Saturday, April 26, 2014

Decluttering my Manuscript

Although I don’t have as much time for television nowadays, there was a time when I loved watching reality shows about anything related to houses.  One of my big addictions was watching shows about professional home organizers and the crazy people who hired them. I found it fascinating to watch these homeowners sort through a life’s worth of belongings and place them into neat little piles. It must have been the psychologist in me.

I haven’t seen one of those shows in awhile, but one cleaning trick used by the professionals has stuck with me. The experts would make the homeowners sort their belongings into piles such as Keep, Donate, and Trash. To me, however, the most interesting pile was the “Holding” pile. The idea was to put anything that you were unsure about into this pile and leave it there for one week.  If you didn’t miss it in that week then you didn’t need it. The homeowners always hated this pile and argued about why they needed their old broken lamp or used coffee maker. However, it almost always turned out that the homeowners completely forgot about their supposedly precious belongings once they were out of sight, and later had no issue throwing them away.

Now that I’ve been revising and editing my manuscript for a little while, I’ve noticed a parallel between decluttering a room and ‘decluttering’ a novel. Most certainly, there are huge swaths of the first draft that I can immediately drop into the Trash pile…a depressing amount of text actually.  And, every once in awhile, I’ll find a passage or conversation that I want to put in the Keep pile.  Many times though, I’ve found myself using the Holding pile. I’ll read over a page and know that certain paragraphs aren’t working. I tell myself to just delete them and start again, but I can’t bear to throw them away.  I’ll highlight the text, my finger hovering over the backspace key, and then decide to copy it into another document instead.  It’s such a relief to know that work is still accessible, just in case I need it. The funny thing is, just like those homeowners, I always think I’ll need it. I convince myself that I’ll come back to a certain line again or use a description somewhere else in the book.  In reality, that new document is where words go to die.  I’ve never been able to use anything that I’ve copied over there and it’s rare that I even reread the passages once I copy them.  Nonetheless, I still like knowing the words are there if I want them.

 After thinking about it, I’ve decided that the process is a little like mourning. By putting the words in my holding pile, instead of the trash pile, it gives me a bit of time to grieve before I can move on.

I guess it’s like purgatory for words.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Conference Insprirations

At this time last Friday, I was standing in a hotel conference room in the middle of a state park, perusing books and chatting with other attendees at the Indiana SCBWI conference.  Only a week has passed and already I’m wishing that I could go back and experience that weekend again.  This was the first conference I’d been able to attend since 2011 (!!) so it was a big deal for me to get back in the saddle and try my hand at all this again.  It was such an inspiration to spend an entire weekend surrounded by other writers and talk about nothing but writing nonstop.  I guess for some people that might sound extremely tedious, but I so rarely get to spend more than an hour or two on my writing that this felt like pure luxury. 

Going into the conference, I told myself that I should take advantage of every opportunity, even if those opportunities made me a little uneasy. There were definitely some times when I wished I hadn’t made such a promise, but ultimately I was pretty proud of myself. I forced myself to talk to some of the authors who were invited guests even though I was very intimidated (although I know that’s silly), stuck up many conversations with complete strangers, and  did an “open mic” reading where you stand at a microphone and read your manuscript for 3 minutes and then get anonymous feedback.  I also had my first one-on-one critique with an editor from Abrams Publishing.  I had to wait outside in the hallway before the critique and it felt a little like I was waiting to go into the principle’s office…except the principle ended up being younger than me and many of the fellow “students” waiting in the halls were old enough to be retired teachers.  J  I ended up having a surprisingly reassuring (if not 100% positive) critique.  I was relieved…beforehand I’d had some visions of me limping out of the room with tears streaming down my face.

Overall, I think the best thing to come from the conference was an increase to my “self-efficacy.” As I’ve written before in a previous post, this is basically your belief about your capability to perform particular tasks.  I definitely had some reservations going into this conference… 
Could I drive to another state alone and navigate through a state park to find my hotel? Check.      
Did I have the courage to make friends with strangers and exchange information?  Check.          
To network? *cringe* Check.            
To read my book aloud to a room full of strangers? Check.         
To sit face-to-face with an editor and take her criticism with a nod and a smile? Check.

To be quite honest, seeing that list of “checks” surprises me in the best possible way.  I’m realizing that I’m more capable than I originally thought, and this makes me even more excited for all of the conferences to come!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SCBWI I come!

I'm extremely excited because this weekend I'm going to my first SCBWI conference in 3 years!  It'll be a bit of a drive because it's in Indiana, but I'm thrilled to be able to listen to speakers, talk to other writers, and have my first one-on-one critique!  (Eek!!)  Okay, I'm more than a little nervous about that because I'll be speaking with a children's book editor, but I know it'll be good for me.  Given the amount I have to do before I leave tomorrow, I'll end this post now...but rest assured that I'll be back to tell you all how it went!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Apple Tarts!!

Okay, I know this is supposed to be a blog about writing, but I couldn't resist writing a quick post about the yummy apple tarts I made this afternoon!!  They were really easy to make (peeling and slicing the apples was the only thing that took time) and they look so fancy.  :)

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Intersection of Writing and Psychology

Although a few people know me as an aspiring writer, most people know me as Dr. Boyce, a psychology faculty member at OSU. At first glance, it might seem that I have quite varied interests since my day job focuses on teaching research methods and scientific principles in psychology and my “night” job is all about creating fantasy.  However, over the years, I’ve come to realize that the two disciplines actually have quite a bit in common.  So much so that I almost decided to name this entire blog after this commonality…but then I decided it really should be about writing and not academia. Nonetheless, I can’t help but share some of the similarities when they pop into my mind. I love psychology and writing so it’s always fun for me to try to combine the two.  J

For instance, this week I was teaching my undergraduate class about a term called “self-efficacy.” Basically, someone who has high self-efficacy believes that they have the capability to perform a particular behavior. It’s very subjective in nature; someone who is highly capable in reality may still have low self-efficacy if they don’t believe in themselves and vice versa. Research has shown the great importance of self-efficacy in our lives. My favorite bit of research shows that someone who has lesser skills but high self-efficacy can achieve more than someone with a lot of talent but no belief in themselves. At first glance that might be a little surprising, but I think it also makes a lot of sense. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you think your efforts are useless then it won’t get you anywhere. I think sometimes people like to downplay the power of the mind and our expectations, but these most definitely have the ability to motivate us…or kill our dreams before we’ve even begun to work towards them.

As I talked about this in class, I started to realize how perfectly this relates to the struggles that many writers go through.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about writing or talked to another writer who didn’t have struggles with self-efficacy. Every day we have to wake up and believe that we can write something interesting enough for other people (i.e. agents and editors!) to care about. Personally, I know that I have bouts of low self-efficacy, particularly when I see many other amazing and talented writers around me. (I guess this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming SCBWI conference I’m going to!)  I’m inspired by others, but I also start to wonder if it’s even possible for me to write something publishable. Of course, as soon as I begin to think this, it drags down my mood and makes it almost impossible to write.

So, in order to combat this, I’ve started just telling myself that it is possible and I don’t let any other thoughts enter my head.  I don’t want to hear about the statistics of how many new writers become published every year and I don’t want to think about the hundreds of thousands (millions?!) of other people out there right now working towards the same goal that I have. I just have to tell myself that I can do it.  I need the highest self-efficacy I can muster, no matter if it’s based in reality or not! By itself, it won’t get me where I want to go, but I certainly can’t get there without it either.