Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing With Kids

These birds are all saying, "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom."  BTW - their dad is probably sitting right there next to them.  (If you're a mom, you get that!)

As you know if you've followed my blog for any time, I'm a mom and a writer.  If you're a parent, you know that having kids makes everything a little (okay, a lot) harder.  Things like picking up and going to the movies with my husband now take days of advance planning.  We need a babysitter.  The kids need to be fed before we leave.  We need to get home at a certain time.  We need to give Grace her seizure meds before we leave. 

This is a lot of work.  Then, to top it all off, when we finally do get out of the house, we spend the first 30 minutes talking about the kids. 

Often, we'll be half-way through the movie and get a phone call that says we need to come home.  Right! Now!  Like the time the dog ate (and then threw up) our son's starfish.  The boy was inconsolable.  (No, the starfish wasn't alive, but that was the year he was really into starfish.  He carried around dead starfish everywhere.  Really.) 

It's the same with writing.  I sit down to write and suddenly someone is hungry (and incapable of reaching the Pop Tarts that I've placed on the bottom pantry shelf for just such an emergency.)  Someone needs their shoe tied, or their nose wiped, or to tell me that their friend across the street just said the "F" word.  (That was yesterday's crisis.) 

Obviously finding the time to write is difficult.  Sometimes I want to pull my hair out and scream, and yet, even with all of this chaos, I'm a much better writer now than I was ten years ago, before I had kids.  Some of that is time, but most of it is that I found my voice when I became a mother. 

I'm not a Hallmark Mom.  I'm not crafty or sporty.  I'm exhausted all the time.  I drive a mini-van, but I do not have little stick figure family decals on the back window.  (If I did, one of the stick figures would be sitting on his brother's chest, pummeling him, and another one would have the earbuds from her iPod surgically attached to her ears.)  Our family is loud.  And messy.  We do not have it all together. 

And yet...I didn't realize the depth of love I was capable of feeling before I became a mother.  I know, I know.  People tell you this all the time, but until it's you and your child, you don't believe it.  Having kids changed what I wrote about.  It changed my voice, and I hope for the better. 

This is what I try to remember on days when finding time to write seems as impossible as convincing my youngest son to close the door when he uses the bathroom. 

What about you?  If you're a mom or a dad, how has parenting changed your writing?  How do you fit writing into your schedule now? 

Most of all, how do you stay sane? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dream On

Source: etsy.com via Stephanie on Pinterest

One of the most wonderful things about writing is that you can do it at any age, at any stage of your life.  You don't have to be a young angsty artist living in New York to write.  You don't have to suffer great tragedy at a young age.  You don't have to be the weird kid (although I suspect that a lot of us were--still are).  You don't have to be popular. 

In fact, you don't have to be anything except willing to sit down and do the work.  To dream big dreams and then follow them until they come true. 

Next month I'll be 42.  A few months ago I traded in my contacts for bifocals.  I passed "young" a few decades ago.  And yet, here I am, still following my dream.  Still sitting down and doing this thing called writing.  And that's what makes it so wonderful.  There is no age limit for writers.  No age limit for dreamers. 

What is it you want out of life?  What do you dream about?  Don't let age (whether you're young, in-between, or older) stop you.  Dream until your dreams come true. 

One day you'll be so happy you did! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing Book Two -- Remaining True to Your Process

This is the last in my series on beginning the second book.  I promised that I would post this on Tuesday, and while it's late it is still Tuesday so I actually got it in! 

Today (or tonight) I want to talk about the thing I struggled the most with when starting my second book, and that is, staying true to my writing process.  As I've mentioned before, I don't outline.  I don't plot things out.  I just dive in and start writing. 

Mostly because writing for me is about exploring what a particular person would do in a certain situation.  My fiction in character driven, so I'll often have fully formed people just pop up in my mind.  Not all the time, mind you, but frequently enough so that I'm not surprised when it happens. 

