Chronicles of a Wannabe Children’s Book Author

file000739253401This is a post I don’t usually write. Usually, I’m a how-to nonfiction writer hoping to inspire you. But when it comes to fiction, I’m struggling.

Recently, I attended SCBWI Hawaii chapter’s 2016 conference with 2015 Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat and literary agent Suzie Townsend. It was as encouraging as it was discouraging. It made me want to write as much as it made me want to quit.

One of the other writers put it simply. With nonfiction there’s facts to lean on. When you’re grasping around in your imagination, there’s no bars, no walls. You’re free and freedom can be a nightmare when you have a type A personality.

“The hardest part of finding your voice is trusting your own instincts.” – Dan Santat

I believe everything hard is there to teach you something.

Growth doesn’t come from blissful days.

It just so happens that writing fiction is my next challenge. But the same old discomfort comes up. The fear. The resistance. The desire to do anything, but sit down and write. I used to feel like that about nonfiction. Nonfiction used to make my skin crawl. Because I thought it revealed my worth. It made me vulnerable. But it’s a sliver of who I am versus my fiction and essay writing. But I’m going to put it all out there because anything that stretches me further into my true self is worth the torture.

Here’s hoping today becomes the day I rolled up my sleeves and got serious.

 

If You’re Not Writing, You’re Resisting

BookFor a few years now, my husband told me. My business coach did too. Everyone told me I was wasting my time on paid writing work that didn’t fill my soul. But it’s hard when you’re freelancing and getting paid. It’s hard to say, “No” when you don’t know when your next big check will come in. But these were the first two signs. Another one had come years before.

Several years ago, I received a handful of Steven Pressfield’s book. I quickly devoured The War of Art, but it was only when I got into Turning Pro that my life changed dramatically. Here are a few nuggets that started the stone, that rippled across the river and that finally had a big impact on the way I perceived my writing:

“When you sit down to do your work, do you leave our web connection on?

It can be fatal, keeping up with the Kardashians.”

“When we were amateurs, our life was about drama, about denial, and about distraction.”

“We usually think of breath throughs as ecstatic moments that elevate us from a lower level to a higher. And they do. But there’s a paradox. In the moment, an epiphany feels like hell. It exposes us and leaves us naked. We see ourselves plain, and it’s not a pretty picture.”

It’s that last statement that really stuck with me. I realized after reading his book that everything I was getting “busy” doing, finding jobs, taking unfulfilling writing gigs and even playing games on my phone was taking me away from my real dream of publishing a children’s book, short stories and personal essays.

I am ashamed to admit that I bought into the belief that I could get what I wanted without the time and effort involved. I had devoted and sacrificed a lot to get to be freelance writing for the past 9-years. But that took research, networking and time. I didn’t give my next dream that same fervor.

When I read Pressfield’s work, I realized that all the other “stuff” I was doing was another way I was unconsciously distracting myself out of fear. I was embarrassed by the pieces I was sending off before they were given their fair due. I let time fall away from me while I was shopping online or searching for the next big writing gig. After having my second baby and took time off from all of my paid work, I had enough space to reflect on what I was doing-I was getting good at work I didn’t really want to do, and I was moving further away from my dreams.

The good news is that I got the wake up call and on the path now to turning pro. I’m working on the stuff I’m excited about daily. I’m attending conferences, reading books on the topic and writing at home and writer’s group. Thanks to finally waking up, I’m committed and hopefully that will bring me that much closer to my dreams.

The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Writer

If you ask me what the difference between fiction and nonfiction is, I’d say, “apples and oranges.” And to most writers, that’s a given. For people who don’t write professionally, however, words are words whether they’re made up or based on fact.

There’s an art about each. And both have their challenges. For me though, using my imagination, and letting go into it are difficult. There is no way of controlling what will happen to my characters. There is no specific date or fact that can completely direct my story. That’s why writing a children’s book has been a continual hurdle for me. And why I drool over real authors the way I do over runners running past my window.

Here’s what Ayn Rand says about the two in her book, The Art of Nonfiction:

“Contrary to all schools of art and esthetics, writing is something one can learn. There is no mystery about it.

In literature, as in all the fine arts, complex premises must be set early in a person’s mind, so that a beginning adult may not have enough time to set them and thus cannot learn to write. Even these premises can be learned, theoretically, but the person would have to acquire them on his own. So I am inclined to say that fiction writing-and the fine arts in general-cannot be taught. Much of the technical skill involved can be, but not the essence.

However, any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill.”

She says the essence of fine arts can not be taught unlike nonfiction. Anyone can write nonfiction, but where does that leave a wannabe fiction writer?

I sometimes question that myself. Does a fiction writer have to be born? Can anyone, even a straight, factual nonfiction writer create?

I’m apt to say, “Of course!”

But the journey has been a long and furiously frustrating one.

While I often offer advice on my writing posts, I’m throwing this back to you dear readers. What do you think is the main difference between fiction and nonfiction? Can a nonfiction writer learn to be a fiction writer? Which one is harder for you to compose?

