Baby Steps

Work it out. Take it one step at a time. We don’t always get what we want, when we want it. Stop freaking out. Try again…

These are things I say to my five-year-old a lot. Like, multiple times a day, sometimes an hour. And often when I am huffing the words at him, I am huffing them at myself. I am acknowledging how hard it is to ever remember those immoveable truths.

Recently I started working out again. My relationship with exercise is comparable to non-exclusive dating. We see each other when we see each other. Maybe we text winky emojis or question marks when we’ve gone too long without physical contact. But we’re not possessive. We’re not committed. And a lot of it is my fault. I never want to bite the bullet. To hunker down and do the real work to get to know exercise. I like to keep my options open for laziness, or busyness, or “not feeling it today”.

A few weeks ago I was pretty low on myself. Grappling with my state of ALMOST in every area of my life, examining my complete and utter Coming Soon status. I am the summer feature that gets pushed to fall, to next spring, to limited release…I am waiting for my premier in an infinite loop.

So I decided to trick myself into motion. I decided I was tired of waiting on my moment, and realized my moment was now, and tomorrow, and always.

I started with baby steps.

I reintroduced myself to the elliptical machine. We moved slow in this period of rediscovery. Then — once we were both comfortable — we added time, we added resistance, increased our speed. The machine became a place to challenge myself, to focus some of my energy in a way that will make my heart healthy and my ass a little tighter, to process the swirl of ideas in my wild mind.

I stayed off the scale. I closed my eyes when the seconds on the timer seemed to slow, as if my machine had somehow slipped into an event horizon. I didn’t set a goal beyond doing it and not giving up.

And somehow, this trickery uncovered a truth I’d hidden deep inside. I wasn’t just tired of waiting. I was tired of being told how to wait. If making my own rules for working out kept me going back for more, would making my own rules for my creative life do the same?

And so I tried. Or, rather, I felt. I stuck my fingers in my imaginary clay and started to mold. I opened my heart up to new ideas, to old ideas, to ideas that scare and unsettle me. Instead of asking myself What should I be working on? I asked, What do I want to work on? I called my friend and spilled my fears and hopes at her feet and allowed her to help me clean it up and make it pretty.

I cut myself some slack even if it looked like a fail.

fist bump

Goal oriented people struggle. We expend a lot of energy on beating ourselves up when we miss, fall short, lose sight. We think a lot about the end and forget to enjoy the journey. We forget that all worthy tasks take time, build slowly, plateau, but rarely do they peak too soon. Rarely do you regret your part.

I am not going to build up my stamina, or shave a few pounds and a tiny marsupial pooch, without doing the work. Without committing to hours with my elliptical.

Be a today person. A there-is-not-one-moment-but-many type.

Take baby steps.

sailing

On Writing a Novel: Drafting until it’s Drafted

write1

Drafting — or as I described it in my post on planning and research — the horrible, rough, manic, shit-storm that makes beautiful novels possible.

Just as planning and research is accomplished in different forms depending on the specific writer’s process, drafting happens for each writer in a way only they can truly understand. It is a little bit magic, a lot determination, fueled by adrenaline and insanity and caffeine. While there are different processes and methods, there are some constants that most every writer adheres to, and those are what I will focus on in this post.

Write Tip #1: You can start at the beginning. You can start at the end. You can write the inciting incident because it is the seed idea and therefor all you can actually see. But one thing is certain…YOU MUST WRITE SOMETHING.

There is a safety in research and planning, an insulation around your idea and it’s fragile bones that makes opening a blank Word document and actually writing feel a little bit like throwing your precious into the middle of a tornado. It will be tossed around some — this is a reality you must accept. Your fear is not a reason to stay in the safe zone.

I have written some horrifically bad sentences in my first drafts. Bad enough that I cannot even believe I am showing one to you. Nevertheless, here is a line from the first draft of my novel Redhunt:

I step onto a landing that opens into the kitchen and it’s dark, lit only by the morning light through the window.

