Who complains about writing a novel in three months?

A friend gave me and Amazon Kindle a couple years ago. It’s slowly become my daily companion. We go everywhere, like me and my teddy bear when I was little, or The Eels and their Beloved Monster. One of the side effects of spending so much time on a Kindle is spending more time on Amazon.

One of the side effects of being me is researching everything that I send enough time with. I’ve been curious about the many self-published authors on Amazon and their relationship to readers.

Some authors amaze me in how well they connect to their readers, whether they are fans or harsh critics. Most seem to struggle with reviewers at times. Others simply come across as crazy.

More than once, I’ve seen authors demand that they make a certain amount of money or are treated with a higher level of respect than non-writers because their books take months to write.

Yeah, you saw that, didn’t you? Months.

One implied on her blog that she was owed enough sales on Amazon to cover the three months it took to write her latest novel.

Nevermind that she sounds like a toddler, making unreasonable demands to the large world of publishing. How did she write so fast that three months seems like a long time to write a novel?

Either authors exist who have so much talent that they can develop, draft, and polish a story simultaneously nearly every time, or that poor author’s sense of quality matches her sense of reality.

I’m still afraid to read her fiction to find out.

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“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.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2012 Third Week

At 25,000 words, I’m halfway to the goal for National Novel Writing Month. We’re three-fourths of the way into the month.

It will be okay if I don’t reach 50,000 words by November 30, though. What’s most important to me is that I persevere through the end.

Not as if that’s easy.

I mentioned in my previous post that participating in NaNoWriMo is an experience of remembering. For me, it’s not only about remembering lessons for writing. It’s also about remembering who I am and what I’ve gone through.

I don’t like that part.

Stories are emotionally draining and take a considerable amount of real-life time to develop. The larger the story, and the more committed the writer, the more exhausting the story tends to be.

A big problem with exhaustion is that it allows the subconscious to rip open holes in the fragile barriers used to keep it out of the light.

My NaNoWriMo project is full of light; there’s humor more gentle than what I’m used to writing, charitable characters who understand how to learn from their struggles, and happy endings. Compared to the main characters in DeCo or RITN (or HC or SftP), the main characters of the story I’m calling Roseman are carefree. They aren’t dealing with daily abuse, physical issues that can’t be understood by the people around them, or the constant threat of losing their loved ones to murderers.

They are simply young adults, each with one traumatic experience in their past, learning how to face their personal demons while going through what would be normal lives if not for the creative way they decide to work together to heal themselves.

Yet I’m remembering that I writing exposes where I need to heal myself. My demons are rousing. I guess there is no way to push through the conflicted middle of a novel without awakening them.

Hopefully, I can learn through writing how to tame them, as well.

~ ~ ~

“I want to hide the truth. I want to shelter you.”

NaNoWriMo 2013 Second Week

The second week of National Novel Writing Month is over, and I’m moving into the third with less than 18,000 words.

This past week has been full of reminders, such as:

  • I’m an intuitive person and should trust my intuition. When I start writing a scene that feels right, chances are, I’ll see why it’s right once I’ve finished. Stopping to analyze the scene halfway through only wastes time. Similarly, trying to push past a feeling that a scene is wrong will usually create a writing block. A blank mind is worthless when writing.
  • I can’t inflate the word count much. Some NaNoWriMo participants purposefully write nonsense or copy and paste passages to meet daily word count goals. I remember using complicated syntax to elongate sentences, avoiding contractions, and adding dialogue tags at almost every opportunity when I participated in NaNoWriMo 2009. Tricks like those are of little use to me now that I’m no longer willing to litter my work with junk that will be difficult to clean up later.
  • Research takes time away from writing. However, without it, a scene might limp along for a want of the details that would make it complete. For my next NaNoWriMo, I’ll dedicate October to research and brainstorming, so they don’t slow me down as much.
  • NaNoWriMo encourages bad life habits. I’ve been staying up late, eating Halloween candy that I would otherwise be ignoring, and losing track of how much caffeine I’ve consumed. Thank goodness I’m no longer nursing.
  • Weaving is hard. I like to have multiple conflict threads going at one time, but I’m not terribly skilled at working them together.

Exhaustion is kicking in, and I wonder if anything will happen with this story in December. Still, this project seems like a worthy learning experience.

We’ll see how the third week goes.