Cooper’s Hawk by Zippy. Sept 18, 2020
I’ve been driving the struggle bus lately and haven’t been disciplined about working on my latest book. In the past, I’d work hours and hours at a time on my projects, coming up for air only to discover it was late afternoon and that I’d done little else. These days, I don’t have that drive. Sometimes I’m at peace with this change. Other days, not so much; those critical voices can get pretty damned loud in my head.
Yesterday I realized it felt worse to not work on my book. So I opened the document and reworked a critical early scene between one major and one minor character. Page-wise, I didn’t make huge progress. But characterization and plot-wise, that little bit of work moved the revision forward in a significant manner. Plus, by taking action I was able to douse my angsty-guilty feelings. I hope to do the same today. However, whatever happens I’m going to try hard not to judge myself. It’s hard times on the planet and we all deserve some grace.
Last night I was reading ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk, basking in her gorgeous prose, when I felt a pang about my work-in-progress that isn’t progressing very quickly. I set down the book and closed my eyes. And then it came to me. I reached for my project notebook and wrote:
This is what I think needs to happen if I am to finish this book.
I must let myself write WITHOUT checking facts & figures. Write this story as I feel it and know it and believe it. THEN I may check facts and figures, and revise accordingly.
Cooper’s Hawk out my window. January 22, 2021
I know, I know. Pretty basic insight. That doesn’t mean it’s not also liberating and kinda profound.
And now I’m off to write/revise without scurrying off in search of confirmation, validation, or procrastination.
It’s a gray day here and the high will be 23 degrees colder than yesterday.
Purple Coneflowers. July 16, 2020
I’m beneath a blanket on the couch, reading Bryan Stevenson’s JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It began as research for my work-in-progress, but I’m grateful my project brought me to this book. It’s fierce and tender, all at once. Both rage-inducing and strangely calming** in its depiction of humanity at its worst and best.
Change is possible. Spring is on its way. And today, I am grateful for both those truths.
(** ETA when I wrote about the calming aspect of this book, I was in opening chapters. Having read for much of day, I have to admit there’s more content that enrages rather than soothes. We are a messed up and deeply racist society.)
As mentioned before, I have a new middle-grade project that I (mostly) drafted in November and December. My critique group read it and offered excellent insights in mid-January. Since then, I’ve jotted many thoughts and ideas in my trusty notebook. But I didn’t start working with the actual manuscript until last week.
When I began reading it again after all that time away, I fell in love. One critique partner commented that the draft has good bones, and I totally agree. I’m so grateful for this project and the enthusiasm I feel when working on it.
However, various difficult Life issues are taking up lots of head space lately so I’m following the lead of another critique partner who writes one hour per day (and even has her own hourglass). I’m reading through the draft, making revision notes that I highlight in yellow. There are still a bunch of plot issues I need to resolve, but I’m making progress.
I will prevail. One hour at a time.
My Writing Roosters critique group had our zoom meeting last night to discuss my work-in-progress. As mentioned here and here and here, I was paralyzed with indecision for several weeks because I’d become convinced my story was an irredeemable hot mess. Guess what? It’s not! As one member said on our call, “I think maybe you were getting inside your own head.”
Me? Inside my own head? How could that possibly be?! 🤣 🤣 🤣
I’ve got some plotting issues to sort out, but the two main characters got a thumbs-up from the group. Whew. Color me noodly with relief.
Poppy blooming in front garden. May 16, 2020.
I chose the poppy image for this post because (1) it’s a very cheery and vibrant color and (2) last night one of my critique partners caught a reference to a previous manuscript about a girl named Poppy Valentine.
After weeks of angst and confusion over my latest middle grade project, I just hit SEND on an email to my critique group. I am so relieved! The email has multiple attachments including an unfinished first draft + a Word document with my revisions ideas and a whole lot of questions for them + an alternative chapter written in 3rd person (rather than 1st person). Basically, I sent them a big, fat mess, the likes of which I’ve never done before. I didn’t want to inflict that on them or embarrass myself, but I had no choice. I need help.
Now, I’m going to try my best to stop thinking about the project until January 13th, when the collective genius of the Writing Roosters comes to my rescue.
