Category Archives: Writing Process

On becoming involved and writing uncompromisingly for yourself

Yoshida
‘Sarusawa Pond’ by Yoshida Hiroshi.

Hi all! Once again, a million things have been going on; so much so that I can barely keep up. To tell y’all the truth, I don’t even know where to begin! I guess the beginning is always best, but who’s to say exactly where the beginning is? (I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, can you tell?)

In the past eight months, I’ve gone out of my way to participate in as many local events as I can.  I was already struggling to juggle my writing and my day job, so the masochist in me decided I needed to add another level of intensity! It’s been tough, to say the least, but it’s brought a whole new dynamic to my author life and I can’t stress enough how game changing it’s been for me as a whole. Not only has it brought me into contact with fellow authors and people in the local community who have offered their friendship and support, but it’s brought me closer to the readers I’d hoped to connect with and reach.

If you’re wondering what I mean by becoming locally involved, here are a few examples. This weekend, I ran a Fantasy Writing Workshop at Tubby and Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans, with author Kimberly Richardson. Before that there was Geek Fest at the New Orleans Public Library in July, NOLA Time Fest in June, the Independent Bookstore Day events at Tubby & Coo’s in May, and contributing to New Orleans’s first Cherry Blossom Festival hosted by Kawaii NOLA in April.

The next few weeks will be even more intense. I’ll be releasing the Second Edition of The Butterfly Crest, just in time for a three week extravaganza of local (New Orleans) events! (Scroll down to the end of the post for event dates and times). For a while now, I’ve been considering making several aesthetic changes to the cover and book design of the paperback, and I figured there’s no better time than now! So, I shelved Book Two for several weeks to make the necessary updates. Fear not, there have been no substantive changes to the contents of the story (not even to those parts where I might have been somewhat overzealous with my descriptions)!

So, what’s going on with Book Two? Glad you asked! I’ve started over. I’ve ‘destroyed’ my work. What do I mean by that? Exactly as scary as it sounds! Back in April I mentioned going ‘back to basics’. Things had been paralyzed for quite some time and I kept hitting a wall. What I had no idea then was how far I would have to go to change things!

After a year of trying to force things (and denying there was a problem to begin with), I ended up having to pitch it all and start over. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but I’m glad I did it. I honestly didn’t have any other choice. I wasn’t happy with what I had of Book Two.  I knew exactly what was wrong with it, but I was too scared to do anything about it; the problem was systematic and if I addressed it, I’d have to destroy everything I’d taken so long to create. That’s why I’d been paralyzed for so long. Destroying everything after so much blood, sweat and tears—the idea of it was terrifying. I didn’t want to accept it.

So what was the problem? It was something simple (basic) in hindsight. I wasn’t writing for me. Not a single word of it sounded like me. My voice, as an author, was nowhere to be found. Once I realized that, destroying it was my only option. The second I pitched it all, the writing started to flow. In a single month I wrote what had taken me a year to write before. I’m happy to report that we’re back on track and stronger than ever! Yes, the release of Book Two will now be delayed, but I’d rather have a product that is my own and that I’m proud of. I want to write uncompromisingly for myself, fearlessly and without apologies.

UPCOMING LOCAL (NEW ORLEANS) EVENTS:
  • September 24Paranormal Con at the Jefferson Parish Library. I will be participating in two of their panels. Specific times to follow.
  • September 30 to October  2CONtraflow VI at the New Orleans Airport Hilton. CONtraflow is a Science Fiction & Fantasy literary convention with a New Orleans flair. I will be participating in several of their panels. Times and dates to follow.
  • October 8 – Japan Fest at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I will be signing and selling books from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Kawaii NOLA, who I work with often, will also be in attendance! Come by and say hello!

 

This post’s image is  “Sarusawa Pond” by Yoshida Hiroshi, a Japanese painter and woodblock printmaker who is known for his beautiful landscape prints. I chose this image because of how serene it is and how calm it makes me feel; the perfect sentiment as I move ahead. Calm and steady.

On Going Back to Basics

Zeshin Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons
“Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons” by Shibata Zeshin, Meiji Period, 19th century; Google Art Project.

I don’t know where to begin.

When that happens, it’s usually best to go back to basics. But what happens when you forget the basics?

What happens when you strip it all down to it’s natural state, and you still get nothing? Something is supposed to bleed through, right? At least that’s what I thought.

