Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Value of Dissatisfaction

dissatisfaction by alexandramaria on deviantART

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Since we live so far away from family, we host our own "Lost Boys" Thanksgiving dinner and watch Hook each year. I love taking time to step back and reflect on the bounty in my life.

This year, however, a new perspective struck me. Someone told me he dislikes Thanksgiving because it makes him feel guilty. After nine years on a career track he doesn't love, he's working at a job that is a step back from his last job title. He wants more from his career and more from his life and he feels guilty because he isn't satisfied with where he is at.

I think he has that all wrong (and I told him so). Dissatisfaction is not the antithesis of thankfulness. Recognizing what you have is not the same resigning yourself to the status quo. This is a very valuable lesson for those of us pursuing creative careers while working day jobs, managing homes and chasing children/pets/significant others. Dissatisfaction is what allows us to wake up at (or stay up til) 4 a.m. to chase down a plot point or sacrifice our weekends to a project with no thought of what we will get from it. Dissatisfaction keeps actors going to auditions, programers staring at computer screens and writers buried in notebooks. If we all accepted our given lot, we would not have that drive to create, to be more, to do more. To do better.

Be thankful this season, and all year, but also let yourself become dissatisfied. Let your frustration become inspiration. Turn your disappointment into drive. Don't let it consume you, but let it urge you on to become everything you were meant to be.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Things to Write With...

Emy Shin over at Paper Hangover asked "What are the FIVE things you need to write with, other than pen, paper, and a computer?" What a fun blog prompt! Now, I can and have written just about anywhere and under any circumstances, but here's five things I don't like to write without!

1. Privacy. I HATE writing when I feel like someone is watching. Ideally, I like to write completely alone.

2. Music. Not always as inspiration. Sometimes just as background. Now that most of my writing happens while Little Man is sleeping, I often write in silence, but I really prefer music.

3. A comfortable place to sit. I don't like writing at a desk. I like to curl up or at least have my feet elevated. I love writing in bed.

4. Snacks. Chewing helps me think and gum bothers my stomach, so I love to have crunchy snacks nearby while writing.

5. A hair tie. I cannot stand to have my hair near my face while writing. I've seriously considered shaving my head just to keep my hair out of my eyes.

So there it is. My five things I need to write. How about yours? Or if you're not a writer, what five things do you need for your creative pursuits?

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Praise of the Kindle

Bedside reading

I love books. Perhaps irrationally so. I've left boxes of books behind with each new phase my life, leaving a trail through three, possibly four, state. They pile up on my bedside table and in closets. Nothing will ever compare to the feel of a book, a nice fat paperback full of musky pages, waiting to spill all the secrets hidden between it's cover. Or opening a book to read some stranger's name written in a looping, irregular hand on the inside. Did that person love this book? Did it move her? Or frighten her? Did it change the way she saw herself or the world? I will forever collect hardcovers, lining up their spines on shelves to create life and warmth and color in my home.

My husband bought me a Kindle for Mothers Day and while it will never replace my books, I love it. I've read more in the last six months than I did the previous year. I've discovered stories and authors I'd never have found in libraries or book stores. I can balance my Kindle in one hand while rocking a sick child or curled up in bed. It's much easier to travel with single, slim e-reader than the pile of paperback I'm accustomed to lugging with me on trips. Now that I can borrow library books on my Kindle too, I'm never without unread books.

One of my favorite uses for my Kindle has been as an editing tool. I am admittedly terrible at proof reading. I seldom read whole words - my brain fills in enough that I don't need to slow down and absorb each letter. I fill in entire missing words because that's what makes sense. I read fast, but it's sloppy even when I try to pay attention. With my Kindle, I use the text-to-speech feature and listen to my manuscripts. It's amazing how much I hear that I've missed a dozen times on paper. It's not perfect -the name Nina reads like Nine-A, which drives me crazy - but it's a tool.

