Thursday, October 23, 2008

Our New Princess

Congratulations to my sister and her husband! They are the proud new parents of an absolutely beautiful little girl!!! (who was born on my sis's bday by the way, how cool is that!!?) Happy Birthday MacKenna Jolee - welcome to the world :)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blog Chain - My Confidence or Lack Thereof

Time again for the Blog Chain! Kate started us out with this one, and Carolyn's stellar entry was the next link in our chain. The topic for this round:

How as a writer, do you find the balance between being having too much or too little confidence in your work?

You know, until I started writing, I had just assumed that all these best selling authors just sat at their computers and typed out a masterpiece, having full confidence that what they had written was golden. And then I met a few writers. I read their work, marveled at how genius they were, how wonderful their story was, how smoothly it flowed, how real the characters were, how supremely awesome and talented these people were. I told them how I felt. And listened in amazement as they melted in a puddle of relief, telling me how they thought their work was crap, how it would never make it, how afraid they were that no one would like it. And I thought, how, how could these incredibly talented people doubt themselves so?

I have a book of quotes from writers, giving advice to aspiring writers. I was amazed to find this letter between two of the “greats.” (Language Warning for the kiddies)

For Christ sake write and don’t worry what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the waste-basket…Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously.

Ernest Hemingway in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Again, I read in stunned disbelief that these two immortalized writers could doubt themselves as I do. I really kind of pictured them like Mozart, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece with nary a comma out of place. Yet, they doubted too. Curious.

Until I started down the road to being “a writer,” I was very confident. I knew I could write. I was good at it. Everyone had always told me so. I won awards when I was young. I have a Masters degree in English, (so you can imagine how many papers I have had to write in my educational career), and I received As on every single paper (with the exception of four - 3 Bs, and one (I shudder to say it) C – and yes, I remember each and every one, and each teacher who gave me those marks (and I am certain the C was because the teacher did not agree with my point of view, and yes, I will argue that to the death!)) :D

I was very good at non-fiction, academic type papers. And my first three publications were Chicken Soup for the Soul essays that I turned out in under twenty minutes each and only edited once for typos. I wrote them, sent them, and they got published. My confidence soared.

Then I started querying my first novel. I just knew that I would get an agent right away. I got a rejection letter or two. I was surprised, but brushed it off. I got a request for a partial from one agent and then a full from another agent. Vindication! (By the way, if you had seen the first version of my query letter, you would know what a miracle this really was – I won’t even go into how bad that first version of my novel was). Then the rejections came. Confidence shaken. But, one of the agents did say I was a “competent writer” (and yes, I still have that email saved in my files). So, my ego was a little bruised but not irrevocably damaged.

I got smart…I searched the web and found writers groups and critique groups and query help. And the critiques started coming in. I think I actually cried when I first saw all the red on my manuscript. And then I got angry and thought “These people don’t know what they are talking about!” And then I calmed down, took a close look at what they were saying, and realized…they were right. My storyline was good. But my execution sucked.

And here is what I learned…it is good to have confidence in yourself. It is necessary. You’ll never make it in this subjective, brutal, torturous industry unless you have at least some confidence in your work. But don’t get cocky. There is always room for improvement, always.

I have moments where I sit back, look at what I’ve written, and think, “Damn, that’s good stuff.” But I still sweat bullets whenever I post a chapter for critiques or send some pages off to beta readers. I always (well, almost always) have confidence in my storylines, in the backbone of my story. But I am usually fairly sure that the way I’ve written it is total crap. So I’m pleasantly surprised when I get a comment (as I did recently from a crit buddy) that says “Holy crap! I loved it!” And it doesn’t phase me so bad anymore when that exclamation is followed by “I do have a few suggestions though.” And I’ve learned that those few suggestions are not comments on my talent or me personally; they are what they are…suggestions to help make the way I’ve executed something even better.

It’s a very fine balance…you have to be confident enough in yourself and your work to continue churning out words, day after day…to send that work off to people who will shred it and send it back (within reason – savage critiques are no use to anyone)…to believe in yourself enough to know that you can take those shreddings and turn them into something amazing. And at the same time, make sure you are not so overly confident in your greatness that you are not open to those suggestions.

