“I’m not a writer…” says the exhausted mother.

“I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer,” I would tell myself more often in the past few years. The truth was, “I’m not writing.”

Giving birth to and caring for my daughter took more energy and time than I had ever imagined. She was one might call a “high needs baby“. Now that the trauma of her birth and her first few days have faded, I can joke about how the hospital kept us for an extra day to ensure we would survive at home without the staff and volunteers who would take turns holding and entertaining her. I was told that they hadn’t before seen a baby born with so much “personality”. (I suspect the word was really “obstinate”.)

I love that she has been telling us since Day Zero what she wants, but why does what she want have to be so different than every other babies’ wants?!

Anyway, after a couple of years, I started to sleep most of the way through the night. I could eat a full meal without having to hide from a child who possesses incredible smelling and hearing. (The truth is, she’s really a dragon. She had fangs and fighting instincts to prove it.) My daughter learned to talk (in a language we could understand, thank you very much, Miss Have-to-Make-Up-My-Own) enough to explain why she would cry until she stopped breathing.

My life started to settle into a new mode of normal.

The problem was normality no longer included writing.

When the urge hit hard to hide away with a pen and notebook, I would think, Writing is selfish. It takes time away from higher priorities. Yeah, priorities. Family, the small business I maintain with my husband, working, paying bills, keeping house. All that fun stuff. Writing was about as high as vacations (whatever those are).

What about if it made money for my family? Could I justify it? But…I avoid sharing my stories with others. My writing is selfish.

I thought, I won’t write much. Eventually, the urges will go away. The characters will go silent, and I can figure out ways to prevent other people’s stories from inspiring new ones. Someday, I won’t pick apart everything I see for potential story material.

Except nothing changed. Years I tried! I even attempted to give up reading, so that I wouldn’t want to respond to new ideas. That backfired, of course.

What I realized was I don’t want to lose the part of myself that writes stories. The only version of me I love is the one who speaks through the written word.

I can’t like the me who doesn’t write. The person stumbling through each day, shoving down and tying up every craving to move words from the mind to the page– she felt like death. I’d been through that already as a child, when I would hide away my notebooks. Why did I think I could deny that part of myself forever? It was suicidal.

The person who leaves essays and poetry and stories and notes all over the place, who stumbles through plots and agonizes over the rhythm of a sentence, who arrogantly declares what’s right and wrong in a piece of art, and who scatters magic for a future me to find when I no longer remember creating the spell– I love that person.

That’s when I started to remember that my daughter was going to learn how to live life by watching me. What I did not want her to see someone who dragged herself through each day after trying to cut off a part of who she was.

So I have to write. Even if it kills some other part of me, I will write.

After all, there is always sacrifice for love.

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Why Identifying the Target Audience is Lonely Business

Hello! I’m alive! A high-needs newborn nearly killed me. Now she’s a rambunctious toddler who lets me sleep at night. Owning a business, working at a paying job (to make up for the resource-sink that a business can be), and keeping a toddler thriving while she engineers possible deathtraps are activities that cut into personal time. At some point, I realized I was finding time to read without a tiny human attached to me and that meant I could write instead. My stories are developing at the running speed of a sloth.


We’ve all heard it. “Know your audience.” It’s basic writing advice in all areas of fiction and non-fiction. Without knowing who you’re writing for, you can’t really know when you’re done. Writing requires choices and a way to limit them.

My problem with this advice is self-denial. When struggling to write fiction, I try to pin the wrong audience to the story.

For technical writing, the question typically prompts an easy answer. When I was an administrative assistant in government, I always knew my audience. Business emails, letters, and project summaries were the same. I wouldn’t simply decide to spend my limited working hours writing up a report for my own sake, so I could always ask myself “What does the requester need? Does this matter to that person?”

The audience for a story isn’t as clear. I’m not an established author guided by an editor. Friends occasionally make requests, but I notoriously respond in ways they didn’t want. (“Why don’t you write an upbeat story?” I greet the challenge with an enthusiastic, “Sure!” What I come up with a short about a case of mistaken identity involving a woman dying of cancer. It doesn’t quite meet specs.)

No matter what I write, I’ve struggled to figure out who would read it. Why? Stay with me for a moment — I’m going into flashbacks.

Growing up, writing was a guilty secret. I was an artistic child, interested in sketching, painting, photography, sculpture, and writing stories, but I had a love-hate relationship with art. My life was full of little traumas…and maybe a few big ones…and not much in the way of creative support. I would watch my father draw, paint, and build. He inspired me. What he couldn’t do was encourage. That wasn’t his personality. He did his own thing and expected others to excel without relying on anyone. He also had strong opinions about was cool and was was lame.

Non-fiction could be cool. Fictional books were lame.

I was afraid of his scorn.

Story ideas, outlines, and chunks of stories were stuffed in my closets, under my bed, and under piles of clothes, buried in notebooks alongside homework or hidden between black pages. I wrote often on napkins and scrap paper, scribbled over with phrases that seemed for the moment too perfect to keep in my mind. They were easy to throw away once they were out.