This is good, but it often means I have NO IDEA what my story is about until I'm more than half-way finished with it.  As you can imagine, this makes editing very messy.  So messy that I resolved to do it differently this time.  I read about writers who worked with outlines.  People who made character charts and plot graphs.  People who knew what their book was about before they wrote the first word.  (Me, I know how my second book will end, but I still have no idea what happens in it up till then.  Or how to get there.  Yet.) 

I was jealous.  Surely these writers knew something I didn't.  I imagined them typing merrily away, thousands of words flowing easily from their fingers.  Everything perfectly in its place.  I wanted to be like them.  I pictured outliners as people with note cards and flowcharts.   People who could get a Tuesday blog post up on Tuesday morning.  People who planned ahead.  

In short, the type of person I am not.  In fact, the exact opposite of me. 

I am scattered and forgetful and (if I'm truthful) slightly neurotic.  I'm the kind of person who buys note cards, intending to fill them with wonderful plot points, only to forget where I've put them once I get home.  Six months later, I'll find them in the utensil drawer next to the stove when I'm looking for the pizza cutter. 

When I started Book Two, I resolved to Do Things Differently.  I would outline.  I would plan.  I would chart and graph until I had planned out every single scene in the book.  I bought note cards (and lost them).  I bought special pencils (and gave them to my youngest son so he could draw during his big brother's swim lessons--no idea where said pencils are now.)  I researched outlining methods (the only one I can remember is something called the Snowflake Method.)  I did everything I could think of to force myself to write differently.  I sat in front of the computer and drew a blank. 

Nothing came out.  Not one single thing.  Oh, I kept pushing myself.  I was convinced that if I found just the right method, I'd blossom into an outliner and everything would be So Much Easier. 

That did not happen.  Instead of getting easier, everything got harder.  My mind locked up.  I couldn't think of a single thing to write about.  This went on for weeks.  It went on until I gave up on outlining.  Until I stopped fighting my own scattered, crazy process and embraced it instead. 

As soon as I threw out all my charts and just let my brain wander, I started writing again.  And it was fun again.  Yes, it is still messy.  Yes, I'm dreading the editing process for this second book.  But this is the way my brain works.  Learning to go with my own process, and not force myself to work the way other writers do has been incredibly freeing. 

You see, writing is such an intimate experience that I believe each of us has our own process.  That process probably reflects a little bit of who we are.  Who we are is, after all, the only thing we have to offer each other.  It's what makes your writing different from my writing.  Fighting who you are is not a good thing because it masks your voice.  It hides what's special about you.  And as I've said a thousand times before, our differences make us stronger. 

More than likely, you have your own process.  Your own way of doing things.  Embrace that.  Don't try to be someone you're not.  More than likely, it won't work.  It didn't for me. 

So I'm sticking with my ugly, messy process.  It's not pretty, but it is mine, and it works for me. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Postponing a post

Obviously you noticed that I didn't post yesterday. I'm leaving for an out of town wedding and busy getting myself and three of the kids packed, etc. (Hubby and Grace are staying home.) So, Thursday's post will be moved to Tuesday. See you all then and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Writing Book Two--What to Write About?

That's the question isn't it?  You've spent all of this time developing and perfecting one idea until it shines, and now you're expected to come up with something else.  Something new.  Something different, but not too different--we have genres to worry about, after all. 

If you want to be a writer, you know you have to write more than one book (unless you're Harper Lee), but after you've finished the first one, you might find yourself wondering if you have anything else left in you.  Or maybe you have a ton of ideas, but nothing that you want to write now

Plus, let's face it, you really love your first book.  That idea was fantastic!  What if Book Two isn't as good?  What if you don't love it as much?  (I promise this will resolve itself as you dive into the next book.) 

I'm going to tell you what I did--what I'm still in the process of doing--and hopefully, it will help.  As always, remember that writing is terribly individual.  What worked for me might not work for you.  That's both the blessing and curse of writing.  There is no formula, there's only what works for you. 

Here's what I did.  As I mentioned before, my first book is Southern women's fiction with a hint of magical realism.  Yeah, it's a little odd.  So I knew my second book needed to share some similarities with the first.  It would be difficult for me to sell Book Two if it was say, an urban fantasy.  Not impossible, but difficult, and I have enough problems without handing myself more. 

