Work Hard, Rest Hard.

8 May

I’m home from DFWCon, which means my whirlwind month-of-AWESOME has come to a close. Between a workshop led by one of my favorite authors, an out-of-state trip to visit family, and a weekend spent hanging out with new and long-loved writer friends…well, I’m a little tired.

Factor in the emotional highs (“They like my project!”) and lows (“My query needs pruning, just like most people’s! Epic sadface! I wanted PERFECTION ON THE FIRST TRY!!!”)—and the fact that I’ve spent every free minute working on my project for longer than I can remember—it’s more accurate to say I’m a lot tired.

I’ve been thinking about one of the tips Corey and I shared in our class on Saturday:

Work hard, rest hard.

It’s not easy.

Here’s what I want to do: get up at 5:30 every morning, like I often do, and work until my baby gets up at 8. Pore over notes from the awesome classes this weekend, read craft books until my eyes bleed. (I could do without the eyes-bleeding part, but you get the picture.) Dive back into my manuscript and—*waves magic wand*—infuse it with BRILLIANCE.

And I will do all of those things.

But not yet.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

STEP ONE: Sleep. Because I must. I’ve fallen asleep at 9pm for two nights in a row, and it has been absolutely glorious. My body, my mind, my heart: they need to be re-set before I go pushing them to their limits again. And, oh, will I push them, because writing a novel takes discipline and dedication.

STEP TWO: I’m going to read—*gasp!*—for fun. I’m a very all-or-nothing reader. Once I get into a book, my writing discipline tends to go out the window. Over time, I’ve learned I have to be purposeful about not starting a book when I’m trying to meet a deadline. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve had a reading week, so this week, I’m chilling with books. Other people’s books. (Specifically: two Sara Zarr books + SERAPHINA + ELEANOR AND PARK.) I am always inspired when I read knock-your-socks-off books, and these come highly recommended.

STEP THREE: Enjoy my family. My husband and I tend to get excited about our projects, so much so that our evenings are, like, brew a pot of coffee and work-work-work. (He’s creating this amazing website for writers—it’s a social media site for writers to track their goals and progress while connecting with others who are doing the same thing.) While I’m sure we’ll still do a bit of work, it’s nice to be more relaxed about it. I’ve been a little too set-the-timer-and-FOCUS militant, lately. Balance is a good thing.

After all of these things, I will (*hopefully*) be well-rested and ready to dive back in to working on my project. A concept I’ve been dwelling on lately, in regards to rest, is this:

Rest to be restored, not to disengage.

Though I’m taking a break from the actual work of shaping words into a complete novel, I’m not disengaging my mind. Quality sleep, enjoying life with friends and family, reading to be inspired—these things are all so, so important when it comes to nurturing our craft. My project-specific ideas will be simmering on a back-burner during all of this. When it’s time to sit back down to work, I’ll be refreshed and restored, ready to FINISH this thing.

And I am excited.

A Whirlwind of Exciting Things

3 May

Life has been a whirlwind lately, and it isn’t slowing down today: in just over two hours, I’ll be sipping a latte as Corey Wright—friend and crit partner extraordinaire—and I head up to the DFW Writers’ Conference. This will be my third year attending, and Corey’s second.

Two years ago, I had barely come out of that first-trimester-of-pregnancy brain fog, and was lucky to be vertical.

#twitterbloc

Last year’s group of #Twitterbloc girls at DFWCon ❤

Last year, I was still living through the sleep-deprived newborn phase of things, and was mostly excited to meet my ten(ish?) close Twitter friends (collectively known as #Twitterbloc) in person.

This year? I’m excited about a lot of things.

I’m excited because my manuscript-reading commitments slowed down last fall, and I’ve been on an insanely productive writing streak ever since. I’m excited about the project I’ll be pitching, which is feeling quite solid, tentatively titled OF STARSHINE AND ASHES (synopsis here, if you’re curious).

