In life, especially in 2020 (oh, wait--we're not in 2020 anymore?:), it's important to take time out to sit and soak in a few pleasant moments when they surface. As a writer who is currently working on books for young people, it's natural to wonder if my projects will be enjoyed by the ages they're intended for.
Cue my in-house editorial team with a penchant for unabashed honesty. They had so often asked to read what I was writing when I was drafting and later revising my Young Adult novel: LUCY BOUND IN LYRICS, but the answer was always, "No, you're too young." So, I started writing a Middle Grade novel allowing me to say, "Yes, take a look."
The two projects are completely different, which makes it fun for me. The Young Adult novel has been a heart-wrenching, creative, learning journey and a chance for me to take broad strokes with my poetic paintbrush to address the challenges of an age-group I used to teach in the classroom and advise as a college admissions counselor. Alternately, the Middle Grade novel has been a fun and funny, wild, mysterious ride with characters I hadn't expected to meet but am glad they insisted on joining in. I can't wait to find out how it ends. Seriously! :)
So, two weeks or so ago I printed out my YA novel and spiral bound it for my very first Beta Reader: My oldest daughter. She is a voracious reader and being a teenager--I knew I wasn't going to get unearned praise. In fact, I wondered if I would get any. It felt so good to share something so dear to me with someone so dear to me.
I gave her a list of questions and a teen-friendly mini emoji survey after each chapter. Then, I waited for the verdict. And, she didn't disappoint. She really enjoyed the book, but pointed me toward some scenes that felt too long, some words that were used too often, a couple of outdated terms and even offered up a comp title: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. Her feedback was put right to work and as a result I made a rather substantial format change that was not only a compliment to the storyline but super fun for a writer who loves poetry. I finally got the feeling: It's ready! I wanted it to be ready so many times over the past two+ years, but this was the first time I felt pride for it in my bones.
Last week, I needed a boost in motivation to propel me through the resolutions needed in my MG novel: ELEANOR WITH THE WEEPING EYE. I printed out the 120+ pages in their rough draft form, punched three holes, tied yarn through each to bind it and handed it to my second oldest daughter to read and let me know if I was going in the right direction. Not only did she read it, but she read the first 55 pages out loud to my younger son who really enjoyed the story until my daughter's throat started hurting. She didn't want to stop reading it, though, so she finished the rest in silence, herself within hours. She loved it!
My books aren't published, but it still felt so good to see kids (especially my own kids!:) reading them--even if just bound together with plastic coil or pieces of yarn. It was the most instant gratification a writer can get.*
I'm going to soak it in and savor it for the gift that it is:)
* Disclaimer: Giving birth and raising your own in-house editorial team should in no way be thought of as "instant." There really is nothing instant about it and much thought should be given to the responsibility and expense involved when embarking on such an involved editorial plan. In-house editorial teams may cause exhaustion, stress, sleepless nights, depletion of food, less time for writing, clogged toilets and memory loss. :)
Blank Page taunts, "I dare you to draw!"
In the repetitive days of a pandemic, there aren't too many surprises, but yesterday I got one. Writing in my journal--as I do each day--I flipped through the journal and discovered that the second half of the journal was made up of blank pages.
I flipped through three more times in mild disbelief and a bit bewildered, "What do I do with blank, unlined pages? I'm not an artist--not a visual one. Or, at least, I don't consider myself a visual artist. But, the the thing about the unexpected is that it often presents an opportunity. It goes a little somethin' like this:
How exciting during such a boring time of year. I think I'll start today. (I wrote this yesterday.) Bad art at its worst, but that's how a beginner begins in art, in music, walking, swimming, public speaking, parenting, styling hair, painting nails, cooking and doing life.
We almost always start poorly and try again, work toward improvement, learn and hopefully we end better than we began.
If we end worse off--time to try something else:)
"Snow," said radio.
A few photos from this week's snow. Makes me want to read my favorite snowday book:
Snow by Uri Shulevitz
Untangling the Story
I've reached the point in my Middle Grade novel where I need to start to rein in the characters. They were given a bit of freedom to explore, but now I need to bring them to the wrap party and it needs to make sense. To tell you the truth--I've been dreading this a bit. I know where I want them to end up for the most part, but now I have to figure out how they will get there. I write by the seat of my pants and that adds an element of suspense--for ME.
This challenge presents itself to me like four necklaces that have been tangled up into what feels like an endless mound of knots. The tendency is to just chuck the whole thing in a drawer (or the trash) and leave it regardless of the lost value or the likelihood that it will never be dealt with if it is not dealt with now. Another inkling might be to break at least one chain to make it easier to untangle. Maybe just untangle one--my favorite one or perhaps the easiest one to untangle. After all, no reader knows how I wanted it to end in my imagination.
My characters can be tweaked as needed unbeknownst to anyone.
So few would look at a knotted clot of chains and be excited to patiently, slowly, mind-bendingly and methodically follow each strand to its first knot. Work to untie it. Then the next and the next until each is free from its metalic captivity--able to be useful again, to be admired for its own individual attributes instead of one tangled mass of metal.
A confession: I am the designated detanglee in my family. So, it's not neccessarily a task I loathe or have never done. It's a challenge. Something I know I need to sit, relax and work on. A puzzle.
And so, that's where I am in this project--untangling, identifying each individual strand. The part where I need to focus and figure out. Hopefully I am able to do it because I believe there are some really valuable jewels in the pile and I'd love to showcase their dazzling merit for readers. Admittedly, it feels so good when something is transformed--like a clump of metal--from trash to treasure.
There is a relief and a sense of accomplishment. There is the fulfillment of investing time in what could otherwise just remain a useless cluster of words and transform it into an intricate and powerful story that sparkles and demonstrates how materials found in nature can become art in the right hands. Here's hoping that my hands are the right ones.
The hardest part is that I won't know until I have put the hours of untangling in. I could be left with nothing more than aluminum out of a gumball machine or I could be left with a solid gold, gem encrusted family heirloom. The challenge is the not knowing, but needing to have faith and persevering anyway.
That's the mystery of any artform, right? Any mission or passion--any initiative. Persistance. Blind faith. So often it is endurance, not raw talent, that determines success and satisfaction. Skill without the will to try and try again won't get a person very far.
Tuck in and find that first knot.
Forgive (yourself) and forget (your efforts)--early and often.
Pick up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and start going knot by knot.
I'll get there. So will you:)