I told myself that the characters in my head were too boring to need their own adventures. The plots that developed in my dreams were too strange to be understandable. No one would care about the worlds that formed throughout each day.

I couldn’t be a writer. No way. Writers were lame, starving artists, who opened their souls to the red-eyed wolf that was the reader.

It didn’t help when the private lives of big-name authors would be ripped apart by readers. See? I’d think. Writing is stupid. Suicidal. Strangers won’t only criticize your work, they’ll attack who you are. They’ll question why you write and make assumptions. Don’t you deal with that enough?

Even more complicated was that I didn’t really understand anyone else. I still don’t. When coworkers and clients talk about their personal history, I listen carefully. Something could work for a story. But, what the hell? Happy people who have lived well-balanced lives gripe about challenges that only come to the lucky, and they wonder about events that seem common to me. The ones who struggle with unique and more dangerous issues seem more familiar, but their preferences and aversions take longer to figure out.

Sometimes, I want to write to the people I don’t understand. Sometimes, to the people I do.

Always, I feel as if it doesn’t matter. Words need to be buried, anyway. Right?

Whenever I try to fit the story to a particular person, the story shifts away from that person’s preferences. Whenever I try to figure out what particular group wants, all I can think about is what the people in that group don’t want. Eventually, the entire story seems like a waste of my time. Readers will hate it.

I’m not good at writing stories for others. Not yet. I’ve lived with too much fear to connect to readers that way.

So, how do I finish anything? What do my finished stories have in common that my unfinished ones don’t?

It’s obvious, but I’ve refused over the years to accept it.

Nothing I write fits easily into a genre. I can’t honestly say I’m writing for young-adult science fiction readers, because I’ll throw in themes that are more appropriate for adults or blend the sci-fi with surrealist fantasy. My first readers tease me about the common themes in my stories — if they don’t outright complain about those themes continue to make them uncomfortable. Clearly, their opinion only matter to my subconscious as far as I can throw a story into a new direction. Editors have sent back personalized rejections that kindly explain that while they like my work, my stories aren’t a good fit for their publications. (Note: I haven’t submitted anything since my baby was born. This is old info. What’s changed is that I no longer like what I’ve submitted before. Ahhh.)

So, the answer is obvious.

Who is my target audience? It’s me.

Everyone else who likes what I write is a happy addition.

NaNoWri…OMG it’s November Already

Hello! I am alive, I haven’t completely given up on my never-ending stories, and…well, yes, I am participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo 2013 Participant

Really, I know I shouldn’t. There’s so many reasons why not:

  • I own a small business. (Enough said, right?)
  • My big employer recently promoted me to a position that requires considerable training.
  • My daughter, husband, dog, and cat need daily attention.
  • I’ll be traveling for Thanksgiving, which will take about a week of preparation, and shopping for Yule/Christmas in November (to satisfy a promise that I’ll buy gifts well in advance this year).
  • The house, as always, needs work. For example, our sole bathroom is currently lacking a floor. We can’t afford a contractor. That kind of work.

Writing-specific issues:

  • I still haven’t finished any of the novels I’ve started. RITN and DeCo continue to suffer the same problems they did years ago.
  • I already use “too little time” as an excuse not to submit my short stories.

On the other hand, I’m not going to have more free time next year, or probably, anytime in the next decade. If I wait until I have fewer responsibilities and less guilt, then I’ll never start another large writing project. RITN and DeCo both require more skill and knowledge than I have, and that’s not going to change unless I develop as a writer. Working on simpler projects of comparable word count can help in that development.

As for submissions, well, I consider that the most irritating part of the writing process. The long waiting time, I’ve learned to deal with. Rejections, I don’t mind. I cherish the personalized rejections I get, even though they tend toward, “We liked your story but can’t fit it in our publication”. What I hate is researching dozens of publications and fussing over my story in an attempt to get it ready for a market that doesn’t know what to do with the weird sh** I write.

Anyway. I’m not making excuses for avoiding NaNoWriMo this year. It’s a fun challenge, and one of the best excuses I know for meeting up with friends. If other responsibilities interfere with writing time, then I’ll shift my focus away from NaNoWriMo. Failing to complete the challenge will hurt only my pride.

I’m willing to take that risk.

*****

What about you? Will you be working on a fun writing project this month?

 

What Happened in June?

My state has been burning, both in terms of fire and record-breaking temperatures. This has made for an interesting start of summer, although one that requires this pregnant writer–who, along with many people in her typically cool climate, doesn’t have air conditioning–to lie around like a half-drugged bum during the hottest periods of the day.

My pregnancy is going well. A minor health concern (on my part, not the fetus’s) seems to be resolving itself with doses of willpower, and we’ve acquired many of the supplies we’re told we’ll need once our baby is out in the world. In the meantime, my husband and I are listening to bits of advice from other parents and caretakers, and enjoying the newly converted nursery, especially the lovely room-wrapping mural painted by a friend of ours.