Nothing will ever replace books for me. Nothing will ever change the visceral reaction I have to holding a new, unknown book or the familiar warmth of an old favorite. But I love stories even more than I love books and I'm always happy to find a new source of stories.

What about you? Have you embraced the e-reader revolution? What do you love or hate about trading books for digital copies? And because I love books, what is your favorite part of real books?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Finish/Start by I like, on Flickr

WARNING: I will be comparing writing to childbirth in this post. If you're squeamish about that sort of thing, don't worry. I'm going to get too graphic on you. Just thought you should be forewarned!

There is a marked difference between burnout and exhaustion. Burnout is always a negative experience. It speaks of things unfinished and dreams reduced to ashes. Exhaustion on the other hand often speaks of completion, of a job finished with the last ounce of energy left in one's body.

I wrote my first draft of Guardian (now called Rivers Underneath) in four months. I had a burst of energy and I launched right into it. Since then, I've gone through 10 major edit passes. I've taken in feedback from crit partners and beta readers. I've polished and rewritten.

This week, I passed this 10th draft into the hands of a few readers and now I'm exhausted. I've drained myself of everything I have to put into this manuscript. I've give blood, sweat and tears to it. Literally. I get paper cuts every time I print the darn thing. I'm empty. And that's a good thing.

I'm not athletic. I can't run, I have no stamina or coordination. I had a gym teacher accuse me of deliberately failing a volleyball because no one could actually be that bad. At any rate, I'm terrible at all things physical, so I can't really compare writing to running a marathon or an intense workout or anything like that. But I have been through childbirth and I think giving life to a book is much the same.

Two days past my due date, I woke with contractions about 8 minutes apart. They quickly moved to 4 minutes apart and stayed at that interval for 60 HOURS. 60. Not 6. Almost three days. When things started, I thought "This is it! Just a few hours and I'll have my son in my arms!" I thought I'd miss picking my mom and sister up at the airport and frantically made backup plans to have friends get them.

But hours passed and nothing changed. My body moved through labor, slow but steady. We didn't go to the hospital until hour 54. My water didn't break until hour 57. I never screamed or swore at my husband or begged for drug. But in those hours, my body worked harder than it had ever worked before. I remember my doctor telling me that it would only take one more push and he'd be out. And I couldn't. I knew I needed to rest until the next contraction hit. Four minutes later, it did, and there he was. Beautiful and perfect and worth every draining minute of that labor.

I've never been more exhausted in my life. Or exhilarated. I depleted myself of everything, gave every bit of energy I had to bringing this child into the world.

Here's the crazy part of the story. The part I didn't fully understand until weeks later. My son's umbilical was about 1/3 of the length it should have been and it broke during delivery. That's something that should have been picked up during one of the many ultrasounds I had during my pregnancy, but no one ever saw anything wrong. Had my labor been any more intense, it would have been shorter, but the strain likely would have snapped the cord before he was born, depriving him of oxygen and possibly killing him. The miracle of my long, exhausting labor is that my son is healthy and whole and alive.

How does any of this relate to writing? I look at the last three years of editing much like I do those three days of labor. Working and waiting and hoping, thinking with each draft, "This is it!" And then knowing at the end of each that it wasn't. I could have started querying after the first draft or the third draft or the seventh. But it wasn't time. Maybe it's not time now. Maybe this is that moment, when I know I have nothing left and need to rest for the final push. But I know the labor is worth it because the exhaustion tells me I've done something with my whole being. I've poured my life into this and because of that, I am empty but it has a chance to live. If I'd rushed, it might have broken. Instead, I've slowly breathed life into my words and now I wait to see if it takes it's own first breath.

Creating a story, a world, characters, is exhausting. It is all consuming and gives little in return. But at the end, it is a thing of beauty that leaves the writer exhausted and exhilarated, drained and yet full.

