Tag Archives: hope

Post #100 | Greener Grass

11 Jan

This is Post #100, and my goodness: how that little number has kept me from writing all week.  I keep thinking, “It’s number one hundred!  It’s special!  Therefore, I need to make something special of it!”

What, though?

Well.  A quote has been simmering in my head ever since I read it weeks ago; now seems as good a time as any to share it with you guys.  This little excerpt is part of a much longer interview with Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time-Traveler’s Wife.  The question is in regards to her sizable advance for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

Q: How does that amount of money change your writing life?

A: …Back in the ’90s, I started going to artist colonies.  The one I go to most is Ragdale.  I remember the first time I ever went to Ragdale, and I was just like, Oh my…I’m going to get up today and I’m going to do what I want.  I’m going to make stuff.  And it was such a fantastic feeling to own your own day.  You know, nobody was going to tell me what to do that day.  And I thought, that’s what I aspire to, just to be in control of your time.  So there was a point a couple of years ago where I suddenly realized I had achieved control over my day.  And that was really exciting.  So from that point on it’s all pretty much the same: the freedom to make what you want when you want.  And I think that’s just what we’re all looking for is that kind of liberty.

– from the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest | click here to read the full interview

Her answer caught me off guard when I read it.  From someone who has achieved what so many writers aspire to — publication, loads of people who have read and enjoyed her work (though ‘overnight success’ came only after many years of hard work and twentyish agent rejections), a huge advance for her second novel — this quote carried a lot of weight for me.  

After all of this, it sounds like she’s most satisfied with freedom, liberty, control of the way she spends her time.  

I think this is an amazing reminder to those of us who are still on the opposite end of the “success” spectrum (whatever that means; I guess I mean the way success is commonly perceived, i.e. sales and popularity and money).  The money is satisfying to her because it buys her more time to do what she already loves to do: create.

Niffenegger’s wisdom inspires me to appreciate what I have, right now.  To enjoy each moment spent creating — whether those moments add up to eight hours a day or eight hours a month.  To not say “I’ll be happy when ____” but to drink in the experience as it happens.  To not wish for a day when I’ll be rich, or popular, or Queen of the Bestseller List, under the deluded idea that these things in and of themselves are a source of lasting, deep, inner happiness.  Because they’re not.  You can have all these things but still be utterly discontent, hungry for more, anxious and unsatisfied.  All of this reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes¹ that says, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This, too, I see is from the hand of God.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against popularity and money and sales and all the things that could come from the love of creation, and diligent work applied to that creation.  I’ve just been thinking about motivation behind my time spent creating, and a realistic perspective of the grass that looks so green on the “successful” side of the fence.  That no matter what happens today or in the future, I can take joy in this day, and the freedom I have to create.

Just thought I’d share that with you, since it inspired me to love what I do, even more, as I do it.

¹Taken from the NIV translation of the Bible, it’s from Chapter 2 verse 24.

111.43% | (The End)

31 Dec

Why didn’t anyone tell me that reaching the end of this draft would feel like winning the lottery, or meeting the entire cast of Lost, or finding out that Starbucks would like to give me free lattes for the rest of my life?

Or, that finishing a second draft (also known as a complete rewrite) would feel utterly satisfying, but in a drastically different way than finishing the first draft did?

Or, that knitting a zillion strands of gossamer spiderweb, without leaving loose ends, would be as rewarding as it was challenging?

Or, that by the end of the novel, when you’ve basically just been this diligent stenographer spying on the lives of your characters for months, watching them struggle and conquer and feel, they peek at you through that fourth wall, satisfied with you for being patient enough to see them through to the last page and tuck them in for sleep?

This is how I feel. 

Months of patient plotting and planning and crafting did not prepare me for the satisfaction I felt when I typed word number 78,000 yesterday.  That’s a full 8,000 words past my original goal (hence the title of this post, as 78K is 111.43% of that goal), and I’m more than pleased.  This way, the manuscript can gain or lose a few thousand in edits and still be a good length.  

Because this post will turn into a jumble of randomness if I don’t structure it somehow…

…here are some things I learned along the way.

1) Goals are Good.  Seriously good.  Diligent December was a raving success, as I wrote 26,290 words this month.  Though I didn’t get to write every day, I tried.  When I did get to write, I made the most of it.

2) I Can Write More Words/Day Than I Thought I Could.  I wrote 26,290 words this month, with only eleven days of actual writing.  That’s an average of 2,390/day.  Turns out 1,500 words every single day is hard for me, but 2,300 every other day works well for me.  Weird.