This calls for a happy, hoppy goat dance!
It’s cold, gray, and snowing right now. Ten days ago, it was cold, gray, and snowing when this Northern Flicker posed on the wire.
Northern Flicker, December 18, 2020.
Today I’m battling indecision and feelings of overwhelm as I work to instill a semblance of structure and order to the draft and memo I need to send my critique group in a week. Ten days ago, I battled indecision and overwhelm as I worked to instill structure and order to the materials for my critique group.
I guess I could take comfort in the consistency?
I cannot decide what to do.
I have an incomplete first draft of my new project because just before reaching 40k words I realized the dual point of view (POV) was not serving the story and as a result of that epiphany I began rethinking all sorts of things (characterization, plot) and I’m now so muddled by the MANY possible directions for this story that I’m unable to complete the draft which is causing me huge anxiety** that I will lose this project forever if I do not complete a draft because the one and only manuscript I failed, the one I’ve never been able to write to my satisfaction, was a project that began with an incomplete first draft.
But how to complete something that is quite possibly fatally flawed ?
Yesterday I decided I’d utilize my upcoming January critique group reading slot as a brainstorming session. YES!, I thought. Instead of asking them to read that mess of a draft, I’ll provide my critique partners with the ingredients I know for sure I want to keep and their collective genius will get me back on track. YES!
Today I thought it would be a good idea to read the draft so far to note what I like and want to keep so that I can share that with the group, and now I’m muddled all over again! Some of the things I love in the draft came about as a result of the dual POV.
Damn damn damn. What circle of Hell is this?!
** eta: my mental health needs the refuge of this project because of the horrific reality we’re experiencing, as evidenced by Congress today announcing they’ll give us each $600, for a grand total of $1800 during 9 months of a pandemic.
It’s 2:30 of the p.m. in Colorado and while I have opened my Scrivener document, I haven’t done any writing. But hey, I didn’t even get that far yesterday. I’ve been in recovery and thinking mode as I sort through the wreckage of my incomplete first draft, and guilt-feelings sent me to BrainyQuote in search of insights regarding procrastination. I thought I’d find some tsk-tsk kind of quote that would be like a slap upside the head, something to “shame” me into getting back to work.
Instead, I found these two quotes from psychologist and author, Adam Grant:
Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.
Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.
And while this may sound self-serving, I have experienced a couple out-of-left-field realizations about my story. Which is all to say, I’m gonna let go of the guilt and shame, post this, and then explore those realizations more thoroughly.
I’d written just under 40,000 words of my latest middle-grade novel when it hit me: it’s not working. As in, not working as written. The story’s premise is solid (I believe), but the way I was telling the story was not working.
Yesterday I went all the way back to chapter two and tried again. The good news is that approach feels stronger. More sustainable. The bad news? Adopting that approach will mean scrapping a whole lot of those 40k words. Yikes. How could I get it so wrong?
Welp, as author Thomas Mann noted: A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
I’m feeling a bit discouraged. But like this House Finch outside my window today, I need to accept that I bobbled the initial landing.
And just keep on writing so that
I regain my footing in the story. It’s all I can do.
I’ve got strong feelings about ALL SORTS OF STUFF right now and felt a rant rising inside me. But as I tried to pin down exactly what I wanted to convey, I paused and reconsidered. Maybe what I really wanted to do was post about the writing life: the process, my progress, the angst and insecurities, etc. I’ve written many such posts over the years and appreciate that documentation which reminds me I’ve been here before and survived. Breathe, Tracy.
Which is how I began searching through Douglas Adams quotes, knowing he wasn’t an angsty guy but would provide me with the tone needed today. And here’s what resonated with me:
My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees. ~ Douglas Adams
Why does this resonate? One: it cracked me up. Two: I can relate to those young sloths because Three: as I near the end of this first draft, I vacillate between an overwhelming sense of ineptness and glimmers of “hot damn, this might actually not suck too much!”
And at the risk of sounding like a sloth-shamer: I haven’t yet fallen out of the tree.
