Creative Process

Leave Me Alone

“I thought of saying that I was writing a book and was not seeing many people.”  Colm Tóibín, The Pearl Fishers, The Empty Family: Stories, p. 89

I am protecting my time in September.  August was an unbearable bust for getting anything done except processing and exorcising emotional build-up, mine and others’.  If I am to write, I cannot do that.  I have to keep to myself, day after day, not just in pockets of time here and there.  When I am working, I am working all the time.  

I can’t focus and write in the morning if I know I have this, this, and that to do before I have to be somewhere later.  Maybe it is not the same for everyone, but for me I don’t just need a couple of unscheduled hours in my study.  I need emotional and psychic space as well.  If it takes time to prepare myself to go somewhere and time to process and recover afterwards, I lose my chance.  

My one and only chance.  Ever since I got a positive response from an agent query, outside demands on me ramped up and I found myself unable to grab the time and focus.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  

Charles Bukowski said you don’t need air and light and time and space.  If you’re going to create, you will, and that’s true.  I once did some of my best in-the-zone writing at a car dealership waiting for repairs.  Unlovely surroundings, but two hours with nothing and no one.  

I realize now that I have been constantly justifying to myself the need to protect my time rather than simply doing so.  Instead I could not believe I had the right to be selfish with my time or that I should be able to create and work regardless.   Not true.  It is possible to say without rancor or justification, “I’m sorry, I can’t go.  I will be working.”  Not everyone will understand my requirements and no amount of explanation will change that, but that’s okay.  What they do with it is up to them.  I need to use this chance, whatever it takes, and commit to it.  

I need pens, paper, computer, and quiet.  I need to be left alone.  

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Fiction

Writer Meets Agents

Last month I pitched my novel to two agents at a writers conference sponsored by the League of Vermont Writers.

In the days running up to the conference, and even for a few days following, I was in some kind of bubble, very much by myself and single focused.  It had been awhile since I had done something I had never done before.  I was preparing like crazy but also had a funny feeling that there was such a thing as too much preparation and that I might do better to let it ride.

At my first appointed time I introduced myself to the agent.  I shook hands, sat down, thanked her for her time, and launched into my 50 word pitch.  Before I got halfway into it, she interrupted me and began talking.  She talked more than I did and I wasn’t sure what to think.

She advised that I begin my pitch with the biggest event in the story in a ‘Can you believe this happened?!’ kind of a way.  She asked some good questions, one of which was to ask what my inspiration for the story was and to advise that I use that as a starting place.

When our time was up, I stood up having said only about five percent of what I had prepared and she said, “Oh but feel free to send me your work,” and I said, “Sure, thank you.”  Somehow I don’t think you really mean that.  

I went outside and walked around and then found a quiet place to think.  I had written a synopsis of my story just to have at the ready and I decided to take her advice and in my next pitch lead with that.  Also, at the opening panel, the second agent had said that she liked to get to know people when they made their pitch.

So when I went in to my next meeting I introduced myself and asked, “How are you,” and “How was your trip,” and watched her smile and relax.  I then told her a little bit about myself and thanked her for taking the time to meet with me.

Then I told her what my story was about, the long version.

She asked some very good questions and advised that since it was a character driven story that I would need strong characters and perhaps a variety of plot points.  She asked the same question as the first agent as to what had inspired this story, and also recommended including that.  I soaked it up.

She had remarkable communication skills, considered her words before speaking, and let me say what I came to say.  Near the end of our time she said, “I would really like to read your work, if you would please send it to me, okay?  Take my card.”  The bell rang, I said thank you so much, shook her hand and left.

I was stunned.  As much as I was hoping to hear that, I didn’t know what to do next.  But my editor was there as a vendor so I found her and she – she’s the best!! – jumped up, big smile and hug, and then said, “What did she say, tell me everything.”  That was the biggest blessing of the day.  Someone in my corner, you know?

It was several days before I could really fathom what this meant.  I am still revising my novel, for Pete’s sake, but this conference is so close by and it is only held every two years, so I went.

I have given myself a deadline to have something decent to send to her.  I still can’t believe it.  It really is true that when you set something in train, it assumes a life of its own and you have to dash to keep up with it.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Agent Pitch

Countdown to the Pitches…

I keep going back and forth between wanting to read more advice on how to pitch my novel in person and deciding never to read about it again because contradictions arise and freak me out.

