I’m Baaaaack…..

I’m Baaaaack…..

I have been hard at work writing, writing, writing toward a major milestone – the first complete draft of my WiP, the YA novel involving enby, queer, black, awkward, ghosts, villains, mystical lady magic, and teenage angst. I set a goal of reaching this milestone by the end of March and I hit it on Monday, March 28. This goal is a part of a set of goals meant to move this project toward publication-ready at the end of the year (if not before). I set these goals down during a workshop I took through Creative Colloquy, given by Olivia Couture (@PresentActiveWriter LinkTree), back in January.

This draft is 183 pages and 73k+ words long. It still contains some of the words and concepts I originally spewed out during 2020 NaNoWriMo. In subsequent drafts, some of those plot lines and characters were chopped in favor of the main story line – everything serves the main storyline and/or character development or it’s outta here! Since shortly after that beginning, I’ve been meeting regularly with two other writers, Lisa Lewis and Burl Battersby – The Page Turners. Those two have helped me so much on honing in on the true story, character work and providing endless encouragement and fun ideas. Having a writing group like this has been absolutely critical in helping me stay on task. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

In the recent push to meet this milestone, I learned some things about myself and how to discipline myself within my writing practice. There’s that saying ‘perfection is the enemy of good’ and I would add that perfection can also be the enemy of hitting a deadline. I know this draft is not perfect. I don’t think the characters, scenes and dialogue are completely fleshed out yet. I know it’s full of basic punctuation and grammar problems. The discipline I had to commit to was to let that go for this draft. This round of work has been about getting the theme and plot figured out, blocking out the story and major events and beginning to work in the hooks to build suspense, the hints and red herrings and some humor.

I have four ‘first readers’ diving into the story. My two reading group buddies, of course, plus my muse and partner, Mol, plus my son Haze – because I needed someone under 30 to help me make sure I’m not effing it up. And I should probably find someone under 20. This is meant to be a YA novel, and the main characters are high schoolers. The other step I’m taking is to engage a sensitivity reader to give me feedback. One of the main characters is a gay, black teenager and there are some specific instances where race and racism are discussed. In late February and early March, I participated in a two week course on Writing Diverse Characters put on by the Writing the Other people. Though I knew about the importance of sensitivity readers before, the necessity of them has been etched into my brain through this course. I highly recommend it.

There is another area I will need to research and engage a sensitivity reader but if I tell you what that’s about, I’d spoil it for you.

Throughout this process, besides resisting perfectionism, I’ve been repeating a mantra to myself – trust yourself, trust the process. Trusting myself is about not getting to anxious when I feel I’ve hit a dead end or some area I’m having difficulty writing about. Until this last editing pass, I could defer them and come back when I was ready. Trusting the process is about knowing that this draft is not meant to be perfect. I’ve purposely let it stay lean. The key was to get the story out. When I start my next round of editing and writing/rewriting, I’ll flesh things out more, show more, connect more, build out the story and the world. I have faith, and that faith is born of having a regular practice of writing. Whether I’m writing for this project or something else, I am writing almost every day and that consistent practice is paying off. It feels really fracking good.

Before I close I want to shout out my partner and muse, Mol Thompson. They have been cheering me on, encouraging me and expressing their endless belief in me as a writer since we began our relationship. Many, many times when I questioned my ability, Mol has grounded me in the truth – I am a writer, this is what I do, it’s my calling and why I am here. Mol has an uncanny way of knowing what kind of encouragement and motivation I need and delivers it with masterful skill. The methods used will remain unspoken now, though they will likely show up in another work in the future.

I will leave you with a snippet of the story:

Oh, middle school. How many of us have had ‘character building’ experiences during those awkward transitional years between childhood and the teen years? Almost universally for those who have experienced it, middle school is a slow-moving disaster of public humiliation, private dreams and hormonally influenced mood swings.

And then there was the gender stuff. 

People expected Erika to ‘act like a girl’, but even when Erika could see what that looked like, doing what was required felt not just awkward but alien. The hair styles that were cool didn’t really work with Erika’s thick stubborn hair. Any attempt to style it usually ended up with it looking almost the opposite of what was desired. When Erika’s mom broke down and bought clothing that was in style, Erika realized that their feeling of dread and discomfort was not about being out of fashion. Dressing in ‘girl style’ felt wrong and Erika routinely paired ‘girl things’ with something less feminine to balance the look. Hence long, lightweight blouses with painters pants found at the thrift store, complete with stray paint splatters. A skirt over pants while wearing an overly large dark hoodie. Their eclectic style continued to develop as they left middle school and entered high school. Their outsider status suited them just fine. Not being part of a giggly group of girls gushing over boys left them more time to read, get good grades and fill up sketch pads. Their high school sketch pads contained more and more scenes from school, complete with renderings of broodingly handsome boys with eyeliner and full lips. There weren’t a lot of boys who looked like that at Fairview High, but if Erika were the gushing giggly type, that’s who they’d be gushing about. Erika could stare freely at them because they never noticed they were being watched. At least not by Erika.

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