We are one week in, and I am already blown away.
I'm a teacher. This year, for the first time, I am teaching a creative writing class. There is no text book, no sylabus, no guidelines. I'm starting from scratch.
I figured my first challenge would be to find a way for my students to simply get something on paper. Anything on paper.
I was wrong. The dove right in.
On the very first day, I assured the students that everyone has a story. I wasn't sure if I believed it myself, but I wanted them to believe it. They did. In fact, they convinced me. Already. And we are only one week in.
Each teenager captured a story and poured it out on the paper along with little pieces of their souls. Beautiful.
This class landed in my lap because I was the only one on staff who wanted to teach it. (Well, that and the fact that I begged for it.) Other teachers commented on how they can't stand teaching creative writing because they have to wade through so many bad stories.
We are one week in. So far, no one has written a bad story. I've seen plenty of grammar errors and comma splices and uncapitalized names, but not one bad story. What I've seen instead is natural comedic timing, raw emotion, real tears, and full characters. It scares me and here's why. We have yet to actually talk about how to write a story. They don't really know what they are doing. They are just writing.
Believe me, I'm not claiming to have a classroom full of natural-born Hemmingways. There is a lot of work to be done. What I am saying is that these kids, when left to imagine and create, come up with real, raw stuff. I'm afraid of what will happen when we start applying the confines of proper exposition and character arc and dialogue tags and all that. I'm terrified that I'll douse their passions and silence their voices.
We are one week in and I've already learned that real and raw is better than formulaic and contrived. That, when it comes to writing, following your heart beats following the rules. That when you try to hard to sound like a writer, you aren't really writing at all. You are just trying to sound like one.
It seems the first lesson was for me. It also seems that I've got a lot to learn.
I gave up writing.
Several years ago, after taking a novel writing class and joining a local writers group and attending a few RWA conventions and receiving a few rejection letters on full manuscripts, I gave up writing. It wasn't the rejection letters that did it. My quitting was a result of a combination of impatience at the slow process and frustration at not knowing how to go from pretty good to published.
When I say I gave up writing, I don't mean that I stopped writing. If you're a writer, you know the impossibility of that concept. I just gave up the idea of ever publishing a novel. I wrote articles for a local newspaper and an online business magazine.
Okay, so I also secretly continued creating novel-type manuscripts, but pretended I wasn't actually writing them with the intent to publish.
A few years ago, I tiptoed back into the fray.
What a difference a few years makes!
Writing stuff is everywhere!
My prior experiences had left me believing that there were few spaces open for pre-published writers to become published authors. Even when I felt close, I still felt too far away with no sense of direction or road map.
While I was away, the internet happened. I mean really happened. As a mother and teacher of teens, I'm not always a fan of social media, but as a writer...Holy Wordsmiths! Pre-published writers, post-published authors, agents, editors, interns, and writing coaches are suddenly accessible. You know what else? They aren't all superstars with secret handshakes and code words to a club I'll never belong to. They are kind and encouraging and empathetic and brilliant and generous. Not only is writing stuff everywhere, so is writer love.
I witnessed this with Brenda Drake and her service to the writing industry. (Check out her website here.) I jumped into her #PitMad event and got a full request. In preparing for her Pitch Wars, I've connected with dozens of beautiful writer souls. Even if I'm not matched with a mentor, I'm already winning. I've also convinced a couple of writer friends to jump in, too. So much love!
Pursuing publication is definitely sweeter the second time around--with one exception. When I see all the pre-published who became post-published during my sabbatical, I want to rewind life and never give up the first time.
I'm a lover, not a fighter, but I'm reading to go to battle for #PitchWars!
The manuscript I'm submitting is a contemporary romance. You might have noticed #amwritingYA on my Twitter feed, @Roaringmoms. It's not a lie. I am currently working on a YA, but it's not submission ready. I'm excited to get to a work with a mentor who can help me get my contemporary romance published. I have some amazing critique partners. One is a USA Today best selling author. I learn a lot from them; however, I need some new eyes on this story.
