Saturday, February 2, 2013

My So-Called Writerly Life

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to blog more frequently. I guess, technically, a resolution can’t be a failure until you start it, right? Okay, so here goes.

This is my first “writing” post. Mostly, I’ve blogged about my weird kids, or observations of family life, but I’ve strategically avoided writing about…well, writing. I don’t know why – can something be unknown and strategic? Not sure, but there it is.

I thought I’d give my five blog readers (waves at Mom, Aunt Mary Jo, Becky and Molly, maybe Megan) a little insight into my writing life. Sometimes my friends and family will ask questions, but always seem a little unsure of what to do with the answer. Did they know that? Are they supposed to understand what that means? Generally, I change the subject back to mom things with a collective sigh of relief – messy houses and screaming kids are solid ground. But my writerly life is usually met with a that’s cool, I guess?

I don’t write every day. I work every day – I commute an hour to a job that I mostly like, but don’t feel passionate about. In that way, writing has ruined my life. The rest of you are just along for the ride. At night, after I get home, and the kids are in bed, instead of folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen like I should be doing, I email bloggers, check my twitter and my facebook, check my Amazon rank, reply to fan mail (that’s a joke. Unless one of you e-mails me)…oh, and try to be a decent wife by paying a little attention to my husband.

Before you all start thinking I’m martyring myself, here’s my secret: It’s so much fun. I love it way more than I thought I would. Or, at least its more fun than folding five loads of kids clothes (oh, cute, you thought I was exaggerating). But this means my kids are mismatched, permission slips are always lost, my dishes are overflowing and my husband is over-houseworked (I’m trying to make up for this by giving him props everywhere. Oh wait, he doesn’t read my blog either. Just...tell him I said so, k?)

On the weekends, while the kids nap (luck, luck, luck, and sheer will play a huge part in having a four-year-old who still takes a nap), I write. This means that if I’m lucky, I write a chapter a week. There are about thirty to forty chapters in my new book. Talk about slow goings. I thought dieting was thankless.

But a few weeks ago, something totally awesome happened. Unexpectedly, I finished the first draft of my second book. Why unexpectedly? Oh, I don’t know, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I never know if I’ll abandon something or finish it until I write The End. I spent two weeks smoothing out the issues I knew about, but at sixty-five thousand words, I knew there were more problems. It simply wasn’t long enough to be good, in my mind (*SIGH* disclaimer: there are very good books at that length. I could tell that mine was not one of them). It needed….something. But what? (Side note: the average novel is about eighty-thousand words, roughly.) Enter, beta readers.

Um, what?
A beta reader is an early draft reader. Everyone has different definitions or uses for these readers but to me, they must be the following:

  • Tough but fair
  • A big reader – I’m talking reads a few books a month
  • A decent communicator
  • Not afraid to tell me the truth
  • Not extraordinarily busy

Beta reading sounds like fun. It’s not. If you’re a beta reader, you’re reading a novel with problems. You’re helping the author identify these problems. You can’t kick up your feet and unwind after a long day, pour a glass of wine, get lost in your kindle. No, you have to pay attention, take notes, answer questions on characterization, consistency, plot holes. It’s work! I appreciate every little note I get back from them, because I know that at least once when they were writing up those notes, they didn’t want to be doing it.

I found six beta readers. I’m still waiting for four of them (patiently, no rush, really…. This isn’t an implied prod. I promise). The notes from the first two overwhelm me. I open them, open my manuscript, stare, stare, stare, close everything, check Twitter, check Facebook.

When I get all my beta reads back, I’ll incorporate as much as I agree with (which will not be everything I should, I can assure you that) and begin my own personal line editing. Getting rid of words like just and about, then, that, had, and eliminating clich├ęs. Hopefully, hopefully, by sometime in March, I’ll be ready to submit my new manuscript to my publisher. If I’m lucky, they’ll like it. Then they’ll edit the heck out of it (tell me that I have to get rid of all the things my beta readers told me to get rid of and I ignored), I’ll repeat all my editing steps from above but with more crying, and I’ll publish it in late 2013. If I’m incredibly lucky! We’ll see.

So, uh, what’s your second book about again? Is it a sequel?
No, I think Claire’s journey is told. My second book is a tiny bit darker, but still involves a troubled marriage. Only this time, the couple accidentally kill a man. Instead of calling the police, they bury the body. The novel is about what that secret does to them, as individuals and as a couple.

Do you want to write for a living?
This is the one question I get asked the most by my family and friends whenever the topic of conversation goes to my new weird life. And the answer is of course.  I would love, love, love, to write for a living. But let me break it down for you, in broad strokes. This year has truly been an eye-opener for me. I sell anywhere between one and five books a day, depending on the day. (As a side note, for a debut nobody, those are great sales!) Hopefully, that number increases? But to make “a living”, let’s just say half my current salary (here’s where I really hope my husband doesn’t read my blog), I’d have to sell close to seventy copies a day. Seventy. That’s not even close to New York Times Bestseller list stuff. I should just buy a lottery ticket – same odds.

So there it is. My writing status, how writing (barely) fits into my life, what I give up to do it and why, and what I’ll never get out of it. Good thing I love it. Somehow, unexpectedly, I’ve become passionate about it. At almost thirty-five, with a house, two young kids, and a hectic life, I’ve learned that feeling passionately about something outside of those things is important. It keeps me happy, sane, grounded, reasonable.

Well, mostly reasonable. I’m still sort of a writer, you know?

She has better hair than me, but you get the idea.