Also exciting? I’m fresh off of an incredible workshop experience at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, led by the talented and über-amazing Sara Zarr (author of HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and THE LUCY VARIATIONS—which comes out on Tuesday—along with several other books you’ll want to add to your to-read list). If you ever have the opportunity to attend anything at The Writing Barn, I suggest you do it—I’ve attended a lecture and a workshop now, and both have been wonderful. After this whirlwind month settles down, I plan to write a whole post devoted to the Sara Zarr workshop experience. Suffice it to say, for now, I came out of the weekend with my tool kit brimming over with the wisdom and encouragement people kept putting inside it.

Aside from seeing some of my #Twitterbloc girls again—and a long-time in-person friend who’s gotten pretty serious about writing ever since I moved away (WHY DID I MOVE?!)—I’m looking forward to DFWCon because there are lots of classes I think will be useful to me. And—*gulp*—Corey and I are actually going to lead one of them.

If you’re at the conference, our class is called 60 Tips in 60 Minutes, and it’ll be a mix of presentation and participation, covering tips on how to stay organized, motivated, and disciplined while working on your various projects. We’ll also spend time on creative ways to use tools like Scrivener (and good old-fashioned index cards and post-its!) for drafting and revision. If you’re at the conference, our class is at 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, Room 6! We’d love to meet you.

Well. It seems I can’t avoid packing forever, so off I go! Can’t wait to see old friends, meet new ones, and pack even more stuff into my writerly tool kit. Happy writing and reading to you all!

What A Year!

18 Oct

Friends! It’s been a while, no? While it’s been fabulous (and sanity-saving!) to keep up with many of you through Twitter, I figured it was about time I updated my lovely little blog again.

I’ve spent most of my unclaimed-by-baby-or-meal-making time doing one of four things: reading published novels, critiquing unpublished novels, working on my own projects, and investing in friendships with other writers. I highly recommend all of these, especially if you are trying to become a stronger writer—I’ve learned so many things over the past year!

Reading published novels sometimes feels like you’re just relaxing, especially if you’ve created lofty goals and deadlines for yourself. It’s such a valuable use of time, though! For one, there’s bound to be at LEAST one book that totally floors you by its ability to stir your emotions, for the way the writing looks so effortless. (Deceptively so, of course.) That book, for me, was R.J. Palacio’s WONDER. There are also bound to be books you don’t have as strong a connection with; this is also valuable, because it shows just how subjective this industry is. What works well for you doesn’t always work for someone else, and vice versa.

Critiquing unpublished works, for me, is an invaluable experience. It is SO MUCH FUN for me to work my way through projects and take an objective look at what’s on the page. It’s like a puzzle for my brain to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what would make the story even stronger—even if it’s already super strong. Then, there’s communicating all of that in a tactful, succinct way, all while walking the fine line of my-opinion-is-valid-but-it’s-not-the-only-opinion-out-there. Critiquing the work of others not only helps me come back to my own projects with fresh eyes, but also with the ability to more quickly spot problems of all sorts (and their solutions).

Working on my own projects: my progress has been steady, but slow. Creating something of my own takes a different sort of energy than analyzing something created by someone else—I find it’s sometimes hard to focus in a way that’s conducive to creating when my writing time is limited to 45 or 60 minutes at a time (thanks to Jamesbaby’s not-so-long naps). I’m learning, though. I think the key is to use whatever limited time I have to its fullest, and then to think specifically, when I do. If I try to attack my entire to-do list all at once, it’s daunting and overwhelming. Instead, I bite off exactly what I think I can chew in 45 minutes, chew it, and then pick up in the same way whenever I next get the chance. Nothing too revolutionary in that approach, but it can be surprisingly difficult to implement. As for the projects themselves, two (out of the many in my head) are coming together quite nicely. I’ve updated my PROJECTS page to reflect what they’re about, if you are curious.

