The View from Right Here

The View from Right Here

It’s really easy, as an unpublished author, to get caught up in dreams of the future. My goal for a long time now has been to find an agent, find a publisher, and get my work on the shelves. It’s something I’ve imagined since junior high, something I’ve worked towards for years, now. I want to tell my stories to other people, to hear that they’ve enjoyed the journey, or best of all, that it made them think. Or even that they hated it, though that is less desireable.

I want more than just to write. I want to be read. And more than to be read, I want to have a conversation with people. I want them to know my characters, I want them to go on this adventure with me. I want to know what they think might happen next, how they relate to my story, whether or not it has any meaning to them.

So, in some ways, it’s a bit like torture, to have written so much (I’ve finished one novel in a series, and the first draft on the second novel, and I’m working on a third and totally unrelated manuscript, now) and still have only a few readers among my close friends.

But, this is no way to live as a writer, constantly querying and waiting for responses, waiting for that chance to move on to the next step. It’s a recipe for complete frustration. So, I’m trying to cultivate an appreciation for where I am right now. I’m trying to learn to appreciate the view from right here.

 

It’s All Mine

What good is there, in being an unpublished writer? What good is there in existing in this state of longing, without any idea of what might happen next?

First of all, I can write selfishly. I can work on making exactly the kinds of stories I want to make, without the expectation of an audience. No one is standing over my shoulder, anxiously waiting to see the next page, the next paragraph, the next novel, filled with ideas of what it might look like. I can explore every little side path on the way, I can indulge in the kinds of writing I like the best, and no one can tell me that I should do otherwise. I am my only critic and I am one of a very small group who is attached to my work.

If a scene wanders off into strange territory, I am still writing to an amorphous, imagined audience. I don’t have to question what they might think. I don’t have to worry if they’re going to find that scene or that character’s actions difficult to believe. Because I know when I start thinking about that, the way I write will change, and the paths I decide to take will be different.

If what I want to write is a long, dialogue-free scene about a character wandering through the forest and contemplating the meaning of her choices, I can. I can appreciate how beautiful a scene like that is, without worrying that it doesn’t fit the overall tone of the book, or that it isn’t what my readers expect. I might have to cut it later, but for now I can write it, fully invested, because it’s what I want to write. I can describe it down to the pebbles in the creek where she stops for lunch. I can detail everything she eats, and never wonder if perhaps it’s a little silly.

So, there is undoubtedly a freedom to being an unpublished author. I’m under no obligation to please a large audience. No one is investigating my work, seeking minutiae to critique, the places where my voice rings false, the grammatical errors, the plot holes. It is only my own criticism that matters, at this point, mine and the occasional beta reader.

 

Room to Fall

Then, there are the mistakes. For now, I’m allowed to make them in front of a small audience. When my writing is very bad, when I put on paper a character who isn’t as rich and complex as I’d like, it’s a small audience that witnesses my errors. When I write something downright confusing, I still have time and space to go into my manuscript and make improvements.

I can take risks, without concern about what my critics will say. I have room to learn new techniques, with no agent, no editor, no publisher, no audience to tell me what direction I should take, what makes for a good voice or style. There is a place in my writing for falling down and getting back up, unseen.

Yes, this means there are very few who can tell me exactly where I might be going wrong, or exactly how to fix it, but it also means I can learn for myself. There is a frustration in that, but also joy, and ownership of success when I get it right.

I like writing without the burden of abundant criticism. Yes, those critiques are necessary to making progress in writing, but some of them are just plain wrong. Like that time I was told by a critique partner that I ought to read George R.R. Martin to learn how to build descriptions.

Yeah, I’ve read George Martin, and while what he does is incredibly good, it’s not my style, and not what I’m aiming for.

It’s tough, though, to sort out the useful criticism from the bad, and even knowing that some of the critiques I’ve gotten have been way off track, it still stings a little. I’m not trying to write Game of Thrones, but the fact that someone found my writing lacking, even if their suggestion for fixing it was awful, isn’t so easy to deal with.

So yes, being able to make mistakes in my own time, and being able to correct them as I prefer, is a huge advantage to being a writer without an agent, without a publisher, without a paying audience.

 

Writing in Shadows

Then, there is the wonder of possessing a secret, a secret that most of the world doesn’t even know to ask about yet. I hold my books, all the events in them, and all the places where they might go, in my hands and in my head. It is in my power to talk to my friends and family about the story that I’ve written, but I don’t.

