Blog 5: Shallow and petty…

are adjectives I never wanted ascribed to the main character in my novel, yet there I was with the aforementioned editor who attributed these words to my heroine, Nora Donovan.  Those words smarted, yet they profoundly resonated. One’s heroine is the focal character in the story, and her job is to drive the entire narrative.  So, if an editor, a woman who works in the romance business, tells me my main character is unlikable, well then, I am in deep trouble with my writing… or so I thought.  What I learned is that I have a lot to learn, but I instinctively know more than I think I do.

After I pressed my editor as to why she didn’t like Nora, she enlightened me by explaining that in my opening scene, my heroine is trashing another character that the reader has not yet met.  Nora seems to focus on trivial aspects of this woman’s life and appearance. Since Nora never fully explains to the reader why she is taking cheap shots at her nemesis, Blythe, and because we have not been shown why Blythe is indeed this horrible woman,  in my editor’s mind, there seems to be no basis for Nora’s feelings other than she is shallow and petty.

When I thought about her critique, I was initially confused.  Her critique didn’t seem fair.  Won’t I show Blythe later, and then the reader will understand Nora’s feelings?  In Chick Lit, aren’t heroines allowed to be snarky and sarcastic? Don’t women feel jealousy and envy toward other women who always seem to have everything or toward women who always seem to one-up them?  When I asked these questions, she said that in romance, one’s heroine must be likable immediately, or the reader won’t buy-in.  She gave me suggestions on how I should rearrange my scenes to achieve this, and I took all she said under advisement, but I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around those adjectives.

I let her comments ruminate for a while, and I didn’t go near my novel. The thought of trying to rearrange and rework everything seemed daunting, and I really liked Nora the way I had created her. I didn’t know what to do with her now that she was dubbed petty and shallow.  I wondered if I should ditch her all together.  Clearly, we weren’t too good for each other.

I decided to talk about this critique with those with whom I had allowed to read my novel, and they all vehemently disagreed with the editor’s assessment.  They loved Nora’s voice.  They thought she was hysterical.  So, I was really flummoxed, to say the least.  What to do?  What to do?  Like Pooh, I wanted to stick my head in the honey pot. Instead, I told myself I had to forge ahead.  This was the first negative remark I had heard, and it had come from an authority figure, so it had weight and merit.  Although it was hard to hear, it was constructive criticism.  This was no time to be petty and shallow.

Being a pantser, I decided I needed to be a plotter, so I took out the book I mentioned in a previous blog about writing a book in 30 days.  I figured this was a good way to go back and rework my story.  I also read another book on how to write a romance novel.  I used the tips in the books and started reworking my scenes, but I felt like I was taking my round story and trying to fit it into a square story peg where it didn’t belong.  This is about the time I was asking for those signs as to whether or not I should be writing this novel at all since it just wasn’t working. I bet you can guess what happened. Yup, another sign, and this one all but kicked me in the, uh, head.

I remembered I had been given a gift certificate for Barnes and Noble from one of my beloved students.  I decided to go online and use it to find yet another book on writing. Sure enough, when I searched, books on writing, one of the first ones that came up was Cathy Yardley’s book, Will Write for Shoes How to Write a Chick Lit Novel.  I ordered it on the spot,and read it voraciously.  It’s so conversational in style, thus, it was a joy to read! Best of all, the tips she gives are so easy and pragmatic that after reading it, I realized that my book is not a romance in the traditional sense; therefore, it doesn’t have to fit into the tight parameters that dictate that particular genre.  Chick Lit, while relatively new, is its own evolving genre, and all of the reasons I loved initially writing my novel make me know that it’s Chick Lit!

After my initial euphoria, I felt like an idiot.  With all the books I’ve bought in the past 10 years, how could this one have escaped my attention? This book was published in 2006–I started writing my novel in 2007 without every knowing what Chick Lit was.   It was clear; without even knowing it, I had been crafting a Chick Lit novel from the very start, and  I needed to continue writing it.  So, while I will still take into consideration the notes the editor gave to me, I’m just going to enjoy the process of writing the damn thing for now.  I’ll worry about unattractive adjectives about my work when I revise and edit it!

