Fall is for Writers, Not for L.A.

rain-girl-sketch-illustration-blogIt was raining in Los Angeles for half a second. I’m ready to bake pies and warm my cockles by the ovenside. The crock pot is cold and lonely.

This is my first week off from my book. I wrote it in a whirlwind, NaNoWriMo style, in exactly one month. This was in July, after I left my job (which, by the way, was more invigorating than frightening…but also kind of frightening). Then I spent another couple of months editing, and enjoyed three immobilizing days of a final marathon read. I find that step, reading the manuscript from start to finish as fast as I can, particularly helpful for wheedling out repetitive words, finding inconsistencies and plot holes, and taking a sweeping look at character development. It doesn’t allow you to forget what’s already been read.

Now it’s November 1. First day of actual NaNoWriMo and I feel like I’ve come out of the wrong chute, even though I’m obviously relieved to see the first draft long finished and so ready to leave the revised version in the hands of beta readers. But, temporarily bereft of a major, moving creative project, I’m trying to avoid the deadlights of limbo. Nothing really replaces the feeling of having your own book to work on every day.

I told myself I’m allowed a break after three months of frenzied writing and editing; one day into relaxation, I can already feel myself floundering and sinking into that weird postpartum that always arrives during beta reads and, particularly, querying.

I have plenty to do, though, so I’m going to try filling in the gaps with serious business–not the least of which is embarking upon freelancing (for real). I let myself put it aside because how often do you get a chance to work on your own project day and night? But it’s probably time to be an adult again.

~S.Z.

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Inktober and NaNoWriMo Prep

It’s inktober–31 days and 31 drawings! I’m comboing my NaNoWriMo prep with my 31 drawings, world-building and developing character sketches as I set myself up for a (hopefully) productive November of writing.

Here’s my first sketch for inktober. It’s a scene and a shard of story from my upcoming NaNoWriMo project.  

Christmas Aunty guides lost children through a war-torn kingdom.

I’ll also be continuing #ReadtoDraw, which also pairs nicely with this month’s challenge. I just finished H is for Hawk and might try my hand at drawing a goshawk.

Anyone else participating in inktober?

Writing Takeaways from Judy Blume in Conversation

Blume-in-ConversationI had the pleasure of attending a Los Angeles Public Library ALOUD Lecture featuring author Judy Blume in conversation with Alex Cohen on June 9. Blume has been on a whirlwind book tour for her new novel for adults, In the Unlikely Event. I was there to grab a copy and hear her speak for the second time.

I’d hazard to say it’s more worthwhile to hear authors as prolific and successful as Blume speak about her process and her path than it is to take classes on writing. The first time I heard her in conversation I was working through what seemed like the millionth draft of my novel and was encouraged when she said she was on her twenty-third draft of Summer Sisters.

And Blume said it herself, during this most recent conversation, “Nobody can teach you to write, but they can encourage you.”

But one of the most interesting series of moments happened during the Q&A when aspiring writers approached the microphone to ask Blume to elaborate on her process–what inspires her to write specific stories, how does she write dialogue, what’s her secret?

And nine times out of ten, Blume shrugged. She said, “I don’t know how my process works. I’m just glad it does.”

In-the-Unlikely-Event-BlumeShe did add that dialogue comes naturally to her, whereas descriptive prose does not. She actually drew from newspaper stories reporting on the crash that forms the central focus of her new novel for the descriptive prose. This isn’t a secret method; it’s just being aware of the tools available to you.

I think what hit me most about the Q&A session was seeing so many people who, like me, are on the road, trying to figure out how it all works and how to put a story to the page and make it speak to others. One audience member broke into tears–she begged for one crumb of knowledge that might help her with her own story. I felt like I’d come a long way since I first saw Blume in 2012 because I knew the answer.

“You have to be determined,” said Blume. “Get the critique and censor off your shoulder. You have to keep going.”

Writing Moods: The Seasonal Edition

It’s a long time since I wrote by mood. Before I took this thing seriously, I’d limit my writing time to those moments when euphoria and a thirst for fantasy caught me up, or when I needed escape from deep despair or some disappointment. Now I know better and write whether or not I’m feeling it.

But still there are times when happy circumstance sends me running to pen and paper. Seasonally speaking, fall always does it for me. This past Tuesday was the first where Los Angeles deigned to dress in shades of blue and gray and gift us with a taste of the chill. When I walked into my apartment all steeped in blue light at 6:00 p.m., I only wanted a cup of tea, my beaten, ruled notebook, and one of my reliable hotel pens.

It has to do with staying home because it’s cold out and with becoming immoveable under a layer of building winter blubber I’m sure. But it’s also the implacable crackle of the colder seasons–the strange energy of cold, dry wind; the smolder and romance of wood smoke in the air. You don’t often get that in Southern California, much less the city, but when it comes, it does captivate and compel.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d be a better writer had I listened to fourteen year-old me who read Witch Water with zeal and thought a quaint, somewhat spooky life in the woods picking blackberries for tiny Mabon pies and doing funny things with dried roots sounded about right. Would I constantly be touched by inspiration then?

What is it about black crows huddled against a gray sky and crisp, brassy leaves? And there is something to playing piping hot coffee against a foggy, drizzly morning that calls up other worlds and imagined strangers.

As the cold drives me into my home, it also drives me inward and rather than setting up distraction, the world outside toys with my imagination. I’ve always found fantasy in the wildness of an autumn wind. It sweeps by, disrupting everything and carrying it away. I get caught up in it. Maybe autumn is the seasonal manifestation of escapism.

On the “Joy” of Self-Editing

Self Editing CartoonIf I have to eat my own brain vomit one more time, I’m going to be sick. I’m making my final, final, “no really this is it” edits to my graphic novel after getting the proof back from the printer, and I’m just over it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. I love it and I think others will, but I’m ready to let it go.

There comes a point in self-editing when you start reading your memory of the text, rather than the text itself. This is when mistakes put the slip on you. When others find edits after the millionth read or even post-print, I calmly tell them it happens to everyone and they should let it go. When it happens to me, I fly into a blind rage.

While you should always enlist beta readers to catch these slip-ups (and even they won’t always catch them), self-editing is an unavoidable part of the writing process. It can also be the most tedious, frustrating, self-defeating part. You get to discover a new typo every read-through. You get to cringe at stuff you wrote earlier in the learning process. You have to come to terms with letting go of some of this stuff because otherwise you’ll never push anything out.

I approach self-editing with my tail between my legs after procrastinating until I can’t avoid it anymore. It’s like paying a visit to your most judgmental friend.

Here are some methods to keep your mind active and engaged while self-editing:

  • Take mini brain vacations for more intensive, fine-toothed reads. Work on other projects between editing sessions: crafting, reading, cooking, whatever helps you check out for a while.
  • Avoid distracting environments. Can you guess where I prefer to do my editing? That’s right–coffee shops. I’m far from the temptations of my pillow, and I can people-watch when my brain gets tired.
  • Adopt a different role for each read-through: your target audience, a professional proofreader, an editor, your ex. So many options!
  • Have a beverage handy. This is probably the oddest method, but I have found that I stay focused for longer periods of time when my hands have additional tasks. Since I wouldn’t recommend smoking, and perpetually eating while editing could also be unhealthy, drinking water, tea, or even coffee seems the lesser evil.

If you have your own methods for effective self-editing, do tell!