Self-Publishing Diaries: The 30-Day Draft

Last weekend, after locking myself in a bathroom for forty minutes and crying until my head hurt I realized, I had nothing else to lose. My job has become a place where I can put myself on auto-pilot, entering data like a robot in need of a software update. On weekends I sulk by reading romance and listening to true crime podcasts. The repetition finally got to me and I became overwhelmed with the reality that my days are numbered and for the past few months, they all looked the same.

I’ve decided I’m going to write an utterly horrible romance novella and publishing in the next two months. Write it in thirty days, edit it in ten, and market it for whatever time is left. Because I desperately need something to distract me from what feels like an empty life.

This project is going to be like a crash course for me. One good thing I’ve gleaned from university was due dates. No matter how much I didn’t want to write my first draft, those dates kept rolling in with professors expecting evidence of progress in their dropboxes. Writing on my own has no accountability. I can go months without penning a word and no one’s going to say anything.

This diary will be an expectant professor. This novella will be the groundwork for what I hope will be a career in writing romance. I have nothing more to lose because crying my eyes out on that cold, hard bathroom floor was proof at this point, I don’t enjoy any aspect of my life. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I’ve done something worth celebrating.

Day One: Outline + 1,000 words. Feels a feat, but I have the whole day to either watch Netflix, lie around on social media, or write something that will take the mind of my sadness. Writing’s the only option I haven’t tried. God, I hope it works.

Updates will be weekly.

This is going to be utter crap. But, hey, in the end, I’ll finally be able to say I finished something.

I Stopped Writing Because My Earning Potential as a Creative Scared Me

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(an actual photo of me thinking about finances) Photo by Burst from Pexels

Money can’t buy happiness, but my god is it a stepping stone to it. I grew up believing my underwear wasn’t replaceable until it had a few well-worn holes. The same pair of workout shorts got me through middle school, high school, and university (last week I finally decided enough was enough and got rid of them). When I walked across the stage last year to receive my degree the house I grew up in went into foreclosure. Not having enough money felt like an everlasting curse that got worse for me and my family as time went on. And the cherry on top was the only thing I’m in love with doing is writing — which leads to a career infamously associated with struggle.

Being a writer was never a choice, but deciding to try and earn a living off of words was a whole other story.

I decided to study English Literature over Physical Therapy because I knew deep down all I wanted to do was tell stories. I didn’t want to be sensible when it came to my career because if I settled on such a vital decision I feared I’d develop a habit of settling for other big life choices. Going to university to improve my writing was the closest I’ve come to complete rebellion — don’t judge me too much, I was a shy kid. Choosing to be a writer as a career is a romantic notion I’ve since revisited over and over in my mind. For the past few months, I’ve been paralyzed with doubts if I’ll be able to live a comfortable life as a full-time writer. In all honesty, I often feel regret about not having a wider range of skills and a little sense of dread about the huge potential of failure.

Stability is what I desperately crave as each year passes.

I’m neck-deep in debt with a full-time job that pays me just enough to support myself and my family as we get back on our feet. In response to my fear of failure, I’ve been attempting to formulate contingency plans. At first, it pained me to feel like I needed a Plan B because maybe that meant I wasn’t cut out for this life of full-time writing. Because struggling is par for the course as a creative. If I don’t want to struggle does that mean I don’t deserve to call myself a writer? When I don’t pour every ounce of energy into writing will the result be never reaching my goal?

I need to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and water running, so I work a full-time job I hate. It cuts into my writing time immensely and makes me feel less like a “real creative.” You know, the kind that will risk it all for their craft even if it means couch surfing for years. It’s that blind faith I feel I lack. And, I think my lack of faith in my ability shows when I approach the page. I pour my energy into so many other worries in my life so, at the end of the day when I’m faced with a blank page, I have nothing left to give. I exchange energy for stability. I’m comfortable but never satisfied.

The realist in me compromises with my romance side so I can fall in love with creating again.

Over the years, my relationship with writing has changed tremendously. Writing was once a beautiful escape that turned into a skillset I needed to develop and eventually monetize. The love waned as the pressure to making a living and eventually, I wasn’t as enthralled with the idea of storytelling. To start writing again and release pressure to monetize my craft I’ve given myself three rules:

1. Pretend I am confident that my skills are (or, one day will be) worthy of decent compensation.

The biggest new flash after becoming an adult was the reality that people rarely know what they’re doing. And they rarely believe in their worth in terms of salary. And even if they have confidence in both their knowledge and how they negotiate their paycheck, they don’t know exactly how they’re going to get their end goal.

