Come Fly the Pants Skyway

I discovered recently that there are two methods of writing, and just like in any other faction, everyone insists that their way rules and the other way drools.

First, let me explain the two philosophies in brief, so you understand what I mean. First, there are the ‘Pantsers.’ Charmingly short for, “Flies by the seat of your pants.” These writers are riding the right brain highway, using their creativity as their sole guide through the process.

Next, there are the ‘Plotters,’ and as their name suggests, they like to plot and plan. They are the strategists, the types who use flow charts, character profiles, and a lot of pre-work to begin their story.

I am a pantser. That’s all I’ve really ever known how to do. I shaped the stories in my head and got them down on paper. There are all kinds of panters – poets, short story fiction, even novelists.  It’s a romantic notion, flying by the seat of your pants. The idea of creating an entire world inside your mind, and giving it life, is terrifying and delightful.

Having written two novels this way, I can also tell you it’s exhausting. Pantsers are prone to writer’s block and frustration when a character doesn’t stay consistent. Great ideas can be lost when one has to sleep or go to work, and not many of us have the luxury of being uninterrupted all day. Plots that sound great in your head often find ways of dissolving into unintelligibility on paper, as you scratch your head and wonder what exactly you wanted to convey.

So, I’m defecting. I’ve flown the Pants Skyway, and it’s hard.

Plotting is hard too, but it’s organized.  Time is spent examining the story from all angles, and jotting down notes so that later, you can go back and reference, and spark your memory about what the Bad Guy was supposed to do or what the Device is used for. It requires a lot of focus, but it’s also a creative endeavor. Writer’s Block and frustration can bedevil this process, as well, but having notes to riff from helps overcome those obstacles.

Of course, I have no idea whether this shift will be an improvement for my work, but I believe it will. I certainly think it’s worth a try.

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Speaking of Mistakes.. a Retraction

Yesterday, in my post, I made joking reference to my dismal love life prior to my husband. And why not? In my twenties, my love life was infamous among my friends. Given who my friends were, none of them were shy about expressing their opinions regarding my stormy relationships. I got so used to these jokes that they became part of the backdrop, no longer questioned.

When I stopped to reflect this morning about what I posted last night, I realized that those jokes are as outdated as mullets and shoulder pads. There is no doubt that I did achieve notoriety for bad relationships, but the lens of time reveals that the guys I dated turned out to be wonderful men for the most part. The truth is I’m on good terms with a majority of those men now, even if I wasn’t then. And for the few that I’m not on good terms with.. the law of averages suggests that not every ex-boyfriend can be awesome.

So, while I can claim that mistakes were made in my relationships, I did not mean to suggest that all my past relationships were mistakes. Clearly, my worst mistakes in life were my own doing.

The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made

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Some of you might think this is where I launch into my previously sitcom-worthy love life, but you’d be wrong. That probably ranks third, but I’m going for the gold, here.

 My biggest mistake in life was to stop writing.

 I was always enamored with words. I had scads of spiral note books, filled to capacity with ideas, short stories, and sometimes little doodles of unicorns or seahorses. I took those notebooks with me everywhere. I had a pen fetish, too. My friend Eric dubbed them my “million dollar pens,” on the grounds that no teenager pays seven bucks for a fountain pen. Besides yours truly, that is.

 When I moved to Washington, I stopped writing. Not completely, of course. I did my homework, composed English papers and psychology reports, etc. I wrote letters and emails and lists. I composed descriptions for characters for MUDs and I drew up plots for games. I even managed to write a few chapters for stories here and there.

 That’s where it would end, however. I might succeed in four chapters of a novel, but my methods were trial-and-error. I didn’t go to school to learn methods that would help me succeed as a writer, which is Biggest Mistake #2.

 I can only forgive myself for these two big mistakes because almost all of my favorite authors didn’t start their writing careers until much later in life. I am proficient at beating myself up, but it’s hard to say, “I screwed this beyond salvage” when I know I’m still considered to be young to be an author. Certainly not the youngest by any stretch, but if you look at the median age of my genre of authors, I’m a spring chicken.

 The other reason I can find forgiveness for my sin is because I feel like I’m making up for lost time in huge ways. I have one novel out, one more in process, and since I’ve published, I have joined writers groups, found insightful newsletters, and have found a community that has embraced me as an artist. My friends have been amazing with their support as well.

 It’s true what they say. I regret not writing far more than any of the things that I have done. I long for a redo, a magical backspace that will take me back down the path of folly to lead me down the path that rocks. Lacking my own personal TARDIS, I will have to accept my failure and use it as a cautionary tale instead.

 In truth, giving up writing was giving up my dreams. That’s why it was the biggest mistake of my life. Lucky for me, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

 

Shoot for the moon. It’s a big damn target.

I must admit to feeling rather foolish these days. I have finally stepped into the realm where writers are everywhere. Under rocks, behind trees, in coffee shops, walking down the street. They congregate in groups, and they ALSO congregate online. For the busy writer who already has too much to do, online is a *much* spiffier option. Let’s face it, writers are at least a little bit introverted. Coming forth from the cave doesn’t always happen.

I met some local writers through the contest with the Herald. One of those writers has introduced me to three different writers groups. I haven’t stepped into the pool, but I’ve been approved for all three, so we’ll see which one ends up getting more of my time/attention.

I’m still having difficulty balancing my desire for financial success through my writing with having a life. I’m *so* far behind the eight ball. And classes, while useful, aren’t always in session. Not that my bank account always allows for that anyway. The class that my parents treated me to draws near, and that’s just more hours I have to carve out of my day.

