How Many Unfinished Novels Do You Have?

This past weekend, I hit a wall with my current novel-in-progress. I’m not sure what it is, only that I lost the love of writing it.

This has happened to me before. And I knew I had two choices.

1. Power through! 

2. Close the document and write something else.

Nine times out of ten, I choose the former. I am a big proponent of perspiration trumps inspiration.

But last weekend, I chose the latter.

Why?

Because there was another story I set aside a little while ago—and it was calling to me. Like, interrupting my sleep. It wanted me to work on it. In a way my YA Fantasy didn’t. And so I answered the call.

I used to be a big proponent of “finish what you’re working on”. That is, until I spent five years working on one story that’s still not ready for publication. And until I stopped midway through a draft of something else to produce my second story, which is the one I’m the most proud of and is largely considered to be my best work (by the 6 readers who’ve read all 2 of my works).

Because it was calling to me.

Sometimes you just gotta answer that call.

Which got me thinking about just how many manuscripts, finished and unfinished, that I have, and wondering whether or not this is normal.

I have:

1. The YA Mystery aka The Chateau Story In which a brother and sister move to a mysterious chateau in France after they’re orphaned and have to figure out the massive family secret. The aforementioned languished-on-for-5-years novel. Finished! Except not really because it needs to be fixed. I feel like I need a decade of distance from it to figure out how. This one isn’t so much abandoned as taking a breather.

2. Its sequel. Which I actually really like, but I need to fix the first one before I finish the second. Abandoned after six months. I actually can’t wait to return to this one. It may be better than the first.

3. The Only Non-YA aka The Cousin Story In which cousins who don’t know each other inherit a house and have to live in it together. I loved the beginning of this. Multi-POV from different ages and sexes, everyone with their own set of problems. Then I realized I had no idea where to take it. There wasn’t enough tension. A guy in my critique group was pushing for some cousin-romance, which is all fine and good for other writers, but I’m not really into incest. Ew. Abandoned after a few months.

4. The YA Journal aka The Paris Story In which I took my actual high school journals from my trip to Paris and attempted to turn them into a YA novel. I switched it from journal format to regular format then back again. I struggled with making the characters different from the actual people I knew in high school. Abandoned after a few months, to write…

5. The YA Contemporary aka “Swim” This one has a name! In which a girl moves back to Jersey for a summer and has to face the demons of her past. The only book I’ve really finished. Currently in its (hopefully) last pass before being sent out to be queried.

6. The YA I-don’t-know-what aka The Island Story This one started as a dream, which is so cliche, as is the idea–strangers on a deserted island falling in love. I woke up one day, wrote thousands of words in a fit of inspiration, then realized this idea is probably crap. Abandoned after two days.

7. The YA Contemporary #2 aka The Play Story In which a girl cast out of her group of friends joins the stage crew of the high school production of Hamlet. I really like this one, though it gets deeply personal for me. Which is probably why it was abandoned after only a month. But also why I just picked it back up.

8. The YA Fantasy aka The Ugly Girl Story I think my problem here was doing what I know not to do and starting with theme. I wanted to write about a girl who wasn’t pretty dealing with the consequences of that in an unfair world, but a medieval world where the unfairness is way worse. It’s gotten really convoluted and difficult. Abandoned after six months, but I really really hope to pick it back up someday.

Not pictured: My dozens of ideas jotted out in my Ideas document and on the Ideas Note of my phone. (But ideas are a dime a dozen.)

So that’s me. How about you? I’d love to hear that I’m not alone in my reckless abandoning!

Image found here

 

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Traveling on the Cheap

One of the most frustrating things to me is when I expound the virtues of travel, hearing people say, “I wish I could afford it!”

Now usually these people I’m talking to are not homeless people, or single parents, or people with staggering medical debt. I’m not talking about the people with valid financial concerns. I’m talking about people like me, with a moderate income—or even people like how I used to be, a student with very little income.

Because these people are under the misconception that traveling requires riches. Sure, if you’re going to stay in a 5-star hotel, eat at 5-star restaurants, and take black cars everywhere. You can drop a ton of money on travel. But you know what else you can do? Travel on the cheap.

Traveling on the cheap comes with its own hardships, but also its own rewards. It’s  something that I believe everyone should do at least once. Here’s how:

1. Cheap transport Step one, leave the USA. Flights are cheaper elsewhere. Step two, have a flexible itinerary. Step three, use public transportation, not cabs (but watch your stuff!) I know navigating a new metro system can seem daunting at first, but really, I’ve yet to encounter one I couldn’t figure out, and I have a terrible sense of direction.

