Dearest Reader, please welcome Meg DesCamp to SJP!!!
l have always loved September. Even though I’ve been out of school for mumble mumble years, September will always be my month of new beginnings and unlimited possibilities. New sweaters, new shoes, new books, classrooms, friends–and romances. All those new men roaming the campus! Potential hotness around every corner, I tell you. At least, that’s what I remember.
So in the spirit of new beginnings, this is a good month for me to review what I want to learn and where I want to go next with this romance writing stuff. In my day job, I’m a freelance writer and editor. I meet my deadlines. I keep working until the project is done. And I take my work seriously. Every so often, however, I get an idea for a really terrific romance, and I write the first three chapters. And then I stop. I hate the characters, their lives are boring, they have no personality, and if I can’t be bothered to care about them, why would an agent or editor?
I’ve decided that what I want –what I NEED — to learn this September is how the hell to keep my butt in the writing chair when there is not a client deadline or a paycheck waiting.
I’ve had one book published — a nonfiction humorous gardening memoir (http://www.amazon.com/Slug-Tossing-Adventures-Reluctant-Gardener/dp/1570610444/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408725531&sr=8-1&keywords=slug+tossing) –
and it was remarkably easy to write. I decided on a main theme for each chapter. I wrote a one page outline of each chapter. And then I wrote each chapter, weaving in real-life stories and characters and events. It was fun to write. It was even easy to write (and rewrite…). And I’m pretty sure the fun and ease came because I knew where each chapter was headed.
The sensible person would look at my first book experience and conclude, “Outlining is the way to go! Guess I’ll plunk down at the computer and outline a romance.” But even if I take my own advice, I’m still faced with the problem of keeping myself to the task at hand.
Maybe if I buy a new sweater and a new pair of boots and write up a course syllabus titled “Finish Your Romance Novel, You Cretin,” I can trick myself into thinking I’m back in school. The outline might get written. The book might get written. I might finally pass Romance 101.
And then who knows what else I might learn? In September, anything feels possible.
They have no idea how lucky they are. The Maze Runner and Divergent! All the best of Tolkien! Two awesome Jon Krakauer non fiction books! Even graphic novels! And nowhere on the list: The Red Badge of Courage which defeated me soundly during my school years on two separate occasions.
I think I am not exaggerating too much to say that reading was the single most useful skill I learned in school. And not just because I ended up being a writer. With reading, I could learn everything else I needed to know. Being able to consume massive amounts of text and retain the knowledge got me through college, and to this day, if there’s something I need to know, because of reading, I’m confident I can go figure it out. All I need are some books. Maybe all the books…
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here at See Jane Publish, when I say reading rocks, but I’m so glad that schools seem to be realizing that mastering the ability to read — no, more than that, finding the LOVE of reading — is more important than what is actually read.
At least to start with. Fine, fine, you can assign War and Peace later, if you think it’s really important, but do that after the kids are addicted to reading, when the words come quickly and smoothly and the brain is primed to convert those words to knowledge.
I remember struggling when I was a kid to sound out the names in The Fellowship of the Ring. But the story was so awesome I was willing to do the work. And what a great lesson to learn: Stick with it and you’ll go somewhere fantabulous. Books will take you there.
Do you remember the first book you read or that someone read to you? What books do you recommend for reluctant readers? Share in comments.
We’re wrapping up the first year of the See Jane Publish reboot, and as you may have noticed, some of us have decided to bid aloha to this particular venue.
This isn’t to say that we haven’t enjoyed the trip, and the company of you, our readers, and our fellow Janes, but in keeping with our Back to School theme, I think some of us have learned that our publishing journey has taken us down an unexpected fork in the path. This will be my last regular post as a Jane, although I may visit in future (if I’m invited!). In the meantime, you can find me at my website, ejrussell.com
A few other things I’ve learned this year:
- Belonging to a community of writers is important – even critical — but at the end of the day, no one can truly motivate me but myself.
- I can definitely meet the goals I set, but I can’t be afraid to revise those goals if reality requires it.
- I don’t need to feel guilty about the techniques I use to get my work done, even if they’re not the same as other writers I admire.
- Dammit, alpha heroes still give me a rash.
Last November, I shared my method of getting through the first draft of a book. (Confessions of a Reformed Pantser) Whenever I get ready to start a new project, my go-to preparation includes, without fail, Suzanne Johnson’s Patchwork Plot method. Suzanne is offering this online class again in October through the Southern Magic chapter of RWA, and I encourage anyone who’s ever had trouble figuring out what the heck happens next to check it out. Suzanne is a generous and gracious instructor – which is why I’m also looking forward to a new class she’ll be presenting on revision in February through the Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal chapter.
Of course, there’s the standard caveat (see bullet point three above). It may not work for you, but it works for me. Every time. I hope to see you in class!
For me, September is literally the “back to school” month. My day job as a college physics instructor starts the fall semester on Monday. I’ve already received several emails from desperate students needing to be added to a class that’s already full, or being blocked from a class even though they meet the required pre-requisites.
I expect the number of those messages to increase the closer we get to Monday, never mind on the actual day.
Anxiety levels run high on that first day of the term and through the rest of that week.
Normally, after almost ten years of teaching, I’m the calm presence at the front of the classroom and during office hours. I help freshmen and freshwomen interpret schedules, find classrooms, navigate campus, and generally convince them that they got this. They can succeed as college students.
This year though, I’ll be the one with the highest stress level.
You see, I’ve just had an abundance of blessings.
On top of signing my first publishing contract, a three-book deal, I also received a National Science Foundation grant for a three-year project. A project demanding extra time, energy, and resources, on top of my regular job.
If I ever thought my day job and my writing time competed with each other before, this year will be the freakin’ Olympics of trying to balance my life.
Seriously though, the only way I’m going to get through this amazing and scary year is to let go of my teacher role, let go of control, and instead become a student.
I will need to learn:
-How to say “no” to all volunteering and extra work, no matter how great the opportunity.
-How to delegate to the other people on my grant team and in my family.
-How to ask for help when I need it.
-How to graciously accept help when others offer, and I haven’t recognized that I need it yet.
There are of course many other things I will need to adjust, like reading and TV watching time, but the four above are the big ones. And they are going to be very hard lessons to learn, because I am a type A overachieving control freak.
How big of a type A overachieving control freak, you ask? My first clear sentence was: “Can do it by MYSELF.” I believe my mother was trying to help me dress at the time.
So, bear with me as I navigate this new and exciting path that the universe has led me down. I’m sometimes a slow learner and may need the lessons repeated a few times, but I’m looking forward to fun thrills, even if there’ll be a few bumps on the way.