Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's Baaack!

Imposter Syndrome. I haz it.

I'm two-thirds of the way through my gazillionth round of revision on my current story. Current being the key word, since there are a lot of other Not Ready for Prime Time stories waiting to be revised.

I've lost track of the number I've "completed." I put that in quotes because, while they have a beginning, middle and end, and are mostly in the 90,000 word ballpark, they aren't complete in the Ready to Submit sense.

In fact, right now I'm thinking more along the lines of "Let's Have a Bonfire and Toss Them All In It." Unfortunately (or fortunately - these moods usually pass), they're not on easy-to-burn paper. They're in my computer.

Bad, bad computer! It sits there, day after day, leering at me. It knows the truth. It's seen all those poor, orphaned stories, the characters lost in the limbo of the unpublished. Surely this state of affairs isn't all MY fault. Moi? No, that can't be right.

I figure my computer should shoulder some of the blame. Remember that scene in OFFICE SPACE where the guys kill the copy machine? I have moments where I picture doing that to my trusty Dell. I just finished paying for the damn thing, though, so I'm trying to restrain myself.

(Did anyone else notice how "should" and "shoulder" are spelled almost the same way? Huh. I have an uncanny ability for using repetitive words.)

Let's have some backstory - God knows, I have a real gift for it. I'm published in non-fiction. Heck, I've had six books published. They all sold well. One is even still in print! And I've read a book a day for most of my life. Surely some knowledge of writing craft must have sunk in?

Not so you'd notice.

I've blogged about Imposter Syndrome before, over at Romance University. I'm something of an expert on it. I'm normally a happy, mild-mannered sort of person, but I used to be a redhead. There's a volcanic temper under my skin. These days, the only thing likely to trigger an eruption is frustration with my writing.

In the four years since I started writing fiction, my skill set has improved in a lot of ways. What really bugs me is the issues that consistently come up.

1) Tone. It's like I have a split personality: one side is light, humorous and chick-lit-y; the other side is dark and scary. There are authors who combine the two successfully, but I'm having a lot of trouble finding a balance. I can't change my voice, nor do I want to. It's the main thing I get positive feedback on (that and dialogue), but it's also a problem.

A couple of contest judges have compared my voice to Vicki Lewis Thompson's (a huge compliment - I LOVE her "Hexed" series). The problem is, I have a tendency to slip into Karen Rose territory. It's unsettling for readers to find both styles in the same book. (Duh!) Must find a way to fix this.

2) Classification. Thanks to issue #1, it's very hard to classify my stories. I talked about it with an editor who gave me extremely helpful feedback. She said what I write is really contemporary romance with magical/paranormal elements, which is what I thought, too. BUT she suggested I pitch my stories as paranormal romance, since editors are more likely to look at those. Problem is, when most people think "paranormal" they picture something a lot darker and with more world-building. Not sure how to address this.

3) Heroines. My heroes, oddly enough, don't seem to be a problem. It's the heroines I have trouble with. They're either too nice or too snarky; a wimp or a bitch. It's a challenge to find a balance. (There's that word again...) I've come up with a partial solution, though. My next story will DEFINITELY have a hero as the protagonist!

4) Writing passively. I overuse words like "was" and have to make a conscious effort to write actively. Show, don't tell - I SHOULD KNOW THIS BY NOW! *bangs head on desk*

5) Backstory. There's that bad boy again. The issue of backstory is one reason I'm always rewriting my opening scenes, to the endless frustration of my critique partners. I KNOW I should start where the story begins and I KNOW the story should jump right in with action. Easy peasy, right? (You can see where this is going...)

I'll write a scene and feel like I've accomplished it, but when I look closer? Cleverly disguised backstory. This will come as no surprise to my family and friends. I TALK in backstory. I'm into history and genealogy, for Pete's sake. I'm almost freaking sixty years old - my whole LIFE is backstory!

So, yeah. Need to get over that. Backstory is Bad - got that, brain?

I'm not much of a drinker, which is kind of a shame. I suspect I might find inspiration in wine, or even chocolate. Instead I'm going to have to do it the hard way.

Instructions to self:

*Keep writing, even though practice doesn't really mean perfect.

*Pay attention to passive words and cut them out.

*Understand every character's goal, motivation and conflict.

*Make each scene count.

*Work on the damn conflict box.

*Don't use action for the sake of action - everything must have a reason. (And watch those em-dashes while you're at it. Even though you haven't figured out how to create an em-dash on Blogger, so that last one doesn't technically count.)

*Pace the turning points so readers will keep turning pages.

*Show, don't tell.

*And stop writing blogs as a form of avoidance.

