Sunday, October 19, 2014

A good kind of crazy

There's something about being an author that makes novel-writing kind of addicting. I've started plenty of books before (see previous posts on my personal history). It was only when I finished my first one that I realized I could do it again.

National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us. Last year, I wrote and completed my second novel, "Shifter," which entered the editing process around August this year after I had finished and released "Dragon's Destiny." I had hopes to complete first edits and rewrite of "Shifter" before November struck, but unforeseen events, depression and inconsistent motivation have made that goal more difficult than I realized. Still, until the October calendar page is flipped, I must plow on in my efforts to complete edits by January. I will probably be taking an editing break during NaNoWriMo.

So here I am again, planning my next novel -- or trying to. I don't know whether I will finish it in a month like I did "Shifter," but I will definitely try. I'm probably crazy, but a good kind of crazy. I mean, 1,667 words a day for a month is a lot more attainable than a lot of goals, though I may lose some sleep doing it.

My third novel, by popular demand, will be a continuation from a short story I wrote over the summer. God willing, I will figure out the rest of my plot before NaNoWriMo begins. If not, I guess I'll just have to start and see what happens. There's nothing like a solid deadline (and a little competition) to get you motivated.

Until next time,
Heather Kennison,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Writing is like marriage, and books are like babies: Part 3

The conclusion of a three-part story.
The end of the pregnancy is often the hardest part, because you have to reach your goal. You’ve made it to the climax, put the final hours of labor into making your manuscript truly your own. But you still have to make it end at a good place, there’s no taking the easy way out or quitting. With a few groans and grunts of displeasure as you make yourself finish it, you at last give birth to your completed manuscript. Congratulations, you’re a mother now.

To my surprise, Dragon’s Destiny came months before its due date, and was complete by the end of June. But the work had only just begun.

You see, once you finish a novel, you have a brand-new baby and nothing else matters. At this point, you are so happy that you think it is without flaw. It’s beautiful just the way it is, and you want to show it to the world.

But there’s a problem. The world doesn’t see what you see in your baby. Sure, they might think he’s cute. But when it’s time to send your book to an editor, it’s like handing him over to the babysitter. The babysitter will know your child better than you ever could in that she’ll know how it performs when you’re not there. She knows what people will say when they meet your child, and how they will take to it. And you know what? Children are a lot of work.

Now you know what your child’s flaws are. He isn’t perfect, as you thought him to be. In parts, he isn’t even cute but more like a terrible monster. You’ll try to edit the plot, perfect the character, and he will stubbornly refuse to cooperate. Fed up with it, you’ll try to lock him up in his room for time-out.

This doesn’t work for long, as you might imagine. The book begins screaming at you from every cranny of your mind, telling you he’s still there and he isn’t going away so you’d better commit. You realize that you have to go back to editing. Like childrearing, it doesn’t just go away. And at times, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Sure enough, your book hits puberty. You’ve put some effort into it, and now it’s time for the book to make an impression on your beta readers. You’re going to get some bad feedback. You’re going to realize that despite your hardest efforts, the book still has some problems, even some pretty major ones. It’s not over yet.

Fast-forward a few weeks or months later, and your book is finally mature. It’s ready for publishing, ready to leave the safety and comfort of home and go out into the wider world. You won’t know everything people are saying about your book, but you hope you’ve made all the right choices along the way. It’s time to let go.

So it was with Dragon’s Destiny, and by July 7, 2014, it was ready to face the world with a roar. OK, maybe more of a squeak. I know it isn’t perfect – great literature takes decades. I know there is at least one typo in there that somehow all of my proofreaders overlooked. And there are some formatting issues that I would love to change.

But you know what? Nobody’s perfect, and the same goes for books. As long as he is a likeable read to everyone who meets him, that’s just fine with me. And even so, it’s not set in stone. There is always time for change.

So here I am. My novel is a self-published work, which took a lot of time and effort to finish over the course of a year. I got a lot of help by using my aunt for my cover artist and another friend for my graphic designer. There are many others who helped me in the process that I would love to name, but I think I gave most of them credit in my acknowledgements.

What’s more, I’ve changed my mind about self-publishing. Real authors write books, and people read them. A publishing company is optional, and saves you a lot of work in the long-term. Still, I think it’s kind of like deciding whether to send your kid to public school, or try homeschooling him yourself. A publishing company, more specifically an editor, might try and change your book into something it’s not by forcing it into a mold. I’m not saying I’m against public school, but there are certainly trade-offs. Only the parent can decide whether it’s worth it.

My next project is Shifter, which I wrote entirely in National Novel Writing Month, November 2013 (thanks to my new computer). I’m well on my way into the editing process, and I’ve set up some goals and deadlines to have it ready by New Year’s Day, 2015. I am thinking of finding an agent this time and submitting to a publisher, because I often find I’m too busy to market my book. And who knows? Maybe they’ll like it, maybe not. Either way, I know that I put in my best efforts, and that some of my fans are already eager to read it.

I have come to the end of this essay, but I assure you that it isn’t the end of my story. I don’t know how long that will be, or where it will go, but I will do my best to stick with it. Writing is still a huge part of who I am. There are still plenty of ideas I’ve mulled around to make into future book-children.
In the meantime, I hope my family, friends and fans will continue to encourage me by reading what I have to say once I put it out there.