With revision that sentence was cut. The scene around it was also cut and forgotten until today. It served its purpose — its only purpose really — to facilitate the forward motion of drafting.

Write Tip #2: Keep writing forward. You can do some minor revision as you go along, reread the pages you ended with during your last writing session to jumpstart, but the key to finishing is to not look back for long.

You will realize there are problems in your manuscript as you are writing it. Every single writer, whether a first timer or seasoned pro, has inconsistencies in their first drafts. The purpose of a first draft is to get the story out of your head and onto the page (or screen). A common mistake in drafting is going back to read through what you’ve written. Thus begins the eternal edit loop that will kill your momentum and silence the creative voice inside your head.

Instead, reserve any major revisions until the end of the manuscript. This is what you should especially do if you have attempted to write a novel before but never completed the task. A writer who has a few manuscripts under their belt might be able to seamlessly jump from past pages to current, revising and drafting at the same time, but that takes a level of skill most of us won’t achieve for a very long time.

Write Tip #3: Find rewards for hitting word count goals, or scene goals, or plot point goals. Further, make sure to set a goal when drafting and find a way to keep yourself accountable.

If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I frequently update my feed with progress reports, failures, reward system announcements, and any other thing I can think to Tweet that will mark my progress.

I have used caramels and alcohol, an episode of a TV show that I am really into (Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, Game of Thrones episode largely featuring Jon Snow, etc.), pages in a novel I am currently reading and dying to get back to, as a reward for meeting my drafting goals.

Write Tip #4: Set a deadline to finish. I am a goal oriented person, which you can probably tell by the above tip. But having a deadline is less about a goal, and more about prioritizing your writing over watching TV, shittin’ around on the internet, or, yes, even reading.

No one is going to finish your book for you. Writing is you and your characters, their story, and nothing else. It is a dark room of silence. It is screaming into the void of your imagination. You can have a gaggle of cheerleaders at your back, but if you don’t sit your ass in that chair and turn thoughts into words on a page you will never have a book. If you cannot complete a draft, you cannot revise.

In order to be an author you will have to meet deadlines. Start now. Maybe you don’t make it, but don’t plan on failing. Don’t let yourself off the hook. The misery of beating yourself up about a deadline is the joy of finishing on time.

Write Tip #5: Finish it. Make is messy and wild and break every rule in the book. You can fix it later. You’ll slash sentences and circle paragraphs, writing in red ink WTF?, when you do your read through. Don’t stop until you have typed THE END.

 

 

 

 

Acceptance

Sometimes I very much wish I was writing something else. I wish it was lighter, gentler. I wish it made me feel peaceful to have these voices in my head. I’ve been reading a book lately that has a decidedly sad tone, but somehow it renews my romance with the world. My book is not like that. My book is a journey, and that journey begins in darkness. And that darkness is overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about this struggle, this inherent desire to be in someone else’s process, to feel what they feel when they write something lighter. I read a lot of YA, and the trend in young adult fiction is to be a angst-ridden, to create a dystopian world, or to talk about teenage sexuality. When I set out to write my book, there was no choice in doing YA. The book just happened that way. The idea, the voice that came out, it was more for the teens than the adults. Not that adults won’t like it. All my early readers are adults. A lot of adults swoon for YA. But it wasn’t my goal to write YA, it was an accident.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is, you must accept that you will write what you write. You can’t change that. I don’t mean we write what we know. Jo March did, and it worked for her. I mean we write what comes out, we commit to a work of fiction because it exists within us and it needs to get out. It’s not always a journey we understand, but most of the time, it’s still the search of our own life. It’s the good and bad of us, or of us in our current state.

Be OK with your work, whatever it is. Let it grow in you. It may not be literary fiction. It may be a summer romance read. It may be a crime drama. It may be the next Harry Potter. (There will be a next one, someday, when the world is hungry enough for it.) What you write has a purpose, and on some level, for someone, it will be exactly what they need. Acceptance is the first step to writing…or recovery…or dieting. Let it nestle you in a warm, gut-squeezing, cartoon style hug.