A workshop I went to in the Spring said to get your in-person elevator pitch down to fifty words.  After a few weeks of hammering away on it, I finally decided that was impossible and that I would just talk fast.  Yesterday I thought I had it, started to send it to my editor for rubber stamping, and then realized I had left out my best sentence.  Start again.

When I finally thought I had it, I sent it out and then thought to do a word count.  Fifty words exactly!  Check it out!  I was stunned.  Who knew I could be so succinct.

The cool thing about this whole process has been that it helped to clarify in my own mind what my characters’ obstacles are and even led to the discovery that the two main characters’ journeys toward their desires actually mirror each other.  I had not seen that before working so hard on this distillation.  So there is a lesson learned.

My editor got back to me and said I nailed it, so I’m going with that version.  Now it’s time to practice the brief pitch and my supporting info out loud, over and over.  I’m usually pretty good with things like this.  I interview well, am quick on my feet, and don’t mind public speaking and being the center of attention.  As long as I can avoid nervous babbling I’ll be fine.

What makes this different from any other interview is that all the advice I have been reading and taking to heart has convinced me there are many wrong ways to do this.  Deep down I know the best advice I could have is, “just be yourself”.  Without the babbling.  Okay.  I can do that.

And I’m trying to think of one little thing I could do to make them remember me that doesn’t involve falling flat on my face going out the door.

 

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Agent Pitch

Before I Make My Pitch…

In preparation for pitching my novel to two prospective agents in July I need to ~

Memorize my pitch

Practice my pitch for my writers group and friends and anyone who will stand still long enough

Meet with my editor, Angela, for her advice

Conduct market research as though I know what I’m doing

Increase number of blog and Twitter followers exponentially, immediately

Write up a bulleted bio and memorize it

Write up bulleted platform points to make and memorize them

Figure out what to wear besides jeans

Lose five pounds

Stop thinking about moving out of state instead

Practice

Practice

Practice

Creative Process

Since I got my manuscript evaluation back from my editor I ~

Three-hole punched the manuscript and put it in a binder.

Shopped online and bought four shirts, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and a messenger bag.  Returned all but one shirt and a pair of shoes.

Picked strawberries and sliced them, and one or two fingers, and covered them with sugar and cream.  Ate them.

Began a diet, lost three pounds, quit.

Walked my dog every day.

Gave up wine and sugar.

Went to the library three times and read William Trevor, Grace Paley, Raymond Chandler, Anne Donovan, and Jo Ann Beard in preparation for writing short stories and essays.

Ordered books recommended by editor, began working with them, became utterly overwhelmed, head on desk.  Walked dog, drank wine and then more wine.

Listened to the playlist of cello music made for me by my cellist friend and bawled my eyes out to Anner Bylsma playing Bach.

Listened daily to my internal scoffer who says “not really” when I say I am a writer.

Turned a year older without a plan for the day and finally took my dog and myself  off for a long drive south where the land opens up into a plain between the lake and mountains to the west and the mountains to the east and began to unwind, began to stop trying to protect myself from all the work I have to do and how hard it is going to be.  Silenced the jabbering in my head which keeps nothing at bay.

Pulled over on a dirt road where I could see hay down in fields and the mountains beyond on both sides of me and breathed in the hot scent of drying grass and reminded myself for the hundredth time that nothing can protect me from my fear but accepting that I was afraid and continuing anyway.

Woke up the next day feeling stronger, pulled out the excellent evaluation from talented editor, Angela Palm, that I am fortunate to have, and started at the beginning.  Again.

 

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Art

Brave and Vulnerable

Finished a draft of the end of my novel but then after lunch I had to go lie down.  So tired today.  At least I got that much done.  I was pretty successful at not thinking about the latest saga of ‘who done me wrong’ and just work.

It is hard to settle down and focus and create anything when the parts of yourself that you create from are all so battered and seething with resentment.

I take my dog for a walk and I could throw myself down on the path and give up.  But I don’t want to, not really.

I refuse to be defeated.  I refuse to define my life in terms of other peoples’ choices.  I accept that my struggle is to allow myself to be brave and vulnerable at the same time.  If I can be open to both of these, then I can work.

