Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Looking Backward...Looking Inward



We humans never need much of an excuse to indulge in that age-old pastime of contemplating our navels. Birthdays, anniversaries, you name it and we tend to automatically look back at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

For instance: a year ago, I was writing contemporary women’s fiction and bashing my head against the wall. Either my plots were too blah or the subject matter I wanted to write about was so controversial it bordered on taboo.

It was just after last year’s Moonlight & Magnolias Conference and a firm “no thanks” from the editor I’d pitched to, that my critique partner suggested I do something different and try writing, of all things, a historical romance.

I laughed so hard I thought I’d burst a blood vessel in my brain. But after thinking it over, I figured I had nothing to lose and if my CP was right, I’d have everything to gain. Besides I can easily convince myself that time spent surfing the net is absolutely necessary to my creative process.

So, I came up with a hero, a heroine, a villain and a plot. Everything was going great—for about three chapters. Suddenly plot holes sprouted like pimples before prom night. My characters weren’t motivated to do anything more than hang around annoying me. Just like that silly arcade game, “Whack-A-Mole”, every time I thought I’d conquered one problem, another one would pop up, leaving me gnashing my teeth, howling in frustration.


Something had to be done, and done quickly. I bought every writers “how to” book on the market, read them all until my eyes crossed, set up my sacred space for writing complete with candles and the color green (to stimulate creativity) and even put meditation tracks on my MP3 player to listen to as I slept.

Ironically, the thing that helped the most was the simplest—for me, anyway. I called my CP and talked it through. It’s amazing how the most unsolvable problem becomes nothing at all when seen through the eyes of someone who’s removed from it.

Some months I couldn’t write a word for over a week at a time. Then, I’d sit down in a marathon session and write an entire chapter in one day.

By the end of summer, my story had gone through about three different incarnations since I first came up with the idea. My plot, which at one time was simple, straightforward and boring, is now as convoluted as a rainbow-hued ball of yarn after the cat has played with it.

There are times in life when you must take leaps of faith; times when you just gracefully accept whatever gifts are given. I wasn’t going to attend M&M this year, but miraculously, I did. I wasn’t going to pitch but I went to the pitch workshop anyway.

Then, unbeknownst to me, a friend made an editor/agent appointment on my behalf. The agent requested a full manuscript—something that has never happened to me before. And to think, I almost let it slip through my fingers.

What about you? How has your writing life changed over the course of 2009? Will you do anything differently in 2010?

17 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

First of all, congrats on the request, Cinthia! Will I do anything differently? Yes, I see myself doing a lot more plotting than before. The stories I write are complex enough (for me)with the suspense, that I think it will improve my process.

Carol Burnside said...

Great story, Cinthia, and congrats on that request!

As for me I'm going to continue setting goals, but I'm going to be tougher on myself about submitting. I need to get more out faster. ;)

Marilyn Baron said...

Congratulations on your request.

I'm writing contemporary women's fiction and couldn't imagine writing historicals although I like reading them.

This year I enjoyed the experience of writing a book (still women's fiction) with my sister. I got some requests at M&M and am still waiting to hear something. Next year I'll focus on submitting to more agents and editors.

Marilyn Baron

Cyrano said...

What an excellent, inspiring post Cinthia!
I especially liked it because it rings true for me, right now, at this very time and place in my writing career.
I can't let opportunities slip through my fingers. I can't give up, walk away or hide my creativity in a closet. I have to grab the bull by the horns, ride it until it bucks me off, brush off my chaps and then wrestle the beast to the floor.
I have until Friday evening to finish my WIP. I entered the finish the book contest for the third consecutive year and I refuse, REFUSE, to attend another GRW Christmas party without a finished manuscript in my hand.
I'm almost there. I've been working every day, writing without editing (That kills me. I'm soooo anal about perfection) and i'm just about done.
Wish me luck.
And I wish you all the luck in the world.
Congratulations on the full request. I'm so very happy for you.
Send that puppy out and keep plugging along.
Also, I plan on doing alot of things differently when it comes to writing. I will treat story telling as a job, a career. My goal is to write every day. Without fail.
Thanks so much for your post.
I truly enjoyed it.
Hope to see you Saturday!
Tamara

EC Spurlock said...

Congratulations on the request, Cinthia, and good luck!

The biggest change for me in 2009 was a big switch both in subgenres and writing process. I had been working on a story at the beginning of the year that was a meticulously plotted part of a three-book story arc, but having a lot of trouble with it, getting bogged down by the very structure that should have made it easy to write, especially since it flowed from the first story that had been such a breeze. I decided to take a break from it and play with an idea that I had had for a while, not expecting it to go anywhere. It was the first time I had ever written anything without a clue of what the plot or story arc were going to be, just sat down and let the characters carry the story, then went back and firmed up the plot once I saw the direction they were headed. I'm now at about 200 pages and it has been a blast to write, and my CPs have told me it's the best thing I've ever done. So in contrast to everyone else, I think in 2010 I'm going to try to loosen up my structure a bit and leave more room for improvisation, let my characters surprise me. I'm also planning to resume marketing the two previous ms that have had to wait while my financial problems sorted themselves out.