There is an excerpt from a letter that I love. It reads:

Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you are thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom.

Maxwell Perkins in a letter to Nancy Hale

These words couldn’t be more true. It’s kind of like the actor that doesn’t get nervous going on stage. His performance is flat without that emotion behind it. The writer who doesn’t get discouraged, who knows beyond doubt at all times that he/she is greatness itself, is the writer whose book I never want to read.

We all have our moments of weakness. Perhaps we get a particularly brutal rejection or critique. Maybe we were just having a bad hair day. It is in those moments that I thank my lucky stars for bringing me the amazing group of writer friends I have become a part of. There is nothing like pouring my fears and woes into the ears of people who know EXACTLY what I am going through and who are therefore able to talk me down from my freak out. And it is my equal pleasure to return the favor…though I am still amazed that some of the most talented and incredible writers that I know have the same fears about their writing as I do.

So, how do I keep that fine balance between too much or too little confidence in my work? I surround myself with like-minded peers who are sheer awesomeness. They stoke my confidence when it needs stoking and knock me down a peg or two when it is called for. I generally have confidence in my work until the moment I have to send it off to someone. That is when I call or IM a writer buddy to hold my hand as I hit Send. My confidence will soar when I get requests – and I get to have a virtual party with friends who are just as excited for me as they would be for themselves. And my confidence plummets when the rejections roll in – which would be when said friends talk me down from the proverbial ledge and keep me from deleting every file I have ever written.

The stories clamoring in my head keep me writing, and my support group helps me maintain the exact level of confidence I need to keep going on the elusive path to publication.

Without them, I would be a raging ego-maniac until the moment of submission – when I would then turn into a blubbering mess of self-doubt. My advice to any writer suffering from confidence problems….get a good writer friend.

Sandra is up next on the chain, so head on over to Dual Citizenship in SpecFic and Mundania for her take on the whole confidence game!

Monday, October 6, 2008

For the Love of Research

Okay, so I've been trying to add some new features to my blog, and it just ain't workin'. So, my lovely friend Carolyn suggested maybe posting something to see if that will kick my blog into active gear and get the new features to pop up. So here you go :D

While going through my files the other day, I came across a little essay I wrote for a non-fiction creative writing class in grad school. I can't remember the exact assignment, but I believe we were supposed to describe an object we loved, or a place or something that we loved...or something like that :D Anyhow, I had forgotten how much I liked this piece. This is what I came up with:

I walk in, take a deep breath, and immediately relax in the comforting quiet. My eyes scan the familiar surroundings for the aisle I need and I begin to wander. Every now and then I’ll stop, take a volume off the bookshelf, and leaf through the pages. The unmistakable smell of “book” rises up to meet me. It’s unique, a musty mixture of ink and stale paper. I make sure the volume I’m holding contains what I may need; then I move on. My excitement builds as I discover each new text. Sometimes I get lost in the passages I find. Time slows as I stand sandwiched between narrow shelves, trying to juggle the books I’m holding and the book I’m reading. Occasionally I give up and just sit on the floor, the chosen work in my lap. I stop only when another patron drifts by, subtly clearing their throat to get my attention. I fill my arms with as many books as I can carry and find a nice, quiet spot to begin my search.

I’ve been told I’m unusual. One professor once told me that most people, historians included, hate to do research. Well, I must admit that I’ve never been accused of being normal. I grew up watching my confused mother shake her head while I sat in a corner, encyclopedias spread all around me.

“What are you doing?” she’d ask.
“Reading,” I’d reply, without looking up. She’d shrug and leave me to my paradise.

I love to research. I love to open dozens of books and search out facts about long ago people and places. I love to take those facts and sit at my computer, combining them into a fascinating arrangement of dates and details. I love to hand the finished project to the nearest (probably unfortunate in their minds) person and watch them learn. Every now and then I’ll run into another “mysterious” creature such as myself. And then…oh what fun we have!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Blog Chain - Quirky Habits....I Got 'Em

Once again time for the blog chain! Our last chain was wrapped up very nicely by Heather, so head on that way if you missed any of the links. And the glorious link before me was the incredible Carolyn, so make sure you check her, check her blog out :D

This chain was started by the always adorable Mary. Her question:

What kind of quirky habits or rituals do you have regarding your writing?
(or regarding anything else, if that is more fun.)

