I’ve started writing a new novel. I’m 11,000 words in to what I expect will be an 80,000-ish word project. Since I’m pumping out the chapters, I find myself with depleted verbal reserves (most often of which I access to lecture my teenagers). So I though I’d just share this today. Seems about right.
As a creative, I look for windows into the human psyche wherever I can find them. I listen to conversations in the booth behind me at my local coffee shop (I know. Bad). I watch interesting documentaries on Netflix, pay attention to the lyrics in folk songs, read essays and poems, and watch indie films.
Almost more than anything else, I listen to podcasts.
Podcasts have an advantage over other forms of media because I can consume them while I’m running or washing dishes. I’ve written before about how well-chosen episodes stay with me for days, even weeks, after I’ve listened to them. They send my mind down new paths and bring fresh insight into old problems. All of this helps me craft better stories.
Recently, though, I’ve had to call it quits on one of my favorite genres–true crime.
The problem is I get into the habit of binge listening to one horrific incident after another. I’m riveted by them, but my spirit sinks with each gory detail. I notice I don’t feel like going for my afternoon run or talking to my kids when I’m on a listening jag. Worse, I dream about crime and often waking up groggy and disoriented. Finally, I start obsessing about how God sees all the wickedness people commit against one other, and how he could stop it but often doesn’t. At least not in this life.
I’m left lethargic and on edge.
So, yesterday, I went to my playlist and deleted my crime shows. I sort-of hated to do it because, as I’ve (also) mentioned before, I’m waiting to hear back about the status of my novel, and listening keeps my mind off things, at least for 30 minutes at a time. No amount of distraction is worth the emotional darkness, though. I’m simply going to have to find another way to survive, and, hopefully, to stay productive and present.
How about you? What do you do to pass the time when you’re in a season of waiting? How much darkness is too much?
My sister blew in to town this week. She’s one of my best friends, and I’m always happy when I get to see her. At the same time, I got my manuscript back from my agent. She had some ideas about things I should tweak to make my story stronger. Also, she wants me to up my mileage on social media (not something that comes naturally to me).
In other words, I have work to do.
But my sister lives hours away, and I don’t get to see her and my nieces and nephew very often. I don’t want to miss a minute with them.
This is how it always is: God gives me little opportunities to choose the most important thing in any given moment. Sometimes I choose the wrong thing. Sometimes I’m selfish or short-sighted. But this week I chose my sister, and I’m not sorry. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about my manuscript the whole time she’s been here because I sure as heck have. It just means I’ve been able to see things more clearly this time. I’ve been able to focus on what’s most valuable right now.
Writing is important, but people are more important. No amount of writing about people can make up for not actually loving them. So I chose the real characters in my life. And I chose to live a story instead of write one. This week, anyway.
I sent my novel to an agent on Friday. She’d requested the full manuscript, and I’d worked all through the holiday season to get it ready because I told her I would. I ended up making my goal just after the New Year and was ready to ship it. Before hitting send, I re-read the first few pages, just to, you know, tweak it a thing or two.
Then something happened. I kept tweaking, page after page after page. Before I knew it, the first of the year had turned into the middle of January. Then the third week (heaven help me).
I started freaking out. I was going past the “deadline” I’d given myself and the agent. But the more I edited, the more I thought, “I’m so glad I’m doing this. I didn’t notice that plot hole the second time around. How could I not have seen that??” Also, I thought, “This will never end. I’m in writer purgatory.”
Anyway, I got through those edits and, this time, I ran spell check and hit send before I could go crazy again.
Now my novel sits in the ether, and I sit on my bed with no pressing deadlines and, therefore, no raison d’etre (kidding, kind-of). It’s true I don’t know what to do with myself now that I have nothing to do but wait.
This is how it is in so much of life–work and then wait. Work and then wait some more. Knowing this is completely normal helps me get through. I’m telling myself as long as the waiting doesn’t involve tons of Twitter, I might just be okay.
I was the last person in America to have never seen the movie version of Stephen King’s Misery. Last week, my sister recommended it to me because, she said, it’s hilarious.
Remembering It and Cujo, I was a little skeptical, but I trust this girl’s judgement implicitly.
“It will not remotely push you over the edge,” she said. “There’s a little gore at the end, but it’s cheesy.”
Good, because you know I can’t do lifelike horror, I said.
I rented the movie, and she was right. It was darkly hilarious. Also, it was a warning to writers everywhere: Write for yourself or die.
The age-old argument remains alive on the internet, though. You should
- Write what you want. Anything else is selling out.
- Write what THEY want and sell books for $$ (but maybe not like it).
- Write what YOU want but don’t expect anyone to read your endless dream sequences.
Stephen King has managed to write what people like and what he likes, I guess. Above all, though, he seems to be saying, go with your gut when it comes to writing or the whole business may end up killing you (or at least breaking your ankles).
Noted, Stephen. Noted.
“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The wisest man on earth said that.
Others have gotten more specific: There are no new stories, just the same five or six or ten told in an infinite variety of ways. If you read often and closely enough, you start to believe it’s true.
Assuming that no idea or story arc is original, it’s still possible to do genuinely creative work. It’s possible to think deeply about things and come to authentic conclusions. Of course, there’s some sense in which we all retread worn paths. Still, you are the X factor in the stories you write, the life you live. No one can be you.
Why, then, do so many people seem to produce thinly disguised copies of other people’s work or parrot an “expert’s” talking points instead of doing their own work? There’s a point at which derivation becomes hollow. Most of us can sense when someone has phoned in a tired plot or spouted a canned answer.
I wonder how much shallow thinking, predictable plotting, and/or unexamined living is due to the kind of information we take in on a daily basis. How much do we consume other people’s opinions and re-think them as if we’d made them up? How much to we allow ourselves to go on autopilot, listening to the news or radio or scrolling social media to save our brain the trouble of wrestling through conundrums?
How often do we artists see some commercial trend and think, I guess I need to produce that if everyone else is?
My suspicion is that it’s…often. I’m no exception. I find myself binging, binging, binging on words that don’t enlighten or challenge me–ideas that don’t contribute to the quality of my thought life. If I’m honest, I do this because I’m lazy. I’m addicted to expedience.
It takes tremendous energy to think, and life tires me out.
But something deeper whispers, There’s a way to do this hard work. I might not like the way, but I’m going to find it.
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.
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**
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.