Things I’ve Learned By Moving No. 3

As part of the great purge of paperwork, I’ve found things I didn’t know I had but am so glad I kept. This photo shows two letters from friends. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I took on the task of writing epic, glitzy novels–I’m sure there were two, I think I finished the third one–that followed a group of people through a few decades. It doesn’t matter to me that those novels will never be published because 1. I was writing way outside my knowledge base, as I knew then and know now, and 2. They were insanely long and therefore unpublishable. (In fact, I tried to split the first one into two novels, and they were still unpublishable and also I didn’t like them so much anymore.)

What does matter is that writing them helped me learn to pace, plot, develop characters, and possibly how NOT to write dialogue. =) And more importantly, they weren’t just beginnings. They were finished, and proofed, and revised and rewritten. If you think it’s near-impossible to start writing something, clearly you’ve never tried to finish writing something.

What also matters is that I conquered years of self-doubt and negative voices (my own as well as those belonging to others) and found the courage to let someone who wasn’t Tom or Lynne read them. Lynne had been instrumental in helping me develop those characters and storylines, and Tom was someone who didn’t read anything like these books but was willing to read mine. To step outside the safety of these two readers was terrifying–and that isn’t an exaggeration. The day I gave the first manuscript to Amy to read, she wasn’t even home yet before I left a message on her machine (remember answering machines?): “I changed my mind. PLEASE don’t read it!” Only she didn’t go home, she went to her boyfriend’s house, I think, and had already begun reading it before she had a chance to hear the message.

Another friend, someone I met through Lynne, also named Lynn, loved to read and wanted to read my manuscripts. Since I’d already taken the plunge with Amy, I gave Lynn a copy, too.

In the end, they both enjoyed that first novel. I’d remembered that their comments were kind and encouraging, and as I was going through old papers and found these letters they wrote, I was grateful once more for their time and thoughtfulness.

I tell writers all the time that it’s vital to develop a thick hide. If you let every criticism, naysayer, and negative review get to you, you’ll poison your will to write. Likewise, if you share your writing with only your friends or people who won’t challenge you, you’re denying yourself a chance to grow as a writer.

But it’s likely you’ll never share anything you’ve created if someone along the way doesn’t tell you to go for it. Doesn’t say, “I like this!” Doesn’t fan that little flicker into a flame of passionate commitment to create. I still love for a reader to say, “I like this!”–and I remember each person who was willing to say it and who told me I was a writer long before I felt I had the right to call myself one.

100 Happy Days: 73

This is going to be meta, I guess, but what made me happy today was getting up to date on several different projects of one type or another. They included updating my Tumblr account. I’d begun putting these #100happydays posts there with that hashtag, but I was, oh, about 43 behind. All caught up now!

This is always a touchy subject with me, because Aries are known as idea people and great starters but poor finishers. I’ve been disproving that theory for a couple of decades, but it’s still a criticism that stings because it contains a stupid grain of truth.

For example, tonight I talked to Marika on the phone and told her an idea I’ve been kicking around for a novel.

“WRITE IT!” she demanded.

“Oh…I had the idea…why don’t you write it?” I suggested.

Aries are also great delegators.

Marika declined.

100 Happy Days: 67

Today I was working on this for a different website. I don’t think about the books from 2001 to 2009 very often, but I realized as I was looking at the covers how many great memories I have–conversations that led to certain writing, collaborating with other writers, getting reactions from my first critical readers, going over galleys, holding each actual book for the first time, and just the sheer joy of creating.

Kind of makes me want to do it again.

Button Sunday

Is this good news? Who knows. I’ve had a novel (four, really, but I’m speaking only of this one) rumbling around in my brain for a long time. This morning I woke up and realized I could never get started because I killed the wrong person before the novel begins. Now that I’ve changed my mind about who’s dead, I suddenly have an entirely different novel–maybe one that I’ll actually write instead of just think about.

We’ll see.

Keeping up with the characters

Last week I went to Kimberly Frost’s signing for her new Tammy Jo Trask novel Slightly Spellbound at Murder By The Book. My exhaustion as the week ended manifested itself in my forgetting to take my camera. I never forget my camera! So all you get are these low quality cell phone photos. Kimberly looked amazing–I’m sure she’s found a way to tap into Tammy Jo’s magic and find the fountain of youth. And as always, her comments left me with writing-related things to ponder.

She’d worked on another series between the third and fourth books in the Southern Witch series, and the time gap meant that when she began writing Slightly Spellbound, she had to revisit the earlier novels to refresh her memory about some details. This was a relief to hear; I thought it was just me who forgot things about my novels. I’ll hear a name and wonder, Didn’t we write a character with that name? Was that a TJB book or a Coventry book? Or I’ll find myself suddenly remembering a conversation or situation from one of the novels and have trouble placing it.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Ricker Instagrammed a photo of his legs as he was taking a bath (see the stuff you’re missing if you don’t follow him on Instagram?) and I commented, “‘Nice gams,’ as a TJB character once said.” He was trying to remember what novel that was, and though I was pretty sure it was It Had to Be You, one thing I knew for certain was that Tim wrote it. Even if some of the characters or plots may not be immediately accessible to my brain, I’m confident that whatever passage you might point to from the five TJB novels or the two Cochrane/Lambert novels, I can instantly tell you its writer.

I haven’t reread any of the novels I’ve written/co-written in a long time, and it’s always a lovely surprise when someone reads them for the first time and gets in touch. I worry that email or comments will be consigned to spam folders and never be seen. In case that’s happened to you, then I’m offering a fervent thank you to anyone who ever wrote and didn’t get a response. It’s wonderful that these books still find and entertain new readers, and I–and my cowriters–appreciate every single one of you.