So Many Ideas, So Little Time

Back in September of 2012, when I was still a newbie writer, I typed "The End" on my first ever first draft. I immediately sent it to a few friends who had volunteered to read it, and then sat back to wait and realized:

I had no idea what to write next.

The problem hadn't occurred to me until that point. I knew, from being online and seeing more seasoned writers talk about it, that the next step after finishing something was to start the next thing. But I didn't have any other ideas. I thought maybe that was the one book in me, and I'd never write another story ever again. Maybe I would be happy to just self publish this one and see it in print and that would be my life's lone work of art.

Then a few weeks later, I was lying in bed in our tiny apartment, my husband sleeping beside me, and the baby in his crib, and I thought...what if Robin Hood were a teenage girl? What would make a young woman so hardened that she would be respected by a group of outlaws enough to be their leader?

And so, my next story was born.

Over the years I've heard many authors talk about idea generation. Keeping lists, notebooks, word docs, or what have you, writing down any tiny spark of a story idea just in case it has potential to grow into an inferno. Because that's how it works. A story doesn't just happen--at least not for me. Once I find that spark, I have to feed it. I have to be patient, and I have to nurture it until it gets big enough to be a fully grown story.

Some story seeds grow fast. That Robin Hood idea did for me. I wrote and revised it in 2012/2013, and queried slowly throughout 2014 and 2015 (while I wrote the next project). During that time I got another idea for a book that I didn't attempt to write until NaNoWriMo of 2015. I knew I would need to be a better writer to do it justice, and even then, after more than three years of waiting, the story wasn't ready. I drafted it, and it had holes the size of a house all through it. That story needed more time to simmer.

Speaking of simmering, Victoria Schwab often talks about how she always has multiple story ideas on the "stove" of her brain. Some, she's actively "cooking" by outlining, world-building, or actually writing. But most, she has on a low heat, letting them simmer, letting the ingredients--the story spark, the characters, the plot twists--slowly come together in her head, until they're connected enough that she can actually draft the story.

I love this analogy, because it emphasizes the idea that not all stories come together like Hamburger Helper. Some take time and patience. Nothing against Hamburger Helper, of course. I grew up on that stuff. I'm just saying, some stories come together quickly and are delicious, and others take time and are delicious. There's a place for every story, no matter how long it takes to grow.

So for me, I now have a note on my iPhone Notes app that is pages and pages of tiny story sparks. Sometimes I'll go scroll through them and see if anything pops out at me, but more often than not these days, I already know what I want to work on before I've finished the last project. As of right now, I'm drafting one story, and I have the next one on a simmer, just waiting for a few little things to come together before I start it.

I'll close with this story. In February 2015, I met Brandon Sanderson at a signing. He's always gracious to fans and usually asks if you have a question for him. I asked something like, with the market fluctuating so much and tastes changing, how do you decide which ideas to follow? Which stories to write?

His answer was that for him, he has deadlines and obligations, so he kind of has to find a way to make himself write what he needs to. But if he's ever not feeling it, he'll take a few days to maybe play with an idea he's more excited about, to get him in the zone of being excited about writing. And he said that for me, I should focus on writing exactly that: what I'm most excited about. Because yes, the market is unpredictable and no one knows what's going to be big next week, let alone next year. So until I had deadlines, nurturing my love of writing was the most important thing.

I don't think he actually said all that, but that's what I got out of it :) 

How do you organize your ideas? How do you decide what to write and when? How do you know when a story idea is ready to be moved from "simmer" to "high heat"?

Thanks for reading, guys <3

-DC

Testing Out My Focus Word

January 2019 has been a whirlwind, guys.

Between December 28th and February 2nd, we went from settled and happy and planning the coming year, to having our roots ripped up and being forced to make a huge shift.

Our landlord gave us six weeks to move out of our apartment. I won’t go into his reasons, he was within his legal rights to do so. I have opinions about the situation but what matters is what happened.

