Monday, January 30, 2017

How to write when the world is falling apart

It’s been a tough few months to be a writer.

Artists in general tend to be on the liberal side. It’s not a coincidence that most of Hollywood – bar a Scott Baio or Mel Gibson – is up in arms over the current Administration. Painters, dancers… anyone who utilizes creativity on a daily basis, anyone whose own empathy is the foundation of their work, generally tends to be progressive.

And so much so for writers.

While there are definitely some well-known voices in fiction that lean conservative, most folks tasked with creating stories and characters out of nothing have an uncanny ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. And that ability usually leads to a liberal outlook.

It’s been a tough few months for me.

Ever since the election, rather than being able to concentrate on the voices in my head that propel my stories forward, I’ve been consumed with consuming news about politics. Nothing’s been good, except the marches, and every day since the election, things have gotten worse.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. When I scroll through my Twitter feed, I find that most of the writers and publishing professionals I follow are retweeting news articles and commenting on Trump’s latest actions. In fact, the occasional blurb about a new book seems sadly out of place.

Undoubtedly, writers are being inspired by current events. Novels are being plotted and pantsed as I type this, starring intrepid teenagers and women fighting with the resistance against Trump. Stories featuring minorities, refugees, transgender men and women.
These writers are more productive than I am. Over the past few weeks, I’ve done little more than plan my rewrites and rewrite the outline for my fifth novel. My head is so filled with worry about what’s going on that there’s none of the peace I need to create.
I don’t think I’m the only one. I wonder if, two years from now – assuming we still have a recognizable society – there will be a dearth of new books because the people who would have been writing them were spending hours on Facebook, reading, sharing and commenting on articles.

I’m torn between wanting to give myself permission to be as informed as possible even if that takes away hours from my writing time, and wanting to kick myself in the pants and get the work done, regardless.

But it’s a much better position to be in than the refugees from Syria have.

And as for the question I posed as the title for this piece... I don't have an answer.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Old You

Writers like new years, because new years come with resolutions, and resolutions come with lists, and writers like to make lists. Also there’s that word “new.” Is there anything that gets a writer’s heart pumping more than that brand-new idea? That shiny, sparkling new character? Typing the words “fade in,” putting in that fresh piece of typewriter paper (okay, haven’t done this since the 1980s but I still remember the feeling), new new new!!

I love resolutions, and I’ve started many a new year making lists of what I was going to accomplish, writer and life wise. Many of these resolutions were familiar because I’d made them the previous year, and the year before that… and the year before that….
But most of the resolutions around writing centered around new projects. My latest idea for a screenplay. A short story. Two novels. So many exciting beginnings, so much promise, so much fun.

Many writers don’t have a problem starting new projects. We have a problem finishing them.

And while it’s true that some ideas honestly aren’t as good as the writer originally thought they were, others could have been workable if the writer had barreled her way through. Too often, though, while we’re in the middle of the muck, another new shiny idea pops into our minds, and we abandon what we’re working on to play with the new toy.

I admit I’m guilty of this myself. Several months ago I abandoned a YA project when I read of very similar projects being purchased by major publishers. I was also very aware of the issue of cultural appropriation, and I feared I wasn’t the right writer for this story; the authors who had sold their stories mirrored their protagonists, and I did not.

However, in a few weeks (once I get the notes back from the developmental editor I hired), I plan on starting the 10th draft of a manuscript I’ve been working on for over two years. I’ve worked on other projects in the meantime, and several times I’ve thought of just chucking the whole thing when I couldn’t figure out how to solve a problem. But I think the concept is appealing, and timely, so I’m not going to give up on it. Even though I’m 70 pages into a book that also has an appealing concept.

Ultimately, it’s up to the writer to decide for herself whether a project is worth the hours, days and even years it might take to get it up to publication standards. Having a writers group is a great place to share these dilemmas. If other writers tell you not to give up, you should listen.

In my own writers group, though, there are several writers who’ve been working on great ideas, only to set them aside to play with the next great idea. Sometimes I want to shake them when they report they spent the week researching Next Great Idea, when the Last Great Idea was something that was marketable in a number of ways.

For 2017, let’s put away the shiny new toys and dig up some old, abandoned projects. Yes, the blinking cursor on a blank screen is always exciting, but so is finding the first several chapters of a book that was begun two years ago.

My 2017 writing goals are:
 Update my latest novel and self-publish it if my agent can’t sell it;
 Rewrite the first ten pages of an old screenplay and enter it in the contests;
 Rewrite another screenplay and enter it into the contests;
 Rewrite and polish the novel currently out to the developmental editor;
 Finish the first draft of my latest novel.

I’m not starting anything new. But if I’m successful, 2017 will have a lot of endings.