Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Variations on a Theme


A few years ago, something happened that gave me a whole new approach to my writing.

An old boyfriend sent me an email through Classmates.com. No, I never replied. I’m a happily married woman. But it got me wondering: what if I had been a different person, if I hadn’t been so happy? What if I had made bad choices along the road that left me alone and desperate? What if I suddenly heard through the grapevine about that long lost love?

I wrote my first story on this idea, a piece called “Vicki, Existentially,” about a woman who regrets breaking up with her now-successful former lover and foolishly goes to his house while drunk one night.

I was pleased with the story, but I still felt like there was more to write. Somehow, things felt undone.

Before long, I found myself wondering how I would have felt if I were a moderately happy woman who loved her husband, but perhaps missed that special connection she and her former lover shared. Perhaps she missed it to the point that she felt compelled to meet with the former lover, in spite of their rocky past.

That one became “Now and Then,” a story about Liz, a woman in her forties who was shocked to find herself meeting her former lover, David, for drinks.

But I still wasn’t done.

I started wondering what would happen if a content, married woman was suddenly confronted with the memory of her former lover.

“The Wayside” was born, a story about a woman coping with mixed emotions when she discovers that a place significant to her former relationship has been closed.

Three stories, all of them different. And guess what—I still don’t feel like I’m done.

I'm sure this parade of stories about women reflecting on past relationships has my writing buddies wondering: is my marriage in shambles? Is my husband a jerk? I can’t blame them for wondering. I keep circling this subject like a Hot Wheel whizzing around a plastic track. But I can’t help myself. I’ve tripped across this fascinating new writing kick, a way to reexamine things by making small, but significant changes that end up changing the story completely. I call it Variations on a Theme.

This concept works on so many levels. Rewriting the same story with a different form—say, a long short story condensed down into a micro flash. I’ve even found myself writing short pieces about secondary characters in my novels, just trying to get a new view of who they really are. The possibilities are endless. Similar stories look completely different when they’re seen through a different lens.

So I challenge you: revisit a story and tell it in a brand new way. Switch up viewpoint. Change tense. Give your character a whole new fatal flaw. I think you’ll be amazed where those differences will lead you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NaNoEdMo, Here I Come


I’m a glutton for punishment. How else can you explain why I’ve decided to tackle NaNoEdMo when I already feel completely stretched as a writer, a mother and a civilized human being? When things have devolved into complete insanity, why not add one more major commitment to send me right over the edge?

The fact is, I’ve been floundering on my longer projects. I can bring myself to crank out the small stuff, but those pesky novels are languishing on my harddrive. So when I received an email reminder that NaNoEdMo was starting March 1, I decided to jump in with both feet. My hope is that NaNoEdMo will do for my editing what NaNoWriMo accomplished for drafting.

Now let’s pause to define a few terms, for those who are unfamiliar. NaNoEdMo is short for National Novel Editing Month, which takes place in March. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, November. If you think of NaNoWriMo as the courtship, wedding and honeymoon, NaNoEdMo is the marriage that follows, the time when you see your beloved with all his flaws and work together to make your marriage beautiful.

As I was making the NaNoEdMo commitment in my head, I realized there were some major differences between EdMo and WriMo. While WriMo is about volume, EdMo is about finesse. WriMo goals are easy to define: write 50,000 words in 30 days, then stop and have a party. EdMo goals are murkier: edit 50 hours during the month of March. I don’t know about you, but my editing process involves long periods of staring at the monitor, petting the cat, checking my email every 30 seconds, maybe taking a swing over to weather.com to check the local radar. 50 hours of that could add up to a whole lot of staring and surfing, but not a lot of accomplished work.

So in the spirit of embarking on a successful EdMo journey, I submit my plan for success.

-- 50 hours editing
-- 8 scenes edited
-- 50 pages of first draft edited

Just like with WriMo, I plan to tell people I’m doing this, give them regular updates and log my progress publicly on the EdMo site and this blog.

This means finishing as many small writing projects as I can, sending out any submissions that I’ve been neglecting, cleaning the house to the nth degree, stocking the freezer with meals to reheat, making grandparent visits, friend visits and any other social obligations so I can push guilt aside and just work.

Writing begets writing; editing begets editing. I know I can’t hit the ground running on a manuscript I haven’t touched in months. So I’ll read a few back scenes and put a toe in the water. After so long an absence, I need to find Beth’s voice again so I hear her clearly come March 1.

So there it is. My plan to make this tougher by pushing myself harder and reaching a little further than is comfortable for someone with my flaws and my daily obstacles. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but it’s got to be done. Or I expect everyone to let me hear about it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No Contest


I’m thinking of entering a few contests.

Now, I realize that, for most people, this isn’t much of a statement. But I’m a veritable Scrooge when it comes to contests. I have my reasons. Like the fact that most contests require an entry fee. Or that my work is tied up for long months while I await inevitable disappointment. And then there’s the staggering odds stacked against me. We all know jillions of people enter these things. I’ve done the math and I know I have a far better chance of getting my stuff accepted into smaller literary markets. The fact is, ever time I enter a contest, I know one of two things will eventually happen.

1) I’ll read the entry that beat mine and be pissed off because I honestly think mine was better, or
2) I’ll read the entry that beat mine and be so impressed that I’ll be embarrassed for even entering.

Either way, the end result is the same: I’m out my entry fee and I feel really lousy.

So why do I keep entering contests?

I think it all comes down to psychobabble. You know, all that stuff about needing validation and formal acceptance. Every writer has longed for at least a slice of that. I think what really sucks me into entering a contest is the possibility of glamour. How exciting to see the words FIRST PLACE next to one’s name! For one fleeting moment, the winner gets to be the most popular girl or boy in the senior class, the one all the other kids envy and want to be like.

Yep, it’s pitiful. A woman of my age should know better. But that’s why I throw money at contests and anti-aging face unguents and an endless stream of exercise tapes. Contests represent the chance to be something more, something new that we’ve never been before. So I get out the checkbook and the big manila envelopes. Take my money. I’ll just keep reaching for the sky.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No Pressure


This blog has been an interesting undertaking for me on many levels, but particularly in the realm of commitment. I’ve done my best to meet my goal of posting every Tuesday. For the same reason, I take a weekly writing class. I know I have to bring something each Tuesday, 1000 of the best, shiniest words I can produce. Again, the deadline is a casual one. My teacher, Gail, doesn’t expect us to bring something each week. But I expect myself to produce.

There’s a reason for this. I know myself. If I don’t keep moving forward, I’ll slide down the slippery slope of procrastination. I remind myself that, if I had an editor or agent, they’d expect me to be professional and meet the deadlines I’d committed to. And, even better, if I had a throng of adoring readers, I’d need to produce something or risk disappointing the very people I write for. If I disappointed them, I know I’d really be disappointing myself.

My problem lies with having a foot in each of two camps. On the one hand, developing the ability to meet deadlines shows real professionalism. But on the other hand, having no real deadline is a luxury. Like a pampered cat, I have the freedom to rise from my napping place at whim to lap only the richest cream.

The thing is--I don’t believe this works. I’m a person who needs deadlines or I just don’t write. And if I don’t write, my muse gets fat and lazy, wanting to do nothing but watch reality shows and the Food Network. No pressure means nothing to show for myself. In the end, it means watching opportunity pass me by. So I heap on the deadlines. And I bust my butt to meet them. It’s by these baby steps that I move slowly forward.