Writing on Time

 

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Publishing is a waiting game. I know this isn’t earth-shattering news.

But I’m not talking about the parts of the process well beyond my control.

I am talking about waiting on myself.

I estimated I would finish my latest revisions in a month or two. Fast forward six-plus months of really consistent work and here I am, celebrating an end. An end, not the end, because I might not be done. But that’s one of the things I love about creating something: it can be ever evolving.

Still, working for days, weeks, and months to create my best words is, well, a long time.

Some days my book is a three-year-old who won’t behave. She sulks in a time-out, reassessing how to get along better with others.

Other days she is a preteen who needs alone time. She’s up in her room, earphones jammed in her ears, trying to make sense of this wild world.

And other days she won’t leave my side and I won’t leave hers. We’re loyal best friends, in sync. We read each other’s minds. She is my every minute.

I am incredibly driven to make my writing dream a reality, and it’s frustrating sometimes that I can’t get myself there faster. Even if I work every single day, even if it’s running through my mind when I take a shower or unload the dishwasher, even if my butt’s in my chair until it aches, even if the pages before me aren’t blank—it just takes so much time to do justice to what’s in my heart and head.

We all know we probably won’t get as much time as we’d like to fulfill our dreams. We all know we don’t get forever. Sure, it’s depressing.

But I can also appreciate that time is one of my biggest allies. Over time, the story grows even bigger in my heart and lives in my dreams. Over time, I get to see it with dozens of new eyes. I tear it apart, piece it back together, and add more clay to sculpt it into something only I can create. That objective distance that only time gives is invaluable. Sometimes the hardest work is patience.

You can’t have a journey without the passage of time. Mine makes me see how much I’m improving as a writer. Evolving. It allows me to appreciate my dedication as I continue rolling up my sleeves and tackling challenges (many I’ve created for myself) because I love it so. And counting the days, weeks, months, and years reminds me I’ll never quit, not after all this time.

Perhaps I Have Some Good Advice

Keeping a blog is hard.

It’s hard enough creating a novel.

It’s intimidating to write like I know something, or anything, about anything at all. Writing about writing quickly becomes writing about life. I read other people’s tweets and blog posts and they sound like authorities. Sometimes I believe they are and sometimes I don’t. (In my life thus far, I can confidently say I am an authority on forgetting laundry in the dryer until it is so wrinkled my kids look like walking raisins.)

This is my current situation: my air conditioner is broken and my daughters are gleefully dancing around the kitchen to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, despite the heat. At the same time, I know a family dealing with an insufferable tragedy. I cried for them this week and couldn’t sleep.

My dog’s sleeping fine. Her current situation: she’s taking the best nap in the world, her fur moving in what must be the most soothing tickle beneath the ceiling fan. She is at peace.

I’m not. My heart is pained. It’s impossible to be sure of anything when everything keeps moving, seemingly out of control. You get the good and the bad and the in-between for every minute of every day. Wrinkled laundry is in-between, sleeping under a fan on high is pretty darn luxurious, children dancing around a kitchen table is pure joy, a broken a/c is super sucky, but grieving a death is the very, very worst. And it all can happen at once.

Life is so inconsistent and never fails to make me question whether I know a single answer to anything. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’ll never make sense when someone dies young, loses so much, and leaves behind broken loved ones.

Maybe I have learned a lot about how I want to live my life—I’m a grown-up now, I guess—but there’s also this murky cloud of confusion and self-doubt hanging around, too, and finding meaning in suffering isn’t easy. Everything morphs and changes. There are so many surprises. It’s like my creative process: Just when I feel like I’ve figured it out, suddenly I’m staring at a blank page wondering what the heck to do.

I guess it’s like parenting, too.

Currently, I’m parenting a WIP that I only sometimes love. I love my real children when they aren’t perfect or aren’t behaving. Perhaps I should give my writing the same unconditional love…which boils down to giving that to myself. Right? Because isn’t my writing pretty much me scribbled on paper? Weird.