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I’ve continued working out of town, though I’ll soon have to cut my hours. Working a full shift has become more difficult as my belly expands so far that I can’t even look at my own knees without contorting.

At home, there are more challenges. The nursery was easy; my husband cleared the piles of fabric, stacks of sewing and art supplies, medieval-style clothing, miscellaneous mementos, and furniture out of the room, our friend painted the walls and ceiling, then my husband and I arranged new furniture and supplies into the neatest and best decorated room in the house–an admirable state that lasted for less than a day.

My sister and her family moved into our house later that day. My toddler nephew is now occupied in our nursery, and our entire home has been overtaken by piles of stuff that needs sorting and storing.

With regards to writing…well, progress has been measured in terms of plot-directing thoughts, stylistic realizations, and temporary sentences jotted down before I fall asleep atop the page. Maybe after our baby’s birth, I’ll produce more?

Here’s hoping.

Is there anything you want to share about June?

Cool Down from the Summer of Sci-Fi

Hello! I’m alive and kicking. I’m anxious about blogging again; however, it’s officially autumn and time to talk about the results of my Summer of Sci-Fi.

Back in May, I chose nine, well-known science fiction books to read by the end of September. How did I do?

I faced a couple unexpected challenges, mainly with acquiring books. My city’s sole library announced that it’s infested with bed bugs, making all of its books, in my mind, potential carriers of the parasite.

There’s a library near where I work that has a surprisingly tiny offering of science fiction. Even when I was able to walk (despite a sprained ankle) and willing to pass by the disturbing regulars in the area – such as bored cat-callers with uncomfortably creative pick-up lines; lonely, drifting, drunken men who mistake my wary smile for an invitation to converse; and those especially annoying people who enjoy smoking on busy, public sidewalks – I still wasn’t able to get my hands on a few of the books from my list.

Fortunately, I did read:

Out of these, Fahrenheit 451 is easily my favorite, followed closely by A Canticle for Leibowitz. The Time Machine is probably the least impressive of the group–but then, I’m not fond of Victorian stories.

Still to be read:

The Forever War is next on my reading list, if I can find a convenient copy this week.

How about you? What was your favorite book this summer? Are you looking forward to reading a particular book this season?

This for That

Every decision in life requires a trade-off. As the cliché goes, for every door of opportunity that opens, another closes. That’s especially true when there isn’t enough time to turn around.

Door MazeAs usual, I’m racing through tight corridors.

I’ve been exchanging writing for sleep during my bus commutes for the past month. This has helped me get through the workday as my body struggles to heal (from a sprain, overworked muscles, migraines, etcetera) but leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied by the time I arrive home.

Choosing to work on DeCo (my adult sci-fi novel) at night after fight practices, I use up time for house cleaning, socializing, and blogging.

More complicated trade-offs are made with changes to the novel. For every new direction in a scene, I must rewrite other scenes. Of course, a few of those scenes are “darlings”, favorite passages that I want to retain even when they no longer fit with the overall story.

Obviously, I’m not great with world building, character design, and plotting; otherwise, I wouldn’t realize half-way through drafting that the supposed good guy acts badly too often, the characters’ living arrangements aren’t believable, and I’m missing essential transitions between major scenes early in the story.

I can’t trade off DeCo for a simpler project, unfortunately. By doing so, I would lose something indescribably important. I’m learning about myself from this project in addition to learning about how to write fiction. I’m certain that a simpler project would not give me enough opportunities to grow.

I’ll stay in the maze until a better offer comes along.

Buzzzz…

That’s the sound of me flying through my land of shadows to yell out the cockpit a “Hello!” and “What? ‘What’s up?’ Well…”

My sister and her family (out-of-staters) might come to visit for Independence Day. In preparation, my husband and I must try harder to clean up every day until their potential day of arrival.

You see, they are allergic to furry pets. We have two.

My sister is also clutter intolerant. Unfortunately, my husband and I have more hobbies, fascinations, and professional commitments than we have any right to have and are therefore in the running for King and Queen of Non-Lethal Clutter.

In addition, we’re trying to think of what food normal Americans might appreciate. Not everyone likes Udon soup as much as I do.

While we’re preparing for family, we’re also preparing for a Korean martial arts tournament that we’ll co-host, our martial arts school’s autumn programs, and my out-of-state taekwondo test.

In remaining, uh, free time, I’m writing.

Ohh, okay. I’d landed the plane. Here’s the update on my fiction.

I’m expecting feedback tomorrow from a test reader on a short story draft that I’m itching to send to a market.

I need to choose where to send another short story. The previous market–sheesh, what was I thinking? My story wouldn’t have ever fit there. At least the slush reader dug my story out of the pile relatively quickly.

DeCo continues to give me a headache; I think that’s why it exists. The part of me that cares about test readers’ feelings currently wants to cut a side-character than a darker part of me has viciously woven into the main plot. I think removing the character’s thread will allow for a stronger–and less demoralizing–story. However, I feel that removing him is wrong.

It’s a heart versus head issue. Are these issues ever resolved?