So for now, good luck and best wishes to all. I will conclude with a quote from a children’s film called The Dark Crystal. In the movie, one character asks the other, “What is writing?” to which the other responds, “Words that stay.” That is what I’ve hoped to accomplish. I want these words to stay.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Writing is like marriage, and books are like babies: Part 2

Continued from Part One.

In 2010, my junior year, I discovered the Inklings Theme House. Once a week, the house would invite Whitworth students over for a night of reading, writing, and conversation around those two things. It was there, during Whitworth Novel Writing Month in January 2011, that I began (and failed at) writing another novel, based on a short story, which years later became Shifter.

This was me a couple months before starting Dragon's Destiny.
The next school year, having joined the theme house as a resident, I picked up novel writing once more. Dragon’s Destiny began in November 2011 (November is National Novel Writing Month). My goal was 50,000 words in one month. I didn’t finish, but ended up carrying it forward another year without adding much to it.

By this time, I had all but forgotten my dream of becoming a novelist. With a college degree and a mountain of student loans, novel writing was a hobby I didn’t have time to pursue. Yet I still hoped I would finish my novel someday. It didn’t even have a title at that point.

A week after graduation, I’d started working for my hometown newspaper, using my creative talents to write nonfiction as opposed to fiction. It suited me, and continues to, because I tend to be a multitasker and I like to be able to get away from the office while working.

I continued writing only at work for a long time, choosing to watch Netflix or read books every night to avoid getting a social life. After all, wasn’t drinking the only thing to do in Elko after dark?
Then I saw the email from Brandy M. Miller, president of the Elko County Art Club. She had started a new writers group and wanted to get the word out. I attended my first meeting at the end of January 2013. I was hooked from then on.

The Elko County Writers were people, mostly women around my age or older, who were also trying to get their books written. I learned all about self-publishing, though I remained skeptical about that for some time. After all, real authors were picked up by publishers; they were just that good. Still, I got my first taste of self-publishing when our group released our anthology, The Collected Works of the Elko County Writers, that fall.

During our weekly meetings, each person would state his or her goal for the week, and whether he or she had accomplished last week’s goal. The group made you accountable for what you wanted to get done. It made you think about why you had committed yourself to writing to begin with. Still, it wasn’t quite enough to motivate me to finish my novel. I made headway, but without a computer, it just didn’t work out.

I was also having difficulty getting myself to even start writing for fun, and beginning is often the hardest part. Still, I’ll never forget the hard truth given to me by Brandy during one of our weekly meetings: Writing is like marriage. Sometimes, you aren’t going to be “in the mood,” but you do it anyway. The mood will present itself. And, as I learned, that started to become true for me.

I realize now that I have been married to writing for quite some time. Like a high school sweetheart, I ran off with it to college, and made a commitment I was too young to fully understand. But I know what it means: If writing is like marriage, then books are like babies.

You see, when the idea for a novel plants itself inside your mind, it’s a lot like finding out you’re pregnant (though I can only speak from what I know of others’ experiences). You’re nervous and excited all at the same time. You don’t know yet if it’s a good thing. Over the next few days or weeks, it gnaws at your thoughts, demanding attention. You don’t want to eat because you are consumed by the plot forming inside your head. But at the same time, you need to eat, to give it sustenance with literal food for thought.

And then begins the main stage of the pregnancy, and you know you’re committed to the idea whether you like it or not. That’s how I felt about Dragon’s Destiny. I knew that it would be my first child, so to speak.

Still, there were complications, the most important of which was not having a computer. Around then, Brandy had asked me to become a test subject for her new self-help book, The Write Time: How to find the time you need to write a book. Reading it and doing the exercises, I began to understand how I could be a part-time novelist, and raise my child, while keeping my full-time job. The point Brandy makes in her book is this: People are always saying “I don’t have enough time.” But, as Brandy states, that is a lie. You have all the time you need, it’s what you choose to do with it that makes the difference.

That’s when I got it. If I made tiny sacrifices, such as an hour or two of Netflix a night or even a half hour less sleep, then I could find the time to finish my novel. So that’s what I did. I waited every night for the last 45 minutes before bedtime and began to write using my smartphone. I gave up watching multiple films a week and switched to shorter television episodes. During my lunch break at work, I gave up 20 minutes of reading time to type an additional 700 words on my phone. Each chapter became a new document in the “Diaro” app that I used on my Droid Razr. The chapters were hard to scroll through on a small screen, so I emailed them to myself and compiled them into my manuscript using my parents’ computer.

Before I knew it, I was getting the words down as quickly as I could. Everything was going great, and the more I wrote, the more involved I got with my characters and my story. I gave my book a name, Dragon’s Destiny, and proceeded from there.

Brandy’s book had also suggested I make a specific deadline for myself. As a journalist, I knew all about deadlines, but I decided to make it a reasonable one. I wanted November 2013 to be the due date for my first finished draft, or 60,000 words, whichever came soonest. That would be exactly two years from my start date.

Concluded in Part Three.