Maybe it’s wrong for me to admit that so much of me is so much a part of Nora, but I think when a writer creates a character, it is based on everything that person is and knows. This is why I think I know why Nora is, perhaps, petty and shallow.  It’s because many of the things that I have her do in the novel are the same actions or reactions I’ve displayed in real life.  Have there been occasions when I have gossiped about and judged others to make myself feel better? Yes.  Do I let stupid, nonsensical things annoy me on a daily basis? Yes.  At times, instead of genuinely celebrating another’s achievement, am I silently reassuring my fragile ego that I am accomplished, too? Yes.  Am I fully comfortable in my own skin, or do I often need validation that I am as worthy and good enough as the attractive, thin woman who just walked in the room? Yes.  Do I make mistakes all the time, and try to find a lesson in each one.  Yes.  And, it got me to thinking.

Doesn’t neurosis make us all human?  Don’t we all have aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to show to anyone, not even ourselves? And doesn’t all of this make for great fiction?!  Obviously, because along came Chic LIt.  Just like it’s awfully dangerous to take ourselves too seriously, I don’t want to take my Chick Lit heroine’s flaws too seriously either.  If Nora seems to be petty and shallow in the beginning of the story, it’s for sure that throughout the novel, I will have her work to overcome this. Thus, I’ll be evolving, too, through her journey and evolution.   Nora is different from me, too.  She’s funnier, more courageous, prettier, more generous and thoughtful than I am.  Life imitates art, and art imitates life.  Chick Lit allows the heroine to fail miserably at being perfect. This is what makes it so relatable, so real, so funny, and probably, so Nora!

So, I guess the only thing I know for sure is that before that editor uttered those two dreadful words, Nora and I enjoyed hanging out with each other. It’s time we return to each other unashamed and unfettered.   It’s been way too long, and I miss her.  As her creator, she is the way I can come to understand this world and my truth about it. We need each other.   And there’s nothing shallow or petty in admitting that!

 

 

 

Writing Blog??? – A Tale of Procrastination — Exploring Life with Nishtha Shukla

Hi, it’s Jayne.  I did not write this post; Nishtha Shukla did.  Check out her blog, and read this post.  I thought it was interesting, so I thought I’d share it.  Hope you like it . If you are a procrastinator such as I, you might see yourself in her post!   

 

via Writing Blog??? – A Tale of Procrastination — Exploring Life with Nishtha Shukla

Blog 4: I am an expert, all right…

in absolutely nothing!  In every area of my life, in every facet of my career, I am a novice. I am not resolute in anything except my love for my family, my dear friends, and my love of God.  Each day, I seem to learn something new about myself, and it ain’t always pretty. Yet, it leads me to a new self-discovery, and it makes me glad I’m not an expert at anything.  This might sound counter-intuitive to you, so let me tell you an extremely humbling story which will illustrate my point:

Last March, I attended a writer’s conference.  As a perk, for a nominal, additional fee, I could sign up for a one-on-one with an editor or agent of my choice, and he/she would read the first 40 pages of my novel as well as my plot summary, and of course, we would conference about them.   I investigated each editor thoroughly, and I made what I thought was the perfect choice.

However, I intentionally reminded myself on each day which preceded our appointment that I must keep my expectations low and realistic.  Thank God I did; otherwise, I would have been crushed by what she ultimately said to me.  More importantly,  I have come to believe that the editor with whom I met was simply another conduit that God used to speak to me not only about my writing but also about who I am as a person aspiring to be a writer.

When we sat down awkwardly on two folding chairs in a busy hallway, I saw the copious notes she had scribbled in purple pen across my pages.   I sighed and bolstered myself.

As any writer knows, waiting to hear the inevitable notes on your work is like giving birth or allowing  yourself to stand naked while the dermatologist checks for moles, or that nice lady at the tanning salon sprays you.  Sure, you’ve washed and waxed, and you try to act like this is totally normal, but you actually feel totally exposed, and you want it to be over before it ever begins.  My editor hadn’t uttered a word, but I had a feeling I wasn’t going home with a book deal.

