Brave or Not Brave? AKA There’s No Light in the Story

Last week, I had a bit of insomnia. I get it periodically, nothing horrible, but where I just lay in bed not sleeping. I may have been exhausted two minutes before, but once my head hits the pillow, the sleepiness disappears (not the tiredness, drat!), and the thoughts & worries come in. Like I said, this bout wasn’t bad. I wasn’t all stressed, or tossing and turning, but just…awake. And thinking.

And I ended up thinking about my WIP.

I wasn’t sure if/when I would post about this. But as usual, I got the nudge I needed from “out there,” or in this case, from Jeannine Atkins, who blogged earlier today about her very special kind of bravery–speaking out. Read the whole beautiful post for yourself, but here’s what got me today:

I was scared to post my new year’s theme of loudness, to risk stating that I want something that I might not be able to achieve. I don’t want to jinx even luck I don’t entirely believe in, don’t want to annoy any listening spirits, who might mock me for sounding greedy. It’s embarrassing to display hopes and make them look big and fabulous and like we mean it.

Yeah. I know. This hit me right over the head, because–yes, I know what I want to do this year. I knew that night, with the insomnia, and it’s only been confirmed in the past few days by the emotions I’ve been feeling about the decision and the pull I’ve been experiencing back toward my writing, a pull that’s been gone for a while. But I wasn’t going to blog about it. Because, what if I’m wrong. What if I look foolish? What if I sound like a rank amateur? What if I’m actually not being brave, but am giving up? Quitting? Wimping out? I’m not afraid of the choice or the change–okay, yes, I am afraid of it, but I’m also excited and relieved and dancing just a little bit. What I was/am really afraid of is stating the new step out loud. Here. In public.

But I’m gonna.

I’m putting the YA Historical  novel (YAH) in a drawer. I have been working on this book for over two years now. I have written a full draft and a half and plotted the thing pretty fully twice. I have changed stories and tried to change characters and tried to play with voice. I have done GOBS of research about people and events I find fascinating and admirable and awe-inspiring. But what I’ve been denying to myself for quite a long time, and what I finally faced up to last night, is in the title of this blog. There is no light in this story for me.

I’m not really talking about the light of hope for the character or the lightness of a humor thread, although both of those are missing, too. I’m talking about the spark of light that, for me, creates the pleasure in the writing, creates the reason for opening the file and doing all that struggling to get things down and get things right. It’s really a spark of love for something that I’m putting on the page. And I can’t find that anywhere in the YAH. When I think about working on this book, I see the story that I thought to tell, and I know it’s a good one. I see the character I imagined, and she is powerful and strong and active. Both the story and that character disappear when I sit down to write about them.

I lay there that night and asked, am I just not trying hard enough. Let me quote Charlie Brown for a minute: AAAAARGH! Yeah, sure, very possibly, I’m not trying hard enough. I’m not sure how I would try harder, though, and the thought of it just makes me feel even more trapped by this book than I already do. Is it just that I’ve taken on more things this year, and a book of this size seems insurmountable? Sure, that’s part of it. Am I not good enough yet to write a historical novel? I sure as heck wouldn’t take odds against that thought. Is YA the wrong age-genre for me? I’m starting to wonder if…yeah? But, honestly, it comes down to the light. Because I believe that, if the light were there, none of those things would matter.

That night, I compared how I’ve been feeling about this book with how I feel about other ones I’ve written or am writing. The books I’ve finished: The middle-grade mystery, my first picture book, and the new Hounds book from Capstone? Oh, yeah, they have the light. Okay, sure, but they’re finished. So of course I love them, right? Well, two are finished but not published, and while they’re getting nice responses, they haven’t been snatched up. I still love them, though, with that feeling that is completely heart-based and absolutely non-cerebral. And how about the other books that aren’t finished, that still need a lot of work before they’re even close to done. Three picture books from last year’s PiBoIdMo that need plenty of revision, and one idea from this year that I still need to draft. Light? Oh, yeah. But every time I pick one up, I feel guilty about spending time with it instead of the YA Historical. Guilt?! SO not an emotion I need to mix in with my writing!

