I am a novelist, author of the psychological thriller Pieces, and one of the happiest people you could meet. You can visit my official author website at http://www.juliadudek.com/. I find that blogging in between writing novel chapters is therapeutic and a great way to calm my ever-active mind, and cleanse it of all the gunk and buildup.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Small Step & The Giant Leap - Taking Writing as a Hobby to the Next Level

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." - Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

The words are ironic, and bleed of truth. Any writer will tell you that. And though every writer has their own techniques, and sources of motivation, I think many would agree that the most daunting part of the process is simply beginning something new. And for those novice writers who dream of one day bringing their unseen words to a larger audience, beginning can seem only slightly less impossible than actually finishing their first novel.

I would guess that writing a novel is something many people have on their "bucket lists." Whether it's their own memoir, or this "great idea" they've had since high school. Or maybe just a genuine urge to write everything that floats through their mind. I can relate. I've been a lover of writing for as long as I knew how to. I find the simplest pleasure in making a grocery list. It's simply that when it's "in" you, it has to come out, one way or the other.

So, as a new writer myself, having finished her first novel in October of 2009, I can at the very least offer my experience in the process of making the "dream" into reality. I'm no different or extraordinary than anyone else - I was a girl with an idea for a novel, and not sure how to go about starting it. The longest piece of writing I'd accomplished prior to Pieces was my college history thesis. And I usually consult an "Idiot's Guide" for these sorts of things, but this was different. This was innate. And I had to pursue it, regardless of my worries and fears. So here's how it happened:

First - I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea
step comes in many shapes and forms. For some people, they've been "writing" a novel for the better part of a decade, and for others, they see a movie or read a book and get inspired. But in all cases, it starts with an idea.

Second - I spent time free writing
This was vital. Just writing, in the middle of the night. Completely wired. Laptop blasting a blue glow in my face. Just write. The beginning, the end, the middle. Any chapter, scene, or sentence that happens to move you. It is so important you form a connection with your first book in someway. It's like, making it real - injecting it into your veins. You need to feel the writing, and not just approach it in a clinical, mechanical way. It will fall flat, and two-dimensional, if you don't bond with your story.

Third - I Outlined and Organized
They say that success is better achieved when you make a series of smaller, reachable goals, instead of one big one. This difference is huge, and can mean utter failure, or unimaginable success. You don't just climb to the top of Mt. Everest without a second thought. You learn about climbing. You get into shape. You buy the equipment. You practice climbing. You network with other climbers. You make climbing a lifestyle. Then you book the trip. And you work your way to the top using all of your learned expertise.

Writing is no different. We've all heard of the stories where best-selling writers come out of obscurity with a solid gold story, never having tried to publish before, and making history with their untouchable bestsellers. But, I think it's safe to say most writers struggle for a while, work their way up, marketing themselves, self-publishing, gaining an audience, snagging an agent, and gambling everything on their careers. And similar to this process is the very process of writing.

There's research, outlining, writing. And don't neglect any step. In my particular case - after some free writing - I wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis of my novel, as I envisioned it, before it was even written. But this helped immensely. It meant the task of writing a novel was reduced to 30 smaller tasks (chapters) - which I was much more easily able to take on. I didn't set any long term goals or dates with any seriousness. I wrote chapter 1. And then chapter 2. And by having outlined everything to begin with, I could even write chapter 10 before I wrote 9.

In the end, it took 5 months - mainly writing in the middle of the night or during my down time. But I was surprised at how easily it progressed when I knew where it was I was headed from the beginning. I imagine that in the end it amounted to much more than if I were to just start writing blindly.

Fourth - I edited once. And then again. And then a third time. When does this editing thing stop?
After you have a full manuscript, it's easy to get lazy, and to be tempted to call it "done" - just because it was such a huge undertaking to begin with. But you must refrain from doing this prematurely. I think I went through, revised and rewrote, my novel four, maybe five full times. And I'm not above admitting even now it might need another. The trick is to have another set of eyes read it - someone you trust, but not someone who you are emotionally attached to. This is a problem. This is like asking your husband if your ass looks fat in your new pair of jeans. Find a person online in the world of writing or publishing that you've created a rapport with, and send them the manuscript if they are so willing. They will be honest. And the truth is, you're going to hate what you hear. You'll be what I have dubbed the "3 D's" - defensive, discouraged, and devastated. It's unavoidable. And if that's how you feel after your first criticism. you're on the right track. It is only then you can take a step back and look at your novel in a light never before seen. The revision will be nothing short of amazing.

Fifth - Market Yourself. And Don't Stop
Whether you're dead set on getting an agent to represent you, or you decide to self-publish, it's integral you promote yourself until people are kind of sick of you. With social networking sites, and all the cheap, or free, options to self-publish, or E-publish, there's no excuse not to get your book out there. This is important to your career as a writer, because - or so I've heard - even bestsellers can fade into obscurity without the proper publicity. And let's be honest, good or bad, if people aren't reading your book at all, it's the ultimate failure.

I hope this was helpful in some way. I am only speaking from experience, as well as the passion I have with writing. And I'm a teacher in my heart - and by college degree - so it's in my blood to help others. I have self-published (in print and as an Ebook) my first novel, and I'm glad I did. I found a good foundation to build a career on, and I am pursing it tenaciously. In closing, I will tell everyone that even while pitching a novel, or promoting a self-published one, never stop writing. Writing is one of those skills that can be sharpened, honed, and improved with practice. Never become stagnate.

