26 March 2011

Pouring Concrete

I was so excited, last weekend, to hear Jason Wright talk about the idea of "pouring concrete" when it comes to writing. He said that, more often than not, our beautiful, shiny muses will not be sitting beside us as we write. Sometimes, we just don't feel inspired, we hit a block and we don't have the perfect words for what comes next. Those are the times when we just need to "pour another square of concrete."

Picture your story as a sidewalk. You know where the story starts (the first square of concrete) and you know where it will end (that's the last square), but you have to finish the story by pouring concrete into all of the sections in between! In other words, when you don't feel absolutely inspired, just fill in the blanks to finish that first draft. You can't really fix and polish the story until you have the full story, so don't worry about getting it perfect the first time through. Just put in some work and get it done. You can fix and make it beautiful later!

It was perfect, timely advice for me. I've been working for more than a year on my second book (while still revising and refining my first novel - I know I said it was ready for publication a while ago, but it really did need more tweaking... it's much better now). My first manuscript took less than a month to get through the first draft. I carried it with me everywhere and made time to work on it, even when I wasn't sure what really came next. It was fun, I was excited, so I did it, and I didn't worry about making it perfect as I was writing that first draft. The finished product, as it stands now, bears little resemblance to the first draft - and I couldn't have written this story without first writing all that came before it (including that first, not very good draft). I knew the importance of "pouring concrete," so to speak.

So why is it taking so long to write the first draft of this second novel? Is it just that the story doesn't resonate with me? No. Am I trying to write about something that I know nothing about? No. Is it a story I shouldn't even bother to tell? Absolutely not. If anything, this story (about a young girl whose mother dies) is more personal, more compelling to me, than the first one. And I feel more driven than ever before to tell this particular story.

But I guess I forgot the importance of "pouring concrete." I've been waiting until I could tell the story perfectly in my first draft. Instead of carrying my story notebook with me everywhere I go, I've been waiting for those rare moments of inspiration, telling myself I would write when inspiration hit, and work on other (mostly non-writing) projects in the meanwhile. And I've never felt so empty!

This week, I pulled out my story notebook and my special stash of writing pencils. It's not coming as quickly as that first draft of my first novel, but I'm making progress. And when I'm finished "pouring concrete" and I get to polish the sidewalk, I'm sure I'll find that this path is more beautiful than the first.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a "sidewalk" to construct!

21 March 2011

What a Weekend!!

I had the most fabulous time at Jason F. Wright's "Some Day" One Day Writing Workshop on Saturday, and I'm still bubbly and bouncy over the whole experience two days later!

The workshop was absolutely amazing! The other attendees were friendly and fun, and everyone had his or her own voice. We heard some great writing samples throughout the course of the day, centered around a "car accident" we created in the conference room. (Jason had 3 of our group act out a quick 5-minute skit, which we then all wrote about later - to illustrate the way we can each take the same basic information and everyone will give it a different twist.) And Jason offered great insights into the publishing process, from his own experiences in seeking out an agent and a publisher for the first time, and wonderful, helpful hints on the writing process. ("Pouring Concrete" might just get its very own blog entry later!)

Skype calls with Heidi Taylor (Shadow Mountain Publishing), Sarah McLellan (Folio Literary Management) and Matt Birch (Matt Birch Public Relations) were fascinating and informative. They answered questions about the whole publishing process, from "How do you know when you're ready to start submitting your manuscript?" ("When it's as perfect as you can possibly get it.") to "How involved should I be, as the author, in marketing and publicizing my own book?" ("The more involved, the better!")

But the best parts of the day were things that only matter to me. Little, fairly insignificant things that no one else would notice, but which touched me personally. Jason would call them "Seventeen Second Miracles" (and if you haven't read his book by that title, I urge you to do so!) - I just call them life.

If you know me (or if you've read any of my previous posts), you know I firmly believe in daily miracles. Angels walk among us, without wings, in the form of our friends, family, coworkers and even total strangers. Heavenly Father answers prayers in very significant ways through the little, insignificant moments we tend to overlook when we aren't watching.

So the moments that mattered most to me:
* When Jason emailed a reply to my registration request and told me he was looking forward to seeing a friend! (It probably took 2 seconds, and I doubt he thought twice about it, but isn't it wonderful when someone you don't see often takes a moment to say "I'm glad you're my friend" - and you know they really mean it?)
* When Beth pulled me aside during our first break to say she thought my novel sounded interesting and we exchanged email addresses so we could keep in contact and send each other samples for critique. I desperately wanted to approach my fellow writers, but my fears had taken over, and I was once again standing off to the side, only talking to Jason (since he was the only one I knew coming into the workshop). Beth broke the ice, and made it okay for me to join the group!
* When Jason read my writing exercise aloud and stopped to point out how much he liked my one-sentence paragraph. I do that from time to time, when a thought needs some emphasis. Mostly because it just comes naturally to me. That's the way I talk. But as I'm preparing to send my first manuscript out into the scary publishing world, I began to wonder if that quirk would be off-putting. I felt like doing cartwheels through the conference room when he said it was a good thing! :)
* When Matt Birch ended his conference call with the advice: "It may be frustrating. People may even be very rude to you. But don't give up. Someone will care." My closest friends (and those who were there Saturday, because I mentioned it afterward) know that the most crippling criticism I've received so far was last year, when I submitted my novel to a major contest. The reviewer's response to my story I was so proud of? "No one in their right mind would ever care about a character like the one in this story!" Harsh, rude, and very disheartening. In tears, I set the manuscript aside and almost decided I wasn't cut out to be a writer at all (until my friend's wonderful son asked me to write a story just for him - but that's another blog post altogether...) But when Matt Birch announced "Someone will care!" it felt like a direct response to that horrible reviewer. He could have chosen many other ways to phrase the sentiment, but he chose the words I needed most to hear!