Chapter 35, A Time Capsule


q1Right now I’m editing Chapter 35 of Old Souls. That means I’m about 90,000 words deep in what currently stands as a 138,146 word novel. This isn’t the first editing run for Old Souls, and it certainly won’t be the last. Likely, the book will require two more passes before the manuscript is forwarded (again) to my critique partners, and yet another draft before it goes to betas. The good news is that each editing endeavor becomes substantially easier than the last. As every gaping plot-hole gets filled, the characters become sharper, and the stakes more clearly defined.

And that acceleration of pace is more than welcome, because the last time I edited Chapter 35 was in 2015.

The first time I saw that “previously opened” date on my file, I was a little floored. How is it possible that so much time has passed?

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We all know that writing a book is hard. Writing a fantasy book can be even harder—much harder than I ever suspected. Typically, fantasy novels are longer than books in other genres (which is great; because 138,146 words). Not to mention (except I’m mentioning it) fantasy novels play by different rules. Case in point: Old Souls is about a man who forgot his past lives, and the “great family” who claim he abandoned after a massacre ten thousand years before. So, reincarnation rules must be made. Worlds must be built, and details must be maintained throughout the manuscript to create a cohesive, believable story.

While digging into this particularly dust-riddled section of my story this week, I realized that allowing work to rest for two years had created a sort of time capsule of my previous strengths and weaknesses. The last time I edited Chapter 35 was at a time in my writerly journey when I’d obsessed over the writing tips and tricks I’d picked up in critique groups. And, it showed. The draft had become clunky. Seeing how this obsession had affected the story led me to reflect on how I had grown as a writer since then.

6a9252e5fdc632e1f48cbc9fe22647e8When I first started to write Old Souls, I obsessed over the sentences. I wanted to write beautiful words, and subsequently thesaurus-ed the shi@% out of my work. As a direct result, shooting out the first chapter of my “beautiful book” took forever roughly a year, and the chapter was absolute garbage.

To stand a hope of writing “The End” I needed help. So, I to turned to writerly books and blogs in search of answers. Everyone seemed to say the same thing: just write. Write for yourself. Write to get something, anything, on the computer screen. So that’s what I did. And when I finished, I had a rambling string of words which no one–including me at times–stood a chance of understanding.

But, I had created something from nothing. Which was outstanding, even if that something needed a LOT of work.

I found that to improve on what I had, I needed to follow an outline. Many writers “pants,” their scenes, writing at whim. My whims had whimmed up a mess. I bought several plotting books and selected my favorite outline for Old Souls: writersjourney3rddropThe Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, an outline based on the ideas brought forward by Joseph Campbell in, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And while some writers might argue using an outline inhibits their creative freedom, I found structuring my story within the steps of the Hero’s Journey to be infinitely liberating.

By the time I completed the draft of my story utilizing Vogler’s words of wisdom, I had been working on the manuscript for years. To be fair, I had also brought a couple hellions into the world and moved across the country. There had been large gaps of time where I never worked on the book at all.

Throughout all the time I worked on Old Souls, I hadn’t shown a word to anyone. Except for four people, no one knew I was writing a book. I was fiercely self-conscious. But, the time had come to ask for help. I found a small critique group based out of Western Canada; and when I outgrew that one, a larger critique group, where I met my writerly besties. At first, I soaked up every bit of advice offered, ecstatic that other writers were taking time from their own work to improve mine.

And that’s where I left Chapter 35, two years ago.

Since then, my writerly abilities have grown. And, a lot of that growth can be summed up in one word: Confidence.

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Anyone who’s written anything decent can tell you writing is hard. But, the hardest part isn’t learning to choose the active voice over the passive. It doesn’t have anything to do with dialogue tags, showing vs. telling, or the multi-faceted characterization of villains. The hardest thing about writing is trusting your voice and your story.

It’s a truth that packed a punch when I saw Chapter 35 was probably better before I started taking advice. There are no dialogue tags, there is no passive voice, and no adverbs. But, the story has a stuttered flow, and the action tags read like the characters are participating in a play instead of a book.

So, what has my time capsule taught me? A good story uses writing rules as an aid, not a crutch. Yes, excessive passivity is cumbersome to read. He said, she said can become annoying. The overuse of adverbs is slovenly. These are terrific guidelines. But sometimes, to paint the best pictures, we have to go outside the lines. What has to matter the most–before anything else–is the story. Because, your reader will forgive almost any “mistake” if the story is good enough.

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Becoming a Free Time Ninja


Yesterday morning my friend Dan sent me this message, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:15am, his time:

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Good morning! What are you working on this week? Any new blog posts coming?

(That’s Dan speak for, it’s time for another effing blog post, Jenny.)