Like many writers, I had several ideas floating around my head but if they didn't fit in the Southern women's fiction/magical realism category, I cut them.  I let go of about 1/2 of my ideas that way.  Not that I won't ever write about them.  I just won't write them now.  

Then I took the ideas I had left and started turning them over.  I added to them, cut things away, and in general, just lived with these ideas for a few weeks.  Eventually, one idea took over and the others faded into the background.  I'm saving them for later. 

Now, as I mentioned a while ago, I do not outline.  I get a vague feeling about a scene, or a character pops into my head, or I get really interested in a particular part of the country, but I don't really know what happens in the story.  Not yet anyway.  So I take these tidbits (sometimes it's something as small as the color of a house) and I start stretching them out.  I add more to them.  I might say, add a garden to a house, or add an injury to a character.  Sometimes this is a long process for me and sometimes it's not. 

Let me try to explain it this way.  It's a bit like playing with Legos.  I have a general idea about something and just start putting blocks together.  I have one block, and I build onto it until I have a shape I like.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't, but I keep mashing blocks together until I have something that feels like a book. 

One thing I do try to keep in mind during all of this craziness is that I try to combine seemingly incongruous things.  For example, I mentioned around Christmas that I want this second book to have an Edward Scissorhands meets The Yellow Wallpaper kind of feel.  These two things do not match, but juxtaposing those two stories creates a sort of whimsical madness that I find endlessly interesting. 

I'm not there yet with Book Two, but because I know the genre, the feel, and have some basic images, I'm getting there.  If I know how I want a book to feel, I can nudge it along in that direction until I'm satisfied.  It's very time consuming and maddeningly vague.  I realize this.  I know some of you were hoping for a step by step guide to finding a book idea, but I don't think that exists. 

Good luck & happy writing!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writing Book Two -- Getting Started

As promised on Tuesday, today's post is going to be about mentally switching from one book to another.  This might not seem like an issue.  And honestly, I didn't think I'd have any problem with it at all.  Boy was I wrong!  But when you've spent months or years immersed in the world of one novel, it's not easy to jump into a new one. 

I struggled with this.  After I turned in my edits to my editor, I took a few days off to just relax.  I figured this would be enough of a transition between books.  I worked in the garden.  I caught up on all of the chores that I let go while editing.  I was in general, a normal, sane person.  This did not last for long.  I don't know about you, but I need to write.  I need the routine of putting words on paper to feel like myself.  (And this wasn't a long break--maybe a week.) 

The problem was, every time I sat down to work on Book Two, I was mentally comparing it to Book One.  And at this stage, Book One seemed sooooo much better.  It took me a while to figure out that of course Book One seemed better.  I was at the end of years of work.  That world and those characters were comforting and familiar to me.  I didn't know much at all about Book Two.  Of course it was uncomfortable. 

I had to do was stop comparing the two books.  It really isn't fair to put a finished (almost) book up against a brand spanking new idea.  Especially if you're like me and your ideas tend to be vague, half-formed things at first. 

To stop comparing the books I did a few things.  First, I read.  A lot.  I went to the book store and if something looked interesting, I picked it up.  I read widely and outside of my genre.  I read just for the pure joy of immersing myself in someone else's work. 

I read while I'm writing, but not as much and at a much slower pace.  So spending this time just reading was incredible.  It helped me relax and clear my mind.  I came away motivated to work on Book Two, and when I sat down in front of the computer, the words flowed. 

The second thing I did was probably the biggest help.  I started researching Book Two.  Now this might seem like a sensible thing to do, but I'm a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl.  I like to sit down and start typing.  But I didn't know enough about my world so I got stuck.  Which made me anxious.  Which made me think I was a hack.  Which led me right back to Book One is soooo much better than Book Two.  (And don't even get me started on that whole sophomore book curse thing.  Gah! as if we don't have enough pressure!)

I took a step back and looked at what I knew about my story.  I knew where I wanted it take place.  I knew the male and female protagonists and a few minor characters.  I also knew what magical element I wanted to introduce in to book.  Not a lot, but that's what I had.  I had no idea what actually happened in the book, but then plot is almost always the last thing that falls into place for me. 