When it didn’t, it was paralyzing.

I’ve been in a semi state of paralysis for the past year. There. I said it. It’s out in the open. It can’t have any power over me anymore.

So here I am, back to basics.

It isn’t where I wanted to be, granted, but it’s something. An admission. An affirmation. It fits. In my own round about way, I arrived at something.

It’s been a theme for the past year, these false starts, and every time I found myself face-to-face with them, I ran in the opposite direction. It was easy to find excuses—my health, my business and career, my personal life—anything not to look in the creative mirror.

We try our best during this journey to stay true to who we are, sometimes forgetting that we can’t be the same person at the end of the journey that we were at the beginning. I think that’s even more so when it comes to art. It’s an intimate thing to share your art with the world, and the act alone will forever change you. The tricky part is learning what’s actually a part of the new you and what’s just noise.

 

This post’s image is  “Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons” by Shibata Zeshin, a revolutionary Japanese painter of the late Edo Period and early Meiji Period. Zeshin invented the form of “urushi-e”, painting with lacquer, and is the only artist to be successful in the medium.  I chose Zeshin for this post because one of his paintings, “The Gods of Good Fortune at Mount Horai”, is currently on display in the Japanese Gallery at the New Orleans Museum of Art, as part of their exhibit on auspicious imagery in Edo Period art. NOMA has been a huge source of inspiration for me and turning to it now is definitely going back to one of my “basics”.

On rare moments of free time

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“Cherry Blossom in the Night” by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866)

Very rarely these days do I get a chunk of free time to dedicate exclusively to my writing. Even rarer still is the instance when that serendipitous chunk of free time is devoid of interruption. This morning was meant to be one of those rarest of rare moments. The planets magically aligned and for at least four hours I would have the house all to myself, without any pressing issues that spilled over from the week or housework looming over my head. It was the perfect opportunity.

After seeing the hubby off, I excitedly got down to business. I cleaned up my work space. Turned on the computer. Changed into more comfortable clothes. Prepared my tea. Opened the window shades for light (but not wide enough to be a distraction). Sat down. Found the file on the computer, opened it and began to read. (I usually reread the chapter I’m on before I start writing, if I’ve left it partway through).

Three paragraphs in, I found a little something I wanted to edit; a single (arguably insignificant) word. I’d read the passage plenty of times before without ever concerning myself with it, but for some reason today my brain got stuck on that one word. I changed it back and forth several times, read it out loud once or twice, and then went ahead and committed (after all, I needed to get through another 4,952 words before I could pick up my writing where I left off).

Moving along, I read paragraph four without a problem (cue false sense of security here). In paragraph five, my brain got stuck on comma placement; I decided to leave it alone. In paragraph seven, my sentences started to sound too wordy (a sure sign I was not in my right mind). In paragraph eight, I questioned a descriptor I had painstakingly considered and chosen before for the sake of my narrative voice. By the time I got halfway through paragraph nine (and my brain got stuck again, this time on using the proper name for an important place), I realized something was off (me) and decided it would be best to walk away.

In less than a half hour, my perfect opportunity had been squandered away.

Suffice to say, I’m just a little bit frustrated. Four hours of ideal solitude and I can’t write (I can’t even get past re-reading). Normally, I would advise sitting in front of the blank screen until the words come, but there are times when you can’t do that. I know that if I continue today, I’ll massacre the progress I’ve already made. So I decided to use the free time to write this post instead. Now that it’s done, I think I’m going to do a little gardening. The weather is cooperating (somewhat), and it’ll help clear my mind.

I might not have a rare chunk of free time later, but I’ll be fine with a little inspiration.

On the image for the post, it’s by Katsushika Oi, one of the few female woodblock ukiyo-e painters of the Edo Period. She was the daughter of the artist Katsushika Hokusai. Her identity, of course, is inspiring, but so is the image itself.  A large part of Book One takes place in Japan, and the feeling invoked by the painting reminds me of the setting.

On end-of-year reflections

Chrysanthemums_by_a_stream_with_rocks
Chrysanthemums by a stream, with rocks. By Itō Jakachū. Part of the series Doshoku sai-e.

It’s the end of the year, the time of year that inevitably brings with it much reflection. For me, specifically, it’s the time of year I finished the first major round of editing on The Butterfly Crest and began considering what to do next. I also happen to have just completed a another substantial step in that journey. So, it’s only natural that I currently find myself obsessively preoccupied with evaluating my progress.