She began by speaking to me about my book premise, which she liked.  I felt gratified. She went through my plot summary and made suggestions, all of which made sense. I exhaled.  However, I began to sweat and squirm profusely when she determined, “I couldn’t quite sympathize with your heroine, Nora.  In fact, I didn’t like her much.  Honestly, I found her petty and shallow.”

I felt my mouth gape open like a fish as I gasped for air.  I couldn’t believe it!  She continued to talk, but those two words looped in my brain.   Petty and shallow”!?  If she had said my baby was ugly, I couldn’t have been more offended!   I expected notes on my pacing or some of my plot points, but I never expected her to find fault with Nora!  She is so funny in the novel. So candid, so honest, so sarcastic, so, well… ME!

Now,  if you don’t write, you may not know that 9 times out of 10, a writer will balk at any kind of criticism because it strikes at the heart of who he/she is and what he/she has created.  Each writer has a unique vantage point from which he/she writes.  Although the same subjects are tackled again and again, each writer has his/her own way of communicating what he/she thinks about them, which is the direct result of every thought, feeling, emotion, triumph, or tragedy he/she carries with him/her at the time he/she sits down to craft that particular piece of writing.

Good, bad, or indifferent, when I begin to write, the real, vulnerable person inside comes seeping out.  Writing is as close to exposing my self and my soul as I will ever come, for if what I have produced is honest, part of me will  inevitably show up on the pages of whatever I have written.  Otherwise, why write, right?  Really, what’s the point if as a writer I will not honestly communicate the truth as I see it?  Yeah, yeah, we can argue these points, but to me–and again I will say that I am by no means an expert on this– I do believe that my writing is based on every prior experience I have ever had, and it’s a way for me to make sense of the world.

So, even though Nora is an amalgamation of many people, I had given birth to her, so for all intents and purposes, she was me, or she had shades of me in her character. The editor didn’t know it, but she had just excoriated multiple layers of my being, and she had no idea she had done so.

Therefore, criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, is demoralizing to the vast majority of people, especially writers, because they believe it’s a direct assault on what they have produced on the page, and an assault on who they are as human beings.   And it is, isn’t it?  A critic can say it’s not personal, but he or she is responding directly to someone’s inner thoughts! So, it is personal whether the writing is a memoir, an article, a short story, or a Facebook post.

Everyone wants to be respected and validated.  Acknowledging negative comments even when they are disguised as help, is an extremely difficult thing to do.  It’s another rite-of-passage everyone wishes he/she could avoid, but unfortunately everyone who is human has experienced it.  It might be necessary at times; however, it still smarts.  I must remember this feeling next time I grade my students’ essays.  Ugh! Right now,  I am picturing the dark faces of my students who have just received their papers back from me after I tore them to shreds with my sharp, harsh red pen.  Although my comments were meant to give them fodder for the future, they were unable to receive them with enthusiasm nor appreciation.  Duh, and I wondered why everyone in the room shut down and was disgruntled? I am so stupid that sometimes it astounds me.

At this point in my story, some people reading this might be thinking. Well, Jayne, yes, you are, and shame on you!  As an English  teacher, you’ve read enough literature.  The characters are fictitious, so Nora should not be based on you at all.   You’re nothing but an amateur if you fell into that trap.  It’s Writing 101!  Only amateurs write about what they know.  You’re an impostor.  A fake.  Your editor was doing her job, and you should be grateful she was honest and even willing to read your junk.  You have no business writing. Those who can do; those who can’t, teach! 

While this might well be how some readers feel about me right about now, I don’t agree. Again, I’m no expert.

Yet, some of you may be interested to know that  I eventually let those two negative words act as catalysts to enable me to evolve further as both a writer and as a person.

Tune in on Wednesday, and I’ll let you know how!