I thought of Debbi Michiko Florence’s YOW (Year of Writing), and I thought, what if I were to give myself a YOWF (Year of Writing Freedom)? What would that be like? And a picture of four brightly colored file folders popped into my mind, laying invitingly on  my desk, ready for me to pick up whichever one I wanted to, on any given day. I pictured my filing cabinet, too, with some ideas that I’ve stashed there over the past two years. One title joined the colored folders on my desk. The boy in it had a name and some problem that was rushing toward him, some problem for which he’d developed a coping mechanism that was causing…problems. An irritating sidekick joined him, and she told me her name. At that point, I got out of bed and dug out a new notebook, because her name was too perfect to risk forgetting. And suddenly I realized that YOWF, for me, was not just about being free to explore these projects, but it was even more the idea of being free from the YA Historical.

Am I actually being brave to make this change, to start going for what I really want? Or am I just being distracted by the sparkle of something bright & shiny? Is this the right choice? Well, if you’re asking me about the future, I have no idea. It’s very possible I’ll get to the end of this year and feel just as miserably unproductive and wrong-pathed as I’ve been feeling up ’til now. But the idea of working on the YAH for another twelve months, on the assumption/hope that it’s the right future decision just feels so completely wrong for my now. I know I haven’t been hating it this whole time I’ve been working on it, but I think if I try to work on it now–tomorrow or next week–I will hate it. So I’m tucking it away

So what WILL I be writing this year? Well, maybe this new idea. Maybe the pb revisions. Maybe something from another file. Maybe something that I haven’t thought of yet. But I am going back to freedom, to writing for the love of what I’m working on. This year, I’m writing for the light.


The New Year’s Post

I’ve probably mentioned here before that I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. They reek of deadlines and pressure and a life that is actually controllable(which implies one that I should be controlling!). They make me feel like this:


So, those resolutions, I usually avoid them. And I’m not making any this year.


Well, except that this year there is something I want to accomplish. It’s one of those goals that I keep coming back to, reminding myself about, and that I often manage for a while. This year, I’d like to manage it for longer than a while. I’m thinking of something like Debbi Michiko Florence’s Year of Writing (YOW) or Gail Gauthier’s Time Management Tuesdays. It’s not that I want to blog about this all year, but I would like to be able to make and stick to the commitment. The commitment of showing up.

Kelly R. Fineman got me thinking about all this (again) in her series on Writing Avoidance (start with the entry on December 21st). She talked about a lot of things that resonate with me–writing less when life is happily busy, writing less when you’re questioning the long-term success or value of the words you’re putting on paper, writing less when there are so many distractions that are easy to turn to and relatively easy to accomplish. I’m not sure if she mentioned this, but it’s a new one for me, so I’ll include it: writing less when you have multiple projects you could be sitting down with but feel split over them. In other words, there are days when the minutes I put into a project feel as though all they’re doing is pushing the completion of another project further down the timeline.

The other thing that’s going on for me, right now, that I need to do something about, is that–in going back to work–I’ve developed a different relationship with my computer(s). I know, silly, but true. In the pretty-much-just-writing days, I had a desktop and laptop, and the primary work I did on both of them was my writing. That was even more true of my laptop, because I kept all my bill-paying and other life-stuff on the desktop. These days, my laptop has become my work computer–it goes back and forth with me to the museums, all my work emails are on it, and it’s kind of an auto-pilot reaction for me to open it up and go right to the Museums folder of work. So, you say, why haven’t I reclaimed the Desktop as my writing machine? Yes, why? Is it because at the end of a working day, I don’t feel like turning on the computer again? Probably. Is it because I’m tending to clean up the rest of the house to my office desk, so it’s cluttered and disorganized and doesn’t feel like creative space? Yes.

But, bottom-line, whatever is making me avoid the writing is–go figure–adding up to less time writing. Wow, who knew I could be so good at something?

Does that make me happy? No. Do I want to do something about it, this year? Yes.