Looking back at the past year, one thought constantly rises above the others:

Every step of the process, no matter how large or small, is equally as important and laborious as the last.

I started out this journey thinking (naively, I admit) that writing the book itself would be the hardest part and that everything after that would be, in a sense, “down hill”. Having finished the book, I felt that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That was almost three years ago. I am done with writing. I am now (thank the gods) done with editing. My list of things to do, however, has only gotten bigger, and the road has become no less uneven.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

The editing process, for me, turned out to be a three year endeavor, after first thinking that I was done in just a couple of months. I can’t tell you how many times I looked back thinking, Okay, this is it, and then it wasn’t.

I finished the book back in 2011. The first round of editing took four months. Once that was done, I thought I was ready to roll; next up was publishing! With that in mind, I started looking into my options; traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to explore both, so that opened up several avenues of exploration (literary agents, query letters, the torture art of a well written synopsis, submissions, social media, platform building, etc). With exploration came many realizations, several of which started the editing process all over again.

To increase the chances of capturing an agent’s interest, I had to make changes to the beginning of the book. Then I shared the book with a few trusted friends/relatives for feedback; that inevitably led to round three of editing (much more in-depth than the last). After that, I got the insane idea that I could read the book completely, and enjoy it like any reader should. Not so much; that seemingly innocent goal led to the most extensive round of editing. At the same time, I was building up my newly-opened practice, executing a limited foray into submissions to literary agents, reading up on the world of self-publishing (which has changed quite a bit since then), and starting my (mis)adventures in social media and platform-building.

You can see how something I thought I had finished in early 2012 ended up taking me until November 2013 to complete.

I remember thinking to myself these past few months, Okay, this is it, after this it’s smooth sailing (sound familiar?). Once again, I was wrong. Now, while continuing to work on the social media/platform-building aspect (here’s looking at you, Pinterest), I’ve decided to revisit my book cover, something I thought I had finished in mid 2012 (around the same time I started sharing the book with friends and family). The past week alone has given birth to two new covers, and still counting; I might just end up posting them here for comment, to see what y’all think.

That all being said, I hope this little exercise in reflection hasn’t discouraged anyone, because that certainly wasn’t my intent. I just felt the need to share a little of what the process has revealed to me this time around. Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting, and which for me is now impossible to live without.

On allotted time slots, unexpected attachments and disgruntled writing elves

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Jigoku dayū, Hell Courtesan, ukiyo-e print by Kawanabe Kyosai.

It’s been over two and a half years since the first time I sat down to write The Butterfly Crest. It took me five months to complete the manuscript, before I handed it off to my husband for slaughter editing (trust me, that first round of editing, while invaluable, was a thoroughly torturous experience).

Back then, I wasn’t keeping track of my daily word count or writing on strictly allotted slivers of time. I would prepare my tea (in three cup batches), settle into my comfortable little nook, and spend a minimum of eight hours letting the story tell itself. While hardly leisurely, the overall experience lacked any real element of stress (relatively speaking).

Not so, this time around.

Never mind the obsession with meeting my daily word count goals, the stress of having to stop mid-scene because my allotted writing time has ominously arrived, or conveniently forgetting that writing at night makes it absolutely impossible for me to fall asleep at a decent hour in order to be able to wake up the next morning for work. What surprised me today, a day I’m finally able to sit down and dedicate a full day of writing to, is my unexpected attachment to ritual.

Having happily decided this morning to be free of my usual two-hour, heavily constricted time slot, I started to set up shop for a fun-filled day of writing. That’s about the time my brain got in the way.

First, I couldn’t find my tea kettle (it took me a second to remember that it’s at the office), and apparently my mind can’t switch to ‘full-day writing mode’ unless I have three cups of hot tea waiting for me on the sidelines. Next, the writing elves in my brain went on strike because the chair I’m sitting in isn’t very comfortable (looks like they really liked my old writing nook, one I no longer have access to since I’ve moved). My old reference books are nowhere to be found (mind you, I don’t need them for today’s scene, and probably not for this book at all). The dining room table (which has taken the place of my old writing nook) has been deemed too empty and sub-par. The phone rings and I am compelled to answer it; even though I know it’s most likely going to be work related and will destroy any inspiration I might still have at this point. By the time I handle the phone call, Mr. Muse has officially left the building and the two-hour, heavily constricted time slots are beginning to look like pure gold.

