On Resurrecting Characters

If you got excited at the thought of me writing zombie fiction, then I’m sorry to disappoint (I’m still too completely terrified of all zombie-related things).

When I was 17 I wrote a young adult novel. I was young and stupid and I’m not afraid to admit it now. I naively thought that this was the book, the one that was going to jettison me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Then I woke up at 21 and realized that it was 53,000 words of utter disaster. My main character was telling the story in first person, yet she had an omniscient look into the other character’s lives. There were plot holes and loose threads all over the place. I overused adjectives, told instead of showing, and (gasp) used an awful mirror cliche to describe a character. This draft will never, ever, see the light of day. My husband has been given explicit instructions to burn this original manuscript should I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Still, I held onto this embarrassment of a manuscript. I’d bonded with my characters, and despite how terrible the writing was, they seemed like cool people. I couldn’t bring myself to just throw the story in the recycling bin, so I tossed it in my rejection drawer (yes, this is a real thing) with my other failed pieces.

While I never looked at it again, I never stopped thinking about that manuscript. It was the first novel I ever finished. I’ve attempted other novels since, but they never quite held my interest the same way that first one did.

More recently, my characters have been ceaselessly haunting me day and night. They keep begging me to give them a second chance. My main character, Liz, won’t let me sleep at night until I’ve added more dimension to her twisted personality.

I’ve decided I need to give them one more chance. I’m not going to attempt to rework what’s already been written. I’m going to take my time to really get to know the shadows of characters I had created as a teenager and try to get to know them as an adult. I’m going to create a brand new plot, one that these characters deserve to be a part of.

I’ve grown so much as a writer since I first realized that this was the path for me. I’ve read books on writing, taken classes, practiced, and found myself some amazing mentors. I hope I never stop learning despite how many accomplishments I achieve. Hopefully this time around, I can find a story that I won’t be ashamed to show the world.

 

 

The Attempt to Find Time

So, my college days are over. I graduated in May and landed a job at a local school by August. And as if that weren’t enough, I got hitched in September. Life’s pretty great right now.

I’m lacking balance though. Yeah, I worked 4 jobs through college and balanced a full course load and social life. I thought my schedule would leave me more than prepared for the real world. After all, I wouldn’t have to work a variety of jobs to keep myself afloat once I had a “real” job. In some ways, I was right. In other ways, I’m not done transitioning to adulthood.

I miss having my Friday afternoons off. There’s no such thing as random days off in education, nor are there days that are just 8 hours long. Gone are the time gaps in my schedule that allowed me to pen a blog post or jot down a paragraph to a new fiction piece. Gone are the days where there are no responsibilities or chores to come home to.

Yet, the past few months have been my most productive. I’ve revised a significant portion of my current works in progress. I’ve started mapping out new projects. I have articles written for an outside website on Rheumatoid Arthritis that will be published soon. The amount of time I have to spend on blogging has been greatly reduced, but I’m working overtime to push my writing out into the world. I would consider that a small win.

I’ve been working in spurts. Some weeks are lazy and unproductive. I spend others writing like I only have a few days left to live. Hence the balancing problem. I’m writing, just not the way I should be. I want to come to a point in my balancing act where every day is spent with words. I want to read and absorb great writing and write plenty of great pieces myself. I guess that comes with time and life experience though.

Ten Years From Now

I took a blogging class this past semester, and part of our homework each week was to complete a writing exercise. This one in particular was a favorite of mine. We were asked to have our future selves write about our present selves. I wanted to share it because I’m sure many of you can understand where I’m coming from (and because I think it’s pretty good for a first draft).

Ten years have gone by, but I still remember that feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I spent a lot of time holed up in the Writing Center on campus, feeling the stress of school and reality pressing down on me like a cinder block. It was the same anxiety I felt when I stepped onto the campus for the first time as a freshman. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or what my future would be like. Would I feel a sense of belonging? Would I meet people who would actually “get” me?  I was ready for the change of pace, but to what extent I wasn’t sure.

