Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Confessions of an A.D.D. Writer
by Jenny Hansen It took me years to discover that I am an A.D.D. writer. Though I don’t have a startling amount of Attention Deficit in my everyday life, the facts don’t lie and my A.D.D. shows up in my writing like a big ugly neon elephant, along with my fear of commitment. For more than a decade I’ve gone from manuscript to manuscript, even jumping from one to another then back again. I wasn’t having a writing problem, I was having a finishing problem. I’d crank out 100-150 pages and have a stellar story started but I wasn’t completing any novels. For a while, I’d simply write a short story whenever I was stuck on a book (and I have at least one chapbook of those piled up). Then I’d alternate between feeling great that at least I finished something and berating myself that I was batting zero at finishing my novels. There are at least five unfinished books that came out of this ten year long learning process, which equals a lot of pages that spent years going nowhere. I tried everything, going to workshop after workshop to learn what other people knew about finishing books that I didn’t. I’ve created outlines, which worked out fine for knowing what happened in the book but definitely stifled my creativity. I’ve tried seat of the pants writing, rushing through the first three chapters to find out what the book it about. Character studies, synopsis writing, praying to the creativity gods…really anything and everything I could do to get a book off the ground and enjoy the process. The enjoyment was the biggest rub, along with the commitment. Typically, I’d get stuck on one of three things: 1. It was boring to do it this way, and my creative side isn’t very patient or structured. 2. Once I knew what happened, I didn’t want to write the book any more. 3. Transitions are pure hell for me and I’d get stuck on them. The first two are just my own lovely personality flaws (back to the A.D.D.). The last one is something I hope I get better at over time. I can write emotional scenes or funny scenes all day long with complete focus and pretty good results. However, if you ask me to get the heroine out of her office and over to a restaurant for the next scene, I go blank and dither around, either writing too much or getting complete writer’s block. Finally, in desperation, I asked my critique group if I could just ‘get a pass on transitions’ and they were sweet enough to say yes. We have a system worked out: I highlight a note like “Get heroine from point A to point B please” and they help me fill it in later, after the first draft is finished and in the bag. In return, I help them amp up their humor or their emotional scenes. Sharla Rae writes the steamiest sex scenes you’ve ever read so she weighs in on those (thank God!). I believe this is the magic of a great critique group – everyone has their talents and when you combine them all, everyone gets a fantastic book out of it. What I really am is a scene writer. I can manage to stay sustained and interested in a single scene. Most of the time, I can even manage to write it from start to finish since I am lucky to write fairly quickly. I work really hard to focus on nothing else besides that scene because the end of the book always feels like a big black scary hole to me. If I think about it, I get stuck. So I don’t even consider THE END OF THE BOOK until I’ve finished the first draft containing all the scenes I think need to be in the novel. I know I can put them together later, sort of like shooting a film out of order then sending it to the editing department. My process has evolved into something pretty close to the following: 1. Like most writers, each book usually starts with an idea or a scene that comes into my head fully formed. I write that scene when it comes to me so that I have it out of my head and onto the page. This process seems to keep the gates open for more scenes to come crowding in. 2. I try to write at least five days a week as it keeps my brain open to receiving new scenes. When I let more than a weekend go by without keeping my work in progress on my mind, I start to lose focus. 3. I take some time out from the writing to bat some ‘what if’s’ around with the people I plot with, decide on the overriding theme or message for the book as well as the internal and external conflicts for the protagonist and antagonist. 4. If I’m really lucky, the turning points get decided in advance too. I’m not always lucky and sometimes I have to have a second plotting session over this one. At the very least, I take time with my critique group to discuss what I think the turning points are to see if I’m remotely on target and if it all sounds believable. (For a great summary of turning points, read the following breakdown of Jenny Crusie’s talk at the 2009 RWA conference: http://www.amypadgett.com/2009/07/romance-writers-of-america-conference.html) The good news is, now that I understand my process and the simple fact that I’m a scene writer, I can stop berating myself for what I’m not and just focus on the joy of being what I am. I finally understand why I’ve been able to finish short stories: they come to me as one long scene and I can hold my focus long enough for that. Two writers I deeply respect – Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series) and Janet Fitch (White Oleander) – are both scene writers. For Outlander, Ms. Gabaldon wrote the scenes that came to her and stitched them together later, like a quilt. Janet Fitch published White Oleander originally as a series of short stories which she later realized were chapters in a larger story that she combined into a novel. Everything worked out well for them, right? I remind myself of that whenever I feel myself losing focus and force myself to slow down, breathe, and take things one scene at a time.
