Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Year in Writing--2009

Since today is the last day of 2009 (OMG, where has the year--no, where has the DECADE--gone?) I thought I would share the crazy journey I've been on this year as I started and *almost* finished my WIP--since most of you have only been with me for the last little part. Hope you enjoy!

One word: fear.
And I mean sick-to-my-stomach, not-able-to-sleep, paralyzed-as-I-stare-at-my-laptop kind of fear. I'd been researching this idea for over a year and promised myself that this year I would write it. But I didn't feel ready. I had six journals full of notes and characters so real they were talking to me ALL the time--but this story was so huge, so complicated, I was terrified I wouldn't be able to do it justice.

After two weeks of stalling I finally forced myself to write a scene--any scene--and then another, and then another. I didn't write chronologically. I didn't connect anything together. I just wrote, trying to find my voice, trying to visualize the world and the people I was creating and get SOMETHING on paper--er--in pixels. And yes, in case you're wondering I have since discarded all of it--it was total rubbish. (heh--I love that word!) But it was a start.

Writer-Shannon returns!
After a month of floundering I finally realized that I was over thinking it. This may be the first novel I've written--but I did know how to write. I'd done it for years. I'd taken classes on it. So I needed to go back to my old methods.

But I felt a little shy at first. This was the first time I'd really written anything since I'd been married, so it was the first time my husband got to see my process. Thankfully he loved me enough to not run screaming away as I started shutting myself in a room so I could talk to myself (you guys do that right? No? Just me?). He also didn't complain when I made him go location scouting in San Diego, or when I made him drive out to the middle of nowhere on a moonless night so I could really see the stars, or all the weird stores I drug him into looking for gadget ideas, or any of the other crazy things that are part of what I call "method writing." He was just along for the ride, whatever I needed--reason one why I am amazingly lucky in the husband department.

Fumbling toward a draft.
I didn't have a draft. I had a folder of random scenes. It felt safer that way--like it was okay that they were terrible because they weren't actually a part of anything yet. But I realized it was time to put them together, so I created Master Draft 1 and started slowly weaving them into a single coherent plot. I kept psyching myself out of putting much in there, though, and my progress was SUPER slow. (In case you're wondering, I'm on Master Draft 12 right now, and I have a feeling there will be at least one more. Ah, editing!)

Okay, April was HUGE--for two reasons. First: I went to my first author event (called Project Book Babe) and met ten amazing writers who had such wonderful advice that I totally changed the way I was writing my draft. I'd been approaching it more like a screenplay, jumping from scene to scene without bothering with the stuff in between (because in scripts you just write "cut to" and you're good). But one of the writers talked about needing to write everything that happens for the character as they go from point A to point B--even though they knew that meant they would be throwing stuff away--because they find out things through the journey. So I decided to try that and WOW! Huge leap forward.

Second: I went to Europe--a place that always inspires me. We did London, Paris, and Edinburg and because I prefer trains over planes I had a lot of time to sit around and think about my story as we traveled between countries. On the train from London to Edinburg I had an EPIC revelation. It was so huge and dramatic that I actually cried. Right there on the train. (my husband was asleep and I don't think anyone else noticed--hopefully.) It doesnt happen until much later in the series, but it really cemented my plot and brought new understanding of my characters. (Incidentally, I believe Harry Potter was conceived on a train from London to Edinburg so I'd like to think that's a good sign.)

May, June, July
Full Steam Ahead!
With my story firmly in my head I powered through my draft with new energy. And then threw most of it away and started again. Got to the end and realized I hated some of the subplots. Pulled them out and started again. Realized the major "mystery" didn't make sense. Tossed it out and started again (can you see how I got to Master Draft 12 now?) Only problem: I had no idea how to solve the problem with my "mystery." I was feeling really low--I think this was probably that point writers call "the wall"--and a tiny part of me wanted to give up.

But then we went to Comic Con and one of the writers I'd met at Project Book Babe was there and after talking for a while he said he was so impressed with what I told him that whenever I was ready, I could email him my draft and he would pass it on to his agent. I'm not sure if I'll end up taking him up on that or not, but more importantly, it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to keep going.