3) I Like Writing By Hand.  With the exception of the last chapter, I wrote everything in December by hand, and then typed it up as I went.  That means I drained at least two pens of their poison and filled two Moleskine notebooks.  (One was fuschia, and the other was lime green.)  This helped me feel more attached to my characters and their stories, possibly because I felt like I was journaling about my own life.  Also, it was easier not to dwell on how many words I’d written without a running total at the bottom of my screen, and it was easier to remain focused without the Internet at my fingertips.

4) It’s Important To Feel.  Without feeling, words are dead.  Without closing my eyes and trying to experience what the character is feeling, or think how she’s thinking, it’s hard to get into a scene.  Conversely, it’s amazing to get wrapped up in the emotion of it all.  The word visceral comes to mind.

5) Therefore, It’s Important Not To Rush.  The last day I posted (22 Dec 09), I was so incredibly tempted to FINISH, since I was only 2100 words away from my goal (even though I’d already written 3600 words that day).  I made the decision to wait, to not rush the climax.  It was a good one.  Monday rolled around, and unlike most first-days-back-from-long-vacations, it was a Monday of Awesomeness.  I wrote 3450 that day, putting my heart on the page, but it still wasn’t done.  Same story with Tuesday; several hours and 3834 words into that day, I was so ready to be done, but again, I didn’t want to rush the end.  Wednesday came around: 2810 words later, with heart and soul and time put into it, I reached the end.  I’m glad I ended up with 10,000 extra words of quality conflict and resolution, rather than 2,000 words of crammed, subpar, just-to-say-I-made-my-deadline-and-I-really-want-to-finish crap.

6) Enjoy the Process.  It’s been over a year since I started working on this novel, and I’ve still got several months of edits ahead of me.  I’ve loved every single challenging minute of the process so far, and I think that’s an imperative part of being an aspiring author.  I love learning how to do this, learning how to be diligent, learning how to use so many different parts of myself to their maximum potential.  Being a writer, you have to create, think, feel, communicate, organize, prioritize, observe; you have to be ruthless, passionate, subtle, patient, economical, and honest.  I’ve used so much more of myself than I ever have in any single paid job I’ve ever had.  Ever.

7) Alone ≠ Good.  Though writing is a solitary act, usually (for me, always), having people in your life is imperative to being healthy, happy, and productive.  I’d still smell like coffee grounds and spilled milk, and my manuscript may or may not stink just as bad, if my amazing husband hadn’t been so supportive and encouraging with my desire to write. (Thanks, Love!) Also, I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to connect with such a rich group of supportive blog friends, and that you’ve pushed me, encouraged me, and held me accountable to do what I set out to do.  Thank you, too.

8 ) Enjoy It, Then Keep Working.  One thing my workouts and my writing goals have in common is this: I get to a point where I start getting excited about what I’ve accomplished — doing yoga, running a mile, saying no to cheesecake, meeting whatever writing goal it is that I’ve set — and then, somehow, I get comfortable.  My workouts slip…and I eat cherry pie…and have whipped cream on my mochas…and then it’s back to square one.  Treadmill time.  

I’m determined to avoid this with my novel, so here’s the plan: I’m taking two weeks (until January 18, the Monday after my birthday) away from my it, and then it’s time for a read-through.  In these two weeks, I will rest and relax but also continue on with being diligent, in areas such as (much-neglected) organizing of closets and storage bins and stuff like that.  I plan to catch up on everyone’s blogs, though (I’ve gotten so behind, but I’m really really excited to see what you guys have been up to!), and finally finish reading The Time Traveler’s Wife (How, oh how, did I manage to keep that thing on the table and not get utterly lost in it this month?).

Sorry for the week I’ve been absent, by the way.  Thank you to all of you who’ve been patient and stopped by in the meantime.  Guess all those blogs I haven’t written in a week were just dying to get out, and spilled themselves into this one, very huge, post.

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone — be safe and have fun!

Can She Do It?

22 Dec

Probably not, if she keeps playing with adorable pictures of Mr. Cat wearing Christmas bows.  However, that’s not the plan for the day.  The plan for the day?  To finish.

Hopefully.

Due to various bouts of sickishness, three weekends full of plans (two vacations and one wedding gig), and the realistic expectation that going to visit my parents for Christmas will be — as usual — like taking a brief trip to another planet on which all we do is eat, play games, and have Lost marathons, it all comes down to today.

