Thursday, December 17, 2009

Confidence in writing

I have a friend- who shall remain nameless- who has more confidence than anyone I've ever met. Let me rephrase. In this person's opinion, it's confidence. In mine, it actually borders on all-out arrogance and narcissism. And as much as their attitude bothers me, it has made me aware of the importance of having confidence in my writing, and the pitfalls of having too much...or too little.

I'm not sure if other writers have this problem - but I often fall into this little trap. I write a scene, and am convinced that it is the best one ever. It's perfect - the descriptions are vivid, the tension mounts, the characters are progressing, etc. I finish it with a self-satisfied smile and can't even believe how ridiculously talented I am. Surely it's only a matter of time before I land an agent who gets me a six-figure contract with a major publishing house. I am so freaking great. I float around on a cloud of self-importance. I'm like a little kid on Christmas Eve, freshly printed trendy book covers dance in my head.

Then, however long later, I read the scene again. Oh no. This is my future award winning, New York Times bestselling novel! What is that passive writing doing there?? Wait, I used the same adjective over and over? The scene ends like that!?? WHAT WAS I THINKING?

And poof - confidence gone. My fantasies transform from packed book-signings and Today Show interviews to images of myself lying in my bed, staring at piles of rejection letters and bingeing on cool ranch doritos and reese's peanut butter cups. Who am I kidding? I can't write at all. No one is going to publish my work, no one is going to want to read it. Why do I even bother? I start reading my favorite authors (Nancy McKenzie, Janet Evanovich, Kate Brian) and despair harder. I'm never going to be able to write this well.

But I don't give up. Okay, I might still buy the doritos and the candy but I keep writing while I devour. Because I know that the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes. Am I the best writer ever? No, of course not. But am I the worst? No, I don't think so. I might never be as successful as my favorite authors, but that's okay with me. Because I know that I have stories to tell and a way to tell them in a way that no one else can. And I'm going to try to keep my confidence where it should be.

Some days I write better than others, and it's probably never going to be perfect the second it pops out of my head onto the screen. That doesn't mean it's awful, either. It means that I have to keep working on it, and get my writing to be the best that I can make it. The rest, really, is out of my hands. Agents and publishers may like it, and they may not. Readers may like it, and they may not. All my job is is to do the absolute best job I can, with enough confidence to keep me going even when I think my writing is awful, but with not so much that I become blind to the faults.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Am I a writer?

I've been writing forever...well, to be accurate probably more like since someone put a pen in my hand and I passed kindergarten with the ability to form letters on paper.

It started off with those school assignments: "My name is Danielle. I like my dog. I has one older brothers whos mean to me sometimes."

Then I started writing letters to my grandparents/aunts/uncles/pen-pals constantly: "Dear Grandmother and Grandad, How are you? I am fine." (they always started that way, I was not very creative at the time).

In elementary school in Florida they spend a ridiculous amount of time preparing kids for the standardized writing test FCAT. I absolutely loved that test. I loved getting ready for that test. My teachers actually gave me assignments to write stories every day! It was amazing. I clearly remember taking the test in 5th grade, plotting out this detailed fantasy story (the directions were to write a narrative) about a person eating plant that took over a little girls pool and trapped her brother against the screen wrapped in vines. I was joyfully scribbling away when the teacher said time was almost up and I had to cut it short with some crappy ending that I wasn't happy with. I got the highest score, but to be honest it still bothers me that I didn't get to finish it the way I wanted to.

I continued writing short stories and essays for school assignments. I even started writing outside of school on my mom's computer (when she wasn't hogging it with her own writing), mostly my own fairy tales.

Then in high school I discovered the wonder of fanfiction, and wrote a ton of it and published it on It was awesome, finally finding other people who wanted to read my writing and enjoyed it, and reading theirs in return.

I'm not sure why, but I never took any of this writing seriously. I never thought about going to college for English or creative writing. My perception of those degrees was that the only thing you could do with them was teach, which was definitely not what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved writing, but I didn't seriously think I could make a career out of it, nor that I even wanted to. So I went to school for hospitality management, because at 18 I thought working holidays and weekends and ridiculous hours was fun.