 

 

 

 

Blog 3: So, to God I went…

So, just to recap Tuesday’s blog, after feeling stuck. it was time to stop ruminating on my own human doubts and seek higher counsel.  So, I asked God for a sign that I should continue writing my novel.  Then, I began to look for the manifestation of a sign.  However, God didn’t send me one; I received a cascade of signs that ultimately led me here with you, and I received much more than I asked for.   Here is what I have dubbed Cause and Effect: My Godly Guideposts

  • Cause:  On the first day of my summer vacation, I had traveled to my sister’s home in Maine where her family and mine came together to celebrate the recent engagements of both my niece and my daughter respectively.  While sitting on the beach, my brother-in-law teased me about being off the entire summer and challenged me to write a blog about something new that I would attempt on each day of the next nine weeks.  A blog?  I thought.  I have absolutely no desire to write a blog.  I’m not even sure how.  I need to finish my novel.  I, therefore, dismissed it right away, but his crazy suggestion swirled around in my head .
  • Effect: When we returned home, continuing to feel sluggish and paralyzed, I avoided writing as I let mundane tasks take over like cleaning and food shopping.  Despite my refusal to entertain the notion, the blog suggestion continued to gnaw at me, but  I wasn’t the adventurous type, so it was unlikely I’d try anything new, and what about my novel?   As I grabbed my purse,  I thought,  Come on, God! Where’s my sign?  Why can’t I get going here?  
  •  Cause: With my cart fully loaded, I stopped in the stationery section of the grocery store and noticed a little inspirational book entitled, What is God’s Will For My Life? by John Ortberg.
  • Effect: It was inexpensive, so I bought the book  with the hope that it would help me figure out this writing thing and bring me a sign.  Little did I realize that the book itself was a sign.  I read it in one sitting.  Ortberg’s premise is that God’s purpose for each of us is that we evolve into the best version of who we are created to be.  We need to listen to God, surrender to His will, but we also need to act.   He states, ” We must pray and then proceed with the conscious assumption that God will answer. Based on that assumption, we begin looking around to see of if perhaps he has answered in a way we might otherwise have missed. […] Why would we assume that passivity is a greater inducement to God to reveal his will to us than activity? .[…]When you face a choice and make a decision, don’t limp across the threshold. Hop.”(51,72,74).
  • But I didn’t act or hop.   I simply shut the book and went to bed.
  • Cause: The next morning, I discussed Ortberg’s book with my son, and out of the blue, he tells me that he wants to start a blog.  His only problem was that he didn’t know much about starting one.  He asked me if I knew if we still had that book he had bought a while ago about blogging a book? I forgot he had purchased it, but it could prove useful to both of us.
  • Effect:  I then set off to find it, and in doing so, I decided it was a perfect time to clean and reorganize the office.  I was gratified to find the book, How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir and to know that for once my penchant for cleanliness led to something other than avoidance.
  • Cause: However, I avoided giving the book to my son. Still inquisitive about blogging,  I decided to take the book with me on our boat.
  • Effect: While sitting on the beach, my future son-in-law noticed the book in my hands, and finding it odd, he  inquired as to my aspirations. Feeling uncomfortably out of the my element, I dismissed the idea of blogging immediately. I told him my initial impression was that blogging seemed overwhelming, and I felt I had no subject upon which to write and nothing to say. (Are you laughing to yourself right about now?)
  • Cause: For reasons I can’t explain, I continued to flip haphazardly through the book’s pages, where I arrived at a section that discussed the success stories of people who blogged and then turned their blogs into books.  I read each of them, and one in particular jumped out at me, for I knew I had Martha Alderson’s book,  The Plot Whisperer  on my newly organized office book shelf at home.
  • Effect:  I found it and began to reread the book, and in the opening pages, it was as if Alderson was speaking directly to me.  She writes, “you are writing about a character transformed through the Universal Story.  That character pursues a goal.  She faces a series of conflicts and obstacles, and as a result, […]she is transformed, and her ultimate transformation creates her anew with a different understanding of herself and her existence.  As you write, you will begin to see a similar pattern emerge in your own life as you face conflicts that arise from your writing.  In the end, you, too, will be transformed.”(1).  This made so much sense to me.
  • Cause: Wow, and this revelation also connected to Ortberg.  Perhaps God was signaling to  me that I could evolve into the best version of myself by evolving into  the writer he created me to be.  I needed to be open to all possibilities of what writing could offer me.  It was glaringly apparent  that although I had prayed for a sign to continue with my novel, the idea of starting a blog was now very much in the forefront of my thoughts. I had a feeling God was nudging me to do both, but I was still filled with self-doubt.   I asked myself over and over, Should I begin a blog?  Should I explore my own writing and share my thoughts with others ? Am I drifting away from my novel, or can I do both?
  • Effect: Mentally exhausted, I decided to read a bunch of articles my mother had given me.  I wanted a momentary respite from my prayer, but God wasn’t having it.  I came across an article by the author of the column God Squad, Rabbi Marc Gellman. He had written it  to commemorate Father’s Day, and it is entitled, “Drawing On Special Memories of My Dad.”  It is about his father, Sol Gellman, and his ability to draw upside down, which helped his clients immensely.  As an architect, this alleviated the constant need for him to keep switching the paper back and forth as he fleshed out his ideas in front of them.  Rabbi Gellman slowly came to realize that his father’s quirky talent was much more than simply that.  It was a way for his dad to reach out to others in an effective, communicative way, and this was something anyone could learn to do. “Drawing upside down is a skill we can all possess-it just requires learning and love.”
  • Cause: His words hit me like a thunderbolt! I was waiting for one sign, but God had sent me a ton.  I wouldn’t be drawing upside down; I’d be writing upside down! God would show me the way and help me find the words.
  • Effect: It was time to hop.  I evaluated my decision to start my blog using Ortberg’s question, “Is it congruent with becoming the person I believe God created me to be?”  The answer was yes.  It was time to become the writer and human being God designed me to be.    I would call it Writing Upside Down, and here I would have the ability to explore my own truth and transform myself through writing and creating.
  • Effect:  Here I am with you.