This is mostly because I’m a writer, and not because I love keeping secrets. I am actually a terrible secret-keeper, under most circumstances. The only reason my stories aren’t bouncing out into the world is because I can barely string together the words to describe the plot without a piece of paper in front of me. I write better than I talk, and so for the most part what I’ve written is locked away.

Still, it is all my secret. Every word, good or bad, still belongs to me and no one else. And there is something special, rare, and wonderful in that knowledge, even as I experience the frustration of being in a fandom of one. All the rough edges and all the beautiful moments lie in the dark, known only to me. They are mine, as wholly as an unborn child belongs to its mother.

 

The Mundane

Finally, there are all the obligations of being a published author – a successful published author, anyway. The public appearances, the book signings, all the I-don’t-even-know-what. I can see, even from where I stand, that being an author is about a whole lot more than just writing whatever you like. There are other people to please, and many places to go.

Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, typing up my meandering thoughts on what I like about my current writing life. I’m wearing Yoga pants, my sweater (a blanket with sleeves, if we’re being really honest), lunch beside me, my kids playing nearby. It’s not ideal for concentration, perhaps, but it’s comfortable. Far more comfortable than having to go out in the world and convince other people that my book is one they want to put on their reading list.

I’m more than willing to do all these things when the time comes, but for now, it’s nice that I don’t have to.

 

Going Out

I look forward to that brave and wonderful moment when a book that I’ve written goes out into the world. I don’t think I will ever stop seeking that achievement. I’ve certainly pursued it longer than I imagined I would when I started on this journey.

But I also am trying to savor where I am right now. I’m enjoying the freedoms that I have, the comfortably obscure corners in which I write. Because the view from right here isn’t so bad.

Spring

Spring

I’ll admit that spring has never been my favorite season. This transition from cold and snowy weather into the blazing heat of summer usually leaves me more sad than anticipatory. Packing up sweaters and coats and knitted scarves and leather boots is a ritual of mourning. Pulling out tank tops and shorts, with their washed-out or neon-bright colors, a disappointment.

I stubbornly refuse to swap my hot coffee for the iced version.

I prefer autumn. Give me bright leaves over delicate flowers, any day.

The past couple of years, though, I’ve learned to start appreciating this change in the seasons, because in the last couple of years I’ve had a vegetable garden. This is an exciting time of the year for people who plant things. Right now, peas and radishes are sprouting in my beds, sending up miniscule leaves and shoots, bits of green poking up out of dark earth. Tomatoes and broccoli plants grow under lights in my basement. Now is the time when all the plans I made in January and February become action.

I assemble my growing light in a basement closet, spoon dirt into black plastic capsules, tuck seeds underneath. I add dirt to my garden beds, I evaluate the activity of perennials poking up. Every weekend seed packets rustle and watering containers spill out their contents. I can almost hear roots wiggling their way through the earth.

This is also the time when I start running into snags, and little unforeseen problems crop up. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout. Sometimes a hard rain knocks seedlings to the ground. Weeds sprout. Toddlers pull up plants.

I do not deal so well when things go awry. I’m working on it, though.

Pink and Thorns
Leaves, buds, and also thorns.

I noticed this about myself shortly after graduating college. That was when I started to work on my novel. I had a beautiful vision in my mind of how it was going to go. I had epic scenes and complicated relationships all ready. My main character was awesome, and she was ready to conquer anything that stood in her way. The ending was hazy, but I figured that would work itself out when I got there. No problem.

Around the fourth chapter, things started getting messy.

Based off my conversations with people on airplanes, this seems to be where most novice writers run into trouble when they start working on a book. It’s always, “Oh, you’re a writer! I started a book once, and I just couldn’t get past that fourth chapter.” So I guess I’m not the only one.

When things got complicated and I felt myself getting stuck, I skipped ahead to a scene that seemed clear to me. And so I wrote my first novel, hopping around through the narrative, filling in the bits that were the most fun and about which I was the most certain. Then one day, I ran out of fun, easy scenes, and I found it was time to connect them all.

This was not a good time for me.

Forest Floor
The green is there, and soon the flowers will be, too.

I used to think of spring as a time when rains fell, and all the dirt and muck of winter washed away. It was a time of brightness, of renewal, of new things.

