Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I'm Glad I Write (Even Though I'm Not Published...Yet)

I'm presenting a research project at the South Carolina conference for Applied Behavior Analysts on Monday, and I've been thinking a lot about how writing has helped me to prepare for a career. This last two years has been a huge transition for me as I've gone back to school and work, but it has been made easier by some of my experiences as a writer, specifically a writer going to conferences and trying to snag an agent. So here's what I've learned:
  • From reading hundreds of query critiques and having my own queries critted, I learned how to write a real business letter. One that conveys a little personality without trying too hard and gives the important information quickly and clearly. Or so I hope:) The complexities of the query made a simple resume a walk in the park while eating cake and occasionally petting my unicorn. Really. Queries are that tough. And the two page synopsis? Uggggh.
  • I learned self-confidence. Going to an interview when I was looking for a job was not nearly as difficult as going to a conference and sitting down across from an agent and discussing what works or doesn't work about my writing sample. Maybe because writing is so personal? It's the emotional equivalent of taking off your clothes, so in a job interview, I felt more like, "Whew! I'm talking to this person about a possible job, but at least my soul is dressed!"
  • Also from various query critiques I've had with agents, I've learned to relax and get over myself. I blogged about it at the time, but now all I remember about my first query critique was how sick-to-my-stomach-nervous I felt. My stomach turned for hours afterward while my mind replayed the conversation and I wondered if the agent thought I was an idiot or just incompetent. 
  • The next time wasn't so bad. The time after was almost easy. I had moved up to being one of the writers just waiting instead of compulsively reading over my elevator pitch and hoping I didn't do something stupid, like paraphrase my perfectly-crafted, exactly 150 word synopsis. Because that would be the end of the world, right? I even gave some advice to other folks pitching for the first time and felt very comfortably patronizing doing so! Isn't it lovely sometimes to be on the other side?
  • I have gotten pretty good at writing for other people. There's a huge difference between writing for yourself, where you just have to remind yourself of what you were thinking, and writing for others, where you have to be able to put yourself in someone else's head and understand what they know and don't know. Most of my writing right now is technical writing for behavior plans, but all those years of writing fiction still help me to keep the reader in mind. I still like to get a few people to read over tricky programs, though.
  • I type faster, which should have obvious benefits. And as a side note, we're making all of our kids take typing classes as soon as they're available. 
And on the negatives side
  • I have to really really fight my inner-editor about leaving other people's spelling and grammar blips alone. I am not the office editor. I am not the office editor. Repeat ad nauseum. I do get asked to read over things sometimes, and I am happy to do so, but I try not to stick my nose in other people's business because I want my coworkers not to think I'm insufferable. Funny and good at my job is my goal:)
My plan five years ago was to write, write, and write and get published, published, and published. When I realized that my family would be better served by my going back to school and working, and to keep writing as a hobby, I was very sad. And a little angry. And bitter. Hadn't I worked hard? Hadn't I put myself out there and written a great story? Why was I having to come up with a Plan B?

Right now, I don't believe that I would be happier if I were writing full time. Maybe that's a little taboo to say on a blog almost entirely friended by writers, but I like who I am more now than two years ago.

I tend to get a little wrapped up in imaginary people and worked up about the whole querying process, and I think I'm a healthier person when I have a foot solidly planted in the real world, where I get to work with real people and make a real difference for my kids. Have I mentioned I love my job? Happy sigh.

Don't take this wrong. This is not a "I'm done with writing" post. Far from it. I love writing and I love having my secret world and my imaginary best friends as well. I'm just saying that writing prepared me to do more than just write.

If only writing could have trained me not to say "um" every 5 seconds while I'm speaking. We did a practice run through at work today, and they "buzzed" me every time I said "um." Fifty times in a 15 minute presentation. Not the end of the world, but something to work on:)

Happy writing!

Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Checking in and Review of "The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon

So...the update. I'm finishing up my masters in Exceptional Student Education, starting to prepare for the BCBA exam I'll take in February, and after a crazy summer where I took (and passed!) 5 classes, I'm back at work at the Autism Academy. Also, after serving for two years as Young Women President in our ward, I have been asked to do something new and am the Gospel Doctrine teacher. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, right?

All of which is to say, I'm still not writing...much...although I do have a short story that I'm working on that is turning out to be more of a novella and I might be able to stretch it into a novel. Hard to say since I'm still a pantser.

I've mentioned this on Facebook, but I had a benign tumor removed from my salivary gland a few weeks ago, and while recovery has not been fun (drugs make me feel, well, drugged) I've spent a lot of time listening to "The History of Rome" podcast, and I highly recommend. I've always wanted to understand a bit more how political intrigue works, how people can do crazy things like raise armies and convince people to go to war for them, how people can be so charismatic that civilizations are bent to their vision, and this podcast has really showed me how it was done. I feel like it's given me enough understanding that I could maybe introduce some political intrigue in a novel and not have it come off as if a twelve-year-old had written it. No offense to twelve-year-olds. I think maybe you have to be aware of how the world has and is changing to be able to include that in your writing, though.

Also, I'm finding some time to read new books again (I re-read all of the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner while recovering, as well as "Daughter of Smoke and Bones" and sequel, but was not feeling up to seeking out a good book. Enter my friend Genean, who texted me that she had a book for me and would drop it off the next day.) So I just finished The Bone Season and really, really enjoyed it. Not quite five stars, but a great read.

Paige Mahoney is a voyant, so just being unnatural and alive is an act of treason in her political state, Scion. Like other voyants, she has found a place in the criminal underworld, where she uses her very rare ability as a dream walker to enter other people's dreamscapes and spy for her mime-lord (think crime-boss.) But as eventually happens to all criminal types, she gets caught and a swat team arrives at her house to bring her in.

Yet she isn't taken to the Tower and forced to become a Scion turncoat like she expects. Instead, she is brought into another world where voyants can live in the open and their gifts are accepted. Unfortunately, living in the open does not equal freedom, and they are essentially vassals to another race, the Rephaites. The Blood-sovereign, Nashira, takes a special interest in Paige, and her consort, Warden, is given the task of training Paige to use her powers more fully so that Nashira can become more powerful and no voyants will ever be able to oppose the Rephaites ever, ever again. Paige would rather die, and so she does what she does best: fights back.

I loved the world-building and the writing and the tension between Paige and basically every other character in the story. Did I mention she's a redhead from an Irish family with a background similar to the IRA? Great story with lots of levels. My only issue was I had to do a lot of flipping in towards the end because there are a lot of characters and it's always hard for me to keep minor characters straight. 

Content-wise, there are references to drugs that some voyants take to open their minds to the aether, but the main character does not approve. Also, there are some bad dynamics in the voyant mafia, no big surprise, but it means that characters hurt other characters because it's their job and the boss will get angry if they don't. There's also some sexuality in a few scenes, including a date-rape and a near rape and a kissing scene. There are several fights including a major battle and a fair amount of violence. I would think that even sensitive fourteen-and-ups could handle it.

Krista V. at blogged here about how much she loved "For Darkness Shows the Stars," by Diana Peterfreund so that's next on my list. I'm trying to catch up on your blogs and news and everything. I've missed having the time to be a part of the book blogging, writerly world. Thank you for being so kind and wonderful, friends.

What are you reading? Anybody else read The Bone Season?
Glutton for Punishment?