Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving–It’s About Hope

This is not a regular “I’m thankful for…” post. There is much I am thankful for, of course, but today I am reading about many of the awful things that are happening in the world. So much anger, and hatred, and fear. And it makes me sad. It makes my heart ache for the world my daughter and her friends will inherit.

Sometimes I get so bombarded with the bad news in the world, it’s hard to remember the good. Because there is still a lot of good. People still help each other. Science solves medical riddles. We save some of the environment for our children. We send missions to other worlds. Amazing stuff.

Because of the history that followed the Pilgrims’ arrival—the slaughter and disenfranchisement of the Native Americans by immigrants that followed—Thanksgiving can sometimes become politicized these days.

But if you take out the politics, if you disregard the dark history that followed, the particular story of that first Thanksgiving is about hope. It is about the Pilgrims’ hoping to find freedom, of course, but the hope runs deeper than that. It is the story of two disparate groups of people who came together in friendship. Who reached out to each other. Who, for at least one moment in time, met each other as equals—as human beings with different skills, different worldviews, but who recognized the basic humanity in each other.

Three hundred and ninety-three years ago, one group of people was compassionate enough to not let a group of strangers starve to death, and another group of people was humble enough to listen to new ideas and be grateful for the help of strangers. If those two groups, who didn’t even speak the same language, could work together in peace, can we do any less?

So today I am holding on to the hope. The hope that we in the 21st century can find a way to follow the example set for us almost 400 years ago. That we can look past differences and find our common humanity. That we are not too proud to accept help, nor too selfish to give help. That we are smart enough to see each other not as “us and them”, but as human beings.

That we can look into each other’s eyes and see ourselves.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be well and be safe.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 20, 2014

Final Edits While Failing NaNo

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was “sort of” doing NaNo. That I would be trying to finish the final 23 chapters of my book (around 23,000 words). Here’s how it’s going.

I got a good deal of writing in two weekends ago. I now have 17 chapters left to write. It felt good to break the 20-chapter barrier, I’ll tell you!

But I don’t know if I will make it by the end of November. Why?

Because in that same blog post, I had said that if I got my edits back from my publisher, it would derail my WIP’s progress.

And I got my final edits back from my publisher last week! YAY!!

While the edits were relatively minor, I still am not finished. I printed out the manuscript Monday morning and am now giving it a final read-through with my trusty red pen. I am reading it aloud, so where I can do this is limited (my daughter’s dance class was not an option). I have completed reading 30 pages of 190.

This is going to take a while.

And that is why I’m not sure I will finish my WIP by the end of November.

However, I am so excited about these final edits, because that moves us closer to the book being “real.” Once the edits are complete, it can be placed on the publishing schedule. We can start working on the cover. We can finalize the title. We can start getting blurbs. We can talk about marketing strategies.

It’s getting real, folks. The crazy ride that is a debut novel is starting.

Strap in and enjoy the ride!

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 13, 2014

Pushing Through

All of us have times in our life where we just have to push on through. Just clench your teeth, put your head down, and walk straight into the metaphorical wind of whatever you are fighting against. Living with anxiety disorder, I have done some version of this pretty much every day of my life. In fact, I attribute my stubbornness in overcoming a lot of writing obstacles to the fact that I have a lot of practice in not giving up.

This past month I have been pushing through a lot. I’ve just been feeling physically awful for much of the month. I’m not sure how much is physical and how much is a result of an anxiety flare-up like I haven’t had in years. But I’ve been pushing through because when you have a 5-year-old, you have things to do. So I’ve done a lot of pretending lately.

Pretending my stomach doesn’t feel like the acid is churning like a whirlpool.

Pretending the acid isn’t crawling back up my throat.

Pretending my head isn’t pounding.

Pretending my brain doesn’t feel foggy and silent.

Pretending my brain doesn’t feel under so much mental pressure that it might explode.

Pretending that I don’t feel as if I truly will go insane.

Pretending that I don’t want to scream or cry.

Pretending that my legs aren’t weak and shaky.

Pretending I don’t feel unstable or vertiginous.

Pretending everything’s fine when all I want to do is go back to bed.

I am good at pretending. Most people never know. I want it that way.

At the moment, I think all this is anxiety-related. Some of it feels familiar, although it doesn’t present like it did the last time I had a major flare up (years ago). But all of the above COULD be anxiety-induced. October was a very stressful month, both good stress and bad stress, and now that the stress is over, as usual, I “fall apart.” And the end of November is always a hard time for me. My best friend’s birthday is November 29th. I lost her to cancer almost 12 years ago. The grief sneaks up on me every year at this time. So that’s likely a component of the anxiety, too.

I will continue to push through, because that is what I do. And, really, it’s the only thing to do, so I can get to the other side of this and move on. I’m dusting off my “anxiety coping mechanisms” and hoping they’ll help.