And today, my friends, is daunting.  

The good news is that my average word count, on the days I’ve gotten to write, is about 1,500, with the past four days averaging around the 2,000 mark.  Then, there’s the…let’s call it other news, shall we? (Not bad.  Just other.)  That news?  In order to meet my Diligent December goal, I still need to write 5,121 words.  Today¹.  

It’s still early, though, and I wrote about 600 before the sun poked its shiny little face above the cloudy horizon, so I’m encouraged!  I also have a pretty good idea of what I want to write, it’s just the whole getting it on paper in the right way that may be challenging.  Also challenging?  The sheer number of words.  

It can be done, though, and I hope it will be done.

Thanks for all your encouragement, you guys!  It’s super valuable to me as I go through this process, and my writing is better because of you all.  I’ll try to be back with a status post later today or tomorrow with the results of my mini-marathon² today!

Okay.  Time for another coffee.

Diligent December Update: 64,879 down | 5,121 to go | 92.68% finished!


¹Technically, I need to write them by Christmas Eve, but hey, even the most diligent among us would have a hard time resisting the pull of Planet Let’s-Watch-Lost-And-Eat-And-Play-Games-And-Oh-Yeah-Christmas-Too.  So realistically?  Today.

²By the way: I am a member of the slow-and-steady-daily-goals camp, as opposed to the write-as-much-as-you-can-every-now-and-then camp.  However, I am also a citizen of Meet-Your-Goals Land and despite my best efforts, I need to take a brief voyage to the other side of the lake (via canoe), sit by the fire of write-as-much-as-you-can, and then do a little tribal celebration dance³ when I reach the end via their foreign methods.

³Oy vey.  Better go while I’m still ahead.

News flash!  This just in!  Extra bonus update so I don’t leave you all in suspense until the next time I get to post…since I’m not sure when that will be: I didn’t finish today, but I’m okay with that for several reasons, which I shall now list for you!  

One: I cut my “need to write” words from 5,706 to 2,093, which means I wrote 3,613 today – I’m pleased with that, for sure.  

Two:  those 3K+ words were quality, and I’m excited about them.  

Three: I stopped right after major drama and right before even bigger drama.  Didn’t want to rush through my ending just for the sake of finishing a goal.  Quality trumps speed, in this case.

Four: Um, two words: present wrapping.  I did a lot of it tonight, plus packing, plus kitty control.

Five: Though I have just over 2K to my goal, I think the book will run longer.  Therefore, I’m putting writing on hold for the holiday, will resume on Monday, and plan to finish by New Year’s Eve.

In case I don’t get to say it before then, Merry Christmas, everyone!  Thanks for your sweet comments and support, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond well yet.  They encouraged me greatly today, so thank you!

Joy

26 Oct

Honestly?

I’m feeling this weird mix of emotionally-drained-meets-invigorated-and-ready-to-conquer-the-world this morning.  Weird, I know.  I feel colored by a tinge of melancholy, but it’s counteracted by this sort-of simmering inspiration, so that’s a little weird, too.

I guess it’s only natural, in a month where I’m learning so much about how to make the most of what I have – time, money, opportunities, conversations, you name it! – life, as it sometimes does, has coughed up the chance for me to worry over what I don’t have.  Tempting though it may be to wallow in dramatic misery¹, I’m trying instead to focus on being content, being grateful, and thinking what a joy it is to be alive this very moment, with who-knows-what adventures waiting up ahead!  Seriously.  Amazing possibilities out there, you know?  Why worry about what I lack, when what I already have is so incredible?

Yet, sometimes I still worry.  Hence the weird combo of emotional strangeness I described earlier.

Oh, well.  I will just channel this energy into my fingers, onto my keyboard, and infuse some emotionally conflicted magic into my characters’ world.  Yes, yes…that sounds like the perfect plan!

One final Oktoberzest update:  I added about 375 words to the manuscript on Saturday², which brings my six-day total to 6,558 words.  Here’s hoping this week goes as well, or better!

Thanks for indulging my inner drama queen for a moment.  She likes to make herself heard every once in a while, though I prefer to keep her locked up in a dungeon.  She’s headed back down there now, ready to sit in the dark again for a while.

What are you guys working on this week?  Anyone out there gearing up for NaNoWriMo?  Or, maybe you’re in the thicket of some other project?  