But with new things, with all that vigorous growth, comes chaos. Vegetables and flowers aren’t the only things to spring up out of garden beds. Weeds are often the first characters on the scene, and they are remorseless. They spread before many plants have a chance to get started, covering the earth with their pernicious runners, spreading seeds into any spot that the gardener hasn’t had a chance to fill.

Renewal doesn’t necessarily lead to a positive outcome. Sometimes the change of all that growth can be overwhelming. Sometimes what all that freshness and renewal does is show us just how much we still need to learn in order to deal with all that change.

Star Flower

I wrestled with that first draft for months. My book had to be perfect, had to combine literary technique that I’d worked so hard to learn with exciting plot. I forced the pieces together, made everything I had fit into place. I swelled with pride when, after all those months, it was done.

Then, a while later, I started to read. And what I read was not good. It turned out that by keeping every scene that I’d enjoyed writing and wedging them all together, what I had was a chaotic, meandering mess of a novel. Some parts were good, but they were being choked out by all the extraneous bits. I had a garden, but it was mostly weeds.

I couldn’t believe, after all that work, that I could end up with such a mess. Clearly, I was no writer. My masterpiece was, in fact, nothing more than a scribble made by a grade-schooler. I shoved the papers in a box, and swore I was done trying to be a writer.

Forest Flowers
These delicate guys didn’t give up.

A garden in spring is chaos. But it is also hope.

Weeds spring out of the ground as soon as the snow melts, threatening to claim all the territory as their own. Some perennials from years before never grow at all. Sometimes a late snow threatens the kill back any new growth. A snowstorm can wipe out trees. A cat might decide that the patch where carrots are growing will make a phenomenal litterbox.

Yet a skilled gardener can pull out the weeds, carefully prying out roots so they don’t grow back. The wanted plants can be separated from those that are unnecessary. Soil can be enriched with compost. Sun-loving plants and shade-loving plants can be moved to their proper places, where they will thrive and become abundant.

Floral Branch

I had to learn how to be a novelist. This, it turns out, is a distinct skill from being a good writer. I had long practiced crafting beautiful sentences, spinning exciting scenes, and so I thought I already had all I needed. But in a novel, the story as a whole must work. A writer can create the most beautiful scenes in the world, but if they don’t work well in the story she is trying to tell, then the book will fail.

After some time away from my novel, I returned, ashamed at my vow never to write again. I picked up a red pen, and I learned new skills. I researched how to edit. I cut the scenes that didn’t work without mercy. I found the thread of the story, the thing that would hold the characters and the narrative together, and I shaped new scenes that made that narrative cohesive. I created a plot where once there had been chaotic meanderings and happenings.

Most of all, I learned how to stick with the task in front of me, even when the job seemed overwhelming. I learned how to sit at my notebook and work on scenes that weren’t my favorite thing to write, but were necessary to the story.

Chaos can be tamed, but it takes time, skill, and patience. It takes the wisdom to sort what is necessary from what isn’t. Like a gardener, a writer must learn to tell weeds from productive plants. Which is especially tricky, because what might be a weed in one garden could be desireable in another.

Beautiful Things

Spring is not so bad, although I’m not buying that it’s a time of blank pages and renewal. This season is a beginning, but like most beginnings, it is chaotic, full of all the trouble and challenges of new things. Beautiful things come forth, but not all of them are worth keeping.

As I write a new novel, as I plant my garden, I keep in mind all the work ahead. It doesn’t overwhelm me, anymore, because I have learned how to meet these challenges after years of wandering in a confusing, chaotic wilderness. This ability to keep the final vision in mind, and work towards it, is a skill that I have earned over years of work, and it is a skill that I constantly refine.

Sometimes, I would give a lot to have a time machine, to go back and tell myself that the mess of a novel that I hold in my hands will be better if I’m willing to let go of the parts that don’t work. That the skills I need to tame the weeds are not inborn, and that I can learn them, with time. That I will learn them. And that the time I have spent crafting this first draft, though it is clunky and cumbersome and full of unnecessary bits, has been well-spent.

Of course, I can’t go back. But I can go forward, and I can enjoy the chaos of this season.

A Message to Myself When I Tread Rocky Paths

A Message to Myself When I Tread Rocky Paths

With every fall of every foot, you will sing this song to yourself. And it will keep you going, even when the air grows thin and cold. It will push you forward, even when the mountain peak rises high above you.

Persist.

