When a Writing Dream Becomes a Mission #amwriting

Dance leap on the beach

Two years ago, my lovely, well-read, Russian friend Irina and I were chatting over coffee, reflecting on how some people seem to soar toward their dreams while others — like us — do not. “Break through the wall,” Irina said. Somehow, those words resonated. Each night after my family settled into their beds, I held her words close as I stole upstairs and Just Wrote.

I finally started working on a novel idea that had been kicking around in my head for years– through countless short stories, writer’s workshops (in one of which I met my future husband), a writing conference or two, a local writers’ network I founded that lived on long after I left it. After that one conversation with Irina, I started my novel, one character, one plot idea at a time.

And then abandoned it.

A few months later, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month, jumped in with both feet, attended write-ins, checked off goals. And I completed the novel. Or a semblance of one. A rambling, complicated mess, actually. But alone in a Starbucks just before closing time I typed these words: “The End.” And I cried. I collected myself, went to the counter to buy a green tea, and when the Starbucks employee gave it to me for free he was joining my celebration and didn’t even know it.

I printed out the manuscript of my first novel, wrote out the scenes on flash cards, tried reordering them all into a semblance of a logical narrative. Then gave up.  I put the manuscript in a drawer, tossed the pile of scene cards on top, and left it.

But I kept writing.

Short stories, more novel ideas, observations on my fresh return to writing, my fear and excitement over witnessing what had always been a DREAM turning into a GOAL.  About the possibility that maybe it really is Never Too Late.

Then one day a character stepped out onto my page in all her feisty, loyal, kick-ass glory. Her magical world, her concept, all right there. And now I’m completing the third, much improved, 80,000-word draft of her YA fantasy story.

I wish I could explain how I finally broke through the wall. I think part of it is that, for so many years, I limited myself to only writing short stories because that seemed more attainable. But now I was finally allowing myself to write novels. As daunting as that had always seemed, I realized for the first time in my life that writing a novel was possible. And I loved it. Novels made sense to me because they are what I have always read. To be sure, writing a novel is as bloody difficult as everyone says, but I haven’t given up (well, not for more than a couple of days), and ideas for new novels are springing up all over the place.

As a writer, I still battle deep insecurities, but I breathe deep and jump back in to tackle those weak plot points, underdeveloped characters, and bad prose. The answers come. And I feel the shift.

My DREAM has become a MISSION.

–Eve Messenger

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Reading While Writing – Is it a Bad Thing?

NTSNBN

There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read.  Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself.  I stopped myself from reading any fiction.  Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.

But reading is the shizzle!

So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read.   Even though I’m working on my own novel.

And it’s been really helpful!  Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.

Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing.   (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)

After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.

I like that.

The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’  Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of  too much  striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts.   Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.

Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.

E.B.M.