Dan is one of my very best writing compadres. Along with being a writer who produces entertaining prose faster than Agatha Christie on speed, he’s a critique partner that gives me grief whenever I take too long to email an edited chapter. He’s always sure to tell me what works, and what needs work. He encourages me to step out of my comfort zone. He’s a republican that calls me a commie. And, to be honest, being called a commie by Dan makes me laugh out loud, Every. Single. Time.

I responded to his message with a pretty standard J. A. Allen reply:


13686538_316709032000883_4678767774587559035_n  I don’t have time.


Because I don’t have time.

These days, I hardly have time for anything. I’ve devoted three days a week while the kids are in school to my writerly endeavors. Of my last six “writing days,” only ONE was actually spent writing. It’s man-cold season in the Allen house, and everyone afflicted needs their mawmmy. The oldest hellion just celebrated his eleventh birthday, resulting in a slew of preparation and general chaos clean-up. And, every second day the teachers seem to be partaking in professional development, resulting in about a bazillion days off school and practically eliminating my designated writing days.

Working as a manager in hospitality, I am often outnumbered by a younger subset of humans, ranging in age between eighteen and, ohhhh, twenty-three. selfiesSome of these people don’t go to school. Some of these people still live with their parents. None have kids. And yet, they still complain about doing laundry. One person’s laundry. Not FIVE people’s laundry, like there is in my house. These are people who spend their free time on Netflix, Snapchat, and Buzzfeed, getting their eyelashes extended, going to the gym, and taking selfies.

Every day, I ask these free-time squanderers, “What did you do today?” Mostly to torture myself. Because I don’t have time to do any of that. Because the last time I had time for ANY of that malarkey was when I was twenty-three, and said eleven-year-old turned my previous affinity for the smell of cooking chicken into a dastardly trigger for morning sickness. Not that I don’t love my life as mother of hellions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m just very busy. When I’m not at work, my day is spent cleaning the kitchen, breaking up fights, putting away laundry, watching futsal and basketball, helping with homework, and (lovingly) swearing under my breath at little-boy-aim as I wash the floor beside the toilets.

It begs the question: how the hell does any human with offspring AND full-time employment find the time to learn to write well/produce a book/blog/participate in a web show/tackle social media/apply to be a member of the Florida Writers Conference?

And why the hell would they torture themselves by trying?

(Just joking about the writer’s conference. Because, Florida.)

But then, about half an hour after messaging with Dan yesterday–while perusing my Instagram feed–I came across this little image, posted by none other than my favorite republican: Untitled.png

Sweet baby Jesus. Why the hell was I scrolling through Instagram when I could be writing  the blog he just bugged me about?

I was spending what little free-time I had as a squanderer.

Every now and then I need these reminders to get my butt in gear. There is never going to be time if we simply try to find it. There isn’t going to be time to write if we wait for it to fall from the sky like manna from the pearly gates. There isn’t going to be time if we wait for Ryan Gosling to hand it to us on a chocolate platter.

There is only going to be time to write if we MAKE IT. If we put our phones down. If we unplug from Instagram and Facebook and focus on the writerly endeavors in what little time we have.

In truth, operating Scribble on Cocktail Napkins is one of my guilty pleasures. I do it for me more than anyone else, so within reason, I can write whatever I want. Interacting with readers fuels my fire.jhv The people who leave comments give me all the feels that can be missed while writing a book—because novel writing can be a long and solitary endeavor, similar to telling a joke and waiting in a vacuum for two years to find out if anyone laughed.

So, as per my friend’s direct and indirect cajoling, I woke up early for the sake of writing this blog, and that was easy because A: it’s probably going to get Dan off my back for five minutes, and B: it’s going to bring me a little instant gratification.

Finding time to edit Old Souls can be harder. And maybe that has less to do with not having time, and more to do with procrastination than I’d like to admit. Finding time to write is a never ending battle. Sometimes I win. 1jd7whSometimes I’m defeated before I even bother to try. I go through periods of protecting my writing time with the tenacity of a momma bear protecting her cubs, and periods of handing my writing time to any task that wants it.

And that’s not how anyone anywhere completes a book. If you want something, whether it’s to write a book, further your education, pick up a new skill . . . chances are you’re going to have to be uncomfortable. You’re going to have to fight for it, and protect the time to work on it with every fiber of your being.

It’s about focusing on the dream.

My dream is to see my book on a bloody bookshelf in a bloody book store. And then the sequel. One day I want to earn my living writing on a beach in Aruba. Because who doesn’t want to earn a living by writing on a beach in Aruba?

So, I’m going to post this blog for anyone who, like Dan, has been wondering what I’ve been up to lately. Then, I’m going to daydream about Aruba and shovel my driveway, ‘cause last night a pretty layering of fluffy clouds dumped six feet of snow in front of my garage. And THEN, I’m going to cut chapter thirty-six out of my manuscript, paste it into a new document, and make it better, ninja style.