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Category Archives: Personal Experience

Writing Through Crisis With Guest Author Amy Freeman

Jax and Me

 *This Friday, we begin our first ever Hugs and Chocolate workshop. Tonia Harris will begin with a look at dialogue. But for now, we’re excited to introduce you to author Amy Freeman and her inspiring writer’s journey.

“You should write a book, but no one would believe you.”

I cannot tell you how many people say this to me when hearing about my life. I can think of three right now without even trying. But what most of these people don’t realize is that the degree of challenge in my life is not that uncommon. I know many people whose lives rival my own. Some far more challenging than mine ever was. Trial is a part of life, and each hardship is relevant to the individual enduring it. But how we come through it can be unique. It was during my own living hell that I managed to write my first publishable novel.

 Picture this. I was living in Florida at the time with my husband and five children. Writing was a luxury I abandoned years before to care for a disabled son and chase two teenage daughters around in the middle of the night. Somewhere in the mayhem the idea for my book pushed its way through the chaos and I began to write. I had forgotten how much I loved it. I escaped into my newly created world, becoming part of it, loving my heroes and loving to hate my monsters.

 About a month in, three major events fractured the bliss. I received a call from Orlando informing me that my oldest daughter had just been arrested and put in jail for driving on a suspended license. She bolted for New York with a friend two months prior to avoid jail time. The panic I felt when I received that call from South Carolina is not one of my fondest memories. She had come home for Christmas. She was arrested New Year’s Day. Two and a half hours away from any family, she sat in a cell. She was terrified. So was I.

 Not long after that my younger daughter, who was pregnant and also two hours away, called in tears because her friend’s mother was using drugs in her home and her boyfriend wouldn’t ask her to leave. We made the drive and brought her home to live with us. She was about two months away from delivering.

 The final blow came when our 17-year-old disabled son made a turn for the worse. Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare seizure disorder stunted his mental development early in his life, allowing him to function at no more than a five-year old level. Behavioral aggression is a common element of this syndrome, but never before had it escalated to events we couldn’t handle. Out of nowhere he became more violent, harming himself and others. We found him injured in the morning on more than one occasion as he would get up in the night, wandering in an incoherent fog until a seizure would bring him down. He wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t medicate. After bringing in a nurse during the day wasn’t enough we began an excruciating, year and a half long search for a facility to care for him…end scene. Whew!

 This all occurred at the same time. I dare say life couldn’t have been more complicated and frightening, but somehow a book came through it all with me, one entirely unrelated to the chaos pulling me down. “How in the world did you stay on task?” people ask. It’s a great question. I wonder myself sometimes. But honestly, writing my novel through the mayhem is partially what kept me sane. It truly was an escape for me. I would come home from work, do what had to be done, fight some battles physically and emotionally, and then I would retreat to my make-shift office, close the door and jump into another world. For those few hours every day I was able to set aside the panic, helplessness, frustration and sadness. I was able to go somewhere else and let the characters I created entertain and sooth me. There wasn’t a lot I could do about my current situation. I had to keep going. I had to take the blows and continue picking myself back up. Writing sustained me (and probably added depth to my characters!)

 We all find ways to deal with heartache, fear and pain. Some people exercise, some meditate. Other’s drink themselves into oblivion. I suppose with a side dish of constant prayer, when I feel overwhelmed by the world, I write. It’s a productive coping device, and if you can convince yourself to set an impossible situation aside for a while, knowing you are doing all you can do, it is healing and rewarding to know you successfully created something in the middle of the storm.

Amy Freeman has spent a lifetime building stories. She grew up in Salt Lake City in a family of five siblings, a conservative father and a highly entertaining mother. She spent most of her time daydreaming against her will, in class, at home, while she slept…wherever really. She holds a degree in Criminal Justice. She loves music, ballet, and ghost stories. She has lived in Wisconsin, Nevada and Florida. Five children have blessed her life and one grandchild thrills her beyond words. She has a fantastic, supportive husband and an identical twin.