At work, I’ve learned that the people who speak without a falter in their voices are listened to longer and trusted more easily. Online I’ve learned writers who don’t have much technical skill but make up for it in prolificity get more opportunities. Life’s a game that I mistakenly thought had strict guidelines. Reality is you can speak with conviction on a topic you just learned yesterday. And you can share your writing even if it’s not fully developed to your liking.

Confidence won’t always get me the freelance position I want or that book deal I dream of, but it’ll open the door to the possibility of personal and career growth. At the very least, confidence will give me the push I need to write more content.

2. Write at least one paragraph a day.

I say these exact words to myself as I clock out of work: “Just write one paragraph. No more, no less.” Thinking of writing this way makes approaching my novel and unfinished articles much less intimidating. It’s a recipe for slow progress, but better than what I’ve been doing, which has been sporadic writing sessions sometimes split up by months.

After five sentences I usually get into some type of groove that makes me want to write more. It may not be the same as when I use to write 3,000 words daily as a teen, but it works for the person I am today. And that person wakes up a 4:30 AM to go to work. So, yes, there is cause for an adjustment in my writing habits.

3. Gradually learn to accept that writing may never fully support me financially and that’s okay

My family has suggested I transition to part-time work since I hate my job so much. My boyfriend encourages me to move in with him and relax for a bit while searching for a position I enjoy and has something to do with my degree. But, having a steady income that pays all my bills and allows me to save does wonder for my self-esteem. By keeping my self-esteem up I release some of the pressure to make writing my bread and butter.

I may never sell more than a few copies of my novel once I finally finish the dang thing. I may never get more than minimum wage writing content for companies who don’t care about underpaying for their outsourced content. Writing may never pay for more than a cup of tea and a few muffins. Accepting that will allow me to relinquish some of my fear. I’m going to stop thinking about potential gross income when it comes to finishing my projects. I can’t continue to let my fear about earning potential steal my time from writing. The craft gives me the emotional outlet that paychecks could never give me. So, it’s finally time to separate the two.


 

How do you deal with the battle of making a living and doing what you love? Are they always separate things or have you managed to meld the two?

Frozen in Time: Rewriting Characters Created in My Teen Years

When I was a teenager I wanted desperately to go to high school. My mother began homeschooling me at the age of eleven and continued to do so until I went to college. My daydreams consisted of things like lockers, football games, and parties on beaches with concealed alcohol and forbidden kisses. The next best thing to actually going to high school was creating a character who got to go there in place of me. I wanted to write about someone who was able to do all the weird and crazy things I dreamed up while I sat in the safety of my room behind an old desktop. And so, Joycie Conwell was born.

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Joycie was my alter ego. She was everything I was with the small change that she was going to experience the highs and lows of high school and have some cute boy pine over her in ways I could only dream. I would create scene after scene of what I thought being a teenager in public school looked like – which, of course, meant I had invented some off-brand versions of CW teen dramas. Realism didn’t matter because it was fun to simply imagine life in a place where I wasn’t some socially anxious, black teen who felt trapped in the suburbs.

I shelved my novel when I moved away to college. Joycie’s life suddenly felt two-dimensional, riddled with silly hopes of a clueless teen writer. The document sat untouched for two years as I gained “life experience.” Once I walked across the stage with a newly minted degree I started looking back to the character who had gotten me through those lonelier years. She was there waiting, of course, unchanged.

Inevitably, rereading the draft after years made me cringe. My chapters were laced with bad jokes and questionable interactions between Joycie and her love interest, Lincoln. Despite the disappointing writing the story still holds a special place in my heart. I decided to not let go of it just yet.

Rewriting Joycie has been a welcomed challenge. The biggest struggle I have encountered is still keeping part of that naive voice alive when writing her. I don’t pretend to know everything. But, I’ve grown enough over the years understand how silly it is to believe you completely understand yourself as a teenager. Part of the magic of writing back then was that my voice was simple. Now, life feels more complex and I want badly to communicate that within the story.

I just pray I don’t complicate things too much because Joycie isn’t some twenty-three-year-old customer service worker who has become a little jaded about life and love. She’s a kid experiencing first love. Somehow I have to get back to that mindset. Or, at least find a happy medium.

Ever tried to go back a re-write a character you created in a different stage of your life? Got any tips for me? Also, if you’re interested in watching me struggle to rewrite Joycie’s story check it out on Wattpad. It’ll be a rough ride, but fun. I plan on documenting the writing journey on this blog as much a possible.