It was while I went to school for hospitality that I started writing my first book. I'm not sure why-- I remember being home for a visit and suddenly just having the urge to write. I grabbed my computer and started, although it took me over a year to finish that book, which I now consider to be my practice book. After I finished that book I started two more, both of which were much better. I recently finished one of those, and have now decided to start down the long road of getting it published.

All that being said - the question I have is this: When do you consider yourself to be a "writer"? If a stranger asked me what I did, there is no way I would answer "Oh, I'm a writer!" Because the follow-up question "What do you write? Are you published?" would have to be met with the depressing answer "I write novels, but, well, no, they're not published...yet, anyway...I mean, I'm trying to....I'm still editing..." and the person nodding but looking confused before asking "So, what do you really do?" and then I'd have to admit that I work in a smoothie shop, which is obviously the answer I should've given in the first place.

It's quite unfair, really, but I don't feel that I will be taken seriously as a writer until I can point to my book on the shelf and say "Yeah, I wrote that." My friends know that I write, in that vague, "oh I think she said something about that" kind of way. They joke about when I'm going to be a famous author and able to take them on luxurious vacations, but do any of them really think it's going to happen? My guess would be no. And it's not because they don't believe in me or are unsupportive. It's because writing is such a private thing. Most of them have never seen me do it. Most of them have no interest in reading what I write. And most importantly, most of them do not think of me as a writer!

When someone is in medical school, you don't doubt that they are going to be a doctor. When someone is in law school, you don't roll your eyes when they say they're going to be a lawyer. But when you say that you're a writer, unless you can hold up your glossy covered, freshly-printed work for everyone to see, you're going to get the dismissive pat on the head and the looks that always say "yeah, right."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Highlight of my day

This is going to be a quick post, but I just had to get this out there.

I was at work (it's day 5 of a working 10 days in a row), when a customer comes in. I was listening to her order-- started out normal enough:

Woman: "I'll have a bowl of chicken and rice soup..."
Boss-man: "For here or to go?"
Woman: "To go. And do you have kid's wraps?"
Boss-man: "Yes, ma'am." He gestures toward the menu board.
Woman: (reading aloud) "Ham melt, turkey melt...what's a white tortilla?"
My internal dialogue: "WHAT?? Did she really just ask what a TORTILLA is? Did she not just say "kid's wraps"? What does she think we "wrap" them with? Seaweed? Who doesn't know what a tortilla is?
Boss-man: "A tortilla? It's like white...bread?" He motions with his hands, which does little to clarify.
Woman: "Oh. Okay. I'll have one of those too."
At which point I had to contain my laughter and disbelief to make the aforementioned wrap. I gave it to her and watched her leave without saying anything. I have to wonder, though, was she still confused when she opened the bag when she got home? Did she unwrap it and go "Hey, where's my sandwich?" Or did she finally figure out out a tortilla is?

Friday, December 11, 2009

I hate writing! (that's a lie...)

I don't really hate writing. I hate the feeling that I absolutely have to write or else I'm going to completely lose it. And when I have days like this, when I try to write and nothing sounds right and I end up deleting everything, it almost makes me wish I didn't write. Almost.

Then I have to think of how great it feels when everything is flowing, and the words are coming out exactly the way I want them to and the scene is everything I want it to be, and when I'm done I feel lighter, almost relieved to have gotten the words out and am able to see the concrete evidence that I'm making progress.

Today was not one of those days. In fact, even this blog I'm writing isn't coming out the way I want it to. And if I go back and try to make it clearer, explain better what I'm feeling, it won't work. Which is exactly what happened when I tried to work on my romance novel earlier. I couldn't write anything coherent, and then I just went back to what I already wrote and started to rearrange it, which frustrated me more because I don't like to edit at all until I'm much further in or even finished writing the entire book.

The result is that I feel like a failure and that this day was wasted, especially because I got off work early and had plenty of time to write. Realistically I know this day wasn't wasted, hey-- I went to work, I got laundry done, cleaned the house (somewhat), and started dog-watching my friends annoying little mutt, and I also distracted myself reading and talking to friends. The truth is that I never feel like I get enough done. I could sit down and write ten pages, but if the groceries don't get bought and I spend more time on facebook than I should, I beat myself up.