Step four, check to see if any youth or student or teacher discounts are offered. I voyaged happily around France using my Carte 12-25 for nearly a year, paying half price on every train trip I took (my friend, who was 28 at the time, did the same–they don’t always check your age.)

2. Cheap accommodations Hostels, hostels, hostels. I’ve yet to do a post about my favorites, mostly because I’m afraid they’re no longer there and that will make me sad. I know that people who’ve never stayed in a hostel have visions of bedbugs and dirty bathrooms. I’ve never encountered the former, but have encountered the latter. The key is research. Fortunately, a thing called the internet makes this possible.

And when hostels aren’t a possibility and/or you’re just not into it? Travel in a group and squeeze. The number of times in my youth I’ve shared a single bed with a non-significant other or had to wander innocently through a hotel lobby and pretend I wasn’t staying there to throw off the management who had a per-person limit to their rooms … ah memories. Also, there’s this thing called AirBnB now, which may be the most awesome thing to happen to travel since the internet.

3. Cheap eats Street carts. Grocery stores. Traveling doesn’t always mean eating in restaurants every night. Of course it’s nice to go to a good restaurant in a new city, and when I was poor I made it a point to go out to at least one nice dinner per city. But the rest of the time, I cooked for myself. (This is where hostels and AirBnBs save you even more money.) Pasta and tomato sauce, baguettes, blocks of cheese–whatever’s cheapest, buy it, make it, get some cheap booze to go with it. You’re still sampling the local fare, you’re just preparing it yourself.

4. Freebies and discounts Use your aforementioned student/youth discounts at museums. Or look up when their free days are and go then. Or skip the museums and go to parks. Wander. You don’t have to go up the Eiffel Tower just because everyone’s doing it. (Confession: I hate going up the Eiffel Tower. It’s much nicer to simply wander the Luxembourg Gardens with a bottle of 99 centime wine.)

Is it nice to travel when you’re not poor? Of course it is. It’s nice to have a hotel room to yourself, to put your luggage in the trunk of a cab instead of lug it up and down the metro stairs, to eat a prepared meal instead of lining up behind five people for your turn at the stove at the hostel. But I wouldn’t trade my traveling-on-the-cheap experiences for anything. They were mostly good*. I made new friends. I learned new things. I had new experiences.

And that’s what traveling is all about.

*And the things that weren’t so great? They make good writing fodder 🙂

Image of the Chateau de Villandry taken by me in Villandry, France, December 2015

I Need To Come Up With A Better Title For This Series (suggestions welcome)

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I’m writing this on my deck in the middle of a lovely cloudy day off which I’ve dedicated to catching up on my writing. So just time for a brief recap of the week (yes, I stole that line.)

Yes, please.

We need to stop asking women writers these questions.

I have yet to do either of these things, but I love this analogy.

They should just put me in charge of these things.

And no link here, just a plea for help: what do you do when your skin suddenly gets horribly dry?

Reading: Thisfinally, and I’m only about a quarter of the way in but so far, I dare say, I think it’s better than the first.

Writing: Finally got my YA fantasy under control. Finally at the First Plot Point (Antagonistic forces fully comes into play, defining the goal, stakes, and obstacles for the protagonist; first time the meaning and implication of antagonistic events are seen.) I just need more time to work on it.

Watching: Finished this and am having withdrawal. I think this place needs to be in my not-so-distant travel plans.

Listening to: the same stuff I always am. I really need to expand my horizons.

Cooking: This is SO GOOD.

Image of the view from my deck, taken by me, on a not-so-cloudy day

The Worst Kinds of Articles on the Internet (and why you shouldn’t read them)

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I recently discovered a new favorite writer. Beautiful writers elicit two reactions in me:

1. I get so happy that in our increasingly more disturbing world, there are still people out there that have the talent and take the time to create such beautifully told stories.

2. I despair slightly that I will never be as good a writer as they are.

Probably another one of those twenty-something writer prodigies, too, I thought to myself. And then I read more about Laini Taylor and found out this:

She finished writing her first book at age 35.

I can’t tell you how happy this information made me.

Lately I’ve been suffering from something that could be loosely termed as a third-life crisis. Like a quarter-life crisis, just five years later. Because I haven’t published a book yet, because it feels like everyone at my new job is a fresh-faced recent college grad, take your pick.

Also, there’s the internet. I feel like I’m constantly being bombarded by those lists. You know the ones: “30 Things You Should Have Done By The Time You Turn 30” or “30 People Under 30 Making More Money Than You Ever Will”.

I hate these lists.

Why?