Friends and family contributed to support us. Our cousins—who are real estate agents—got us approved to buy a home within a day. We found a home that fit our needs on January 11th, and our offer was approved on January 14th. We closed on the him January 31st, and we’re fully moved in (and out of our old house) on February 2nd, a whole week earlier than our deadline.

As I spend my days slowly unpacking and trying to wind down from the stress of the last five weeks, I find myself crying a lot, even though the uncertainty has passed. I feel gratitude and relief, I feel overwhelmed and loved.

And in the middle of all that, someone (I still don't know who) donated a full registration for me to attend Storymakers writing conference. I didn't ask for that, in fact I'd resigned myself to not going. But the generosity of the amazing people in my life continues to astound me.

All that said, it’s been months since I’ve written any new words, and the writerly part of my brain is screaming to be used.

The dilemma of wanting to write and not having enough mental space to do it is a real thing. There was a lot of waiting to do in the last month, a lot of sitting and staring at my phone as I waited for an email or a text message response to a question...but I was so stressed that I couldn’t bring myself to write during any of those times. Even when the house went quiet at the end of each day, I couldn’t hold a story in my head long enough to put down words. The stress was too much.

Now that we’re moved in and getting settled though, my creative brain is getting louder. Some people will say I shouldn’t push myself, and maybe they’re right. But I’m so anxious and eager to create. I’ve tried the last couple of days to draft something new, but I’m so out of the habit that it’s been difficult. I need to force myself to write words, any words, every day. Gotta start with something simple.

I saw someone the other day suggest writing a paragraph on why I want to write, or why I’m finding it difficult. I guess that’s partly why I wanted to write this blog post. These are my thoughts. It’s what’s been running through my head for a few days, and it’s also words I can count. It may not be story words, but it’s a place to start. Hopefully tomorrow, I can do more. Maybe I’ll try a writing prompt or a short story idea or something.

Here’s to stability, persistence, and writing a little bit as often as I can.

-DC

2018 Reflections, 2019 Resolutions

Hey y'all. It's been a minute, hasn't it? Happy New Year! 

As some of you may know if you've been following me for a while, instead of resolutions the last few years, I've chosen a single word to be my driving force. 

2015: Believe
2016: Gratitude
2017: Wait
2018: Reach

A year ago, I set my 2018 Focus Word as REACH. It was good for me. I didn’t want to do too much or push myself too hard, but I did want to get out of the rut I felt I was stuck in. 

Looking back, I can say with confidence that I accomplished that goal. In retrospect I maybe set my goals a little too high, I didn't do exactly everything I set out to do, but I did a lot more than I have in past years. So I’m taking the win. 

Some of the things I did this year that I’m proud of: 

-Had a baby! (Fourth time, but still an accomplishment!)
-Paid off a lot of debt (not all, but a lot)
-Participated in GISH!
-Set up my in-home recording studio
-Taught at a writing conference!
-Recorded and produced an audiobook!!!
-Recorded a second audiobook to be released in 2019
-Read 30 books 
-Revised SUMMON. TWICE. 

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. I’ve learned that I constantly overestimate my ability to get work done quickly, so I need to make sure I give myself like twice the amount of time I think I need to do a project. 

I’ve learned that I’m a much better mom, wife, and person in general when I stay off of Twitter and Facebook for the majority of my days. 

I’ve learned that I enjoy reading to my kids every night. 

I’ve learned that I sleep better and am less stressed when I exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. 

I’ve learned that there are still a lot of areas of my life that I want to improve upon. 

2018 was crazy, but it was also a lot of fun. When, in early December, I started thinking about 2019, I had tentatively chosen my focus word, but I wasn’t 100% happy with it. That’s probably because 2018 wasn’t done with us yet. 

The first week of December, our car died. The repairs were going to cost more than it was worth to fix it, so we decided to take what we would’ve spent on repairs and buy a newer vehicle instead. So we got a new truck for Christmas! Exciting, right? 

And then on Dec. 28th, just three days before the posting of this, we were given six weeks to be moved out of the apartment we’ve lived in for six and a half years. 

