I recently found a piece of paper with my 2017 writing goals listed on them. It was depressing because on the list were stories that three years later I still haven’t finished. A closer look at the list made me feel a little less of a failure when I realized my writing goals in 2017 were quite ambitious, but still, I need to do better.
One of the stories I was to finish in 2017 started out as a novella, but now is over three hundred pages. I’d write a little. Stop. Work on something else. Then go back to it. But for the last year and half I have given the piece all of my attention, stopping only to write two short stories. Twice, I’ve changed the course of the plot and have deleted over a hundred pages–months of work–but the plot change was necessary for the story.
I’m sure I can not be the only writer who wonders if she should have written more with the time at hand, but sometimes the words do not flow easily. I write, forcing out words I know will eventually be deleted, but I write them anyway, because a writer writes. Maybe not always well. Maybe with words she knows will be replaced, but she writes.
Keep writing. Write through blocks. Write through distraction. Write through internal doubt.
We are into the second day of my favorite month. I’ve always loved October. It’s a cozy month. The air is crisp and cool. I get to wear the hoodies that I love. Sure, I can wear hoodies in winter, but it drops to below zero where I live, so I usually need a jacket, too. In October, a hoodie and a pair of comfortable jeans (or long shorts) are all you need.
October, with its earlier sunsets, is a nice slowdown from the fast pace of summer. Summer days seem to last forever, and I feel guilty when I’m sittin’ around being lazy while the sun beats down in a cloudless blue sky. But now that October is here, and soon nightfall will come as early as 4:30, I won’t have so much guilt on lazy days.
Since I started writing, October has been the month I really hunker down on my work. October is like New Year’s for me. I start anew. I assess where I am with my current project (usually I am behind, as is the current case) and decide which story I will work on next. Will it be one that I have already started or something entirely new?
The book I’m working on now is a short story I had written in college, over twenty years ago. The revision is going on two years now. Although I’d wanted to be finished with the book a year ago, I went through two major changes in plot lines that resulted in the deletion of multiple dozens of pages and countless hours of work. But I have no regrets. The story is remarkably better today than it was at any other time since I began writing it. So don’t be afraid to dump a few, or fifty-five, pages.
Three weeks ago I started a writing course at my local community college. I needed a reset with my writing, and being in a classroom helps to “recharge my writing batteries.” I find inspiration from other writers. It was this time six years ago that I took my first writing class since graduating college in ’99. The course, as well as the students in it, helped to refresh my writing ability, and four months later I had a contract option on my first novella, Her Name.
It is no coincidence that that first class, the current class I am in, and the writing course I took two years ago, were all signed up for in the fall despite being offered in other months.
Writers write no matter the season, time, or day of the week. But for me, there is nothing like October writing.
I’m working on a story based in the 1950’s about a teenage girl living with an abusive alcoholic father. While struggling to endure the dysfunction that is her home life, the girl yearns to defy the conformity that is expected of her life. She resents her mother’s docile and submissive role in their home. The girl, Annabel, wants to be more than wife and mother, she wants the freedom to be anything she wants.
I wrote this story in college some twenty years ago. The words sat in a binder collecting dust for some time until I decided to give it new life. Many changes have been made and so far that “short” story has been revised to a three-hundred page novel, but the journey has not come without frustrating days when I had no idea where the story was heading and was tempted to dump it.
Don’t do that, writers. Keep writing. Don’t dump your stories no matter how lost you may be in navigating its direction. Keep writing. A new day brings a new, clearer mind.
Although I’m not yet finished with the story, and don’t know exactly how the story will end, I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. Each day brings me one scene closer to the writing that final sentence.
I was at a bar one night and ran into a woman I used to date over fifteen years ago. In our exchange of pleasantries, my being a writer came up and immediately my ex grabbed my arm and exclaimed to me with vigor how she is planning on writing her autobiography because she’s led a very interesting life, and all of her friends tell her she just has to write a book.
I told her I was sure she had many great stories to tell, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could fill a book, but I asked if she’d had any training in writing. The uncertain look on her face answered my question. She hadn’t studied writing in any way past a classroom in high school, but figured since she had a story to tell (most people who are alive have a story to tell. It’s called life.) and knew how to write in complete sentences, she could write a book.
I didn’t roll my eyes in front of her. I’m not that rude. But I did suggest to her that if she was serious about writing her book, she should enroll in a writing course at her local college. Three months before I contracted my first book, Her Name, I had taken a writing course at my local college and it helped me more than I imagined one class would. I was lucky to have had some terrific writers in my class who gave me incredible notes on my story, which I still possess over five years later.
After I published my second book, Loving Again, I enrolled in another writing course at the same college. It was during that course that my third book, A Penny on the Tracks, was contracted. I value all of the critiques of my work by my peers and instructors because they have helped me become a better writer.
But as a writer, I have to put in the work, and it bothers me to no end when people think they can just pick up a pen and start writing the masterpiece that is their life without studying the craft.
