First Reactions to My First Chapter

Oh man – there’s nothing more awfully exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than waiting for reactions on something you’ve created, right?

Maybe it’s a speech you give in front of an audience or a painting you’ve done, or it can be the first chapter of the manuscript you’re writing for real. Whatever it is, it’s crazy scary to let people see it, hear it, feel it – and comment on it.

But I did just that.

The Secret Word Society

When I came back to Finland from our trip, I was asked to join a writing club called The Secret Word Society. It was a writing friend from the writing forum who, together with six others, had put together the club just a month earlier.

I said yes, of course I want to join! We managed to meet with the group face-to-face once before the pandemic broke out, all the proper meeting places were closed and social distancing was recommended. That one time was so great, the people were so nice and friendly and we had a great time talking about writing, reading and creating. I was really looking forward to meeting these people again.

Luckily, even the pandemic can’t stop us and we’ve continued our meetings twice a month through Zoom since the end of March, and it’s been awesome.

Every month we have a different writing theme one can choose to use if one wants to, everything from a specific genre to everyone writing a story with the same title or getting inspired by a certain number or a word.

It’s been great fun to challenge myself as a writer and lately, I’ve been writing more original stories than fan fiction.

Our theme last time was the big one: the first chapter of a manuscript.

So, I posted the first 1,700 words of Yellow Tails on our Google Drive and tried to relax, waiting for Saturday. I did everything but relax: I was terrified, excited, nervous and somehow exhilarated, everything at the same time.

Finally, Saturday came.

Feedback from Five Readers

In The Secret Word Society meetings, every feedback round starts with the author’s note on the story, how the writing process was and if there’s something specific she’d like to get feedback on. Everyone gets approximately three minutes to give general comments, feelings and notes on the story. After that, we discuss the story as a group for about 15-20 minutes.

With my story, the first chapter of Yellow Tails where the main character wakes up in a random house without any memories of how she got there and then finds a huge, yellow cat in the living room, I was looking forward to hearing how the first pages felt to the readers. Were they eager to read more, how did they feel about the two out of three characters presented in this chapter?

It’s said that the first five pages are some of the most important pages in a book because they hook the reader’s interest. It was this hook I was wondering about, if it existed in the story.

And I think I’ve got it. At least a little. Maybe not a huge fork lifting kind of hook, but more like a little hook that gets caught in your little finger, creating a little jerking movement that pulls you back to the story.

Because: I was happy to see glad, slightly amused reactions to my story when we started talking about it. The five members who were joining the meeting last Saturday liked the characters, their quirky behavior and personality. They were curious about the mystery that was presented and interested to read the second chapter. YAY!

In addition to that, I got some good, more practical feedback on how to develop the chapter a bit further: adding a few questions the protagonist can ask to make her confusion more realistic and giving a tiny hint about the mystery that will get the big story moving in the coming chapters. As a result of the discussion, I also decided to change one of the character’s names that goes better with the Finnish language.

The most exciting thing was to hear how the readers perceived the story: how many of those five got the secret idea of what actually happens in the story, or what the story is about. And get this: two out of five was on the right track, just on the basis of the first chapter! I was so happy to hear this because if 40 percent of the readers get the idea behind the story, it’s a huge win.

So, What’s Next?

The great thing with The Secret Word Society is that it boosts my writing confidence and helps me stay motivated about writing. With and because of them, I write at least one story every month even though everything else would end up in the bin. Their feedback make my stories better and me a better writer.

Last Saturday’s meeting came at the best of moments, because I was having a great deal of doubt regarding Yellow Tails. I was getting closer to my first 10,000 word mark and wondering if the story was worth writing at all. Luckily, the feedback helped me feel better about it and ever since Saturday I’ve felt more motivated to develop and continue the story.

I don’t think I’ll be showing other chapters to the group unless they specifically ask to or something unexpected happens, because I’m already in chapter seven and going back to discuss chapter two few months after writing it feels like stalling the story.

