An Ode to Community

This week’s post is about people; namely, the people who make it possible to write and publish a book. Several authors research, write, edit, market and publish books all on their own, and that is not easy to do. It demonstrates an author’s courage, tenacity, and belief in their work despite adversity. The people who do this are amazing. I am not one of them.

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The fact that I am writing from lived experience indicates that not even my idea-generating process was a solitary one. First I had to ask permission from the people involved if I could write the book at all. Afterwards, we discussed ideas, the subject matter and my goals for the book. By talking these friends and others, I was able to work out what my vision for the project was and what I wanted to do with it. During this process, they questioned me, and those questions helped me form a mental-map of the plot and helped me to choose what aspects of the story I wanted to include and what parts weren’t necessary.

My writing process was mostly solitary, but my editing experience is definitely not. I currently have a group of people reading my work, giving me opinions and feedback on the plot and characters, as well as pointing out flaws, inconsistencies or things that are confusing that will need correction in subsequent drafts. While I still have the final word on any changes made, their perspectives on something that I’ve been deeply involved in for several months has been invaluable to me, as well as humbling. I still freak out whenever I get a new round of feedback (because criticism is hard), but I know that their comments are to make my work better and reach its maximum potential. It’s exciting that there are people who are willing to help me do that and I am grateful to them all.

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When I first started this project, I didn’t realize how group-oriented writing a book could be. So far, I’ve worked with my project accountant, a graphic artist, my beta readers, and other writers and by the time I finish my project, I’ll have worked with a graphic designer, a publisher, an editor and probably more. The involvement has been phenomenal, from my friends lived it with me to my mentor, my beta readers and my audience, who never ceases to amaze me with just how excited and encouraging you all are. I want this book to be the best that I can make it, and your belief in me helps me to strive towards that every day.

I told my mom earlier this week that, “I think, perhaps, that reading is an act of trust, and writing is an act of faith.” I wrote, hoping that someone somewhere would find meaning in my book, even if it was just the people who lived through this with me, but that isn’t going to be where this thing stops. I wish to prove myself worthy of your trust.

Thank you for your ever-present belief and companionship along the way.

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Project Status: I am still editing. Right now the goal is to cut out unnecessary words and sections while reading for continuity. I am learning new tricks as I go. It’s exciting and exhausting all at the same time.

PROCESS UPDATE: I learned that setting a specific goal (ex: 3 chapters a day) helps me to work at night, though the quality of the work is not as good as it is during the day. I also have started the “read it out loud” trick. It’s scary, but it works well.

Hacking My Process 101

This week’s focus was rewriting. After outlining the emotional arcs of my protagonists and figuring out the timeline, I understand what needs to change to improve my book. After last week’s discovery, (I don’t edit well in the dark), I decided to begin work earlier in the day to optimize editing time. I was only somewhat successful, but, thanks to my night-owl tendencies, I learned to work around the limitation… sort of.

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I started the week trying to edit the early chapters of my book. I was able to get work done, but not as much as I’d hoped, and when the sun went down Monday, I hadn’t finished my scheduled time for the day. I didn’t want to stop working without finishing my time, but I didn’t know what to do because of my mental block. Then it hit me.

One of the major decisions that I’ve made, in light of the timeline and emotional arc outlines, is to link Charlie and Sam’s experiences more closely to my own. Previously, one of the main issues in my writing was that, due to changes I’d made in my characters’ lives to make them different from the people in my real-life situation, my characters were no longer experiencing the same emotions that I had, which diminished my ability to write about them. When outlining Sam’s emotional arc, I realized an event that I experienced was informing Sam’s view point, even though she hadn’t experienced it herself. I knew I had to add that event in order for her arc to make sense.

The “event” that I am referring to is a six-month separation that my friend and I agreed to during our situation. My feelings of helplessness, combined with my determination to help, were agitating the situation and fights were breaking out between us near-constantly. It wasn’t helpful to my friend, and it wasn’t helpful to me.  We agreed to separate to give us time to heal, process, and figure out what boundaries needed to be in place for us to continue coping. The separation was hard, but I learned a lot and many of the conclusions I came to during that time inform Sam’s arc. Because of that epiphany though, I need to rewrite the last third of my book.