I’m writing my current book in a point-of-view I’ve never attempted — subjective omniscient. My former books were written in first-person and third-person limited. This is completely new to me. I feel like I’m starting all over again as a writer, and that isn’t such a bad feeling. I may enroll in another writing course. I need the guidance my fellow writers have given me on my previous works for the story I am writing now.
The writing community is tremendously supportive.
I thank all the writers who share their time and their knowledge to inspire and encourage those aspiring to write.
Last November, I published my book, A Penny on the Tracks. It is a YA book based loosely on my childhood friendship with my best friend. I wrote this story in college. At the time, it was written as a short story and was titled The Hideout. The finished product hardly resembles anything of the original.
In fact, the college version of A Penny on the Tracks was so bad that when I reread it nearly fifteen years ago, my first instinct was to throw it away, but the writer in me remembered the agonizing hours I put into the piece, so I stuffed it in an overfilled drawer of mostly unfinished old works and left it there.
About three years ago, for whatever reason, I searched that overfilled drawer for that story and this time when I reread the piece I didn’t want to toss it into a fire. This time I saw potential. Although I ended up rewriting almost the entire thing, the core of the story has stayed the same — two friends sharing their childhood together while dealing with personal tragedy.
The importance of friendship is prevalent in this story, and I’m proud of the way A Penny on the Tracks has turned out. I’m proud that I not only finished the story, but a publisher liked it enough to contract it. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with the story I am currently writing tentatively called Annabel.
This is another awfully-written college short story and was titled The Attic. This piece was also stuffed in that same overfilled drawer and for some reason I also fished this story out and decided to salvage it with a rewrite. I’m over two hundred pages in and am still unsure about an ending, but I have some ideas. With A Penny I always knew how the story was going to end, and of course knowing the direction you’re writing to makes writing a story so much easier, but I do have a knack of making life harder for myself. Why should writing be any different?
The story of A Penny on the Tracks deals with friendship, coming out, and tragedy. A girl names Lyssa and her best friend Abbey discover a hideout near the train tracks and spend the summer before sixth grade hanging out and finding freedom from issues at home. Their childhood innocence shatters when the hideout becomes the scene of a tragic death.
Here is an excerpt from A Penny on the Tracks:
I JERKED FROM my sleep while the phone was still buzzing its first high-piercing ring. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 4:17 a.m. I knew something was wrong.
The second ring was abruptly broken up, and my mother’s muffled voice carried into my room. I was already sitting upright in my bed when my bedroom door squeaked open, and my mother’s slight figure appeared as a shadow near my door.
“Lyssa? You up?” she asked.
“What’s wrong?” My voice was no louder than a whisper.
My mother made her way into the dark room. I couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but her movement was stiff and hesitant.
She turned on the lamp and sat down beside me. Her face was pale and she let out short, shallow breaths. It seemed difficult for her to look me in the eyes.
“What is it?” I asked. “What’s happened?”
My mother looked at me with pain in her eyes. “Lyssa . . .” She smoothed her hand gently across my arm. “Abbey’s dead.”
I took in her words without an ounce of denial. The reality of what my mother had told me was instant.
I’ve been working on a story for a while, and for a while I’ve been making some good progress. But lately I’ve been distracted, and the usual culprits of previous distractions–Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram–are innocent in this go-around.
My writing time has been severely hampered because I can’t turn off my television to the everyday breaking news drama of this chaotic and dysfunctional administration that is the Donald Trump presidency. But what really traps my attention are the constant revelations of the Russian investigation, run by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, that leaves me hopeful that someday (hopefully very soon) justice will prevail.
But until that time, my days are spent stressing over what will come of the country I love because the people in charge are trying to pass policies that will hurt the most vulnerable, while benefiting the most privileged.
A few months ago, the Republicans in Congress made me sweat-out a healthcare vote that would have kicked 30 million people off insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Three Republican senators were the difference between life and death for a lot of sick people because the Republicans had no viable replacement plan to ensure their care.
This is sick, but luckily, they didn’t get the vote.
But late last Friday night, the Senate Republicans had me geeking out and watching CSPAN 2 as they got the votes to pass their tax reform bill that according to independent reports, including the CBO, will knock 13 million people off insurance, and raise taxes for everyone making less than $75,000. The tax plan will also add 1.5 trillion dollars to the deficit, which will segue into rhetoric by the Right to attack Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid (all programs they hate because non-rich people depend on them) to offset the deficit.
This is sick, too.
I’m not a perfect person. I’ve done things I regret, but I would never work to cripple programs that I know benefits children, the disabled, the elderly, veterans, and the working poor. This tax plan, designed to give relief to big corporations and wealthy individuals, at the expense of the middle and working-class, is devastating.
The Republicans are trying to play the ‘trickle-down’ theory game again. We saw this movie in 2000 under Bush. It ended badly. Seriously, only Rosemary’s Baby that endswith a woman finding out her newborn baby she thought was dead is actually the spawn of Satan, had a worse ending than the result of Bush economics.
I don’t want to hear Republicans lecture us about why the country’s most wealthy deserve tax breaks first, and why we, the peasants, deserve only what trickles down. Why not give the money to the middle and working-class people first, and then let whatever is left over trickle to the top 1%?
