About Taylor Lauren Ross

i live, i laugh, i love… i write.

Platform Upgrade

My Dear Followers,

One of the things often discussed at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference was Platform. Knowing this is a hot topic, I began working on my website before the conference. I considered branding beginning with, what should my domain name be? It’s commonly suggested that authors use their names as their brands. For me, this was a dilemma in itself, considering how many “Taylor Ross”es there are in the world. (I’m friends with two on Facebook alone, and went to elementary school with one of them.) My mentor told me I was lucky to have two middle names and thus two middle initials to choose from, but I didn’t jive with his suggestion that “Taylor W. Ross” is as memorable as “George W. Bush,” and the gmail account that I wanted for my other middle initial was taken.

While it would be impossible for me to know how or if it’s helped me, I’ve been grateful to have a gender-neutral name (once I got over the playground taunting of “that’s a boy’s name”—this was before the days of Taylor Swift), so I was reluctant to announce my gender by using “Lauren.” However, I am writing a book about women, for women, so ultimately I decided to use my feminine middle name. Thus, taylorlaurenross.com was born.

I have learned about web hosting, FTP, uploading various WordPress themes, and Filezilla. I managed to export and import all of my previous blog posts, and create a static homepage. I had a professional author photo taken. Now, I am proud to say, my website is live.

From now on, I will be posting to the blog over at taylorlaurenross.com. My dear followers, it has been a pleasure to write for you, and I am so grateful for your support in my writing journey. I would be honored if you’d follow me over at my new site.

Taylor Lauren Ross website

Next up: a Father’s Day post with more on my experiences at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference, including my BIG NEWS—on the requests I may or may not have gotten for partials—and later, a phenomenal reading list from the SBWC and advice from Stephen Chbosky, writer of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, novel and movie, and Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone series, often known as the alphabet mystery series.

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The Hours

I am attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference TODAY. Excited. Nervous! I haven’t posted here in a while, party because I have spent the last few weeks preparing. I… wrote a 1-page synopsis of my novel. Wrote out a three-line pitch and went over and over and over it. Chose stories I’ve written to bring to the workshops (whether I have the courage to actually present my work and be critiqued by a bunch of total strangers, that’s another story). Spent much too long going through my wardrobe and assembling an outfit for each day…

I haven’t been doing much actual fiction writing. This worries me.

dance tix

A couple months ago I went to see two dance performances: Alvin Ailey at the Arlington in Santa Barbara, and the Trey McIntyre Project at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Both were gorgeous. I especially liked the Trey McIntyre Project’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus, one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies, in which Titus coerces his enemy to eat a pie made out of her sons. I saw my first Titus when studying abroad in London, as a groundling at the Globe, and I was so close I got to rest my elbows on the stage and actually saw one of the actors slip a capsule of fake blood between his lips! In this performance, the three dancers used flowing red fabric to symbolize the deaths, and the female dancer stuffed a stringy, play dough-like substance into her mouth.

When you’re a dancer, you put in a lot of time practicing. I danced in high school, on my high school dance troupe, and we practiced every day after school. Plus weekend rehearsals for performances. Other girls, more intense than I, took additional classes at outside dance studios. An easy estimate? 10-20 hours per week. A professional dancer? I don’t know, but I could easily guess 40-60 hours per week. (“Black Swan”? It’s not just a profession, it’s an obsession.)

Dance Troupe

My high school dance troupe sweatshirt and worn-in ballet and jazz shoes.

So when I take a break from fiction writing to do synopsis writing, and pitch writing, and sometimes no writing, even though I’m working toward the very writerly goal of attending and making the most of a writers conference, I get worried. Worse, I log my hours when I do write fiction daily and realize I only write for 6-10 hours per week.

When I spoke to my mentor recently, he said it sounds like I’m getting things done. It seems like I’ve got a good groove. And it’s true—on a normal day, I wake up and write in the morning. Creative writing only. I don’t let anything else get in, for at least an hour. Then I go to work, and then come home and eat dinner and walk the dog. Evenings are for marketing, blogging, emails, research, etc.

