Agent Monday: Writing a First Draft

Jumbies cover small

Happy Agent Monday! Now that everyone is back to school, this is a great time for writers to get serious about tackling their muse and getting thoughts onto paper. But ugh that blank page. Are you staring at one today? Then this guest post by my client, the fabulous Tracey Baptiste, may be just what you need.

WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
guest post by Tracey Baptiste

Here’s the thing you need to know about writing a first draft: You just have to get through it. There are no other rules or tricks. A first draft is basically quarrying rocks. You go, you grab the ones that seem about right, you put them in a nice pile, and then you figure out what that pile is supposed to be later on. But being the creative types that we are, we stumble over every word, beat ourselves up over whether a plot arc or twist is working the way we want it to, and wonder—seriously wonder—why certain strings of words look as awful as they do. I’m better than THAT we think. True. We are. But not today. Today is a draft day, and you can whip that horrible string of words into shape in a little thing I like to call rewrites.

If you think I’m imparting this wisdom to help you out with your writing, or to keep you from stalling out, you would be wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Mostly, I impart this wisdom to help myself, because right now I am stalled in a first draft, wondering why everything looks so horribly bad, and seriously reconsidering my sanity for ever having considered I could write as much as a thank you note.

So this is to remind me (you too, but mostly me) to relax already and not worry so much about which words exactly get put on the page, so long as words that mostly approximate the thing that you think you’re trying to say get on the page. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to write an entire draft of the word “and” or anything. It has to make some sense.

OK, deep breaths. We can do this. We just need to remember that there is only one thing a draft needs to be: Done.

 

Tracey Baptiste - headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR). You can find out more about Tracey at her website, www.traceybaptiste.com, by following her on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or by connecting on Facebook at TraceyBaptisteWrites.

Agent Monday: Nurturing the Creative Side

Colored PencilsHi gang!  Happy Agent Monday to you all.  I almost forget it WAS Monday. I woke up early and quickly got swept into doing different stuff. Emailing this. Reading that. Responding to the other…  Doesn’t that happen to everyone? You get all tied up in the goings on of the day and then before you know it? Time has passed. As a writer as well as an agent, I know this phenomenon all too well. In the taking-care-of-business mode, we keep up with deadlines, but it is easy to neglect the creative side. The side that doesn’t necessarily have a deadline, but that defines us as writers. So, while this column is often dedicated to the business side of a writer’s life, today I’d like to chat a little about nurturing the creative side.

How do you as a writer keep yourself disciplined? It can be hard when it isn’t your full-time job and you are squeezing it in between life. But it can also be hard when it IS your full-time job. It’s not just discipline that’s the problem. Sure, you need to be self-motivating as all get-out in order to write a book from start to finish even though there isn’t a guaranteed contract waiting at the end of it.

But what if you are self-disciplined, yet you just can’t seem to hit your creative sweet spot and write anything new that you feel is meaningful? At some point every writer has probably been there. Let’s not say you’ve hit a writer’s block, because, honestly, I don’t believe in that. But what you may need is to retrain yourself in the way you approach your work. To renew your creative spirit. To reconnect with your own personal joy of writing and to separate it from the “gotta write to the market if I want to get published” pressure you may be squeezing yourself under.

Yeah, be aware of the market, but then set that aside and be true to who you are as a writer. Create what you truly believe in if you are a creative writer. That really is the path to satisfaction.

So if you aren’t creating anything new, and haven’t in a while, maybe it’s time to pause and take better care of your creative self.

Many of us pro writers spend countless hours each week doing things that are writing-related, and even necessary, but in the end don’t add anything creative to our inventory.  Necessary things like marketing existing work, building platform, networking, teaching and leading workshops, etc.  You can fill the entire week with this stuff and tell yourself that you are a busy writer…but have you written anything? And many writers at all levels are on an endless treadmill of taking care of others and doing our day jobs, etc.

Paint BottlesBut still, you need to hit the pause button and look closely at your day and your life, and to make time for your creative self to flourish. Maybe you wake up an hour earlier than your family and spend that time journaling, or you take a brisk walk at lunchtime with a notebook in hand and jot down what comes to mind, or you schedule a sacred writing time where someone covers for you at home and you escape to somewhere to put words on paper.

It doesn’t have to become a novel or even a short story.  Your efforts just need you to reconnect with your creative self and to take a mental deep breath. Then the words can flow. Ideas and stories will come if you make space for them.

To that end, a few author friends of mine have just cobbled together a “creativity group” where we will meet every two weeks, not to talk marketing or plotting or to crit eachother’s works, but to explore ways to nurture our own creative selves in a way that will help our own writing flow better.  We’ll be working through exercises in the classic book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to see what might click, and setting our own goals to follow in between meetings. One thing that really clicked with me was when one friend mentioned having a spot that is just for writing, not editing or anything else. A creative spot.

I really like that idea, and I’m already shifting things around at home to set up just such a spot – something cozy and private that has room beside it for me to set down a proper cup of Earl Grey tea.

Little Girl Drawing in ClassYour creative side deserves attention and nurturing, whether you give it a brisk morning walk every day or a lovely leather journal to expand in. Or perhaps you should set up your own creative group with fellow writers and artists. Give your creative side time and thought and care. And if you have ideas that have worked for you, or books that you’d recommend to others who need a creative boost, please feel to share these here in the comments.

Let’s all take care of our creative spirits and let them grow!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Writer Wednesday: I Can’t Seem to Start My Novel!

