Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On How I Am Scared Before I Hit "Send"

I sent a story out yesterday. This scares me in a very uncharacteristic way. I started to wonder if anyone else gets convinced there is something wrong right before they hit "send," to the point that the effort is abandoned to check the formatting, the instructions, the FAQ's just one more time. It's probably just me.

I did all that three times yesterday before I convinced myself that I was doing it correctly. I'm a follow-the-rules kind of girl, and in general, I think that's a good thing. Unless it paralyzes you temporarily, checking and re-checking is a healthy career-building habit. Right? I'm not being silly about it, right?

All the blogs I read from agents and other writers sing the praises of those who follow the rules. I can hang with that. But, there are tons of rules. And they are all individually set out. So it makes me a little paranoid that I am following the wrong set of rules. Sheesh. I'll get used to it, I really will. I'm just glad a camera is not set up in my office recording my spinning behavior.

As a matter of fact, I really like rules. The thing that set off this whole episode was the LACK of comment on which font the publication would like me to use. Ah!!! Some are very specific about font and size, and here, there were not any rules about this. I read their entire three page submission instructions looking for the rule. No rule. So, I did what I do in the rest of my life and used my best judgement. I hit "send" and then laughed at myself for worrying about something so trivial.

At least I hope it's trivial. If it wasn't trivial, they would have had a rule. Right?

Jo Taylor

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reading With Older Eyes

I'm going to post a few of the blog entries I did for my last English class, none of which are that profound, but they relate directly to my reading or writing, so I guess they are germane to my own blog.

I have to say I LOVED the short story "Say Yes" by Tobias Wolff. The thing I loved about it most was the realization that now I am older (a very wise forty-four), I interpret things differently than when I was younger. This is an obvious statement, one I have heard many times, but it is just now beginning to sink in. I really do. In my last class, I re-read J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." I read it previously in high school, and again in college. This time, I got different things out of it. How can that be? I can certainly understand different people interpreting fiction differently, but the same person - years later? Apparently, it is true.

I do not think I would have liked "Say Yes" when I was younger. I would have thought it was weird, pointless: no action in a simple argument. But I read it when I was older, and have been married for 18 years. This gave such a familiarity to their argument and the undertones of how well they did or did not know each other. It takes on a new dimension of understanding when those long years have passed for the reader as well.

I think I am surprised I noticed this. I certainly don't mean that a younger reader won't understand it or enjoy it. I'm not really talking about age or youth being the filter, but more of an experience subset. Does the idea of theme, what the story is about, come from a different place when you've lived something similar? Maybe war stories are this way. Someone who's never experienced war can still read and comprehend and understand the complexities, but read by someone who HAS been in a war . . . perhaps they glean yet another layer hidden from the rest of us.


Jo Taylor

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How's Margaret?

There's a funny thing starting to happen. Since I've been creeping out of the writing closet, friends and family who know about my book are starting to ask on occasion, "How's Margaret?" They ask me this as if she's a real person. This secretly thrills me.

I know they are just being kind and asking about something I'm interested in, but really, isn't that all it takes to generate interest in a story?

People read because they like the author. People read because they like the previous story from that author, or they like the cover, or something about it just grabs them. I'll take whatever I can get. Not picky right now at all.

Margaret has been behaving herself rather nicely, which means in Margaret's world that she's getting into all kinds of trouble. I'm actually having the problem of too many ideas and too many story lines at the moment. Trying to write some of them out and then do weeding to let the strong ones grow.

I think writing is a bit like gardening, or vice versa. In a garden, you make the conditions right, throw out the seeds, do a little bit of tending, weeding, watering, and viola, flowers. Or stink cabbage. I like to think of my writing this way because then I feel like my effort is never wasted. I still produced something, still learned what to do, or not to do for next time. Some of it smells, some of it is rather pretty to look at, but without much substance. Some, a very small bit, becomes the prize-winning entry at the County Fair. Hopefully. We'll see how the garden grows.

Margaret's Mom

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I have these two pictures on my desktop to remind me of the importance of perspective. I took them this summer on an afternoon outing to Mission San Antonio. It is probably evident that I am not a stellar photographer, but when I looked at these later in the evening, I realized how these would help me, the visual person I am, with the concept of perspective.

In narration, not only are you writing in first or third person, you also have a certain distance and that distance dictates the perspective. Are you close, so that the narrator can only see what the character sees? Are you farther away and able to see multiple sides to a situation? I have trouble with this sometimes because I know how the story goes. The character may not. These pictures give me an all important visual.

