Split Ends and House Flies


They say you need to write every day. I don’t necessarily believe that—mainly because I can’t write every day.


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Shut up Jean-Luc.

Like most aspiring authors, I have a day job. I have a (very) busy family life, errands to run, a house to maintain, and air to breathe. Writing every day just isn’t feasible at this stage of the game.

And, writing in summer? Impossible.

Taking two months off my WIP was a decision I made to ensure the hellions enjoyed their annual eight weeks of freedom. I’m glad I did. My oldest is eleven. In a few years, he might not want to spend his school vacation camping/beaching/laser-tagging with his parents. Now, he does. And I want to spend time with him, too.

All that said, I am fully aware that maintaining a consistent writing schedule is enormously beneficial to writers at every stage. Perhaps all-too-fully aware of it now, as I sit at my computer trying, trying, trying to get words to magically jump from my fingertips onto the computer screen. Getting back into a regular writing schedule after an extended period of time off is hard as hell. Like any skill, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely degrades without practice. Those who don’t write often risk a dramatic step-back in their very ability to work.


Boo-bloody-hoo.

Writing is hard. We all know it.


Life happens. We all have jobs. We all have bills, stress, and the very human desire to socialize every now and then. What separates an author from a wannabe is the ability to get back on the writing horse and stare at the blinking cursor until it starts to move.
Today, I tried to write for three hours AND NOTHING HAPPENED.

Well, that’s not true. A fly buzzed around me as if willfully trying to drive me insane for an hour and a half . . . until I finally killed it. Has-Only-1-Day-Of-Life-Spends-It-All-Trolling-You-Funny-Fly-MemeThen I ate lunch. Then I divided the splitting ends of my hair for fifteen minutes, thinking about Sean Spicer’s appearance on the Emmys last night.

I finally settled on attacking a blog post, because I didn’t really want to think about Sean Spicer anymore and it was obvious it just wasn’t an Old Souls kind of day.


But you know what? Tomorrow I’ll work on my book again.

One day soon I’ll get back into my writing groove.

A little while after that I’ll finish Old Souls.


And it all will have happened solely because I didn’t give up today.


Falling into Gear


The rain is falling outside my window, and for what seems like the first time in months, I can hear it.


Two hours ago I dropped the hellions off at school.  Today my sons head to grades six, five, and two. It’s been a busy eight weeks, filled with days of trampoline parks, camping, laser tag, mini-golf, water-gun fights, and theme parks.


I love summer. I’m not going to lie.


walkway-2030319_1920.jpgI love watching the hellions play soccer and baseball, seeing their hair turn bright blonde and their cheeks become freckled and tanned. I love heat, and Prince Edward Island beaches, and sprinklers on lawns, and the smell of freshly cut grass.

I love everything about summer. Even the storms. Especially the storms, even though they can be hard to hear over the gentle roar of every neighborhood kid in a ten block radius descending on my kitchen to raid the cupboards like a swarm of locusts attacking a crop.

But, I have to admit that fall isn’t so bad, either.

Near the end of every summer I get the same old itch. A creative current seems to electrify the air. And, even though I enjoy spending summer vacation with the boys, every night for the last two weeks I’ve been fantasizing about what life will be like when they head back to school. This morning I woke up up early to go for a run. The sun wasn’t up, so I promptly threw that idea out the window. (Maybe tomorrow?) I got the hellions ready for the day and out the door. Soon, I’ll take a shower, begrudgingly devote an hour to housework, and finally sit down to work on Old Souls.

The goal is four hours a day six days a week of writing, one hour a day five days a week on social media–including the work I put into Scribbles–and, at least a half hour every day of reading.


A couple exciting things are set to happen in the next two months.


I’ve contributed a story to an anthology, The Box Under the Bed, that will be released on Amazon October 1st. (It’s available for pre-order now, btw.) My submission, Cassie, will be featured alongside the spooky stories of twenty spectacular indie authors, just in time for black cat season. The anthology has been compiled and edited by best-selling Amazon author Dan Alatorre, who many of you will recognize as a regular here on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins.

Shortly after the book’s release, I’m heading to Altamonte Springs to present two workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference. (And hey, you can register for that here and find out more about my workshops here.)