¹Dramatically miserable hyperbolical sentence alert!  Fear not, we are not wallowing, nor are we anywhere close to miserable.  I’m just being a drama queen for a minute.

²Not bad, considering I ended up spending only 30 minutes writing that day.

Train Wreck

29 Sep

It’s a sunny, seventy-degree day here in Texas, and all is well in the writing world.  Or, I should say, the re-reading-of-my-writing world.

Pushing pause on my re-write has proved, so far, to be a good decision.  For those of you just tuning in, I’m doing a quick read-through of the 40,000ish words I’ve done so far on the second draft, in hopes of averting a writing train wreck before it happens.  Now, I know some train wrecks can spawn all sorts of spontaneous, sometimes-better-than-planned ideas.  Other train wrecks, though, leave you with a big pile of burning metal, with fire and smoke that obscures your vision.  In those wrecks, the whole mess overwhelms the poor soul who ventures forth to clean it.

Fortunately, the train is still on the tracks, so there’s no cause to worry just yet.

In fact, I’m finding it’s better than I thought.  In this read, I’m checking to see if it’s paced evenly, if I have any unnecessary scenes, and if my characters are following the path I laid for them or leading me somewhere better.  It’s particularly relieving to realize that the pacing is not, as I feared, jerky and confusing.  Some scenes take longer to write than others, which for me, can lead to misperceptions of how long the scene actually takes to read.  To my surprise and relief, so far, it’s even.  As far as characters and unnecessary scenes go, there is less to change than expected.  I’m more on the encouraged side of things than the discouraged, though I still have forty pages to read.

Hopefully, by the end of this week, or the beginning of next week, I’ll press on with the actual writing of the last half of the draft.  Like I said before, this is just a quick read, with a few specific purposes. I could spend weeks and weeks (and I imagine I will spend weeks and weeks, at a later point in time) correcting the way I keep describing one character’s eyes as sparkling, or how I used the word die, like, ten times on a page without realizing it.  (Oops.)  Now is not the time for those types of things, though, not if I ever want to finish this draft!  This is merely a keep-the-train-on-the-tracks read, not a polish-the-wheels-and-get-the-conductor-a-snazzy-uniform read.

Since the sunny skies and seventy-degree air have been rare these days, I’m headed outside with a homemade latte to make a dent in those remaining pages.

Breakthrough!

25 Sep

Confession: at an underwhelming 143 new words written on my novel this week, it’s safe to say this has been the worst week to date on my novel’s progress.  

Now.  I could hurl my computer to the cats and let them have their way with it, but that’s not really the best solution, I’ve decided.  I could scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush, but distraction doesn’t help much in the way of progress, either.  

I wrote the other day about the need for a peaceful place to write.  After reading the comments, it was increasingly clear to me from all of your experiences that words ache to get out if they’re in there, and ideas refuse to be silenced.  If words aren’t fighting to get onto the page, a change of location doesn’t work too well anyway – like Jennifer Neri said in her comment, “It’s got nothing to do with my setting but with head space.  If [the writing]’s not coming, it won’t come anywhere unless I figure out why.”

That resonated with me – I keep trying to find someplace clean, uncluttered, without distraction.  What I realized, though, is that it has less to do with physical clutter and more to do with the mental clutter. 

I sat down at the library¹ this morning, determined to make much-needed headway.  I opened an outline² I created back in June, just to evaluate my progress and see where I should go next, since it has been a week since I wrote something solid on the novel.

Then, a breakthrough:  I’m overwhelmed.

I feel like I know my characters, that I’m doing them justice in my draft.  Looking back over that outline, though, what I hope to write and what I’m writing aren’t exactly the same thing.  

I know that in a novel, what the reader sees is just the tip of the iceberg of the character’s entire personhood.  I’m trying to bring their entire story above the surface through layered action or dialogue, conveying much meaning, so that no matter how much face time my characters are given, they have a story.

What I have right now is decent.  Not incredible, but decent.  I’m trying to weave a lot of threads but while I focus on one, others are left dangling.  There’s a fine balance between a rich story and a story in which you are bombarded with way too much.  Obviously, I’d rather have a rich story, but it takes a lot of work to weave so many threads in a way that comes off as seamless instead of frayed.  

My story is frayed right now, and I need to tighten it all up.  Then, I remembered: hey, wait.  No one says I have to complete the draft before I go back and evaluate what I have.  Why not give it a read-through and see what needs tightening, or if I’ve introduced a piece of neon orange string in an otherwise earth-toned tapestry?  After all, isn’t that the very definition of editing?  