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This Week in Critique Group – 7/22/10
I admit it.  It’s hard to accept criticism.  Oh, you think that’s obvious?  Not to me.  I’ve always been good at accepting constructive criticism - at work - at home.  Okay, maybe not so much with from my husband, but I try to take something away from the input from everyone else.  I pride myself on not having much ego. Except, apparently, with my writing.  I’m not saying that I argue a lot with my crit group members over their suggestions.  Ninety percent of the time I can see that their way is better, and I adopt it with gratitude.  For example, on my last book, they changed where the book began about 7 times before they were happy with it.  You know what?  They were right.  Then there was last night.  I’ve been buzzing through this book, proud of the fact that I’m writing clean, emotional chapters, and my crit group seems to like it.  I’m happy.  No, I’m ecstatic.  But last night, I ran into a wall.  We worked on a new concept Fae learned, called “Conflict Lock.”  It is wonderful tool, but I’d challenge anyone to be objective enough to do it for their own WIP.  Fae and Jenny were helping me find my Protag and Antag’s one goal for the book, and their conflicts.  Not easy.  We didn’t agree on what they were at first, and it felt like they were attempting to take the book in directions I didn’t want to go.  Did they not get it after all this time?  Hadn’t they read the chapters I’d worked so hard on?  It was like Chinese water torture . . . the first thousand drops or so are fine, but after that, it gets irritating.  Finally we finished.  I’m bruised, but happy that I have that done, and happy with the results.  Then they started talking about another aspect of the book that they felt I should delve into.  I didn’t want to.  Nope, dang it, not going there!  Why?  Cuz I don’t WANNA!  I did everything but throw myself on the floor, kicking and holding my breath. Did I say I was good at criticism?  Small ego?  Yeah, right.
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Fae Rowen's Past and Future...Travels
My first airplane ride was to Tahiti for my honeymoon.  I had a good leash on my nervousness because every time I looked out the window I saw I little blinking red coastal light.  After a couple of hours my new husband asked me how I was doing.  "Great!  If we crash I can get us to shore."  After all, I had been a lifeguard in high school. At his expression of disbelief I leaned forward so he could look out the window and see the blinking coastal light.  "See?  We're hugging the coast of Mexico."  When he finally stopped laughing, he explained that light was the wingtip light. Well, I'm much more savvy about flying these days.  As I get ready for "the trip of a lifetime" I'm not nervous at all about the seventeen hour flight time.  After all, I'm finally going to see the pyramids I studied about in sixth grade.  To get ready for this trip I've seen a travel doctor--enough times that you might think we were dating to look at my calendar.  I've had six shots and four more to go, as well as live virus typhoid sitting in my refrigerator for when I get up enough nerve to swallow it. My travel buddy and I went with another friend to Mexico last month as a "trial run."  The challenge was to avoid all medical scenarios beginning with "travelers."  I'd been practicing at home--without much success--washing my hair without getting water in my mouth and brushing my teeth with only bottled water.  (Heck, I saw Sex in the City!)  I should have gone to Mexico sicker than a dog based on my practice skills. But when it's life or toilet, you do pay more attention.  Only one time did I forget about the toothbrush and, at my scream, my friends rushed bleach to the bathroom so I could rinse my mouth. Thank goodness the hotel delivered liters of purified water to our room every day.  I forgot to take the steri-pen, which I'd purchased for the big trip.  Didn't get to practice there, but I practiced when I got home.  (Uh-huh, wing tip light.) We'd all been eating healthier this year and took advantage of the kitchen in our place.  I had despaired of a week without salads, but we found organic lettuce and decided to take a chance.  Actually we were able to purchase many organic vegetables and a produce cleanser that the grocer guaranteed would remove 99.9% of the bacteria. Good thing our little apartment had seven sinks.  We had lettuce and veggies soaking the requisite 20 minutes in every one of them.  Through three rotations!  But it was worth it.  Of course we all took little capsules of activated charcoal, which snags toxins in your digestive tract.  Nobody got sick and we ate very well and even managed to lose weight. I'm going to bask in that success before I share the latest self-inflicted hurdle to the big trip.   It's way better than the wingtip light.  And it all started when I saw Sex in the City 2.
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