Maxine Davis said...

Cynthia,

Great post! I really enjoyed it. I was writing like mad a month ago. Just can't seem to get it going. Was working on one and just sort of fell out of love with it. I guess I'll just have to take Peter DeVries quote to heart:
“I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 a.m."

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!

Dianna Love said...

Congratulations Cynthia - you prove that it's all about staying in the game and being open to new ideas. Fingers crossed this book strikes a good chord with the editor.

I plan to spend more time in my writing cave in 2010...which is where I'm headed now. "g"

Mary Marvella said...

Good thoughts you shared. Sometimes we need to try a different path.I happen to remember an historical you wrote years ago.

Must write way more and finish my demon book, yep, a demon book. How funny is that?

Tami Brothers said...

Ya, Cindi!!! Major congrats on the request. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you.

I haven't written a lot this year, unless you count business papers and school work. BUT I'm hopeful 2010 will be much more productive!

Have a great day!

Tami

Nancy Lee Badger said...

Yes, it sure has. After 4 contemporary romances got few bites, I tried my hand at a Scottish historical with a bit of the paranormal. I completed a 90,000 word novel in time to pitch at the RWA conference in July. STILL waiting for an answer from 3 agents who asked for partials and a full. IN THE MEANTIME I sold my 3rd manuscript to Red Rose Pub. (a surprise, since I sent it to them 9 months before) So, I am looking forward with a little bit of fear to 2010. I will get published, but I REALLY want an agent. Ooh! Sounds like a GOAL! Thanks for the article, as it has gotten me motivated. I had better go e-mail those agents.

J Perry Stone said...

Fabulous post, Cindy. You always say things in such a personal, honest, lovely way.

As for your questions, my writing life needs a kick in the ass. I need my CP partner to hold me accountable.

Okay?

J

Cinthia Hamer said...

Oy! Everyone, I'm soooo sorry to have been silent today. Especially since it was my day to blog. Sort of hit the trifecta of busy days...bad sleep night, up before the chickens, th, then visiting with Aunt Sally, who most of you know is my personal heroine...I want to be her when I grow up. LOL!

At any rate, I do apologize for not getting in here before now.

Debbie, IKWYM about more plotting. My stories get out of control if I don't plot them carefully. Nothing like painting yourself into a corner, eh?

Carol & Marilyn, me, too! I'm a total coward when it comes to submitting. Now that more publishers are accepting e-subs--no more excuses!

Tamara, keeping toes crossed that you cross that finish line by Friday evening! I remember how thrilled I was to win that FTB contest. It couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Really boosted my morale as well as my wallet. :)

ECS, glad to see that pantsing works for you. For years, I was very hard-headed about not wanting to plot. But I went to a great workshop at M&M one year and it convinced me that unless I started plotting, I'd never get anywhere with my books. Funny how we, as writers can take so many roads and wind up at the same destination.

Ciaora, golly, wish I spoke Romanian! Thanks for posting a comment. I'll work on finding a translator. :)

Dianna, just remember to come out into the sunlight occasionally. Once a month at least, preferably on the 3rd Saturday of the month. :)

Cinthia Hamer said...

Okay, replies part two!

Hi Mary! You know, sometimes, I think writing is like trying on shoes. You have to put a few on, walk around in them for a while before you decide if they're a good fit. And that "historical" technically wasn't. Maybe in another twenty years or so, though! LOL!

Tami, you've been working so hard this past year. I think it's definitely reward time for you. Hope 2010 is a great one for you.

Way to go, Nancy! Congrats on the ms with Red Rose. Will keep toes crossed for you in the great agent hunt. You'll find the right one at the right time, I'm sure.

JPS, yes, I agree. Having a CP to hold you accountable really does have a way of lighting a fire under ones derriere, doesn't it???

Sadly, I will NOT be at the party on Saturday. I'm going to be spending some quality time with my dear uncle Justin and getting reacquainted with a cousin I haven't seen in literally decades. So, you all have fun, play nice and I'll catch you all later.

Linsey Lanier said...

What a great post, Cinthia. Love your style (and those pictures!) I'm so glad you got a request for a full.

For 2010, I'll be joining many of the others...more plotting, more submitting. That will be my mantra.

Oh, and go Tamara! You can do it! :)

Linsey

Ana Aragón said...

Cinthia,

Great post! And I agree that the best help you can get is a good CP who's at arm's length from the story but knows your writing well enough to help you work through it!

For 2010, I'm going to finish the book I started during Nano and do the rewrites so I can submit my baseball story that I got a full request on.

Thanks for sharing your great news! Here's hoping there's more to come...

Ana

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Woohoo, terrific on the request, Cinthia! Great story, and in my writing classes, I always encourage everyone to spread their wings, just in case they're not writing the story of their heart! I started out writing a historical, but ended up selling 8 werewolf urban fantasy romances! If I hadn't taken the plunge to find another love--writing in the paranormal...I'd never have found a new outlet.

So good advice, expand into virgin territory. You never know when it might be your forte!