You won’t find a Best of/Worst of post over here at Dead Darlings headquarters. We’re too tired from writing and revisioning and meeting class deadlines. Instead we decided to toast the new year by asking our writing colleagues to lift their sore necks, still their tired fingers and take a moment to tell us the best thing they did for their writer selves this year. So kick back, pop some bubbly, and enjoy!
Novel Incubator: Rainbow Sprinkle Machine or Medieval Torture Mechanism?
Dead Darlings arose from the ashes of burned manuscripts in GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, so it’s no wonder that the program looms large in our friends’ minds this year:
I finished my first (and second, and third) draft of my first novel. — Louise Miller
I came home after the workshop and had two choices. I could jump into bed and keep the covers over my head for three days or face the notes. The best thing I did was to face both the work and the journey. — Cynthia Johnson
I’ve learned more about the novel and novel writing in the last six months since I started the Novel Incubator program than I did in six years as an undergraduate and graduate student in English. It’s tough and intensive, but as the song says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” — Mark Guerin
I confessed to my wife: at the pace I was writing, there was no way I would be able to submit a completed draft by my deadline. I’d have to increase my output from one chapter every week-and-a-half to three-and-a-half chapters every week. My wife looked on with disappointment, resignation and pity. Whether it was that look, or the terrifying spectre of my colleagues staring at me aghast on that shameful day of failure two months hence, I can’t say. I vowed: “So that’s what it will be. Three-and-a-half chapters a week for the two months, come hell or high water.” I fulfilled the vow, and, I hope, became a better writer for it. — Jerry Whelan
I committed to a solid year of being accountable to a whole room of people for making progress on my novel revision. — Michele Ferrari
Prior to the Novel Incubator Program, novel drafts took me about ten years to write. In the program, I learned that I could actually finish a new and improved draft in three months. — Carol Gray
Opted for torture via Incubator. — Kelly Robertson
T.S. Eliot said there will be “time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of a toast and tea,” but in Novel Incubator we all learned that when it comes to revision you need to stop procrastinating and just do it!
After taking a break from writing, I returned to find my novel in a bit of a tangle. Solution? I said, screw all the notes and some of the preconceptions. I completed a “Big Scenes” exercise to come up with the novel that I wanted to write. In my exercise, I let the novel be quiet and reflective when it felt right. No notes. No censorship. No how-the-hell-am-I going-to-pull-that-off timidity. — Mike Nolan
I got myself a writing partner who keeps me in line, line by line. — Jennie Wood
Brace Yourself, It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Ride
Many fearless Incubators set forth into the treacherous sea of publishing. Some were successful, some are still wading in the waters.
After a reality check and a nudge from my writers’ group and Novel Incubator colleagues, I made a plan for querying agents, tweaked my letter, and got back on the saddle, ready to brave the ups and downs of the journey. — Belle Brett
I got a new agent. — Stephanie
Took a deep breath (and a drink) and queried a bunch of agents. Found a wonderful agent! But now I’m on submission and it feels like the waiting room in Beetlejuice. — Emily Ross
Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Sometimes, the best thing they did was to keep going.
I wrote when I didn’t want to. — Kelly Ford
Pushed myself even when I thought I’d run out of steam. — Patty
South Shore or Southwest, Or Maybe Nowhere is the Best
This year, they allocated their time towards getting a better feel for their settings, finishing drafts and tending to their mental health.
Went to west Texas to research my novel. Ranches, red dust, heat, pistachio trees, airfields, cowboys, barbecue, feral dogs. A deliriously weird two days. I have more confidence now that I can say I’ve been there. — Lissa Franz
My one week solo retreat in Wellfleet to complete the draft of my novel, Big Shot, was a stroke of genius that hit me in September, when it was warm and sunny. In November on the beach, not so much. But all the better, I was semi-trapped inside, warmed by baseboard heat and the knowledge that I’d made the right move. Morning, noon and night writing, broken only by a stare at the ocean and the occasional nutrition. — Rob Wilstein
The best thing I did for myself as a writer this year was taking a couple of months to break from writing. — Jack
I’m Fine, You’re Fine, We’re All Fine
Others in our group are either doing really well or hiding the truth from us.
Strengthened the prescription for my reading glasses. What a relief! — Marc Foster
I bought a hookah and an extra-large tub of mango flavored tobacco in Tangiers. — Hesse Phillips
I infected my son with a serious case of writeritis, and he’s been institutionalized at Grub. — E. B. Moore
Print vs. Ebook death matches! Publishing house conglomerates! The death of taste and the emergence of the mundane! Ugh. Shut your pie hole, Internet! We just want to write.
Gave myself permission to write what I thought was crazy and wild and fun, instead of what I thought would make me look like more of a “real writer.” — RJ Taylor
As a writer with a novel that came out in 2013, the best thing I did for myself this year is a decision I made for next year: to worry less about publicizing that book and devote more time to writing the next one. Promoting a book can easily be a full-time job, and more or less, that was my job this fall. It was fun and heartening and an absolute privilege, but I miss doing the thing that led to all that. Starting in January, I’m a writer again. And oh, I cannot wait. I hope all writers – whatever it is that’s eating away at their time – will find more butt-in-the-chair time for themselves in 2014. — Lisa Borders
From these answers, it’s clear that there’s no one way, no clear path. But one thing we all have in common is that we keep at it. We keep going. Through the highs and lows, we do things for our writer selves and share the stories of our journey here at Dead Darlings.
If you want to join the party, please share the best thing you did for your writer self this year in the comments below.