Why You Haven’t Gotten Published Yet

Writing in a cottage

“Friends sometimes ask, ‘Don’t you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?’ At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

The more I commit to writing fiction, the more I appreciate the genius that is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

I made up a fiction’s children story on the fly. My husband and I were resting at the most beautiful country cottage in Point Reyes. It was a raining, fire kindling kind of evening when I told it to him. That was 4 years ago. I’ve been plowing through since then.

And then I stopped.

I took a hiatus for many reasons. But my story was verging on complete annihilation because when you pause for that long resistance wins.

Resistance wins through rationalization.

Pressfield says in his book, “What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate.”

I moved, had a baby, and was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. I got busy. Priorities shifted. But deeper than that, What right did I have anyway to write fiction? I was doing pretty well as a nonfiction writer and blogger. But fiction? Fiction was meant for truly talented writers. I was not one of them.

Since working on my fiction stories again, I have about 5 now, some completed, a few ones still in progress, I realized what was really keeping me from my work. It wasn’t the external stuff that was getting me. It was the internal belief that I couldn’t do it or that even if I could, who would read it anyway?

That is why this passage written by Pressfield in his book really hit home for me:

“What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting. If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.”

I had given birth and yet the idea of writing a book seemed impossible. This reminded me that there are no real reasons to give up, just fear.

If we keep to our computers or our notebooks every day, whether it’s 10 minutes or 4 hours, fear won’t have disappeared, but its power will diminish into the background like the white noise of an unwatched television screen.

If you take your work seriously, your commitment will override any fears you have. And just like the ordinary man behind the screen in the Wizard of Oz, you’ll find it’s a lot less intimidating and powerful than you imagined it to be.

 

The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction

{Flickr photo by psyberartist}
{Flickr photo by psyberartist}

You’re a writer. Fiction, nonfiction it’s all the same. Or is it?

To me, they feel like two different literary monsters. One’s like breathing. The other? It’s what I imagine skydiving would feel like. Super fun and exhilarating, but also vomit-inducing.

Which one you experience all depends on your comfort level.

For me, nonfiction is safe. There are research, experts, facts to back up my words. Fiction? Fiction is like free falling. I never know where my imagination will take me. It’s part thrilling, part walking on the edge scary.

When I’m feeling particularly insecure, my left-brain tries to pry out logic from the illogical. It grasps on in desperation for something concrete. The left-brain is my worst critic. It’s the one that gobbles up any creative idea, late-night inspiration and spits it out in disgust. “Crap,” it says. “It’s just crap.”

While it does an equal job of tearing apart anything nonfiction, there’s also editors and fellow writers who can critique it. It’s like math. You can filter out what’s right, from what’s dead wrong.

Fiction?

Fiction’s a lot murkier.

It’s why I have 3 stories mid-written. There’s always another way it can go. I can’t control my imagination, the way I can push around words here and there in a nonfiction article, for example. It’s a constant battle-this desire to create, compose and let be. My right brain’s continuing working, running amok while my left-brain’s trying to manage and understand it all. It’s like a funnel trying to filter through all the stuff that’s in there and translate it into something that makes sense.

Is it just me?

Do you have a hard time juggling fiction and nonfiction too? Let’s commiserate.

Creative Thoughts on Creating Fiction

When I was frantic last week, a few fiction writers graciously helped me out. And so did an article I picked up today.

As I side note: Did you ever notice that answers come when you ask the right questions?

The surprising source was one of my favorite home decor magazines, Coastal Living. In their November 2011 issue, Million Dollar Decorators star Kathryn Ireland answers a few decorator question. I skimmed through them until I stopped at this:

If you can’t make it out, it says:

What are your rules for hanging art so that it looks pleasing and not chaotic?

KI: I prefer an unstructured look, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t basic principles. I like to start in the center of the wall with the largest piece of artwork, and work outward from there with smaller pieces. I never hang any piece of art higher than the tallest door frame and I keep every painting at least three feet off the ground. Most importantly, I always leave above three inches between each piece so they don’t look crowded-the artwork needs to breathe.

What does this have to do with writing?

It might be far-fetched. But it reminded me of what writer Natalia Sylvester said in her comments of my last post. Maybe it’s okay to let our work-in-progress guide us. Maybe there is freedom in that. Like Ireland says, “[T]he artwork needs to breathe.” But she also says, “that doesn’t mean there aren’t basic principles.” I think that adequately describes the process of writing.

What do you think? Is there a sense of structure in your madness and flexibility in your story’s structure? Is a blending of both needed to tell a good story?

Fiction Anxiety – Help!

{via pinterest}

I’m venturing into an unfamiliar territory. Fiction. Ack! Talk about anxiety. Fellow fiction writers I welcome your input on this one.

Anyway, I let my husband read passages from it every once in awhile. And while I wait, I try to appear calm, but I’m really scrutinizing every eye movement, every shift in his position.

What I got from him this time scared the bejeezus out of me.

“It’s good. But I’m worried about one thing.”

“What?” I asked. At this point, my mind went to horrible, bad plot, unbelievable characters, amateur storytelling.

What he said was, “I’m worried that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I read that the author I’m reading now does the same thing so maybe it’s okay.”

What do you guys think?

Do you know your entire story before you finish it? Or does your story take you on an adventure where you never know what’s going to happen until you write it?