Wednesday, March 22, 2023

K is for Kelsey, Once Again

 Yesterday, I didn't quite get around to writing a blog post, despite the fact that I had an idea and even some notes. 

I blame Kelsey. Motivated by an upcoming conference, I (once again) dug into revisions on her story.

Kelsey? Who's that? 

Kelsey is the protagonist in a novel that I finished close to ten years ago. The book was too long so, after a respectable waiting period (or perhaps one that was a little longer than respectable), I pulled it out and revised it with an eye toward making it shorter. But it was still too long, so back into the drawer it went.  

Meanwhile, my critique group added a few members and lost a few more. Since several members hadn't yet read the book, I asked the group if they'd mind reading it again. They kindly agreed (and one gave me a great title) and Kelsey came one step closer to life outside the drawer.

But after that revision, life, including my publishing life, got busy and Kelsey took a back seat to Marita and friends and Know Thyself. More time passed, more ideas took flight...and Kelsey is still in the drawer. I take her out for air and a bit of revision every now and then, but have yet to commit to her as she deserves. 

Last week, an ad for an agent-led workshop on submission packets hit my inbox. I immediately signed up, excited to kick off my first official week of vacation with advice from the pros. It seemed like a great way to not only dig into my writing projects, but to get Kelsey out of the drawer, out the door, and into an agent's inbox. 

If I'm honest with myself, there's something more than a preference for shiny new projects at work here. It's more than a little bit possible that my foot-dragging has to do with a lack of confidence. The longer a project sits, the easier it is to focus on its flaws and run, in self-defense, toward shiny new objects, spending as much time as possible with them before their shine wears off. And, in a world where there are exponentially more authors than agents and a lack of response is the default, I've been greeted with deafening silence on the few occasions where I've gotten brave and tossed my submission into an agent's ring. 

So, this morning, I got up with an alarm (no small feat if you know me) to be at my keyboard when the first session dropped. 

It was amazing. And, shiny new object that it was, I immersed myself in it, even doing the homework and posting my fledgling query letter for strangers to critique, and introducing Kelsey -- and myself -- to a world outside her drawer.

K is for Kelsey. Professional organizer. Wife. Woman in transition, who wishes emotions could be organized as neatly as stuff. Character deserving of the work it will take to get her out of the drawer and out into the world. 

Wish us luck.

Once again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Take Me Back to Manhattan

 I miss Manhattan. When I 
wrote the post below, my daughter hadn't yet begun college, and I had no way of knowing our trip to Grand Central Station "just because" would be the first of many trips in which that train station played a prominent role. And that same girl who had trips abroad in her sights has since spent part of a summer in London and a semester in Ireland, in addition to side trips to other countries and a recent whirlwind jaunt through Europe with a like-minded friend.

Meanwhile, I haven’t been to NY since Covid. I think I’m overdue.

I'm a Jersey Girl but I must confess: I'm a child of the suburbs. I grew up a mere fifteen minutes from Philadelphia, but ventured across the bridge only infrequently and in the company of city-savvy friends. Relieved of the opportunity of knowing where I was and where I was going, I was free to enjoy my surroundings and all the city had to offer. 

I was in college before I grew to love New York, and it took me much longer to become comfortable there. As an adult and a parent, I was unwilling to relinquish control to someone else, and decided it was high time I got to know the city if I planned to spend time there.

As with so many other things, practice makes perfect. Our early trips to the city were on bus trips, then the train. I introduced my husband to Manhattan when we were dating, and we introduced our daughter more than a decade later. Early on, it was easy to go to the same places, to do and see the same things.

Maybe that's why my daughter took to the city so easily. Never a big fan of change, she nevertheless enjoyed the vast difference between our suburban neighborhood and Manhattan. A weekend in New York quickly became her go-to birthday request, and a Christmas without seeing the city lights seemed to be missing something.

Over time, we began to expand our horizons, discovering Bryant Park at Christmastime and finding my favorite Christmas tree not at Rockefeller Center, but at the New York Public Library. We moved past Broadway and Times Square (though most of our trips still include a show or a concert) to visit the 9/11 Memorial, the United Nations and Grand Central Station "just because." For me, each trip includes a new destination on the wish list. It's a wonderful place to visit.

Interestingly enough, in the process, we've raised a child who's unafraid to push the boundaries of her own horizons. She starts college tomorrow five hours from home -- a drop in the bucket for some kids, but not the norm among her friends -- with trips abroad in her sights and Chinese on her course schedule. It's not that she's unafraid. It's that she's not willing to let that stop her. 

Funny the things we learn from our kids.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

J is for Juggling (Genres & Projects)

 About a week ago, one of my projects was rejected again. Most of the time, I take these things in stride, but this time, it felt like a setback. This particular project keeps getting responses along the lines of "this is really good, but doesn't fit our needs at this time." 

What does that even mean? 

