present mind, writing hands

As I sat down to write the post I thought, “This is great. I need to do this every day. I need to make time for writing outside of my fiction projects.” Other random, obscured thoughts circled my mind in a series that eventually formed some sort of long drawn out idea or concept. One after another like a flip book of procrastination. All my mind wandering halted when I released I wasn’t writing anything down. I also do this when I’m drafting. Think, and not write. I’m forward not present.

I talk a lot on Too Many Words about listening to the gut whisper and how part of knowing your process is understanding how every day it’s a little or completely different from the day before. Thinking and writing usually means one of three things.

  1. I haven’t given myself enough backtrack thinking.
  2. Free writing is necessary.  -OR-
  3. I need scribble down the arc for a short that won’t be quiet.
  4. Lunch is necessary.

The common thread between all three is that I need to be doing something other than what I can’t help but stare at. Even switching from computer to notebook helps. Hell, it’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and I completed my 50,000 words. Actually, I got to 52,010 words but who’s counting?

Isn’t that point?

Yes, and no.

Everyone who sets out to do NaNoWriMo has there own reason, even if it’s just the comradery of committing to write 50,000 words in one month with a collection of writers all around the world. I like that feeling. I needed that boost to get me working on this incredibly intimating, dragon-sized rewrite. Now as we enter December I am nearing the midpoint of the project and I am just gonna keep going until this phase is at an end.

My life feels too full lately (or always). We as a family unit are operating at faster frequency, with two kids in elementary school and activities they want to try ontop of both me and my husband working. (Something many juggle.) It’s tough for me to see either of my kids have a stressful time. At the end of the day my main goal as parents is that my children feel supported. I remember how hard school was. Gosh, I barely made it out. But I do best to be present when they are, to give them a steady backing because not having one as a kid made everything harder. So when I sit to write, to work, I think of it as for me, because  I love and need it. I do not treat it like the blistering, humbling hell it sometimes feels like.

It’s tricky balancing life and work and family and self and breathing. I am still working and grinding toward my goals so when I look at a day where I wasn’t as productive as I’d like to be or ended up needing to do a whole bunch of things I didn’t count for in my 2 am planning it can feel impossible to accept all I did do. It’s hard to see accomplishment when it’s this gradual, forever process of building a writing career, of writing a book, of revising. Whatever, sometimes it just doesn’t jive or flow or really I just need an apple and a walk to smooth the thoughts out. Stepping away feels like the worst thing in the world because it feels like failure.

Repeat after me, “Taking care of yourself isn’t failing.”

As I have mentioned on Too Many Words recently, I’ve been managing my anxiety disorder. I have known that anxiety is dragon I have to tame. I’ve had panic attacks when I was a teenager. Socially, forget about it. But over the last year and a half, my anxiety built a mega city and now I need to practice tools and exhaust myself with yoga so I don’t chew on my leg like a dog that needs a walk. I have been practicing yoga most mornings before the house is awake. I push myself and breath and am gradually working up to a handstand (I’m close) One of the schools of yoga is Hatha. Which is basically holding different positions. One after the other until you’re sweating, tingly, and you’ve forgotten what’s plaguing you because you’re tired and starving.

When I am doing a side plank with my knee to my nose all I am thinking about is not pulling a muscle I didn’t know I had. I am breathing through it. I know what my stomach is doing. Every muscle holding me up is at the forefront of the mind. Once I settled into the moment, once I’ve mastered it, then it’s time for the next position. (Warrior 3 is my favorite.)
I’m not telling you to do yoga but the act of fully being present and then repeating it with different positions is a lot like the mind needed for drafting. Ease back on the toes. Write down character’s nagging motivation. Pull in the navel. Fold into the scene. Find out what’s important. Lower back pinches so you ease forward. Your hand is on your calve instead of the floor. Switch voices. Jot that idea down and then come back.

It’s all a dance. All of it.
As I come to the end of this post I have the element I was missing for a scene I planned on writing. So I’m gonna get on that.
As always thanks for reading.

-J

maybe try this…

I like to think of writing as a ‘gut’ business. Books are personal at the core, so emotional inspiration or interest is part of it—just a level, but still important. One slice of cheddar cheese makes all the difference in a ham sandwich. Following my gut is how I solve problems in the arcs, know when ideas or worth something, and on and on.

The problem is, the inner-critic sometimes gets in the way of gut listening. Something I am working on. I had some dancing with my demons while I reread my current work in progress and wrote a reverse outline to track plot lines and beats all while keeping other feedback in mind. I had multiple unhelpful voices coming in and telling me any shred of an idea I had was no good. I’m not sure if this is just the way it has to be. I have to feel desperate in order to have ideas. I don’t know, nor do I know where today went. It’s been a sea of notes and ideas and outlining and panic since around 9 am.

I am feeling confident that I’m on the right track. These issues are being solved just as they should be, one at a time. Putting a story together in a new world is a puzzle. Every piece adds up, but in this case, some of the pieces are never seen.

Sometimes it’s daunting to think of all the pieces at once. It isn’t helpful to try and swallow all of it—a dance that happens in steps. That speaks to a lot of phases in the process. I am still figuring all this out as I go and still trying to achieve my goals so I wouldn’t take this writing advice and theories to heart because I am just trying to figure it out. One thing I am damn certain of is words shake other words free. So I am dumping some thoughts out to find the words I need, and maybe my words will poke at some words or hope you need. Who knows?

It is all too easy to get caught up in the desperate need to create and share and publish when the focus at the moment should be the experience of creating. It really is an amazing thing, especially when it flows. The act of forming a spell or a creature is a thrill.