Dipping my toe into the blogging pool
I had no idea how to blog. Or what I wanted to blog about. And I was more than a little afraid of coming out of the shadows I'd been hiding in and letting the world (or, you know, anyone who actually read it) know that I was writing again. But everything I read said I should be blogging, making connections, putting my name out there. So I finally decided to give it a try. For the first week I didn't tell anyone I was doing it. I was too nervous. But then I realized I was being silly and told a couple of people and gained a whopping 5 followers. And their pictures looked so lonely I wanted more. I just had no idea how to do it. I figured the "If you build it they will come" philosophy probably wasn't going to work, so I read a LOT of blogs trying to figure out their secrets. And just when I thought I had a plan, life happened.

The lost month
August ended with a 1am emergency call from my mother-in-law. My father-in-law was in the hospital and it didn't look good and we needed to get there immediately. The next three weeks were a roller coaster ride of hospital errors, emergency surgeries, bad news, good news, comas, stress, worry, and finally, recovery. My husband and I made the hour and a half drive from our house to the hospital so many times I swear our car could do the drive on its own by the end. And during that time, I couldn't get my head into my story. So I didn't touch my draft. I still blogged every day, just so I kept some sort of writing in my life, but I can't say the posts were any good. It didn't really matter. I still had only 5 followers so it wasn't like I was letting anyone down.

With my father-in-law out of the woods I threw myself back into my draft and finally put my blogging plans into action. I wanted followers and I wanted them now. So I ran contests. I reached out to people who seemed to know what they were doing and asked them for help. I connected with writers through Twitter. I worked really hard to make the posts as good as I could get them. And the response was amazing. Finally, I had little pictures smiling at me in my sidebar! I was making *friends.* I was connecting with other writers. It's hands down, one of the things I'm most proud of this year. So thank you guys--you really have made my year.

Feeling like I was finally getting close with my draft, I realized I had overlooked a crucial step: critiquing. And considering I'd also registered for a writer's conference at the end of January and paid extra to have consultation and advance reading appointments with agents, I was suddenly VERY motivated to get my draft done. But I didn't know any other writers in real life, so I reached out to the writers I knew online. And let me tell you--having someone to bounce ideas off of and get constructive criticism from is priceless. I didn't finish my draft but I made more progress in that one month then I had in six months on my own.

Soooooooooooo close I can smell it
Armed with two more critique partners--who are absolutely amazing--and with my deadline getting closer by the minute I pushed myself harder this month than any other. I'm still not done--despite a valiant effort--but I'm really close. And I've gotten enough positive feedback to back me up on that. I'm still not thrilled with some of the murky middle chapters, but hopefully over the next few weeks--with the help of my CP's--I will get them cleaned up and start querying in February (who knows, maybe one of the agents I meet at the conference in Jan. will like it). That's the current plan, anyway. But I also believe the worst thing I can do is query before I'm really ready, so if it's not right I'll wait until it is.

So that's it--my crazy year in writing. It certainly had its ups and downs. But I've also come a long way. And now that I'm finally on track, here's hoping 2010 will be the year I land my agent and sell my book--even if that means I'll have fulfill my horrifying deals with you guys and post humiliating vlogs and youtube clips.

I hope you'll stick around to find out!


  1. What an amazing journey! I'm so happy you ran your contests because that's how I found your blog, which I adore! Congratulations on all the hard work you've done so far and many wishes of good luck for the next year (and Master Draft 14?), especially at your conference next month!

  2. awwww this was an awesome post--love seeing the progression of your work and how passionate you are about it (I mean I knew that already but wow)!!!! We are going to ROCK 2010 (unless you dare me something so horrible I have to track you down in CA--I know where you live--and ...well something) so I CANNOT wait for my next dare!!!

  3. Wow...I never considered putting down my journey...but it might scare people as I wrote my last book in November and edited it in December and I'm HOPING to query by the end of January, beginning of February. Though that is NOTHING like how my first manuscript went. That is a long and drawn out lots of up and downs, getting offered publishing by an erotica publishing company and turning it down sort of story. Maybe someday I'll share it ;)

    Congrats on getting so far. I hope 2010 is awesome for you!!!

  4. Shannon, I love this post and will now copy you because I think you are cool. And pretty. Don't worry, I'll give credit where credit is due =)

  5. Oh Shannon! How proud I am to see your journey! You are really and truly one of the main reasons that I am writing again. A singular contest on an author's blog allowed me to 'meet' you and your wonderful personality. You will never know how just your entries, opinions & writing helped me. I feel in some ways like I have let you down. I critiqued only a few of your chapters & had to stop (due to the unfortunate adventures that occurred in October - the ones I emailed you about) - then NaNo - then here it is December & I am dying to know how your story has progressed - you should know that it is wonderful. Thank you for stepping out in January and pushing yourself. It not only allowed you to create the wonderful world I read about but it gave us the Shannon/Frankie blog wars, Youtube wars, Epic Contests, USC Lessons & a great writer who I consider a friend. ;o) Here is to 2010!