But, even more exciting than that is while the boys take their hell-raising act to school, Old Souls will once again receive the attention it deserves. The characters will come back to life in my imagination, and soon, they’ll be living and breathing in the imagination of others, too.

Because the book is nearly ready to slip back into the trusted grip of my critique partners. And you know what happens after that?


Publication!


(JOKING.)being-a-writer-its-easy-its-like-riding-a-bike-men-s-t-shirt

There are still a few steps to go after that. But we’ll get there.

Until then, you can expect a more consistent posting schedule here. I’ll be uploading more short stories this year than in previous years. And, as Old Souls becomes tighter, I’ll be able to release a few more deleted scenes. I’m hoping to host quite a few guest blogs too, so: if you have a piece you’d like to share, shoot an email to me at scribblesoncocktailnapkins@gmail.com.

I’m excited to kick the upcoming writing year into full gear.


As always, thanks for coming along for the ride.


J. A.


8 Things You Must Do BEFORE Buckling Down to Write that Novel


It happens all the time. People read a crappy novel and think, hey, I can do better than that. A fraction of those people have an idea for a plot that potential readers might find interesting—if it’s raining. And a Tuesday. Because people love reading on Tuesdays, especially if it’s less than seventy degrees and the wind is coming from due north.

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A fraction of that fraction of would-be authors decide to sit down and plot the idea out. A fraction of that fraction of that fraction is able to fend off the inevitable self-doubt monsters whispering that the book is going to suck, and churn out a reasonable first draft. And, a fraction of that fraction of that fraction, of THAT fraction is able to outlast the procrastinatory distractions offered by the interwebs, members of their real-life family, and pesky employment obligations to COMPLETE a (somewhat) viable book.

1nv0qjIf that book happens to be bumped into on Amazon or *gasp* picked up by someone in a bookstore, it has a one in one hundred (okay, thousand) shot at being purchased, and even less of a chance of being enjoyed . . . by anyone. Because you know, how often does the wind come in from the north while the skies unleash a bit of rain on a Tuesday?

Having nearly accomplished the arduous task of completing a novel myself, I have compiled a list of the top 8 things you should do BEFORE buckling down to write your first book.


And hey, in advance, you are welcome.


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1)     Write your idea down on paper with a new, freshly sharpened pencil. It doesn’t matter it is has an eraser, because your idea is golden manna from heaven. You will make no mistakes here, friend. Be as vague or specific as you like. Already know how the book is going to end? Great. Write that down too. Look closely at your work. See the idea before you in all its splendor. Imagine the feelings of pride and accomplishment you will experience when you see this glorious idea come to light in the form of a book with your name on it.

2)     Make five copies. Smell the paper. Repeat the words, I am an author, over and over in your mind. Own that shit.

3)     Lift the first copy of your beautiful idea from the others, and crumple the paper into a ball. paper-1484048_960_720Listen to the sound of the paper crunching in your fist. Now, go outside. Light a match. And set your idea on fire.

4)    Drive the second copy of your idea to a farm. A hog farm is ideal. Rip your idea up into little tiny pieces. Rub the fragments of your idea all over your hair and your face. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scent of manure around you, and drop the idea into the slop pale to be consumed by the pigs.

5)      Rip the third copy of your idea into five perfectly even parts and mail a piece to Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mary Poppins, and just for kicks, one to Satan himself. Never check your mailbox again in case the idea is accidentally sent back.

6)     Pack a bag. Do not tell anyone where you are going in case they (foolishly) try to stop you. Go for a walk. Do not stop until you come to a volcano. Drop the fourth copy in.nuclear-2123685_960_720

7)       Take the fifth copy to the ocean. If you live somewhere like Manitoba (as I once did), a lake will do. If you live in the Sahara, have someone Fedex you a f^%@ing conch shell, all right? The point is to listen to the sound of the water. Be at one with the liquid around you.  Tune yourself into the miraculous substance that first birthed life onto our planet. Now, fold your idea into a paper boat, whisper, “It’s not f&@!ng worth it,” and set your idea free.