So that’s a glimpse into my world and what I’m pushing through to reach my dreams. What are you pushing through? What have you pushed through to get to where you are?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 6, 2014

Self-doubt and Creativity

Most creative types I meet have at least periods of self-doubt. They wonder if what they are creating has any value, if it will touch anyone, if it’s worth all the trouble and sacrifice.

I have had this issue myself at times. More than once I have contemplated just walking away from writing. Or maybe just going back to writing for myself and never showing it to anyone.

Because sometimes I am positive that what I write is no good and never will be.

That no one will like what I write and no one cares anyway.

Lately I have been feeling that way when I read about other authors who have their characters talking to them. I know what they mean—in my younger days, my characters were that real to me. They had minds of their own. They did things I did not expect.

But they don’t anymore.

I have characters, of course. They are real to me. I know them well. But they do what I tell them. Of course, this is my first time trying outlining, which may have had an unintended consequence.

But maybe it’s something more sinister than that. Maybe I do not know my characters as well as I think I do. Why are they being so obedient? My answer, of course, is that I am simply not as creative as the other writers I am reading about. And then the self-doubt crashes in on me.

But no matter how doubtful I feel, I never give up. Because I can’t stop writing. It’s been almost 40 years I’ve been writing, so any idea that I might be able to stop is laughable. I am a writer, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

The one boon of self-doubt, for me, is that it pushes me to be better. After all, if I feel like my work is not good enough, and I cannot stop writing, the only answer is to find a way to improve my craft. So hopefully the self-doubt is a blessing in disguise.

Stepping back from my self-doubt, I think perhaps this complacency of my characters is a signal that I am not yet completely recovered from the 4.5 year, post-baby creative drought I experienced. While I am miles ahead of where I was then, perhaps I have a little farther to go before I get back into the full author groove.

Maybe next year, when my daughter starts school full day, and I suddenly have more concentrated time to work.

It will come. And I will be ready and waiting when it happens.

Because no matter how much self-doubt piles up, I will never stop writing.

Have you ever stopped writing, or seriously considered it?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 30, 2014

Doing NaNoWriMo – More or Less

National Novel Writing Month is upon us. I have never done NaNoWriMo, because my life does not allow for that intense of a commitment. This year, I will not be officially participating because I do not meet the requirements—I am not starting a new book from scratch, and I have no chance of getting to 50,000.

However, I do have a WIP that has another 23 chapters/scenes left. To complete the first draft will require 20,000-25,000 words. I had wanted to finish my first draft by the end of October, but life totally got in the way.

So I think this year I will take advantage of NaNoWriMo to help push me to the end. I can ride the enthusiasm and collaborative atmosphere to get this done. Stating my goal here makes me accountable, because now I know people are “looking at me”.

Maybe some year I will have the time to do a proper NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in a month would be amazing! This year, however, I will be happy if I reach half that number—as long as the last two words I write are THE END.

Have you ever participated in NaNo? Have you ever used another writing challenge to spur you forward?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 23, 2014

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 16, 2014

Culling the Artistic Output

I have a four year old. Anyone who has a 4-year-old in their lives knows that kids of that age are pack rats. My daughter refuses to throw away ANYTHING. Every rock she finds, every leaf, every scrap of paper, every junky toy from fast food restaurants. I do believe that our house holds the world record for empty toilet paper rolls—my daughter insists on keeping them because she wants to paint them. So my house is flooded with piles of “stuff.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that my daughter is an artist. She loves to draw and paint. And since many of her pictures are, shall we say, modernistic in their swirls and colors, she can draw many pictures in a short amount of time. Her output is tremendous. However, it leaves us drowning in paper—paper that my daughter will not part with.

So I use the time-honored parental trick of waiting until she is out of the house to clean up. I admit sadly that many of her works of art find their way into the recycle bin. I spent seven hours this weekend digging out from the art-drifts. My daughter will never notice the pictures are gone, because I kept the ones I knew were close to her heart.

Scouring my house and having to decide what art to keep and which to pitch reminded me of the editing process all writers have to go through. Each sentence is a work of art, yet we have to cull them. We need to keep the ones that resonate, and send the rest to the recycle bin. And that’s hard, because each sentence contains a piece of our heart and soul.

Sometimes, we have to employ an outside editor to come in and scour our manuscript for us while we avert our eyes. We need the objective eye to help us separate the art from the mindless squiggles. We need them to dig us out from under our own art-drifts.

It’s never easy, paring down our artistic output. But the culling is necessary to bring out the best of our work and connect with our readers. The lesson learned from all this? Our art is more than just knowing how to polish what we leave in.

Sometimes the art is in knowing what to throw out.