I. Am. Terrified. 

It's been three days and we're still kind of floundering. We're talking to our cousins (realtors) and trying to find a place that will fit our family and our budget. We're praying like crazy. And there are moments of absolute panic where it all hits and the only thing we can do is stop and cry. Then we pick ourselves up and move on. Because we really don't have any other choice. 

I’ll be honest, friends, we are not in a great place for having to move. The deal we've had in this home was a huge blessing, and there's nothing else even close to the same. But, we had been talking about moving and trying to save for a down payment for a while, so we’re trying our best to look forward with optimism despite the (very real) fear we feel. We are incredibly blessed to have supportive family and friends close by, so all we can do now is move forward, and hope.

That being said, the last two days have made me reevaluate my hopes for 2019. My focus word is, “PERSIST.” 

Despite setbacks and trials, fear and doubt, I am determined to persist. I refuse to back down from my hopes and dreams. I refuse to let fear rule my choices. I want to continue moving forward, taking risks, and pushing myself. And 2019 is a year for that. 

I’m still scared, because not knowing what the future holds can do that to a person. But I have hope. Hope that everything will turn out okay. That this is not the end of the world. That maybe years from now, what feels like such a huge turning point will merely be a blip in the memories of our lives. 

Let’s hope so.  Here’s to 2019! 
*throws confetti*

-DC 

P.S. If you read this and want to help, my dear friend Julie has set up this fundraiser to help us pay off a little debt and free up some of our finances so we can afford a new place. If you can help, we are eternally grateful. If you can't, please consider sharing on social media so that maybe someone else can. Thank you <3 

But What Do They WANT?

Hey guys!

I’ve been thinking a lot about character motivation lately. This was brought on by a couple of books I was reading simultaneously, and realized that both of them had some things in common. First of all, they were books I LOVED, and the exact kind of stories I want to emulate in my work. Second, they were amazingly compelling and well paced. In trying to think about why I loved them so much, one of the things I realized was that each of the main characters had very tangible, easy to understand goals.

I’ve always heard “know what your characters want,” and “every character needs a goal,” but I'm starting to recognize that up until now all of my characters’ goals and desires have been kind of... vague. And this is making my characters weaker than they could be.

Not that an abstract desire *can’t* be done well, but I’ve found that in the books I really enjoy, a more concrete goal makes for stronger motivation.

All this reminded me of a picture I’ve seen on the @litrejections twitter account:

What does this mean for my characters? It means that they can't just have a nebulous dream without anything attached to it (which is what they currently have). They need a PLAN. They need to have steps in mind for achieving said dream, and they need to try to get it. They can fail, and should fail a few times. And maybe their plan changes, or the goal shifts, but their motivation and forward movement should always be there.

That's what makes a story great, for me. A character who knows what they want, and goes after it.

And lucky me, I just got notes back from my critique partner on SUMMON, and while she didn’t say these things exactly, the notes she did give showed me that this was a huge issue. So I’m hoping I can fix this, and give my characters much more active roles in their stories.

Example:

Vague:
Jane wants to find her true love.
Specific:
Jane has a crush on John and asks him to the dance, studying for weeks on how to effectively flirt so he'll fall madly in love with her.

Vague:
Joe wants to make a difference in the world.
Specific:
Joe runs for office in his city with a detailed plan to improve things.

Vague:
Sara wants to be a doctor.
Specific:
Sara studies her butt off to get into medical school.

Vague:
Hank wants revenge.
Specific:
Hank plans for years until he comes up with the perfect plan to kill the man who murdered his wife.

I hope that makes sense. I've been writing for seven years and I'm only now starting to really understand how well-build characters are formed. This is only one aspect, but I think a very important one.

Anyway. Not a super long post, but something that’s been on my mind. What are your thoughts on character desires and motivation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-DC

It's a Long Story

First of all, HA! to Past!Darci for thinking I'd be able to blog often when I was pregnant. But luckily I was able to vlog fairly regularly, and for some reason that's easier for me than typing up a post? So that's a thing.

Second, heads up, this is gonna be a looooong post and quite personal. So if that's not your jam, consider yourself warned.