Investing in friendships with other writers: oh, man. This is another one that might, on the surface, seem like just a fun thing to do that gets in the way of actual writing. But…no. I’ve found some other writers who are committed to their goals—writers who are consistently working toward those goals—and the energy is contagious. Someone is bound to be feeling super motivated, which comes in handy because someone is also bound to be feeling completely overwhelmed. I’ve learned so much, and have felt abundant motivation and encouragement, from the girls I’ve come to know through Twitter (collectively known as #twitterbloc—it takes up less space in a tweet than tagging everyone).

So! That, in a nutshell, is where I’ve been all year. I haven’t abandoned my writing goals, not even close—it’s just that those things have taken all my creative energy, and all my free time. It’d be nice to start blogging more regularly again, but I’ll probably have to ease back into it since my free time is still pretty limited (and since I’m still doing all the things I mentioned in this post). Thanks for sticking with me, sweet friends! *hugs*

Writing! Whee!

12 Jan

Oh, man. This whole writing-a-novel-while-being-a-full-time-mom thing? Not easy.

But you knew that already.

New Year’s Resolutions work well for me, though, so despite the fact that I have next to no time to myself these days—and the fact that my trusty MacBook’s battery decided up and keel over—I’ve managed to make consistent progress on my draft. I expect, now that my new BFF (read: supershiny MacBook Air) has arrived, I’ll be able to add even more words. Add to those things the encouraging feedback a friend gave me recently, and I’m super-motivated to finish the draft.

So. This is just a quick little post to check in and say YAY I’M WRITING AGAIN AND YAY IT’S GOING WELL AND AHHHHHHHH. Ahem.

How are your New Year’s resolutions holding up so far?

It’s A New Year.

1 Jan

Today.

It’s a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year.

It’s a day I’ve had in mind for months: the day I START FRESH with my writing goals—and blogging. Now that I have a four-month-old (and, subsequently, four entire months of oooooooh-this-is-how-this-motherhood-thing-works under my belt) and have reasonable expectations as far as how writing and motherhood might work together, I am SO EXCITED!

So, what am I doing blogging about it?

Well. Asking you all to keep me accountable, for one, and two? Saying hi. Because I’ve missed you.

Coffee: procured. Awesome sweatshirt + knee-high knitted sock-boot thingies: on my body. Peace and quiet: yes and yes. Motivation: heck yeah.

Here we go.

Crit partners, expect me to be (rather energetically) imposing my LET’S-GO-WE-CAN-DO-THIS-FRESH-START-YAY attitude upon you in the near future. Because I can’t do this without you guys. (Okay, well, I could. But it would take much longer, and wouldn’t be as much fun, and my work would not be its best, because you guys? TOTALLY ROCK.)

Okay. Shutting up now. Fingers to keyboard…and…go.

Take Time to Think

25 Sep

These past few weeks have been some of the least self-centered ones I’ve ever experienced—having a helpless little human who’s dependent on you will do that, apparently—yet, oddly, I find myself feeling more and more motivated to write, and even more inspired than before to achieve the goals I’ve set.

This doesn’t mean I’ve had much time to actually work on my projects lately…but, in a weird way, the whole not-being-able-to-work-on-things thing is actually contributing to my motivation!

What I have had time to do, lately, is THINK.

My sweet baby eats a lot—especially these past few days, thanks to a horrible, sleep-stealing growth spurt. Now, sometimes, I can manage to hold a book or navigate the Internet while feeding him…but not always. Most of the time, I’m just sitting there chilling and/or attempting to not fall asleep while he eats.

In those crazy-early morning hours, my thoughts keep drifting to my three works-in-progress (and, as if I don’t have enough ideas begging me to write them, my thoughts are also hovering around a fresh new idea). All this extra time spent dwelling on these stories has me feeling super-motivated to work on them!