But I don’t want to put myself on paper, even if it seems like it could help. There’s so much sadness and confusion welling up inside me and I could let it spill out. I used to love my journals and my secret poetry. These universal feelings of loss and bewilderment—I should use them, explore them, try to find answers. Why can’t I tap into it?

Because I guess I can’t bear to. I have no clue where to start digging. Maybe not yet.

So I tried something different. I signed up, on a whim, to do the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. It was either that or continue obsessively outlining a story that should simply be written. I have never written Flash Fiction, but I understood I’d have 48 hours to write a 1,000 word story using three prompts (the genre, a location, and an object). I was hoping for no sci fi. (I like sci fi, but other writers are the authorities on that. Not me.) I got sci fi.

Sci fi, a wine cellar, and perfume. The prompts arrived at 11:59 on Friday and the story was due at 11:59 on Sunday.

Members on the forum who’ve done the contest many times encouraged the newbies to use beta readers. I, for one, have no idea how they had time. I was starting my fourth attempt at a story on Sunday afternoon.

And then something incredible happened. It wrote itself.

I’m not saying it became some life-altering story or anything. But the pressure to complete the task (after all, I paid $50 to enter this thing) and not to embarrass myself in front of judges I’ll never meet meant that I had to get the thing done.

My typical themes popped up: mothers, love, self-sacrifice, empathy—or the sad lack thereof.

I am pretty predictable.

And it felt so good. Something fixed itself when it wrote itself.

Then I did something really risky: I posted it on the NYC Midnight forums without any other eyes having seen it. I knew my story was ambitious in all that it covered, so it might not make any sense whatsoever. I remembered that in the past I’ve given CPs my writing and had them return it to me saying they didn’t understand any of it. I posted it anyway.

The following three things were really helpful for me in the past couple weeks, and might be helpful for someone else having a bad time or feeling stuck:

1) I took a risk by trying something new, and forced myself to follow through.

2) I didn’t write about the most difficult things. My heart wasn’t ready. (Some of it seeped through my writing anyway, of course. Just enough. And now I’ve gone and written this blog post…and I had no idea where I was going with it when I started.)

3) I reached out to other people. In this case, it was strangers on the NYC Midnight forum, with whom I happen to have a whole lot in common. It has been reassuring to talk to nice writers.

Currently, at 12:25 p.m. on August 4th, I may be an authority on these suggestions.

On Writing a New Book and the Importance of the Process

My WIP is a whopping 101,000+ word draft that I wrote over a year ago. It has been tapping its fingers and twirling its hair while waiting for my return. Mold me into something much, much prettier, it demands. It looks something like this, but at least my hands aren’t empty:

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Often this WIP pulls me in. I feel giddy about having this new world to rule over and I relish the endless possibilities. It’s freeing! It’s not boring, it’s not routine, and it’s not math! I marvel at what comes out of my own brain—brand new people who didn’t exist before I created them and all the darkness and light leaking out of my unconscious. I lose time. This part of the experience is uniquely and selfishly mine—well before I’m at the point when I’m seeking beta readers and biting my nails when I find some.

It’s exciting, but that high fizzles. I know it’s gone when suddenly I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, online instant pot recipes, and/or expert articles about HOW TO GET YOUR PUPPY TO STOP PEEING ON THE CARPET IN FRONT OF THE BACK DOOR (yes, that search is done in all caps). It’s so overwhelming trying to form something meaningful out of nothing. It seems I can’t make my new book beautiful enough. I can’t move myself.

I miss my old book, UNKNOWN HERO, and it takes a lot of effort not to open up that file and let it consume me. We’ve been through a whole lot together. I miss my old characters. I’m not quite at home with these new guys in my WIP just yet. I really like them a lot, and I’m getting to know them better, but it’s like I transferred to a new school.