Never put down the pen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Risk it Takes to Blossom

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

I'd first read this quote as it hung unceremoniously in a public bathroom while I washed my hands at a school for dental assisting - another one of my numerous, yet never-the-less passionate, career endeavors. The program was a quick five months, a relative microsecond compared to my four years studying history, my two studying education, my multiple semesters in post-graduate special education studies, time in real estate school, and a tryst with bartending classes. A career student. Though, I have yet to place myself firmly behind the helm of any said career path, even now as I see my thirtieth year peeking furtively over the horizon.

I wouldn't say that I'm "floundering" about exactly, and I'm anything but lazy - a wife and mother of two toddlers with no less than a 3.9 GPA in any of my years in college and grad school, not to mention having had a multitude of jobs, and even businesses... - I'm just a lover of all things, and I easily see the potential in many avenues, finding it impossible to commit to any one. I wonder what one job or another might be like, commit myself to learning, get my hands dirty, love it, and leave it. And no regrets. And why should there be? It's my time, and no one else's, to spend.

Find a job and stick to it. Society's cruelest rule, when it is our very nature to branch out and experience all life has to offer. And as we grow, while the respected adults in our life say that we "can be anything we want to be" from one side of their mouth, the fine print that slithers out the other states that we are to pick something steady, something tangible, something "high in demand," and plant our feet onto the bottom rung of the ladder to a stable, safe life. And then the ballerina, the football MVP, the artist, and the president that marched proudly into adolescence, crawl into adulthood as the manifestation of something molded from the descriptions of a college catalog, parental pressure, and guidance counseling.

Don't get me wrong - there's no sin in finding a stable career, or even choosing one for practical reasons, but the sin is when you check your passion at the door - the things that we all used to daydream about until we were too smart to "know better" - and we never look back. Maybe that's why I'm happy being a "jack of all trades, a master of none," staying just one foot behind any threshold that must be crossed into full-blown career-dom. I have a firm hold on my passion, and I have since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Yet, there'd always been a bold line for me between "writing" and being a "writer," and even working as a freelance news reporter for ten years, or winning awards and scholarships for the very act of writing, I still had my reservations about using the latter word as part of an identity - that is, until this past summer.

I'd read a million inspirational quotes in my life, but for reasons I may never understand, it was that single Anais Nin sentence, hung from the tacky floral pattern of bathroom wallpaper in the unlikeliest of places, in which lay the moment I was able to call myself a writer for the first time. I was almost halfway through my first novel at the time, (and God willing, only the first of many novels), an experiment and experience that has been one of the best of my life, and throughout, it carried with it such a distinct feeling of happiness, of joy, just to write - even if it would never make me a dime. And this is how I realized that life wasn't only about the practical and the logical. It also had to be about the abstract, and the absurd.

I was then able to commit myself to the goal of becoming an author, embracing what it was that made me happiest - that is, besides the unconditional joy given to me by my beautiful children. The phrase "pipe dream" was no longer in my (growing) vocabulary. I was ready to brave the rocky road of rejection and opportunity, criticism and praise, heartbreak and hope, failure and success, and I wouldn't stop until the journey took me to wherever I was meant to be. But as the excitement of my revelation inflated inside me, I knew it was far more significant than simply choosing "not to give up" on a lifelong dream. I wasn't just newly motivated, I was genuinely happier.

I was in a "Writing for Many Roles" class in college when our professor explained to us that we each have "an eye" through which we view ourselves and the world, shaped by how we define ourselves - be it female, or a mother, or American, or black or white or blue... but as we went around our semi-circle describing our individual "eyes," all the definitives seemed to be merely physical, and too obvious, to me. What about viewing the world through the eye of "an artist," even if you'd never sold a painting. Or "a violinist," even if you'd only taken it out of the attic once a year. They say "we are not what we do," but what if what we do is truly a part of our souls? And what about viewing the world from the perspective that makes us happiest, most whole, no matter how little sense it seems to make to the function of our daily life? What about resurrecting the feeling of the first time you twirled yourself around in front of a mirror in a tutu, and making it a part of who you are now? A part of how you teach your children. Of how you love your spouse. Of how you pour your coffee in the morning. Would that not be one of the greatest secrets of finding happiness?

When I left that bathroom and went home that otherwise-unspectacular night, I felt I was able to see things differently. Anais Nin's words were not only poetic, but were of sound advice. A creed to living life. It's harder not to take risks, even than it is to fail. To never try to "blossom" into what we dream to be is a death all its own. But to know this only in hindsight would be the greatest tragedy. I found that although I was very much passionate about many of the things I'd worked on over the past decade, nothing made me happier than writing, and I decided I would drive it as a "vehicle" down any other avenue that may present itself to me in the future. Many things may change - in fact, I count on it - but I would carry it with me, or better, let it carry me, as I moved through life with renewed conviction.

I am a writer. And maybe a teacher, a dental assistant, a bartender, a real estate agent, a mother, a wife, or perhaps even unemployed. But always a writer. And it doesn't make me more important, or better, because of it. But it makes me whole. And for that, I embrace it with an undying tenacity.