More than a year ago, as I played with my thirteen-year-old Siamese cat, Shogun, I thought, “I’ll never have another kitten. Heck, I’ll never live with a litter of kittens again.” My childhood cat had given me one litter before she was spayed. I smiled at the memory and let my wish go.
Two weeks ago, I received a call from my local animal shelter, asking if I could be a first-time foster for a mother and her FIVE sixteen-day-old kittens. Of course I said yes. Then I freaked out.
I picked my family up the next day. And I’ve been learning every day since.
Lesson 1: You may think you’re going to die, but you won’t.
All six kitties were stressed with the move. I was afraid I’d lose one of them. I don’t know a person who doesn’t have fear going into a new environment, a new situation, with no skill-set.
I’m in the process of the final edit before I send out my YA to two agents, an editor and a publisher. My main character is facing the sudden loss of her father and a forced change in her life. She must depend on trusted friends and her wits, skill, and intuition to navigate each day. Just like my sweet mother cat.
I’m not an emotion writer. I’m a plot-driven science fiction writer who joined RWA to learn how to write “relationships.” So of course, Laura Drake, the queen of emotion in her stories, is always asking me, “Where’s the emotion in this scene?” Uh, on Planet Xanadu?
I thought about my brave little mama (she weighs less than six pounds) and how she must feel. I thought about my fears. I tapped into the fear and desolation when my father died. Then I edited.
As writers, we use our own experiences to flavor our stories. The trick is getting the right blend of spices in the dish we serve to our readers. Sometimes we need to expose bits of those dark parts of us we’d rather leave in the back of the frig. Maybe that’s what the adage “Write what you know” really means. We all know where we’ve hidden that stuff.
As long as mom is close by, the kittens are brave explorers. But if I go into their room when mom is wandering the other parts of my house, the kittens run to their hidey-hole. It doesn’t matter that they’ve clamored to be held, tried to climb my leg when I’m writing, or let me nip their claws.
When I write that first draft, I pour words onto the page. A new story is untraveled territory with unfolding characters. It’s an adventure. It’s fun. Actually, any time in your manuscript, especially if something just isn’t working, is a wonderful chance to try a fresh technique, build a plot in a new way, or incorporate that brilliant idea from the last workshop you attended!
Enter a trusted critique partner, group, or mentor. I know if I get myself trapped on a ledge or wander off on a dead-end trail, my critique partners will scruff me and put me back where I belong.
If you don’t have a cadre of trusted writer friends, join a group and find your support team. An interesting bonus: while you’re supporting them, you’ll learn in a way you can’t get from articles or lectures.
Yes, but someone has to do it. (*Huge smile*) Feeding, changing water and litter boxes, shopping for supplies, additional cleaning. It’s a more work than I anticipated. but holding, petting, and brushing my charges more than makes up for the not-so-glamorous tasks.
If you knew how much work, how many hours, how much sweat, how many tears you’d shed over your first manuscript and your characters, would you have picked something different to do with your “spare” time? Obviously not.
We’re writers. Because we have to write. Getting sixty thousand, or eighty thousand, or a hundred thousand words on the paper is a lot of work. And we haven’t even started with time spent editing, re-editing, pitching, querying, or submitting.
We’re human. We get tired. We lose faith. But the next time I want to “pick a different hobby” (yes, a previous friend offered that advice) I’m going to remember: Socializing five kittens is a lot of work.
Lesson Four: Sometimes you have to rear up on your hind legs and fight for what you want.
The kittens are now old enough to “play fight” each other. Picture two three-quarter pound little bears, uh-kittens-on their hind legs swinging with their front paws, throwing an occasional bite to the neck. And then a third one rams them and they all roll on the floor with tiny yelps.
You wrote it. It’s your voice, your vision. You’ve already incorporated mountains of advice and ideas from your writer friends. Sometimes, though, a contest judge, an agent, an editor, or even a trusted critique partner suggests a change that choke-chains you. To be fair, you think about it, even try to incorporate it. But the story, the characters, the pacing go off. You think and try again, with no success. You begin to doubt yourself.
This is the time my husband calls, “Fish or cut bait.” Sometimes, you have to stand up for your work, even if it means passing on an agent or a contract. After all, you are the one responsible for your writing and your career. If you sell something that is not your voice, not your passion, will you want to follow up with more of the same?
Enjoy the choices you’ve made. Revel in your words. Live your own best story. And purr. When you finish that difficult scene, when you send off Query #415, when you capture that new idea. Just purr. You might be surprised how good it feels to let yourself enjoy each and every accomplishment, no matter how small. You’re worth it. Purr.
Has life supplied you with writing lessons lately? Share your insights, tips, and purrs with us!
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.