An Unconventional Approach to NaNoWriMo

I’ve attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo twice. My very first attempt was made in 2012 with a project called Kings, which was a retelling of King Thrushbread. I did zero planning and managed to only write 1k words before getting tired of the idea. I know, I possess an amazing amount of stamina.

The second attempt was in 2015 with an untitled YA manuscript. I did a little better that time. I vaguely remember it being about some girl getting into this elite school and a young documentary duo following her around to get the inside scoop as to what was happening behind closed doors. It was supposed to be a romance/thriller, but it was just a mess due to the fact that I – once again – did absolutely no planning. I made it to around 33k before abandoning the manuscript.

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I can’t find either files of these manuscripts on my computer. They’re forever lost, but their memory is immortalized on the NaNoWriMo website

Since 2015 I haven’t considered trying to do any sort of writing challenge because 1) I struggle to outline 2) under pressure I tend to freeze up. In the untitled project, I remember writing whatever came to mind just so I could have something the page. It could be gibberish for all I cared. I would narrow in on the target word count and pound out nonsense. Suddenly, writing wasn’t fun anymore and I rationalized that the big experience was fine because once the month was over I’d at least reap the benefits by having a finished novel. Unfortunately, by day 25 in 2015 I had burned out so much and had such negative feelings associated with writing that I took a long break. Not only on the draft but writing in general.

I approached NaNoWriMo as a numbers game. Focusing on the numbers made me really hate sitting down to write. But, I still feel like there’s something valuable I can gain from attempting NaNoWriMo this year. Thing is, I have to change my mindset about the event.

Writing by Chapter and Not Word Count

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Photo source: pixabay

This year my goal isn’t to write 50k words. I’m focusing on finishing the project, not making a certain word count.

Thinking about the numbers terrify me. But, thinking in terms of scenes within chapters is much less intimidating. Since focusing on the scenes is my priority it’s unavoidable to pants this situation. I suppose some people could but with my track record, my projects will turn quickly into lost causes.

Projects & Outlining

I want to work on two projects this year. Yes, it’s a huge and possibly unwise undertaking for someone who hasn’t finished a novel yet but hear me out. I’ve already written and outlined a decent chunk of my YA project. By the time November 1st rolls around I will have at least four more chapters written which gets the manuscript up to nine chapters. I’ll be working towards finishing the other seventeen during the event. Here’s the projects I plan to work on:

YA Novel | Currently at 15,359 words (this will be the only time I mention word count until the end of November). I want to tell the story within 25 chapters so that’s how I’m going to plot it.

Romance Novella | Currently at 0 words. I feel like I can tell this story in 15 chapters.

I’m using Evernote to plan both stories. My collection of folders include an overview, character profiles, and chapter-by-chapter outline

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This is a random novel I’ve been plotting. Not going to pursue it for a bit though.

To be honest, this experiment may or may not be the greatest approach to writing I’ve ever had. But, I’m willing to put in the effort and even … give up social media for it. I know it’ll be worth it. Besides, using my free time to write is wise no matter how wild my plan is to finish these projects. Wish me luck. I’ll check in weekly to report how much of a mess I got myself into.

If you’re giving NaNoWriMo a try this year two questions: Are you pantsing or planning? And are you sticking to the original challenge of the event or are you modifying it for your needs?

The Realities of Poverty and Dreaming

I want to be a romance writer. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was twelve, reading Judy Blume and trying to sneak some of the more mature YA off the shelf and into my library checkout stack without my mom noticing. Because whenever she did manage to notice she questioned me with disapproval in her voice.

It’s always felt like a silly dream. I went through college telling people I wanted to write for big, important magazines about big, important topics. I applied for copywriter positions at marketing firms and got a replies asking for samples. None of which I had, of course, because I’m pretty sure chapters from my young adult novel wouldn’t do. So, I wouldn’t reply because anytime I tried to go open a doc and type up some piece that would resemble copy I’d freeze up, convinced that my brain didn’t/couldn’t produce that kind of content. But, I think having that sort of privilege has now passed. My no’s are soon going to have to turn into yes’s and eventually, they might even turn into please’s.

Things kind of crumbled at home after I graduated college. Well, they had been crumbling for a while, but I could ignore that because I was a three-hour drive away at college, separate from the collapse. As my parents began the divorce process nothing was stable anymore. I’m a firm believer in not telling someone else’s story without letting them at least say their piece so I can only tell you what happened from my end. From my end, nothing makes sense anymore. Our home is in foreclosure and we’re all struggling to somehow build something out of the quickly shattering pieces. It’s like trying to build a sandcastle in high tide: useless. And I feel so abandoned most of the time. I still have most of my family, but we’re fighting an uphill battle and I feel so helpless.