When the pages trickle by, when you have no time to put your pen to paper, when you are dehydrated and covered in the unspeakable substances that issue from your own offspring. When all your stories lie locked inside your head, with seemingly no hope of ever getting out. When you stumble in a haze of sleep-deprived weariness. When you are unsure of your own name, let alone what that word is for someone who demonstrates a lot of knowledge. (It’s ‘erudite’ by the way.)

Persist.

When even those measly paragraphs that you do eke out feel more like dry bones than the living, breathing story in your mind. When you know you will revise all this, and take out more than you keep, and re-write it all again. When you aren’t sure that you can even write at all, anymore.

Persist.

When you see your own mistakes laid out, bold and clear in front of you. When you know you have so much further to go, and so much more to learn than you ever imagined.

Persist.

When you are drained and filled with self-doubt as you grapple with yet another revision. When you must rest, so that you can take care of yourself and the people you love, know that the next morning you will rise and whisper the song to yourself.

Persist.

When the feedback is good. When the words rise up, one after the other, certain and true and right. When you see all your ideas falling into place and everything fits better than you hoped, sing your song aloud.

Persist.

You may rest. You may work. You may despair. You may feel like your heart is hollow, or like it is clad in iron, or filled with sun-warmed air. No matter how you feel –

Persist.

Let this song be the only one you sing. Let it greet you in the morning, let it soothe you at night, let it be your constant companion as you go on this journey. It is a battle cry, it is a sustaining ballad, it is a weary hum. It will take you everywhere you need to go.

There will be writers who get published before you do. Cheer them on, knowing that this is their song, too. There will be setbacks. Take comfort, knowing that this song will get you through every challenge. There will be things you don’t know. Go out and seek the knowledge, from books, from those who are wiser, from your peers, from your friends, because this, too, is part of the song.

There will be victories. There will be moments when you progress forward in startling leaps, and this will be because you remembered, all that time before, to sing.

Persist. Persist. Persist.

Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Banner Photo

Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Banner Photo

Because I think this kind of thing is fascinating, I’m going to share with you how I put together this new Banner Photo for my Craft Talk posts.

Moana Craft Talk 2

I like it. It’s personalized, nobody has this photo but me, and it’s pretty much what my writing space normally looks like, except a bit cleaner and better lit. So, here’s how I did it.

First of all, I decided that I needed a background photo specifically for this series of posts. Something that just shouted, “Let’s go write!” The light outside looked pretty good, so I went around grabbing the things that I needed. First up, my trusty notebooks.

BehindtheScenes notebooks

Then, my gorgeous green cast iron teapot that my husband bought for me a couple of Christmases ago. When I saw it, I cried. I love green, and it has birds on it, and cherry blossoms, and it keeps my tea warm. My hubs is the best.

BehindtheScenes teapot

Then, because at this point I figured we had a green theme going, I grabbed my maidenhair fern, which has graciously stayed alive in spite of my infrequent waterings. Good fern.

BehindtheScenes fern

Of course, I don’t want to exclude anyone who uses a keyboard for writing instead of a pen, so I had to grab my laptop. Honestly – I write both ways. I’m always turning to my keyboard when I need to get something done a bit sooner than a hundred years from now.

BehindtheScenes laptop

And for good measure, one of my sister-in-law’s pottery pieces that I use as a penholder. A precious vessel for precious tools.

BehindtheScenes pen cup

I piled all that up on my dining room table, which is right next to a north-facing window. Because it faces north, I never get direct sunlight, which makes things too contrasty, and highlights get blown out, and just general difficulties. Light is good, but not too much. Also, the surface of the table itself is nice for the kind of top-down photo I wanted.

When I looked down at all these fun props, I realized that I was getting too many shadows. I ran upstairs for my reflector, but wasn’t fast enough.

BehindtheScenes reflector

The toddler found the things. Pens on the floor. I got there before anything breakable went down, thankfully.

I had also realized that, if I was going to have a teapot, I needed a cup of tea. Otherwise, the teapot was just going to look ridiculous. Like I’d just put it there without any consideration for what it was. Like it was just decoration. We couldn’t have that.

I gathered up the props, moved them to the kitchen counter, and then made two different kinds of tea. I like having options.

BehindtheScenes tea

By the time the tea finished brewing and I’d picked a cup that looked the most like tea, the toddler had moved on to something more interesting. I got the props back on the table, propped up the reflector dish like so –

BehindtheScenes setup

-and arranged.

