Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Sharlene MacLaren

Join me in welcoming author Sharlene MacLaren to the blog.
It's fitting that we begin this series with the topic of First Drafts. Here, Sharlene shares with us her response to a friend who was suffering "draft-itis"

I'll turn things over to Sharlene to introduce herself, her books, and a bit about her life.

I'm a retired schoolteacher who, after 31 years, decided to say, "Bye-bye, Students!" and "Hello, Writing World!"
It's been an interesting, exciting, challenging, heart-wrenching (AT TIMES), and inspiring adventure to say the least. One thing I know--God dropped a seed of passion for writing in my heart back in the summer of 2000, and He's been growing it ever since. (Who else in her right mind would jump out of bed in the middle of the night just to run to the computer and finish a scene that all of a sudden comes together in her head?)

I have two wonderful daughters and two handsome sons-in-law, but the joy of my life (besides my sweet, darling husband) are my adorable grandsons, Dylan, born March 21, 2006 and Gavin, born March 3, 2008. AND GUESS WHAT ELSE!!! I'm expecting a GRANDDAUGHTER any minute…no kidding. She’s due to put in her appearance on June 30, but my daughter’s been having contractions so, like I said, any minute. Does life get any better than this? Grandma and Grandpa MacLaren do love their babies!

On another note, I’m an occasional speaker for MOPS, am involved in KIDS’ HOPE, USA, a mentoring program for at-risk children, I counsel young women in the APPLES OF GOLD program, and hubby and I attend two weekly Bible studies. I also enjoy my involvement in church choir and worship team. My darling husband, Cecil, and I live in Spring Lake, MI with Dakota, out loveable collie, and Mocha, our lazy fat cat.

Books by Sharlene MacLaren. Get 'em while they're hot!
By Sharlene MacLaren

An author friend wrote to me nearly in tears, speaking of her utter frustration with writing/completing the first draft of her chick-lit novel. She was “stuck” and couldn’t seem to work her way out of the mire and muck of non-flowing ideas, pointless paragraphs that weren’t leading to a conclusion, and downright fear that perhaps she’d never finish it. At a recent writing class she’d attended, the well-meaning instructor had told her students they should write EVERY day, even if it meant sitting at their computers and keying in a line of question marks. At least they’ve written something and helped to keep the river flowing, she’d told them. My question to that is…WHAT?

Okay, here’s what I wrote in response to my dear friend’s plea for help.

I feel your pain, I honestly do. I don't know how many actual mss I've written, but I'm about to see my sixth pubbed book, and I’ve signed a contract for another three-book series (all praise and honor to God, my Father, by the way!). I'm reworking a couple of older mss trying to get them ready for publication, but the others may just sit in a "kettle" on a back burner and rot, never again to see the light of day, since they're not worthy of my even lifting the lid on them right now! But that’s okay. I wrote them in “the early days” and maybe I didn’t know quite as much then as I do now.
I'm probably in the minority here, and might get "the boot", but I no longer ascribe to the theory that a writer should just write for the sake of writing, even if it's a line of “????”. Huh? That keeps the flow going? What it does in my opinion, is make more work for me, the writer, when I have to go back and hit the delete key! Yes, I try as hard as I can to write something every day, but I try my darnedest to make it something relevant to my story. THAT might get deleted later, but not a bunch of blather that I knew right from the start was never going to fly because all I was doing was filling in space for the sake of saying I was writing.
Okay, when I get "stuck", the best thing for me to do is let my writing rest. I take a day or two or five. After that, I'm refreshed, my mind feels "alive" again, I've got new ideas flowing, I don't feel as frustrated, my brain is literally singing. Why? I've given it a chance to "reboot". Even computers need to be shut down once in a while (I think) just to clear their "heads" and start anew.
The third book in my Little Hickman Creek series, Courting Emma, was the first book I ever had to write under deadline. Granted, I had about 9 months to complete it b/c when I signed the contract, I'd already finished the first two--and those at my leisure. But even with nine months, believe me, I had moments of total panic! What if I couldn't do it? What if my mind dried up? What if my river of ideas stopped flowing? What if I couldn't come up with enough scenarios to keep the story interesting? TONS OF PRAYERS flew past my lips as some nights I lay trying to sleep--or perhaps while I sat in front of my computer and stared at that stupid sentence that hadn't changed in three days.
I learned a couple of things throughout this nine-month stop-and-go process of completing the third book in my series. I CAN finish something I start. (It just takes charging through thick walls.) Aren't you glad I shared that? It's okay to take some time off when you feel blaahh and kind of dead inside. If you're a true writer (and YOU ARE or you wouldn’t be so frustrated), the energy and fire will rekindle itself. Don't beat yourself up over it.If you've written something, say an entire paragraph, or even a couple of pages, and your first instinct tells you you're going in the wrong direction, make no doubt about it, you're going in the wrong direction. (That's God's still, small voice giving you fair warning.) If you don't delete it now, you will delete it later. Why wait?
I'm not saying you need to try to make everything perfect the first time around. All authors have to edit, edit, edit once they've completed the first draft, but try to make it as "right as possible" the first time, even if that means giving it a few days rest. It will come back to you, this burning desire to write, to grow your baby into an adult. You will bring it to completion. It's a process. It takes time and patience.
If you don’t bring it to completion then maybe it’s one of those that will have to sit in a kettle on a back burner for a while. That’s okay. It’s not going anywhere.And most important,If you're a true writer, GOD PLANTED THAT SEED OF PASSION! He will help you nurture it. It is by His might and power that you’re able to write--even on those days when it's not quite so fun or energizing.Don't give up, because, whether you realize it every day of your life or not, GOD HAS PLANS FOR YOU! I didn’t start writing until I’d passed the mid-life point (age 52) and I’m experiencing more fulfillment today than ever before.