I'm not one of those people who can do everything that needs to be done and not get distracted reading or messing around on the Internet. I'm not one of those people who can sit down and set myself a certain timeframe to write and then actually do it, as much as I wish I was. But now that I've taken the first step (admitting I have a problem) I'm going to move on to accepting it.

I'm going to write when I feel like it, and not beat myself up when I don't.
If I try to write and the words won't come, I'll close the computer and comfort myself with the knowledge that in an hour, or a day, or a week, they will.
I'm going to do my best to keep up on the laundry and the cleaning, and keep it from piling up so that I spend an entire day cleaning when I feel like I want to write.

Smoothie story of the day: Mispronunciations of names of smoothies. How sad is it that people don't recognize that word "toucan" as in the bird? One of my favorite smoothies is the tropical toucan (peach, mango, strawberry-kiwi, orange sherbert) and I can't tell you how many people have called it the "Toe-can", or the "Tow-can", or drawn out the last syllable with a long a. Other favorites: Tangy mango- tan-gie, berry bopper- berry booper. And don't even get me started on acai!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Which one is which?

Blog #2!

This is a story where a customer quite literally made me speechless. The question was so ridiculously absurd that I couldn't form a sentence to answer. Fortunately one of my co-workers came to my aid, answering the question while I stared with my mouth hanging open and my eyes bulging at the customer who had the nerve to ask me this question in all seriousness.

At the smoothie shop, we also serve made-to-order salads, wraps and paninis. This woman ordered a turkey wrap and a chicken panini to-go. I made her food, wrapped each in a foil wrapper, placed them in a bag and handed them to her with a cheerful "Here you go!". She hesitantly took the bag, glanced down into it blankly and looked back at me.

Woman: "Umm, yeah, how am I supposed to know which is which?"

Now, under certain circumstances this is a sensible question, for example when a customer has ordered more than one wrap. In which case, we place the ticket inside the wrapper so that when it is opened the kind of wrap is easily visible. However, I felt it was unnecessary to label these two items in this case, for the following reason.

Let me reiterate. One was a WRAP and one was a PANINI. This is the part where my co-worker, noticing that I was trying to form words but no sound came out, stepped up and gently explained that a WRAP is long and round, even when wrapped in foil, and a PANINI is a rectangular sandwich. Apparently, this woman could not distinguish between something that is wrapped in a tortilla and therefore round, and a sandwich that is two pieces of square bread.

I believe that the customer noted my shock, and I'd guess that she didn't grasp why I reacted stunned to what seemed to her to be a completely acceptable question. I have tried to come up with ways to cut the woman some slack. Perhaps she is not familiar with wraps and paninis the way that I am? Perhaps she has encountered a long, round panini or a short square wrap (in a parallel universe)? I have to hope that is the case, although it seems unlikely.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Do you have strawberry banana?

Never, ever, under any circumstances, walk into a smoothie place and ask if they have strawberry banana.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people do this to me daily.

My reply, said in the most snarky and sarcastic tone possible (that is if I could actually say this without being fired) would be: "No. Strawberry-banana? Whoever heard of that? You must be the first person in the entire world to think of putting those two fruits together. Get out of here you sick freak!!"

Unfortunately, this is my actual reply (fake cheerful smile and all): "Why yes, we do have strawberry banana! We have it with strawberry-kiwi juice, with pineapple juice, with orange juice, with vanilla yogurt, with orange sherbert...actually, we have NINE smoothies that are strawberry banana on the menu!"

Anyway.... that's my revelation on smoothies for today. Sadly, just one of many things that bother me about working in a smoothie place. Another one being it prevents me from staying home and writing all day (okay, and getting distracted reading too).

I'm a YA writer. I did just start my first contemporary romance, but I'm only 5 pages in so we'll wait and see how that goes. But back to the YA. My second completed MS is called Banished: An Ideal Novel (or something to that effect. who knew writing a book could seem easy in comparison to coming up with a title?) I'm still in the editing phase, my mom (a writer too) having just finished reading through it for me. I'm forcing myself to put it away until after the New Year, because I need some space from it to really be able to look at it honestly. It's driving me crazy and I'm itching to read my mom's comments. Thus the romance book I've started to keep my mind off of Banished.

It took me so long to come up with a name for my blog that now I have to stop writing and get ready to go out to dinner. Oh well, at least I have a blog to come home to!