Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Your Story Isn't Turning Out “Right”: Writing Week #4

I'm in the last week of my self-imposed writing challenge to write every day in July. For Week 3, in lieu of a normal blog post, I wrote a story for Elise Valente's blog

The Fourth Instance” is a scifi story about what happens when you procrastinate on your current WIP. Um, oops, no. But that's actually how I wrote this story. Never underestimate my ability to procrastinate by doing something “useful” and “important.” But I digress.

I worked that short story up one side and down the other (is this just a southern saying?) and still never quite got what I was looking for in the pacing and the voicing. Then there's always the conflict of “what I originally imagined” and “what something turns out to be.” Why is it that even if something is going well, if it doesn't look like our original plans we feel a little upset, striving to get to that original view?

Working through some of these feels generated other feels. I most epically don't have all this figured out, but some of the things that are helping me right now might help others, so here goes.

When Your Story Isn't Turning Out “Right”

Consult an expert. This may look different for each person. I'm a verbal processor, so I don't even know what I'm thinking until I've had the chance to talk it out. Sometimes all I need to do is try to explain my situation to my husband and then stuff becomes clear.

Put the offender in time out. Take a little time away from whatever is misbehaving and do something else. You can ignore the troublemaker for a couple minutes to give yourself some new perspective. Or, if it's really stuck, put that story/piece of art/song/whatever in time out and come back to it tomorrow. Take the weekend off for that particular project and write something else just for fun. Read something new. Don't let the story tangle you up inside.

Remember that you can always change things. I am a compulsive hoarder of words. I save old drafts as a safety net in case I do irreparable damage. Just knowing that I can change things, to refer back to old notes for some ridiculous minute detail, helps me have courage to go for big changes.

Roll with it. Who says that this new thing that your story is morphing into isn't going to be cool? Or better? Maybe it won't be what you originally expected, but maybe it's going to be way more awesome, deeper, and more colorful.

Stop judging yourself. Yeah, I know. I just said for you to build a life size Empire State Building using only Cheesewhiz and a prayer. What you write today is setting the stage for what you will write tomorrow – figuratively and literally. You don't know the full effect of the experience you are gaining as you put together every blog post, short story, novella, or novel draft.

Stop judging yourself, part 2: Everyone has to start somewhere. Give yourself permission to suck. My friend John Adamus (TwitterBlog), masterful writer-editor-encourager, changed the way I think with just that one phrase: “give yourself permission to suck.” It's ok for things to be “rough,” but the point is that you can learn from it and get better.

Do you know what for me the most comforting part of having my stuff not turn out “right” is? This means that I am writing, creating, and working. I'm actually doing something. I'm making progress.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Sidekick Is a Spreadsheet: Writing Week #2

Week 2 of my self-imposed writing challenge is now done and I’m 12,005 words “richer” than I was on June 30. ICYMI, my focus for July is primarily to get in the practice of writing every day.

As with any goal, knowing your strengths and weaknesses can make a big difference in the journey to achieving that goal. In my efforts to write every day in July, I’ve called upon the two main heroes of my life: To Do Lists and spreadsheets.

I am a big fan of lists. I am the dreaded list-maker your mama warned you about. Lists, and other linear paths of organization like spreadsheets, are how I keep sane.

Other list-makers out there (all the list-makers in the house say “Heeeey!”) know that there is nothing quite like crossing an item of your To Do List.

But, if you read last week’s post, you know that procrastination is one of my great weaknesses. What happens when a master list maker is also a master procrastinator? Inner turmoil. Ha.

The result is that as much as I get the “planner's orgasm” from crossing items off my To Do List, I will do almost anything to procrastinate on my To Do List.

That being said, if I put Writing on my To Do List I am 62% more likely to at least attempt my writing for the day so that I can cross it off the list for that little completion afterglow. I’ve discovered that reaching my goal word count for the day typically isn't very hard. I often reach my goal before I realize it. Like many things, the hard part is getting started.
Namor knows the power of the spreadsheet.

After I get started, my good friend the Spreadsheet keeps me rolling. I like to see that word count climbing. One cell calculates how far I’ve come and another cell shows how close I am to achieving my goal. It’s like magic.

The only thing that keeps me from procrastiworking on my writing by something like “I'm going to draw stick figure art to accompany this scene!” is that I can't count it towards my word goal for the day. Otherwise, you can bet your last brownie that I would suddenly want to design special art for each chapter and page heading.

Right now I’m just trying to keep focused on throwing words on the page. They say “write drunk, edit sober” but that's never going to be me. One ounce of wine and I will be ready for nap time. For me, I think the motto will be more “write passionately, edit dispassionately.” Throw my heart into it now and my critical, judgey mind can sift through the garbage later.

Now's the time to shovel some words out of the deep, dark hole of my mind. My word count is growing with each shovel ... and so is an ever-so-tiny bit of confidence. I might be getting in the swing of things. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Fine Art of Avoidance: Writing Week #1

Batman knows procrastinating when he sees it.
As part of my goals for 2014, I'm working on the hyper-specific, professional, and detailed goals of:

1a) Write Stuff
1b) Finish Something

I'll wait while you take a moment to deconstruct those complex goals.