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I was hesitant to begin the rewriting process because I wanted to maintain the narrative flow that the “pantsing” writing style provides. But in light of my productivity problem, my new editing schedule gave me an idea: I have trouble editing after dark, but that is the best time for me to write, so my solution is to edit during the day and write/rewrite new scenes at night.

My productivity skyrocketed. I was able to edit two chapters per day (before I was doing one, and the quality would vary per chapter) and write new scenes without feeling pressured to focus on one or the other. Writing the new scenes is a bit tricky because they outside of where the story currently points, but I am creating a new foundation for my work, which is very encouraging. I am more excited about editing now, knowing that I can still be creative with this project, which inspires me further. All in all, it’s been a good week for work.

I am satisfied with my plan and will let you know how it pans out long-term.

Thank you for your support and encouragement.

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Project Status: Currently, I have edited up to chapter 8 (of 30), and I have begun the rewriting process.
Note: I am looking for a professional editor.

A Matter of Time

Recently, I wrote a post about timelines as they pertain to my book and their overall importance. This week, the focus is a little more personal.

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For the past few weeks, I have been digging into the editing aspect of my project. As expected, editing is hard. Much harder than writing, editing involves looking at all the flaws in one’s work and trying to correct them; making dialogue sound more natural, adding or removing descriptions, shedding unnecessary scenes, rewriting scenes to make them work better in the story, re-organizing or adding events to change the direction of the story. Editing is slow, precise, and involved work and I struggle with it.

It’s not so much feeling overwhelmed by the size of the project, as being unaware of the flaws in the work. Reading through my own work is less engaging than reading through someone else’s work because my mind is familiar with it and connected to it. As a result, the problems that are obvious to others tend to go unnoticed or I misunderstand the full extent of the problem. The reluctance to rewrite, due to my fear of making things worse, also stands in the way, despite knowing that I have to start somewhere. It is all rather daunting.

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These are a few issues that I’ve been facing this week as I edit, but I think my real problem is something rather mundane. The problem goes back to when I first started to write my book. I, by nature, am a night owl. When writing my book, I stayed up all hours of the night plugging away; I would sleep into the afternoon and do it all again. My mind likes to create in the evenings, and good ideas tend to after midnight, so staying up late is an easy way to catch those ideas and incorporate them into my work. Because that is the schedule that I used when I started writing the book, it is the one that I stuck to during my project hiatus and when I started editing my work. The problem is I don’t edit well in the dark.

It might seem weird that editing, for me, is a daytime activity, but I think it has something to do with the way creativity works in my brain. The sun is good for daydreaming, but the stars are a source of inspiration. I can harness the restless energy I feel at night and funnel it into my book, using it to increase my word count and productivity, but when it comes to editing, that’s not what I want. I don’t want to get words down; I want to focus on the words I wrote and refining them. I want to be looking for the flaws in the work and correct them. When I try to do this, at night, I am not as efficient.  My “night owl” nature begins to work against me because it wants to be creative and free, instead of caught up in the minutiae of the work at hand.

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Recently I edited a chapter for a colleague, and I was utterly unable to work on it after sunset. Something in my brain switched off, and I lost all motivation to work on it.   I ended up putting off the project for days before returning and finally completing it. When the sun goes down, I lack focus and a sense of space that exists in the daytime that I think is necessary for my more analytical brain. School happens during the day, so it is the time of day that I habitually devote to work, as opposed to evenings which I see as free time. I was able to write my book in the evening because writing is something that I do in my free time and enjoy, whereas editing requires more discipline and focus.

Scheduling is important, especially for your workday. Throughout my project’s timeline, I haven’t been careful about scheduling my time. I keep track of the work I do, but the timing of when the work got done was arbitrary, and until now, that hasn’t been a problem. Now I know that editing at night is not a viable option, and I hope I have the tools to be able to change my habits and improve the end product of my book.

Thank you for your company and support.

