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?

Your Precious Personality (or Lack Thereof)

illustration by s. zainab williamsAs a writer or creative, you know what it means to be precious. You know preciousness is a detrimental and alluring trap we’ve all fallen into from time to time. But it wasn’t until recently that I looked at preciousness using a wide angle and considered what it means to be precious with your personality. This is in regards to being an individual generally as well as a creative. This is in regards to having a voice.

A cord of what I’ll shruggingly generalize as strangeness exists in many of our icons in writing and art. Gorey was a crazy cat lady with a fondness for fur coats whose trust benefited animal for god’s sake. Some simply vocalize opinions that rankle and estrange readers, right Bret Easton Ellis?

In this, our age of hacked nudity and eternally archived regrets, the thought of vocalizing or expressing oneself in a way that could one day be uncovered and used against us is galling at best. We wouldn’t want to alert the fanboysandgirls to light their torches and gather their pitchforks. We wouldn’t want to expose ourselves as deviants. We wouldn’t want to write something that might make that one person in SFO feel marginalized. But will we dilute our work to avoid the slings and arrows?

I look at the powder kegs of the creative world and wonder if there’s something to learn from them. They almost can’t help but express themselves. Their voices are so loud they can’t not be heard.

It might not even be a fear of expression that muffles some. I recently received a critique that completely turned around the way I think about editing and voice. Something clicked. I tend to over-analyze and edit to perfect, forgetting to enrich. It’s the academic in me–the technical essayist. It’s a problem. While NaNoWriMo helped me overcome some of that, it’s been writing my serialized, on the spot work Ghost and the Daemon that’s helped the most. It made me look at the way I write Ghost and compare it to the way I’ve been editing my longtime WIP and love of my life, Aurelia and the House of Dire.

I became aware of the danger of caring too much. I realized that you can’t be experimental or playful or innovative when your perspective is locked into making something perfect. I’ve understood avoiding preciousness for some time, but I don’t think I comprehended that it meant more than removing a sentence or even a chapter you had some freak obsession with because it sounded clever but didn’t add anything. It meant letting the IRL opinionated weirdo in me push aside the infallible writer I imagined I should be, allowing it to get in there and do some damage. I am who I am. I’m not what college prescribed and I’m not the writer my younger self wanted me to be. And thank the lawd for that.

I’ve been through a lot in my life and it’s time I accepted myself for who I am as a writer and a person (more and more they’re one and the same), now and in the future. It’s time I stopped giving such an almighty fuck about what everyone else thinks. Because there are a lot of boring sheeple in the world, and a lot of people who will tell you who you should be, how you should write, what you should read, and how you should live your own life. And there are all sorts of notions we can get up in our heads about by comparing ourselves to others. But as soon as we build those boxes, we damn ourselves to create within them and a box is no place for the imagination to thrive. It’s a place where you can be certain your voice won’t be heard thanks to all the others bouncing off the walls, drowning it out.

I almost wish I hadn’t wanted to be a writer for such a long time, developing all of these ideas about what it meant, piling on the expectations and building boundaries. But the good thing about discovery is that it can compel you to change for the better. You just have to find the nerve to break up with who you used to be, embrace who you are, and let the world know.

I’ll Miss You NaNoWriMo

And just like that, Halloween ended.

Now it’s November. Out come the turkeys, the pilgrim hats…and the pens. November 1 marks the first day of National Novel Writing Month. Last month, I put pen to paper like never before and finally succeeded at writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It took three NaNoWriMos to get there, but I did it and accomplishing that goal was the biggest turning point in my history as a writer.

Today I kept encountering well-wishes to NaNoWriMo participants and I got a little blue. Deciding not to participate this year was a difficult decision, but it’s for good reason. The reason being, I’m working on my final revisions before sending last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript off for a professional critique.

Aurelia and the House of Dire has gone through so many changes since last November’s draft zero. Sometimes I get that urge to keep revising until I’ve drained this planet of all its red ink, but I know it’s time to let go and get outside opinions.