As part of working towards these goals, I've challenged myself to write every single day in July. I have a comparatively low word count goal to achieve, since the main point is for me to get in the practice of writing every day.

Writing every day is such a basic, fundamental task for writers. “Writers write,” they say. “Write what you know,” they say. (“Stop telling fart jokes,” they say...) This writer should write about fear because that's what I know.

Fear has kept me from putting words on the page for a very long time. I gave in to fear for far too long.
 - Fear that I wouldn't be able to finish anything (which, strangely enough, didn't help me have courage to finish anything …).
 - Fear that what I write won't be worth reading.
 - Fear of success (it's another flavor of my great nemesis: the unknown).
 - Fear of my own shadow, etc.

When fear wasn't lurking, there was another one of my good friends: laziness. Why try this new, scary thing called Finishing Something when I can sit here and watch Netflix while I eat brownies? Brownies and Netflix. :::sigh:::

Seems legit.
My other great partner in “crime” is procrastination. I am a master procrastinator. In my bag of procrastinating tricks there's something I like to call “procrastiworking.”

Procrastiworking is when you procrastinate under the guise of doing legitimate tasks (cleaning the kitchen, paying the bills, doing other tasks that you're also wanting to avoid, etc.). You feel legit and adult-y while procrastiworking, but you know the only reason you're cleaning out the edges of window frames with an old toothbrush is because you're avoiding something.

I have brought the art of procrastinating to such a magnificent level that my tablet occasionally suggests “procrastirachel” as a word choice. Yes, my tablet downgraded me from a proper noun to shame me in my misbehavior.

I know I'm not alone in facing the old frenemies of fear, laziness, and procrastination. If you have old projects, big projects, scary projects, dream projects, or new projects that you have shelved for whatever reason, let's work on those a little bit at a time in July.

I'm still finding ways to procrastinate and I'm stumbling on little places where the fear is keeping me tame, but I'm moving forward. I'm making progress, writing every day, and Doing The Stuff. My word count for the first 7 days of July: 7069 words. That's not a lot compared to what others have written in the last 7 days, but that's about 7000 more words than I put “on paper” in probably the last 5 years combined. It's my victory – and it's just the beginning. There are 3 more weeks left in July.

But don't ask me how long I procrastinated on writing this post. Let's just say my kitchen is really clean right now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thoughts on My 31st Birthday

FACT: You look 80% more contemplative
when wearing glasses. (Me on my birthday)
I just turned 31 and I've got to say that it was a bit harder than turning 30. Age feels like a crippling number in our society. Hit a certain number and BOOM! You're expired. Off the shelf. Not a contender. But it's not just the number that's bothering me.

I'm a very introspective person. Like many, I am my worst enemy and my harshest critic. I had my first “midlife” (tenth-life?) crisis when I turned 10. I berated myself endlessly because I had lived a whole decade (ten infinitely long years) and had absolutely nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing.

But I digress . . .

Just after the new year, someone asked about my new year's resolutions. I said that in 2014 I want to hate myself less. She laughed. I laughed. But it was true.

I'm all about process improvement. I'm working towards being a person I can be proud of. I am a work in progress and some days we make more progress than others.

Many people wish “a happy birthday,” but beyond the general fun birthday happiness of cake and parties I thought about what “wishes” I would like for myself in the next year. I gotta say, wish I could buy this stuff on Amazon Prime.

Here are some “wishes” and general ponderings for myself in my 31st year.

I want to have the passion of the heart not to give up so easily when things get tough.

I want to face “failure” and not flinch. I want “failure” to be something that I don't give a crap about.

On that note … I want to give myself permission to fail. Permission to suck. Permission to start at the bottom … because I know that I will get better.

In addition to introspection, cake happened!
I want to go for the “big” goals. I want to chase after something really amazing and go forward despite the fear.

I want to be less afraid. And where there is fear, I want to Do The Stuff despite the fear.

The unknown is never going to completely go away. I can't wait for everything to be totally clear before I do something.

I want the courage to speak what's on my mind … and then the thoughtfulness to speak in a way that people will understand.

I want to be someone that after I'm dead people will remember me for more than just fart jokes or purple hair.

Not everyone is going to be a fan and that's ok. I can't please everyone – and really? There are a few people out there that I really don't want to make happy.

More often than not, I want laziness to be a condiment - not the main dish - of my days.
Birthday roses from my husband.

Hey, it's ok to write something contemplative and melancholy (like this post). Life isn't all fart jokes and unicorns.

Don't give headspace to jerks. They don't deserve that much screentime.

I give myself permission to return books to the library without having read them. Let go of the things that make you feel trapped in obligation.

Anyway. Those are just a few of the things rattling around in my head this year, but never fear! All of this contemplative introspection and occasional self-loathing came with traditional birthday “wishes” like blueberry lemon cake and roses from my husband.