Writing While Furious

There’s a lot to be angry about these days, and I find myself as susceptible as the next person to the slow burn of muted rage. And that’s just the stuff that has nothing to do with me. Factor in the mundane irritations, the occasional sleepless nights due to I-still-don’t-actually-know-what, the To-Do list that will not resolve itself, and I could stay ticked if I let myself.

Anger is an emotion I hate. I don’t feel energized by it the way some people do. To me, it’s nothing but pure body and soul malaise. It yanks my inner life into slow motion while morphing my external life into a pathetic series of jerkily completed tasks.

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One of the differences between writing for fun and turning pro is that you’ve decided you’ll do it when you feel inspired and calm–and when you feel awful. If I want to turn pro (and I do) it means I need a way to harness my occasional anger into creative energy until it burns away. Otherwise, it will become one more invitation not to move forward in my career.

This blog post isn’t how about to do that, because I haven’t figured it out yet (unless you count typing with ferocity). This is more of a personal memo, an item that needs to move to the top of my To-Do list for the foreseeable future. I have longterm ways of putting my anger into perspective, of giving my Big Scary Feels to God. I just need a short-term way to move forward creatively when the rage is still fresh and hot.

 

Accidentally On Purpose

I started running last year. It was new and hard, and I was 39. I got into a routine, raced some 10K’s and a one-mile dash that made me think my heart had exploded. Running changed my perception of my body and what it could do. It made me happier, more confident. My running momentum built with each month, and I kept at it until I turned 40. I ran for three weeks after that, and then…

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Me (right) with my two sisters before a 10K in Richmond, VA

…I lost my mojo and couldn’t figure out how to get it back. I let the giant running snowball melt and evaporate.

It’s that I wrote another novel this year, I told myself, and started a new job, plus all my kids were in high school, and I can only focus on so many things. I’d see updates on my runner friends’ progress, and I’d think, I’ll get back to that someday, and if I don’t, at least I know I can do it if I want to.

But my moods.

My middle son likes to jump into things without preparing for catastrophe. He is the anti-me in this way. Life has rewarded him with some prizes for his headlong behavior as well as some serious bruises. When he told me he wanted to run a Monster Dash 5K in two weeks, I said, you haven’t trained. He said, I didn’t train last year and I won my category. I wish you’d do it with me, he said.

I stared at him.

But then I thought, maybe I should do it. Even though I haven’t run in six months, and I’d only have two weeks to prepare, and I know enough about running to know this isn’t an adequate amount of time.

Because I also know that sometimes you have to forget the plan. You have to go for it.

I completed my second three-miler today, and I didn’t have to stop. I didn’t feel like death, though my legs hurt like a son of a gun. I’m euphoric because I accidentally started running again.

Sometimes, it takes a kick in the pants or a serendipitous moment (or a middle kid) to get me back on track. Sometimes that’s better than any plan I could have come up with.

 

The End of the Beginning (or the Beginning of the End)

Last night, I finished the first draft of my current novel. After I typed the last words, I hit save, closed my laptop, and stared at my closet doors.

From my writing perch, AKA my bed, I thought about all the hours I’d spent creating this story. It was six months of good/hard//exhausting.

And now it’s time to leave story world and become Ruthless Editor.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate getting over this big hurdle, but I didn’t want to get out of my pajama pants, so I told my husband and kids to get ice cream and live it up without me.

How did I celebrate? By watching an Alfred Hitchcock Hour on YouTube by myself.

And now, to kill my darlings.

On Not Having a Plan (Or How Not to Quit Before You’ve Started)

Blogging is kind of like writing a novel.

Wait, I said kind of.

When you’re trying to nail down an idea for a story, one that will resonate with readers and have enough heft to be worthy of all those pages, your brain tells you to quit immediately. It tells you your ideas are, at best, lame, and, at worst, absolute garbage.

It’s not so different when you’re trying to think of things to blog about. I mean, really. What do people care if you can’t stop missing your grandmother–the one who wrestled with pancreatic cancer and taught you how to die? Or about the grit it takes to keep working on a project, day after day, when you have no guarantee it will end up being interesting or good. Or that when your Taiwanese neighbor collapsed suddenly two weeks ago, it changed your life.

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So, okay–

If I were to write a post about the top ten ways to manage your mornings, I might get some views. But I’m not interested in telling adults how to get things done because 1). they’re adults, and 2). everyone is doing what they can to get along.

Some experts say if you can’t think of ideas for your blog, you shouldn’t have one. That makes total sense. Except I write novels, and I know that if I were to quit because I don’t always know what I’m doing or because ideas slip out of my grasp like greased eels, well, I’d never write.

I’d never write.

Maybe you want to write, but the you feel like you can’t nail down a plan. I say, sit down and blog about the process of not knowing until things come into focus. Even if you’re the only one who reads your work (plus that one follower in Finland), you’re moving in the right direction.

Finishing What I Started

There are two kinds of people: those who group the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

I’m in the first group.

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There are two kinds of people: those who have a hard time starting something and those who have a hard time finishing.

I can start novels all day long. What kills me is the follow-through, the big ending. There’s something scary about putting a period at the end of the last sentence.

In anything. In life.

When I was in my early twenties, I became a mother for the first time. I was excited to see those two pink lines on the pregnancy test because I had no idea what I was in for. After we finished the last childbirth class (that I’d forced my young husband to attend), I ugly-cried in a sub shop, a bite of dill pickle in my mouth.

“I can’t do this. I cannot,” I said.

“Do what?”

“Give birth.”

“But…you have to,” my husband said, blinking slowly, watching for any sudden movements across the table.

“I know.”

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I got pregnant two more times after that. Each time, I was jazzed, puke and all. In those early days, labor and delivery shimmered in the mist as future realities. I knew they were coming, but I didn’t acknowledge them.

(How big a cliché is it to compare writing a novel to pushing out a baby? I don’t care. It’s a cliché because it works).

I know women who hate actual pregnancy and live for the day they can hold their kid in their arms. They are finishers.

Then there are those of us who love the idea of things, the big-picture joy of the undefined future. We wish things could stay in the realm of possibility. We are starters.

Of course, one of the big differences between delivering a baby and finishing a novel is that, when it comes to writing, you have a choice whether to get it done or not. After all, you can’t exactly put off giving birth until you feel more inspired.

Or can you? Because I would have…

For me, choosing to see a project through is the hardest part. I tell myself I’ve done it before. I can do it again.

And I will.