I gave myself the day off and spent it in bed reading adult fiction (Tana French’s THE WITCH ELM). Self-care without guilt. Write my 1,000 words? Only if it felt right. I wasn’t going to butt heads with myself and turn it into a negative situation.
Photo by Hans Lindgren from Pexels
I’m happy to say I’m now in the head-space to crank out my daily word count. Thank you to these adorable goats for their role in helping me get there. And now I’m off to write . . .
I’m adhering to the 1,000-words/day schedule I began on November 1st as I write the first draft of a new middle-grade novel. That’s the very good news. One other piece of good news is that as I draft, I’m learning more about my characters. Hooray for more well-rounded characters, right?
Yes, except for the fact that those character revelations frequently punch holes in how the story’s written thus far. Holes that slightly alter the plot. Holes that put the entire timeline in question. Holes that shake my confidence about how to best proceed. Forge ahead? Or, cut and paste so the entire draft reflects what I now know about how the story plays out?
I’m 29,000 words in and some of what I wrote/figured out yesterday should come much earlier in the story. Go back? Move forward? Insert notes in earlier chapters that will (hopefully) help me sort it all out after I’ve completed a 45,000-word draft?
One thing I know for sure is that it’s important for me to maintain momentum on first drafts. So, I guess that means forge ahead. Apologies in advance to me when I frantically work to shape this tangled mess into a semi-cohesive manuscript for my critique group to read in January.
As I walked into my writing room this afternoon, determined to add 1,000 words to my new project, I felt pretty good about facing another day’s word count. Because not only am I keeping pace with my NaNoWriMo goals, I’m a wee bit ahead of schedule. But when I saw the prism-created light display around my computer, my confidence evaporated. Instant pressure!
November 15, 2020
What if my words didn’t shine? What if they landed on the page, cold and lifeless? How would I possibly produce anything approaching this level of magical? Waaaah.
Fast forward to a couple minutes ago when I closed my Scrivener file after adding 1,000 words to the story. Are those words cold and lifeless? Absolutely not. Are they shiny? Some of them, yes. Magical? Only time will tell. The only things I know for sure are that I met my goal, the pretty lights have vanished along with the sun behind the foothills, and I’m grateful I didn’t cave to the pressure.
Clearwater, FL. May 5, 2019.
There’s a very good chance you can’t tell the bird in this blurred photo is an Osprey. It is, trust me. Looking closely, I pieced together enough info to make the identification. White undersides. A white head with a dark band running through the eyes. Sharply hooked beak. The way it holds its wings in flight. This is an Osprey.
Why post this low-quality photo today?
Because it’s a fair representation of the new middle grade I’m drafting via my modified NaNoWriMo efforts. I’m 11,000 words into the story and while much feels blurred and unidentifiable, specific and undeniable elements are guiding my way. When the panic and doubts set in (as they are today), I want to remember that I know the basic elements of this story. I want to remember I will find my way through the blurry, messy collection of words.
I want to remember to trust in the process.
Last Sunday was Day One of my modified NaNoWriMo efforts. For a very short time, I was ahead of my goals. Hooray, I thought, I have a little padding for those inevitable days when the words don’t come so easily!
In one week, I’ve changed a major premise of the story. All the original elements remain, but the plot line has shifted. What does this mean for my goals? Well, I dumped much of what was written and now have a grand total of 4,430 words when I should have 8,000.
Guess I’d best get to it.
Black-billed Magpie in open space. March 31, 2020.
This morning, for the second day in a row, I got up and ran on the trails.
Black-billed Magpies perched on yucca alongside the trail and flew ahead of me as I chugged along, bringing smiles and lifting my spirits.
I’m excited to regain the strength and endurance I’ll need for the many fights ahead on behalf of the people and planet.
Day by day, I’m inching closer to FINALLY understanding my protagonist in my new novel project. That’s the good news. The bad is there’s a very good chance the 4k words I’ve written thus far will end up in the trash and I’ll be back to 0 words. However, I’m feeling more solid and at peace with this newer understanding.
While knotty writing problems sometimes amp up my frustration, they also take my focus and provide a refuge from our current (and future) reality. Hooray for an inner creative life!