Small Things, Big Changes

Well, another rejection on my first manuscript. In the scheme of things it’s not such a bad thing. OK so it is, but it isn’t as I’ve not even reached 50 rejections and I might not even have 25. Of course, many agents or publishers didn’t even bother to send a reply.

I may sound bitter, but honestly I’m not. It’s all part of the the parcel. For most of us anyway. When it’s something you really want it takes a struggle. I’m not sure if you’d get the same amount of satisfaction if it didn’t. And for me, I would write even if there were no possibility of financial rewards, because it may frustrate me sometimes and I might just want to throw down my pencil or terminate my word processing program, but I love doing it.

This might have always been the case, but it wasn’t something I figured out until a few years ago. You see, I always loved to write things and make up stories, but the idea of actually being a storyteller seemed like an unobtainable fantasy. Well who wouldn’t have seen it that way when you read things like “The Lord of the Rings”, “Wind in the Willows”, “The Golden Compass”, and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at a young age.

As I have grown, I’ve come to realize that there are many ways to be a good writer and sometimes it’s just making someone smile for a brief moment or bringing them a laugh when they feel down or, let’s face it ladies, giving someone the fantasy of a ‘perfect’ sexy man if even only for as long as it takes to get to the end of the book.

But I digress. I was talking about writing and that was supposed to segue into how I eventually overcame  my hangups and began to write stories, which was supposed to evolve into a discussion of small things and big changes. I have to apologize for my rambling manner. You see, I’m a fiend at making sure things connect when it comes to plotting, but in everyday life my thought processes don’t go in a strait line, they usually look like some demented M.C. Escher roller coaster.

Anyway (clears throat), like any aspiring word smith would do, I went to university for a degree in English. Good idea, but bad idea. You see, I read a lot of classics (some of them even good), I researched different types of writing, new ways to form arguments, the proper use of a comma (although I have since forgotten that), and I wrote a lot of papers.

Yes, I enjoyed it and it was an invaluable experience, but learning the mechanics of writing and picking apart another’s words to find those precious morsels of true meaning (critiquing, especially in college is a lot of this) does not teach you how to tell a story; how to make characters come alive on a page. In fact, it took me a year or so to get out of that academic mindset before I could even consider writing a manuscript.

Alas, it didn’t go so well. I had plenty of ideas, books to use for research, a proper writing desk, scads of pencils and, of course, the requisite ratty looking notebook, but nothing worked. I could start a story, but I would get perhaps two chapters in before deciding it was utter shite and throwing it out.

Things might have continued down that well-trodden path if it had not been for one thing: a book. I was going through a bad time in my life and sunk deep in depression when I picked up a book called “The Alchemist.” For those who have never read it, it’s a wonderfully inspiring book about chasing your dreams, following the path the universe has laid out for you even if it seems impossible. If nothing else, just trying because you’ll never know unless you do.

So I tried. I forced myself to ignore that nasty, self-doubting voice that said, “what’s the point, it’s probably crap anyway.” If I felt like a chapter or a paragraph wasn’t good enough, wasn’t what I wanted, I ignored it and pushed through (I could always go back and edit). It got easier. The voice didn’t go away, but if it creeps up now I just take a break, go for a walk, have a nice glass of wine, and get on with it. I’m now almost finished with my second manuscript.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that life is full of tiny, insignificant things that bring big changes.

Does that make you wonder about the possibility of parallel universes?

 

Rose Connelly

The Writer’s Mind

Last week I said that I would move away from heavy discussion an amusing piece of my own work. I’m not sure how ‘typical’ of a writer I am, but my methods are a little haphazard.

I start out with a brief plot summary (or what I know of it when I begin). Then I draw up a basic character list. I always try to do in-depth character profiles, but they end up boring me. I like discovering new facets of my characters as I go along. Occasionally, I like to actually step into the plot as it were. I will design a scene, place one or more of my characters there, and insert myself. I will watch the character (s), gleaning information from their action, and ask a question I am stuck on. I don’t think I’ve every penned the answer, but the very creative act helps clarify my thoughts.

The following scene is one I wrote when just starting out with “A Blush of Magic.” (Ronan is my male lead and Shana is my heroine):

The would-be puppet master inhaled deeply and sighed in appreciation as she stepped through the simple wooden door.  Despite the motes of sawdust that seemed determined to cling to her and the sharp aroma of varnish that overlaid everything, the scent of a workroom had always seemed clean to her—fresh and new and somehow comforting.  Very much like the big man who crouched in front of the elaborately carved crib, rubbing the sides with sandpaper.

