Year One – Lessons learned

When I woke up on Christmas Day a year ago I was initially just so freaking relieved I had a day off and could stay in bed as long as I’d like to, I didn’t plan to think about anything at all, except snooze away the morning hours. But then my mind woke up, while my body was still relaxed from sleep. It switched into crazy overdrive, jigsaw-puzzling mode; putting the pieces, all the scenes sprawling all over in my messy imagination, into order.

I remember I was lying there, staring at the plain, white ceiling, stacking events and characters into heaps that made more sense. This a corner and an important piece. This is just a greenish, blurry thing that probably fits into the bushes over there. A face of a young woman…okay, I’ll hold on to that one. It should be in the center somewhere, probably next to one of the handsome hunks.

By lunchtime, I could see the bigger picture. It was the result of years of day-dreaming, of living with an over-active imagination that liked to play around with scenes and visuals, and to evoke emotional reactions. I could make myself cry (no, not because the writing sucked, but because I could transfer myself into the scene and re-live the state of mind of my characters).

I never thought about writing it down though. It was just meant to be for my own private entertainment, a bit of a getaway from boring everyday hassle. That was until Christmas 2013, when I, obviously, lost it and went nuts.

So, what has happened during the last year?

Well, first of all, the short story or novella I thought I’d entertain myself with writing down during the Christmas holiday has grown into a draft of more than 185 000 words and it looks more and more like a trilogy.

As I was writing I naturally became more interested in writing as a craft. Up to then I’d only been a reader, and although I’d put some books down without ever finishing them, while others would keep me awake at night because it was impossible to put them down, I wasn’t consciously thinking about what I liked and disliked in books. I didn’t spend much time analyzing the writing. That has certainly changed. Now I can’t pick up a book without going into ‘critter mode’ and look at the tools used and the style applied and whether it worked, or not.

After a few months, fiddling on my own, in a bit of a writing frenzy, where I’d write thousands of words on a daily basis, my need for feedback on my writing grew and I started to actively look for online critique groups because I knew there was no way I’d find suitable readers in my neighborhood. I ended up on Scribophile – a fantastic online writers’ community that basically answered all my needs. At least for the time being.

That was the first, initial step on a very long, and very steep, learning curve.

As a new member of Scribo I realized that there’s something called Point of View (POV) in writing, and they all have their pros and cons. Without giving it much thought, I’d chosen first person myself. As it turns out, that’s a POV critics love to bash.

Then I realized one needs to think about tenses as well. God, I hadn’t thought about verb tenses since I had German in high school. I had, again without much thought, chosen present tense. And as it turns out, first person POV in present tense has even more loud critics than first person alone. Shit… But somehow I stuck with it, and by now I’m convinced that my gut feeling, or perhaps it was pure luck, made the right decisions for me.

Receiving feedback can give you wings or send you crashing. Crits take the blinds off and you’re able to see your writing through the eyes of others, who’re less in love with your story. They make you realize there are no short cuts, the road is long and winding, and full of bumps and roadworks that slow down the progress.

As a new writer who’s never picked up a Writing for Dummies book in my entire life, I’m bound to make all the beginner mistakes that make the more seasoned authors wince. It’s only natural that I get a couple of brutal reality checks now and then. But generally, feedback have been inspirational boosters rather than cold showers. They’re given me confidence to think that I can do this. It’s going me long time and a lot of effort, but I can do it.

What else…oh, the damn filtering words that sneak in here and there. I’m still busy picking them out and crushing them like bugs, when I find them. They might look cute, but they’re weeds sucking the energy right out of the story.

And then there are of course plots and character arcs and pace and flow, and in the middle of all the technicalities, it’s easy to lose sight of the core of the matter; your story.

Lc C.G. Roebling 'Blue Indigo'

It is fitting, somehow, that my favorite Christmas present this year, is a flowering orchid. I’ve had this plant for years, and it’s refused to flower for me. I’ve been tempted to throw it on the compost heap several times, to free up space for more vigorous, easy-growing plants. This Christmas it finally rewarded me. It goes to show that patience (or subborn determination) and dedication pay off, even if it takes a while.

It’s the same with writing, I’ve discovered. Your story becomes your baby, your love child (even if they say you should ‘kill your darlings’). It’s hard work and long-term effort to make a story blossom into its’ full potential. But the process…the learning curve, it’s such an exciting and rewarding journey.

Looking forward to Year Two.

 

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