Please welcome writer Caitlin Garzi to the Member Spotlight this morning! Caitlin is a new member to the site, and found out about our Book Country community via her involvement in NaNoWriMo. Her NaNoWriMo project-a WIP called CORIANNE CASTLE–is available to read and review on Book Country.
LS: You participated in NaNoWriMo this year. Tell us everything about your experience–your project, how it felt to “do the Nano,” and what you learned about yourself as a writer.
CG: Last year, one of my fellow Kansas State English graduates participated in NaNoWriMo and I had the opportunity to read the novel that resulted from her effort. She was so excited every day about writing and managed to complete a herculean 50,000 words in November. She inspired me to try out Nano and see what I could do.
I had a whole list of potential YA novel ideas and so I selected my favorite, a novel about Corianne Castle, a 16 year old worker at Waverly Theme Park in the dilapidated town of South Keyes, Florida. Cori was abandoned by her father and is being raised by a mother who suffers from a slight shopping problem– she’s purchased practically every Mary Sue collectable item, from the Mary Sue Limited Edition New Year’s Baby right down to the Mary Sue official Movie Popcorn maker. When Corianne gets sucked into the universe of the occult, she sets off on a mission to rescue her mother’s sanity and end non-magical human torture, even if it means tearing down the thin barrier that separates wizards from the rest of the world.
I was excited about this idea because it allowed me to explore the social implications of many of the “wizard” books out there– from the real life “authentic collector” items that have proliferated to the hypothetical treatment of non-magical peoples of magical worlds. I knew anything I wrote would be “issue driven” young adult, and this idea fit the bill.
The first twenty pages were so easy to write! I breezed through the theme park descriptions, altercations Cori has with customers, and issues she has serving food to her snobby and unlikable classmates. I never knew I could write so much so quickly! Once Cori was ready to enter the world of magic, though, I hit some snags and needed to do some brainstorming. I’m sad to say I only made it 30,000 words into the Nano challenge, but it was still so rewarding and exciting!
LS: Outside of NaNoWriMo, what’s your usual writing routine like?
CG: I do my best writing in the morning and on the weekends at crowded coffee shops with hot lattes, but my schedule doesn’t always allow me to work this way. However, it’s important for me to just write, rather than waiting for when I feel inspired or jazzed, so I try to find a moment to write in between tasks.
I used my hour train commute to write scenes on my iPad. At first it was difficult because my novel is on my laptop at home, but it actually helped me procrastinate less. Instead of rereading the first several chapters of my work, I was limited to focusing only on writing the new stuff, which helped me make more word count progress.
LS: Now that NaNoWriMo is over, what’s your next step, and how do you think Book Country will be a part of it?
CG: Right now, I’m looking to get feedback on my first 30,000 words. I’ve sent the novel to several of my writerly friends and have posted it to Book Country.
I’ve asked for feedback on character development and plot progress, and I’ll use the feedback I receive from Book Country members to start work on the second half of the novel!
LS: You have an Master’s Degree in Composition and Rhetoric. Tell us more about how your academic studies influence your creative work.
CG: Everyone in English studies jokes that Composition and Rhetoric is the practical one of the family, and it’s true. While literature students study Poe and Rowling, we study persuasive writing. While creative writers argue about the placement of sex scenes, we argue about what should be taught in Freshman Composition and why. But it turns out that studying Comp/Rhet helped me a ton in terms of pursuing my dream to write fiction. It allowed me to realize that it’s okay to have shitty first drafts.
You see, Comp/Rhet scholars spend a lot of time studying writer paralysis. That’s when writers stare at their blank screen and feel paralyzed by the very possibility of adding words to the page. The first sentence has to be the best. I don’t know what to write. Maybe I should change my topic.
Those negative thoughts have been built up by years of heresy and advice and can cause so much pressure that writers feel like each sentence has to be perfect as soon as it lands on the page. This kind of thinking prevents writers from starting, but also prevents them from the process of revising, reorganizing, and rewriting– things that all good writers do.
Several impressive scholars dedicated their research to exposing the perfect first draft as a fraud, instead advocating that all first drafts are “shitty” and need revision. While reading their scholarship, I realized that I was paralyzed, too. Maybe not when it came to essay writing, but fiction writing.
I had been telling myself for years that the market was saturated already, that I couldn’t come up with any good ideas, that it was too daunting to organize a 200 page plot, etc.
I was just like the writers in my studies: negative thoughts were preventing me from putting my pen to paper, were causing me to be paralyzed. So I gave up. I said to myself, “you’re going to a write a shitty first book. You can revise it later, you can write a better second one, but you are going to write this first one. And it will suck.”
Without the pressure of feeling like I needed to write the next Hunger Games, I could finally just write. And I did. I wrote a really shitty first book that hopefully will never see the light of day, but writing the book taught me so much about character development, pacing, and plot and more importantly, allowed me to prove to myself that I could do it– I could write a book.
I started my second book for NaNoWRiMo, and even though I didn’t finish on the deadline, I have 30,000 words that I absolutely love– I can’t wait to keep writing!
LS: When you first joined Book Country, you told me that you were excited about the idea of a “swap and share” community that would be similar to the one that graduate students enjoy IRL. I know that you work in marketing and content development. I’m curious to know your thoughts in general about this kind of movement of all of our “normal” activities, like writing workshops and sharing stories, to an online space.
CG: I am a big believer in writing communities and their effectiveness. In graduate school, my classmates and I would wander down to Radina’s Coffee Shop and set up shop to work on whatever impossibly lengthy project had a deadline looming. Being near each other while writing allowed us to ask quick questions, receive real-time feedback, and talk through ideas.
Since my co-scholars and I shared the same classes and deadlines, it was easy to align our schedules and writing interests. It’s not always that easy in real life. Without a shared activity, it’s hard to bring communities together. Meet Up is trying to do it, so is How About We, but those communities are limited by space– literal distance between potential participants. Bringing writing communities online is scary because writing is an inherently personal process, but it also allows for the possibility to create communities around shared interests rather than shared schedules.
There’s a real dearth of software out there that allows writers to mimic the kinds of editing that happens when emailing a Word document to four of your friends, but the advent of Book Country has introduced a new option that has the potential to move the feedback process online– and I’m excited to see it happen!
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