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Project Status: Editing.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Awhile back, I wrote a blog post about the experience of writing the climax of my book. I hid the post as my blog was relatively new and I didn’t want to overshare early on. By this time, I have established myself as an honest-about-my-process author, so I am opening that post up to the public. Feel free to check it out here.

The Heart To Find

The heart of a story is critical; it is the purpose of the book. Without it, a story becomes meaningless and ultimately forgettable. This week, I found the heart of my story.

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This discovery was unexpected, in that, I thought I already knew what the heart of my story was: the resilience of two girls and the courage that drives them to fight for what they want, while holding on to hope. The purpose of the story was to counter the lies that they believe and explore the value of their friendship and why it’s worth having. This is a very nebulous statement though, which is a problem I had with the research documents I was reading during my situation. It’s too broad and impersonal, which makes it hard to apply in real-life. That is the exact opposite of what I want my book to be.

I didn’t start the week trying to find the heart of my story; honestly, I didn’t think I needed to. The reason I ended up looking for it is because of James’ Patterson’s views on outlines. It’s no secret that I don’t like outlines, (a fact which has both positively and negatively affected my work over the course of the past few months), and I was more than happy to dismiss his views with little thought. But I was watching an interview about his views and near the end, he said that outlines can be used to figure out the emotional arcs of your characters which will help you write the story better because you understand the characters at play. For some reason, this stuck with me.

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Unable to shake the idea, on Monday, I sat down and wrote out the emotional arcs of the two main characters Charlie and Sam. I specified events, what they thought and felt about those events, the lies that they believe and how it affects where they are in the story and leads them to where they are going.

Having all of this written down as a list was very helpful. It highlighted where things move too quickly, where they feel unnatural, and the ways that character conversations add to each other to guide the characters’ growth. I learned that I am going to need to fundamentally change the middle of the book to obtain the emotional impact that I am going for. I am also compiling a list of scenes that must be removed to rewritten to enhance the emotional flow of the book.

The heart of my story is in the lies that the characters believe, and the way that they overcome those lies and learn the truth. The truth doesn’t solve everything, but it breaks the haze and gives my girls something to fight for, and something to believe in. I am not going to spoil what those lies are, but I think that it’s a very human to experience lies and explore the truth, and through that humanity, I can connect with the reader and write a story that can touch human hearts. That is my goal.

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I bid you hope for the future and light on your way. Thank you for joining me.

Project Status: Editing.

The Framework of Time

This week’s problem has been my timeline. I knew from the start of the book that I wanted to cover events over a year and a half time frame approximately. In order to cover that time interestingly, I incorporate time skips into my book which I use to improve pacing as I move between poignant and essential events. From a narrative perspective, it works. The only problem is the effect it has on the overall timeline.

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My goal with the first draft was to capture the emotional progression of my characters and pace that journey well. I wanted to make sure that each character had enough time to process their situations and come to various conclusions without the story seeming rushed. I wanted them to have the time to discuss their views and form full, complex perspectives that differ from character to character. Outside of that, everything else was left to sort itself out.

My “laissez-faire” attitude had somewhat disastrous effects on the life of my character Jo. Jo is a member of Sam’s friend group, and, currently, she is also a competitive gymnast. She spends a lot of her time in the novel training, and on two notable occasions, she attends competitions. Both times, Sam accompanies Jo as she travels to the meets. The second meet is pivotal as it provides an explanation for Jo and Sam’s absence on the night of Charlie’s second suicide attempt. Narratively, Jo’s competitive lifestyle plays a vital role, but when it comes to real-life timing of gymnastic competitions, Jo’s competitive season doesn’t align with the surrounding emotional states. Charlie comes to her conclusion before Jo’s competitive season would began in earnest, making it unrealistic for her and Sam to be attending a meet at the same time. Jo’s timeline doesn’t match reality, thus it becomes unbelievable. The solution to the problem would be to allow more time to pass between Charlie’s depressive episodes, but that creates more timeline ripples which tend to tidal wave as the story goes.