I think it's important to understand the role of perspective in life also. I've gotten heavy doses of this in my work life, luckily not so much in my later personal life.

Most of what I write has something to do with perspective. Its discovery, how it changes you, how someone else's perception influences yours. It is the thing about humans that interests me the most, and it is enough of a broad concept that I can have millions of words to write about it. Well, maybe not millions. Hundreds of thousands? Sure.

One of the things that lets me have some optimism for writing happens to be the knowledge that my perspective is unique. I just have to be good enough at writing for my uniqueness to be interesting. Aha, that is the challenge. To be interesting.

Jo Taylor

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Whether to Disappoint Myself or Others

The few times I've gotten brave enough to tell someone that I write, it is usually someone I know through work. They know me as a nurse, not a writer. Invariably, they ask if I'm writing something medical, and they look disappointed when I say, "No, I'm not."

I don't want to write about medicine, I am around it all the time. I want to write about other things I know, like young women, girls with odd obsessions, getting through life the best I know how -- that kind of stuff. You know, literature. Writing that explores the human condition and illuminates some facet for the reader that was darkness before.


I do have a novel started that is about the years I worked ambulance, which were a whole different universe of crazy, but I mostly started it because that character kept chiming in while I was trying to write Margaret's story. I am, after all, Margaret's Mom.

Even though I am way past being interested by my experiences in "the field" as it's called, I'm discovering that my friends are still interested. My medical friends. I tell a good story and most of the time when I walk into the ER, I hear, "Tell them about the time . . . " and I go back to those days.

In the perfect world, I will write only one or two novels before I write one that is picked up for publication. What if . . . oh, no! . . . the third novel is a medical one? Would I get stuck writing only that type of work? And why am I worried about this NOW, before I've even finished the first novel? Because that is how I am. Consider all the outcomes, do everything to ensure the best outcome wins.

So, I will disappoint others if I do not write the ambulance novel, I will disappoint myself if that is what I am able to sell, not my more serious "literature." How can I be sure the ambulance one would sell, you ask? Blood, guts, drama, the paraweird. I got it all, baby. And it's so true, I have to novelize it.

I don't know if I chose a "helping" profession because I really wanted to help people, but I'm discovering that I certainly don't want to disappoint them. I guess that just means I need to get writing so I can cover all the bases and make everyone happy, including myself.

Margaret's Mom

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

Today is September 11th. I find myself uncharacteristically emotional today. It may because my son wanted to wear all black to school today. It may be because someone on Twitter is tweeting the names of every single person killed on 9/11. Individually. It may be because when I got to work this morning, one of the engineers was outside lowering the flag to half mast. It may be because I watched the news footage of that day this morning. It may be because my husband is a fireman, and 343 firemen were killed that day. It may be because I remember the feeling of dread; that cold, tense feeling in my neck.

I knew no one killed that day. I can't imagine, if I am sad and emotional, what it must be like for the loved ones of those killed. I hope they find peace somehow.

Jo Taylor

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Do You Write Like You Make Decisions?

I've been wondering lately if a writer writes the way the writer makes decisions.

That isn't the best sentence I've written all week, but stay with me for a moment. I make decisions in life and in my work on a regular basis. Most of us do. My decision modus operandi would seem fast to some, but I am just able to consider all the possibilities, do a risk analysis, and come to a conclusion in rapid sequence. Lives depend on my ability to do this. Really. I'm a Nurse. I was an ER Nurse for many years. I'm comfortable with the way I make decisions, it works well for me.

I've discovered a hovering link between this and the way I write fiction. I edit as I go, but not obsessively. I go with my gut from time to time and am surprised at the results. My first drafts take a bit of thought first, then writing beginning to end (short stories, not novels), then one or two re-writes after I've put it away for a day or two. That's it.

Now some writers will say they free write, then edit.
Some say they rewrite something fifty times.
Me - I'm ready to barf after reading it for the sixth time, so I think I would just give up if it wasn't good enough by that go around.

My best stuff has come in about twenty minutes. One or two passes at changing a sentence or two and I'm done. I'm not sure if this will be enough for the publishing world. We'll see. I may have to learn to revisit things again and again. But I don't do anything else that way. I would like to find out that hard, accurate, good work will come out the first time. It's how I do my other work. I don't have to try ten times to get an IV. I usually get it on the first, maybe the second try. I'm good at it.