So, this is NOT a resolution, but hopefully it’s a commitment. In two parts.

Part 1. Show up for my writing. As much as life has changed in the past year, with going back to work, I do still have writing time. It’s there. It’s available. I want to start using it much, much more than I have. This will probably mean figuring out some way to deal with the computer/writing space issue, some way that I don’t leave till the last-minute. All that does is give me more obstacles when the writing time shows up–now I have to clean up my desk first. Now I have to put things in folders so I can grab the project. Now I have to get in the mood to go with the writing time. Meh. I’m honestly not sure what that fix will be, although–from writing things out here–I’m suspecting it has to do with switching computers for tasks. It may be time to take ALL the museum stuff OFF the desktop and reclaim it for its own gig.

Part 2. The blog. I have been gone. I miss it, and I miss reading & commenting on other people’s blogs. But mostly I miss the freedom of the writing that I get here. My blog started out being for me, with a little extra layer of “Nice!” when someone else out there likes & comments on what I’ve written. For some reason, over the past year or two, it’s turned more into a have to, more into a for-an-audience kind of thing. I have enough of that kind of writing in my life. I can’t do what Kelly’s shooting for–daily blogging, this I know. But the commitment I want to make is to at least once-a-week blogging. I’m saying it here, hoping it sticks: If I haven’t blogged by Friday, I will put up a Friday post. And while there are days when a Friday Five feels just right, I’m going to work very hard not to fall back on it every week. Will my posts be about writing? Will they be rambly? Will they be about these commitments? Don’t know. Can’t tell for sure. Just staying that, yes, they’ll be here.

So, yeah, sort of a couple of resolutions. Can we just not call them that, though? Cause, you know, this:


What are you resolving or not-resolving this year? Whatever it is, I wish you all the best with it!

Rethinking a Plotting System…Again

As I get closer to finishing the Breakout Novel workbook, my thoughts are jumping forward to starting the next draft of the WIP. Meaning, of course, they’re jumping into that not-so-little puddle of worry that even this draft, with all the work I’ve done, will still feel tangled and messy. Meaning, of course, that I’m trying to visualize myself organizing scenes, drawing out character arcs, laying out a nice, tidy order of events into which the actual words will just flow.

Hey, I can dream, right?

Plot is my burden, my battle, and my quest.

Every time I start a different project, I find myself searching for the plot system that will work. For me. Forever. I read blogs about plot, I play with my whiteboard, I picture myself with the perfect set of index cards that I basically toss into the air then watch settle happily into place…a place from which I can write.

I know that part of the “problem” is that, as a reader, I don’t really notice plot much. I’ve probably said this here before, but I can read the same mystery three times (okay, years apart, but still…) and not figure out whodunnit. What gets me when I read is the character dynamics, the interactions, the layers of personalities that play out on each other. And those are the pieces I really love about writing. Unfortunately, the best character studies fall flat without story. This, I get.

So…this time around, here’s what I’m thinking.

  • I’m going to read Save the Cat. I’ve been hearing about it for years, and lately Debbi Michiko Florence has been singing its praises. I’m going to see if there’s a takeaway for me that’ll push me forward this time around.
  • I’ll troll through Robin LaFevers’ blog posts, because I know she’s got some great plot stuff.
  • I’m thinking about index cards a little differently. Maybe I’ve missed this before, while everybody else got it (very possible), but I always get confused about who goes on what color card. I mean, my hero is in EVERY SCENE, right? So when does a blue card get assigned to one supporting character and the yellow one to another? What I’m thinking is that maybe those are the background stories, the plot lines that happen off-scene, that we don’t actually see. The events and actions that impact my hero IN the scenes that make it to the page. So I’m thinking green for every on-stage scene, with Caro’s plot points on the cards. Then, oh, purple for her BFF, yellow and blue for the brothers, red for her mother, etc. But the other colors track the back story, the arc of the other characters–what they’re doing while Caro runs around in the foreground crashing into obstacles. Yes? Maybe? If anyone out there realizes this has always been the way to use index cards, and that I’m a clueless wonder for not having realized it before, please feel free to let me know. Nicely.
  • See what I can do with Scrivener. As I go through the workbook, I have been tossing scene cards into Scrivener. Maybe I’ll work with my new index card system in this application. I do have a dread of getting all the physical index cards laid out on the floor, forgetting to close my office door, in comes the cat, and….poof! I’m not sure there’d BE any saving the cat, at that point.
  • Steal ideas. Here’s where you come in. I know a lot of you don’t plot. To be honest, I don’t actually want to hear from you guys right now. Except, you know, in sympathy and support. BUT…those of you who, like me, want a structured home to pour the stories into, who’ve managed–at least once–to build that home and have it work, how about sharing? Pretty please? With a cherry on top?