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One such tidal way is the school calendar. I decided to set the beginning of the book in April, as the girls are beginning to prepare for exams and it fits well with Charlie’s own sports career.  After making that decision, I made no attempt follow a school calendar, and as a result, the High School that the girls attend ends classes in mid-July, and the college they attend later that year begins in October instead of late-August. Despite the summer lasting longer than usual, the girls only have time for six weeks of activities before school resumes. Additionally, Sam and Jo are able to rent, furnish and move into an apartment all within a span of three weeks.

One of the benefits of making the timeline is that I was able to see the anachronisms, which I can now fix, but I was also able to note plot threads that appear at the beginning of the book but never eventuate. By witnessing the loose strands of my story, I can decide to either take them out completely or add scenes that will bring them to fruition, making my story stronger with a more cohesive structure.

Timelines are the structures that humans use to understand change. They are an essential part of understanding development and growth, and they help people relate to each other. Humans can instinctively tell is something is moving too slowly or quickly, and that can make it harder to empathize with a character because it makes them seem unrealistic. Details add believability and allow the reader to become more invested in the story as a whole. Currently, my timeline is a mess, but it is important to me to get it right, so as to not diminish the effect that the story could otherwise have. Life is change, and time is how we mark it; so get your timelines; it’s essential.

Thank you for your company and your continued support.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: The playlist is available. If you are interested in hearing the songs that very much lend to the atmosphere and emotions of the characters, feel free to check it out here.
Thank you for your support.

Project Status: Pre-Editing. I am tying up the last loose ends before beginning to edit my first chapter. Editing will commence next week.

The Drawbacks of Experience

*Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of suicide and slight exploration of a depressive mindset.*

This week I have been taking writing classes in order to give myself space from my work, so I have fresh eyes when I return to it. During the week, I came across a video about writing from personal experience, the crux of the video being: “no matter how similar you and your character may be, you are not your character, and your character is going to react differently than you would, even if put in the exact same situation.” This reminded me of something that happened while writing the climax of my book.

The climax of the novel is Charlie’s suicide attempt, told through Sam’s eyes as she tries to help the situation. While writing this scene, I didn’t just draw from my own experiences; I transposed them into the book. I went through conversations I’d had with my friends, the helpline operator, and the authorities and I copied it into my book almost word for word. To me, replicating my reactions seemed like the most natural way to express the emotions i felt in those moments, and Sam’s personality is similar enough to mine, that her perspective worked. The problem came when I realized that Charlie wasn’t reacting how really would.

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Charlie is a very complicated character.  She is both similar and different from my friend. They both like being with people and making them happy but Charlie, being on a sports team, is more social and team-oriented. Charlie develops depression, and she begins to isolate and focus on the more negative aspects of life. She concludes that life is meaningless and purposeless. I based her transformation on the one I observed in my friend’s life and, Charlie’s decline is evenly paced throughout the book as she steadily loses hope.

Because Charlie’s personality becomes very cynical and somewhat self-absorbed during her depression, the events that take place during and after her suicide attempt don’t make sense in the story. She comes off as too optimistic and positive so soon after a very dark episode. She is too hopeful. The reason for that lies in the setup of the real-life events.

In my own life, for various reasons, I had not been in direct contact with my depressed friend for an extended period of time before the event my climax is based on. I was kept up-to-date by mutual friends, and I knew what was happening, but I had no influence. The night of the attempt, a group of our friends was involved in trying to help; I called the helpline, another friend called the police, and we all worked together to obtain the best possible outcome. After the authorities became involved, the people who had direct contact stepped back. Our friend was in the care of professionals, and there was little more we could do. It was suggested for at least one person stay in contact with our friend, and I took the opportunity to break the silence and talk with them. Because of our previous distance, our conversation was a reunion that offered mutual joy and solace as well as giving both members things to talk about outside of the situation. We were able to reconnect, and I was able to show my support even though I was far away. That reassurance was comforting to my friend, and it helped me to accept the situation for what it was. It kept us both open-minded and positive.

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In the novel, I took steps to keep Sam absent from Charlie’s side on that night, but because of the differences between my situation and theirs, it doesn’t make sense for Charlie to react as my friend did. Charlie is a very relational person. She connects with people deeply, quickly and separation can come across as a betrayal to her. Given her situation and her fear at the time, it makes sense for her to accept Sam’s presence, but she would not have the same feelings about it as my friend did; thus she wouldn’t react in the same way. Because Charlie’s reactions would be different, so would Sam’s, thereby making the scene different.