He worked slowly, stopping every now and then to check his progress, treating the simple piece of wood as if it was the most valuable thing in the world.

She approached cautiously, almost afraid to disrupt his concentration lest he somehow damage the piece and have to start over.  With a self-deprecating sigh she shook her head.  That kind of thinking, unfortunately, was what one had to deal with when she was merely an apprentice.  She sternly reminded herself that the man in front of her was her own creation and if her appearance caused him to make a mistake she could simply re-write the scene.

She stopped a few feet from him and swallowed thickly, reminding herself that he wasn’t real, but her overactive imagination had done to good of a job.  She would have to reign in her unruly thoughts to do what she had come here for, but his big, muscular body was much too distracting.

“You’re supposed to be a professional,” her inner voice chided.

She pulled her eyes from his rippling, naked muscles.  “Excuse me,” she said.

He didn’t move.

She cleared her throat loudly and tried again.  “Excuse me.”

He dropped the sandpaper and slowly looked up, his intense gray eyes boring into hers.  “Who would you be?” he asked.  “For I’ve not seen you around these parts and you have the look of one of those yanks.  Are you a friend to Shana then?”

She laughed in merriment, finding her confidence restored.  An Irishman could never be counted on to ask a simple question.  “Yes,” she said when she finally wound down.  “I suppose you could call me a friend of Shana’s since do have her best interests at heart.  But I didn’t come to talk about her.  I came to talk to you.”

“Well then.”  He stood up and dusted off his pants.  “If it’s just a chat you want, I’ll be happy to accommodate you.”  He headed toward a corner, where two chairs sat, and gestured her to follow.  “I could do with a wee break.”

The almost puppet master sank onto the surprisingly comfortable chair and turned to him.  How to start?  There really was no delicate way.  “How do you feel about love?” she asked.

I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll be back next week with a new post.

Rose Connelly

Write of What You Know: Tackling Shyness

There’s a saying in the literary world, “write what you know.” For the most part, I think it just means internalize the world around you, write about people, about how you interact with your families, your friends, how we as humans deal with life, love, and loss.

Sometimes, though, something personally affects you to such an extent that you feel a need to confront it in your writing. My current effort, “A Blush of Magic,” is an attempt to do just that.

My heroine, Shana, is not me. She came from a very different background, had experiences that I haven’t.  She stands at a crossroads in her life, desperate to feel a part of the world, break out of her isolation, find friendship and experience love. She is held back by something that I have battled for as long as I can remember: shyness.

It is also known as social anxiety disorder. Neither word, though, really conveys what it actually is. It’s not being a little bashful around people, occasionally blushing, being a little less outgoing than others. For many people it’s a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. Often the thought that you are somehow different, that you stand on the outside, looking through the glass at a world that you just don’t know how to be part of. The art of the social conversations eludes you.

I’m saying ‘you,’ but the experience is obviously a little different for everyone. I can only say what it’s been like for me.

The fictional Shana does find help with from new friends, a wonderful man, an inspiring book, and a touch of magic, but real life doesn’t usually work that neatly.

I am happy to say that I am working on my issues with the help of a couple of great books by an author called Leil Lowndes (she was very gracious about allowing me to use some excerpts in my novel). The progress, however, is slow and it’s a constant effort not to back slide.

There are many times when I would love more support and understanding, but I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t seem to be there in the wider community and I have looked. I live in a big city, but there is not any kind of support group for social anxiety in the area, at least not one that is easily found. There is support to be found on-line, but members of such groups are often spread out, sometimes on different continents.

I’m not sure if it’s a result of society itself or caused by internalized expectations, but shyness is not something that people talk about. It’s not something most people would actually admit to, let alone ask help for. And so it remains a disorder cloaked in isolation and it will do so unless we reach out.

I am climbing off my soap box now and asking for a conversation. If anyone who reads this has experiences with this disorder that they would like to share or hints for things that have worked for them, I would be happy to listen and talk.

In my next blog I’ll be turning to something lighter and posting an amusing little writing exercise I did to get to know my characters better. I hope you’ll come back and read it.

If you are interested, the two books I talked about by Leil Lowndes are “Goodbye to Shy” and “How to Talk to Anyone.”

Have a great weekend.

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