I keep thinking: You’re certain you can’t open your heart to a new dog after the beloved old one dies, but you can. (Even with the housebreaking ISSUES, in caps.) You worry you won’t love your second child as much as your first, but you absolutely do. Is it the same with a new book?

I recently met with a college friend so we could write together. I stared at my computer screen completely befuddled and said, “At this point, I honestly can’t believe I ever wrote a full novel—then queried and got an agent. It seems impossible.”

She responded, “That’s the way I felt about my first marathon. I couldn’t believe I did it. So I had to run another one to prove to myself that I could.”

Um, what? Wait—is it possible that I might have to write another complete book—one that not only makes some sense but is revised and polished—so I can prove to myself that I can do this?

UNKNOWN HERO wasn’t technically my first book. My first book (aka 100,000 Words of Shame) was written years ago and is lost somewhere on my now defunct iPad. It begins with an angst-ridden teenager in a car on the way to school, has no chapter breaks, and never needs to be found. After I wrote it, I let it sit for a while untouched, because that’s what the experts said to do. Then I reread that thing with my hopes too high and laughed/cried through all of it. I may have quit trying to write novels altogether if I hadn’t gotten to about the 80,000 word mark, and realized—oh my God—a story started. It took me 80,000 words to find any kind of plot or character development.

It wasn’t the same with UNKNOWN HERO, because I was one hundred times wiser about how to organize a whole book. I had a good sense of the story I wanted to tell—no, a passion for it. I knew where I wanted it to start and I knew where I wanted it to end. Still, when I stop to think about it, I realize I have thrown thousands of words away. Up to 80,000? Maybe. The book evolved so much. I erased characters, bad writing, and unnecessary scenes that did nothing for the story as a whole. I also cut truly important scenes that no one else will ever read, but they are still part of the story and part of my inspiration. They are in my head and heart and know these things happened to my characters, whether it’s on the page or not.

Funny thing is, I consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser, but this still happened to me.

This time around writing a book, I do hope I’ll be more efficient with my time. (Okay, I’m actually reading a nonfiction book right now to help me be more efficient.) Still, I should probably accept that this meme below is gonna happen, maybe in draft two, draft three, and so on:

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Most of UNKNOWN HERO’s sometimes pretty and often frustrating loops and tangles didn’t make it into the final version. But some did. Some of those unexpected twists and turns became diamonds in my final draft. And I realize now that those diamonds that seemingly showed up out of nowhere only fueled my passion for the story.

Carlton Cuse, screenwriter and producer of Lost, probably said it better than I did:

The creative process is not like a situation where you get struck by a single lightning bolt. You have ongoing discoveries, and there’s ongoing creative revelations. Yes, it’s really helpful to be marching toward a specific destination, but, along the way, you must allow yourself room for your ideas to blossom, take root, and grow.

It’s hard not to focus on the end product—especially after you’ve written a first book, and you know eventually you’ll show this new one to other people, too. You can’t shake the worry that you’re putting time and effort (and yourself!) into something that might flop. You know you need to work faster and smarter, and this is a new kind of pressure.

But would runners still run if they weren’t training for a marathon? Most I know do, and talk about that runner’s high. Would I still write if I didn’t have this ultimate goal of being published? Yes. Maybe not novels, but I have been writing creatively my whole life. Because there is meaning in the process—without an obsessive focus on the end goal. And I know that writing 80,000 terrible words helped me write 80,000 words that I love.

So this is what I’m reminding myself today:

The process is therapeutic.

It is how I practice and learn.

It helps me solve problems—and not just plot holes. I’m talking big life dilemmas.

Creating something ugly and useless is not just okay. It can be good for me.

I know I’m repeating the wisdom of others before me here, but it’s the truth: If it’s an easy journey, the end product won’t mean as much to me (or to anyone).

…And now back to that WIP. One of my main characters informed me that he needs to be a second POV. Who am I to argue with him?