Yes, I know there is no perfect system. Yes, I know plot is a living, breathing, kicking and biting thing that resists any attempts to tame it. Does this mean I’m not going to try? Nah. I’ll look around, play with what I find, heave a deep sigh, and dig in. But I’d really love it if I had a shovel that at least has a sharp edge and an unbroken handle, that didn’t give me splinters or fall apart when it hit the first rock. So if any of you have a tool you’ve used and like, do, please drop it into the comments. With my thanks!



Saturday Six: Links to Share

Lately, I feel like I’m checking in a blogs a lot, but not necessarily posting comments. I know there’s a lot of discussion around about whether blogs are on the way out, and I never know if my pattern is part of a trend or just a piece of my general business? Either way, I know there is still a lot of good stuff out there, and I thought I’d share a few today.

1. First, in case you missed it during the week, a link to my own blog–but to someone else’s post! Annette Dashofy guest-posted here on Wednesday about managing and participating in an online critique group. She’s got great stuff in the post, and if you leave a comment before Sunday night, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

2. Have you been following the Ed DeCaria’s Madness 2012! Poetry Competition? I’ve been popping in and out to see some rounds and give an occasional vote. I’m not a big poetry expert, but when something wows me, well…then I feel like adding my reaction to the count. It’s an amazing concept, I think–each poet gets a random word to build a poem around, and their poem comes up against another poet’s poem, written around a totally different word. Susan Taylor Brown wrote a great post here on dealing with her word and her fears–check it out. I wasn’t sure what page to link to for the contest itself, but here’s the scoreboard for the competition, which does have links to some of the poems. I think! Myself, I’ve just been watching for status updates on Facebook and then following those posts to the poems. Whether or not you’re a poet, I think this is both amazing and fun.

3. I’ve had people see me at the bookmobile, with my (yes, rather largish) stack of books to check out, and sigh that they wished they had time to read that much. Ack. Yes, I get that there’s never enough hours in the day to do all we want, but I also know that nobody in my family would want to live with me if I didn’t get my reading time in. Even so, I totally know what Jennifer R. Hubbard means about the rarity and the delight of just curling up with some reading time, not letting anything else demand your attention or your minutes. And someday, I’m going to get myself away on the kind of reading retreat Debbi Michiko Florence has been scheduling for herself this past year.

4. Until I was scanning my blog roll for links today, I actually missed this post by Nicole at Viva Scriva on getting back to her WIP after a forced “vacation” from it. Oh, so much here that resonates with me this week, plus some of the links that helped Nicole get back on track. Blog links within blog links–that’s what it’s all about today, folks. BTW, if you don’t have the Viva Scriva blog on your reading list, check them out for a few weeks–I’m guessing they’ll be a permanent add.

5. Another post I missed until this morning (okay, maybe I AM skimming too much!) is Jen Robinson’s review of Robin LaFevers‘ new book, Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1. I am a huge fan of Robin’s Theodosia books and enjoy her Nathaniel Fludd books, too. Not to mention I read Robin’s blog posts avariciously for her help with plotting. I haven’t read this new book yet, because if the car works and the creek don’t rise, I’m hoping to go buy my copy (and finally meet Robin!) at her Books Inc signing on April 4th. Jen’s review should give you a good idea, though, about why you want to read this book.

