I’m Not Writing (and it feels great)

I’m a pretty disciplined writer. I mean, not like some, but I’m a five-days-a-week, 1,000-words-per-day kind of girl when I’m working on a novel. When I’m editing a draft, I’m pretty regimented, too. But, man, when I’m done, I’m done.

And right now, I’m so done.

I just turned in another novel to my agent (after working through three drafts), and I can’t even think about writing anything else for…I don’t know…a while. I know some people who finish one manuscript and immediately start another one. I don’t understand these people. How do they replenish their sanity after using it up?

Even if I were in the indie publishing world (which I may very well be someday) and felt the pressure to publish faster, I don’t think I could make myself write constantly. I’d have to choose between that and being a person.

So, for now, I’m staring out the window and running in good weather and talking to my three teenagers, all without trying to simultaneously solve tricky plot holes in my mind. There’s open space in my brain, and it feels pretty good.

We’ll see how long it lasts.

The Ennui of Presence

As I delve deeper into novel writing (and rewriting), I find myself growing quieter online. It has something to do with needing to limit mental distractions, yes, but it’s also about keeping my thoughts from draining out in a slow dribble to people I don’t actually know, thereby dissipating any creative energy I might have. The more I don’t say, the more I create, is what I guess I’m getting at.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that one needs an online presence in order to find readers for her work. I get that it’s boring to metaphorically turn my face to the sky and rip handfuls of hair out while a Hans Zimmer soundtrack plays in the background, but just know I’m over here doing it.

This guy has an online presence. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Because the less time I spend reading other people’s half-formed thoughts (and sending my own into the ether), the better I write. Or that’s my hunch, anyway.

There is absolutely no point to this post, except that I wish I knew what platform building actually is (and, yes, I’ve taken the marketing courses, so I know what experts say it is). I wish I knew if all of it had any real purpose or if it’s some Kafka-esque exercise in futility, and it turns out we’re all just wasting massive amounts of time while become dumber and less motivated to do anything real.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m sending these half-formed thoughts out into the ether for people I don’t know when I could be writing…

As Ordinary as Fiction

I don’t normally write about my kids. I used to, but they’re teenagers now, and I’m trying to respect their privacy. Even so, my writing habits are punctuated by mothering episodes, and it’s hard to think about my creative life without also thinking about my parenting life.

My sisters read my novel recently. They said, “It feels like YA in some parts because of the teenage voices.” I thought that was funny. I didn’t set out to write about teenagers. It just happened because that’s my world right now.

So often, our creative lives are our ordinary lives and vice versa. We conceive ideas from of the soil of our liturgies. Novels are birthed after a million laundry-folding moments.

This is as it should be–life informing art, art taking its place among myriad other realities. I hope I always have people or things to take care of, duties that demand I escape the world of fiction and join the one in front of me.

It can only make my life and art better.

Tunneling Through

I wish I had this lil’ gadget on my forehead. It would be so helpful as I continue to press forward on draft 1 of my next novel.

And I have bangs, so I could hide it, sometimes.

Instead, I’ve been giving my loved ones vacant smiles. To be fair, I may have been doing that all along. In any case, I’m using the vast majority of my creative strength on a new project, and what’s left of me isn’t worth much.

On a happy note, my debut novel advanced to the finals of the ACFW Genesis contest in the contemporary fiction category. I’ll head to San Antonio in late September to attend the awards ceremony and, obviously, to see who wins.

It’s such a shot in the arm to get outside validation on one’s work, though we shouldn’t really need it. (That’s what we tell ourselves and each other, anyway. We’re human, though, and this kind of work often leaves us wondering if we’re living in outer space). To have made it to the finals gives me courage for my current project.

Anyway, I’ve promised myself I’m not going to fall off the face of the earth just because I’m in creation mode. It’s summer, after all, and I need to feel like I went outside some. Also, I don’t want to lose momentum in the blog world.

So here I am, popping my head above ground and saying hello.

On Inching Forward

Today I signed with the literary agent I’d been hoping to partner with. She warned me my manuscript would need work, that I’d have to be open-minded and teachable in continuing to shape it. I’m nervous about what I don’t know, but I told her I believe in my story–and I believe in hard work. So here’s to the next stage in the process.

I need this button.

Writing (and Living) on Purpose

Those who know me well know I’m a little crazy for Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor. I’m reading a new biography of her life and work, and I’m struck by how single-minded she was about calling her creative vision into reality. She didn’t allow herself to be distracted by things of lesser importance. She didn’t mess around with drugs and experimental living. She understood what she wanted to get across, and she realized the only way to accomplish her writing goals was by being disciplined in her daily habits. O’ Connor destroys the cliche of the tortured, vice-addicted artist. She proves sober people can produce excellent work, too.