Except when I’m doing something like preparing for a conference. Or building a website. (More on that to come—I’ve decided it’s time for me to have a real author website with a domain name and branding and so forth. Yesterday I had a photo shoot for my author photo!)

But, no matter how much I accomplish, there is this niggling feeling that I should be doing more. No matter how much I write, I always feel I should have put in more hours, another thousand words. Like a professional dancer, shouldn’t a professional writer work for 40-60 hours per week? How will I ever become the writer I want to be if I don’t put in that kind of time?

One beautiful day stands out in my mind, when I wrote for 5 hours straight and didn’t notice the time passing. Another day, where between writing, reading, and critiquing, I had a full 8-hour day of writerly life (this blog post). Why are these so few and far between? Could I, even if I had the time and the money, write for 8 hours a day? Or write for 4 and do the rest of the necessary stuff for 4?

And, regarding the conference, have I prepared enough? Am I going to make a fool of myself? Botch my editor/agent meetings and any other important encounters? Is it really time for me to attend a conference? Perhaps I need six more drafts of this novel.

I wonder if I will always feel like I should be doing/should have done more.

But I suppose a writer must strike a balance between what she wants and what she is capable of, just as she must strike a balance between writing and all the other aspects of life. Perhaps I’ll find some answers to my questions over the coming days, as I immerse myself in workshops, panels, and lectures, surrounded by writers.

Dance sweatshirt

Art, the Messenger

I discovered the video “To This Day,” based on a poem by Shane Koyczanwhen reading the blog Synapsis & Synopsis. This well-designed animation tells a clear, powerful story in an aesthetically pleasing way, while sending a strong, accessible message.

Haven’t we all dealt with bullying at one time or another in our lives? If not bullying, exactly, we certainly have all had to find and make friends, enter or leave social groups, and learn how to participate in social dynamics.

This video moved me because of the experiences I have had in my life, and for the messages I would like to send with my own work. My novel features a college girl who must learn to navigate the treacherous social situations in her sorority. Female relationships often include bullying/cyberbullying and back-stabbing while women vie for popularity, and my book incorporates these themes. I know as an artist you cannot control how your work will be viewed or the impact it will have. However, my hope is that the young women who read this book will reconsider how they treat each other. I hope they might change their views and actions, and try to boost each other up, rather than tear each other down.

Recently I picked up Tammara Webber‘s Easy at the library. While the book prominently features a love story, there were several elements of confidence and learning to stand up for oneself, emotionally and physically. The protagonist experiences near-rape within the first few pages of the book, and she spends most of the book in fear of her attacker. *Spoiler alert* She takes self defense classes and ultimately triumphs–in a final confrontation with her attacker at the end of the book, she not only fends him off, she uses her new skills to give him a bloody nose. I had no doubt that she would stand up to him in court. At the close of the book, I enjoyed the way her love story reached a happy ending, but I was more impressed by the way she had grown. 

Easy

In the pages following the story, there were discussion questions. One of them was, “Did reading Easy make you want to learn self-defense?” and my answer was a resounding YES. I absolutely felt a heightened sense of awareness of the issues women who have experienced rape face and wanted to take action to protect myself. I haven’t signed up for self defense classes yet, but I have become much more aware of the message “90 percent of self-defense involves reducing the risk of attack in the first place.”

Visual media and the written word are two powerful forms of art. The video moved me and strengthened my desire to impact the conversation on bullying among women. The book inspired me to take action and change the way I live my life. This kind of impact is what I aspire to in my own work.

I am, first and foremost, a Creator.

“Do what you love.”

This mantra, instilled in me by my mother, is one of the many reasons I’m grateful for her guidance. She’s said this to me many times over the years, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer without her support. Not that doing what you love is easy, but it’s much more fulfilling. I know this because I’ve done things I haven’t loved. No matter how hard it can be to sit down and set my fingers to the keyboard, it always leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something—the gratification of a creator.