So, I gave myself a little time to feel sad and lick my wounds, then I got back to work.

On another project.

I write like I read, rarely settling on any one project. That is, in fact, one of the main reasons I can usually bounce back from rejection. When I'm not ready to move past the sting of an email that brings disappointing news, I can turn my attention to another project. This allows me not only to make progress, but also to remember why I write I the first place.

This time, I chose to pick up where I'd left off with my novel, for which I'd recently gotten a spark of inspiration (which always makes writing more fun). The more I lost myself in those characters, the less I cared about that other project not being a good fit for the (unspecified) needs of another publisher. 

Because the rejection came right before our school break, I had time to bury myself in multiple projects. Blogs. An article idea I'd been tossing back and forth with a magazine editor. Familiarizing myself with the workshops, editors, and agents at an upcoming writing conference.

All of this led to more ideas, including a desire to ramp up the revisions on a novel I've been revising for longer than it took me to write the darn thing in the first place. With potential agent and editor meeting on the horizon, it would be nice to finally have it finished.

Writers rarely lack ideas. What we need more of is time and, ideally, a connection with an editor or agent who's not only as excited about our ideas as we are, but who has the wherewithal to nudge them past the roadblock of "this is really good, but doesn't fit our needs at this time." 

Maybe I'll meet one of them at the conference.

Until then, I'll keep juggling my various projects. It may not be the fast track to a sale, but it definitely keeps things interesting.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Friday Feature: Literary Decisions

If you're wondering why this feature has become so sporadic, this photo says it all.

Simply put, I can't decide. Should I read, do a crossword puzzle, work on a jigsaw puzzle, or play one of my "silly iPad games"? And, yes, that's a TV Guide on top of the pile, so clearly that factors into the equation, too.

And, when books (or magazines) win out, which one? This stack represents only a fraction of the reading material that's calling out to me.

Since I took this picture about a month ago, the pile has shrunk, in part because I felt the need to downsize it. The books I routinely reach for kept their spot on the table, and I finished reading two of them (Quit and The Light We Carry) within the last week. Others were moved to nearby shelves and bins to be resumed and perhaps returned to the pile when it got a bit smaller. Two others I'm reading more slowly, by choice as I consider which new (or in-progress) books will make it to the short stack.

As I was typing this, an email dropped into my inbox, telling me I have an(other) Audible credit. While I never thought I'd be an audiobook girl (I have a  5-7 minute commute!), those titles have become a staple in my reading life, enabling me to consume more of the books I am hungry to read (or listen to), usually while doing something else, like driving, doing a jigsaw puzzle or organizing a space. 

My point is that reading, like so many other things, looks different from person to person and season to season. When I decided to make a concerted effort to not only read more, but also finish what I started, I discovered that there are many tools that can help me reach my reading goals. While I suspect that my to-be-read pile (including the virtual piles on Kindle and Audible) will always reflect a "too many books, too little time" situation, I've learned that there's more than one way to make it through that pile, and to have fun doing it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A Little Bit of Mom and a Little Bit of Dad

 In case anyone was wondering after yesterday's post, neither of Marita's parents is anything like either of mine. Sometimes, we take our characters to extremes -- of similarity or difference. I'm grateful to say that my relationship with my mom was about as far from Marita and Rosemarie's relationship as possible. 

From the time I was born, my mother tells me, I looked like my dad. These days, as middle age takes my hair strand by strand, this is perhaps increasingly true. When my friends met my dad at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, they immediately matched my temperament to my dad's as well, getting quite a good laugh at the glaring similarities between the two of us.

Then one day, a few weeks ago, my aunt jokingly called me "Joy Jr." Joy, as you can no doubt tell, is not my dad, but rather, my mom. Physically, I bear little resemblance to my mom, something I, as a mother, find patently unfair since she did all the heavy lifting for the first nine months of my existence. Still, while my looks and sense of humor are unadulterated McCabe (Dad), clearly my mom's influence is represented as well. The older I get, the more I see the myriad ways in which this is true.

This is probably a good thing, this mix of qualities--something that contributes to not just a good family joke, but to survival as well. As any parent will tell you, a shared understanding between a parent and a teen with similar temperaments is not enough to stave off the battles fought between birds of a feather. The opposite parent is quite often the one who can attract family harmony.

As an instructor of psychology, I could go on and on about nature and nurture and survival of the fittest. I could talk about family dynamics and the way we simultaneously copy and reject the lessons of our youth.

But I won't.

What I'll say instead is that I'm grateful, as both parent and child, for the blend that makes each of us who we are. From the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive, we're secretly (or, perhaps not so secretly) wishing for our kids to have that mix--her brains, his athletic skills. His math skills, her facility with language. Her sense of humor, his height.

In the end, these are the things that connect us--the shared traits and the shared experiences. They makes us a family and they prepare us to deal with those who are like us and those who are not. To develop empathy and wisdom and strength. To spread our wings, and to fly back home.