Last week we got some news that revealed we might have less time at our house than we originally thought we would. There had been a small hope before that we would keep the place, but that looks like an impossibility now. I can’t put into words what it feels like to hear that homelessness is a possibility. I can only say that my bones felt hollowed and my tongue felt heavy after learning the news. The draft that I was outlining didn’t matter and my thoughts of holding out for a job that I would enjoy felt like the stupidest decision I’d ever made.

I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a job that will allow me to do something that I love. I don’t have the luxury to finish my novel and dedicate my time to making it the best that it can be. I’m not writing this to say, oh, woe is me. Because I know that there have been plenty of authors that were close to or under the poverty line. What’s in my bank account will never interfere with my love for writing. But, it will interfere with how much I can do it and what I say with it.

Currently, I’m in a desperate hunt for a job in a larger city. I’m fortunate enough to have a boyfriend that doesn’t mind if I stay with him while I job hunt for the next month – I’ll forever be thankful for him. I’m applying to any and every full-time job. And a lot of them are positions where I know my mental health will suffer. It scares me, but it won’t be forever.

I know homelessness is hard to recover from and I don’t want my family to get stuck trying to recover. I’m currently the only one who is qualified to get a full-time position so it’s on me. And that’s the scariest thing. I’m afraid of what will happen to my depression. I’m afraid I’ll be so exhausted I’ll stop writing because there just isn’t enough time or energy. I’m afraid dreaming will only be dreaming.

This isn’t how I wanted this blog to go. I wanted this is a place where I ranted and raved about romance and pop culture. But, I feel this is something I can’t ignore on here. This is my life right now and I want to document where it’s going. I’ll keep updating about my job hunting for the next few weeks. And, of course, write about some romance because it’s my perfect escape, even if it can’t last longer than an hour or so.

Writing Romance Novels Online: Three Things I’ve Learned So Far

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Like many others romance readers out there I can’t help but write my own stories, taking inspiration from the likes of Jane Austen, Janette Oke, Talia Hibbert, and Jenny Han (I have a very specific palette that has been perfected over the years). I even hope to be able to share my stories one day with a wide audience that’ll love my characters as much as I do. (Fingers crossed)

In the meanwhile, I’ve always been very big on sharing my work online. I’ve written on this blog before about how I started sharing my work online on a blog and then on the now extinct writing communities, Inkpop and Figment. I could never really get a hang of Wattpad, but have recently started trying to post in hopes of finding a writing community similar to the one I had before… Spoiler, it hasn’t been working too well, but honestly, that’s on me. I haven’t been trying as hard as I should. But, I digress.

There’s a ton of things that go into making a romance novel work. And there’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re sharing your process with readers in real time. This isn’t a how to write a romance novel post. This is how I’ve learned how to share a romance novel online, without compromising my story.

1. Don’t put three-act structures in every, single chapter

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Releasing chapters weekly mimics the style of an episodic show. I refer to is as the monster of the week syndrome. The writer will have a chapter that sets up a problem, action rises, and it’s resolved by the end. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This style worked for me considering I was focused on making my chapter as exciting as possible for my audience, once a week. And it’s almost always necessary for any writer who specializes in this version of serial fiction in the 21st century – where attention spans are decreasing because of the endless content begging to be consumed – to keep the conflict rising and falling. But, since I want to one day edit my online works into novels it’ll be difficult time revising 50k+ words of so many highs and lows. It’s smarter to keep the bigger picture in mind and not just how I’m going to make this chapter as attention-grabbing as possible.

2. Flesh out my leads before I post anything

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I have this habit where I really pay close attention to my lead male while leaving my lovely, leading lady on the back burner. Maybe I’m just living out my fantasies – there’s nothing wrong with that. But, when it comes to really getting serious about having a well-round plot I need both characters to be fully formed individuals.

If my characters aren’t fully formed before I share them with people online I’ve noticed they begin morphing into stereotypes. People would comment on one of my character’s personality and I would take whatever they observed and ran with it – especially when it came to side characters. And this was a lazy co-op because I figured since the readers already had a sense of who someone was I didn’t have to work hard enough to create a more human character.

3. I’m not writing the Gospel, so changing it later on is perfectly acceptable.

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Fix it in post is a film-making phrase I’ve adapting in many aspects of my life. It embodies the mood of keep moving forward. And it works perfectly for novel writing online. A first draft is going to be crappy. No matter if I’m sharing it online or not. Sure, I clean up the grammar and spelling before I hit that publish button on Wattpad. But, whatever I write I have to understand that it’s not going to be perfect. It doesn’t need to be perfect to share. And most importantly, it’s not going to be forever.

