Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Subject of Socks

Since I just placed another order at the ever-amazing Sock Dreams site, I figured it would be appropriate to finally write my first post on the subject. (Well, the title of this blog IS "Kat in Socks," after all!) So I'll start with a confession:

My name is Kat, and I'm obsessed with socks. This may sound like hyperbole, but given the filled-to-overflowing state of my sock drawers, I suspect it's pretty close to the truth. I started collecting socks when I was about twelve. They were mostly cutesy novelty socks with patterns all over them. Socks like this:

Did I actually wear these socks to school and everything? Why yes, yes I did. Not everyone noticed them, since they weren't especially visible beneath the cuffs of my ever-present jeans. Still, I soon became known among my friends as the girl who liked weird socks. Bit by bit, my collection grew, and before I knew it I had several dozen pairs.

I'm not sure why I started collecting socks in the first place. It probably had something to do with the artist in me. I've always loved bright colors and interesting patterns, but at that age I wasn't brave enough to wear them openly. I had a secret fear of "clashing," since I was trained since childhood to err on the side of caution when it came to matching clothes. Since my socks weren't as visible, I felt freer to wear them in all the bold, bright colors I loved. My socks became a creative outlet, a way of covertly expressing myself. They were my one act of rebellion against the ordinary, hidden beneath my otherwise conservative clothing. (Bear in mind I was a shy, insecure, rule-following bookworm at the time!)

Now that I'm older, I don't care as much about what other people think of my clothes. It's nice to get compliments, but I wear my outfits for me-- knee socks, fingerless gloves, newsboy caps and all. That said, I still have an obsession with socks. My tastes have changed a bit over the years; I no longer crave novelty socks with bright patterns the way I once did, though I still buy a few pairs here and there. My new favorites are the neon-colored cuties pictured below, made by the awesome company Sock It to Me. (Why are these my favorites? One word: MANATEES.)

These days, I prefer to buy socks in unusual lengths and textures. I wear skirts more often, usually for the express purpose of showing them off. At the moment, my favorite socks are a black pair I bought at a store in Las Vegas, which are also being sold here at Sock Dreams (though they're currently out of the black ones): They're soft and stretchy and breathe well. Plus, the design is perfect. Buttons and vertical ribbing? Yes, please!

In summary, I love socks. A lot. It's been years since I've counted how many pairs I have, but I keep all the unusual ones, even when they start getting holes in them. At the same time, I keep buying new ones. It seems like there's a neverending supply of new styles and colors for me to try. (And I never buy only one pair at a time! They're like potato chips; I can't stop at one. One quickly turns into two, two turns into ten, and so on.) I've become something of a sock connoisseur, a sock enthusiast-- nay, a sock fanatic. Wearing odd socks is one of my favorite modes of self-expression, a way of adding just a little more color and creativity to my life.

So my name is Kat, and I am a passionate wearer of socks.

Well, now you know how this blog got its name! ;)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writer Trauma! And Why It Was Probably Good for Me: Part Two

In my last post, I talked about my first experience in writing a novel and how it ended as a bitter disappointment for me (what I jokingly call my "writer trauma"). It's a depressing post in some ways, but I felt it was important to be honest about the difficulties I've encountered on my writing journey so far, rather than pretend they never happened.

Well, that was that post! Now I'm here to discuss why the experience was good for me in the long run. It may sound predictable and trite to say that I grew as a result, and that it reinforced my belief that everything happens for a reason. And while I do believe these things, they're not the primary subject of this post. Instead, I want to talk about how my first failure led directly to my second attempt at writing a novel, and how it's been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.

After finding out my first effort wasn't publishable, I spent about a week feeling incredibly depressed, reading web comics in an effort to distract myself and pretend it never happened. (Not the most productive way to deal with it, perhaps, but comforting nevertheless!) Then I began thinking, "What next?" To my own surprise, I found myself trying to think of new ideas, new stories to write. Originally, I assumed I'd be too upset to even consider writing another novel, at least for a few months. Yet here I was, already brainstorming ideas for another project. I was startled by my own determination to try again; I guess you could say I didn't think I had it in me. That was my first discovery.

My second discovery was that I actually had ideas! This was a big surprise to me, because the first manuscript was the only decent idea I'd ever had for a novel, and I'd been trying to write one since I was eleven. I simply assumed it would take another seven years to have another idea like that. But as soon as I abandoned the first project, my ideas started flowing faster than ever before... Almost like I just needed to get that first idea out of my system, so I could move on to bigger and better things.

I wouldn't believe that last sentence, except it's exactly what happened! Less than two weeks after I'd abandoned my first novel, I began working on the idea that would eventually become my second manuscript. And it wasn't just as good as my first idea... Honestly, it blew the first one out of the water. My first manuscript was a paranormal romance, with a weak plot and borrowed mythology. The second eventually became a YA historical fantasy with a stronger plot and more complex characters, along with a mythology and system of magic that were largely my own inventions.