I want to tell you all that reading your blogs – yes, yours – is one thing that keeps me going.  You help me chip and smash my way out of the shell between me and the words on the page.  I can feel you all there around the world, struggling in the same way and it is the light of grace for me.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

Share Your Process We Are Curious, A meme response

So I was tagged with a meme  —  #MyWritingProcess  —  that’s been making the rounds.  I like this one and it came to me from a writer I admire, Julie Christine Johnson at Chalk The Sun, and as you may have noticed I could use a push to blog more frequently, so I’m in.  Trace this meme back in time starting with Julie’s blog.  It’s intriguing and somehow reassuring.  How it works is that the tag-ees, if they wish, respond to the four questions below in a blog post, link back to the tag-er, in this case me, and pass the meme along to three other writer-bloggers.

Here goes ~ ~

What am I working on?

I am still working on my second novel.  Earlier this year I did a complete rewrite/organize/edit and retyped the entire thing.  I have just over 50k words and many sticky notes reminding me of inconsistencies to address and pieces of the story that are missing.  I hope to have at least 70k words soon.  I am going to have the manuscript evaluated professionally and have an appointment with an agent to pitch this novel at a writers conference in July.  So you can see there is a time factor here, which is good because without a deadline I tend to become unmoored, easily frightened, and unproductive.

 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Aside from my tendency to bristle when people talk about genre I don’t really pay any attention to it.  I am not interested in slotting myself or my work into any category other than ‘really good writer’ and ‘beautifully written’, respectively.  Talking about genre feels like learning lingo and I hate lingo as much because it excludes those not using it as it boils language down to a very few, usually ill-chosen, words.  Homogenization of a language is unforgivable in a writer.  Paying attention to genre is a way of limiting what you learn which is the very opposite of what reading should do for us.  Forget categories.  Read everything.  I write fiction.  Last night I read two poems I wrote at a poetry reading.  A year from now I hope to be writing even better fiction.  And essays.  I might take a whack at that, too.

 

Why do I write what I do?

I didn’t know it was up to me.  I have a friend, the poet Mary Jane Dickerson, (hear her read here) who once said, “I always wanted to write fiction, but it kept coming out as poetry.”  I think that is beautiful.  I write what I write because that is what the muse/daemon/the dead in the corners of my study and my mind tell me to write.  When I resist them, I write crap, so I am very nice to them, most days.

 

How does my writing process work?  

Oh gosh.  First I just want to say that it would be much better if I didn’t have to eat, sleep, or bathe and I could just keep working.  Especially bathing – why does that take so long?  Anyway.

For me a successful writing day is all about my morning.  I have blogged about this challenge here and here.  I get up early in the morning to take my dog outside and feed her.  Then most days I get coffee and go upstairs to my study by six thirty.  I review the day’s expectations in my bullet journal, check my email but do not yet respond, and might check to see if anyone noticed me on Twitter.

I take a look at what I wrote yesterday and find my place in the work.  Then I sit and rock and drink coffee and wait to see who else has shown up and what I feel like writing now.  Sometimes I can dive right in to something fresh and sometimes I have to choose the smaller assignments from my sticky note board and ease my way into things.  I write new material most frequently by hand, but lately with the manuscript needing little bits here and there I will find a spot in my draft that needs addressing and add a few lines or paragraphs.  At the best of times I lose myself utterly in the writing and it flows along without my being cognizant of anything around me or even of myself.  The writing is better when it’s like that.

Around ten-thirty or so I take my dog for a walk, make tea, take a shower, do a few chores.  If I am not otherwise committed for the afternoon then I return to my study after lunch and reply to email, read blogs, do research for my novel, and research things like making a good pitch, how to write a query, what literary journals might be appropriate for my work, etc.

At some point I will return to my work to see if I have anything else to say today.  Sometimes this results in a burst of creative energy and I will get more writing done.  I usually wrap up by writing in my journal.

And in all of this time I am thinking about the writing and what I am working on and how it can be great and how to write my way from here to there.

 

Thanks, Julie, this was fun.  What’s not to like about yakking about ourselves, right?  My chosen bloggers are below.  Gang — all you have to do is address the four questions above in a blog post.  Oh, yeah, and mention me.

Thank you for reading and meme tag you’re it ~

Confessions of a Grandma

So You Want to be a Writer?

Presents of Mind

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.