Things are starting to settle down a little bit around here, thank goodness. Naps are getting longer, feedings are starting to space out a little bit, we’re (FINALLY) getting more sleep, and we’re starting to become more comfortable in our new roles as parents. All of this, plus my chomping-at-the-bit-to-get-back-to-work motivation, has me VERY EXCITED. Even the mere fact that I have time to write this blog post makes me hopeful that I’ll have the time and focus to work on my manuscripts again sometime in the near future!

All that to say, if you find yourself in need of a motivation boost, try this:

  • PERMISSION. Give yourself permission to take a break from your work, for a set period of time (perhaps a week or two).
  • MARK THE DATE. Set a get-back-to-work date that falls at the end of that break.
  • TIE UP YOUR HANDS. Twice a day, every day during your break, take an hour to do something mindless in a quiet room where your hands are occupied (like knitting, for example…or feeding a baby). Do not let yourself write anything, not even notes.
  • FOCUS. During this time, just THINK. Think about your project(s), your characters, your stories, your big-picture goals. Don’t act on your thoughts yet.
  • THE YOU-CAN’T-HAVE-IT! EFFECT. When someone says you’re not allowed to eat something (like cheesecake when you’re on a diet, or wine when you’re pregnant), what happens? ALL you want to do is eat that thing, right? Same concept here. If you tell yourself you aren’t allowed to work, yet you spend ten to twenty hours over those weeks doing nothing but get excited about your project, it stands to reason that you’ll be itching to get back to it when the break is over. Plus, dwelling on ideas before acting on them is beneficial in and of itself.
  • EXECUTE. So, the day after your break ends: WRITE. Write down all the notes that happened to stick with you over this period of time—the good ideas will stick, the junk will be lost forever. Make outlines, or note cards, or character sketches. Dive into the nebulous new scenes that have been floating around in your head.
  • FINISH STRONG. Don’t just be a project starter—commit to being a project FINISHER. Anyone can start a project, but seeing it through to the end? Much more difficult.
Happy reading and writing and creating to all of you!

Not Jim, or Jimmy, or Jamie…

11 Sep

…but James.

So, after this past week of sleepless nights and whoa-I’m-actually-a-mother newness, I think it’s safe to say that my life has changed drastically (in a good way, of course). Things that previously felt So Important don’t feel as urgent—and, on the flip side, Andrew and I are now responsible for feeding, protecting, and raising a baby human. (Side note: this? Not at all like feeding, protecting, and raising a baby cat.)

All that to say, this has been the most difficult, amazing, rewarding, lovely, challenging, prayer-dependent ten days of my life.

I’m starting to thank myself that I decided, about a month before James arrived, that I was going to take an official two or three month break from writing my novels. Once we’ve settled into some semblance of a routine—or, at least, once we’ve gotten more familiar with our new roles as parents—I’ll pick up the novels again. Writing and editing them now, though? That would be a total disservice to every element involved, from the books to James to myself.

It’s sort of weird to put my writing goals on hold for a while (and mark my words, they are not abandoned—not at all. Just on hold, for their own good.) after spending a good few years working so diligently at them. But, then I remind myself: no one says I have to finish my book today, get an agent tomorrow, get published the day after that. (Insert Rebecca Black lyrics here. You’re welcome.) 

Nope, no reason to rush: the publishing industry isn’t going anywhere. (I hope.) Whether I finish my book tomorrow or next year or the year after that is unimportant; what’s important is that I make it as good as it possibly can be. And, that I keep my priorities straight: this new, sweet baby is the most wonderful blessing I’ve ever been given (closely rivaled by the other most amazing blessing in my life, my sweet husband). Right now, I’m devoting myself to learning him, learning how to be a mother, and learning how to be a good wife to Andrew now that James has been introduced to the picture.

Anyway. Just had to get those thoughts out there, partially because they’ve been swimming around in my head, and partially because I haven’t posted much about my writing progress lately.

Hope you are all doing well—I haven’t forgotten you guys! I plan to keep posting here (albeit, probably as irregularly as I’ve been posting these past few months, at least for a while), and I’ll still be on Twitter. Happy reading and writing and awesomeness to you all!

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