I’m not married to anything on that page. And if I decide to change a major plot point in chapter fifteen when my readers on now on chapter twenty, so be it. Either they’ll be fine with going back or fine with finding someone they thought was dead is now back and fighting for the lead’s hand in marriage… You get the idea.

I have to keep in mind that putting down words is all that matters at first. Got to get out of the bad before I start chipping away in search for the good.

 

It’s definitely a push and pull when it comes to sharing in-progress work online. But, a part of me will always be interested in hearing others’ opinions about my newly developed drafts. Maybe one I’ll learn to keep things to myself until they’re fully formed. But, for now, I’m happy with sharing my stories when they’re in their genesis.

The Extinct Internet Community, Sarahland and How I Started Writing Online

I decided I was going to be a writer when I was nine years old. I’d carry a spiral notebook and manila folder around, convinced when inspiration struck I could not waste one second. My manila folder was home to all the loose-leaf pages filled with world-building attempts. And since this was before the days of Pinterest, I used to clip out photos of models that I decided my characters would look like in clothing advertisements from JCPenny’s or Macy’s and glued them into a homemade flip book. None of my stories had endings because I could barely keep my attention on one before another plot idea sparked up and begged me to write it. This act of story hopping went on for about four years.

At the age of thirteen I got my first computer, a chunky desktop with a glass screen and tower I sort of “put together” (I took a computer building class because at the end they let me have the computer I was working on for free). The most exciting thing about having this computer was that it allowed me to use Word. Finally, I didn’t have to figure out how to keep track of my loose leaf pages anymore. Every story I wrote would be carefully stored on the computer’s drive.

My writing and reading habit eventually lead me to an online community created by Sarah Dessen for her fans: Sarahland (a now extinct online community). Community members, mostly girls between the ages of 12-18, discussed everything from their love of YA romance to their days in the outside world. Our community was small and welcoming. It’s something I owe a lot to because during that time I didn’t have any real-life friends I could talk to. Sarahland was the first – and probably only – time I really felt safe in a community online.

Each user got their own blog, but it was rare to actually see someone using the blog for life updates or observations. Instead, quite a few of us used it for sharing our creative writing. Inspired by Sarah Dessen, we penned stories of young heroines falling in love and growing up. I jumped at the opportunity to have an audience, immediately coming up with a story that was inspired by my favorite recent read at the moment: Twilight… I know. Oh, boy, do I know. Thankfully, my bad boy vampire turned into just a bad boy (because my work was very groundbreaking) and I posted once a week with chapters that couldn’t be longer than 600 words.

The work was entitled Nick Hather. It followed Tori and Nick, two lovebirds dealing with family drama and addiction. I found the first three chapters thanks to a few emails I sent to someone who offered to edit my work. And I can promise you those three chapters are the most cringe-worthy things I’ve ever written (besides the original draft where Nick was a vampire). I was homeschooler who knew nothing about drug addiction or high school, in general, was writing an edgy star-crossed lovers tales based on what I’d gather from YA literature from the 2000s. Try to imagine that. Can’t? Here, I’ll help:

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And…

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Despite the huge, “No!” feeling, Nick Hather will always have a special place in my heart not only because it was the first story I finished but because it was the first story I ever shared.

I start thinking about Sarahland because I’m revisiting another story I began when I was a teenager. This one has much more potential to be revived so I’ve dedicated myself to rewriting in hopes of finishing something I started around nine years ago. In all honesty, I’ve been struggling to keep pushing forward in writing the story and it makes me wonder how the younger version of me kept writing. Now, I’m so focused on if the plot is progressing in a timely manner or if my character development makes sense. Back then none of that even mattered. I just wrote.

But, of course, I don’t want to be that teenager who didn’t know much about writing outside of what she’d seen other writers do. I need the freedom that I once had when telling a story, but I also need the structure I’ve gained from growing up and learning. Revisiting this story is the perfect opportunity for me to work on finding a healthy balance in my storytelling.

I’m curious: Are there any extinct internet communities that you feel you’re the only person who remembers? I’m not talking about sites like MySpace or Friendster. But what about those ones that weren’t ever big but still meaningful and helped you express yourself?

P.S.

If you do happen to remember Sarahland and was a member, hi! Even if we never spoke on the site I feel like we’re long lost, friends. Hope you’re doing well.