6. Here’s a fun post from Beth Revis, where she polled the members of her debut-authors group, the Elevensies, on the top three things they learned in their first year of publication. There’s a definite thread of letting the things that are out of one’s control be, well…out of your control. And another one on getting that next book started.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your weekend. Happy writing inspiration to everyone!

What’s It All About, Alfie? It Being this Writing Thingamabob!

When I was little, I named my pet guinea pig after this song, even though I’m not sure I’d even heard it. Something about the title…

And it’s what came into my mind today, when I was thinking about this post. I spent part of the morning working on my WIP, alternating with popping on and off of Facebook to whine about working on that WIP. I’ve been reading an old favorite: Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy, and smiling & laughing on just about every page. Basically, I was feeling jealous of the “they” out there who are working on light, funny stories, with true heart, and wondering how much longer I was going to commit to digging deep into figuring out the dark, grim one I’m working on.

Yeah, whine, whine, whine. Instead of, you know, gratitude that I HAVE this awesome story idea to work on, that’s pushing me to explore my craft, my values, and my understanding of human nature & personality dynamics.

So instead of whining, I thought I’d look a little more closely at what’s going on with me today, and see if any of it sounded familiar to you guys, and check out what you do about it!

Okay, yes, I took three yoga classes in three days, which perhaps has made me a little extra tired. And I came back to my WIP after three weeks off to deal with my husband’s broken bones (healing well!) and my own NF deadline. And the days of this week have been pretty chopped up into small pieces, pretty much interspersed with me getting into a car to drive somewhere, getting out at that somewhere, getting back in, driving home, and a little later, getting back into that car. Which never does wonders for my mental state.

But…separate from that: the book. I think one of the big things getting to me is the time that this story is taking me to write. Longer than anything I’ve ever actually come close to finishing, so that question of Will/Can I ever finish does loom large on certain days. I have a weird brain that sees books I’ve read and books I’m writing as typeset fonts on physical pages, and this book looks light and sparse with short chapters, short paragraphs, and lots of white space. Which is cool, except that the physical reality of this book is, currently, long chapters, long paragraphs and yawning amounts of space covered with text. So…how long is it going to take me to make the reality fit the vision?

And the question always arises: Do I chuck this and pick up something else. I could revise that light, funny MG mystery that’s in the drawer (I know, bad idea!). I could do some plotting on the urban fantasy idea that’s been sitting in a file for a bit. I could take a look at that MG novel idea that has a little boy I am SO in love with. I could go back and spend a lot of time on the picture books. Lots of choices that would feel like real reasons to put this book aside.

But then I open that file, and I spent five minutes, and the questions I’m trying to answer catch me up again and shout at me and get my juices flowing. Even if I don’t get very far in answering them. The feeling of slog has that one sharp, bite of Yes! mixed in.

Backing up that Yes! is the strong feeling that there is a craft learning-curve involved here for me. A big one. Which is, of course, tied to the fact of how long this book is taking to write. And the almost-certainty that if I fool myself into letting this go, all I’m going to face are more story ideas that need me to learn that missing part of the craft.

So there you have it. Not sure if I succeeded in keeping the whine out of this post, but I do think I’ve come back again to the fact that the best thing for me to do is push on. Push on and push away thoughts of the calendar.

How do you handle this struggle: this battle between the I-Want-to-Finish and I-Want-to-Write-THIS-Story? Do you put things away for a while and work on other ideas? Do you play lots of loud music that shuts up that evil counting-down-egg-timer monster? Do you have a mantra taped to your computer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you haven’t tuned into Debbi Michiko Florence’s posts on her Year of Writing, check them out here. They’re a good sanity check and reminder that this is a problem other writers face, that we’re not alone in the battle.

It’s All Good

I realized last night, when I took a breath to think about it, that I blogged only once last week. And didn’t realize it until the week was over.

When I named gave this blog its name, Moving Forward on the Writing Path, I may have naively assumed that forward always meant…well, forward. With no detours, no twists, no stalls. I say “naively,” because, realistically, we all know the writing path actually looks a lot like this:

Signs I know life is getting busy?