Language can be a bit tricky. As separate skills, grammar, punctuation, spelling, they are concepts you can be good at. Writing fiction will take much longer than nursing to be good at. How many people would have thought THAT was true. I certainly didn't.

Judging by a few sentences in this post, I have a long way to go before I can "just write" and have it be publishable caliber. But, it only took me ten minutes to write this. That can't be all bad.

So, yes, I think I write the way I make decisions. And that is a good thing.

Jo Taylor

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Dance!

Oh my gosh, I got a lot done today. House clean, husband home, kid watching end-of-the-world shows on the History Channel - it's all about me. I reviewed two stories for one writing web site and four for another. I finished, polished to the shiniest shine I possibly can, my latest short. I sent out an old short that I rewrote (again). I got Margaret's Story (the working title is Margaret of Thibodeaux) formatted to submit to a Manuscript Critique. Someone, hopefully someone who knows how to critique, will look at the first ten pages.

I really, really, really want honest and blunt critiques. I am gracious in my replies. Most people are too nice. I can't help it, they like me :)

It helps me to do critiques for other writers. It lets me put their comments into the correct place. I can usually tell if someone is intentionally being mean, and I rarely see it. I know it isn't because my writing is so stellar. I think it is pretty good, but I still have lots to learn. Today, I actually had to put aside a review on a piece I thought was pretty good. The reviewer had lots of criticism, some of which I agreed with immediately. Some of what they said, I didn't like so much. I am a bit emotionally attached to my stuff, so I've put it in the drawer for overnight marinade.

I hope I can take what they have to say, no matter what it is, and apply it to my story to make it better. That's all I want. I'm finding out that it has less to do with what the reviewer says, and much more to do with the way I take it. I resolve to take it like a girl.

Whatever that means. Maybe it should be "take it like a writer - girl." Little did I know when I started writing that sometimes "character building" wouldn't mean those people on the page.

Jo Taylor

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Writing Conference

I'll be attending my very first writing conference the first week in October. It's a local gig so I don't expect to be too overwhelmed. I don't have anything that is ready to pitch to any of the agents who may be attending, so I will not be as stressed as the other attendee's. I'll be down for learning at the workshops and some good people watching.

An environment where folks are stressed is a great place to pick up character ideas. The little behaviors they do unconsciously while they are speaking to someone, or the way they act when they are alone in a crowd of people. I usually will go over to the latter folks after watching them for a bit. It is too painful to let them stand there alone for too long. I remember when I used to be unsure of myself.

I may not be sure of myself as a writer, but in a social situation, I can usually wing it. Going to a conference sounds like my kind of fun. I'm also set to go to a bigger one in February in San Francisco and hopefully, I'll have this novel completed and rewritten at least once for that dog and pony show.

I need to get back on the short story submissions. I'd put those on hold for a time while I learned a bit. I think getting published is in part a numbers game. If you submit a lot, you have a higher chance. Seems logical. We'll see.

Margaret's Mom

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seriously Obsessed

I hate to admit it, but I am seriously obsessed with keeping tabs on the Station Fire in LA. Partly because my husband is there at the moment, but he's smart and in charge of his Strike Team, so I wouldn't say this particular fire worries me. I think I just like to watch fire, or disasters, or both. Fire is primal, in our genes maybe. I hope I don't get someone knocking on my door for saying that. I don't mean I would ever start one. But if you show me pictures or I happen to be near a bonfire on the beach, I'm gonna look.

I've had the last two days off from work and my son is back in school (hooray!), so you'd think that would be prime writing time. Nope. Wrote a little bit but got time sucked by Twitter and live feeds from ABC, CBS and any other thing I could find. I need to work on my writing discipline. Should I write a certain number of words per day? Should I write for a certain amount of time? I haven't worked that out yet. I'm pretty sure that discipline would help though.

Staring at me this moment is a stack of English assignments to be completed in the next three weeks. I want to finish my degree, but I also want time to work on Margaret's Story. Wah. Big baby. I'll just make time. Stop watching the fire and write. It seems so simple! I'll just watch for the rest of the evening and then tomorrow, I'll write. I even try to go to bed and then get up to watch "just a little more."

Writing does that to me sometimes. I get up in the middle of the night with a great idea. Fire and writing. Good thing I'm married to a fireman.

Update 9/5/09
He has returned home safe and sound. Whew!

Jo Taylor