I've let my computer rest these last few days and immersed myself in everything other than writing. I read both Shift and Recast by Elle Beauregard (I highly recommend both) and I read the complete Hunger Games Trilogy (I know, I'm late to that party). I've cuddled with my son and finally went to see a chiropractor to get my neck fixed. I'm beginning to catch up on housework. I feel much like I did in the months after my son was born. I know one day I'll have to get back to writing - words burn inside me, compelling me to write - but for now, I'm going to rest and let my head fill with stories again. I'm going to soak up life so that I'll have more it pour onto paper (or a keyboard) one day. Probably next week.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Looking for betas & CPs!

I am forced to admit that I am on version 10.4 of Rivers Underneath. And despite 2 1/2 years of rewrites, I've still only shared it with a small handful of readers. I'm now at that point that I need help. I've had some amazing feedback (thanks again Leigh Ann!) and a whole lot of general "I loved it!" but now I need more. I feel like there must be something I'm not seeing, some horrifying hole that is keeping it from greatness and I firmly believe the only way to find it is to share it. This means opening myself up to criticism, exposing my poor proof reading skills and finding time to reciprocate. Eek.

What I'm looking for:

I need general beta readers to give specific feedback - what you liked, what you didn't like, what made sense, what was confusing. Thoughts on characters or the overall story arc. Tell me what you would write in a review. Just something more than "I liked it." Even if you hated it. I need some reason for your response!

I'm also looking for one or two folks willing to give a more in depth critique. Help me find those pesky passives, point out places my characters are being dense, help me puzzle out ways to make it stronger. This is a lot of work and I've been hesitant to ask for this kind of help because it's so time consuming. Sure, I spend hours a day lost in this thing, but I haven't want to ask anyone else to do the same. But here it is, I'm asking.

As a whole, I'm looking for people who love paranormal and can point out places I'm being derivative and those who hate paranormal and can point me toward ways to make it appeal to a broader audience.

Bonus points to anyone who can point me towards some comps. I'm really bad at that.

I'm looking for people willing to cheer me on, but also tell me the hard stuff. I'm a big girl, I can take it. I've already imagine you all saying far worse in my head. I'm looking for a quick once through or someone willing to stick around for the long run. I'm looking for you. Yes, you.

What I can offer:

I am a really good beta. I read fast and I read like a reader. I don't notice passives or adverbs or any of those things when I'm reading as a reader. If I can latch on to one character and throw myself into the plot, I'm all in.

As a critiquer, I am painfully slow, especially if I'm getting my own feedback at the same time. I have a very active, very bright 18-month-old with absolutely no ability to entertain himself and even less ability to let Mommy use her computer without pushing boopas. Which leaves nap time as my only time to write. My free time comes in chunks, depending on how well he's sleeping and whether or not my husband (a freelance editor) has work. I think it took a solid two months to get through the last manuscript I critiqued.

On the flip side, I read very carefully. I like to find plot holes and I'm pretty good at seeing things coming (so much so people refuse to watch movies with me), so if you can surprise me, you've done well. My background is in journalism so some of my language usage & punctation habits are different from fiction, meaning I'm not the best if you're looking for a proof reader. But I've spent a lot of time and energy studying story structure, character archetypes and that sort of thing.

So there it is. My query is posted here and my first chapter is posted here. Give it a read and if you're interested, shoot me an email at jenny.kaczorowski@gmail.com and we'll work something out.

I look forward to sharing my work and reading yours!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Write Like...

I write like
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

After getting this from an awesome agent:

This is actually a really tough one. I like your concept, your query is really well written. Two years ago, I would have been all over requesting this. But right now paranormal and urban fantasy has been really overdone, which means it's a tough sell. And there have been some pretty big books that have sold in the past year or so that have to do with "touch" and strange effects it can have. I'd love to see the next project you work on if this one doesn't snag you an agent.
...I needed a pick me up. Having a silly web analyzer tell me I write like Neil Gaiman worked ;) Who do you write like? Try the link and post your results here!