8)     IF at the end of all of this, you find the desire to flesh out your idea in the form of a book is still too impossible to ignore, take the original piece of paper on which you wrote your perfect, unspoiled, pristine, theoretically block-busting idea and look at it closely. Bask in the perfection of your penmanship and the wisdom behind your prose. Tape it to your computer. KNOW THAT COMPLETING YOR BOOK WILL NOT BE EASY.  But, you are a rockstar, on the cusp of greatness. Because, even if your novel does suck, it never sells, and people leave their homes in droves for the sole purpose of making fun of you, when you finish you will have accomplished something that only a very small percentage of humans on earth have done. Writing a book.

And that’s pretty fucking awesome.

May the Gods be with you.


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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Editing Woes

God help me, editing can be a painful process. Editing a lengthily, complex book (that has been edited several times already) can make you want to stab yourself in face with a soldering iron.chri.png

Characters who were removed on the third round of edits might poke their little heads out to fu@# your day in the eighth. You may come to find the escape route you so meticulously mapped out for your characters eleven months ago is as plausible as Trump getting into the White House. (WAIT A MINUTE–you mean that actually happened??) The groundwork for plotlines you thought of while working in later chapters must now be staged from the BLOODY beginning. Editing a book has become a task of flipping between pages to make sure that everything connects in a cohesive, well written (or even vaguely entertaining) story.

And, sometimes you open the file for Chapter 24 to find that every word is garbage. Did you actually write this, or did a small child with weak wrists hack into your computer and delete your glorious, errorless prose to replace them with this complete and utter trash?

Sometimes it seems like there is no hope.kuyc

Sometimes you might show your work to someone you respect. Sometimes they tell you it’s okay to give up and start something new.

And now you have permission.

Now you may give up.

Let’s face it, kids. This is the hard part.

It’s important to remember that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And, because I am not-so-secretly actually talking about me, today I am reminding MYSELF that the only way a book gets written is word by word. 1f89qlStephen King puts his pants on one leg at a time. The sun always shines after the rain.  A diamond only forms with a lot of pressure. Yahda, yahda, yahda.

If you think you have found the book you truly want to write, the godforsaken TANGLE of yarn you want to weave into a story, be prepared to fight for it. And then, be prepared to find out that the only person you really have to fight for it is yourself: the side of yourself that is scared of a lot of effort . . . and the overwhelming possibility of failure.

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Shut up, Batman.

It’s okay to take a break to write a blog (like this one), apply for a grant, read a book, attend a conference, and mess around on Twitter. They’re great ways to give your mind a rest. The human brain is an organ that often works like a muscle . . . right?

It needs rest days.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, (maybe) today I’m doing myself a favor. I’m taking a little time to recalibrate. After I come home from work and the kids are in bed, I may even drink.

*coughs*

Heavily.

Not that that’s a solution. But it makes me feel better. And tomorrow I’ll start writing again, one sentence at a time. ‘Cause love it or lump it, THIS is the stupid, complex, lengthily book I want to write.


 

 

What’s up with Writers Conferences?


Last Wednesday I woke up in the wee hours in the morning, caught a quick shower, and made my way to the airport. Three planes and a very stern immigration officer later, I stepped out of Orlando International and into what all Floridians seem to refer to as “Paradise.”

They aren’t far off.
But, I didn’t leave my hellions at home with the ol’ hubster for the beautiful palm trees, the perfect weather, or the practically tax-free American wine that flows like milk and honey.

The main reason for going?


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A writing conference.

The great Allison Maruska and I were invited to Florida by Dan Alatorre. Dan a good friend of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, a great critique partner, and also the best-selling author of stack of books that are killing it on Amazon right now. Actually, Allison’s books are doing pretty furr-eak-ing amazing, too. Given the opportunity to chill out in the Florida sunshine with these two . . . who could possibly say no?

untitled.pngNot me.

And so, I got to partake in my very first writers conference. Over the course of the next couple of days, I participated in a plethora of workshops that ran from 6am till 9 at night. The conference was attended by agents, critically acclaimed and best-selling authors, blogging phenoms, and beginners.