  6. What a great year for you. Hoping 2010 brings you lots of joy :)

  7. I have no funny right now, so I'll just say I'm glad I got to know you this year, good lady. The B&N gift card I won in your blog contest kind of counterbalances getting dragged into the periphery of your blogwar with Frankie, so we'll call it a wash. :)

    Happy New Year, Shannon. You'll rock the conference, I'm sure.

  8. Wow, my head is spinning! You've had an AMAZING year! I really hope you get an agent and sell your book soon because I'm dying to read it:)

    Have a Happy New Year!

  9. One Pushy Fox: Aw, thank you--you have no idea how much that means to me. I love that this weird little place where I ramble sometimes (okay, most of the time) has introduced me to so many awesome people. And thanks for the well wishes, I'm going to need them.

    Frankie: Aw, thanks. Yeah, I have eat, slept, and breathed this book all year--cannot wait till it's finally done (so I can move onto the next one.) We ARE going to rock it--and take over the world--and we will still be friends because my next dare is evil enough to be funny but not so evil you'll hate me--I hope. :)

    Marybeth: Hm...did you just mention a story that would be excellent blog wars fodder? You're slipping my dear. It's a good thing I'm still wooing you right now (though I hope you'll tell that story because I would love to hear it.) And wow--3 months? I'm hugely impressed/more than a little jealous. Well done you!

    Anne: LOL. Copy away--I don't mind. Can't wait to read it!

    Southern Princess: Aw, you are so sweet. I'm glad I've helped you out--writing is a scary, difficult thing to do (for me at least) so I'm glad I can be a tiny part of what helps you do it. And don't worry, I knew you had a lot going on--which is why I haven't sent more pages. Whenever life calms down let me know and I'll gladly send some your way. {{Blug}} :)

    Jemi: Thank you. It's been a great and stressful year. Hopefully it will pay off in 2010. :)

    Simon: You claim you have no funny and yet you still made me laugh. (And you kinda dragged yourself in, not necessarily with any help from me. When is your chair dance happening, btw?) And thanks for the vote of support. I'll have to reread that before the conference because I'm going to need the reminder. :)

    Melissa: Thank you so much. That is music to my ears and TOTALLY just made my day! :)

  10. This was a fantastic post, Shannon. Thank you for sharing your amazing year of writing growth with all of us. :)

    I hope 2010 brings you mega happiness!

  11. Congratulations Shannon. This has to be one of the best "end of year" posts I've read. To see your writing journey. I wish I had thought of it. Well, I know what to do for next year.

    (And I buckled you evil thing. You know what I'm talking about. It is on my blog right now).

  12. Thanks for posting your journey! It is very encouraging to read. I'm so glad to have found your blog because it never ceases to put a smile on my face. Good luck to you in 2010!
    (oh, and I can't wait to hear this muppet voice.)

  13. Wow I LOVED reading this Shannon!! I kind of knew some of the journey you'd been on, but... what an amazing year :-) And woohoo to querying in February! That's my goal too!!!

  14. Shannon: Thank you so much. 2010 should be interesting. It's a nice round number. Start of a new decade. Seems like an excellent time for good things to happen. I hope. ;)

    Heather: Wow-that's an AWESOME compliment. And tee-hee--I know EXACTLY what it is. Hopping over to your blog...

    Kelly: Aw, thank you so much. That's so sweet of you to say. Muppet voice premieres tomorrow. Can't wait to hear what you think. :)

    Sara: Wow--really? February? I'm impressed with your speed and excited because that MUST mean I get to read it soon. *crosses fingers* And thanks for the compliment. That means a lot. :)

  15. Ahh but I already blogged about it on my Author Web site!!! And it wasn't as entertaining as you'd probably like.

  16. I love this post! You've come so far in just a year. I'm so excited to see what 2010 has in store for you. The only reason we're calling it 2010 currently is because "The Year of Shannon" is a bit long and, you know, formal, right? Right. ;)

  17. Marybeth: Ooo--I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the link.

    Sarah: Aw, thanks. And LOL. I think "The Year of Shannon" is a tad formal. And abbreviating it is YOS which just sounds weird. So we'll just stick with 2010 for now. ;)