Friday, May 30, 2014

Done done done done DONE!

Last Saturday, sitting on a cramped middle seat of a Southwest airplane, leaning forward to both escape the encroaching elbow of my seatmate and bolster the drooping edge of the tray table, I scribbled out the last edit for novel 6. (!!)

Yes, I was a little behind schedule, as I had aimed to finish by the end of April. But the end of May is not so far off! It was an extensive overhaul, fixing unsatisfying plot points, tweaking boring characters, cleaning up repetitive language. 135 manuscript pages and there was not a single one that didn't have some purple ink on it.

That's just the front...some of the backs are entirely covered!

It was a tremendously satisfying moment. I still have to type up all of my edits (and even as I am planning to start this immediately after this blog post, I still haven't decided if I'm going to edit my file or re-type in a blank one!) and then there is the daunting prospect of queries, synopses, rejections, and more edits. But just moving on to that stage is a thrilling feeling. I am so ready! It is important to savor these small victories and not just dwell on the inevitable problems to come. Life is full of good moments, and I won't let anxiety take those away from me.

Novel 6 is in the bag!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Age-Old Question (of Age)

I have been writing for a very, very long time. It's hard to put an exact number on it because I literally cannot remember a time that I wasn't writing. The first story that I can vividly recall was one I wrote as part of a short story competition with my brothers. It was titled, appropriately, "The Competition," and detailed the troubles of a young girl who was the star of her ice skating team but broke her leg before their big competition. I'm not sure my exact age, although I know I was still living in Wisconsin, so probably 5 or 6. So I've got at least 2 decades of writing experience under my belt.

One, writing that makes me feel old. It brings to mind this excellent xkcd which lists the relative ages of keystone movies. "Did you realize The Matrix came out not last decade, but the one before that?" (The comic itself is dated to 2011 which just adds to the sting.)

Two, it makes me feel defeated. The real gutpunch of that xkcd comic is the alt text (the true key to xkcd's awesomeness, in case you were unaware). "If you're 15 or younger, then just remember that it's nevertheless probably too late to be a child prodigy." I know this sounds silly, but I always had dreams of being a sort of child prodigy when it came to my writing. I finished my first novel-length manuscript when I was thirteen. Sure, it had its problems. But it was my starter novel. I finished my second novel when I was a sophomore in high school. I was fifteen. Surely I had learned from my earlier mistakes. A little editing would make this one salable. I was well on my way to being an astonishing teenaged author of a blockbusting fantasy novel. I would do a book tour that included Conan O'Brien (still on NBC, hosting Late Night) and Oprah.

Me about to commence a serious writing career!

Well, that didn't happen. And to add insult to injury, that was right around when Christopher Paolini became famous for being the astonishing teenaged author of a blockbusting fantasy novel. I told myself that my second novel was just a warm-up, and my third novel would surely be The One. Maybe I was too late to be published by the time I was 16, but 20 was still far away.

Turns out I didn't even finish that third novel until I was 22 (I took a long hiatus!). And as much as I loved it, and as much as I edited it, I never got any nibbles on those queries (it is the one known as "novel 1" here). The third novel went on the back of the shelf. I worked on short stories and other projects and other novels, and eventually I started on what is now "novel 6" (it's my fourth completed novel ms). And time kept passing by. Now I'm 26, and I am old enough to realize I'm never going to be an astonishing young author. People my age are getting published all the time. And even though I've been working on it for two decades, I'm not among them. It's disheartening and frustrating and insanely stupid to worry about.

I know I'm far from old. But I'm also not young anymore. I'm an adult, and it's time to follow through on childhood fantasies and make them a reality!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Big Endings

Even the beefiest chapters eventually have to end, both in writing and in life.

This past week, I signed my name on the bottom of my DD-214 and walked off my ship for the very last time. So many thoughts have been fighting for supremacy in my head, but it is impossible to define the experience in terms of any one.

Wearing this for the very last time.

My military career began, in a way, ten years ago. I admitted to my parents that I was interested in enlisting in the military. This was somewhat of a shock to everyone, who had no idea that bookish, delicate Nora had been harboring these ideas. It was kind of a pipe dream, though, and I figured I wasn't really cut out for it—I couldn't do a single push-up, after all. But my parents encouraged me that if I really wanted to, I could try. And so I researched my options, decided on the Navy, and waited impatiently for my 17th birthday so I could enlist.

My dad had some other ideas. He was much more in favor of the whole idea than my mom, but he envisioned me as an officer. That was completely different than my plan of doing one enlistment and then going to college. I wasn't feeling ready yet to go to college. I was a stellar student, but I was still struggling with the idea of what I wanted to do. Plus I hate telling people what to do! But my dad wanted me to at least look into it, and so I scheduled an interview with the ROTC recruiter. I was offered an on-the-spot scholarship from him, and I began to revise my plans. Maybe I could go to college first. Being an officer would definitely have perks and better prepare me for life afterwards (I had dreams of a political career at that point). I applied to colleges and picked out Boston University.

At the same time, I had a friend who was applying to service academies. He teased me about "only" doing ROTC, so I applied to USNA to prove that I could get in. I was accepted, but I still planned on doing ROTC. Except there was a hiccup with my paperwork, and I ended up on the waitlist for BU's ROTC unit. I remember sitting on the stairs of my house, crying. My life was over. I had no options. I wasn't cut out for USNA. But my dad talked me down, encouraged me that I could do it, and I sent in my acceptance to USNA. (About a week before I was to report, I got notified that the issue had been resolved and there was room for me at BU's unit. Too late!)

On June 29, 2005, I stood in the hot sun of Tecumseh Court and swore in to the United States Navy as a Midshipman. I was 17 years old.

Now, 9 years later, my service is completed. I'm 26 and still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up (politics is definitely out!). It's scary, standing on the edge of a whole new chapter. Staring at a blank page of life, hoping I'll find the right way to fill it up. But there must be new chapters, and my book is far from done.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


"I love deadlines. 
I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." 

Oh, Mr. Adams. Not only were you a brilliant and hilarious writer, but you were a speaker of truth. Deadlines can help me knuckle down and produce, but they also love to go rushing by without being met. Especially the self-imposed variety. It's too easy to extend it by a week, or a month, and's been a year and you're still not finished with that novel.

I know I write slow. I always have, and while I've been able to improve some, I don't know that I'll ever write at a 2 books a year pace. Part of that is because my first drafts tend to be relatively polished. Not ready straight out of the box, but not a mess of contradicting cliches or anything. Editing, on the other hand, I feel like I can do. Felt like I could do, anyway.

Yes, the end of April was my goal to be done with novel 6. I have 34 more pages (single-spaced, 11-point font) to go, and there are some significant changes to be made in those pages. So I didn't exactly make my deadline. Oops. That's frustrating for me, as someone who likes to consider myself detail-oriented and conscientious. Maybe it's just because it is my own arbitrary deadlines. No one out there is waiting with baited breath for my book—not yet, anyway. Hopefully the next one! It's far too easy to let myself slide.

I don't really know how to change that except to try harder. It should be easier now that I am leaving my job and going into a period of unemployment. If that doesn't give me time to write, I don't know what will! So, 34 pages. I can do that in 2 weeks, absolutely. Taking into account a week-long vacation I am taking with my boyfriend towards the end of the month, I think that I can have this draft of novel 6 not only finished by the end of May, but I can also have a solid query written up and an initial list of agents. Yes, I can and will be querying novel 6 by the end of the month!