I Will Survive (NaNoEdMo)

I’m supposed to edit 33 chapters of my novel to send to an agent by the first of the year. Yes, during the holiday season. I told myself there’s never a good or bad time to work on edits. I hope I’m right.

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To cope with holiday merriment, work, teens, and crippling deadlines I’m sleeping–a lot. This is because, for me, the only alternative stress response is to sleep too little. And I’m too old to sleep too little.

I was going to try to NaNoEdMo myself during the month of December (which means butt in chair every day, no exceptions), but I soon realized I’ll only make it out alive if I take off one day per week.

No editing on Sundays.

Not gonna lie, it’s exhilarating to see the number of remaining chapters shrink. I need a good probiotic, of course, but it feels mostly good to be in my manuscript so relentlessly.

Still, other things have to give in order for me to make this deadline. Not family stuff, but some of my ideals. For instance, I bought all my Christmas gifts online from big box stores in a two-hour period on Cyber Monday, and it’s likely I’ve already forgotten what I purchased.

It wasn’t cozy. I didn’t feel like Christmas.

But, listen, we can do anything for a month, right?

**You should forget NaNoEdMo and try NaNoWriMo sometime**

 

 

Stream of Chaos-ness

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Right now I’m thinking

  • Should I write something about gratitude since it’s Thanksgiving week?
  • I’m not over this cold. Running wouldn’t be a good idea, and I am losing my mind as a result.
  • Why are my dogs developing food aggression all of a sudden?
  • There are a bazillion doomsday blog posts out there. Every second person is writing in Manichean terms–as if life is a Star Wars installment, and everyone is either on Luke’s side or Darth’s.
  • Everyone pretends to be Yoda, but no one is.
  • I need to ease up on the coffee.
  • Another agent requested my full manuscript and says she’s anxious to read it (!!!!!!!!!!).
  • No more coffee today.
  • I haven’t touched my manuscript since I got that email.
  • What is going on with me that I can’t get back to editing the manuscript?
  • I entered my novel in writing contest in which one judge gave me a total score of 98.7 out of 100 with glowing comments. The second gave a 97.8/100 with similarly glowing comments. The third gave me a 77 with no comments.
  • I cannot stop thinking about that 77 with no comments.
  • A 77 is a C.
  • The only time I’ve ever gotten a C is in an Algebra class.
  • Writing a novel feels like doing Algebra II.

 

 

Winning, Losing, and Making a Difference

My kids are taking a government class at their educational co-op. They each ran for a different class office as part of a unit on the electoral process.

Two of them campaigned, which felt a little awkward because they were running against good friends. My middle teen hardly tried at all because he found out he was running against his closest friend (not by choice), and he was tempted to drop out of the race altogether.

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Elections were yesterday. All of my kids won their offices, and not by slim margins. Their reactions to their victories were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, they couldn’t help feeling the rush of success, the satisfaction of a return on their efforts. On the other hand, they felt downright blue because the people they beat were visibly dejected.

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My husband and I haven’t taught our kids to view life through the “everyone gets a trophy” mindset. They regularly engage in activities that require them to compete against themselves and others. They play sports where, after all, the point is to win.

Still, they couldn’t help wondering if their friendships would be the same the day after the election. And, in the end, friendships are more important to them than winning.

In the writing world, authors are expected to market themselves. Many of us balk at the idea because it feels like we’re saying, “I know you only have so much time, and there are millions of books to read. But you should read my book and not that one over there.” Feels like a campaign, kind of. Vote for me, not that guy. And it rubs some of us the wrong way.

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But I have to remind myself that, really, marketing it ISN’T like an election. Elections are about scarcity (there’s one position and many people want to fill it). While it’s true that there ARE a lot of people writing, there are lots of people reading, too. Marketing, then, is really about finding your tribe and offering them something that will benefit them. If I can think like that, I can move forward with joy.

In the meantime, I remind my kids that people voted them into office for a reason. They have an opportunity to be wise, kind, and fair in their dealings. They can make important decisions. It’s not a bad thing to win, sometimes, because it means you have a chance to do good for others.

Which is how I want to use my words: to do something good for others.

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?

 

On Getting Over Creative Angst

Creatives have to take their art seriously, or no one else will. If what we’re making/writing/singing isn’t important enough to take it seriously, then why not just get the laundry done and stop messing around? After all, we’re all grown-ups here.

The irony is that taking our art too seriously also ensures that no one else will. Plus, it will be boring and un-fun to create, and we will wonder why we started all of this mess in the first place.

The trick is to take the work seriously enough that we give it space in our lives, that we bleed and sweat for it if that’s what it takes, but not so seriously that we become miserable people who can’t tell a good joke. Because art, like life, is worth working for, but it also needs a little levity to keep it from becoming insufferable.

A good way to keep from taking our art (and life) too seriously is to gain a little perspective. I don’t know how you recalibrate when you’re feeling stuck or stuck-up or struck down, but I just saw this photo my husband took in West Africa, and, yeah that did it for me.

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I get to write because I have food to eat, clothes to wear, and I live in relative safety. I get to create. It’s a wonderful, luxurious privilege I did nothing to deserve. This is what I will tell myself as I sit down to edit my manuscript.

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.

 

A Soft Answer

So much of life is about getting down to business, doing the work, not waiting for inspiration in order to accomplish tasks, etc, etc. This is true in our jobs and in our parenting.

Also? Our creative pursuits won’t find expression if we don’t commit to them. We know we have to Just Do It.

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But sometimes you “need” to do something, and you feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing it–as in you actually cannot make yourself start the thing in the first place. Even though you know the sinking feeling is only your weak mind keeping you from being disciplined. It’s Resistance, you tell yourself, as if naming it will pull out its eye teeth or something.

I’m a Christian, not a Buddhist. But I like what this guy has to say about gently accomplishing the thing you really want to get done in a day. Just that thing and nothing more. Just that thing, while breathing and letting yourself find joy in the moment you’re doing it. Just that thing, while not being driven by anxiety and dread.

So will I work on novel edits today? Will I smile at Resistance instead of trying to trick or outrun it?

Could be. Yeah, maybe I will.

 

*photo by my creative, procrastinating son

On Waking Up Again

My husband is in Africa, and I am in the U.S. with three teenagers and three dogs. I don’t worry when he’s gone, am not resentful to be the one holding down the fort, am used to a global life, etc., etc. Besides, sometimes it’s me halfway across the world, wondering if someone back home remembered to get more toilet paper.

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This time, though, I’m trying to keep the home fires burning while developing a proposal to send to literary agents. While teaching Chinese kids English in the wee hours of the morning. While teaching American high school students medieval literature and essay writing. While being a friend (and sometimes an enemy) to my own kids. While being 40.

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Photo by Irina Kostenich on Pexels.com

I’m tired.

But I’m getting good at letting things go when I need to. To wit: my kids are eating Ramen noodles and ice cream for calories, and I let my son pierce his ear at the mall yesterday. I’m not scared to use Z-quil at bedtime (if, for example, I happen to eat a large handful of chocolate covered espresso beans for “snack” and find myself alarmingly alert at 9 P.M.).

This is real life. It’s possible to keep going strong if I let it be what it is: imperfect and good enough.