On The Writing Process (Blog Tour Post)

Let me start off by thanking Matthew Wilbur, one of my #WritersRoad friends, for inviting me to post this as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. Check out his blog at nightveil.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @Nightveil. He’s cool.

So now I’m supposed to talk about what I do as a writer and why and how and all that. Since I have no idea what I’m doing, really, this should be fun.

1. What am I working on?

My current work in process (or WIP) is a YA (teen) fantasy set in a world where history and myth have become blurred to the point that no one really knows which is which. My main character has some nifty knife skills and a horse that she will do anything to protect…including maybe magic. It’s about 85,000 words (300ish pages) right now and I’m moving toward the ending, which scares me because I don’t exactly know how the ending will go at this point. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Is anyone even writing YA fantasy right now? Seems like just about everything is paranormal or urban fantasy or dystopian or steampunk or something these days, and what I’m writing is just plain fantasy, with other worlds and magic and trees and mythical creatures and that sort of thing. It’s what I love and maybe it’s not selling right now but I don’t really care. I write from a very Christian worldview, which is different from mainstream fantasy, for sure. I don’t write allegory and I try not to preach but what I believe about God and the world is my life, so of course that’s a huge part of what I write.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Writing about God and universal truth in a different world is a strange sort of experiment, and honestly, I’m attempting to write it because I thought it would be a fun challenge. It is a challenge. I hope that the end result is a faithful representation of the story that I believe we all want to be a part of: something good, something bigger than ourselves, with beauty, community, and sacrifice, and an attempt to explain the unexplainable. This is a story I believe in, and it’s the story I feel compelled to write. It has not been easy for me, but I love it.

4. How does my writing process work?

In a word, chaos. I enjoy organization and outlines but my brain just won’t settle down and follow them. I do start with an outline, which I follow more closely than I think I do, and then I revise it when I really stray. I’m on the second(ish) draft of this book but probably the eighth or ninth draft of the outline. When I started the current rewrite, I added a plot. That was a big deal. I had these characters that I loved but nothing really happened to them and they didn’t do much. Now I have things like story arcs and villains. I am very pleased with that.

To borrow an old analogy, this process has been like building an airplane in the air. Everything I read and everything I write teaches me something new about writing, so my WIP has been in this shifting state of flux for several years now. I think it keeps getting better, but it’s not good yet. I write when I have time and someone else is watching my kids. So maybe two hours a week. It’s slow going, especially when I keep going back to the beginning to incorporate changes I made because of a brainstorm I had in the shower. I’m not getting paid for this, I don’t have deadlines, and although I really want people to read it, I’m not ready for that yet. I want it to be good. I hope I will know when it is.

The Writing Process Blog Tour continues next week! Let me tell you about the friends I invited to join:

In addition to being my BFF, Ashley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel, She has been writing and leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years and cute her ministry teeth as a collegiate campus minister in her home state of New Mexico. Ashley has a Master of Arts in Family Life Education from the Oxford Graduate School and studied at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA. Find her at ashleylinne.com

Amber Stokes works in marketing services at Harvest House Publishers and writes inspirational fiction depicting the seasons of life and love. Her passion for books compelled her to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and to run her own freelance editing and publicity business for over a year. Happily, the next step in her career lies in the Pacific Northwest – a part of the world she has always considered home.

Blog Link: http://seasonsofhumility.blogspot.com/

Go check out their blogs and hunt down the other posts on the tour. This has been fun!

On Why I Hate My Novel Right Now

Yes, that’s right, I used the word hate.

I have been writing this book for longer than I care to admit. Okay, I’ll admit it: I have files from this story that go back to 2006. For those of you who don’t realize how long ago that really is, I’ll do the math for you. It’s eight years. I have been writing this story for eight years. And I’m no closer to having a finished product now than I was eight years ago. I have written, rewritten, and written it again. I have outlined it, trashed my outline, attempted to write it without an outline, realized that in writing without an outline I had forgotten to include a plot, added a plot, wrote another outline, and now I’m rewriting it again. And I hate it. On days like today, when I’m pretty sure it’s time to throw out at least half of the manuscript and start over, I wonder, “Why am I torturing myself over this? Why can’t I just write something else? Or not write at all?”

Because I can’t, that’s why. Because if I don’t figure out what this story really is, and how it develops, and how it ends, it will bother me for the rest of my life. Because in the last eight years, I’ve fallen in love with these characters, and this world, and this idea I have of writing fantasy that honors God and communicates a biblical worldview, even though no one in that world knows that the Bible exists. And just to be clear, no one in that world actually exists. It’s fantasy. But somehow, I love them anyway.

On this journey, I’ve learned a lot about writing, and a lot about myself as a writer. Most of the time, I’m not very good at this. There are moments when I think I might be able to produce a whole book that will be worth reading someday, and other moments, like today, when I think it’s impossible. It may never happen. But I’ll keep at it because maybe someday, it just might.