I took a few photos, peeped at the back of my camera, moved some stuff around, and took a few more. I repeated this process several times, until I felt satisfied that I had, at the very least, taken lots of photographs of my notebooks and things spread across the table. Well done. Cheerio, chap.

At this point, I took a little break to drink the tea and make my starving children some Mac and Cheese for lunch. They are always starving. Also, I think they might both turn into bowls of Mac and Cheese one day. I multi-tasked really well at this point, because while I was making lunch, the photos were uploading to my computer. Because I’m organized like that.

Lunch done, I checked out the photos. I thought they were pretty. Some looked better than others. I picked three and sent them to my sister. She unhelpfully eliminated the one I already knew I didn’t like. I went with the top-down photo because it was what I was going for in the first place. Plus, I liked the way the fern peaked in between the computer and my notebooks. It was kind of cute.

Then I hopped from Lightroom to Photoshop, where I started messing around with the tools until I was able to get that shaded band around the outside of the photo like a frame. I added words, a shaded box behind them, and then I sat back and was pleased with my work.

Moana Craft Talk 2

By the time I decide to do another Craft Talk post, I will have probably decided that this graphic is substandard and I need to take a new one. But that’s okay, because honestly, I like doing it. I like looking at my blog, seeing a need, and then making something that fills that need from scratch, learning new skills along the way.

PS: If you haven’t yet, go check out my discussion of the skills a writer can learn from the movie Moana, Part 1 and Part 2. Let me know if you find this series helpful, or if there’s anything you’d like to see in it.

 

 

Mondays, amirite?

Oh wait, it’s Tuesday now.

Which is probably for the best, because yesterday I sat down and wrote half of this whiny post about all the things that are hinky in my life write now, like cavities, and jobs, health, and the messes the kids make. And really, who wants to hear about that? Even if it is hilariously written.

So, let’s start again. And I’m beginning by throwing off all the things that have me down. If it isn’t nourishing to my body, heart, mind, or soul, I’m so done with it. I’m focusing in on the good that I can do.

Because, really, what else can anybody do?

 

Good Thing The First

I’m growing all these little seedlings in my basement right now. Which is just a startling experience, even though I’ve done it before. I take this little tiny seed (some of them are downright miniscule, it’s like holding a period in the palm of your hand), put it in some dirt, give it some warmth, water, and light, and then in a few days, this little bit of green pops up. For the most part, they do this themselves, as long as I provide the right conditions.

Except the lavender seeds, I put about fifty of them in my trays, and so far I have just one little lavender plant.

That’s a really good feeling, to be able to grow a plant that will someday be broccoli that my family can eat. It’s a whole lot better for me, for them, probably even for the world at large that I’m doing that instead of reading fifty articles a day about the shenanigans of politicians.

 

Good Thing the Second

I’m also done fretting about queries (at least for the next 24 hours, until I forget this resolution) because there isn’t a thing I can do about them. I wrote the book I wanted to write. I created the characters I wanted to see out in the world. I made this novel for myself, and if no one else likes it, then that’s okay.

I did what I set out to do. That’s an enormous achievement. If you’ve written a novel, or are working on a novel, remember that. Sticking with each paragraph, each chapter, each book, is something to be proud of, because all that motivation to get the words on paper came from you. If you’ve taken that work through several drafts, cutting, refining, and reshaping your story, then what you’ve done is monumental, no matter how many people read it.

That’s not to say I won’t keep sending the queries and refining my manuscript. Of course I will. Stories burn through my brain all the time, as does the urge to perfect them, and to get more people interested in them. It’s an incredibly gratifying experience when someone else reads something I’ve written and is moved by it. One of the highest honors I have ever experienced is seeing someone’s heart warmed by words that I put on paper. But getting published isn’t something to worry about.

Something to work on, yes. Something to worry about, no. These two things don’t necessarily go together. And more worry and stress do not equate to better results. So, I’m going to keep writing the stories and the characters I love, and I hope you will, too.

 

Good Thing the Third

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like change very much. You wouldn’t know this from hearing me talk, because I’m always starry-eyed about the next adventure I’d like to have. But when the time comes and life really is sending us on some amazing adventure, I always start panicking about the problems. This will be disruptive for the kids, what if we get lost on our way there, what if it isn’t open, I’m so unprepared, I don’t have the skills! I just know everything will go wrong.