Oddly enough, the second book is much closer to the type of book I wanted to write in the first place-- I enjoy writing fantasy more than writing romance-- and while I wouldn't claim it's especially unique, the ideas are my own and draw inspiration from various sources, instead of being based upon a single mythology. What's more, the sources were all subjects that have interested me for some time (Arthurian legends, Greek myths, Hermetic alchemy, and ancient astrology, just to name a few), and even the setting was a dream come true (London 1887). I've been a 19th century fanatic since I was nine. The mere thought of having the opportunity to write Victorian dialogue and describe Victorian clothes made me giddy. (Heck, it still does!)

So you could say this second idea was my dream novel. It even came to me during a time when Victorian settings were becoming popular again, so I wasn't too worried that making it historical rather than contemporary would hurt its chances of being published. More importantly, I wanted to write it! In fact, I wanted to write it so badly that after a few weeks of planning, I plunged into the first draft, with only a handful of notes and sketches and a vague idea of where the story was going.

That was in March 2010. Half a year and four painstaking edits later, I have a completed manuscript for submission. I'm sure it's not perfect, and I'm still incredibly green as a writer. But I can say with confidence that my second attempt at a novel was much, much better than my first. It's also my favorite out of all the stories I've created, even the silly, self-indulgent ones that were just for my own enjoyment.

I guess that's why in the end, having a bad experience with my first novel was good for me. I've heard that sometimes writers have to get that first novel out of their system, the one that will never be published, just to learn and grow enough to move on to better things. I never really believed it until it happened to me. Granted, most of those writers learn this lesson AFTER they've received piles of rejection letters, not before! But it was only after I'd abandoned my first project that I realized what kind of novel I really wanted to write, and because of that, I was able to put all my heart and soul into writing the next story. I also learned to give more serious consideration to plot, to put more effort into developing complex characters, and how to edit-- thoughtfully, thoroughly, and over and OVER again. I'm still not perfect, but I've improved a great deal over the past year, and that makes all the effort and the disappointment worthwhile.

Still, maybe the most important discovery I've made about myself as a writer was the first one: I always wanted to keep writing, to try again even though I'd failed. Even now, that discovery keeps me going when I worry about failing a second time. No matter what happens, I know I'll keep writing. Oddly enough, that truth matters more to me than my loftiest goals regarding publication. In a way, my first setback helped me realize what was important-- and that's having a passion for writing, not anything else which might come from it. It might sound cliché, but I believe that's exactly what makes someone a writer: the simple urge to write, regardless of everything else.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Writer Trauma! And Why It Was Probably Good for Me: Part One

So far, I haven't really talked about my novel on this blog. Even though this site is but a humble little corner of the Internet, to the point where it's almost my private space, I don't plan to discuss what my novel's actually ABOUT for many months. Why? Well...

You could say I have trauma. Writer trauma. Unpublished writer trauma, stemming from my first novel-writing experience. See, lots of writers will tell you that trying to get published can be a scary experience. And it is, of course. Most people already know about the odds of getting tons of rejection letters. But sometimes, writers just have bad luck. Really bad luck, even before they get the chance to submit a manuscript. That was the case with me.

See, once upon a time, Seventeen-Year-Old Me was sitting in class and had an idea. But it wasn't just any idea... It was The Idea. The perfect idea for a novel that had never been written, as far as I knew. It was original and romantic and interesting, and once I managed to get it down on paper, it would surely give me a chance to break into the writing business, the very thing I had secretly dreamed of for years! Or so I thought, as naive and optimistic Seventeen-Year-Old Me.

Years passed. I became an undergrad in college and was swamped with coursework. I didn't have much time to write, and when I did I felt exhausted and uninspired. I think I must have started and restarted that novel at least three or four times during this period. Eventually I said to myself, "Enough already! I'll just take a year off after college, write it all down, and then submit it and see if it's publishable!" So that's what I did. After receiving my B.A., I took a year off from school and used that time to draft my first novel. To my surprise, it only took six months! I was so excited to move on to the editing process. Then, just after I finished the first draft... It happened.

The Traumatic Event. The one thing I HADN'T counted on, as I prepared myself for brutal edits and harsh criticism and mountains of rejection letters...

You see, this was when I discovered my brilliant idea had already been written. Not just written, published-- as a very popular, highly anticipated, and VERY recent release. What's more, the basic mythology I had used (the same mythology I was drawn to because "it hadn't been done before") quickly became the new trend in 2009-2010 YA literature, specifically the Paranormal Romance genre-- exactly the same genre as my first novel.

It was an especially bitter pill to swallow, because I realized I was right. My idea was a perfectly marketable, popular idea! Here was the proof, sitting right in front of my face on the bookstore shelves. Even now, it's still a huge trend in the genre. Obviously, I'm not going to say which book made it impossible for me to submit my story. Suffice to say that it not only used the same mythology, but had exactly the same plot twist at the end. (Yeah... Really bad luck, right?) So my options were as follows: rewrite the entire book, give up completely, or move on to something else.