He is a good and faithful God, generous to a fault, forever and fanatically chasing us down! Slow down and let Him catch you. Listen to His words. Don’t fear, don’t panic.


He will guide you in the “write” direction.

Well, faithful blog readers, what say you? Tell Sharlene about your project that's sitting in the kettle on the back burner, ask her a question, or just leave a comment about the topic.
I bid you good writing.


Eileen Astels Watson said...

????'s I'm still shaking my head at that. Was she able to get a portion of her registration fee back? I hope!

Good advice, Sharlene! I also recommend just turning your attention over to a different project, one that is smaller and that you can finish in a few days, so that you don't get side-tracked too long. Blogging, magazine, or Church newsletter articles are goods ones to work on to fill in the days when the 'story' just won't progress.

Joanna Mallory said...

It's true that our creativity needs to recharge. I remember having a really intense creative burst, frantically writing as fast as I could to keep up with my ideas, and then not even wanting to think for the next day or so. My brain hurt. Sometimes, too, if we're pushing ourselves our creativity can shut down. As well as Eileen's strategy of turning to a different project, or reading a good book, sometimes I'll go for a walk or hit the shower, with no paper or pen in reach. As I start to think about my characters, ideas come rushing back. Then I have to rush for the paper and pen!

Bonnie Grove said...

Great ideas Eileen and Joanna. One thing I've discovered when trying to press through a "dry spell" is to switch mediums. If I'm at the computer, I instead grab a pen and write that.

Once, when I was writing my first novel, I took my daughter to the playground and tried writing a scene that I was feeling "stuck" on. The change of setting helped me refresh my batteries and I wrote a scene that included a playground. Turns out, that scene began the hinge for the first half of the book.

Joanna, I had to laugh when you talked about the shower - I too have had those moments of wonderful inspiration hit with my hands full of shampoo!

Mrs. C said...

I so needed those encouraging words! I am soaking them in. "Rebooting" is exactly what I do as part of my writing process. Sometimes that "shut down" is due to a writing wall I've hit, or often it's due to my family needing my time. Either way, I've learned not to resent that but to use it to recharge- reboot.

When I return to the manuscript I'm invigorated and ready to face the wall and power through it.

Thank you so much for your encouragement. As a teacher who is nearing that 40 mark, I appreciate your writing history as well.

See you on Shoutlife~
Mary Ellen

Jewel Sample said...

Great advice Sharlene. I tend to use the FROG (fully rely on God) approach when I hit a wall. I give myself permission to move away from my writing and do something else while fully relying on God to refresh my spirit and creative flow. My doing something else usually involves baking. I love to make bread or cookies. (Grandpa does not seem to mind either.) I find when I move away from my writing my brain relaxes enough for a new idea or story twist to develop.

Thank you for sharing your ideas!

Blessings to you,
Jewel Sample

Sharlene MacLaren said...

Oh, this is wonderful fun, all this great exchanging of ideas! Thank you all so much for your splendid input. You've inspired ME! In fact, right now I am "stuck" on my WIP, and I'm thinking I should go float in my pool for a while. What do you think? Seriously, I've been staring at my screen all morning trying to decide where to take this scene next. Finally, decided I'm stuck because I need to delete a couple of paragraphs --and I'm being stubborn about it. After all, deleting paragraphs subtracts from the "all-important word count"! (haha) Okay, so I think I'll do that after I come back from the pool.

Eileen, such good advice about turning your attentions to a different project. Sometimes when I'm stuck I'll go to my blog at Shoutlife or eBlogger and enter a post. It gets my creative juices flowing in a different direction, but it also helps recharge my battery.

Joanna, oh, how I relate to the brain hurting after you've written non-stop for hours! It also puts you on a kind of "high", doesn't it. I agree, too, that reading a good book helps start up the creative flow. Often when I come to a standstill in my writing, just reading another author's style or phrasing gets my juices flowing again.

Mary Ellen, so glad my words gave you some encouragement and, Jewel, oh, how I love your FROG method of writing...Fully Relying on God. This is going on my white board! Of course, my main thrust when I'm stuck is ALWAYS prayer. I beg God for wisdom - because, really, without Him my writing is utterly pointless. I wouldn't be doing it if not for His grace and might. He's the reason I sing, I write, I breathe...

God is ever so good, loving, faithful, and generous.

God bless all of you as you write for His glory and honor!


Anonymous said...

Good advice Sharlene. Type questions marks? I'm not sure how that helps at all.

As for myself I take stock of my environment, my emotions and my health in general. All of these things can keep my mind in a fog. I usually find that getting up and walking away from what I'm working on can help. Or I switch gears and work on another manuscript.