Here endeth this lesson, self. Enough with the whining. Go forth and write.


amy kennedy said...

Becke, did you sneak into my brain? This sounds a lot like me and my modus operandi. But I do have this to say, don't change your voice/tone -- I see nothing wrong with snappy funny dialogue and then dark and scary stuff. I know you can find a way to balance them.

robena grant said...

We must be on the same page. I wrote a blog today on Results. Just got back my ms. from betas and my crit partner. This is a tough gig. this writing thing. : )

Becke Davis said...

Hi Amy! Great to hear from you! I know it can be done because I've read books by authors who really pulled it off. It drives me nuts - finding the right balance is really hard. I've tried writing all on the light side and all on the dark side. I can do in for short stories, but can't seem to manage it for a whole book. *sigh*

Good luck with your writing! We'll fight off Imposter Syndrome together.

Becke Davis said...

Hi Robena - It's so scary getting feedback from beta readers and critique partners. Maybe even harder than getting feedback from contest judges.

I can relate - I've had feedback from all three recently (betas, CPs and contest judges). All of the comments were hugely helpful. I can't imagine submitting without this kind of input.

It just makes drives me batty when I don't see the problems for myself, or at least not without a nudge. (Or sometimes an anvil on the head!)

It's wonderful to have the support and encouragement from my fellow sufferers in the Cherries and other critique groups. I'm always knocked out by the generosity of busy, published authors who also offer advice and encouragement.

Writers rock! (Even if we are all a little nuts.)

Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) said...

I sent you an email already. Rather than repeat myself, maybe one thing I can do to help:

An em dash is coded like this within the html-editor page: and-sign and the word "mdash" followed by a semicolon. I will try it here to see if it works. —

Becke Davis said...

Woo hoo - thank you! You are brilliant! That's been bugging me for ages. You're the best!

Sharon Cullen said...

Excellent post! I think all authors suffer from one or all of these things. And those wips in the computer? Someday you might take them out, revise them again and have a publishable book. It's happened to me before.

You have the right attitude. Keep writing! You can't accomplish anything if you stop writing.

Lorie Langdon said...

ROFL! How is it that you can make something so serious and frustrating, so funny! ;o) I love your Office Space analogy! I’ve had the same thought a few times—gangster rap music in the background and all!

I’ll tell you what I tell myself when I get Imposter Syndrome: You are the only person on this planet who can write this story, in this way, with this viewpoint. And I’d like to add that who among us can say they’ve published six non-fiction books??? Probably no one! You are uniquely gifted and qualified to do this…so do it and make us proud!! :D

Becke Davis said...

Sharon - You nailed it. A book called THE WAR OF ART was recommended to me awhile back. It's the best book I've read in terms of dealing with avoidance. You're 100% right - you can't accomplish anything if you stop writing. Thanks for the timely reminder!

Becke Davis said...

Lorie - Well, we have to laugh or go nuts, right? I'm going to have to watch Office Space again (can anyone who's watched it ever look at a Swingline stapler the same way again?) (or flair, for that matter?). A true classic.

Yes, I do have a tendency to take it out on my computer when I'm having a bad writing day. It's the keyboards that really suffer, though. All those millions of words I've been writing have been the death of several keyboards.

The thing about the non-fiction books is, those were way too easy for me. A New York publisher saw some of my garden articles. They got my number from Garden Writers Association and called me. Can you imagine? They asked if I would like to write a book for them! I ended up writing four more, AND the 'N Sync book. No query letter, no submission. In fact, I kind of resisted because I had no clue how to go about it. I had a wonderful editor (she's a Facebook friend) who made it all seem easy.

Fiction has been an ice-cube bath in comparison!

Stacy McKitrick said...

It's funny about your heros and heroines. In my first three books, the hero was the protagonist. I had no problem writing it that way, either. Now, with my fourth, I decided to use the heroine as the protagonist. Much harder! Why is that I wonder? Too close to home maybe?

Becke Davis said...

I think that's it, Stacy - I'm not a kick-ass type in real life, so it's hard work to give the heroine enough snark to make her interesting, but not so much that you want to smack her!

You would think writing a male POV would be harder to do, but since we're writing a male POV from the female perspective, it seems to work. Would guys think are heroes are realistic? Maybe not. But we're not writing these stories for guys.

Tonya Kappes said...

Keep writing! Keep writing! Keep writing! BUT. . .take your favorite one and revise, revise, revise, and see your dreams come true. You are amazing and you write so well.

Becke Davis said...

Tonya - Unlike most writers, my favorites are always the ones I'm NOT working on. I have a love/hate relationship with those suckers.

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