it. Everyone is different, and everyone works in their own way. There is no one size fits all writing advice. Find what works best for you and do it.

I’ve heard a few writers refer to their first drafts as “draft zero.” Personally, I’m not sure what to call mine. First draft? Second? Fred? Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter (although I’m partial to Fred). As long as the ms you finally query, or submit to your agent, or whatever, is polished, who cares what you call it? Forget rules and advice and labels and everything. Clear your mind of all but the story, and write.

Stuck in Writing Traffic

Why is it that when you’re stuck in traffic, your lane is always the slowest one? The cars beside you start moving, so you squeeze in, then everyone stops and the lane you just left starts moving. It never fails. At least for me. There must be some lucky few who always wind up in the lane that moves. (If you’re reading this, let me know you’re secrets! I promise I won’t tell). I’m not the lucky sort, though. I’m forever trapped in the slow lane.

That’s how I’ve felt with my WIP lately. I have been desperately trying to finish for a while now. It usually takes me three months to get through a draft. This one has taken six. Granted, I’ve had to do a lot of research for it, and that’s not something I’m accustomed to, so it bogged me down, but over the last few weeks it’s seemed that every time I get a chance to write, something stands in my way. I switch lanes, thinking I’ll definitely get going now, and boom! More traffic.

Let me tell you about roadblocks I’ve experienced, just in the past week.

Hubby had to travel for work last week. He left Sunday and was due back Wednesday. While I hate when he travels (I’m a huge scaredy cat. Every noise is an intruder, or rapist, or zombie. I feel like I’m nine again, turning off the bedroom light and leaping into bed so the monsters don’t get me. Yes, that seems old to still believe in mosters, but I’ve always had a very active imagination). This trip, though, equalled three days of uninterrupted writing time. I had a plan, a rough outline of what I needed to write. Two chapters a day would get me across the finish line.

I dropped Hubby off at the airport and spend the remainder of Sunday at Starbucks. I started off well-enough, got on a bit of a roll. As the afternoon wore on, more and more people packed in, loud people, and I don’t work so well when it’s loud. Unfortunately, I don’t work well at home either, between the dog barking for my attention, the cats walking across my laptop or jumping on my shoulders, the dog chasing the cats, FedEx/UPS delivering packages, you get the picture. At least at Starbucks I got caffeine.

I also got one chapter written. One.

Okay, so I was off to a slow start. I thought it was a good chapter, at least. That just meant I had to get three chapters in on one of the other days. No problem. I went to work Monday, full of plans for a quick dinner, then hours of writing at my favorite–and quiet–indie coffee shop.

Guess who got a stomach virus (the puking kind)? Oh yeah. Not a twenty-four hour deal either. That bad boy hung around for a week. All my writing time, literally, went down the toilet. (You’re welcome for the image).

I got better toward the end of the week, but then Hubby was home and we had Christmas shopping to do, and parties to attend, and one thing after another. I told Hubby that no matter what, Sunday was my day. Just me and my manuscript.

I spent the whole afternoon at Starbucks. This time, I got two chapters written, everything clicked all at once. The other chapters I’d planned–not needed. The story came together in a way I hadn’t expected. It was wonderful. I could’ve written for hours, hours!

Except I couldn’t. I had a Christmas party for the youth at church to attend that evening. So I stopped, a mere two short chapters from finishing the draft. “Monday,” I said. “I am finishing this Monday, and no one and nothing will stop me!”

Last night, I sped through dinner, rushed Hubby out the door, and took off for the indie coffee shop I love so much. Guess who forgot her laptop at home? Back to the house, raced in, grabbed my computer, darted back out, finally got to the coffee shop.

Like Starbucks the week before, the place was packed. More people than I’ve ever seen there. No matter, I was on a roll. Just had to send the first few chapters to a beta reader, a few tweaks to the last chapter, then dive into the new one, and holy crap it was 8:00! The coffee shop closes at 9:00 on Mondays.

Go, go, go! Write, write, write!

Almost through the chapter.

Then all those people stood up. They took out books. They started to sing.

Yes. Sing.

Carolers. In my quiet, little coffee shop. Emphasis on little. The place isn’t very big. It’s cozy. At least it was, until the full, professional level choir took up half the space. Then it went from cozy to cramped.

Normally, I love carolers. I love Christmas music. But in a coffee shop? Maybe it’s just me, but most people I see at a coffee shop are there to do something quiet. Read, write, do homework, study, a few low conversations, open mic nights on some nights–but those are usually posted ahead of time so you know what you’re walking into, and there has never been one at my coffee shop. In my experience, most people don’t go to coffee shops to hear caroling. Loud, intrusive caroling.

I felt like the Grinch. All the noise, noise, NOISE!

And then, they’ll do something I hate most of all. Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, will stand close together… with Christmas bells ringing. They’ll stand hand in hand… and those Whos… will start singing!

I couldn’t think. It bounced off the walls and rattled around in my brain, stirring up the words that had been right there all day, waiting to hit the page.

Why?!?! I had one more chapter to finish the ms. ONE MORE. I felt extremely rude as I shoved ear buds in my ears to block the cheerful singing, but I didn’t care. It helped. The words sorted themselves out. Started to flow, started to–

It was 9:00. Closing time. I was literally sentences from finishing. The words were on the tip of my tongue, soooo close to the page.