Me? I've got my mom's eyes and my dad's hair. Her sense of what a mother is and his sense of humor.   Their values, their lessons and their integrity have shaped me, as my husband's and mine have shaped my daughter. My life experience has refined that shape, for better or for worse, and, as my daughter steps out into the world, she'll be refined as well.

How about you? What shape are you? What shape do you wish you were?

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

I is for Interest

 There's an adage in writing to write what you know, and so many writers are guided by their interests. In non-fiction, this is unsurprising, and it's fair to say that most of us who write in this genre truly do immerse ourselves in topics we find interesting.

This carries over into fiction, too. Most of us find bits of ourselves scattered among our characters, whether we do so intentionally or not. In addition, we may populate our stories with characters who are familiar to us -- friends, family, colleagues, and even people we don't like very much. The fun is in mixing and matching character traits to create new, well-rounded protagonists and antagonists.

And then there's the business aspect of writing.

To take our writing to the level of publication, someone else has to be interested -- in the topic, in the characters, in the work. On one level, it's easy to understand that this is a business decision, albeit one influenced by personal tastes. Still, these projects that have arisen from our interests and, arguably ourselves, are personal. When the interest isn't there, it's disappointing, to say the least. And, when the interest is consistently not there, it's crushing. 

Which can sap a writer's interest in continuing to play the game.

The writing itself can be hard sometimes, but at least we have some element of control over it. We can rewrite, revise, change the slant, and shore up our stories' sagging middles to make our work more interesting.

But we can't make someone else like our work. And that's hard.

Writing is, itself, an interest and most writers who are in it for the long haul can't imagine abandoning our projects and our characters, despite days when that exact thought crosses our minds. Typically, something draws us back in -- a good night's sleep, a new idea, a reminder of how good it feels when the writing is going well.  

Or, perhaps, the dream of attracting interest from a reader with the power to launch our writing out into the world. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sometimes, Powering Through is the Wrong Answer

 Last year, I began trying to focus on creativity over productivity, at least when it came to my writing. I had hit a rough patch, one that left me questioning whether writing was a part of my past, rather than a pursuit I wanted to continue. My old routines weren't working, my projects weren't sufficiently inspiring, and I was struggling.

This year, I'm in a much better place, thanks in part to the February Writing Challenge I tackled last year. Funny, but I had all but forgotten about it until I began reviewing past posts for today's post. 

Sometimes, our routines are just what we need. Other times, we need to shake things up. Trying something new helped me to let go of old habits that weren't working and to replace them with new ways of doing things. I still have difficult writing days, but loosening my grip has proven to be much more effective than gritting my teeth and putting my to-do list in a chokehold. Some days, the words and motivation come. Other days, one shows up without the other -- or neither one is anywhere to be found. Last year's experiment reminded me that all that means is that I have a choice: I can power through, I can try something different, or I can let it go and remember that tomorrow is another day. 

qimono via Pixabay

Yesterday marked six days into The Writer 28 Day Word Challenge I've been doing. The word was "fizzle" and that's exactly what my writing did.

But that's okay. One of my purposes in taking on this challenge was to write every day and, just a week into this project, I've been successful in that pursuit. One day, I barely made it in under the wire, but I made it.

Another goal was to shake things up -- to boost my creativity and come at my writing from a new angle. So, when the word "fizzle" conjured up nothing useful, I went a different way, using the word as an acrostic and brainstorming as many interesting words as I could to go with each letter. I may never use them for any specific purpose, but it was fun playing with language. 

This word challenge is part of a bigger picture. This year, I'm inviting creativity in. I still have projects with finite goals, but focusing on productivity and goal-oriented writing have left me stymied and in danger of losing all the joy that writing can bring. It was time to rediscover the love of the written word that made me want to write in the first place.

So I'm doing something new. I'm investigating sketchnoting, podcasting, and word-a-day challenges, including the craze du jour, Wordle. I'm creating graphics for my Facebook group page and wrapping my writing in broader pursuits, hoping that new approaches will feed the muse, who seems to have grown tired of the steady diet of closed loop tasks I keep giving her. 

Doing something new gives us the luxury of being more playful. Stepping out of our usual tasks and stepping back from our usual targets gives us the freedom to worry less about being perfectly productive. And ironically, if past experience is any indication, freeing ourselves of the need to be perfectly productive can, in the end, lead us to approach the same old tasks with a brand new energy.

As winter persists before tiptoeing slowly into spring, I want to bring in my own sunlight. To do this, I'll be on the lookout for new creative pursuits, or opportunities to involve myself in old ones, with the common denominator being the freedom to explore and create instead of persist and finish. I'm not giving up on my finite projects; I'm just making them a part of something bigger that I hope will nourish and sustain them -- and me. 

What new thing will you try in the gray days of winter?