Instead, I’ll keep on writing so that I’ll finish the story and will then reach out to a few test readers so I can send them half or the whole story later this year for reading and commenting.

However, I’m so very happy I decided to show my writing friends the first chapter, despite how terrifying it was. Instead, it was the perfect decision in my state of doubt and The Secret Word Society cheered me on in the best possible way.

So, to sum it up: if you have a chance to join a writing club, with face-to-face meetings or online, join. You won’t regret it, writer.

The Good and Bad With Rewriting

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Since last week, I’ve been working on the rewrite of Yellow Tails. I’m close to reaching my first 10,000 word mark (out of approximately 80,000 words) and thus far it’s been good. It’s been fun, visiting the familiar environment and making the characters more like themselves. I’ve felt confident about my writing.

However, these past few days I’ve also been noticing a feeling of doubt.

More or less, it’s the same kind of doubt I was experiencing last week – the fear of working in vain, the fear of writing a story no one wants to read – but now I feel like I know why I’m feeling that doubt. It’s like a fear that I’m not making the story any better by rewriting it. What if I’m making it worse?

And therefore I thought it would be a topic worth writing about this Thursday: to list the bad things with rewriting an old story – but to also tell you about the good stuff that comes with it.

Feeling Chained To The Old Script

Let’s start with the negative, more challenging aspects.

To Not Follow the Script

First of all, it’s hard not to follow the original script. My aim is to write the story with approximately the same plot line as in the original one but to make it more streamlined and better and the characters stronger.

However, to continually keep glancing at the old not-so-good script makes improving the story difficult.

I’m nervous to take the freedom to write a whole new story with the same idea, the same characters and the same plot line. But at the same time, I keep getting frustrated at the fact that I’m so dependent on the original script that isn’t as good as I would like it to be.

I’m afraid those faults in the original script will slip into this new one without me noticing it.

Feeling Inspired By The Idea

The second challenge with rewriting an old script is that the idea is old: Yellow Tails was written in 2018, two years ago. Back then, writing about the fat yellow Jello cat was inspiring and motivating but now, writing that same story feels more mechanical and less like an adventure. It can turn into a real problem if I don’t feel motivated to write the story.

(But I wonder if editing a story feels the same? Do share in the comments, if so!)

And the trouble is that if I don’t feel energetic and joyful while writing the story, it’ll most likely show in the script. That would be miserable.

Doubting My Former Self

The third, and last, thing might be just me imagining things or it might be real. It’s fear: what if the idea that felt so great in my mind two years ago really isn’t that great? That Yellow Tails got written in that honeymoon phase of the idea when I didn’t see that the story had no depth and wasn’t really worth telling? Am I trying to write a story that isn’t worth rewriting?

This, of course, is Resistance that should not be trusted without proper proof. But I can’t help but doubt my thoughts and ideas from two years ago. Or – maybe the thoughts were deep but I’m not capable of getting that depth on paper again?

Confidence from Knowledge and Experience

And at the same, I’m finding great joy in noticing how I’ve developed as a writer during these two years of active writing. These developments can be seen in the rewritten script when compared to the original one, and that gives me great joy. Therefore, despite the fact that I’m feeling doubt and fear over the rewriting process, I’m also finding positive aspects in rewriting an old script.

Knowing My Style

For the past year, I’ve been curious to find out what my writing style is. Slowly, through writing both fan fiction and original stories, I’ve been figuring out some aspects of my preferences when it comes to style.

I prefer writing in present tense rather than past, for instance, and most often write in third person. I also enjoy the dramatic effect of breaking sentences in the middle –

to continue them on the next line.

Knowing this, and especially knowing the effect the chosen style has on the reader and the reading experience, is valuable when rewriting the script. The original Yellow Tails, for instance, was written in past tense and is therefore changing a great deal because I’m rewriting it in the present tense.

Awareness of the Art of Writing

The other thing that gives me confidence and joy while writing is that I know so much more about writing than I did before. I’m aware of the importance of multiple plot lines and knowing what they are in Yellow Tails. I know more about creating complex characters and how to make them less perfect and more humane to create characters that actually awakens emotion in the reader.

