Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Might Fortress, Complete with Secret Entrance

Wednesdays are filing day at work. I have to have an assigned day because I truly despise filing. It’s like a treasure hunt with really hard to find caches and really boring treasure. The weeks around month end or closings when I don’t have time for filing do not break my heart.

Sadly, this week is a slow week, and I have plenty of time to catch up on the filing I skipped last week, so this morning I collected a stack of files to return and marched into my cabinet cubby hole. In order to save space, the firm where I work has shelves on wheels that can compress together. I have to spin a dial to access my little alcove. Most filing days I make myself comfortable on the floor and sprawl out all the documents and files I am going through around me. For reasons I do not fully understand my coworkers find the sight of me sitting cross legged on the floor of a filing cabinet simply hilarious. I can never go in there without someone making a quip about how cozy I look or suggesting that all I need is a campfire and some marshmallows. Today though, when I rolled open my little hideaway, this greeted me.

I was instantly delighted. I went straight to the office of Jenn from Marketing and knocked on the door. Jenn’s office is right outside my fortress and she is the most frequent commenter on my campout habits, so I was absolutely certain she was behind this brilliant sign. Jenn had no idea what I was talking about, though she agreed it was awesome. Maybe Heather My Desk Neighbour did it?

Heather not only didn’t do it, she had no idea I even sit on the floor in there. Another round of quips ensued before Heather said that surely Keith did it.

Keith is one of my bosses. He creates 99% of the filing that goes into that fortress, although he never ventures there himself. Still, we all agreed the Keith was exactly the sort of person to create a funny sign. When he next came by we asked him, and he agreed, he is the sort of person to do that, but he did not, in fact create this sign. 

I was getting more and more intrigued by this point, and so was Heather. Who could have created this sign? It had to be someone on our side of the office, someone who sees me in there often enough to think to make a sign.

I went to the person with the next closest desk to the hideout, even though I know Heather the Wills Paralegal is not the sort of person to make goofy signs. I was right on that front. Maybe it was Viv the EA? She’s nearby and our work overlaps a lot, but no, Viv also was not responsible for the sign.

Everyone who I had spoken to agreed; the sign was hilarious. None of them even knew what I was talking about when I asked “did you put up a sign in my filing cabinet”, so I knew no one was lying just to troll me. Why was no one fessing up? I only wanted to tell them how awesome they were!

Heather My Neighbour thought maybe Amanda the Event Coordinator did it. I was Amanda’s mentor when she was a new employee and we’re pretty chummy, plus she also sits nearby, but we couldn’t ask her right away. I resolved to ask her after lunch, and Heather said that if Amanda wasn’t the one behind it, this officially became weird. This only made sense of someone in my department did it, because who else would know about my fort? If Heather hadn’t even been aware, and someone from another floor or department randomly deciding to make a sign, putingt a picture on it, and taping it to the back wall of my cabinet went to cool to just odd.

Straight after lunch, before I even put down my bag, I went to Amanda’s desk and asked her. She too had no idea what I was talking about, but laughed when she saw the sign. Maybe Keith was the one to do it?

I returned to my desk not sure what to think next. Regardless of if it had been put up by some crazy person who wasn’t even aware as to why this was so fitting, I still thought it was cool, but I wanted to know who did it.

“Hey, did you put a sign in my filing cabinet?” I asked to first person to pass my desk. This person turned.

“Yeah, I did.”

What?! I sat up straight. Who was I even talking to?

It was Diana. The assistant who shares the compressed filing space with me. Diana, the matriarch of the tax assistants. She sits down the hall and I never even considered she would be the one to post it, but apparently two weeks ago she stopped by and saw me on the floor, and when she commented I said, “yes, this is my fort” without even looking up. She thought this was so funny she made a sign, and now she’s absolutely tickled pink that she’s created such a mystery in the office.

I sent the picture of the sign to my family this morning while the mystery was still unfolding. My mother replied to the post with a trip down memory lane, reminding me of when I was a teenager and I spent all my free time curled up on this little ledge built into my closet. It made the best reading nook, and despite how weird my friends thought it was, I loved curling up in there. Even now, when the world gets to be too much, I kick out my shoes and take up residence in my closet until the world starts to make sense again.

It appears I have always looked for hideouts in cramped spaces. Thank you Diana, for making my work one official.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hi There. Here, Please Have a Small Piece of My Soul

Someone told me once that only 50% of the people who ever get a novel idea actually sit down to write it, and of those, 50% actually finish. The numbers of finishers who actually complete an edited draft is also half of those who start.

Do I have any evidence to back up these statistics? No. They are probably exaggerated, but they get the right idea. A lot more people start writing books than finish them, and a lot less than that actually edit them. This is why I have always been rather proud of my four completed first drafts, and part of the reason I push myself so hard on revisions. I want to take myself seriously as a writer, I would one day like someone to pay me for what is currently an obsessive hobby. I was very, very proud of myself when, over Christmas break, I finally finished the second draft I had been working on throughout 2015. I was proud of my work. I was proud of my accomplishment, and proud of my book. It had a real story arc that made sense, good characters and best of all it was finally the story I wanted to tell. I was eager to move onto the next step: finding beta readers.

All the writing books and blogs I have ever read talk about how important it is to choose people to review your work who will be honest and analytical. People who won’t be afraid to tell you when you suck and save you from sending thoroughly mediocre work into the publishing world. My first ever complete first draft I naively showed to all my friends to draw out their praise, but since then, no one has read my novels (save for my brother, he loves me so much he still maintains that my feverishly written, typo-riddled first drafts are brilliant). I keep these so private because I don’t need editing in my creation process. Shutting up my own inner editor is hard enough, so this group of beta readers were going to be the first people to read this novel. More importantly, they would be the people telling me if my refined work of art would make a marketable product and could be pitched to actual publishers.

I chose my betas carefully; friends from my writing group, a friend who runs a bookstore, a sprinkling of siblings and my self-published sister, the brilliant Jaima Fixsen. I have beta read and copy edited her three books so she owes me, and I knew I could count on her to rip my book apart if necessary. I went into this process coolly, having chosen a healthy mixture of those that would be analytical and honest and those who would tell me I’m fabulous to build me up after. I converted my novel to an epub file, and sent it off.

Here is the funny thing about sending your work to beta readers. As soon as you hit send, your loving and supportive friends, your darling siblings, even your adorable 14 year old niece and doting father turn into this in your mind's eye:

A little piece of you that you have held dear for so long is now out in the world, waiting in other peoples’ inboxes to be scrutinized. It’s like taking a newborn baby and handing it naked to a group of critics who are about to tell you that this beautiful child whom you have lovingly brought into existence actually is entirely defective. Maybe you should just cast it aside.

To make matters worse, my writing time, which previously had been dedicated solely to this project was now wide open. What should I work on? I couldn’t pick up another revision, that seemed too weird. Instead, I spent weeks picking away at forgotten fanfictions while thinking every time I opened my laptop; “someone could be reading my novel right now. RIGHT NOW they could be reading it and either laughing or wondering what the heck is Elena trying to say?”

After a few weeks I calmed down a bit, remembering some people would take a while to get started, and then my first review came in. Kate, who wrote it, sent me a text to say she’d sent it. I got said text while getting into the elevator at work to go for lunch. Never had I been more excited and scared to get back into a wifi zone.

My first review was the best possible kind of review; positive, with a few ideas of how to improve that didn’t dramatically alter my story.

Are there any words more sweet than “I liked your story”? I don’t think so.

I am thinking beta readers serve two purposes; to critique, and to test your nerves. How in the world do published writers feel when their books hit the shelves?