Ahhhh.  I have a LOT of work to do.  It’s tempting, like I said, to hurl my computer to the cats and let them go at it like they do my feet.  But…no.  As much time as this will take to evaluate what’s good so far and what’s not, I’m itching to get started.  Then I’ll continue to write the draft.  From day one, I’ve said I’d rather write an amazing novel than a quick novel; I’m not one for mediocrity.

Though I have a lot to think about now, I don’t feel mentally cluttered anymore.  That problem eluded me for days.  Now that I know what it is, I think I could work on this thing with both cats in the room.  Fighting.  Any time of day.  With a mess all around me, hungry, and without my morning latte.  

Okay, I lied.  I’d need my latte.

¹And, side note?  Why have I lived in this town for a decade and never discovered the city library?  I’ve been to the libraries at the universities, but never the public one downtown.  It’s quiet and there are a lot of great tables and outlets.  As far as peaceful places go, this may be my new go-to spot of the moment.

²The document is a major-conflict-by-major-conflict outline that details what my main characters feel at those big points in the story, and how that motivates them to act next.  It’s super helpful for creating cohesion, and I got the idea from Karen Wiesner’s From First Draft to Finished Novel.

I Am Not Regina Spektor, and other thoughts on Rejection

13 Sep

I did what I said I wouldn’t:  I got my hopes up.

Because, seriously?  How amazing would it have been to sing with Ben Folds, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, at the Meyerson Theater?  How incredible would it have felt to sing the Regina Spektor part on the (self-proclaimed ‘disturbed and bouncy’) song “You Don’t Know Me” in front of 2,062 people?  

Pretty amazing, I bet.  

There is about a 99.5% chance I won’t get to find out how it feels, though, because I was not one of the three girls chosen.  I am an alternate.  It’s still cool to be an alternate, don’t get me wrong¹ — but what are the chances a girl will get sick or break her leg or whatever?  

I’m trying, really trying, not to get more bent out of shape over this than I should.  I should know from past experience that when I get passed over for something, which happens to me more often than not, it truly is for the best.

I’ve been thinking how my life would be different, had I gotten everything I ever wanted.  That life, that person I would be, is not the same as the person I am today. 

If I had gotten everything I tried for, I would have been a popular girl in high school, who got all the scholarships she applied for instead of none.  With that scholarship money, I would have gone to a different university instead of moving to this place that has totally shaped me.  

Let’s just say I ended up here, anyway, though.  I would have married the 100% wrong guy for me, instead of the sweetest man on earth who popped into my life a few years later.  I would have been working some corporate political job that is not me in the slightest.  I would have been promoted to a manager at places like Chick-Fil-A and the bank and Starbucks.  Then, I would have been tempted to stick around and be Important at places I didn’t want to be.  Oh, yeah, and I would have made it onto American Idol, where I’d be the focus of television cameras for a year and sucked into a, well, sucky and consuming contract that works out not-so-much in my favor.

Looking at it that way, that is not the life I want.  But, looking back, those are all things I was disappointed I didn’t get, when I got passed over in favor of someone else. 

Flaws and failures and all, I’d rather be this person.  This girl, who is married to a kind, thoughtful sweetheart who encourages me to pursue my passions.  This girl, who knows she has something to offer the world even though – so far – the world has generally overlooked her.  This girl, who is determined to write a novel that will, one day, change the world, even if it only changes the world of one person.  This girl, who knows that when the time comes and someone notices, she’ll appreciate it a thousand times more than she would have if she always got every single thing she ever dreamed of attaining.

So, why do I still get bent out of shape when things don’t happen like I hope they will?  Probably because they’re awesome opportunities like singing on stage with Ben Folds in front of thousands, and because it hurts my pride.

I think these experiences are part of why I love outcasts, why I root for the underdog, why I write about the people who have great things to offer, but need to stop believing what the world tells them is true.  I write these things, because I know them all too well.  I guess that’s the little bit of sweet that comes from bittersweet rejection – the ability to be where I’ve ended up, writing about things I know with truth and authority, hoping it will inspire people to believe in themselves despite discouraging circumstances.

—–

¹Except the part where one girl who got a spot sang horrendously out of tune, and another girl sang the bass note (instead of the alto note…) on her entire audition.  I’m a little bitter, because not only did I take the time to perfect my part, I got it in by the deadline, too.  I will force myself to stop this rant before I cry again, like (most of) yesterday.