Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Writer's Cocoon

I am emerging from a cocoon I didn't know I was baking in. Not the Cocoon from the movie, no aliens giving me sexed up mojo in a pool. I am referring to an actual cocoon, the ones kittypillars create while they transform into what they were DESTINED to be, beautiful butterflies.

A kittypillar, yes, I say kittypillar, starts a journey to find a perfect branch. I liken that to me finally deciding to write and sitting my tookus down to do it. For months I wrote, found a critique group, and studied the craft.

Yes, I had to study how to write a novel. Having a good story in your head does not equate to being an author. Being a literature teacher for six years does not equate to knowing how to write a work of fiction.

It is a craft. One I did not respect enough in my early days stumbling through my first attempt at writing this novel. Blogs, websites, story structure books, I read them all. But the education came in the actual writing, the numerous failed attempts. AND THERE WERE NUMEROUS FAILED ATTEMPTS.

I queried way too early. The MS was no where near ready. I was no where near ready as a writer. Me, the kittypillar hadn't even found my damned tree yet. I trudged and trudged. But I wasn't alone on this journey. I found some other kittypillars along the way. One you know here, AJ/JAWS.

Together we found our tree and started our climb. It hasn't been easy. Lots of growing pains along the way. As you are heading out to become something, you change. This kittypillar was becoming something and I couldn't face it. It kind of scared the hell out of me. I ignored the changes and continued to query. I changed my opening at least 7 times. Maybe more.

All were well written. So, my writing friends told me. My CP told me to stop fecking with something that didn't need fecking with in the first place. Jaws said what I had was good and should own it.

But I doona listen verra well. So, I continued to feck with said opening. If you've ever listened to my diatribes about the opening to my MS, you know we haven't exactly seen eye to eye. To get past this stumbling block I immersed myself in story structure books, blogs, websites, and I read and read and read various works of fiction. I devoured them. By forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and read books I normally wouldn't, I felt a shift take place. It was subtle and barely noticeable but it was there.

I evolved in some weird way. It's something I cannot really explain but you too may have felt this yourself. By reading so much I felt I had a better understanding not only of the craft but writing me. This enlightened Charli Mac has new eyes and a fresh outlook. It happened this way...

Last week I was reading, Save the Cat. It has proved to be an invaluable resource to me, for many reasons but one more than the rest. It proved to me I had my structure down pat, the acts, the beats. I'd had the plot down from the get go. Woot, score 1 for Charli. But said opening was still a wreck, or so I thought.

I asked a fellow friendly writer to read all seven of my versions. This facetious lil' redhead (not JAWS, another one) said she would. Boy, she had no idea what she was getting into.

She read one, just one and emailed me. Her question was an Ah-ha moment. She asked me what voice did I want to use for this MS. Because this opening was different from the one she'd read a while back. Voice, voice, voice, voice, it's all about the voice. And she was right. And AJ was right. And so were a handful of other writing friends. I was losing my voice by re-working all these openings.

Facetious redhead told me to sit back and decide how and in what way I want to tell this story. To do so I had to read ALL the openings I'd done. ALL OF THEM.

I did. What I found was priceless. The version I had a while back was good. Really good. It had the right premise, set-up, and it made me feel something I hadn't in a long time-sure of myself. A major brain fart came and I combined a few things and decided to expand on my hero's Save the Cat Moment, a moment I already had in the book before even buying said feline bible of story structure.

As I revised I found myself tapping into this new writer inside of me, not new but a more grown up version. Words flew and it all just felt...right. What is so grand about all this you say? Well, for one, the dammed opening is now done. It needs a tweak here or there. But I can honestly say, when talking to someone, "this is how my story begins...".

More so I was proud that I had this within me all the time. Stubbornness, the need for the MS to be accepted, all blurred my vision. I wouldn't change how I got here for the world. Never in a million years. All of these headaches were the growing pains of becoming a writer. It wasn't easy and I've moved on from some parts of my writing life, left some distractions behind. And I feel amazing.

I can feel my wings growing in this cocoon I've created. Pretty soon I will sprout, break free, and fly. But that will be much later. This kittypillar still has a lot of work to do in here.


  1. Yay to the Kittypillar! That's fantastic. I'm waiting to receive the marked up, line edited version of my MS from my MFA mentor (Hint: has written 19 books, all best sellers). Cannot wait! She gave me an invaluable critique of my full novel. Tons of work to be done and I'm excited. They all made sense. Woot!

    Until then, I'm immersed in reading. Finishing up Age of Innocence (love!) and then onto Ragtime. It's amazing how much us kittypillars can learn when we buckle down and read.

  2. congratulations of your rebirth. Great analogy.

  3. this gives me're sure and confident...enjoy your metamorphous...I've found my tree..but I'm too scared to climb it...I'm afraid of what I'll find at the top

  4. I just posted a blog today myself, about not being able to connect with my words this week. I relate to the image of the cocoon--maybe I was just growing.

  5. I'm so very happy ye poked yer head out lassie ... and found the beautiful colors of yer voice! I'm back, and so are YE!!!

  6. Glad to see ya back AJ!

    Thanks everyone for stopping by, its been a great week for me. Truly happy and in a great place.

  7. Hey, Charlie; hey AJ

    Thank you for popping by at my blog. You have some really great blog posts here. The knitted catarpillar is cute, by the way and I'm not one who easily says that. You see, I'm not that kind of girly girl. And I see you are neither. I shall stop by from time to time :-)

    Best wishes

    Stella Deleuze

  8. Wow. I like this!

    LOVE the analogy...I'm still a kittypillar too--can't wait to turn into a butterfly!

    Good for you for keeping going! It's SO hard! When I read posts like these, it helps me to keep going too.

    Thank you!


  9. My story is similar. Having a good idea is only part of writing. It's learning the craft that makes us good writers. And writing. And editing. And writing and editing some more.

    I wish you success.

  10. Charli, thank goodness for friendly writer friends. I know how you feel about rewriting something over and over and losing yourself to the point that you don't know which way to go anymore. Ugh.

    Kittypillar? CUTE! I loved your analogy. Best of luck on your novel. ;)

    Thanks for following my blog.

    ~Elizabeth :)

  11. Nice post Charli

    There are pitfalls that go along with having many critique partners (also pluses) and one of them is losing your confidence as a writer, which can go hand in hand with losing your voice.

    BTW this can happen once you've been published as well. I have had two editors in six months. Each editor has a different opinion on the ms. and has offered suggestions for making cuts or revisions.

    I recently had to call in my agent and go to bat for some scenes I wanted to keep. (slightly terrifying) There are key scenes in the manuscript that set the tone for the novel, My thinking was: if I take this out, where will my voice be in this ms? I felt my voice just fading away, like the book was going to read like all other historical romances soon. It made me really sad.

    There are many pitfalls to becoming an author and they will take a toll on your confidence=VOICE if you let them. Nurture yourself. Learn to recognize when something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. This is hard to do in the stages where you are more open to input and learning the craft.

    The really good news is that you've had an ah-ha moment (thanks Oprah) Yay!

  12. This is a fantastic post! I agonize about my beginning and voice a lot.