If you haven’t grabbed a poster and stood outside your representative’s office or made phone calls, then you are doing exactly what these incredulous politicians want – nothing.
This plan hasn’t passed yet, and it’s not too late to stop it. But action needs to be taken now. Grab a sign. Make a phone call or two…or fifteen…if that’s what it takes.
But note to self, turn off the TV for a little while and get back to writing. Your sanity and writing career depend on it.
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It is a program that challenges writers to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month — 50,000 words in 30 days. If it sounds insane, that’s because it is, but I’m sure I saw a quote somewhere from Stephen King stating that a writer should be able to finish a first draft in 30 days.
I have never finished a first draft in 30 days — not even a first draft of a 15,000 word short story I recently wrote. That tale took me two months to complete.
For four straight years, I have promised myself I’d take part in this challenge, and for the fourth November in a row, I backed out before I even began. I’m not against pushing myself as a writer. I think this is a great motivator for people to actually finish writing a book because so many books are left unwritten because, well, writing is hard.
So, if this gets writers to stay in their seats and write, great. But I don’t approach writing with a word count. I really hate getting caught up in counting words, which is probably why I have not been motivated to take a shot at this challenge. I shut the word count feature off on my computer so that I can’t see the number as I write.
When I sit down to write, I tell myself, “Alicia, write one good, solid scene.” My hope is that I come up with a page or two of dialogue or prose that either advances the plot or develops the characters, basically anything that moves the story along.
I’m currently writing a book about a teenage girl in the 1950’s called, Annabel. Even if I wanted to compete in this NaNo challenge, I’m too far along in this story (about 250 pages, don’t ask me the word count, because I don’t know) to even attempt to write a thousand-plus words a day. I’m mostly in the “fill-in-the-blanks” part of the writing process.
My YA book, A Penny on the Tracks, will be released tomorrow. It is a 75,000 word novel that took me about a year to complete. I couldn’t tell you how long I had been working on the book before I finally had a first draft completed, but I can tell you there were a ton of revisions. An absolute ton.
But in the end, I came up with a story that I’m very proud of and was totally worth the many frustrating late nights I spent writing it.
Here is an excerpt from my coming-of-age book about life, love, and friendship:
I was making our favorite sandwich—bologna, lettuce, and cheese smeared with mustard and mayo on white bread—when Abbey called for me from the living room. “Lyssa! Hurry up! Poison’s on!”
The sandwiches lay on the counter amid a mess of open condiment jars and scattered pieces of lettuce and lunch meat. I quickly smashed the top slices of bread onto both sandwiches against the piled-stack of a sloppy mess I had created and hurried into the next room, dropping bits of food as I ran.
Abbey was standing on the couch, shouting out the lyrics we both knew by heart as Brett Michaels’ voice filled the room. I handed her a sandwich, jumped on the couch, and screamed out the chorus to “Talk Dirty to Me.” I took bites of my sandwich during the guitar solo, and Abbey held her sandwich high in her left hand, as though it were the end of a guitar, and strummed her right hand against the front of her shirt. We banged our heads in unison, hair (and food) flying everywhere.
Abbey’s house had a bigger TV and better food options than bologna and cheese sandwiches, but we never could have done what we were doing right then if we were at her house. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” came on next, and we both lost our minds.
We dropped what was left of our food onto the table and yelled out the lyrics to our favorite song. Abbey sang the song with more conviction, as though she had a lot more that she didn’t want to take anymore.
The video ended, and we both collapsed onto the couch and finished our lunch. After, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a couple cans of pop from the fridge. Hanging on a magnet, on the side of the refrigerator, was a note from my mom reminding me she was working late that night and that there were frozen dinners in the freezer. At the end of the note she promised a home-cooked meal soon.
Abbey was often envious of the lack of parental supervision at my place, especially when it came to dinner. She was jealous I got to eat whatever I wanted. Even if my mom left dinner for me in the fridge, if I wanted to eat S’mores for supper, I ate S’mores.
“You eat dinner on the couch while watching TV?” Abbey had asked me one day.
“If I feel like it,” I answered.
“You’re so lucky. My mom makes me eat with her at the table, even if my dad isn’t home yet. And I can’t even put my elbows on the table.”
I ate on the couch while watching TV because my friend didn’t know the loneliness that crept inside a person while eating dinner among empty chairs.
But I had forced a smile. “Yep. I am lucky.”
I walked back into the living room and handed one of the cans to Abbey. Abbey didn’t take it.
“My mom said I drink too much pop.”
“Your mom’s not fucking here.”
Abbey smiled and grabbed the can from my hand. About eight videos later and a sore neck from head banging, Abbey had to go home.
I walked her to the door. “Let’s ride our bikes tomorrow.”
“I don’t know. Somewhere far.”
“Last time we did that we were almost too tired to ride back,” she reminded me.
“That was because of the wind,” I explained. “It was blowing against us on our way back.”
Abbey considered this. “Okay. If it’s not very windy tomorrow, we’ll ride our bikes far.