I started by researching the setting.  For me that means the actual land (trees, plants, hills, valleys, etc.).  I need to know the land because I think we are influenced by the ground upon which we stand.  A person raised in wide open spaces will think differently from someone raised in the mountains. 

As I was researching the setting, I would find neat little tidbits like local customs or superstitions.  If it was interesting, I made a note of it and then researched that.  Often, these rabbit trails led to really cool things that I added to my notes.  Sometimes they were dead ends, but even researching the dead ends helped me focus on Book Two.  Essentially, I began immersing myself in this new world I was creating. 

After the setting, I moved on to the characters.  I started thinking about them and how they interact with the land.  How they were shaped by circumstance and place.  Gradually, Book Two began to occupy more space in my mind and thinking about it became easier. 

Finally, one more thing I did that might not apply to you, but it sure made a difference to me, and that is I set a writing schedule and I stuck to it.  With my kids out of school for the summer, my writing time has diminished drastically.  As I said before, I'm someone who needs to write to feel normal.  Having a schedule in place allows me to be present with my kids without worrying about how I'm going to cram in some writing time later.  I don't have as much writing time as I do when they're in school, but it is sufficient.  And it helps me stay focused.  

I hope this has helped.  Remember, what worked for me might be different for you.  Research has been a huge help for me, but it might be distracting for you.  The key is to find what works for you and then do that no matter what someone else says. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Starting the Second Book

Last week I mentioned that I was going to start talking about working on the second book while waiting to hear back on the first.  I'm going to get to that in a minute, but first a programing note.  Since it's summer and the kids are all home, I'll only be blogging on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  If something important happens (you know, like the first book sells!) I'll break form and update you immediately, but for the next few weeks I'm a little swamped so it's twice a week blogging for me. 

Now, on to today's post.  Tackling the Second Book.  Let me tell you that this isn't easy.  First of all, the first book is still rattling around in your head.  It's not as if you write The End and then flip a switch and dump out everything you've created over the past year(s).  Honestly, I stumbled around for a bit before I really got in to Book Two.  And then the kids got out of school and everything fell apart. (You parents understand!) 

Second, you have to answer the question, What do you write about?  This might seem easy, but it's not so clear.  Take me for example.  I write Southern fiction with a bit of magical realism.  My first book is set in Kentucky.  It might not make sense for the second book to be set in Canada or Brazil.  From my understanding, your second book should be different, but not too different from your first.  That's a hard thing to figure out.  And something I'm still working on. 

Third, if like me you write without an outline you've gone from the relatively ordered world of your first novel to complete chaos.  This threw me for a loop and for me, it's probably the thing I struggle with the most. 

So this is what I'm going to talk about for the next three blog posts.  On Thursday, I'll go over how I made the mental switch from Book One to Book Two.  On Tuesday I'll tackle figuring out what to write about.  And on the following Thursday I'll talk about remaining true to your writing process. 

Keep in mind that this is just what's working for me.  What works for you might be completely different.  That's both the beautiful and frustrating thing about writing.  Until Thursday....

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coolest Elevator Ever!

Well, summer is in full swing at the Knipper household.  The kids are out of school and the house is in disarray.  Those of you with kids know what I mean.  Instead of writing all day I'm carting them to swim lessons and breaking up fights between my boys.  Right now they're supposed to be upstairs cleaning their room and instead they're singing to the cat.


However, despite my current chaotic life, I was able to return to the Best Library Ever and snap a picture of the elevator. 

It says, "Express To 11 & 12 / Library - 11th Floor."  A private elevator for a library.  I still can't get over it.  (Okay, I'm easily amused.)

Anyway, I've been trying to think up a new blog series, and I think I've finally got something I want to tackle.  Next week I'm going to talk about the difficulties in starting the second novel while waiting to hear back from editing on your first.  At first glance it doesn't seem like this would be hard, but trust me, it is.  At least for me. 

So have a great weekend and I'll be back on Monday!