  • Yep, fewer blogs.
  • More to-do lists on my computer. (Luckily, I use StickyPad, which means the notes are virtual, not physical–they “stick” better, don’t look as sloppy, and are editable! Not to mention that, when I decide it’s time to STOP working, I shut off my computer, and I can’t “hear” the notes nagging at me anymore!)
  • I read and reread lighter books, comfort stories that I can dip in and out of without worrying about the characters or trying to dissect the plots. Latest choices: Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family stories.

What’s the busyness about? Taking first steps into a new writing area I’ve wanted to break into for a long time, hoping to add more non-writing work hours to my week, listening to all the stories in my head that want to be told. Yes, all good things. And you will hear more about them here, if/when they all get finalized and definite!

Still, if Jeeves showed up at my front door today, looking for a job, I wouldn’t say no. And I bet more blogs would magically get written, too!

Life and writing is about organization and management. And just when you think you’ve achieved that, change happens. Sorry…Change happens. Yes, with a capital C. Which is better than boredom and stagnation, but…it does put a few little hills and sharp curves into that path.

What do you do when new things come along? How do you weave them into a pattern that lets you settle into a rhythm and keep that forward movement.

A couple of links for you:

Gail Gauthier has started a series on time management for writers at her blog, Original Content. Check the posts out here.

And Debbi Michiko Florence has made this year her Year of Writing. You can find her series of YOW posts here.

And here’s to having it all…including sanity!

THE PLOT WHISPERER Blog Tour: Lacey Picks the Winners. Kind of.

This post is dedicated to Trixie, Debbi Michiko Florence’s dog. I’ve met Trixie, and she’s a sweetie. She’s also amazing–I’m always impressed at how clever she is when she helps Debbi pick a winner in one of their giveaways. You can see Debbi and Trixie together, at Jama Kim Rattigan’s celebration of National Dog Day. You can also watch Trixie here, as she picks ME to win a copy of Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done.

I was curious. Would my cat, Lacey, be at all interested in helping out the way Trixie does? I was pretty sure she wouldn’t actually carry the winner’s names over to me, but I thought maybe she would bat around the paper with the winner’s name. Or at least sniff at it. She does a lot of sniffing.

I decided to try an experiment, following Debbi & Trixie’s steps as closely as possible, with the entries for Martha Alderson’s new writing book, The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. I have to admit, I was a little tremulous–Lacey would have to clearly pick out two pieces of paper, without knocking them all under the bookshelf or something, where I’d never get to them and never know who had won.

Really, I needn’t have worried.

First, I put all the names on a piece of paper, folded those, and set them in a circle. I was working on the idea that maybe we’d go with the first two names Lacey batted out of the circle.

My son went to check if the cat was ready. You can see she was raring to go.

To get the full sarcasm of that last statement, go back and look at Trixie on Debbi’s blog, waiting so eagerly for Debbi to let her pick, then do the comparison. Yeah.

Basically, it was Kitty-Drawing fail. Lacey was so uninterested that she jump right out of the circle, over the pieces of the paper. You got it. Without picking one. So quickly that we were unable to get a photo.

Plan B.

First I needed to get the pieces of paper into a smaller space. A reachable-by-paw-while-being-held space.

I had reached the obvious conclusion that Lacey, unlike Trixie, needed a little help. (Note: No kitties were harmed in the making of this blog, only a small amount of kitty pride.) So, together, neither of us knowing which name was written on which piece of paper, we chose two winners.

Lacey and I (and my son, the photographer) say congratulations to:

Jennifer Fosberry and Suzanne Morrone, send me an email at beckylevine at ymail dot com, with your snail-mail addresses, and I’ll get your copies of The Plot Whisperer out to you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask Lacey to drive them to the post office!

Everybody else, you’ve got lots more chances to win. Martha has posted the schedule for the rest of her blog tour here, and there are more giveaways to come! And, Debbi, if Trixie has any tips for Lacey on doing this drawing-thing right, feel free to share.