Things do go wrong, but not usually in the way I expect. And usually there were plenty of surprising good things. Life in South Carolina really was unbearably hot, and the ants could bite. But, the storms were beautiful in their ferocity, flowers bloomed in January, and I lived in a neighborhood full of loving and supportive people.

There’s more change coming in my life. I can see it on the horizon, but I don’t know what shape it’s going to take. It’s going to bring difficulties that will knock me off balance, but also things that will amaze me. I’m looking forward to the moments when I surprise myself and pull off something I never thought I could.

 

 

Today, I bought groceries, I made lunch, the toddler took a nap, and then I did a Yoga class focused on eight-angle pose. If you’ve ever seen photos of Yoga poses, this is one of those that looks really impressive. It involves balancing on your arms, chest hovering over the mat, while your legs float off to the side, suspended. It looks impossible, and daring.

Getting into that pose feels utterly ridiculous, like you’re flailing around with your arms with one leg hooked over your shoulder. Being in the pose is surprisingly cozy, as your legs hug your arm, and your body hangs suspended in this cocoon of your own making.

As I balanced in it, I smiled. It’s a small thing that I thought I couldn’t do, but I tried it, and there I was, hovering, bound up in impossible-seeming knots. It was a moment that I’ve been working towards for a long time, without even knowing it. I didn’t start doing Yoga in order to achieve eight-angle-pose, but through the practice that I’ve done, I came to a point where I could.

I have worked on my writing for years. I have already achieved amazing things along the way. And someday, that work is going to allow me to achieve something that I haven’t even imagined yet. And that’s a nourishing thought.

2015-05-20_2259_edited-1

Where has your writing taken you that you weren’t expecting? I’d love to hear about the twists and turns of your journey, too.

The Intractable Writer

First of all – hi there! Yes, it’s been a while since I posted anything here. I have a million things I like to call reasons for that, which are probably just excuses, so I’ll skip that part, and work on doing better.

The past few weeks have been a little demoralizing for me in my writing life. I started querying again, which is, let’s be honest, a super rough process. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean, right? And if you haven’t – well, it’s sort of like standing in the middle of Times Square, naked, while people rate your attractiveness level on a scale of one to ten. And you can’t see out of the box, but you can see the numbers flashing up on the inside. I get the heebly-jeeblies just thinking about it.

Of course, that’s not at all what’s actually happening during the query process. Agents are absolutely flooded with queries. Like, drowning in them. So while for the writer pouring his or her heart and soul into their work, and putting it out there into the world only to get rejections is a downer of a process, agents are working hard, too. They’re sifting through hundreds of queries a week, looking not just for good writing, but something that really grabs them on a personal level. And then can be marketable, because they have to make money, too. It’s a tough situation for everyone.

So maybe querying is more like shouting to mountain-climbers that you’re hot stuff, and they should come see you hanging out in your glass box way on top of the mountain sometime. And some mountain-climbers risk their lives to check you out, expecting that you’re going to be just exactly right for them. But it turns out that the definition of attractive is subjective, and while you’re objectively good-looking, you aren’t going to be what every single mountain climber is looking for. A lot of mountain climbers will be disappointed, and they’ll have to go climb some more mountains. Meanwhile, you’re going to be waiting a long time before the right one comes along.

Really, no matter what metaphor you decide to go with, it takes some serious loin-girding to deal with the rejection, and some days I’m better at it than others. Recently I haven’t had so much of that can-do attitude.

And then there’s the looming cloud of my transition from doing the stay-at-home-parent gig to a real job. Which, now that it’s happening, and my family is actually going to be relying on me for income to eat food and things, is a lot more overwhelming than I thought it was going to be.

Through all of that, there’s this little tiny part of me that is just not letting go of my published author dream. I can’t shake it. So I just keep chipping away at it, bit by bit. I won’t lie, there are some days that I would love to get out of the glass box. That would be a whole lot easier.

dollysodspath-june2016_edited-1

It would be nice to see the future right about now. To know if my determination really will pay off, and someday I’ll get that book on the shelves. But getting to a goal doesn’t count for much, I guess, if you knew it would happen. It’s that intractability in the face of difficulty that makes an achievement something worthwhile.

I guess there is one thing I absolutely do know about the future. I’m always going to keep writing, getting better.

 

 

The Writer’s Audacity

The Writer’s Audacity

I have been having one of those days. You know, the kind where last night’s problems run over into the morning, and you stumble into the day craving coffee and an opportunity to swap your life for someone, anyone else’s.

