Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(Over) Analyze This

How it is: Writing ain't what it used to be. Not these days, at least. Some days I drag myself kicking and screaming to the page, using any excuse to skip looking at my latest work all together.

Some offer guidance or answers to my recent lack of enthusiasm. They say things like, "Everyone has a slump," or "Take time away." My favorite advice, which I lay on myself all the time, is "Maybe your story sucks." That said, I'll spend hours thinking about it, poring over the pages with a damn microscope looking for a fix to jazz up the pages.

Lately I've been recalling the days when I started my first novel. Seven years ago this month I completed my first manuscript, over 225k words spilled out in eight months (strange, yes. Back then, not so much). Nothing could keep me away. I literally wrote morning, noon and night, every day including weekends. I LOVED that story. The fact that I had no idea how to craft a novel never occurred to me. Not once did I stop to think about plot. I just knew the story in my heart - it was organic. Once I finished my first novel, I put it to bed and began another following the same process.

After the completion of manuscript three things slowed down. Blame the eye explosion - enduring four surgeries to repair a detached retina slows one down a bit. But it never stopped me. The day my goddess eye doctor recommended staying away from the computer, I picked up pen and pad and continued the writing process.

Today I have no physical excuses for not writing, it's all mental. The creative part of my brain feels like it has been scrubbed with a wire brush. Nothing comes. No love, no enthusiasm or ideas. I'm left to wonder. Where did the good times go?

With answers not forthcoming, or obvious, I've reviewed my personal writing journey looking for answers, anything to make sense of it all. Here are a few thoughts and/or reasons on why my muse has gone stealth:

1.) In the beginning I wrote with great abandoned, clueless to the craft. Publishing wasn't in my thoughts. My work went unseen, the first two months no one in my household knew why I spent so many hours on the computer. I loved the characters I created and to me, the story was a masterpiece. Due to a freak ice-storm that knocked out the power for days, I told my husband how I spent my hours, revealing the story to him. He was my first supporter and fan, saying that many people dream of writing a novel, but few actually do it.

2.) Fast forward to mid-manuscript number two. Husband asked if I considered publishing. That thought put into motion my quest, including research and finding out where to begin on such a path. This involved opening the doors to reveal what once was my private venture. One person's thoughts evoked a wide spectrum of roads, adding more eyes to the mix. I joined Romance Writers of America, not realizing at the time that romance not my genre. But hey, those chicas knew the publishing ropes - I credit my choice for advancing my muse as well as knowledge base.

3.) The RWA. If not for them I never would have shared my work, making it subject to strangers' eyes. Contests a-plenty, I entered. One thing I found helpful by entering RWA sponsored writing contests was that the contestant remained anonymous. No names, I became a number. That being the case, judges' comments were based solely on the writing. I had several great scores, and a few not so great. The process thickened my skin as well as improved my talent (I believe).

It helped that contestants remained anonymous. Praise for my work came honestly.

4.) Honest opinions. I forged relationships with fellow writers. One in particular I call the "perfect balance" - she always told it like she saw it - she didn't praise if not warranted, yet let me know when something rocked.

5.) Editors. I have found there are many forms of editors. Those who actually know the craft and can back up their expertise with strong credentials; ones who know the craft, etc., yet tend to over-criticize, using such buzz words as "not buying it" (God, how I hate that phrase); and finally there are those who say they can edit, period. I've had three experiences with editors. Two credentialed; two who used the term I despise; one who had nothing to back up the title. I'm a firm believer that every manuscript needs an editor's eye, but also believe editors need "perfect balance" and not become the Simon Cowell of editing.

Ultimately in these past weeks I've felt abandoned and have begun to analyze my situation. I've recently become reclusive, have strayed away from blogs, distanced myself from other writers and worst of all, stepped away from my manuscript. Although the above five topics depict my writing road, it reveals a common denominator: Other writers. The good of it was great, the bad of it horrible.

Without mingling with other writers my writing world shrank. Without other writers I no longer hear words of praise (and I heard a few along the way). Funny how one kind word strengthened my work ethic, erasing all the bad comments or contest scores completely.

Perhaps that's what I'm missing. Kind people possessing genuine praise (not my sister or husband). Is it time to rejoin the creative human race again? So many questions, so much angst, what is a girl to do?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Memento Mori

I avoid looking at my reflection in the morning. It tells the obvious, that I'm no longer in my prime. A horrible way to begin the day, negative thoughts the same as getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Yet, there it is. I'm fifty-six and with the number I view my life's accomplishments and goals.

To date I've completed three novels, which sounds monumental but really it's like a tree falling in the forest. Unpublished, all three, unpublished. The silently falling tree. I'd be lying if I said I didn't care, but I do care. Deep down I feel they're worthy reads, but as you have read, I'm now fifty-six. Publishing is for the younger writer, ones who have years left to produce...

Or so I've been told. In fact I once read an article written by two prominent New York literary agents who agreed that publishers look for youth and not writers moving to a retirement community in Florida.

So today, after avoiding the mirror, I made coffee, wrote in my journal and then opened the daily newspaper. Second page news, but worthy of this blog, I read that author Belva Plain passed away over the weekend. She was 95.

More newsworthy than her death is her life. Belva Plain published her first novel when she was 63. SIXTY-THREE! And as startling as that number, not only was her first novel made into a mini-series, buy thereafter she continued on the bestseller trail, her last book published in 2008 when she was 93.

Dare I thumb my nose at the naysayers, or those who feel youth has an edge in today's society? What's with those younger agents I mentioned above? I recall my feelings after reading their article (published in Writers' Digest, just can't recall the year), ones I shared with other writers, some younger than I. The young-bloods somewhat agreed with the agents. Apparently older writers aren't as marketable as the younger writers, or so their argument indicated.

Had these people ever heard of Belva Plain? Quite honestly, I had but never knew her back story, one that has since recharged my attitude on the aging process. Her life bolstered my opinion about youth, that it's wasted on the young.

Talent knows no age and if a person relies on the chronology of their birth then shame on them for giving up. Shame on me for buying into the opinion of others.

Today I thank the Universe for people such as Belva Plain. I cling to her example, her persona the life-line I needed reminding me that age is merely a number, not a credential.

Long live Belva Plain.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

First and Last

James R. Stoops
10/13/1945 - 10/09/2010

When I come to the end of the road

And the sun has set for me

I want no tears in a gloom-filled room

Why cry for a soul set free?

He was nine when I came into the world, me the little sister-new kid on the block, he the big brother master of ropes. His job title notwithstanding, lessons from him came subtly without conditions or disclaimers.

Nearly a decade separating us, he was always one heartbeat away. And in that quiet rhythm he flowed beneath my skin, sharing the same DNA - first in every way.

On the ninth day of the tenth month somewhere near the eighth hour of morning, he left me. But as I slept within my last dream of the night, I felt him sweep over me, pulling my eyes wide open, his final whisper flowing down my cheeks.

I will miss you older brother of mine - you were the other part of our secret bookends, holding it together for those in between. On the other side you now walk free, your great wings outstretched keeping yet another eye over me.