Day 2422

I hit that day Tuesday- the longest streak of my writing to date. Yes, I write every day. Yes, it’s difficult and sometimes frantic. No, it’s not usable fiction – it’s more likely to be things i need to pull off my brain in order to focus for the day.

If you need that translated: 6 years, 231 days. I started this streak in March 2013.

Yesterday I broke it. I woke up this morning and looked at it twice. It’s not like me to miss a day. It’s always the little things that add up – I can tell you I wrote in the hospital after I had my son. I wrote around my ankle surgery though I’m sure much of it isn’t really functional. I wrote through moving a few times, even borrowing my mom’s computer once while we were in transit. It’s so hard to look at that streak to be broken.

I know why – my daughter is sick. I rushed her off to urgent care, and that took 2.5 hours. Then I had a scheduled MD appointment that took two more. (I’m not sure if I ought to apologize, but it’s a getting-to-know-you, and it’s important to get to know both of us. Then the dentist, too, and being the delinquent mom to pick up my son when they have them all standing outside.

At least the teachers waiting with the kids knew me – one was my daughter’s teacher and he poked his head inside the car to question where she was, which was in the car with me because she was sick but not staying home alone. The librarian called him on it- dude, you stuck your head in the car? We all laughed together.

Today I stare at that 1 day in my streak column for the current day, and I’m taking that big, deep breath. One cannot be and do all the things. If I keep track of my writing through that site, I can’t count the four both-sides covered written pages of the tracked outline for this book I’m revising and trying to make work. They don’t count because I didn’t write them in, not because I wasn’t doing work while holding my girl’s hand as she just lay on the table waiting for the next test.

Lucky for all of us, today she’s better and I’m working back to my ‘normal’ routine. It’s never a normal day, but at least when I write it feels more normal.

What’s the thing that keeps you feeling like things are going all right, even when it’s all slipping through your fingers?

For the Love of Books

I’m a novelist. I write books more than I write anything else, and I learn with every project that I work on. Last March I finished a draft. I hoped it was in better shape than it actually is- because my writer’s group will finish it next month. (We have two meetings next month, and they’ll finish it at the second of those meetings.)

They’ve been reading it for me for over a year now, partly because I started and I needed them to keep me on track with writing it, and then because I outpaced them and I hold to our limited word counts per meeting. It’s hard to remember where we started, and it’s hard to think about the feedback they’re going to give me when they finish.

But since our meeting this week, I’ve been rearranging this book in my head to be two books, and how that would look like. I agree with most of the feedback I’m getting, and I’m really lucky to have such a great group to work with.

Sometimes the hard part is thinking about all the things I’ve learned and remembering there will always be more. It’s true of any topic out there, and it’s good to be reminded that even the experts are still learning.

Then I started writing my thoughts down, and probably after the yoga class I teach today I’ll break out the colored note cards and an actual notebook and see how these things fit. They also gently remind me that there’s still too much in my head, so as I’m writing an alternative introduction I’m looking at it as if I haven’t met these creatures yet. That’s the hardest thing.

The writer’s group isn’t all bad news, though. I may have to rewrite it again but they’re excited about the characters and each one seems to have a different favorite. They’re excited to read more from these worlds. That excitement keeps me going even though I know this task is huge. The good news is it’s writing season.

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I might actually mean editing season.

Summer

A lot has happened this summer, and while it feels like none of it is good, that’s not true. There are a lot of good things. We have good friends. We have family. We’ve had a lot of losses, and I have support from many people around me. It’s fair to say I’m stressed and depressed, and it’s expected after the summer’s events. My plan had been to clean up my office and then work in there, but the best-laid plans didn’t happen.

One of my writer friends passed away, suddenly, last month. It’s caused a big ripple among the group, and we’re all dealing with it in our own way.

My office is still a mess. I had been carrying around my binder as if I would work on it, and hadn’t, until vacation when I put it down and stopped guilting myself into thinking I’d work on it when I didn’t.

Yesterday I changed my work-in-progress for the first time since. I also started cleaning in my office. Not a coincidence that I’d reached out to two of my fellow writers from that group and both of them had asked what I’m working on.

Well, I’m working on it again. I’m reading that chapter that completely needs a different POV and tackling that. It’s comforting to know how to fix something that needs to be changed.

I’m thankful for the writers who are keeping me motivated. I’m glad I also didn’t drag it with me on vacation, because I didn’t need the extra weight, but I kept thinking about it while I was gone. I’m thankful for all that time it’s spent in my head while I’m working out the best way to recreate what I want without giving away too much too early in the story.

I’ve learned a lot by sticking to this book. One day I’m going to finish it. Not because I haven’t found the end, but my style of writing is to get the base out, and then dress it up with the necessary descriptions. I don’t know why my brain works this way, but that’s how it goes. Blank room? No furnishings? No problem in the first draft!

It’s the subsequent fixing that takes time. And I know I want to do it right. Even if it’s at my regular plodding pace and how that’s going to be a thing that happens. That, too, has made me think about how I want this to be sent out when I’m done with it, and what I’m going to do to make it successful, and what successful even means for the author I always pictured myself to be.

