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Step Four: gather it up and toss it in the trash

If you been following this blog, you know that my mission is to chart my progress from couch potato extraordinaire to budding writer with a Knight Agency contract. The last two posts about my RT experiences were detours, and now I’d like to go back to where I left us—

Thanks to what I learned in “Intro to Novel Writing”, I’d accumulated 65,000 words of woeful pretension. Every page was a text-book example of rigid adherence to the principles of good writing. Remove any tell. Avoid all adverbs. Strip away all those tags. The result?

Book Attempt No. 3 stunk.

It shouldn’t have, but it did.

I’m a sucker for punishment. Despite the fact that my last class had been a poor experience, I threw my money on the crap table and enrolled in another course; this one titled Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. I went in with the same ambivalence a twice-divorced 40-year old might hold over the prospect of yet-another blind date. I went simply because hope is the last thing to go.

Wouldn’t you know that’s where I found a wonderful mentor and friend? In person, Caitlin Sweet is generously supportive and engaging—pretty much your ideal professor. In her other life, she writes award-winning literary fantasy novels of great beauty and sensuality. Caitlin has followed, pushed, shoved and encouraged me all the way to the first completed draft of Hedi’s Book of Rules. I might have stopped writing out of sheer insecurity if she hadn’t been my personal book doula.

Again, that’s hindsight talking. I finished Fantasy class with an exchange of e-mail addys and promises to keep in touch.

Come October 2009, I was in Indianopolis for Bouchercon. I went to the mystery convention for three reasons: I read cross genres and mysteries are a favourite; I knew that some of my online buddies were going, and I wanted to learn how to ramp up the suspense in my next novel.

The next sentence may sound familiar.

I was in the bar. I had a glass of merlot in my hand, and was listening with half an ear to the conversation around me. Since most of us had first met on a loop, the topic circled back to posting and then, out of the blue I heard Rachmr95 say, “I always read your posts, Leigh. They make me laugh. I like the way you write.” I think I nodded, and gave her a smile, but inside—oh boy. For the next twenty minutes the conversation swelled around me, and my glass remained untouched. All I could think was, “Rachmr95 likes my writing—and that’s when I’m not trying. So, why can’t I relax and write like me? Not some other writer. Just me?“

I was still mulling over the question when I got off the plane a couple of nights later. After kissing husband and dog, I made some tea, and sat down in front of the computer. And finally, because I’d given myself the right to shake free of fetters, Hedi leaned in and whispered into my ear,

“What do tree huggers call it? Karma?”

I wrote that down, and kept going. Words just fell off my fingertips. Magical. Fast. Pure. Twelve-hundred words in less than forty minutes. When I pushed myself away from the monitor, I had goose bumps and a problem. In one hand I had 1,200 words dictated by an imaginary character whose voice and attitude felt so right. In the other, 65,000 words of bloat and sludge.

Without a mentor, I might have spun around biting my own tail and generally driving myself nuts. But I did know another author; one whose opinion I valued. I sent Caitlin the new first chapter, and asked her, “Is it ever a good thing to dump a novel?”

Her reply was beautifully written—an instance of one soul reaching out to another. Yes, once she’d faced the same problem—a sense of profound ill-ease over the direction taken in her novel. After some agony, she decided to chop out the offending piece and start again. It wasn’t just insecurity, it was something much darker and urgent. A instinct that she was going the wrong way. Did I feel like that? Yes, I did. The next day, knowing that Caitlin Sweet had once dared to cut away a huge chunk of her work-in-progress, I took almost all of doomed book attempt#3 and chucked it. (I kept the physical descriptions of the laundromat). It hardly hurt at all. It was a relief to start over. And this time, I didn’t over-think it. I didn’t stand in the way of my character, holding up a placard that read, “Only good writers can pass.” I gave myself permission to just go in there, and tell it the way I heard it in my head.

I’ll never regret that decision.

Now, a word of caution. As you read this, you might be contemplating walking away from your current w.i.p.  Remember, the thought “crap, I suck” is a common one, particularly when you’ve hit a portion of your novel that is difficult to navigate. I felt it when I was trying to rewrite the ending of Hedi’s Book of Rules. But really, that’s just your general insecurity talking. However, if you feel a sense of profound ill-ease…or possibly hear a faint knocking, like cold hands rattling against brittle glass, and a thin voice screaming at you—“turn around idiot, you’re going the wrong way”—then stop. Listen.

Then have the courage to toss that which is false and start over.

Lessons for this one:

None of your work is priceless.
Sometimes you’ve got to go for the chop.
And finally this,
The best voice is your own.

 Edited: May 2, 2011—All right, I did the thing you’re NOT supposed to do. I started a blog without much thinking about it, and consequently, most of my original blog entires were posted elsewhere. For your convenience, I’ve put most them here ~

For perspiring Authors

Now back to the original post, as it read, April 22. ..”for the purpose of the blog entry, I’ve stolen the last one, and am putting a copy of it here, as a place holder until I post my next blog.”