Five reasons why you want to mentor me:
5. Now is the time. I believe that timing is everything. Well, timing is important, anyway. I've recently returned to focusing on my passion--writing. Now that my four kids are grown and going for their dreams, it's mama's turn. Plus, I promised myself I'd be published by a certain age. It's looming. Now is the time.
4. Ashley and Eric need you. My main characters are screaming at me to get them published. They suffered and celebrated with me through edits and rewrites and tweaks and polishes and several full requests. They deserve to be taken to the next level, and I need you to guide us.
3. Proven Work Ethic. At one point in my life, I had four children under the age of seven. They turned into three teens and a preteen. I thought the fact that I chose natural childbirth each time would prepare for me for the eventual parenting three teens and a preteen. The wine helped. (So did writing my parenting blog www.roaringmoms.blogspot.com for family and friends. Check it out, too.) Then there's the time I earned a Master's Degree in English while chasing a three-year-old, while enduring pregnancy, and jumping through state government hoops to obtain licensing for my now ex-husband's adoption agency. Afterwards, I opened the international division--out of the goodness of my heart. As a single mom, I've worked 14 hour days at jobs I hated, but I had three teens and a preteen and a house payment. In fact, I don't know what it is to not work hard. I'm excited to work hard to realize my dream. (Did I mention now is the time?)
2. Must Write Faster. The nagging voices of several plotted-out stories grow louder everyday. Although I'm always working to improve my craft, I know that working with a mentor will expedite the progress. I would be honored to have you share your wisdom, your tips, your critique, your experience. I'm hoping to find someone who can help me get more right the first time through, so the rewrites and edits go faster.
1. Cat Lady Life Risk. The other day after a grocery run where I purchased kitty litter, two boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes, and a romance novel, I stopped by the wine store. I picked up a bottle of my latest favorite, 19 Crimes, and waited to pay. I noticed the hot, male cashier kept staring at my boobs. I wore jeans and a plain black tank. I wasn't trying to be sexy, but hey. Anyway, I flirty-grinned and might have even batted an eyelash or two. I paid and went back to my car where, of course, I adjusted my rear view mirror, so I could see what he saw. I didn't remember putting on my good bra that morning, but I also didn't remember what I had for breakfast. So, yes, I checked out my own rack. He'd been looking at it, alright. Because it was covered with cat hair from the hug I gave Fred "Binx" Weasley before the grocery run. I believe with my whole cat-hair-covered heart that the life of an accidental Cat Lady is exponentially improved with the publishing of her books. Help me, please.
Do you need noise?
I do.I only recently discovered this need for noise, or at least for the right kind of noise.
As a high school teacher and a mom of four, I guess I've acclimated to working with noise. (Check out my Roaringmoms Blog post from February of this year.)
Today the need is most crucially felt.
I sit down to move forward on The Prom List. Those imaginary teens living in my head are more persistent than the real ones I live with. The only way to shut them up is to write it down, right? My biological teens are not home. The day is young, so I get the tea and clear a spot on the desk, settle into my big comfy chair and--
Fred Binx coughs up a hairball. For ten minutes.
Then the overhead banging starts. (I'm still trying to convince my kids that our upstairs neighbors are avid exercises, but I assure you, banging is the correct term here.)
Next comes the ticking. I've lived with that wall clock for six months now. Was it always so loud? Every second ticking away like an irritating reminder that my life is, too, while the page is still blank.
I need cover up noise. Music won't work because I will sing along. I can't sing along and write at the same time. At some point, the brain synapses would cross, and my angsty characters would start belting Bon Jovi. Not a good fit.
Television. That's it.
My television is in the living room, down the short hall from my office. The noise will float in, but I won't be distracted by the screen. Perfect
There's just one problem. Just Like Heaven is on. Now, I realize there are dozens of other channels, but come on! It's Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon. Just Like Heaven is one of the best overlooked, underappreciated romantic comedies of all time. I can't just keep flipping channels past Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon. What self-respecting romance authors does that? Besides, what better cover up noise than one of my favorite funny love stories? I mean, I am composing funny love stories. It's gotta be fate, right?