That’s when I decided it would be best for everyone involved (disgruntled writing elves included) to switch gears and write this post. Now that reflection time is over (and trust me, seeing in black and white just how ridiculous I was being really helped), I can finally go back to today’s intended purpose (and preparing more tea).

If you’re wondering what the ukiyo-e print above has to do with this post, it’s the image I’ve had up on my browser for several days now, as I write the scene I’m working on.

On flights of fancy

Portrait_of_chino_Hyogo_seated_at_his_writing_desk
Portrait of chino Hyogo seated at his writing desk, by Katsushika Hokusai.

There are days when 700+ words come clearly and definitively, all within an hour. Then there are days when 140 words can take me a lifetime. Today belongs to the latter, but for the first time in a year and a half I find myself completely and happily immersed, once again, in the world of my own making.

The writing process has been a little different for me this time around. There isn’t as much structure as there was before. My outlines are looser, as are my ideas. I know where I need to start and where those pivotal stops in the journey must be, but I’m not as fixed on pre-planning as I used to be. That’s probably because Book One set the proper foundation and tone, and I simply find myself easing back into a familiar rhythm filled with friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in many, many months, but that doesn’t take away from the wonder of it.

And it’s those moments of wonder that makes me want to keep writing; that brings me back time and again to the arduous process of trying to give shape and meaning to the abstract. In the end, that’s what writing is—a way to explain, in finite terms, living, breathing ideas that are by definition infinite and intangible.

Neatly tucked within Chapter Ten of The Butterfly Crest you will find a flight of writer’s fancy, added on a whim without innuendo or forethought. A character spoke, the intangible took shape, and then the words made their way onto paper. I would have never guessed that those few words, which were not a part of any grand plan or carefully crafted scenario, would provide the key for the perfect beginning.

That, for me, is the wonder of writing.

On destroying your work

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“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

― Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette)

Going into this, I was certain that at some point the editing would stop.

I was convinced, by some inexplicable notion, that there would be a magical moment in time when I could flip the switch and go from author to reader; a moment where I would be satisfied and would be able to read my work with the same fervor I read other books.

That magical moment, however, has yet to come.

Every time I think my editing is finally done, something else comes out of the woodwork.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew editing would take time. I knew enough to know that I would seldom be satisfied (I have a tendency to over-think and overcorrect). I also knew that once I handed the manuscript off to my husband for editing, we would probably differ quite a bit in our opinions (he’s far from my target audience, and I’m set in my ways).

In the end, I approached editing in two ways.

First, I edited as I wrote. I know some people are of the opinion that editing while writing is a mistake, but it works for me. I would write a full chapter without stopping, review it, revise it and then send it to a trusted friend (she’d been my only audience for 14 years, so I knew she would be the perfect critic). We would discuss her suggestions, I would make the corrections and then move on to the next chapter.

After five months, I had myself a finished manuscript.

Now it was my husband’s turn. Several weeks after I finished, I handed him the first physical copy of the manuscript. He went chapter by chapter, and as he edited I would revise. Once that process was complete, I would be done.

A year and four months later, my editing is still not done.

My first mistake was editing so soon after finishing the book. You see, I made most of the corrections my husband suggested, but there were several I was unwilling to make that turned out to be absolutely critical. The problem was, I was too attached to what I had just written. Not enough time had gone by, and I couldn’t find the resolve to destroy my work.

In all honesty, I didn’t think I needed to destroy it.

Now, so many months later, I realize I was completely wrong. Somewhere between trying the read the book myself (a long and arduous process, since there is always something, some minute detail, I want to change) and getting feedback from the handful of people I’ve asked to read the book, I ended up making those difficult changes I was unable to make in the beginning.

It was a gradual process, but before I knew it I was destroying my work without feeling guilty about it. As I started trimming the unnecessary parts, and rounding out the parts that were lacking, I started to feel like I was finally close to the finish line.

But that brought with it it’s own set of problems.

With the momentum came the overcorrections. Suddenly, everything was suspect. The things I had been sure of before became uncertain. I started questioning dialogue formats, obsessing about the number of times I used the word ‘said’, and went so far as to doubt the beginnings and endings of my chapters. I became so consumed, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Moral of the story? Once you learn to destroy your work, the rub is being able to recognize that almost imperceptible moment in time when destruction becomes complete and total annihilation.