Her stories revolve around the supernatural, the elusive but possible, and the potential of the human spirit. She wrote a stellar screen play at ten, her first full length book at age thirteen, with her second and third following at nineteen. She has since written two more that she plans to publish this year.  For more info go to her site: http://vedunywriter.blogspot.com

Contact Info:

Email: amyloufreeman@gmail.co

LinkedIn: Amy Freeman

Face Book: Amy Sipherd Freeman

Twitter: AmyVedunyWriter

Google +: Amy Freeman

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Performance Pressure and the Diamond in the Manuscript

20130125-172029.jpgHave you ever finished writing a manuscript, and after months of blood, sweat, and tears, you realize that even after all that work, your story doesn’t look at all like you imagined it in your head? In fact, after a second glance, you’re sure a toddler temporarily overtook your brain and scribbled 400 pages of crayon doodles? Of course you have…you’re a writer. You’ve probably felt that way about everything you’ve ever written…like I have.

Up until this point in my writing “career,” that hasn’t mattered much. Mostly my readers have been friends and writing groups. I post fiction online too but even in that venue, readers are generally pretty forgiving. Not so with publishing industry professionals. There is very little room for mistakes and if you make them, they better be small. Tiny. Miniscule. Talk about pressure.

Getting in the (Publishing) Game

Over the next couple of weeks I’m preparing for my first writing contest ever. I’m talking the big deal with two rounds, multiple judges, announcement of the finalists at the next conference, and the final round judged by editors of major publishing houses. Yeah…that kind of scary.

It’s an exciting adventure to be sure, a thrill to imagine where it could lead. The final judge for my category is an editor at Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Never before has every word, every period, and every character of my manuscript been under such scrutiny. Sometimes the anxiety to get it all right leaves me panic stricken. I only get one chance to put my best work in front of this woman who could potentially be my gateway into the holy land.

Previously, I’ve never had a reason to get this far into the process of editing. I guess I always imagined entering the chaos of the publishing world as something that would happen way down the road. Like, way down. I’ve taken my time, learning more about this, fiddling with that, but after five years of writing, getting critiqued, editing, and dreaming, it’s time to dive in, sink or swim. So despite my fear, I’m going through the first 20 pages of my manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve re-understood my characters, re-worked motivations, re-invented the details, and rewritten this novel so many times that I have more loose ends than the hem of grandma’s skirt.

Upping the Ante

Before I started this final-for-now edit, I had a long brainstorming session with my writing partners and nailed down what was working and what wasn’t, for better or worse. The time for flip-flopping has come and gone. And now, with that focus in mind, I’m sifting out the dirt and looking for the gems. And you know what? They are there. Actually, never before have they shined brighter. And I don’t think anything less than the pressure to perform at my best would have gotten me here.

I’m the ultimate perfectionist at heart, especially when it comes to my writing. I think every artist is that way. But putting myself in this position has taught me that I know more than I ever realized about who I am as a writer, what I want to bring to this ever expanding sea of literature, what my writing voice sounds like, what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, and what process works best for me. The deadline and the stakes have forced me to stopped questioning myself and realize the truths that were already there, clouded by the uncertainty an unlimited time frame allows.

Get Out There

Do it. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think you’re ready. Guess what–just like getting married and having kids–you’re never going to be ready. You learn as you go. Underneath all those scribbles is your story, and as soon as you trust yourself enough to find it, you will. Make the decision. Raise the stakes. And watch yourself rise to the occasion.

What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Or, what deadlines are you working toward? What steps have you taken that have forced you to grow as a writer?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

 

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Improvisation and the 1st draft

At the end of last year I read my very first autobiography. I don’t read these kinds of books, most specifically because I like my reading to be as fictiony as possible. It’s basically the same reason I shy away from contemp novels too. I’ll make exceptions if the back copy and buzz really catches my attention, but other than that I tend to stay away. Give me as improbable as possible and I’m sold.

Anyway. The book I read was Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants, and in it she talks about The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*. I read this section and was struck by how applicable is to writing first drafts/plotting/outlining/writing new stories.

I want to share those rules with you, with my take on it and slightly altered fWordleor the writer.

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.

Type improvisation into a word document, right-click on it, select Synonyms. It’ll give you things like creativeness and inventiveness. And isn’t that exactly what writing is, being creative and inventing stories and worlds and people and situations. When you decide to write, you agree to do all these things, and it’s the greatest thing in the world. You say yes to your idea. You say yes to giving it your all. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that’s expected of you: to do your best to write a good story and give it the best chance possible.

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but to say YES, AND.

With improv you’re supposed to agree and then ADD something extra. With writing I like to think we agree to write, and then attempt to blow it out of the water. We write. AND we aim to do it well. We aim to do our stories justice. We say yes, and while we’re at it we’ll learn. To plot better. To write better. To be better. Every time. Don’t just limit yourself to writing a story. Write a story AND tell a story.