More on R.T. 2011

As originally posted, April 11th

Amid the rash of comments regarding yesterday’s blog, I noted Tana’s request for more info about who I met at RT. I aim to please. Therefore, get some tea, drag over your chair and I’ll spin you a tale.

I’m not big on large groups of people. After my first terror-inducing ride in one of the hotel’s horrible glass elevators, I had to give myself a pep-talk. “Go down there,” I said to that stubborn inner-voice that had been spooked by the first wash of crowds in the lobby. She wasn’t open to persuasion. I might still be sitting on the hotel bed, debating the subject except I got hungry. And, as is true in most situations, the stomach won.

I sent a text to a friend and met her for dinner. And that was the start. Between my fear of the elevators, my constantly empty stomach, and the pure comfort of the bar, I found my happy place. Yes, there were times when I longed for a bath, an aspirin and a really gorgeous guy to give me a foot rub. But most of the time, I found myself thinking, “wow, don’t forget this.”

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="227" caption="I won't look, I really won't..."][/caption]

As in—don’t forget eating breakfast and realizing that Joanna Bourne is sitting right beside you, working on her manuscript. Let’s stop for second to embrace my inner conflict. Her w.i.p. was right there. On. Her. Laptop. A rude, underhanded person might have feigned dropping their napkin to steal a glance at the words on her screen…it crossed my mind, but so has robbing a bank, and as yet, I haven’t fallen victim to that particular urge. So, I didn’t peek, and she never lifted her head from her work, and thus, she remained oblivious to the fact that we were sharing a moment. The way Joanna Bourne was studying her prose? Well, I know the evil eye when I see it. Just like her, I have scowled at my monitor and thought, “This is an awkward sentence. How can I fix it?” It was an instant of deep bonding.

Or how about this for another unforgettable memory? Deidre introduced me to one of TKA’s authors, the very gorgeous Kristen Painter, who has a book coming out with one of the most visually attractive covers I’ve seen in awhile. Heck, if the book is as cool and fab as Kristen, it’s going to sell off the charts. Anyhow, my new pal tugged me along, and I found myself crashing an exclusive fete. True, the party was almost over, and I was so cowed by terror that I made like a tree in the corner, but I saw them. Big authors. Together. Sort of a visual feast spread out in front of me. I so wished I’d pack a little spy doohickie that captures audio:-)

I learned a lot at RT. Not only from the panels (which I found really useful), but from people who were willing to share their opinions and insights. At one gathering I attended, Barbara Vey made a comment that made my brain wander to another question. When I saw her passing by the lounge the next day, I asked if she had a minute to answer something. Not only did she satisfy my curiosity—the kind woman ended up teaching me how to tweet. All right. I admit that I hadn’t made much progress on the twitter thing; partly because every time I tried to read an educational blurb about hash-tags, white noise filled my head. Barbara took the bull (or in this case the cow) by the horns (tail) and stood behind me while I fumbled my way through my first use of the dreaded hashtag. I must have looked like a particular dullard, because I misspelled her name three times. Normally, that would have embarrassed me, and I’d have made a quick reference to the family’s long history of l.d.’s, but I was so enthralled by my first tweet that included the proper use of @ and # in one coherent message that I never got around to doing so.

Generosity. I saw it all over the place. One screen-play writing author gave me her card and said my daughter could contact her for advice. Another author offered to blurb me. (I’d mention her name, but I don’t want to put her on the spot.) Here’s the thing about fellow word-smiths. Most have experienced the same deep, festering need for validation via publication. They can recollect the struggles. The hardships. The knocks on peach-soft skin. And so, the majority of them are very kind. Not all of them. I saw some other stuff too. Some of it was a bit stomach-tensing, but I’m going to let that go. Let’s dwell on the good things. Or if not that, then the funny stuff.

For example, Patrick Rothfuss.

That poor man. I saw him crossing the lounge, and I had a total fan-girl reaction. I was shameless. First, I started by ogling and smiling at him in such an unavoidably forward manner that he came over to my table and said, apologetically, “I know you, don’t I?” Now, in hindsight, the correct response would have been. “Of course you do. How have you been my friend?”

It would have been the smart thing, no? Instead, I leaped out of my chair like I had won a date with George Clooney, and then…(deep shudder)…I launched myself into that black-hole of humiliation reserved for truly rabid fans–the complete, fluttering hand, impassioned delivery of the most blush-worthy platitudes ever assembled in one babbling speech that the author of THE NAME OF THE WIND was rendered momentarily speechless.

Clever man, Patrick Rothfuss. He hugged me—effectively rendering me mute, and then he backed away and got on the elevator. No one saw him for another 24 hours.

Back to the salt mines tomorrow. Ah, but today. The memories

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