I’ve kept a gratitude journal on and off for a number of years, but am currently in an off phase. I hope to resume my bedtime ritual of listing five things I’m grateful for, but in the meanwhile:
Today I am grateful . . .
- my sister helped me feel more at peace about a friend’s death.
- my critique group gifted me another week to finish the draft of my work-in-progress and that
- I am, indeed, making progress on that work.
- I enjoyed a calm, non-aggressive walk in the warm sunshine with Emma, even though we passed other dogs.
- I completed my four-minute plank despite learning the hard way that Led Zeppelin’s Four Sticks is absolutely not a good motivational song. Nope, not even close.
Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
~ Khalil Gibran
Yesterday I (finally) came to the realization that a couple two or three much-loved scenes in my manuscript serve no real purpose. Try as I might, I couldn’t justify them. And after attempting to salvage little bits here and there, I (finally) came to another realization: pruning shears weren’t the tool for the job.
The first cut is the deepest, baby, I know.
Today I kept writing despite
the nasty voice
the feelings of futility
the sweet seduction of giving up
the stack of unread library books
Today, I’m thankful I kept writing.
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is not to say that the words I put down today are necessarily good words, but for right now, they are close enough to good. I’m moving around some scenes and adding others to this draft, and many of the words I wrote today are more placeholder than set-in- stone. But, as a result of the day’s underwater swimming, I’m that much closer to The End.
And now, I breathe deeply.
Today I used my Scrivener corkboard and calendar pages to finish plotting out this revision along with the story’s revised time line. I made good progress, but am still not sure how the newly envisioned climatic scene will unfold. So I made a list of the fifteen or so ingredients that will be in play during that scene, and am now letting my subconscious do the cooking.
Today as I work on my novel, I am thinking ahead, hoping ahead, to the day when a reader reaches for my story. Last May, I photographed this man perusing a “Book Exchange” in Stockholm and am posting it as a motivator. I aim to create the most compelling, reader-enticing story I can write, dammit.
All week I’ve struggled to revise the same couple chapters, making very little progress. The nasty voice in my head has had a good old time, telling me I’m not a good writer, that my novel is crap, that there’s no salvaging the mess I’ve made, that I’m delusional to think I can pull off the story I want to tell, etc.
I started to believe that.
Because of all my revising, moving back-and-forth within the first 100+ pages, I was confused and disoriented regarding plot lines and character motivations. I didn’t know which way was up. So. This afternoon, I resorted to The Running Start Technique. I went back to page 1 and read through to my sticking point on page 104, taking notes along the way to remind myself exactly certain key events happened.
I hadn’t spun my wheels all this week because I’m a bad writer; rather, somewhere inside me I understood that I was headed in the wrong direction. The reason I didn’t make forward progress wasn’t because I suck, but because I wasn’t supposed to go that way. Stubborn tenacity isn’t always a good thing, yo. Whew. I feel so much better about my work-in-progress and me right now.
The sad/funny/pathetic/embarrassing thing is, I’ve already experienced that exact same stalled feeling followed by the Hey, Trace! You’re taking the wrong road! realization. Multiple times. I can only hope that the next time it happens (and it will), the nasty voice is banished much more quickly.
I’ve said this before and I’m gonna say it again: I’m very grateful for my creative life.
For the past few days, I’ve immersed myself in a work-in-progress project I’d had to put on hold for much of December while working on another, and yesterday told Zippy I’d fallen in love with the manuscript all over again. I’m grateful to love the work I do.
Today my gratitude is more specifically about the refuge my fiction provides. Admittedly, it’s not an impenetrable fortress. Earlier, I had to make a shaking-mad phone call to my House Rep’s office after learning about his pro-NSA surveillance vote and I just hopped onto Twitter in time to read about Agent Orange’s racist and hateful remarks about people from Haiti, Africa, and Latin America. The very act of writing that out has me so agitated, I’m now chewing at my cuticles. Clearly, the people and places in my head don’t keep the ugly at bay 24/7.
I do have an outlet when the current reality feels too horrible to contemplate. And I hope that’s true for everyone, whether it’s watching goat videos or smelling sweet puppy breath or welding sculptures or hiking or drumming or blowing raspberries on a baby’s chubby tummy or resting in a pool of sunshine or . . .
Please, do whatever it takes.
One of the best things about being a writer is that we can always learn and become better storytellers. Today, I happened upon two insights regarding character motivation (wants vs needs, and choices) that were worded in such a way that I immediately spotted what was wrong with my work-in-progress. What I read wasn’t new to me, but information doesn’t always sink in the first (or second or fifth) time I come across it. Today, things clicked. And that makes this writer very, very happy.
Art can’t be taught;
passion can’t be taught;
discipline can’t be taught;
but craft can be taught.
And writing is both an art and a craft.
~ Elizabeth George
Where did the day go? Last thing I knew, I was sitting down to figure out some stuff about the fictional community I’m creating. I did learn lots about pea viners and farming trends, and my revision notes are more fleshed out. I definitely made progress.
Still. Where did the day go?
I love writing.
I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
~ James A. Michener
And now, back to it . . .
I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by all the horrifying happenings in the world right now. In an act of self-preservation, I’ve spent today in a fictional world that exists in my head. I’m revising my middle-grade novel, spending time with some funny girls and “bad” guys who, in the big scheme of things, aren’t really all that bad. I know that I need to return to reality tomorrow and behave as a contributing member of society, but right now I’m hunkered down in a happier place.