Just Like Heaven plays in the background. I heat up the tea. I check on the cat and clean up the barf, wash my hands and...
"The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you."
I run back to the living room. Father Flannigan missing Reese with his holy water in an attempt to exorcise her is one of the best scenes. It's followed by the wanna-be ghost busters and "Napoleon Dynamite" channeling her spirit.
And I'm done. I give in. I sit down and watch one of the best overlooked, under appreciated romantic comedies of all time. Sigh. What else am I gonna do? Yes, I'm a prepublished romance writer, but I'm a hopeless romantic first.
So it's an hour later and I haven't fulfilled my noise need. My tea cup is empty. My angsty characters are in panic mode. And my page is still blank. At least the banging has stopped--for now.
Maybe I'll hire someone to kick a soccer ball against the wall or bicker with his sister in the kitchen. My empty-nester writer friends often wonder how we single moms get any writing done at all. I now have an answer for them. It's all the noise.
We all remember our firsts, don’t we?
I remember my first face-to-face pitch with an editor. It just so happened she had already received and read my original query before our scheduled appointment. She started the meeting with, “I enjoyed the humor of the first three chapters. I’m excited to read more.”
Humor? Oh, great! Now I have to be funny.
I hadn’t realized I was writing anything funny. I wasn’t really trying to make readers laugh. Of course, I wasn’t not trying to make them laugh. If that were the case, the meeting with the editor would have been really tragic.
I raced home after the conference and did a humor check on the rest of the manuscript. Do you know how stressful it is to try to be funny? Sucks the fun right out it.
Melvin Helitzer, in his book Comedy Writing Secrets, claims that humor is basically a way to make ourselves feel superior. It’s our way of saying, “At least I’m not that poor sucker.” We make fun of the elites to bring them down to our level. We make fun those below us to maintain our higher status.
But what about those of us who don’t actively try to create humor, we simply recognize it? In everything. Even inappropriately. Like during sad movies or moments of marital crisis, or funerals.
For example, one day my middle-schoolers were discussing some kid from school that my daughter said would never be able to get a girlfriend because he was a bad hugger. My son nodded in somber agreement. He grimaced, and the both held a moment of silence for the fate of the poor sap’s social life.
“Now, wait a minute,” I said. “How can he be a bad hugger?”
They demonstrated. I still didn’t get it.
A few weeks later, the school I worked at held an assembly where they showed an inspirational video about an amazing individual who had accomplished great things in life, even though he was born with no arms.
See what I mean? Completely inappropriate. Not nice. But kind of funny. In a twisted sort of way.
Those kinds of thoughts fly through my head on an hourly basis. Sometimes they even fly out of my mouth.
While I might think or say things that make people laugh, Lord help me if I try to be funny. When I was about nine years old, I came up this hilarious joke and retold it at every opportunity. Here it is:
What did the man say who had corn on the cob, creamed corn, and corn bread for dinner?
Boy, this sure is a corny meal.
It still makes me laugh, but for a different reason. I laugh at my own idiocy.
So what is it about people like me? Am I searching for superiority? Do I have a deep-seeded inferiority complex? Maybe humor is my stress reliever. Maybe it’s my love language. Helitzer says it is impossible to hate a person with whom we’ve shared a laugh. Maybe it’s my unifier. Maybe there is simply something wrong with me.
I don’t know, but it comes down to this. I hope you enjoy reading my stories. I hope you smile and laugh and breathe in joy. But for God’s sake, don’t tell me I’m funny. It just stresses me out.
Dee Linn loves words. When she was in the third grade, her exasperated teacher told her she'd probably talk to a pole, if she happen to be sitting beside it. Not much has changed except that now she says it in writing. She is a single mom of four, a teacher of teens, a cheater at board games, and a lover of life. She's a Kansas girl, but travels to all kinds of places in her head with characters living there, some of which she's sure she's created. Some, she's not sure how they got there. But they are way more interesting to talk to than a pole.