Indeed, creativity breeds inspiration, and vice versa. The creative mind is always at work. Some days, I will sit down to write and not notice the time passing, and I’ll look up and five hours have passed and thousands of words have flown from my fingers. These days are rare, unfortunately. More often I’ll slog through an hour or two and need something to recharge. Sometimes the simple acts of walking the dog or doing the laundry will clear my mind and allow my subconscious to solve the problems of plot or character or dialogue. I have noticed, however, that working on other creative tasks feeds my writer’s mind. And so, in between writing, I create other things.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

IMG_1965

I couldn’t say exactly how this works, or why, I just know that it does. Sometimes I worry that I’m procrastinating. I ask myself: wouldn’t my time be better spent at the computer? But I’ve tried that, too, and you can’t force creation, only encourage it. There’s common advice in the writing world, in which you set aside your work for a given amount of time before going back to revise. Some say a month, some a year. For me the time varies and I always wish it were shorter. One of the things I’m learning as a writer is finding the best ways to encourage my creation.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand. 

Also between writing, I’m still researching away. My phone call with the agent last week went very well—not only did he give me some invaluable advice (formatting is crucial, and the 25-lines per page rule should most definitely be followed, for example), he agreed to read the manuscript. Draft 6 is “done,” and I think I may finally have achieved the triumphant end. Of course, now that I have this opportunity, I feel like I need to revise it at least fifty more times. I have a week and half to nitpick, and then it’s time to take a deep breath and send it off.

Story Slam WINNERS

In the 2013 Stanford Story Slam, there was one first-place winner, and two runner-ups. The story I wrote with my writing group captured the first runner-up, so we essentially won second place! See our story “At Bike’s End” listed as a runner-up in the 2013 Winners tab of the slam webpage.

story slam winners

This was a ton of fun to do—I thoroughly enjoyed spending several hours with three other writers discussing plot, character, diction, etc… It is so gratifying to see our hard work rewarded. We have all grown so much as writers over the past few years, and now we’re starting to see our dedication pay off. Not that there won’t be a ton of rejections and failures ahead, but this win is just the beginning.

Story Slam my section

Section 2, “The Routine,” written by yours truly. (I also came up with the title–you can see our title thread here.)

I also managed to submit my query letter and the first five pages of my novel for a couple of meetings at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. Despite having gone over the query and pages with my writers’ group, and incorporating incredible advice from a successful author friend, I spent the days before submission stressed, worried, second-guessing. I was freaking out. Especially the hour directly prior to submission.

Had I really done my best? Would my best be good enough? How important is it, really, to get exactly 25 lines of text on each page? (I learned from my friend to turn off “widows and orphans” in Word, and in doing so learned what “widows” and “orphans” even are.) I chose Times New Roman, but what if my readers are in the Courier New camp?

And on, and on, and on. In the minutes leading up to submission, I called several members of my writers’ group, frantic, to ask their advice. Ultimately, I just had to make choices and go with them.

Tomorrow I’m speaking with a literary agent, a friend of my father’s massage therapist (that’s how networking works, right?), and while he doesn’t typically represent my genre, I can’t wait to ask him all kinds of questions and listen with rapt attention to his advice. As my uncle reminded me yesterday—he is an accomplished writer/director, and yet still had a treatment he’d written torn apart by his writing guru—there is always more to learn.

(P.S. For those grammar buffs out there who might be wondering, both “runners-up” and “runner-ups” are correct, according to Merriam-Webster.)

MUG Retreat Spring 2013

Zaytoon

Dinner at Zaytoon. From left: me, Anthony, Ari, Andrea. Photo by Cynthia.

At the MUG Santa Barbara Retreat this past weekend, I spent all of Saturday writing away with my writers group. Critiques and writing prompts broke stretches of solo writing. We went out for dinner at 9pm. My favorite part, along with the company and the food, was a little game we played in which we suggested actors who fit each other’s characters. The main contender for my novel’s protagonist was Amanda Seyfried, except with brown hair and eyes.