I’m sifting through the feedback I received from my critique group. Most everything offered either resonated with me right away (YES! That change is a must!) or fell flat on delivery (NOPE! That misses the point and/or is unnecesssary and/or etc). Those are the easy critique points. However, I’ve also got some tough calls to make, and those are now simmering in my middle mind. Should I expand the mystery element of the story? Does X, Y, Z happen? I’m hoping my middle mind has answers for me in the very near future.
In the meanwhile, I’m reveling in some of the truly messed-up things that happen in this book. Lest you think I’m alone in this kind of thinking:
Personally, I see little distinction between an artistic mentality and criminality.
You couldn’t possibly create a compelling story without some wickedness
or some fascination with the disgusting.
Being good is a hindrance to a writer.
~ Russell Smith
Can I get an amen?
As I revise my middle-grade novel, plugging holes and solving plot problems, I’m keeping this sentiment in mind:
Luck is not chance, it’s toil;
fortune’s expensive smile is earned.
~ Emily Dickinson
Honey bees don’t need a pithy quote; they made the connection between luck and toil a looong time ago.
Last night I met with my critique group, The Writing Roosters. (Yes, we’re aware that it’s funny for a membership of six women and zero men to be roosters.)
Our mascot that oversees every meeting.
It was my turn to receive a critique and the group didn’t disappoint. I’m grateful for their willingness to point out holes and weak characterization and plotting improbabilities in my novel, and also to let me know what they felt I’d done well. It was my first draft and I now have a pretty firm grasp on how to revise.
I received lots of guidance last night, but want to give a special shout-out to Claudia Mills for using Track Changes/Comments a whopping 429 times! Thank you for getting down and dirty with my manuscript, friend!
Tip your hat to me
sent first draft to critique group.
Wrote another book!
Pen & sticky notes ✔
Manuscript pages ✔
Yoga mat for kneeling ✔
Space to talk aloud to myself ✔
THE END of this first draft within striking distance ✔
Last weekend I spent time with my nephew who is also a writer. We talked books and the writing process. We also talked a bunch about Marilynne Robinson, and the next morning I woke with her on my mind. I grabbed my notebook from 2003 when I spent three weeks in Iowa City absorbing her genius, and reread the notes I took.
Today, one of MR’s fourteen-year-old pearls of wisdom helped me out:
You should be every character’s advocate. You are God to that character. Typically, in one way or another, people are trying to make the best case for themselves. People are whole creatures. Villains have history behind them.
Aunt Isabel is no longer a one-note character. Marilynne Robinson for the assist!
I’m writing the final scenes of my middle-grade novel.
I know where the story goes and how it ends.
However, that doesn’t make the process any less exhausting.
I’ve got lots of characters coming together,
and they’re all toting individual motivations and plot lines.
Choreographing these scenes feels a bit like juggling chainsaws and kittens.
The good news is that it’s only a first draft.
I need to remember that these scenes do not need to be perfect.
I woke this morning to a long to-do list. The bad news is that I haven’t checked everything off the list. Not even close. (I ran, I walked Emma, I figured out some characterization and plotting stuff for my work-in-progress while walking with my dog, I vacuumed one room, I scrapbooked a whole bunch of photos and then cleared off the dining room table that’s been covered with photos and scrapbooking materials for the past couple months, I took advantage of our recent rainstorms and weeded for 30 minutes, and I put out clean towels for Wildebeest who will be back home tonight. YES, IT’S HUGELY GRATIFYING TO LIST THE CHECKED-OFF ITEMS HERE!) So, while I didn’t accomplish all I’d hoped to accomplish, I kept very busy today.
Being busy kept me offline. That’s really good news. Because the one time I took a breather and checked Twitter, I discovered that Agent Orange has been swinging his tiny manhood at North Korea.
Who cares about an unfinished to-do list when a psychopath is threatening nuclear war??
I just had a nice shower and a very productive plotting session. AT THE SAME TIME.
Whoa, Tracy! How is that even possible?!
It was possible because of an amazing invention called AQUA NOTES.
AQUA NOTES are pads of waterproof paper that you can write on with a pencil while taking a shower. I just wrote out three pages of stellar notes for my work-in-progress, and I’m thrilled because I figured out stuff I didn’t even realize needed figuring. Those pages of notes are like bonus material! And it all came to me during my relaxing shower, an activity that frequently gets my subconscious to come out and play. This time, I was prepared!
Where can I get some of those magical AQUA NOTES, Tracy?
I recommend buying them here, where you can buy 4 pads and get the 5th for free. Write on, friends!
The male muse is an unaccountably rare thing in art.
Where does that leave female artists looking for inspiration?
~ Kate Christensen
Well, I’m a female artist currently working in close proximity to my male muse who is apparently lost in thoughts inspired by his whiteboard-muse. Inspiration comes in many forms.
Gotta respect the process.
I’m not sure what put the light in this rabbit’s eye*, but I know where mine came from: today’s writing session was great fun. Even though I’m writing a first draft and, therefore, not overly hung up on language, I put down some good stuff. And that makes me very happy. Even after reading the following:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~ Anton Chekhov
Much of what I wrote today is more tell than show, but I still had a damned good time.
*okay, it was probably the sun