Well....I have more quirky habits (or irritating, depending on whom you are asking) then you can shake a stick at. In an effort to not scare y'all to death, I will refrain from mentioning ALL of my habits and just pick a few of the more tame ones.

I was very happy to see that I am not the only with OCD tendencies (ahem, Miss Kate) or a messy desk (umm, ahem Kate and Carolyn! Mary's neat desk kind of scares me...). Makes me feel better about my strange little habits to see that others have them as well.

So! Quirky Habit Number One: I alphabetize everything.......and I mean EVERYTHING. My spice cabinet. My medicine cabinet. My books are organized by author last name and if I have more than one book by that author, the titles are alphabetized. Unless they are in a series, then they are in the order in which they were published.

And unfortunately (for me) I've had to loosen up a bit on the movies, DVDs and CDs - because with two small children, there is just no way to keep them in their correct order of genre, big case/little case, and title. *sigh* some day, they will be organized again :)

Quirky Habit Number Two: my sheets and blankets must be straightened before I go to sleep...or I can't sleep. If the bed doesn't look like this:

then we've got problems. I will forgo the throw pillows at bedtime...but that is about it. This is where quirky crosses over into irritating for Mr. McLean. You can imagine how much he enjoys being woken up in the wee hours of the morning when I finally crawl into bed so I can straighten the covers. However, after seven years of marriage, we have gotten to the point that I can just sort of roll him over a few times while I do what I need to do, and he doesn't even wake up.

I don't think I have many quirky writing habits. When I get stuck, a load of dishes or a nice long shower usually gets my brain going again. I do have a hard time writing if my house is dirty. The clutter makes it hard for me to think. So I try to straighten the house beforehand. This does not, however, apply to my actual desk. Go figure. Occasionally (and I mean very occasionally) my desk is spotless. It doesn't last long. Generally, this is the version of clean that I live with:

Annnnd, it mostly looks like this:

Although you can actually see some desk space there.....just imagine a big pile of papers there and we're good :) And I would like to thank those who have gone before me, because I never would have had the strength to show the world my desk had it not been for them :D

Our chain will continue with the incomparable Sandra - I can't wait to see what quirks lurk behind her cool exterior!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I Stood Still for too Long and Got Tagged!

My lovely friend Elana tagged me...which I think means that I'm supposed to answer the questions that were asked of her when she got, here we go! (and I cheated and left a couple of her answers, cause they are what I'd say anyways...probably one of the reasons we are friends) :D

4 goals I have in the next 5 years:
1. Find an agent and see my book at B&N
2. Lose weight - lots of it :D
3. finish my two non-fiction WIPs
4. start work on my doctorate

4 places I will visit someday:
1. Scotland/Ireland (sorry for lumping you together, but you are close to each other) :D
2. Greece
3. Italy
4. some gorgeous tropical island somewhere

4 of my favorite foods:
1. chocolate brownies
2. chicken fettucine alfredo with broccoli
3. the chicken kabob plate from the Greek restaurant The University Grill in Ogden, UT
4. a big huge salad with all the fixins smoothered in ranch or blue cheese dressing

4 jobs I've had:
1. Janitor for Hale 5 at BYU Hawaii (one of the dorms)
2. dishwasher for The Gateway restaurant at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii
3. extractor at the IRS
4. data entry person at the USPS Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City, UT

2 places I've lived:
1. California
2. Tennessee

2 places I'd like to live:
1. Hawaii
2. New York City

4 things I'd do with my spare time (if I had any):
1. Read
2. Cook gourmet meals (as long as someone else does the dishes)
3. cross stitch
4. write

All right, sordid little details of my life you never knew ;-) Well, maybe not so sordid I suppose. Except those jobs in Hawaii - not fun, fairly nasty actually.

And now I have to tag people.....and I have no idea who.....okay, please forgive me in advance, but I have no idea who to torture, I mean honor - soooo how about Terri, Abi, and Sandra.