During the focused writing, we sat together in silence and focused on our own work. The only sound in the room was the tapping of laptop keys. Every now and then someone would break the silence to ask, “how do you spell…” or “what’s another word for…” like that.

Ari and Anthony

In the afternoon we wrote to prompts. Someone would explain the prompt, we would write, and then we’d go around and share. I’ve been so entrenched in revision that writing rough and fast was refreshing. In one prompt we each wrote down a profession on a piece of paper and passed it to the person on our right. We wrote using the beginning, “I have the hands of a…” After five minutes, we were told to begin the second section with: “But I’m not a…” That gave most of us a challenge! My piece of paper said “physicist” so mine was challenging anyway, since I know few, if any, details of that profession (let alone their hands).

We also went over my query and the first five pages of my manuscript. Several of them have read this book in all its iterations, and they stick with me no matter how tired they might be of reading it over and over again! I feel so lucky to have the support of this group of talented, intelligent, and creative people. My writing wouldn’t be the same without them.

At the edge of the pier. Photo by Cynthia.

At the edge of the pier. Photo by Cynthia.

See more details about the MUG Spring Retreat on our blog here!

Ensembling A Story

Stanford Story Slam

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been participating in the Stanford Story Slam with several members of MUG, my writers’ group. You can check out what we’re working on here. The deadline is in three days, so after a few more edits, we’ll be submitting. Wish us luck!

The challenge is to write a story, collaboratively, of no more than 1,000 words using the prompt: There are over 15,000 bikes used by students, staff, and faculty to get around Stanford campus. Over 300 bikes are stolen each year. Where do they go?

First we brainstormed over email. Each of us came up with at least one idea. We all voted, first for our top two favorites, and then we narrowed it down. We didn’t use my idea for the contest but I entertained myself quite a bit writing it, so I thought I’d share:

**The bicycles are stolen by homeless people. Two sects of homeless people, who meet in two camps on opposite sides of town once each year. One group is an underground ring of vices – the homeless beg enough money to buy drugs and alcohol and trade up with each other. The other group is Shenanigans. They are homeless because they’re free, and they get together to make merry in their own form of cycling circus. There are relay races and wheelie popping tournaments and the Grand Sand Painting, in which cyclists trail swirls of colored sand behind them as they ride, building a collaborative picture. Usually these camps operate independently of each other, but this year… well, here’s the thing. The Cycling Vices are tired of stealing their own bikes, and they think it’d be much easier to just run over to the Shenanigans and steal theirs. Initially all hell breaks loose, especially since the circus crowd easily hops on their bikes and cycles away. But the Shenanigans have heard colored cocaine makes finer detailing than colored sand, so eventually they cut a deal. They give half their bikes to the Vices in exchange for a sturdy supply of coke, which they then dye and go on to use in creating the best Grand “Sand” Painting yet.**

Someone suggested breaking the synopsis into four parts, and we each picked the one we wanted to write. We’re a flexible crew, otherwise that might not have worked! I started writing and ended up with over 300 words – it probably took me twice as long to edit it down as to write it, and I was still slightly over my 250-word mark.

We video chatted twice, once before we started writing and once after we had each made comments on all the sections. We actually went through the story line by line, nitpicking cadence, streamlining themes, and jiggering our word count. Perhaps because we’ve been in a writing group for the past three years, we work really well together.

On that note, I am very much looking forward to my writers’ group Retreat next weekend! We will trade prompts, try out writing exercises, chat about writing, and feed off of each other’s creative energy. I have found a plethora of information on query letters via the internet, and must revise, revise, revise. I’ll pass out my query letter at the Retreat, facedown like they did tests in elementary school, have everyone flip the papers at the same time, and give them a short period to read. Like 30-60 seconds, because I’ve heard agents decide yay/nay in that time. I’ll ask for gut reaction feedback, and then I’ll ask them to take a bit longer to look it over and offer comments. I’m also submitting the first five pages for their perusal. And I’m furiously rewriting the ending, because with a new ending I may have a whole new query letter!