Writing from experience is very personal and difficult. It is vulnerable to talk about things that happened to you, and it is emotionally draining to spend days and weeks reliving things that were hard to go through the first time. It is a rewarding experience and can help the writer process what happened and learn more about themselves and the situation, all while offering the reader insight and understanding into what can happen and how to deal with it, but it is important to remember: “you are not your character.” When I wrote the climax scene, I was my character, and as a result, the scene doesn’t make sense in the progression of the book. The scene takes things in a different direction than Sam and Charlie would have, thus breaking their characters. I will need to rewrite that scene. I will always have that experience in the way I lived it, and now I will need to write it in the way that my characters will live it. The idea is daunting but not impossible. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the basics.

Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope all can learn from the things that I am learning along the way.

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Recently, I have been toying with the idea of posting my playlist on my blog to show you all what songs I listened to while writing my book. It is an edited version of the one I created while I was living through the situation and I have tailored it so that different songs emphasize a character’s perspective or characterization at different points in the book.
Are you interested in reading about my playlist?
Please let me know in the comments below or via other communication methods.

Thank you for your support.

Project Status: Pre-editing phase. My focus is on taking classes and removing my mindset from the novel before I dive into the editing stage.

Getting Inspired

Inspiration is a key part of the writing process; it is important for developing ideas and themes and can provide direction for the narrative as well as purpose. Inspiration can come in many forms but it is definitely a shaping element of any story. Inspiration and passion are closely linked in that inspiration is the beginning of the story while passion is what keeps the story going, despite a lack of inspiration; both are necessary for creating an artistic work. The problem with inspiration is that it is fleeting. Recently, I have been thinking about ways that I inspire myself, and I am here to share them with you.

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My favorite form of self-inspiration is listening to instrumental music. Hans Zimmer, Koji Kondo, Michael Giacchino, John Powell, and Neil Davidge have all created works that I listen to endlessly when working on a writing project. Their differences in musical tone and style create a variety that I can tap into depending on what kind of work I am doing. If I am writing a battle scene from a fantasy novel, Davidge, Powell, and Zimmer never fail to amaze whereas I turn to Kondo and Giacchino for more calm or inspiring music. My playlist helps me to feel energized about the scene I am writing, which increases my productivity.

The concept of stepping into the scene is taken even farther in regards to this project because of something that I started during my real-life situation. During the events I used as a foundation for my book, I created a list of songs that I used to express myself. At the time, I hadn’t processed a lot of what I was going through; I used the playlist to express and explore my thoughts and feelings . I kept that playlist, and now, when I am working on the book, I listen to those songs in order to relive into those feelings. This process can be hard at times, but it always helps me to bring those visceral emotions into the present which allows me to write about them. The playlist simultaneously offers closure and clarity, and I find that it helps me to get into the proper mindset of my project.

Another thing that helps me get into writing, no matter what kind, is listening to other authors share their experiences and passions. Hearing other writers talk about a shared passion and how they express themselves through storytelling always inspires me to do the same, almost to an infectious extent. To me, sharing experiences is what writing is about, whether we’ve lived those experiences or not, and to hear other authors talk about their trials and tribulations and how they overcome or circumvented the issues always makes me feel inspired to enter the arena myself. Common interests often are a source of inspiration for me.

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Because inspiration can be fleeting, I think it’s important to find ways to stay inspired or to reinvigorate it in times where we feel like inspiration is gone. Passion can carry us through in a lot of ways because it reflects a deep love of one’s craft or interest and it can supply the grit to succeed, but I think that being inspired, even if it is unspecific, is valuable. Inspiration encourages the writer’s mind to dare and to grow and to try new things, thus making it integral to creativity.

As always, thank you for joining me on this journey. Stay inspired, Friends.

Writer’s update: Today I officially typed the words “the end” in the first draft of my novel. The first draft is officially complete. I am very excited.

Total Word Count: 151,338
Page Count: 494
Project Status: First Draft Complete

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