This makes the script richer and I’m feeling more confident of the fact that I’m writing almost-good text already and it won’t need as much editing later as it would otherwise.

**

I really do hope that the feelings of doubt and fear will subside as I get deeper into the story. Hopefully I’ll also be able to forget some of the original script and let the story take the course it wants to take because I believe my imagination is even better than it was two years ago. Because who knows, maybe the new story, although the characters and the main idea stays the same, is much better than what I created two years ago?

The Return of the Draft

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When Monday came along, I opened It: the first draft of Yellow Tails. The one I completed in December 2018 (it feels like a long time ago).

Ever since finishing it and re-reading it again after a few months break, I’ve been tossing around the idea of when to get going on the second draft and make it into a manuscript I could consider letting test readers read and comment on.

First, I thought I’d get the second draft done before Christmas last year. Traveling the world didn’t quite agree on the project and the last and only time I put some work into the draft was in the jungles of Malaysia on a rainy afternoon sometime in September. After that, I just let it sit. Didn’t even poke it with a stick.

Even now, although we’ve been back a few months, the draft has been waiting. Or, rather than waiting it has been hibernating. Keeping no noise, but still existing.

And now I know why: it has simply been waiting for its time to come. It hasn’t been about when I want to get back to it or have the time. It has been about when I’m ready for the draft.

I know this, because during the month of April, I recognized for the first time a motivated, courageous little feeling that was telling me that now would a good time to get back to Yellow Tails. It felt like I was finally feeling ready to rewrite it.

At the time, I was in the middle of a writing project working on a 23k fan fiction story and I was very determined to complete it, but I hoped that that courageous feeling would hold on until I was done with the story.

Lucky for me, it was still there this Monday. I felt excited to open the draft, to take a look at it and start writing it again from the beginning. So I did it: in Google Drive, I went to the Yellow Tails -folder and opened the second version of my first draft.

But after looking at it for a while, before typing a single word, I freezed.

I began to feel dread.

Because, as you might know, the first chapter is incredibly important: it’s supposed to be the thing that surprises the reader, makes him or her hang on to the cliff you’re creating with interesting characters, exciting quests and questions about the plot. The first few pages are crucial. And I was sitting there, looking at my previous draft and wondering, how on Earth will I ever manage to write a great first chapter?

Which led to the roller coaster ride of:

Is my first chapter interesting enough? Will anyone get to the end of the first chapter and is there someone who will want to keep on going to chapter two?

Will anyone care about a girl who wakes up in an unknown house and tries to become friends with a cat and a squirrel?

Does my story matter? (Or ever worse: why should it matter?) Will it ever matter? Is there someone out there who wants to publish it?

And so on, and so on. I trust that you can imagine how my thoughts kept going like that until the morning was over and I was feeling exhausted already, with zero words on the new draft.

However, after the first shock of Resistance was over, I remembered that 1) the first chapter is important, yes, but I can always go back to make it even better, which leads to 2) the most important thing is just to write. Simply get those first pages done and keep on going – because if you have nothing written, you have nothing to work on, to improve.

(Also, one thing that encourages me is that these days I’m part of an awesome writing club called The Secret Word Society and the theme of our next meeting is ’first chapter’. It’ll be the first time someone else gets to read Yellow Tails and I’m terrified nervous and excited to hear if my first chapter is working and if yes, YES!, and if no, how it could be improved.)

I believe that riting the second draft is just as hard as writing the first draft, but the good thing is I’m more capable of recognizing Resistance and have a few tricks to get it off my back. I’m better equipped for this writing process than I was for the first one.

And now, three days later, I’m working on chapter three and it’s going great. I am considering taking a few days off actual writing to work on the timeline and the plot because then it’ll be easier to get back to the draft more or less every day but the fact that I have 5,000 words on the new, improved draft and I’m still feeling good… How do feel about that, Resistance?

 

Am I Proud To Be A Writer?