1. They’re designed to make you feel crappy. If you’re under 30—you’d better hurry up and get this stuff done or else your life is a failure! If you’re over 30—look at how little you’ve done with your life compared to these uber successful people!

2. They highlight the exceptions—not the rules. In the same way watching TV can make you feel like all women are beautiful, skinny, and with this kind of hair, reading only success stories can make you feel like all people are successful when they’re young—except you.

3. WHY DOES IT MATTER?

I mean, yes, it’s impressive when someone young achieves something that others have spent years working on. And most of all, achieving success at what you want to do at a young age generally provides you with the resources to continue doing it. And I think that’s what gets me the most; that I still have to have a day job. Even though it’s one I actually like now, I still can’t spend several hours a day writing my novel, which means I’m not getting the practice, which means I’m that much further away from my eventual goal of becoming a traditionally-published novelist.

But it’s important to remember that when you read a really great book–that this book, with a few exceptions, probably would not have been possible had this person who wrote it not toiled away for however long. Or in other words stop comparing your works in progress to other people’s finished drafts. (I need to tattoo this on myself, apparently.)

I think one of the most important articles I’ve ever read in life is this one by Malcolm Gladwell, on late bloomers. You really should read it, but in case you’re lazy, it talks about two writers–one who achieved success at nineteen, the other at forty-eight–and Picasso and Cezanne, who had a similar discrepancy. It’s widely agreed-upon that Picasso did his best work in his twenties, while Cezanne’s best are judged to be the ones he did in his seventies.

I like this article because it doesn’t judge. Of course there are different ways to be creative in this world. If everyone followed the same path, can you imagine how boring the output would be? There would be no more art.

I know I’m edging more and more toward the late-bloomer camp–and I really need to learn to be okay with that. I like the work. I like the hours I spend toiling away at word-smithing. My biggest problem is that I don’t have time to do more of it. It’s only when I start listening to those silly “30 under 30 lists”, start comparing myself with others, that I lose sight of all of this.

In closing: stop writing 30 under 30 articles. And stop reading them. You do you, in your own time, and let me do me in mine.

Image found here

The One Thing I Don’t Give Up For My Writing

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A while ago I shared this list of the things I do and do not sacrifice for my writing. Today I wanted to dig a little deeper into one of those.

Most notably: on why I don’t sacrifice my friends and family for my writing.

This past weekend I was faced with an all-too-common writer’s dilemma: to stay in and write, as I’d planned, or to go out with a friend I don’t get to see often, who’d unexpectedly come to town?

I read quite a few other writing blogs, and on more than one occasion, I’ve come across advice that goes something like, “to be a writer, you must become a hermit. Sacrifice your social life. Your time is for writing.”

I’d like to offer another perspective on this.

Look, the hermit’s life did work for some writers. Take Emily Dickinson. She famously shut herself in her room and shunned society to write. Thoreau had Walden Pond. There are other examples out there too, I’m sure, though at the moment I can’t think of them.

And then there were writers like Hemingway. He famously lived a wild life,  from going to war, to wandering around Paris and Spain, to marrying over and over again, trying to collect as many experiences as possible. Because he wanted to be able to write about life, in all its richness, as authentically as possible.

And when it comes to my write-life balance, I fall very firmly in the Hemingway school of thought.

I’m not about to join the army or become a philanderer or start bull-fighting in Spain. Because writing about those things doesn’t particularly interest me.

You know what does interest me? People. Relationships between people. Be they familial or romantic or friendship-based or best of all, something murkier.

When I was younger (read: a naive teenager) I used to wish I was one of those people who’d meet their soulmate right away and live happily ever after. That didn’t happen. And I’m so grateful it didn’t. Because then I never would have had any of the failed, messy, complicated relationships and friendships that make up the heart of a lot of the things I write about now. My writing wouldn’t be authentic.

I’m not saying you can’t write outside your own experiences. You absolutely can, and should, and I do. All the time. I’ve never been kidnapped, or orphaned, or been seduced by a prince (I know you’re surprised by that last one), and these things all happen in my writing. But I have felt scared, felt alone, fallen in love. I draw on the things I know to get to the things I don’t. And I wouldn’t know about these things if I shut myself up in my room. I needed to go out and experience them.

In order for me to be able to write authentically about relationships between people, I need to, you know, have relationships with them.

So the reason I sometimes choose to go out and live life over staying in and writing about is simply that for me, life is fodder for writing. Yesterday I did go out and meet my friend instead of staying in. And you know what? We got into a really interesting conversation about her job that sparked an idea for a future story.

How about you? Are you more of an Emily Dickinson or a Hemingway? Why? I’d love to hear your perspective on this…

Image found here