So for today, I hate my novel. I feel like nothing is working, and I don’t know how to make it work, and it’s probably not worth the attempt anyway. And that’s okay, because it’s not as though anyone is paying me to write it, or expecting me to actually finish it. I’m not published, I don’t have a fanbase, I have 140 followers on Twitter and a handful of people who read this blog. You are good people, by the way. Thanks for putting up with me. Anyway, I think I’m allowed to hate my novel. I’m probably allowed to delete it and start over, as I’ve threatened to do repeatedly. But instead I’ll keep plugging away, hoping to someday craft it into a real story that I can be happy with.

And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow I’ll love it again.

Have you ever felt the same way? To be honest, I need an intervention today. Yes, I am begging shamelessly for encouraging comments. We all need encouragement sometimes, and today is my day.

On Time

I have had several posts bobbing around in my head for the last month or so, and yet if you actually follow this blog you’ll know that I haven’t posted any of them. There are several reasons for that, but the main one is that I simply haven’t had the time. Or made the time, or taken the time, or whatever it is we’re supposed to do with the time that we’re given every day.

I suppose this could be a rant about being overly busy, or a whine about having two children under four, or excuses about why my house is messy and I usually refuse to clean it up, or something educational about time management or inspirational about priorities, but I don’t feel like writing any of those things. I just feel like talking about time. And writing.

We all have 24 hours in a day. I think, if we’re being honest, most of us sleep for about 6 of them. I now have an app (which drives my husband crazy) that tells me exactly how much time I spent in bed and what percentage of that time was spent in deep, restful sleep. At least, that’s what I think the percentage is. Honestly I really don’t know, except that the higher it is, the better I slept, supposedly. Sometimes it’s as low as 47% and sometimes it’s as high as 88%. I do know that out of the last 36 nights, I’ve spent 1.4 weeks in bed. So maybe that’s why I haven’t been blogging. I’ve slept for a week and a half.

When I’m not sleeping, I spend lots of time doing lots of other things, and lots of that time wishing I were writing instead. I have many roles in life, the primary ones being a Christ follower, wife, mother, and friend, but when I think, “who am I?”, what immediately pops into my head, almost every time, is: a writer. Not that I think any of the other things are less important. In fact, I think they’re immensely important, certainly more important than this little writing thing that I do whenever I get a spare hour or two, usually only once or twice a week. I spend much more time feeding kids, changing diapers, answering the deep questions of life presented by my almost-four-year-old, texting friends, reading my Bible, tweeting, talking to my husband, cooking, driving, going to church, running errands, and even grocery shopping, which I abhor. So then I ask myself: if I spend so much more time doing other things, why do I identify myself as a writer? I don’t really even make any money at it, maybe $1000 in my whole life.

The simple fact is, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve stated this before (This Is Who I Am) so I’m not going to labor the point, but when I think about me, just me, apart from anything else I’ve ever done or ever been, I am a writer. Whether I do it full-time or for one or two hours a week. It’s my identity. Would I like to spend more time at it? Sure. Do I have to do it full-time in order for it to be truly who I am? No. At different seasons in my life I believe God has called me to set aside writing for a time in order to focus on some other role or calling, and that’s just fine. Because ultimately my identity is in Christ and who He has called and equipped me to be. Writing will always be a part of that, but meanwhile, I have other things to do. I have years of my life to spend sleeping, after all.

Some day, I think it would be nice if I am able to spend enough time writing that when other people think of me, they think “She’s a writer.” Maybe even a good writer. But if what they think instead is, “she’s a mom,” or a wife, or a good cook, or a friend, that’s just fine too.

Who are you? What do you spend the most time doing? Are you okay with that?

On Plot Wrangling

There are times when writing is fun. When the words just flow, the story seems to write itself, and characters take on a life of their own. When I can pound out 1000 words in 45 minutes or less, when whole chapters come together in the space of a day or two. When I get so into the writing that scary parts give me chills, funny parts make me laugh, and poignant moments bring me almost to tears.

Then there are weeks like this one, when it seems like nothing is working, when I stare at the screen for what feels like hours (it’s not – I never have whole hours to sit and stare at the screen), and I think I may never finish this book. And even if I do, it will probably be crap. This week, I’ve hardly written a word but I’ve spent all this mental energy wrestling with my plot. I’ve rearranged scenes, added them, deleted them, thought of new ideas and rejected them, asked questions that may or may not have answers, and at the end of all that, I’ve decided I should just stop wrestling with this book and go back to writing it. It is in the writing that I find my voice.

Here is something I’ve learned in life: Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you should. If there is anything else you can do that brings you joy and gets you up every morning, do that. I keep coming back to writing because I love it, but also because I have to do it. Sometimes I think it’s going to drive me crazy, but really, it keeps me sane. I don’t get paid for it, and I may never get paid for it, but I’m learning that it is one of a few things I have to do every day to stay grounded. Spending time with God, reading my Bible, praying, having spiritual conversations with others, and … writing. If I don’t, I regret it. So I guess what I’m to say is that no matter how many times I have to chase this plot down and tie it up, I keep at it because, well, I have to. And because there really isn’t anything else I’d rather do when I grow up.