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 9, 2014

Parallel Lives

Things have happened lately that have made me very aware of the parallel lives we humans live. So often we present one face to the world—confident or happy or calm—while inside we are dealing with emotions or events that have left us scared or sad or frantic. Even in this age where people habitually over-share, we all carry secrets we hide from most people.

This sharp contrast has made me realize two things: 1) We should never be hasty in judging someone, for we don’t know what is happening behind their smile, and 2) even the most honest person wears a façade.

This façade is not being dishonest or “fake.” Sometimes your real feelings are not appropriate to the situation or to the people you are currently with. For instance, a client meeting is not the place to sob and rant about a breakup. Also, the façade serves a protective purpose, hiding our vulnerability from people who would use those feelings to harm or manipulate us.

This is not only a good life lesson, but a good writing lesson. Our characters will be much deeper and more interesting if they live the parallel lives we real people do every day. Have a character that has to smile all day as a customer service worker? What if that character is dealing with an illness or death in the family? Or if your worker ends up serving the man she recognizes as the man who murdered her friend? Or the ex-boyfriend she still loves shows up with his girlfriend?

These parallel lives make your character and scene more interesting because it increases conflict and is the very definition of tension. And as most editors will tell you, you virtually cannot have too much tension in your book. Tension drives the reader to keep turning the pages—and who doesn’t want to write a page-turner?

So next time you want to spice up a scene or a character, think about the hidden emotional life going on inside your character at that moment.

And next time you’re annoyed by the behavior of someone in the real world, give them the benefit of the doubt—things may not be what they seem.

Have you made use of parallel lives in your work?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 2, 2014

Looking Back on the Journey

This past Sunday I attended the Writers’ Coffeehouse held at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble. I always enjoy the meetings, for the information and for the camaraderie. There is undeniably something energizing about being in a room full of people who share the same passion as I do.

But another thing I enjoy is seeing the people in different stages of their journeys. I, of course, learn a lot from people who are farther along in their journeys than me. But I also love meeting people at the beginning of their journey. I remember being there, and not so long ago.

I see their awe at being in a group with authors who have actually published real books. I see their jaws drop as they comprehend the mountain of craft they have yet to climb. I see their eyes glaze at the amount of business information they need to learn. I see the bewildered look that comes with wondering if all this work is really worth it. And then I see the true joy at realizing that they are among kindred spirits and that we all started exactly where they are.

When I see the newcomers, I realize just how far I have come in my journey. No longer the newbie, I am in the middle of the pack—not multi-published, but with a book coming out next year. I still have a great deal to lean about the craft and business of writing, and I am happy that I have the resource of the Liars Club Coffeehouses and classes to continue my education.

There are many benefits to being part of a writing community. I have long appreciated the benefit of learning from those further along the journey. But this week I noted the benefit of looking behind at those just coming in. Because in looking back, I can see how far I have come. This gives me confidence that I can go the rest of the way.

When I started, the place I am in my journey seemed far distant, nearly unreachable, almost unimaginable.

Yet I am here.

Where will I be in another few years?

I’m excited to find out.

The journey continues.

Where are you in your journey?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 25, 2014

It’s the Little Things

I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed this past week. As if one thing after another has been piling on until I’m buried. Some of the overwhelm has been because I’ve had social obligations, and my anxiety disorder makes me stress.

But it’s not only the social obligations. I have felt like this before, and it’s usually not the social stuff that makes me feel like I’m drowning. This time, I tried to analyze what exactly was weighing on me. To my surprise, it’s the little things.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the large projects don’t bother me. Maybe because I expect them to take a long time, and have set my mind to that. It’s what I call the “small” projects that pile up. These are projects that I could finish in less than 4 hours, if I could just sit down and do it.

They aren’t all writing related. I have photo albums that need to be put together (I’m about 3 years behind). I had photos to send to relatives (my in-laws are far away, so I email them a lot of photos of my daughter). I have genealogy pictures and papers to scan and put in the database. I have about 6 hours of TV to watch on DVR. I have photos and artwork I need to clean up to put on Zazzle. I have a novel I want to look at again because I think the focus needs work. I have a short story I want to edit and polish. And I am pushing through a WIP (35 chapters left).

That doesn’t even take into consideration the 2 blog posts a week and the daily stuff of life. And more pops up every day.

It’s the accrual of all these small projects that overwhelm me. I look at my To-Do list, and realized that if I had a week without a child and without blog posts, I could probably knock off 80% of my list, because it’s all “small” projects. Of course, I will not have a childless week, so I have to juggle.

Lately, I have been pushing to finish my WIP. Because I’ve been writing that in all my free time, the other projects have piled up. So now I have to go the other way, stopping the WIP to knock out enough of these projects so I feel like I can breathe.

I think it’s a blessing and bane of us creative types that we always have multiple projects in many media going. How do you carve out time for varying projects? Do you have specific days or hours for different projects? Or do you just do whatever strikes your fancy when you have time?

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