Novel

:: My Storytelling Superpower ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The third writing prompt in the series is this:

 

Whoa. Like OMG, WHOA.

Included with the third writing prompt was a fun little quiz to help participants figure out their storytelling superpower. My result was The Survivor which was summarized as:

You’ve got a penchant for characters who will do whatever it takes to survive. Maybe they’re stranded on a desert island, captured by an evil genius, or fighting to beat a terminal illness. Or maybe they want something so desperately that not getting it feels like a matter of life and death. Regardless of their situation, you’re drawn to creating characters your readers will admire for their pluck, determination, and sheer creative willpower.

This blew my mind because my protagonist in the novel I’m writing, The Colonel’s Keeper, is a survivor, hands-down. My character, Mary Agnes, endures a tumultuous marriage filled with years of emotional abuse and a near-fatal shooting at the hands of her alcoholic husband.

Throughout this process, I’ve been amused by the idiosyncrasies that have surfaced. The discoveries I’ve made, being drawn to writing about survivors, for example, have been a pleasant surprise. My inclination to write works of historical fiction was another unexpected revelation, especially since history (edging out math only slightly) was my least favorite subject of study in school.

I’m not sure I’d call either of these a superpower but they are definitely themes that I imagine will recur as I continue to hone my craft.

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:: 2018 Reintroduction ::

Happy New Year!

I hope 2018 is off to a great start with the promise of good things to come. To kick off the year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reintroduce myself, my services, and what you’ll find here at www.hylaridenour.com.

Hyla Ridenour, Writer

First and foremost, this website houses all of the information pertinent to my business. I’m a freelance writer offering a variety of related services including copywriting, blogging, product descriptions, copy for web and print, and social media content. You can find a complete list of what I offer on the services page.

You’ll find my rates and contract for services housed on the pricing guide page. New this year, I’ve eliminated a package pricing structure. Working with a number of clients over the past two years, I’ve found that an flat or standard hourly rate better meets the needs of my clientele so, in an effort to simplify, I’m no longer offering packages.

To get an idea of my offerings and writing style, you can view my portfolio page to see a sample of my work.

Finally, there is my blog. Here, I cover a variety of topics; some related to writing and my professional services, others not. I occasionally write about other themes dear to my heart including sobriety, adventures, and other miscellaneous topics. I’ve wrestled with whether or not this space is appropriate for sharing more intimate details about myself – such as my choice to ditch booze in 2017 – but I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to compartmentalize my life, my work, my adventures, or my stories.

Beyond my website and identity as a writer, I’m a wife, mother, daughter, aunt, sister, and friend. I’m extremely physically active favoring Crossfit and running, and eating (mostly nutrient-dense foods) is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m happiest outdoors and love hiking, backpacking, camping, kayaking, and beachcombing. I derive a lot of pleasure from bookstores and libraries. Travel is a high priority and I long to visit Iceland and Costa Rica. Within the next five years, I want to live in an Airstream fulltime and travel around the western U.S. while writing novels.

New year, same me.

Speaking of novels, I am writing one! I’ve actually been working on a historical fiction manuscript for a year a now and have more than 54,500 words written. I have a lot of work ahead of me – completing it for one thing – but I can’t wait to see my book out in the world and being enjoyed.

I also want to extend a thank you to my followers, visitors, and of course, my wonderful clients. Since focusing solely on writing, I’ve never felt more fulfilled or sure of what I have been called upon to do with my life. I look forward to doing more of what I love in 2018 and would be honored to help you with your copy or content needs in any way that I can.

One more quick thing: do you love coffee? My goal this year is to build my business via word-of-mouth and referrals and will be offering an incentive for each qualified referral I receive (i.e., the referral leads to paid business). If you refer a new client to me who enlists my services, I’ll send you a $20.00 Starbucks gift card as a thank you!

Coffee is on me!

Wishing you all the best in 2018!

Hyla

::A brief recap of NaNoWriMo::

Even though November is a distant memory, I’m still getting regular email from the National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo). The messages in my inbox consist of requests for support, opportunities for writers to get feedback on their manuscripts, or alerts about new blog posts on topics such as maintaining creative momentum and the next steps in the pursuit of publishing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for supporting this awesome organization and welcome mail from them! However, each email has been a somewhat bitter reminder of my failed attempt to participate in the movement. (I wrote a little bit about what derailed my efforts here.) Having had a little time to reflect these past few weeks following NaNoWriMo, I’ve realized that I actually gained some solid insight from my attempt… even if I don’t have a complete manuscript to show for it.