I can’t seem to start my novel! Yeah, that about says it all. I don’t believe in writer’s block, so let’s not call it that. But let’s just say the writing isn’t flowing the way I’d planned.

Okay, to backtrack just a bit: I have started the novel.  If by started you mean that I’ve got a full outline. Yup. Got that (though I admit I’m not much of an outliner). And I have sat down and written a number of starting scenes…which I’ve promptly discarded.  I’ve done the whole sit-in-a-coffeehouse-and-just-do-it sessions, which didn’t do it for me.

Part of the problem is a question of where to start. I’ve written funny material with my character arriving at the train station, but no, too early in the story. So CUT. Then poignant material the moment my character arrives on scene, but no, this feel like introducing back story. So CUT. Then a crazy night out loaded with humiliation, but there’s no real reason for the reader to be there either, so CUT CUT CUT!

And that, dear readers, is how it has been going all this past month. The month of August. My Write the Novel Month. Blah. I know I should do what I tell my writing students to do: just write. DON’T REVISE. DON’T SELF-EDIT.  The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m self-editing. I feel like I’m just not latching onto the characters and voices in a way that makes me feel like the words are real and I’m in the moment.  That’s how I write. That’s my own style.  I hear the character’s voice, and know that dramatic opening scene, and I just go for it.

Not this time…

If I think of this past month in terms of words on the page, I can surely panic. But no. Because I’m not on a deadline (I’ve written a novel on deadline before…that was an experience!), I can think of this as a process.  Doesn’t that sound better than, say, a mess, or a failure? A process. And I do think this is accurate. As I’ve rejected scene after scene, I have been thinking about where I would start things. How. Why.

And If I did panic, would I be daydreaming of the scenes I needed to write? Would I let myself do other stuff and put this aside without feeling like I was failing? You know the answer to that one, right?

So, as I watch August disappear, I have to take a deep breath, and trust my writing process. As I’ve NOT written, what I HAVE done is think about the characters more, and their voices. I’ve started to hear in my head dialogue, and witness scenes that definitely should be written. I’ve picked out better names, more interesting story threads.

So sometimes, not writing is a vital part of writing.

I’ve tried to relax, even as these notions have all piled up in my brain but I’ve become too busy with traveling around and settling one child at Law School, which means the words are bubbling, but I’m still NOT WRITING. But life is a process, too. We go through phases in our lives. There was the time my kids were babies and I had to accept that there were months and even years when I wasn’t going to get the intense writing time I so needed.

Right now I’m seeing that maybe September is a better writing month for me after all. My husband has started back teaching at the University. My other daughter will soon be back at school. And my poodle is pretty quiet when she isn’t yapping at the mailman. The house, which was all summer filled with people and “what’s to eat” inquiries and piles of laundry and stacks of dirty dishes, will be under control and calm. A writing space, dare I say?

So sometimes, not writing is about waiting for your life and your head to get into a better place.

And sometimes not starting your novel is the best way to start it after all. Hm. We’ll see about that one. Stay tuned…

Keeping it Flowing

(This entry is cross-posted over at the Liars Club site.)

I’ve heard so much about writer’s block over the years…mostly from writer’s magazines that seem to have a fascination with this phenomenon. Like it’s a scientific fact, something to be studied and treated. And aspiring authors often raise their hands at q&a’s to ask how it can be overcome.

So it’s no wonder that in the back of my mind I think, jeesh, writer’s block is going to happen to me. Probably at the very worst time. And what the hell would I do about it?

I mean, words just come out of some subconscious place, spilling onto the page.  It feels mystical, magical, mysterious.  We writers might have an idea for a story, but making that idea into a book? You write and write and write and stuff just, well, appears.  And somehow it makes sense.  We don’t really always feel in control of this, and that, I think is the root of the problem. If we don’t fully control this process, then do we really have total power over keeping the flow flowing?

For me, my problem isn’t writer’s block, it’s writer’s delay.  I check my email.  I play spider solitaire. A LOT of spider solitaire.  I do a ton of important things when I should be writing.  The starting can be an issue, but the truth is that once I start writing, it’s hard for me to stop.  The words do flow.  Time flies.  It’s wonderful.

There was one time that I was sure that writer’s block would still my hands, and wow, it was the very worst of times.  I had a book contract, with the novel due the following year.  It was August and I’d written about 60 pages. Things were good.  Then my editor shoots me an email. Can I get the book to her by the next month so it’ll come out next year?

WHAT????  But the contract says…

Yeah, that’s more of a guideline, actually.

I was able to push the deadline to the end of October.  Two months, one novel, no problem.  Unless I hit writer’s block.  Very early every morning I’d sit in that chair and start. No spider solitaire. No emails. Just raw fear and flying fingers.  Raw fear, because if I hit writer’s block, I was truly doomed. If those words stopped flowing, I was screwed.  I felt this trembling terror each day as I began.

My cure? Just pushing the insecurity aside and diving in and typing and typing and typing.  I was amazed how the story poured out. I wished I could always write with this intensity (minus the raw fear, of course).  I wrote until late at night each day. My back hurt. My ass really hurt.  But it was great. I loved the novel, and when my editor got it, she loved it too.

So, moral of the story? Dive in, plow forward and go for it. If raw fear threatens your creativity, you just have to shove it aside and keep on going. Have faith, and have a comfortable chair.  If you are serious, you’ll be sitting there a lot, and it’ll all work out. If you don’t trust me, trust yourself. Trust that inner mysterious story source. And type like hell.