Now, I am what many would refer to as a self-taught author. I decided to write a novel on a whim without having ANY idea how hard writing a godforsaken book actually is. (Did I mention it’s hard?) That said, it doesn’t mean that I went about learning how to write in a half-@s$ed daze. As a fiercely self-conscious/perfectionist/control freak, I hit google up for writing tips with the tenacity of a trick-or-treating eight year old. ocd-2I bought eleventy-billion writing books, and then I bought the audible versions so I could learn about writing (and torture my children) while folding laundry, washing the floor, and while getting ready for work. I joined multiple critique groups. When I ran into a problem with my story–be it grammatical, or to do with structure, plot, or outline–I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. (Or I just asked Dan.) I wrote short stories for competitions, and eventually sold articles to websites . . . for money.

I learned the skills to teach myself and then taught myself. And, immersing myself in a hotel filled with seven hundred authory types on a quest to broaden our writerly horizons has helped me realize something. I know a hell of a lot more about writing than I’ve given myself credit for.

That said, a fair number of workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference were geared toward newbies.

The beauty of the schedule was that several workshops ran at the same time, so Dan, Allison, and I were able to sit through bits and pieces of what we found applicable.

By the time the end of the weekend rolled around, I found that I benefited greatly from the very act of immersing myself in author culture. As writers, we are responsible for plugging our own work. leather-bound-booksAt first, we’re the only person who CAN. It’s hard in the beginning. But, when you surround yourself with like-minded authory individuals . . . it gets easier. Because of the conference, I was able to identify a weakness–talking about Old Souls–and overcome it. I learned the importance of talking about my book with finesse. I wrote down and memorized a blurb to recite when people ask me about it. And, I started work on a killer elevator pitch. Not that I EVER plan on running into Eric Simonoff here. Prince Edward Island is rather un-surprisingly agent free . . . not to mention elevator limited. Which is great because sometimes I get nervous.

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GAAAWWWDDD!!

Looking back,  I don’t think attending a writers conference is crucial to authorly growth. But, talking to other writers is 100%, absolutely essential. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have attained the kind of career you want. So, find a place where you can submerge yourself in a pool of writerly kinship.

And–if you do go to a conference, it should probably be somewhere like Florida


A Quitter’s Conundrum

evictionSometimes you have to put a pin in it. Plan to come back to it later, lower the position of your “dream” from your theoretical tack board of priorities and get your real-life shit together.

Over the years, I’ve done it a lot: ‘Cause baby, the act of writing your first book ain’t gonna raise your kids, and it sure as HELL ain’t gonna pay your bills.

I’ve been writing my debut novel a FURREAKING long time. The idea for the story came just after my first son was born. And yeah, he’s ten. I won’t sit here and tell you it’s because Old Souls is going to be the next War and Peace. It’s not going to be the next Interview with the Vampire or American Gods. Sometimes when I read the manuscript, I wonder if my beloved book even deserves to be published at all.

So what’s taken so long?

In the last ten years I’ve worked hard to contribute financially to my growing family. My husband and I are now raising not just one, but THREE dastardly little hellions. My stepdaughters have grown into women.

Life happened.

The book waited.

And this summer, for the very first time, I thought about giving up completely.richard-simmons

I accepted another promotion at work. I turned my back on all things Old Souls, ignoring my social media accounts, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, and even my critique partners. I shut everything down . . . and worked at work. After all, it took years to write what I have. If I kept going the way I was, it might take years to edit. It begged the question: Was there any point in going on at all?

paulThe interesting thing is, without the dream of getting Old Souls published to keep me going I became surprisingly unhappy. Finding time to write has always been a struggle between a busy work and family life, but it turns out that not writing at all is . . . downright depressing.

I love to write. When I “grow up,” writing is what I want to do.

The moment I came to this realization, allowing myself to feel it in “the very cockles of my heart,” (as my ever so witty momma would say), I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay to have dreams. It’s okay to make sacrifices for your dreams. For the last ten years, I’ve put a pin in my writing to make room for real life. But one day, if I want writing to be my real life, I’m going to have to sacrifice some of what I have going on now.

So, I’ve taken a step back at work. It seems that whether of not I’ll ever make $$$ writing, it’s what I want to do, and funnily enough–stopping it altogether is what made me realize that. After all this time, I still love my book. I still love the premise. And I still want other people to love it too. So here I am, back on the blogging train. Back in the writing game. Back in the Imma going to get published one day rollercoaster ride.


So let’s DO this thing.