The next rule is to make STATEMENTS.

Write your 1st draft and be confident in it. Write and make bold statements, even if you do it in a quiet, unassuming way(yes, that is possible). BE CONFIDENT in what you’ve chosen to write about, and if you’re not, make yourself so. Make statements in your story, because if you and your characters believe it, your readers will too. There will be plenty of time to worry about your writing later. When you draft, revel in it. REVEL. It’s an experience you’ll never have again. One of the reasons I like drafting, and pantsing the most of the entire writing process, is that I approach it as if I’m reading my novel for the first time. I get to make statements. I get to be surprised and discover news things. I get to revel in the newness of it.

There are NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.

Ok, sure. Your first draft will be riddled with things that need to be fixed, but not a single thing of it is/was/will be a mistake. Like the heading says, it’s an opportunity. You get to make what you have better. Be brilliant. A crappy first draft might be crappy, but you can turn it into something shiny and wonderful. LOOK AT WHAT YOU CREATED. It’s yours and it’s beautiful. You might trunk it later, but how could that ever be a mistake?

Try a little improv the next time you start something new. I’m doing it right now, and it’s exhilarating.

*Tina says improv doesn’t reduce belly fat. I am sad.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Drafting, Motivation, Personal Experience, Writing

 

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Meditation: Finding Quiet in the Chaos

Chaos“Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”

~ Herman Hesse ~

“Without patience, magic would be undiscovered – in rushing everything, we would never hear its whisper inside.”
―    Tamora Pierce,    Sandry’s Book

Everyone has their own definition of chaos. Many of us have to rip our writing time out of the day like an ingrained splinter and be thankful for it. We have jobs, kids, deadlines, and life…beautiful, crazy life. My definition of chaos is a three-year-old fighting potty-training…and sleep, two pre-teen girls who insist they are not drama queens, two part-time babysitting gigs, and two rescue pets. Oh, and the husband- the guy who learned to never ask me, “So, what did you do today?”

Yesterday, I grabbed my weekly goal list- see, I’m making those resolutions happen- and realized I had two days to edit three chapters, a messy house I’d just cleaned before our daily Tasmanian Devil paid a visit, and an overwhelming need to finish that pack of cigarettes. My husband sat contentedly in the middle of children planning to turn our living room into a UFC fighting cage, bless his heart( which is a Southern euphemism for, “isn’t he cute? I wonder if he’d notice if I took my iron skillet…”).

I longed to lose myself in revisions, which is saying a lot for me. I wanted to steep myself in my story like a bag of Lipton tea. But I would have to ignore the story’s siren song for just awhile longer. I felt that twinge of frustration tighten, then expand.

In short, Mom needed a time-out.

“I’m meditating for twenty minutes,” I told my husband. “I’ll be in the bedroom.”

He nodded and eyed the kids. They retreated to books and video games, fighting cage forgotten in a slew of couch cushions and heaped blankets I resolved to ignore until after my twenty minutes were up.

And it happened- I sat on my bedroom floor, in uninterrupted silence for twenty minutes.

Sitting in silence, letting thoughts trail through my head like summer clouds, challenges me. I prefer yoga, Pilates, or a hard, long run. All of which are beneficial, all of which relieve stress, release endorphins, and makes room for creativity and drive by clearing away the flotsam in my head.

But there’s something to breathing and being. No miracles occurred, but I didn’t spend the rest of the day chain-smoking, and I liked my husband again. I found a few minutes that evening and jotted notes for a new beginning to my story, and I felt like I was no longer trying to pull water from a dry well.

Getting Started:

I use a simple technique at the beginning of my session. I count while breathing. I breathe in for four breaths, hold for seven, then release for eight. This forces my mind away from to-do lists and other idle chattering. Meditation is simply another word for contemplation. I’m learning to look at it as a gift to myself. I’ve included links at the end to some helpful sites to getting started. Going for a walk, a run, or any form of exercise works as well.

Benefits for Writers:

* Produces beneficial change in brain electrical activity

* Decreases tension

* Leads to deeper levels of physical relaxation

* Increased control of thoughts, focus, and concentration

* Encourages development of intuition

* Improves sense of the larger picture in a given situation(plots, character arcs, etc. Oh, and real-life stuff, too!)

http://goodlifezen.com/2008/04/18/how-to-start-meditating-ten-important-tips/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/how-to-meditate_b_861295.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?3-Powerful-Meditation-Techniques-For-Beginners-For-You-to-Try-Right-Away&id=1787961

Please, share your thoughts on meditation or any new habits you want to acquire. What do you do for yourself daily to replenish your energy and creativity? How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming along?