Honestly, I thought I would be forced to give up. I didn't want to, but the truth was I hadn't had a decent idea since that first one seven years ago. I was haunted by all sorts of questions and regrets... If I'd just written down my idea sooner, would I have been published by now? Was my first attempt at a novel going to be my last? Would I ever find something to write about again? Then something strange happened... But that's a story best saved for Part Two. Here's a hint: I moved on and managed to write a second book.

But how have I dealt with the whole another-writer-beat-me-to-it situation? Answer: Not as well as I'd like. The experience has made me pretty paranoid, honestly. Now that I have another novel ready for submission, I've been checking Amazon obsessively, hoping and praying that no one else has written it yet. Every time I discover a novel that's even slightly comparable to my new manuscript, I panic. This is especially pathetic because the new novel would be much more difficult to replicate... But that doesn't mean it's impossible for someone to publish something similar. Then I might find myself where I was before: stuck with a useless manuscript and an unfinished dream and not even the fragile satisfaction that I was rejected for something within my power (i.e. my own work), but instead was once again headed off at the pass by Really Awful Luck (tm).

Yeah. It's not exactly something that helps me sleep better at night. It's all the more terrifying because I am hopelessly in love with this second novel, and I don't want to give it up! I want to have a chance to share this book with other people. I want to write the other books I've planned for the series. I want to keep obsessing over and loving these characters. I don't want to consign them to my writer's dustbin of ideas that didn't pan out. I've had to do it before, and it was terrible then. It would be devastating, no, heartbreaking now. That's why I don't talk about my new idea online. I'm too paranoid someone else will see it and maybe try to write it themselves.

It helps to know I'm not alone. The more I read about other writers who are struggling to get published, the more I realize I'm not the unluckiest person on earth, just another writer who's dared to chase a difficult dream. It also helps to know I'm not the only one dealing with disappointments and insecurities-- and all the anxiety those things can bring. It's nice to know I'm not losing my mind, as I scour the YA section at Borders yet again, heart pounding, palms sweating, terrified I'll discover my dream has been yanked out of my hands for a second time.

But what helps the most is the knowledge that my first experience in trying to write a novel led directly to my second. Simply the process of drafting and editing the new project has been a joy. And that brings me to Part Two, which deals with why my disappointing experience was probably a good thing in the long run.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Writing Novels and Being a Lit Major

Since I've decided to start blogging again, I thought it would be fitting to make a few posts about what I've discovered about my writing process since finishing my current novel. So I guess I'll start with this one!

One question that's been on my mind a lot lately is whether being an English Literature major in college has helped or hurt my ability to write fiction. That might sound strange... After all, an English degree is an English degree, right? But I could have chosen a Creative Writing concentration instead of English Lit, and I sometimes wonder if I should have considered it. I still took plenty of writing courses in my undergrad years, but I felt my talents were stronger in the English Lit area. Besides, I loved my classes. The only thing I enjoy more than writing about books is, well, writing books.

Still, the question remains, especially since I've decided to take a shot at my crazy dream to become a novelist... Did my choice of major help or hurt my ability to write fiction?

I can't answer that question definitively, but I can say that when it comes to writing a novel, having a background in English Lit has advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to the disadvantages, the major one I've noticed is that I have a tendency to write even fictional prose like I'm writing an essay. As you can imagine, this is NOT a good thing! (I have a grand total of one character who can get away with using essay transitions in his dialogue, those wonderfully dry and formulaic phrases like "For instance" and "Additionally" and so on.) I have to make every effort to curb this impulse, because let's be honest, no one picks up a book of fiction to read something that sounds like an academic essay.

That being said, I have discovered a few unexpected advantages to being a Lit major when it comes to writing fiction. One thing that never gives me the slightest trouble is identifying overall themes in my work. If anything, I probably think too much about possible symbolism and reader interpretations. Still, as long as I avoid dwelling on it before the first draft is finished, I've found that this perspective actually strengthens my ability to write a complex story. That's especially true when it comes to adding foreshadowing and choosing the imagery for a given passage. After all, these are things I considered all the time in college; the only difference was that I was analyzing someone else's work rather than my own.

The other major advantage is that I'm familiar with a broad spectrum of classic literature, so I have a decent range of influences. As much as I love books, I probably wouldn't have read most of my college assignments on my own time. (No, not even you, Moby Dick!) Since my novel is set in 1887, my experience with literature of the 1800's has definitely been an asset. It doesn't mean I haven't been doing any research-- I've done a LOT of it, and I plan on doing even more for the series as a whole-- but it does mean I have a general understanding of the literature and culture of the period. It also means I can have fun throwing a few literary jokes into my work! (My favorite in my current novel was naming a character after Varney the Vampire, the title character of a penny dreadful of the same name.)

So while I'm still not sure whether I'd recommend being an English Lit major to other aspiring novelists, I can honestly say that my college education has helped me write better fiction. Whether the benefits of having a Creative Writing concentration would have been greater is something I'll never know for sure, but as a lit geek who thoroughly enjoyed her undergrad years, I'm okay with that. ;)