I made it though. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of late nights, term papers, and bottles of beer. There were some near nervous breakdowns too. The smell of weed at 2am permeating from my suitemate’s room started to become a strange sort of security blanket; at least I wasn’t all alone during those late nights. I kept telling myself it would all be worth it in the end.

I made Rutgers my home for five years. There was a Wednesday during the Fall semester of my senior year when I was sitting alone in the Writing Center, two hours before we were supposed to open. I was working on a writing sample for my graduate school applications, completely clueless as to what direction my story should take. It hit me then that one year from that moment I’d be starting over, in a new place, with new people and new jobs. I wouldn’t be going to work at the Writing Center, or even to my other on-campus computer job.  And if I played my cards right, I wouldn’t be living at home with my mother anymore either. It was a surreal thought.    

But the alternate thought was that my endless amounts of homework would prevent me from getting that writing sample done or filling out applications. I would have to keep living with my mother, because I didn’t get into any grad programs. I’ve come to realize that people in their early twenties doubt themselves a whole lot.

But everything turned out okay in the end, even after all of the worrying. I did manage to get away from the little bubble I created. I did move halfway across the country to pursue a degree that most people thought was a useless waste of time, which made it possible for me to write this while sitting on the couch in pajamas while everyone else is working a nine-to-five. I wish there was a way to tell the college senior version of me to slow down and enjoy an occasional lunch break, and to drink the coffee simply for the pleasure of it. 

What would future you say about present you?

Why I Scrapped My Novels and Why I’m Okay With That

I now once again have a blog that I can devote entirely to my love of writing and literary things. Oh how I’ve missed it! It took longer than I had hoped just because there were so many kinks to work out. But I’m here now, and that’s what matters.

I’ve decided to initiate this blog using a piece that I previously posted on my Facebook page:

 

I began writing my first novel at 17. It was a young adult book with a topic I felt very passionately about, and I poured my heart and soul into this piece. When I finished writing it last year, I felt like I was on top of the world. I actually wrote a novel. Granted, it needed a lot of work, but a first draft was better than no draft. I began the second book in the series, thinking that I needed to take a few months off from the first book before I went back and started on edits. I had planned for book #1 to be the first book in a trilogy.

I was halfway through writing the second book when I came to a realization: I had started book 1 when I was 17. I was now 21. My writing style, my voice, my outlook on life…they had changed completely. The things that mattered to me at 17 no longer fit with what I wanted to express in this story. The writing process came to a halt.

I was panicking. Did I do all of that work for nothing? I needed advice. Thankfully, I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by wonderful poets and fiction writers on a daily basis. So I ran to Mike, a good friend and poet who doubles as my reader. He’s the friend who will honestly tell me if the story I just finished sucks, and I appreciate his never-ending list of suggestions. I explained to him my predicament, and his reply to me was, “You’re hiding behind a 17 year-old. Don’t be afraid to tell the story you really want to tell, because right now it doesn’t sound like you’re doing that. Scrap and start over.”

And he’s right. In retrospect, that jumbled mess of a first draft wasn’t saying exactly what I wanted to say. I was afraid to write about my feelings back then, back when the slightest amount of criticism would send me running to the nearest cave to live out the rest of my days safe and alone. I have matured into a more confident person since then and have learned to accept myself and my mistakes for what they are. I no longer cared what people thought of my experiences and viewpoints. I  realized there was no salvaging these novels. They had become a jail cell.

Of course, that’s not to say that I’ve erased those manuscripts. They’re a part of my history, my journey to becoming the writer I hope to be one day. They have been printed and lovingly placed in a drawer. I will always hold onto them and will look back at them one day to see how far I’ve come. I will always be learning new things as a writer. This particular experience has shown me that sometimes you just need to let go, because not every brilliant idea is going to work out.

Maybe one day I’ll come back to these manuscripts. If not, that’s okay too. Letting go of 17 year-old me was hard, but I think she would be proud of my decision.