I guess I will end this rant by concluding with, savor the small moments and enjoy the ride.

heroes and holes to different realms

I think about Alice in Wonderland a lot. Leather bound and aged. Aside from the story being one of the first I can point to for having opened the literary realms to me, the meaning of the story and feeling it gives me adds to my daily thoughts. Seeds and caterpillars. Dreams and age. Creatures and villains.

The hero’s story is one of change and purpose. An often grabbed trope in this arc is the loss of innocence. It is something we all go through. The journey through fallen dreams and life-hardened perspectives aren’t possible without it.

The manuscript that is being edited right now was a trip I enjoyed so much I decided it had to be a series. A world I want to stay in. The project out of my hands leaves a sour hole in my chest. Something I need to fill. I’m someone that has to have something to obsess over—ideas to hobble together. Drafting the second while the first one fed through the grinder didn’t seem like something I could do at the moment. Juggling fire on a tight rope blindfolded. At least one eye. But like ideas and gardens and stewing plots, I had projects and characters on the back burner. I pumped out three short stories. These were swirling around for a good while. They came right out. Cleaned up nicely and off they went.

“Okay,” I told myself. “It’s time to dive into the manuscript concept burning a whole in your back pocket.”

Because it has been trying to come out for years in different ways. I found the story and what the characters were doing. I sat down.

Nothing.

Some words.

Five different tries.

Feeling nothing. Oh wait, panic, that’s right.

I don’t know how you guys are with ideas. But, they feel like my air. When I can’t grab one I ask myself, “Was that it? Is that all I have? Am I tapped out?”

One thing that I am learning right now—something I should have probably known already but didn’t look at it as it stood in the corner pointing at me—writing sometimes means not writing.

Sometimes wandering and living and walking nowhere is how you write, how I write. Getting lost to find things. It’s hard for me not to work. I have yet to reach my career goals so most of the time it feels impossible to justify not working. But working means different things. I’ve been lucky the last nine months. I’ve been flush with ideas and energy to pump it out.
I spent four days not writing, it felt like torture, but now I have the format and voice I was looking for.
I’ve heard so many writers say, “The path to every book is different,” I can’t even count. Like so many sayings that are used too often, they lose their weight, but they exist for good reason. Every path is different. Each story has a rhythm, their own beat, and heart and blood.
So, yes, my mind is in a better spot right now. I’m getting into the groove with this book, but I’m not diving so deep in just yet. Edits for my other project will be dropping in any day. Then these ideas will wiggle and work stuff out in the background while I go through the edits.
Part of me is excited to get them back and eager to get my fingers in there and get dirty. But, I’m also nervous—before-you-get-on-a-really-loopy-rollercoaster nervous. I’m not sure what to expect. I have an idea, maybe. Guesses. The unknown is always intriguing to ponder.
The dance between liking and loathing lack of control.
I think that wraps this up, for now, I’ve gone on long enough. I’d like to sink my teeth into some drafting this strange, scary, and heartbreaking new project before my stomach and brain demands lunch.

a pen in each hand

Putting down the first word is often the hardest. To make the jump in and start that sentence has me dancing in the space between creating and pulling my hair out some days. Others are like my fingers are on fire with all the thoughts running through my head.

The first day back to work is always like this for me—which is today. I get nervous to sit down and lose myself in my own head. There is always a way in through the nerves and first word. Remembering that words only need to be present in order to be be fixed, helps.

In early January, I learned that the dystopian I had bled over was close, but the manuscript wasn’t quite “sell-ready.” I received great feedback and ideas, but the taste of “almost” brewed something new in me. My hunger became like a newborn vampire’s thirst. (Twilight reference.)

I spent a few weeks not looking at it, knowing I would fix it but only when I knew how. After soaking my hair in red dye, reading a towering stack of Image comics, and revisiting my go-to writing books (pretty much every one written by Chuck Wendig), I was ready.

I put everything I could down (podcast, other projects, chores) and allowed myself to fall into the story and the characters. I knew I had stuff I could keep and I knew the arrangement was off. Finding the story is like climbing out of an onion. One of Wendig’s “List’s of 25” made the visual of climbing out of an onion really stick.

Ten colored pens and a five subject notebook were purchased. I reread the manuscript, didn’t touch a thing, and took a disgusting amount of notes both inside the document and on paper. Some notes were ideas of what could be better or where scenes should move. Others were meaner. Once I was through it, I put it away again.

I am stubborn and obsessive—two things I consider some of my most valuable tools for the trade. I wanted to be very purposeful with how I bulldogged this. While I was feeding the crows and thinking about a short story in the works, exactly what I needed to do hit me like the realization I ate too many Girl Scout cookies. You know that heavy, sinking gut clenching sensation under your belly button? Yeah, just like that.

My ideas caused the dystopian to transform into high fantasy, and third person would become first. So, part of me wanted to tell myself no. The small, shrill voice said, “You are way off.” “Crazy.” “Trying to sabotage yourself.”

But, I didn’t listen to the voices or the doubt. I started a new document and rewrote the whole damn thing, keeping only 35,000 of the 120,00 words. I worked harder in the last four months than I had ever before. Which, is saying a lot because hard work is my favorite hobby.

Research.

Notes.

Layering.

Foreshadowing.

All of it.

I kept listening to my gut and ignoring the less productive trains of thought. When I handed it over to my editor the Friday before last, I felt like I was delivering my best foot. Now, I wait to hear back. It’s a battle to not worry about it or think about what needs fixing.

My kids had spring break last week. All the adventuring and quality time took my head out of the fantasy world I created and put it back into my very pleasant reality. It was nice. Coming back to my chair and career wrangling made me nervous, but I’m happy to be back. If this were easy, I would have lost interest years ago.

This post has helped me get my fingers and mind moving, so I thank you for that. I’m going to tinker with a pile of short stories that I had going before the rewrite took my brain to places I didn’t know I was capable of going.

So, yeah. Here we are.

-J