Four things I learned attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017.

Lesson #1

In the weeks leading up to November, I was at a complete loss for an idea – a story – to write about. Then, magically one day in the shower, I was struck by an idea. A good idea (at least I think it’s a good idea and that’s all that matters, right?)! For the past year, I’ve been so attached to the work of my first (still in progress) novel, The Colonel’s Keeper, that I couldn’t see past it or believe that I was capable of unlocking another creative treasure buried somewhere deep inside my subconscious. I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise!

Lesson #2

One of my concerns leading up to NaNoWriMo was whether or not I should finish my current manuscript first and either not participate or put it on hold to work on the new idea. I chose the latter. Even now, I’m not really sure I’ve found the right answer but instinctively, I feel like I should focus on one project at a time and finish what I’ve already started before moving onto the next thing. The preparation I did for NaNoWriMo has allowed me to create a pretty solid story and foundation for my next novel and I look forward to working on it at a later date. I even have a head start since I wrote almost 4,000 words! But that said, this experience taught me that I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of writer.

Lesson #3

Something I’ve been exploring this year is realistic vs. unrealistic expectations in relation to how much I can juggle at any given time. Beginning in January, I had four big projects vying for my attention. I was training for a spring marathon, studying to take an exam to earn my real estate license, trying to build my freelance writing business, and write a novel. I felt overwhelmed for the first few months of the year and not certain that any one of those things was really getting the attention they deserved. The first thing to go was marathon training. I got injured and then sick in February which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was forced to take that off the table. Later, I decided that my heart is not in real estate and decided to not pursue my license. That, of course, left the writing stuff, because honestly, that IS where my heart is.

The lesson here is that four is too much. Three is a little more manageable. Two is ideal. Two is my magic number.

As far as how this was applied to my NaNoWriMo experience, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I simply had too much on my plate in November and I didn’t recognize that until after I’d already announced my participation. I’m hopeful that this will allow me to plan better for the 2018 event.

As a side note, this topic is something that I plan to explore deeper as we move into 2018 and I begin planning and goal setting. I have also discovered the paralysis that comes from having so many ideas, goals, and ambitions… basically, I recede into a prolonged state of disorientation and get NOTHING accomplished. I intend to streamline my workflow a bit better so I can truly focus on things that light me up.

Lesson #4

Time away from my first project has rekindled the desire to see it through to completion. Honestly, I was a little scared that if I took time away from writing The Colonel’s Keeper, I may not return to that work. Those few weeks – okay… months, if I’m being honest – that I put that project on hold and let my project have my attention turned out to be the refresh I needed. I’ve been slowly making my way back and feel recharged. NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to step back and take a much-needed break to process where I was and where I am heading.

I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next 10.5 months because now I need to finish the two manuscripts I’ve started so I can have a clean slate come NaNoWriMo 2018!

The write life.

How do we live the writer’s life? There’s only one simple answer: we write. ~Dani Shapiro

:: National Novel Writing Month ::

Several years ago, in early November, a flier at the public library caught my eye. The handout was promoting National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the challenge created by the organization that encourages writers to complete a novel – or 50,000+ words – in the 30 calendar days between November 1st and 30th.

It was already several days into the month, if not a week or more when I saw the flier. I considered joining late but ultimately ended up passing on the opportunity, putting it off for another year when, I dunno, I’d be less busy.

A few months ago I started thinking about it again. At a third of the way through the manuscript I’ve been working on since January, with a goal completion date of October, I figured I had plenty of time to finish my current work and then get ready for NaNoWriMo. Then life and procrastination happened. I missed my self-imposed October deadline and – in the spirit of truth-telling – I’m not even two-thirds of the way finished and we’re well past mid-October.

Regardless, I signed up for NaNoWriMo anyway. Without a single idea or spark of inspiration, I created an account on the website and then contemplated not doing it at all, rather continuing the work I’ve been doing on my first novel, The Colonel’s Keeper. I watched the first half of the month go by without anything to work from… no plot, no outline, no characters to develop, no nothing.