Allow me to sum up where my time goes. Family (husband & son), Work, Friends, and Writing. Now, it sounds like it would be the easiest thing in the world to swap Friends for Writing, and on paper, it works. However, these are my friends. I like these people. They are important to me, and I have a *ton* of them. If I’m not seeing one person, I’m seeing another.. and others are still getting neglected.

You might also notice that I don’t have any ‘me’ time. Writing is my ‘me’ time. Or, it’s what I choose to do with my time. There’s reading and TV and movies and online gaming and working out and shopping and a whole mess of other things I could be doing with my time, but my time is limited. So, I write.

Oh, and I do social media. Which, for the record, is how you sell anything these days. You can choose not to do social media, but that’s pretty much deciding to cut off an appendage, if your appendage was made of a hojillion wallets looking for something to buy. So, I do social media.

I am watching this progression with awe. I haven’t even been published a year, and the ways in which I’ve grown and changed are amazing. I always said that being published was my dream, but what I didn’t realize is what comes after being published. The rules are changing. You can read it in any blog. Self-published and tiny publishing houses are taking a large bite out of the Big House Publishing pie. Self-published authors are the new slush pile, and the Big Houses are leaning back and watching who to pluck from obscurity – although the joke is on them, because if you do well enough as a self-published writer, you aren’t obscure. (I know I’m not self-published, but I identify more with them because of how small my publishing company is.)

It’s crazy, what I want for myself is crazy. I want to be paid for this – not a tiny check, but something that will cover a year of my expenses, so I can sit down for a year and stop needing to work a ‘sensible’ job. It’s time to shoot for the moon. It’s out there, but it’s still a big damn target.

 

Writing Comes from Within. Like the Spleen.

Writing is a superpower. It’s a tricky superpower, though. There are tons of people who can write. There are significantly less people who want to write. There are even fewer people who will write.

I’m a writer, so naturally I think that everyone is. It has taken me years to accept that what seems effortless to me doesn’t to others. And to tell the truth, it’s not effortless for me, either.              

The truth is, everyone is inundated with great ideas for stories. A thought strikes them, and they ponder it for a moment before moving on.

Or, if you’re like me, you get caught up in the thoughts and suddenly find yourself hip deep in scattered chapters.

Editing, on the other hand, is the (one might say joyless) task of creating order out of chaos. Of realizing that your main character wakes up in a new time and shrugs it off effortlessly, when it should be at least a momentary concern. Or that your villain is the most boring character in the story. It’s finding the weakness and weeding it out. It’s criticism. It’s killing your (ideological) children. Editing is hell.

Now I run into the dilemma of being hip deep in my first professional editing session, and looking at my Ideas folder. It’s the shiny place where I record all of my infant ideas. The ideas gleam like gold, beckoning me away from the doldrums of deciding whether or not I can save the damsel in a way that will make sense to my readers.

I am choosing virtue. Partially because I’m paying for it, but also because I want this novel to be so much more than my first novel was. I want to show growth, and build an audience that can see there’s improvement, and want to know more.

The writing in me is so purely chaotic, so unrefined, so beautiful, it’s hard to exert this discipline. I’m not a patient person, and the winnowing out of ideas and refining of sentences is anathema to my previous way of writing.

However, my previous way of writing never got me published, either. So, at least for now, I’m going to rein in my imagination and keep on the harder path.

And the Oscar goes to..

Imagine for a moment you’re watching the Oscars for best lead actress. Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, and Drew Barrymore sit in fine gowns, hands on their laps, maybe biting their lip, or maybe concentrating on whatever deity helps them persevere. Every brow is knitted, waiting for the moment when the seal is broken, the contents revealed. One of them gasps, their eyes going wide, adrenaline seizing them despite their fine control of the human condition.

That was how I felt on Monday.

It’s true, I didn’t win a prestigious award, but I got the call from my publisher, informing me that my book is live on Amazon. I also knew this distinction was in the pipe, that it was just a matter of time before the deed was done. It didn’t matter. All the foreknowledge in the world did not stop me from feeling like I’d won some amazing prize. My hard work vindicated, my life’s goal achieved. I shook like a leaf. I know it’s silly, but it’s true. It was real.

I was unprepared for the well wishes, the support, and the general celebratory air. I was also unprepared for all the extra work. As a first time author, there were just a few items that you should do, but since they aren’t necessary to do, I didn’t realize them until people began asking me questions like, “Where’s your Good Reads account?”

Good Reads, Amazon, and Facebook all offer ways to make yourself accessible as an author. They all have different ways to determine your authentic author status, Facebook being rather negligible, but GR and Amazon having fair practices. They are easy websites to navigate. If you are mildly technically savvy and know what a blog, a profile picture, and a URL are, you’re set. There are tutorial tabs and slideshows for how to connect one site to another. It takes a few minutes to get everything set up, but I believe it’s a wise few minutes spent.  Here’s an example of my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/author/tinashelton

I have also discovered that despite the growing number of people buying e-readers, the interest in print books is not going away any time soon. I had twice as many people want a print book over an e-book when given the option, despite the e-book’s price being considerably lower. It’s catching on, but I don’t know if I’d call for a panic about losing the printed word quite yet.

All this in the face of starting a brand new job, and catching a cold besides. Even if Anne Hathaway deserves the Oscar for her performance as Catwoman, she’s still got to get up in the morning and get to the studio for Rio 2. The show goes on, after all.