 

Blog 2: Anyone can write…

One just needs to be disciplined.  Anyone can blog, too.  I don’t want you to think that I am doing something super difficult. You just have to commit to doing it!   If you want to write or blog, you can!  I support your decision just as so many of you encouraged me last night on Facebook.  Thank you to all of you who enthusiastically received my first blog.  I thought it was great that I could share it with my friends and family.  You were all so supportive, and I truly appreciate it. Yet, according to Brenda Ueland, author of If You Want to Write, A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, anyone can write, and we all have a unique story to tell.  Do you want to hear how I derived the courage to begin this blog? If you just said no, sorry!  The question was rhetorical, so here I go.

I started my novel 10 years ago, and mind you, I didn’t set out to be the next Harper Lee.  No, I simply love Chicklit, and after reading my beloved Sophia Kinsella’s novel, Can You Keep a Secret?, I felt this sensation in my gut telling me that I could do this.  So, I grabbed my computer and just started writing.  No outline.  No path.  I just got in the creative flow and let it take me.  I soon discovered that I loved writing in this genre.  I would reread what I had written and laugh out loud.

I was so enamored with myself  and what I had initially created, I allowed my sisters, my niece, and my best friend to read the beginning.  Yes, I encouraged them to be brutally honest, but inwardly,  I was so nervous to hear their true reactions to the scenes I had created.  To my pleasure and astonishment, they all said they loved my heroine, Nora Donovan, and her wacky adventures– and they wanted to read more!  The immediate problem that faced me was I didn’t have any more.

Now,  you would think this would have given me more impetus to write, but it didn’t.  It caused me to do the exact the opposite.  I began to put all sorts of pressure on myself, and started reading books on the craft of writing. Unfortunately, that was all I was doing.  My inner fear became a barrier between me and my story.   The critic came out in full force, and she started jabbing me in the chest. I stopped writing for my own pleasure, and I couldn’t bring myself back to my novel.

I’ll admit, my house was never cleaner;  I spent the majority of my weekends  mopping my kitchen floor and cleaning every bathroom instead of  writing; as a result,  my family was continuously sick; the germs had to find someplace new to live and prosper, and they jumped down their throats.  By the time I but the Lysol away, the afternoon would be dying, and I’d tell myself I would write tomorrow.