The writing dream has never died, but it’s changing to fit a world that didn’t exist when I was a kid saying I would write books and be on the shelves in the bookstores. Those bookstores- B Dalton and Waldenbooks – no longer exist, along with so many other things that felt permanent. Change happens- it happens when we are looking for it and when we aren’t, when we’re ready for it and when we aren’t. Even trying to keep things the same is a losing battle that’s also trying to change things. So I’ll keep writing. What will you do?

 

There’s a Funeral Today

My father-in-law died a couple days ago, and while it’s unexpected we still talk about how he didn’t suffer. People want to know how he died (we did the visitation thing last night) and there aren’t definite answers. There’s no autopsy. My husband said he died in his sleep. My father-in-law had struggled with breathing and his heart, and at some point everyone loses that battle.

My humor has run dark and biting – while my husband and I laugh my daughter looks at us and doesn’t understand why we’re laughing. I want to trot out that Heinlein quote from Stranger in a Strange Land about how humor isn’t a funny thing it’s what we do to mask the pain, but I’m also pretty sure she’s not ready for that. I hope my friends who have also encountered this humor understand.

While my husband and my parents weren’t the oldest when we were born (between 22 and 30), the grandparents were much older. (I think the youngest of them was his grandmother born in 1916. We both had grandparents born before 1910.) But when I remember these funerals, these ceremonies, most of them have blurred into that spot of not being able to remember someone droning on about whomever it was we lost. I remember, especially for my husband’s family, standing in a receiving line to speak to the many who wish to share their condolences. We did that again last night. I met people that knew my father-in-law well. It was a long line and we didn’t get a break to eat until after the stated time of the visitation. We sent the kids to run and play and when they got hungry we sent them to eat downstairs.

I don’t want to be remembered this way. Not like today, where a pastor will talk about the life and the family, and we’ll mostly just sit there and listen. I want to be remembered like my grandmother, even though that might be harder. My family got up and spoke- all of us, and anyone could go up there, or just stand where they were. We shared the stories that were important, that we remembered. (We did the same for my biological father.) I remember being engaged in these experiences, sharing in this idea of who they had been, and of the people who were my family and friends grieving with me. Also, I want an officiant who knew me, not a religious personage, one of my friends or family.

I had a lot of time in the car yesterday, between my home and my father-in-law’s, and the circumstances always lead me to wonder how much time we have. Nothing is guaranteed. Many of us don’t live to be old. I don’t ever want to get used to losing people, and I don’t ever want to get good at grieving. I have gotten better at delivering bad news- which is to say I plow through it, say what has to be said, and move on. So if you’ve seen me this week and I lead with ‘my FIL died,’ I’m sharing my grief. (Same for a friend who died two weeks ago. Same for the next loss that I hope is a long way off.) My heart is broken, and I can only repeat these words that communicate the bare minimum. If you ask, I can tell you my FIL didn’t suffer. I hear he died in his sleep. There are worse ways to go.

May

I have been writing on 750words.com since 2011 – 8 years on the first. The goal was to make three million words by my anniversary, and I did.

A good portion of it was in pursuit of novels – either preparing for them or drafting them or sometimes edits.

I spent part of April figuring out how to take on the next edits on this book. Part of that break from the novel was also figuring out something different, changing perspective, allowing it time to breathe. Me, too. That’s what we need.

Then I started looking at one of the characters and writing a different part of his story outside the book. I’m not quite sure how it fits at the moment, but it’s been fun. There may be a ton of library books on the table by the couch, too, because that’s how I check them out. I might be teaching my kids to do that, too. It’s always been about the books. It probably always will be.

The Last Book

I ordered the last book on Ingram for my story, The Art of Science. My contract was over in January 2018, and while the rights had reverted to me, I have been stuck staring at books available through online sellers and I felt I couldn’t do anything else with it until that last book sold.

So only one was available – buy now! The book arrived today. It’s a bittersweet moment, knowing it’s really out of print and only available secondhand. I still have no idea how many my publisher still has – she said she’d tell me a number and offer them for me to purchase but she never replied back to me about it.

Staring at that envelope, knowing the last book is in there, I’m not sure what to feel. It’s a bit more real. That book was a huge journey for me. I learned a lot in the process of getting it out there and then again once it was out.

I have worked hard with writing since then, but I haven’t worked hard with publishing. I have two small children – though they’re both in school now. I finished a draft last week- and it left me a little bit at odds, now what? I shouldn’t just be waiting for my readers to get a little farther in before jumping back into the edits.

One mistake I made last Monday was digging into the drafts that I have, and printing out a couple that I hadn’t. Some of them were learning experiments and some of them are worth fixing. Which led me to my brand and my platform and what I’m willing to focus my time on for edits. Planning is hard. Taking that time to examine the daily schedule and what it is that’s calling me is a difficult venture. I’ve been feeling the winds change around me and I’m trying to be ready to go in new directions.