Santa Barbara Writers Conference

In just under two months, I will be… attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference! Six days of workshops, panels, lectures, and socializing with others in the writing world. So excited. Guest speakers include Sue Grafton, of the alphabet mystery series, and Stephen Chbosky, who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and also wrote and directed the film adaptation.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

After completing Draft 4 of my novel, I told my mentor it felt very close to “done” (at least, I felt, I had written what I really wanted to write) and I thought after one more pass I’d be ready it send it out. He reminded me that while he gives me suggestions, the final choice is always mine as the writer. And if I really wanted to start putting it out there, one potential way to do so was to attend conferences. Meet people, get feedback. Meet more people.

Of course, upon deciding my manuscript was “ready” I immediately had severe doubts. No, I must revise it at least ten more times! Draft 5 is “done” and of course, now I am finally seeing the potential “triumphant” end. I see how I might be able to make it work, after so much tribulation. I think I should write it. I want to, I think. Of course right now I am revising my query letter again, and feeling like it needs more work than I know how to give. So, research!

The Rejection Battle

The other day one of the women in my writers’ group sent us a link to an incredibly depressing article, in which a writer conducted an experiment: he took a story out of the New Yorker, replaced the author’s name with a pseudonym, wrote a cover letter saying he was unpublished, and sent it out. Numerous noteworthy journals rejected the piece… including the New Yorker itself.

What are we to make of this? How can writers make any headway, when this is what faces us? Knowing that being a new writer relegates us to the slush pile, rejection, and further inability to publish, thus continuing the vicious circle?

I think we’ve always known this is what we’re up against, but to have it put in such concrete terms is more than a little discouraging.
Rejected
So how fortuitous that in the same week, I received an email from a member of another, former writers’ group, announcing that he has published a story in an online journal, and another is forthcoming in a print journal.

From: David
To: Taylor
Sent: Friday, March 15, 2013 12:53 PM
Subject: Story from Taylor’s group published

Hey fellow writers,

I’m happy to report that a story workshopped in Taylor’s group with you, Identity Theft, is the Story Of The Month in the inaugural edition of the Red Savina Review that came out today:

http://www.redsavinareview.org/story-of-the-month/

Also, another story I worked on with some of you in Lou Matthews class, Losing The Title, will be in the Spring Edition of The Los Angeles Review.

Thanks for your support and best wishes to all of you in your writing.

Sincerely,

David

So yes, it is possible, it does happen, and we will get there, one (hundred) rejection letter(s) at a time.

Revise, Rewrite, Rejuvenate

Last week my mother and her two sisters went to New York for a funeral, leaving me to take care of my aunt’s 6- and 9-year-old boys and our grandmother. In five days of mothering, I was able to squeeze in a grand total of ONE HOUR of writing. If the kids’ bedtime tantrums, remembering my grandmother’s pills, feeding three other people, hustling all over Los Angeles to basketball games, Cub Scout meetings, tennis lessons, play dates etc. etc. etc! wasn’t enough to drive me crazy, that threw me over the edge.

So I am lucky that this week, I am in beautiful Santa Barbara playing catch-up, and I am writing and reading up a storm. Today I revised a short story and part of my novel (2 hours), reviewed short stories and novel chapters for my writers’ group (2 hours), attended my writers’ group meeting online (3 hours), and will be reading a novel before bed (1 hour). That is a full 8-hour day of writerly life! Not to mention blogging and reading an article about e-publishing miracles.

Sandpipers

Sandpipers dart along the shore at East Beach while sailboats tilt in the background.

Also not to mention waking up early, meditating, rollerblading on the beach, hanging out with my dog, and eating my mother’s incredible cuisine. Ah, if only all my days were like this one!