I threw my stuff in a bag, dragged Hubby out, and raced home again. It would have to be there. Hubby would have to keep the animals contained, regardless of how bad they wanted my attention. I spread out on the kitchen island, and wrote, and finished.

Finally, traffic thinned enough for me to skate through. I might’ve done it by the skin of my teeth, but I made it. I finished. I FINISHED! I reveled for about an hour, until it was time for bed. The draft is now with betas and I am on to the next step, editing.

There may be more roadblocks ahead, but I’m through the worst of it. I’m back on the highway and heading up to cruising speed, and nothing is going to stand in my way of polishing this ms.

What about you? Ever been stuck in writing traffic? How do you deal with it?

Can You Juggle?

My husband is a juggler. Not a professional performer or anything, but whenever he sees three similarly sized objects, they’re bound to end up flying through the air–and eventually rolling across the floor. Many oranges and apples have lost their lives at Hubby’s hands, or lack of hands I should say.

I bought him a juggling kit a couple years ago that came with an instruction manual and balls, pins, and rings. The manual took you through each step, starting with two balls, and graduating up to the more difficult rings.

I’ve tried it a couple times, but I’m terrible. I can get two things going at once, but add in a third and everything crashes to the ground. I quickly gave up, resigned to leave the circus antics to my other half.

But the desire to learn how to juggle apparently never went away. It just morphed into something a little more my speed: writing.

My current WIP has two POVs. This is the first time I’ve written from multiple perspectives and let me tell you, it’s a little scary. When the idea initially formed, it was all from one view. One main character. Then another character spoke up, demanded her story be told too.

I was terrified when I started. I’ve read several books with multiple POVs where the voices were largely indistinguishable. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a few lines into a chapter and having to look back at the heading to see which character is narrating. I knew if I went down this road, I’d have to make the voices distinct.

Everything went fine at first. I clearly visualized both MCs, clearly heard their voices, clearly saw their story arcs. Just like with juggling objects, those first two stayed in the air fine. This isn’t so bad. Went through my head. I’m…kind of good at this. I was telling two almost completely different stories at the same time. Kept the juggling pins going with no problem.

Then they started wobbling. One character’s voice overtook the manuscript. Readers were connecting with her more than the initial main character. My agent even suggested maybe telling the story from one POV. Hers. The initial fear came tumbling back. It wasn’t the FMC’s story, it was the MMC’s! She couldn’t take it over! Could she?

I considered it. I dropped his pin. I worked up an outline and started a few chapters from just her side. Tossing one pin felt weird though. My hands felt empty. So I picked up the other one and tried juggling them independently. I’d tell the first half from the FMC’s view, and the second half from the MMC’s and….

That didn’t work either. If I was going to do this, I had to learn to juggle. See, it’s not just the MMC’s story, and it’s not just the FMC’s story. It’s both of their stories. There are two protagonists, and each carries equal weight. Each has their own goals, their own motivations, their own problems to surmount, independent of the other. Even though those stories parallel each other, and eventually merge into a common goal, they still maintain separate motivations and methods of reaching that goal.

So I started over. In a different place. Both pins simultaneously flew through the air again. The story worked. The chapters flowed. The voices separated like oil and water. Everything was great.

Until I dropped another pin. I’m close to finishing the draft, and I’m afraid the voices are blending. Especially once the two MCs collide. It was easier to keep them separate when the characters themselves were separate, easier to remember they each had a story to tell, but now it’s muddy. Complicated. I’ve added the dreaded third pin to the mix. I have to constantly remind myself that they’re each a protagonist, they each need to carry their own story.

This becomes difficult when I’m trying to make sure they’re both active characters. It would be really easy to drop that third pin, to let one character to take over now and do all the work, let the other take a back seat and coast through the end of the book. It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be a good book, and it wouldn’t be a fulfilling ride for the readers.

Juggling is hard. No one randomly picks up three items and perfectly tosses them around on their first try. It takes dedication and practice and time, and it’s so simple to say you can’t do it and walk way. Many do. I dare say there are more people in this world who can’t juggle than who can. It’s a lot like writing.

I realized I’ve been juggling for a while now. All writers juggle. With every manuscript, regardless of the number of narrators. The more elements you add to your story, plot threads, characters, settings, the more pins, or balls, or apples, you toss into the air. This is my fourth manuscript. With each one, I’ve gotten a little bit better, without really noticing it. Somewhere along the way, I graduated from balls to pins. There’s still a long way to go before I reach the rings, but I can do this.

I developed a plan of attack. Finish the draft. Print it out. Separate each character’s chapters. Read them independently. This way I can make sure the voices are consistent, and that each MC has a clear, individual, active arc.

What about you? How do you juggle your writing?

Featured! Agent-Author Chat

Hey guys! I’m really honored to be featured on Krista Van Dolzer’s latest Agent-Author Chat. Scoot over there and check out my query for DOOR NUMBER FOUR, the manuscript that caught my agent, Mandy Hubbard’s eye, as well as some great advice from Mandy herself.

While you’re there, follow Krista, because she’s pretty awesome.