It started last night when I found out I needed to scrape my resume together to apply for a really cool opportunity to get some certifications, so that maybe I could get a real job someday. It turned out that I don’t have a resume anymore. Somewhere in one of the six moves we’ve had during the last five years (not an exaggeration, I’ve counted, we have really, actually moved that much) I lost my printed copy, and it got wiped off my computer hard drive. Poof. Resume gone.

I’ve done a really brilliant job holding onto the syllabi from every single English class I took in college, though. All my essays, too. And of course, I sat and read one or two of those essays, and I just could not believe how really, genuinely great the writing was. Which made me wonder: “What happened? The words, they don’t work like that anymore! How is this possible? I was a better writer eight years ago than I am now.”

So, naturally, I compounded the problem of scrapping together a resume out of thin air with one of those really dastardly thought-recordings. “You’re writing sucks. You’ve wasted the last eight years writing really crappy novels, while simultaneously being a lackluster parent, get a job you bum!”

Not exactly conducive to a positive outlook on a challenging situation, I know.

Then both kids were up at night, one with an ear ache and the other with this lingering cold, and by the time I dragged myself out of bed this morning  I was entrenched in a grump-fest.

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Time for coffee.

That was before the toddler pitched himself headfirst off a chair, the preschooler woke up still crying about her ear, and I missed the deadline for that certification opportunity by three whole minutes. Serious drama, all before nine AM.

Wondering where the cheery message is in all this? Hang on, I’m getting there.

While lying awake last night I churned up some pretty interesting novel ideas, and mentally hashed out some scenes for my next project. I scribbled them down this morning over my oatmeal. While the toddler napped, I worked on my revision. Because come hell or high water, I’m a writer. Even in the midst of despair over my writing career, I write.

It just keeps coming back, no matter how grumpy I get about it. No matter how crunched I am for time, no matter how crappy I think my writing is, no matter how many rejection letters I get, or how many other hobbies I try, I just can’t stop telling stories.

I had this thought, at some point last night, that I was like some lonely wolf howling into the night, way out in the wilderness where no one would ever hear me. And I was in the mood to linger over how sad and pathetic that was. After a while feeling sorry for myself, I came to my senses, and the bad-ass within said, “Fine. Know what you need to do? Howl as loud as you can until someone hears you.”

I’d have laughed if I weren’t trying to rock Little Dude back to sleep at the time. Because of course, if there’s one thing required of writers, it’s persistence. After the excitement of the first few chapters, the novel-writer must persist through the tangly knots of the story until she finds the end. When the first draft is done, revisions follow. Then careful editing. And if the ambitions are grander than passing a story around to family and friends, query letters must be written, agents researched, rejections weathered. I hear that it doesn’t get easier from there, either.

In the face of all that, a writer must cultivate a slightly crazed, single-minded drive to carry on. To brew the coffee, boot up the laptop, congratulate those who gain representation and book deals, console those who aren’t there yet, and write, write, write. I have no choice but to keep throwing myself into the fray, seeking critiques, adding to my pile of rejections.

The thing I cling to (now that I’m thinking reasonably, probably not so much last night in the midst of my whine-fest) is that my writing can get better. Right now, I slide writing into my life in twenty-minute slices, and my focus is on so many other things. The essays I wrote in college were given full and complete attention that I don’t have right now. Someday, though, I’ll have that kind of time again. And the best thing is, when that happens I will have learned some really valuable things. I’ve never been so focused or determined. College me could never have been so single-minded in pursuit of this goal.

In fact, college me just sat around waiting for novel ideas to fall in her lap! Hah! Guess what, college me, that doesn’t happen. As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

So yes, maybe I’m sitting here with a manuscript that was cobbled together in little segments,no resume, and some slightly rusty writing skills. But I’m also sitting here with greater wisdom than I’ve ever had before, a burning determination to get my writing published, and a willingness to learn everything I can to get there.

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Morning comes, and it sure is beautiful.

It’s okay to feel down, and to doubt. It’s okay to wonder, “Will I really ever get there? Is anyone else ever going to care about these characters I made, these stories I’ve told?” I’m pretty sure everyone has days when they are absolutely convinced that they’re the least awesome person on the face of the planet. Where you prove yourself is in your ability to persevere. To look your own dark doubts in the face, and write anyway.

This is what makes a writer.