Well guess what; each missed tomorrow added up to 10 years! Yeah, sure, I gave myself many outs:  I needed to clean my house, right?  I am a wife and a mother after all. Oh, and lump on top of  that my full-time job as an English teacher.  Really? After a full day of teaching eighth graders how to write, who in her right mind is going to go home and tackle her own writing?  Uh, plenty of people, Jayne, but unfortunately you chose not to be one of them!

So here’s the thing.  Try not to judge me, but last summer,  I went to a medium.  I know it seems that I am meandering off topic, but I bet you can guess what I asked her.  Yup, I asked her if I would ever publish, and she said, “Uh, Yes… but not the way you expect.”

For a moment I pondered what that phrase really meant, but I was excited that there was a strong chance that my writing intention would find its way into the universe, the stars would align, and by gum, by golly, I would publish.

At this point, are you expecting me to tell you that this information got me back  to writing?  Uh, it sort of did, but very intermittently.  I’d devote some time to it here and there on a weekend or a vacation–when I wasn’t vacuuming– but I was stuck for sure. I began  to worry that I liked the idea of being a writer far more than actually being one! At the rate I was going, I might need to hire a ghost writer to write my novel for me!

As this summer approached, I decided I was not going to practice another summer of avoidance.  I admonished myself: Everyone is busy; however, if one wants to write, he/she will surely figure out a plan.

Therefore, I decided to stop being a pantser.  This is someone who doesn’t outline and merely writes as she flies by the seat of her pants.  This is a right brain trait, and an author of this type focuses on characters more than plot.  However, this type of writer–me–tends to write a lot of superfluous stuff because he/she doesn’t have the full story mapped out;  instead he/she allows the character(s) to dictate where the story goes.  Thus,  I decided I would need to be a plotter.  I couldn’t afford to lose any more time, and decided I could accomplish far more if I did what the left brain people do and formulate an outline of my novel.  It was time to be sensible.

I had already written  249 pages, and I knew I would need to go back and figure out what vital pieces needed to be deleted or added. So I did just this, using the book, First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner.   I followed the day-by-day instructions and started analyzing my book so far.  As helpful as the book was, it still didn’t stimulate me to continue with my novel.  I did character and setting sketches, outlined the important elements of the structure, but I couldn’t bring myself to fire up the computer and joyfully pick up where I had left off.  I was out of the flow; I had lost my muse, my bliss, my way!

Realizing I had a major problem, and I was the one standing firmly in my own way, I knew I needed spiritual guidance.  As Julia Cameron states in her book, The Artist’s Way, I was reminded that “everyone has a dial to God.  No one needs to go through an operator.” So, to God I went.

Look for my next blog on Friday, and I’ll tell you how God showed me it was time for me to be writing upside down! I promise it will be shorter, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Blog- It’s About Time…

Really, it is.  After talking about writing a novel for the past 10 years, there are many reasons why starting a blog is necessary if I ever hope to complete it.   First, and foremost, after reading tons of books on the subject, I decided it was time to put all of my ideas, questions, frustrations, and insights on to the page.  You don’t know me–or maybe you do–but the one thing I know for sure is that I need to be policed.  Writing in isolation, while fulfilling, was not getting me to the written page every day.  There was no immediacy, just a dream of finishing someday and hoping to publish.  By starting a blog, I must show up and do it.  It’s that simple  Second, I love an audience.  As a singer, I stink at rehearsal.  I phone it in and don’t go for it.  Writing in isolation feels very much like this.  I need the personal connection of an audience.   The thought of it gives me energy to write.  Third, I feel authentic. I wrestle with perfectionism which has led to writer’s paralysis,  and I realize there is no one who can free me except myself.  The only way to become the writer I want to be is to figure out the best way to get my story written. What is my process?  What works?  What doesn’t?  Hence the name writing upside down.  I am willing to experiment and make mistakes in order to get to where I want to be, and I hope that you will come along on my journey.