***

Friends, I'd like to tell you a story. This is a story of me, my dreams, my goals, my hopes and my fears. I'm probably gonna get emotional, and I hope you don't mind, because the journey I've been on for the last seven years feels like it's finally reached its climax, and I only have the denouement left to go before I jump into the sequel.

Let's start back in 2011. March, to be precise. That month, I wrote what would be the first line of the first novel I would ever finish. I'd been blogging for fun for a while, and realized people kinda sorta liked what I had to say, and I'd always loved books, so why not try my hand at writing one?

What followed was a few months of me writing a page or two a week, until that September when I said to myself, "if I don't finish this thing soon, I never will." So in the course of a month I wrote the last 20,000 words, and I had finished my first novel. 

This is just one example of something writing would teach me about myself over the next five years: I have a "binge" personality. I'm a binger. I work most effectively when I can focus all my energy on one thing until I finish that thing. Whether it's drafting, revising, reading a novel, dishes, laundry, bathrooms, floors, making dinner... I do things best when I do them one at a time, usually in short, quick bursts.

So, in April 2016 we found out I was pregnant again. I'd had two miscarriages between that pregnancy and my last birth, so I was understandably nervous. That May I went to the Storymakers writing conference, and I had been ready to jump into querying again, but getting pregnant changed that. I realized that I wouldn't be able to fully focus on my writing career, my future in that arena, until I was totally done having kids.

Reminder: I'm a binger. I love my kids, and I want to be the best mom I can be for them. Having a baby requires an incredible amount of dedication of the physical, mental, and emotional variety. Before that pregnancy in 2016, my older boys were old enough that I could be a good mom and a focused writer. But adding more babies to the mix, I knew, would change the dynamic entirely. I needed my focus to be on my family for a time, and writing needed to be set aside.

This led me to thinking about my family, my future, and what I wanted for myself. I remember talking to Brandon during that pregnancy and asking him, with tears in my eyes, "Is it selfish of me to want to be done having kids so I can focus on my dreams?"

And, bless this wonderful man, he said, "Of course not."

So we talked about our family and how many kids we thought were waiting to join our family, (I won't go into detail on this but we're very spiritual people and believe our children were waiting to come to us) and we knew there was at least one more after the one I was carrying, possibly two. We decided then to just have those babies close together and get them all here as soon as possible, so we could get past the difficult times quickly, and be able to focus on raising these tiny humans.

And that is why, in July 2017, we announced another pregnancy. But there was a hitch: was this the last one, or not? I spent that pregnancy worrying about whether I was supposed to have another baby or not, and it was a cause of great stress for me. Brandon and I talked through it many times, but we could never quite come to a decision.

Baby Fuzz
It wasn't until Baby Fuzz was born at the beginning of this month that I knew: I was done. I needed to be done. My body and mind felt worn out, stretched thin. I told Brandon this, and he felt the same. As we were driving away from the hospital he jokingly said it felt like we had leveled-up somehow with this decision. Like a weight had been lifted, and we were entering a new stage of parenthood. Instead of adding children, we could now focus on raising them.

As this decision settles in, I find myself feeling many conflicting emotions. Relief, doubt, excitement, fear, anticipation, nerves. But overall is a sense of peace and hope, that now, soon, I will be able to focus on my writing again. And more specifically, my writing career.

So this post is meant to say a few things. That our family is finally complete, that I feel like my waiting stage is nearly over, and that when it comes to my writing career I hope I get to begin again soon. I know so many writers who can do both: be pregnant, have babies, and write and release books like it's their superpower, but that's not me. I'll spend this year focused on my babies, slowly getting back into my work, and before too long I'll be fully back in the game again.

Just to be clear: I love my family. I love my husband. I love my kids. I wouldn't be who I am without them. They love me, and they support me in all these decisions. And just because this was my journey, doesn't mean it'll be the same for others. I just hope that if there's another writer out there struggling the way I did, waiting, wondering, feeling down, that I can grant them a sliver of hope. It will all work out. Just keep dreaming, keep writing, keep moving forward. Your time will come.

Thanks for sticking around, guys <3
-DC
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