And then BAM! The gods and goddesses of inspiration responded to my pleas while I was in the shower yesterday and an idea slowly started to form.

I guess at this point, I have no more excuses…

Working Title: Take a Lover

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: In 1932, nineteen-year-old Scarlet Mills is a liberal arts student on scholarship at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Suffering from anxiety and depression following years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, she writes poetry as a means to cope with her pain while pursuing a degree in creative writing. After a chance meeting with an eccentric painter from Mexico, the pair becomes friends, then lovers. The encouragement by her lover to pursue her writing and sexuality throughout their brief relationship takes Scarlet on a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Visit the National Novel Writing Month website for more information or to commit to writing your own novel next month!

:: A Look Back at September ::

I realize that we are already a third of the way through October as I write this but in keeping with my self-inflicted assignment to recap each month, I’m forging ahead.

Early in the month, I found myself in a bit of a funk. I had made little progress on the novel manuscript I’m writing, a contract with a client that I was really grateful to be working with came to an end, I wasn’t seeing any significant progress from the time I was putting in at CrossFit, and my 40th birthday was rapidly approaching. Also, my family and I decided to take a new approach to schooling for our son this year and I stepped into the role as “learning coach”. As it turns out, this is a WAYYYY bigger commitment than I originally realized. Wildfires ravaging my home state and the failing health of both of my grandmothers did not contribute favorably to my state either.

For someone who is very “productivity” driven (How much can I get done? What did I accomplish today? How many items on my to-do list did I check off?), I found that I was picking myself apart for what I didn’t achieve and feeling awfully guilty about it rather than patting myself on the back for what I did get done.

On that note, I recently heard a great remedy for this. Instead of focusing on the daily accomplishments or lack thereof, lump everything together weekly. Afterall, there is only so much we can do on any given day with the hours we are alotted and some days it is just going to be easier to fly through the to-dos. However, when you look back over the course of seven days, you typically get more done than you realize. Right? It’s a work in progress but I’m trying to accept what is and do the best that I can.

Anyway, in the end, September finished on a high note.

➼ Attended 24 CrossFit classes and one Olympic lifting class.

➼ I PR’d almost all of my lifts, successfully completed three unbroken toes-to-bar, and made the leaderboard for a WOD that consisted of 7 rounds of rowing 350 meters with a two-minute rest between sets.

➼ Ran 20.25 miles and walked or hiked 21 miles.

➼ Completed ten writing assignments for clients.

➼ Wrote four chapters for my novel.

➼ Survived the first month of coaching my son as we transitioned to a virtual learning environment.

➼ Drove the longest distance (to-date) by myself.

➼ Spent the last few days of the month with my mister in Arizona and got to visit Sedona for the first time where we hunted for vortexes and I fell in love (hard!) with the painted landscape and vibrant community. (This was the highlight of the entire month, for sure!)

::Neither Did I::

The highs of writing a manuscript are high. I relish the breakthroughs, the development of the characters and plot, the moments when the words flow freely… The lows of writing a manuscript are low. I am stricken with self-doubt, uncertain that I, with words alone, can paint a clear picture of these characters and the world they live in. And then there are the moments when the words don’t flow and I am stuck and searching.

It is an overwhelming process and I have to fight the urge to shift, reshape, and edit the work I’ve completed so far. I know better. The first draft is the worst draft. It becomes the guide for future drafts and that’s when the story truly unfolds. The only job I have right now is to get the story out of my head and onto paper, or a Word document, as it were.

I spoke with a dear friend a few days ago and told her I was working on a manuscript, covering the basic synopsis; “it’s a historical fiction piece, based in Los Angeles at the turn of the 19th century and inspired by true events.” In the most endearing way possible, she said to me that she didn’t know I had it in me to write a novel. I replied, “neither did I.”

However, every so often, after I’ve managed to string together a series of words that come from some unknown well inside of me, I sit back and read what I wrote. There are some nuggets good enough to make me believe that I do have it in me to write this book. To tell the story I want to tell. To show up day after day. To face the fear. To dream that it will get published. To share the work that I feel I have been given the privilege to do.