And another thing: O’Connor believed in giving herself the time to get her writing right. She worked and reworked her genre-busting novel Wise Blood several times before publishing it–both listening to, and rejecting, criticism of it at various stages. She allowed herself to work slowly and meticulously until she was satisfied with what she’d produced. As a writer living in a culture that glorifies instant success, I’m heartened when I retrace her literary steps. I’m reminded that dedication to good writing means ignoring the push to produce more and move faster.

Clarity of vision, personal discipline, and perseverance may not be sexy, but Flannery O’Connor’s short life prove that they are the keys to producing something of value while living according to one’s values. Whatever else one might say about her, she lived and wrote on purpose. That’s what I want to do, too.

Stranger Than Fiction

Once again, I just got around to watching a movie others had seen years ago–this time, Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. (For the two of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t include spoilers). I’ve gotta admit, while the film has its flaws, it’s stuck with me for over a week.

The story is an unusual one. An author who’s suffering from writer’s block attempts to create a character who will live an ordinary life and then die at the end of the novel. A problem arises when the character becomes a real person who can hear the author narrating his life in third person. When he discovers he’s in a story he isn’t creating–and that he’ll most likely meet a heartbreaking, artistic demise–he must learn to advocate for his own life. He must confront his author.

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

The movie delves into questions about the nature of human existence and the artist’s imperative. For instance, do we own our stories, or do they live outside us? As writers, how often do we indulge ourselves by crafting stories that feel like an approximation of truth–but, in the end, rely on cynicism or well-worn tropes? Also, who’s writing the writers’ lives?

Your life?

The movie’s also about depression, about what can happen to art when an artist has lost hope. It made me think about the characters I’ve created. What would I say to them if they stood before me? Would they appreciate the endings I’ve given their stories? Would they agree that I’ve said true things? That I’ve been fair?

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Photo by fabio.tsu on Pexels.com

I don’t know. I think so.

Stranger Than Fiction caused me to re-examine my commitment to creating worlds where both good and bad things happen, worlds where there’s danger and sorrow, sure, but also hope. It made me want to keep on saying the truest things I know how to say.

I owe that to my myself, my readers, and to those people whose stories I write down.

 

Facing Silence

Last night I turned the last page of a book I’d been putting off finishing. I told myself I wasn’t making progress on it because I’m too busy, but the truth is that I was nervous it was going to wreck me. I’d heard a lot about Shusaku Endo’s Silence. My sister had read it. So had two of my kids.

Everyone I talked to said, “Just be in a good place when you read it.”

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I’m not in a particularly good place right now, but I felt this urge (sense of duty?) to finish it, for some reason. Maybe because my motto for my 40’s is: Don’t wait until you feel like doing [insert difficult, worthwhile thing] because you might not ever feel like it, and then what have you got?

I could edit this, but I won’t.

Now I’m on the other side of Silence, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Was it painful to read? Yes. Do I have a lump in my throat that I cannot currently swallow, even after three cups of coffee? Yes. Am I glad I pressed into the discomfort and questions and scenes of torture to get to the beauty? Emphatically, yes.

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I feel like this is a lesson–that it means something on a grander scale–but it’s too soon to tell. For now, I suspect it’s just one more example of how it’s better to face things than to avoid them. Even if what you’re avoiding is a heavy book.

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.

 

The Care and Feeding of Art

I have a full life, like most everyone else. There’s plenty to do in a given hour, stuff that doesn’t feel particularly interesting or thought-provoking but has to get done. Well and good, but I need to feed my mind in order to create my best work, even when I don’t have time to “indulge” in things that aren’t making money or managing my family’s lives.

One way I keep my head full of stories is to listen to podcasts on subjects I’m interested in. I can usually do this while I’m running or unloading the dishwasher, so it feels like multitasking. It’s fertilizer for my thought life and doesn’t cost me extra time (or money).

Another way is to read a few pages of a novel before bed (and when I say a few pages, it’s sometimes two before I sink into oblivion). I’m always working through someone else’s book, even when I’m writing my own. I used to wonder if reading while writing would cause me to plagiarise another author’s ideas. As far as I can tell, that’s a groundless fear. If anything, reading someone else’s work reminds me to use my own voice and stay true to my vision.

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Yet another way to stoke my thought life is to notice the artwork on the walls of a favorite coffee shop. I imagine what an artist was thinking as she sketched half of a face in charcoal. Before I know it, I have the vaguest glimmer of a scene in the back of my mind. Maybe I won’t use it right away, but it’ll be there waiting for me if I need it.

Feeding my mind is something I used to believe would happen in my spare time. Now I know I have to work it into my day in order to stay creative.

What about you? How do you feed your mind and stay inspired?