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Lately, there has been some conversation among the Finnish writers about taking pride in being a writer. For many, writing fiction and/or fan fiction is something they don’t tell about to other people. Maybe it’s for the fear of being judged or because it feels like writing is sacred only when kept to oneself.

(I used to be familiar with the latter one, though with books. When I was 13 and read Twilight for the first time, I loved the book so much I didn’t want to tell about it to anyone – I was afraid the book would lose its appeal if someone I knew also thought it was awesome.)

As a 9-year-old kid, I wasn’t afraid to tell people I wanted to become J.K. Rowling when I grew up. I wrote stories, even a school play, and wasn’t afraid of letting the teacher read my texts out loud in class. Many in my class knew I was the writer in our class, many said I would be a writer in the future.

There was a slight shift when secondary school began. That’s when we pretty much stopped writing stories in class, and writing became only a hobby for me. But still, I didn’t stop me from sharing my passion for writing. All the fan fiction I wrote, I shared online. The few short stories I wrote, I let my teacher read and give feedback on them. When I was participating in NaNoWriMo, I let some of my friends know.

In other words, I wasn’t afraid of telling people I write.

However, today, as I’m pursuing a career as a writer, I do find it difficult to tell people I’m a writer. That I don’t just write, I’m actually a writer. That I am what I do.

Seeing Writing For What It Is

I think it’s because I feel people don’t see fiction writing as a full-time job.

Many seem to think that isn’t writing a book just about putting words down to create a story and poof! you have a ready-to-read novel? The only thing left to do is to pick a cover for your book, organize a release party and then wait for the sales numbers to go up?

Even I, as I started pursuing my career dream of being a writer one and a half years ago, didn’t know how much went into writing. Now, however, I know that if you really want to, you can make novel writing into a full-time job. All the planning, the research, the writing, editing – it takes time. It’s easy to put down hours after hours to writing and then editing a novel.

Writing books is a real job – but it feels like something only writers and publishers know about, and therefore it is hard to make someone believe writing can be made into a full-time job.

The other reason I have trouble telling people I want to write full-time is that they don’t see it as something you can support yourself with.

It’s what my parents told me when I was nine years old.

They probably have a point – it’s very possible, at least in the beginning, that you won’t become self-sufficient only by writing fiction but this doesn’t mean I cannot make writing into my job. Publishing a book can lead to other financially nice opportunities than working in café/as a cashier/a receptionist alongside writing. For instance, lecturing, visiting schools and libraries and other writing and reading related projects.

I’d much rather work with projects than that than doing something “just because I need the money”. At the same time I’m aware of the fact that it takes a moment to get that first novel published before the other opportunities can come into the picture.

Finding The Courage To Believe In The Dream

Most of all, I think why I’m nervous about telling people I’m a writer is because I’m wondering if I can make it.

There’s a difference between wanting something and being able to get it. Am I good enough to make it, to write a book a publisher wants to work on and make into a proper publishable novel?

And all those actions I’m planning on taking to become a writer: investing in writing software and an e-book reader, reading novels, reading books about writing – am I worth it, I notice myself wondering. Am I doing this, for real? Will it pay off? And…

What if it doesn’t?

By telling people I want to be a full-time writer is scary. It’s a vulnerable thing to say, to reveal your dream or passion for something.

This fear, however, proves that by talking or telling about it I’m doing the right thing. I’m actually facing my fear – and through that, I might actually manage to write a book someone wants to publish and/or read.

What drives me is the encouraging fact that I know writing is what I like doing best, it’s what I love to do. By finding the courage to tell other people that I’m a writer and this is what I aim to do the rest of my life, I might open new possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told about what I want to do in life.

And – I don’t know if I want to believe in the “even if it doesn’t pay off” way of thinking, but even if something would happen that would alter my writerly pursuit, I know that I’m at least letting myself pursue my dream and passion.

I do that by publishing my blog posts, my fictional short stories. But I also do that by telling more and more people I am a writer and want to be that full-time.

And that’s something I do find pride in.

A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.