Back on Track

Last week I wrote that I’ve been struggling to find time to write…not to mention finding the right words.

But this week I finally got myself back on track, thanks in part to that writing book I read (Second Sight by Cheryl Klein, recently re-published as The Magic Words).

Thanks to the advice in the book, I’ve figured out an emotional plot for my MC, and started revising my MG Fantasy in the morning before my kids get up. It’s definitely slower going than I’m used to these days, getting only half an hour (an hour if they sleep in) instead of my usual six-hour day, but it’s better than nothing.

I’m looking forward to getting this revision done and handed in for critique. I think I’m by far my harshest critic, often abandoning drafts because I can’t see any way to save them on my own. If I didn’t have this somewhat time-sensitive professional critique hanging over me, chances are this manuscript would have ended up in a metaphorical drawer as well.

Part of it is low self-esteem: feeling I’m just not good enough (see my posts on Imposter Syndrome). But part of it is that those drafts aren’t good enough. First drafts shouldn’t be compared to finished drafts, they’re the foundation, the building blocks of the book to come. They still need to molded and built upon to reach the status of actual book.

I think it gets a bit worse the more I learn about writing. With each new ms I’m able to spot more flaws in my first draft. More things I want to stop and fix immediately, rather than pressing on and correcting later in revision. But I have to start pushing myself harder.

In fact, I think my goal for the fall, once I finish drafting my YA Fantasy, is to go back and reexamine one of my trunked mss (probably the YA Contemporary) and see if it’s worth revising. I know it doesn’t work as it is now. But *could* it work with enough changes? Maybe.

And right now, that maybe is enough for me.

What about you? Are you your own harshest critic? Or do you have trouble seeing your own flaws? Let me know in the comments.

 

Quick Check-In

Just a short post this week, as summer is shaping up to be a bit busier than I expected. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t been able to squeeze in as much writing as I’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean my brain isn’t constantly working away.

My next goal is to whip that too-short MG Fantasy into good enough shape for a crit I won from an editor. The only problem is…I’m not quite sure *how* to fix it up just yet.

So, while I run story and character ideas through my head, I’m spending my downtime reading books on writing, hoping one of them will help me figure out what this story is lacking (you know, besides words). With any luck, by the time I have an opportunity write again, I’ll have some concrete ideas about what’s needed to revise this manuscript.

Hope your summer has been more productive than mine so far. More next week.

Birthday Musings

Hard to believe another year has passed. This year’s birthday is a tad bittersweet, as it brings me even closer to a milestone birthday next year.

On it’s own, hitting that milestone isn’t too scary. But as far as writing goes, there’s a part of me that saw next year’s birthday as a career goalpost, a best before date to have a novel published by.

Newsflash: that’s not going to happen.

It takes about one-and-a-half to two years from selling a book to a publisher to seeing it in stores, which means even if I sold a book tomorrow (which would be difficult, since I don’t have anything out on sub right now), it still wouldn’t be in stores before my self-imposed deadline. (Yes, Fun with Frosting moved faster than this, but it was a) not a novel and b) an exception.)

So, I’ve had to adjust my expectations. At best, I can hope for a publishing contract (*crosses fingers* *throws pennies in fountains* *blows out all the candles*) by next year. After all, I just handed in my revised YA to my agent, and with any luck I’ll be on sub by the end of the summer.

But the good news is, there’s no best before date on a writer’s career. It’s not like a pro athlete, or dancer, or even an actress (there are scandalously few roles available for older women). Many writers write into their old age (one of my favourites, P.D. James was still writing in her nineties), so the pressure I’m feeling is all of my own making.

All I can really do is keep writing and revising, until I get the right manuscript in the hands of the right editor at the right time.

Until then, I’m going to be over here, stress-eating my way through my leftover birthday cake, waiting to hear back from my agent on my most recent set of revisions. Wish me luck.

Sticks and Stones…

….Will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Except that’s not true at all, is it?

Words have a great power to harm, either intentionally or accidentally. Whether it’s a well-chosen barb, an unfortunate nickname, or a phrase taken the wrong way, words are definitely capable of inflicting pain.

Perhaps even worse are words and phrases with sinister origins, insults that come from denigrating someone’s disability, mental capacity,  or stability. Some of these words are so ingrained on our language, we don’t even recognize them for they are. Words like lame, stupid, idiot, mental, and psycho all reinforce the idea that deviating from “normal” is worthy of derision.

Now, if you’re like me, your first instinct might be to resist. But it’s just a word. I use it all the time. It’s too hard to change.

But language is constantly evolving, as are the people who use it.

Don’t believe me? When I was a kid, “retarded” was a pretty standard schoolyard insult for everything we didn’t like, from people to TV shows to shoelaces. You probably winced reading that just now. I know I cringed when I typed it. In just thirty years that one word has gone from a common insult to a scandalous word. I’d bet my kids have never even heard it. (As it should be.)

So it can happen.

As writers, I think we have a responsibility, not only to do no harm with our words, but to act as agents of change. If we all filtered these ableist words out of our work, maybe they’d slowly disappear from language as a whole.

But, if the idea of eliminating these words for the sake of others isn’t enough motivation for you, then consider it a writing challenge. When I deleted “stupid” and “lame” from my YA (I hate to admit how many instances there were, since I tend to channel teenage me while writing YA) I was forced to come up with much more inventive and descriptive insults to replace them. I’d gotten lazy with my adjectives, and having to change them, made my writing stronger.

(As a starting point, check out these two posts by care2care and Autistic Hoya on alternatives to ableist language, which also help identify other ableist words to avoid.)

Maybe if we all work hard enough at removing ableist language from our work, in time books that include these words will be looked at the same way we’d look at a book using the R-word today, as outdated and insensitive relics from a harsher time.

 

I shudder at some of the words I used as kid, before I understood the history behind them.