I’ll be on the NaNoWriMo sidelines this year, but I do have a goal for this month. On November 30, I drop the red pen and send my MS off for critique. What an exciting, terrifying prospect.

The NaNoWriMo Experience

It’s done. National Novel Writing Month has come to a close. Turn down the lights, lower the volume and close the doors.

For the first time since I began participating in the annual event, I succeeded. Fifty thousand words…50,000…50k… (50,566 words, to be exact) written in 30 days. Also for the first time, I stepped out of my cave and met other writers by attending write-ins. I don’t think I can properly describe how much I learned about myself as a writer, the writing process and the writing community — but since I am a writer, I’ll give it a try.

A Writing Community

This was the missing key.  I’m an anti-social person. It’s difficult to step outside of my comfort zone and throw myself into a crowd of new people, but I decided to take it like a man this year by attending local write-ins. When, at the first write-in, a group of us got into a deep, zombies vs. robots conversation, I knew I had made a sound decision. We made no attempt to portray ourselves as flawless writers.  What we mostly talked about were our flaws and the hurdles — we laughed about how our characters adopted our own insecurities. After years of worrying that every writer out there was a natural, and that they’d judge my weaknesses, it was a huge relief to hear that everyone had the same problems. That doesn’t mean the idea of sharing my work and works-in-progress no longer terrifies me. At another write-in, I offered to share a passage from my novel for a challenge, and my voice shook violently. Embarrassing. But I learned first-hand that the knowledge and experience gained through opening up far outweighs the pain.

The Writing Process

I knew this before, but now I am 100% convinced: discipline does amazing things. My resolve to set aside more than an hour a day for writing was nonexistent before November, but during NaNoWriMo I found myself writing for over four hours in one sitting.  I challenged myself to keep going, to push past my daily goal, even when it meant spending the greater part of a Saturday at the dining room table with a pot of coffee.

And don’t even ask how I forced myself onward without stopping to edit every sentence, or go backwards when I thought maybe I could phrase something better. That looming deadline kicked my self-editor in the shins and laughed.

The Writer

I can do this. I’m not a one-trick pony; that one novel I wrote a million years ago wasn’t the beginning and end of my ability to write a novel from beginning to end. I am able and willing, and that realization is the best gift NaNoWriMo gave me (other than a 50% discount for Scrivener).

It might be difficult to imagine sadness as a response to the end of such a stressful writing event, but if you were involved and made the journey you probably understand why I was a bit teary-eyed on December 1. It’s time to say goodbye to an amazing adventure and to the people I met; time to file the experiences away for future reference. But it doesn’t have to be the end of sharing and learning. More than challenging me to ignore my inner editor and write a novel without a filter, NaNoWriMo taught me to put myself out there and interact with the community. It taught me to give myself the opportunity to grow by taking risks, and I plan to continue that tradition on my own.

Until next year!

P.S.  If you can spare it, please donate to the Office of Letters and Light–they put on a number of amazing programs for writers of all ages, in addition to organizing NaNoWriMo each year.

Busy Busy Worker Bee

My office desk is a wreckage of printouts, Kleenex, FedEx slips and coffee cups. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. My personal projects tend to fall by the wayside when work gets crazy. Since writing is mostly responsible for holding my sanity intact, I can become a bit of a mess at times like these. Adding to the chaos is the fact that I have only one week left to sew my garb for Great Western War (yeah, I’m that kind of geek too) and that I agreed to read and critique a friend’s novel. I’ve added him to my list of future readers for my own novel. See how that works?

I’ve been beating my second short story to death. I keep changing my mind about events and it’s not helping to move things along at a reasonable clip. I think I’ve got it figured out now and plan to have the damned thing out of my hair after this weekend. My first short story is sitting in my desk drawer, waiting to be edited (look at me applying the Stephen King method!).

In other news, I’m thinking of switching to a new WordPress theme, but need to figure out which would best showcase my impeccable artistic creations and my content.

…NaNoWriMo is only a month away.