 

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Why THE SUBJECT of your blog post IS SO VERY IMPORTANT

I’m throwing another opinion post your way. Because I can. https://i1.wp.com/mediaserver.pulse2.com/uploads/2011/10/greader-logo.jpg

When I get home after work, I make myself something to drink, and sit down to do/check my social media things for the night. It’s part of how I unwind, de-stress, and also get ready for the writing things I’ll do a little later.

My Google Reader is part of this ritual, and an extremely busy place. I follow an insane amount of blogs for various reasons, each of them providing me with something different.  Most of them have to do with the writing/publishing world, and a few others are for fun and inspiration.

Which brings me to the subject of subjects. My reader is full of awesome post. On good days I might have well over 75 unread posts, but there just isn’t time to read all of them. So I scan the subjects/headings and read the ones that tell me exactly what the post is about, if it’s something I’m interested in.

I’ve got my reader open at the moment. Right now I’ve got a total of 27 unread posts and it’s only 10:30. There’s no way I can read all of them, but I will scan the subjects.

Let me give you a few examples…

In my agents folder there’s a post about word count, I’m definitely going to read it. Another one I’ll definitely be reading is Why you should pitch a single book. Both these posts tell me exactly what I’ll be reading. If the subjects had been something like Words and Numbers and Selling Single Books, I wouldn’t even have opened the posts.

My author folder has 5 unread posts, but there’s nothing I want to read based on the subjects alone. And the thing is, I might have missed something wonderful and informative. If the subject doesn’t convey what the post is about, I’m probably not going to read for the simple reason that I just don’t have the time. You have to make me want to read it. Throwing out fancy, thought-provoking titles don’t always work. If your goal is to get readers and comments, get to the point.

In my writing/publishing folder I just found a post titled Alternative Meanings for Names of Senses. YES! The people at Daily Writing Tips ALWAYS get right to the point with their post subjects, and I appreciate it. I even stopped working on this post to read it. Job well done.

See what I’m getting at? Subjects are important. If you want me to read what you’ve written, make sure your subject tells me exactly what you’re blogging about.

One other thing. If your post shows up in my reader with only the first paragraph or two, and I have to go to your blog to read the rest, I’m not going to read it. Of course there are exceptions, but those are few and far between. Yes, it suck, but so it goes.

Time. It’s all about time.

This is just something to think about the next time you type up a post for you blog. If you don’t mind people maybe skipping what you’ve blogged about, go ahead and title your post whatever you like.

Did this post come across as ranty? I hope not. I just really want the best for you and your blog words.

A question for anybody who read the far: Would any of you be interested in a very basic Google Reader for the Writer tutorial? A few weeks ago I chatted with somebody on twitter and she said she had no idea how to use Google Reader. I can’t even comprehend this. How does she keep track of what’s happening in the blogging world if not for using a reader? I’d be lost and will feel uninformed without mine. So, a tutorial. Yes? No?

 

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A Goal

I had a goal. Okay, I still have a goal – to finish my story this month. Not as a part of NaNo, I want this to be good – not something I have to try and decipher later. I’m so close. Two chapters to finish. And I’m stuck. I know what happens. I know how it happens. I know the last line. I know this story. So why can’t I write it? This may come as a surprise. but I have several theories about this.

The first one is feedback. I know, kind of weird, isn’t it? We all need feedback on our writing. It’s how we get better and find our mistakes. But, from personal experience, I’ve found that letting someone read my work before I’m done is a huge distraction. I always say I won’t let anyone read it until I’m done, but I always cave. Once I do, my writing stalls. I ask people to read because I want to know if my writing and storytelling is any good. In my head, this is the greatest story ever, but all writers think that about their work. I just want to know if it’s interesting, readable, etc. I crave the feedback. However, it doesn’t matter whether the feedback is positive or negative, it stalls me. In this case, I had both positive and some not so positive – which leads me to my next theory.