I do mean directions. It isn’t just one thing that’s come to a tipping point. It’s about three that I’m recognizing, and there are probably a couple more that I simply haven’t acknowledged yet. Occasionally there’s trouble in just knowing the change is coming, and anxiety is rampant when it’s an unidentified change and you’re not sure when it’s coming or where it’s going. Luckily I’m a yoga teacher and I’m getting a good practice to be mindful and present in this moment and make good choices as they come.

Wish me luck.

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April

I finished the second draft* of my current book. I need a little bit of a break, and sometimes this is when I start to look at my other stuff.

I have a bunch of books. Few of them are finished. Part of me taking time right now is just figuring out where I am in the fifteen novels I have attempted, and whether I’m willing to put more work into them. (At least two of them I’m considering myself done with.) But the rest? I pulled out two. I read one, I’m making notes in the other, and I fell in love with both projects again.

When things are rough and I’m not sure where to go, it’s nice to just take time to remember my joy in creating. Soon I’m going to pick up the novel again and make it work.

*Note: while I’m calling it a second draft, it had a rough draft, then I gutted the middle and added more things, then for that ‘second’ draft I changed POV and smoothed the plot. I’m pretty excited about where it’s going, but I also ended up with about a novel’s worth of short stories from other characters’ point of view. It’s an interesting journey.

Editing… Writing… No, Editing…

I keep thinking I have an entire list of all the things I want to work into that book I’m working on, and then I think of one more. The latest addition is something I have been playing with because of one of the writers in my group.

I’m not sure it’s a great idea, along with half the things that come up during the twisting of an idea into something readable.

I’ve been itching to write something new. Something different. I love reading tweets about writing and writers- and so often they reference that plethora of ideas from that creative phase.

Why can’t even phase be that creative? That creativity is the part that allows me to push forward and through a rough draft. The editing is always harder, where it steals my focus and forever tangles my thinking of the story threads.

Since it can’t, I’ll celebrate the milestones. I’m still editing this book, which makes it the longest I’ve stuck to that project. I’ve been doing my 750 words for over 6 years, and will be hitting 2200 days in a row sometime this week and three million words not too long after that. Also, I read a book in two days (I’ve been in the car a lot recently not driving) and I’ve been reassessing my ideas about whether or not I write horror.

Of course, horror brings me back to the book and that newest story idea. I’ll leave a plot line somewhere in my parking lot for a short story when I need a break. It might even be horror.

A List of Names

When starting an story idea, I need a name. Not necessarily for the story – a placeholder will do. It’s that meat of the character, and while it sometimes changes, that name also takes part of what it is to be that character. There have been days I poured through the name books or the name sites and tried to find just the perfect sound, the perfect feel, the perfect meaning.

Did it matter to my readers if her name was Paige or Hannah or Claire? Maybe not, but it definitely mattered to me. Connecting to that character meant I had to figure out which she was, and the way she interacted, and how she fit into the book.

Some character are named faster than others. In the current book, my main character is Lorelei. She has been since I thought of her, and she’ll stay that way. Her pilot wasn’t so easy, managing a few variations until I found what I wanted. No one in my writer’s group has complained about the names yet, though I’m still working through some of those details.

During this rewrite, I’ve had to change characters from their own stories to an outside viewpoint- Lorelei’s. It’s an interesting switch, because in the first write I didn’t know which viewpoint I needed to tell.  It makes for a lot of digging between characters when you have to see each one of them from every other character’s perspective. It’s not an exercise I do with every book.

When characters no longer spark something for me, I can’t pretend to give them justice. Those first started novels from junior high and high school still have names that spark something, though not enough to connect with or finish without completely restarting the projects.

Maybe on days like today, when the novel just won’t and the rest has been done, I could just look for a list of names to try to make something with. I found Sia lately, which I wasn’t familiar with, and who knows what that’ll come out to be.

Where do you look?

Writing is a solitary path. Often it’s just me and the book, staring at each other over the keyboard. Not all of us are meant to follow solitary pursuits, and as a writer I find myself in a group to remind me why I do it.

It’s cold here in Iowa. So cold it feels like we closed the Midwest for a time. No one seems to be talking about much else, whether someone had to go out or not, and when there might be school in the future, and how we might go to school until when we miss this many days.

Luckily, we live in modern eras where we can do it all online if we must. We connect on a daily basis through apps and we can video chat and even – like last night – run meetings watching someone else’s screen for a tutorial on something new. (I got a crash course in canva!)

There’s more to a group than just the writing for me, though. It’s also about keeping up the momentum on my book, which has stalled, and reminding myself that there are reasons to pick it up again. They remind me they want to read it, and they make me remember what I love about these characters.

I keep thinking, this week my kids will be back in school and I can focus on my book. Maybe that’ll be done in June, too, when the landscape’s less a frozen tundra. Winter’s never been my favorite. I experienced it through the front door as I let people in or out, but I didn’t venture into it. Maybe next time.

Since I had extra kids, I pressed them into helping me organize my games. I found the pinkest deck ever: 0130191246

If there’s a pinker deck, I hope I never run across it. I’d feel compelled to buy it for my daughter, who fell in love with this one.

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