Writerly Checkpoint

One of my goals in starting to blog again is to chronicle my adventures in writing. A lot of my friends use their blogs as a way to track their progress in dieting and weight loss, and actually having to write about what they are or aren’t doing seems to work for them. So I’m hoping forcing myself to track my writing/publishing process here will do the same for me.

I don’t want to bore everyone to tears with constant updates on what I’ve scribbled, what I’ve sent where, or how I beat my forehead bloody against my keyboard in a desperate fight with writer’s block. So I’ll keep these to periodic updates. But if you don’t see a post at least once or twice a month that outlines what I’ve been doing to get closer to my goals, it means I have nothing to report because I’ve been a slacker.

If that happens, give me some virtual kicks in the ass, please.

What I’ve done since the birth of this blog (the end of January)

1. I’ve committed to taking a second continuing education class when the one I’m in now (an overview of publishing and marketing your writing) ends in late February. The next one starts in mid-March, and is on creativity exercises to work through writer’s block.

To non-scribblers, I’ll bet “writer’s block” sounds like a classic excuse for not getting anywhere. It is the equivalent of a dieter giving up because healthy food is more expensive than 99 cent cheeseburgers. I’ll even be the first to admit that sometimes, that’s dead on. I am guilty as charged of saying “I can’t do this right now, I’m gonna go drink a beer instead” when my words aren’t flowing smoothly.

But writer’s block can be so much more than that. I went through an almost 2-year bout of CWS (Can’t Write Shit) and it drove me insane. We were in the midst of a large-scale project implementation at work and I was putting in ridiculous hours without an end in sight. Even so, I tried to carve out time for writing. But when I sat at the keyboard, the white screen was overwhelming. Sometimes my inability to even form a sentence actually made me panic. When I did get some words on the screen, they were complete and total drivel. If you write, then you know what I mean. You know when the mojo is flowing and what you’re putting on the page is good stuff, and conversely you can feel when your mojo is the bug that just got splattered by the windshield and all you’re doing is splashing bug-guts across the screen.

I hope that never happens to me again. But if it does, I’m thinking maybe this next class will give me ways to work through it and get “unstuck” faster.

2. I have been studying the hell out of the art of querying. This is a major topic in my current class.

If you’ve ever had to write cover letters for job searches, then you’ve felt a little of the querying author’s pain. In job searches, you get that one page to sell yourself and your skills. In querying publishers, you get the same amount of space to convince editors that they want to take time to read YOUR article, essay, short story or novel instead of any of the hundred others they got that day. And presumably, your query needs to be a cover letter on super steroids, because unlike in some job searches it really is all about how you write, and the others in the pile are from good writers too. It isn’t enough to just know the lingo and follow the format. You have to figure out ways to stand out without making yourself sound like an overblown ass.

3. I subscribed to Writer’s Market and joined the Writer’s Market/Writer’s Digest communities. This is something I coulda/shoulda/woulda done a long time ago. Better late than never, I suppose. I spent a good chunk of the weekend perusing resources and community boards and feel like this is a really good place for me to be. The challenge will be not spending SO much time reading what everyone else has to say that I don’t make time to write myself.

4. I went back to my “Elevator Ghost Story” (still waiting for a title to click) and did a bit of re-working. I finished it in November, and it has been breathing for a while. The good news is that I still really love it and feel nothing but pride when I read it and think “wow, this came from MY head!”

But I also realize that I went a little overboard on the cussing. My ghost and some of the other characters sometimes sound like they have Tourette’s. This is a weakness of mine in writing because I’m a pretty crude wench myself, but also because I tend to subconsciously imitate the way Stephen King develops his characters – at least when I’m writing freakier stuff. And let’s face it, Stephen King invents all sort of off-the-cuff ways to combine words like “dick,” “ass” and “shit” and turn them into entirely new insults. When you read him, it doesn’t seem gratuitous, either. He really uses a character’s tendency to call everyone something like “ass-picking chickenboinker” as a way to get to the heart of their craziness or desperation.

My poor little ghost cusses her invisible butt off, and some of the other characters aren’t too far behind her. As I re-read, I realized I’d gone into overkill. There were reasons for it – I was trying to show how her existence as a “deadie” turned her from the quiet, mousy, mild-tempered creature she was when she was alive into a fed-up swearing machine.

But too much is too much, and I’m kinda proud of being able to recognize my own overdrive. So now I’m playing with a few scenes, reworking them so that I can still show she’s cruder and ballsier than you ever thought she’d be without making her say “shit” 10 times in the same page.

5. I wrote a small piece and submitted it to the “Chicken Soup” series. They were calling for heartwarming wedding stories. I just happened to be a bride who’s dog ran away the night before her wedding only to return just as I had to head to the church. The story of my family and bridal party traipsing through the neighborhood in torrential downpours looking for my wayward dumbass dog so that I could stop crying and get married already makes for good potential Chickensoupness.

This is a far cry from what I usually write (guess that’s pretty obvious, since I just went on about how I am editing cuss-overload from another story), but it just came out one morning after reading the call for submissions, so I just ran with it. It will be kind of ironic if a cursing machine like me, who also happens to have ended that marriage with divorce, gets a story about it in a heartwarming, inspirational publication.

I’m glad I did this mind-dump. In little chunks each day, and especially in comparision to the amount of time I give my day job, my steps forward seem so damn small. But when I reflect on them the like this, they look much bigger steps in the right direction.

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About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Writerly Checkpoint

  1. akamonsoon says:

    Hi Pam, I wouldn’t worry about boring anyone to tears. This is your blog and you should feel free to write about whatever is on your mind regardless. 🙂

    Its so great that you are working on your dream. I hope to some day soon read both of the stories you spoke about here. Ghost stories are right up my alley and I also enjoy the Chicken Soup series.

  2. I look forward to reading your posts 🙂 I relate to you in many ways!! Happy Valentines Day!!

  3. hawleywood40 says:

    Thank you both! Jennifer, you will be one of the first to know : ) – I feel like we’ve been there for so many of each other’s struggles along the way so far! Princess, Happy Valentine’s Day to you too! I agree, as I’ve read many of your posts I’ve thought “wow, that is so something I would say!”

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