Critique partners. Ergh. Except for one, I’ve lost contact with my old critique partners and a lot of them have either stopped writing or changed directions. So. I have to start at the beginning. Once I got some feedback, I started panicking about critiques. I joined several writing sites, posted my first chapter, chatted with a few people and exchanged first chapters privately for critique purposes. One word: disaster. Have you ever received a chapter for critique and you know it’s not going to work as soon as you open the document? That’s happened to me twice in the past few weeks. In looking for a critique partner, you want someone who’s at about the same level as you or above. I’ll gladly help anyone as much as I can, but I won’t write someone’s book for them or let someone try to intimidate me to cover their lack of experience. In any case, I got so wrapped up in finding a perfect critique partner, that I got distracted from my story. Finding a critique partner is difficult. You have to get to know the other person’s writing and build a relationship of trust, based on honesty.

My final theory is a result of the other two theories. My confidence in my story and writing has been shaken. Not shattered, just shaken. As much as I wanted feedback, I wasn’t ready to address all the other issues it brought with it. I will finish this story, but I’ve learned this lesson again – I can’t share my work before it’s done. I was on such a roll there for about three weeks. I wrote almost sixty thousand words during that time. I love the story and wanted to share it, to see if it was as good as I thought and hoped. Don’t worry, I didn’t send out the full story to anyone. I’m not that green. Just the first chapter which has been revised many times and polished. The majority of the feedback was good, really good, but it didn’t matter. I broke my roll because I wanted to jump ahead. Now I have to find my way back to the story… after I go check the writing sites to see if anyone has commented on my chapter.

 

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The Line Between Epic Love and Epic Failure

This is what epic love looks like.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” 
Thomas MannEssays of Three Decades

It’s that insidious moment when you entertain the thought of giving up. It would be easy, possibly the easiest thing you’ve ever done. The stroke of a few keys would erase the struggle, loneliness, the fight for just the right word, and scratching for the time to write.

Does the very thought sadden you?

I hope so. It breaks my heart. When a writer I know gives up, says that’s it, I’m not this story-telling, creative being anymore, I ache for them. I ache because I understand.

After a late night of pulling words like splinters from my head and the grief of revising a story about death after the loss of my grandmother, I woke up to another sick kid, a mess to clean, and a toddler that won’t quit. I wondered if I had room in my head for a creative thought. Writing is many things. But most often, it’s hard.

I also ache because though its hard, when I imagine not writing, it scares the hell out of me. I’m many things beyond a writer, but it is essential to who I am when I look in the mirror. I tell the stories, pen the poems, not only for a connection with readers, but to connect with myself under the various “hats” I wear.

When I was young and silly, I believed that real love meant you didn’t have to work at it. Okay, you can stop snorting now. It’s a fable, a fabulous fairy tale that takes more than it gives. Real love requires you to get up at three a.m. and clean up after the sick kid, reach a compromise with your partner, or write through the pain and words that unwind before you can commit them to paper.

Let me be blunt: Writing is hard and it takes more than passion and talent. It requires epic love. Epic love often necessitates epic failure.

Do you love what you’re doing enough to fail for it?

I’ve written a lot about fear. It’s something I know about. Fear of failure too often held me back. Now, when I haven’t opened up my document for a while, or find myself utilizing every avenue of procrastination, I take a moment to reevaluate. Sometimes, the beast requires me to saddle up and go for a ride. I’ve done some of my best writing while strapped down, chasing the clouds. Don’t quit because you’re afraid to fail. Ride it out, or change your perspective.

Change your perspective by making a change in your lifestyle. Be kind to yourself- go for a walk or savor the texture and taste of a piece of fresh fruit. When you do it, acknowledge that it’s something your doing for yourself.

Tell the truth. Let someone know- other writers or anyone supportive of your goals- and accept the reasons they give you for not quitting.

Ask yourself: Why do I write?

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” 
~Joss Whedon

I mentioned two of the reasons I write- connection with readers, connection with myself. I have other reasons. I write to teach my children what it requires to achieve a dream. I write because I can live, for brief moments, inside any world of my choosing. I write to show the people who’ve hurt me in the past that they have no power over me. I do it because the good writing days are better than sex, chocolate, and wine.

Yes, I’m struggling right now. It’s taken me five hours to write this post because life keeps interfering. For NaNo, I’ve only produced 10,931 words. I’ve had four hours sleep and I long for a nap or hot bath, but I have chicken noodle soup to make and a story to finish.

I refuse to quit.

If you’re walking the line between epic love and epic failure, don’t give up. I’m right here with you. Keep writing. We’ve got this.

Related links:

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/11/16/commitments/

http://krissymediaink.com/create-a-writing-manifesto/

http://goinswriter.com/

 
 

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