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’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.
Yikes, I missed one day of writing and am now suffering an acute case of Lost Momentum. Per my NaNoWriMo goals (45,000 words in 45 days), I need to get a minimum of 1,700 words down today if I’m to remain on schedule.
*sob* That feels like SO. MANY. WORDS.
*deep breath* Here I go, getting started. This is me, starting. One-two-three, write! Come on, Tracy, you can do it!
Black-billed Magpie in neighbor’s yard. August 29, 2019.
*exhale* Even though completing my words feels less likely than the magpie pushing that wheelbarrow, I’m going to write those 1,700 words. Right now. Truly.
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.
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!
Having trouble focusing today. Still haven’t started my NaNoWriMo writing and just had a mini-meltdown. However, the universe then gifted me this robin in our birdbath and for several minutes, I aimed my camera and forgot everything else.
American Robin. November 3, 2020.
This attitude? It me.
Today is Day One of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which people set out to write a 50,000-word manuscript in the month of November. Last year I did a modified NaNo and wrote a draft in about 45 days, and I’d like to try that again. And to hold myself accountable, I reached out to my critique group to ask for the January meeting slot. It’s mine! Hooray! Except, oops. That’s NOT what I did last year.
Last year, I requested the February slot which gave me more time to tidy before asking my critique partners to wade into my messy first draft. I won’t have the luxury of those extra weeks to clean up the worst of the mess. I could email them all now and ask for the February slot instead. But where’s the fun in that?!
Wish me well . . .
I’m tidying up the first draft of the middle grade I wrote in a modified NaNoWriMo last November and December. I’m trying something new by asking my critique group to read it for our February meeting. I’m not used to showing my work at such an early stage, but my group excels at identifying plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., so my thinking is that if I take advantage of their insights earlier in the process, I’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary revision.
This requires me putting on my big girl pants and trying not to let the terror take over.
Photo by Leon Macapagal from Pexels
I’m trying to focus on little bits at a time. Sometimes that means a chapter, or plot point, or character arc, or just a page. A sentence. Whatever it takes to keep me going. The anxiety is real, though. I have only a few more days to smooth out the roughest edges and then hit SEND.
Step by step, I’ll get it done.
Yesterday at 5:45 pm I realized I hadn’t seen my indoor cat, Marcel, in hours. Zippy, Zebu, and I spent the next several hours in the cold and dark, calling to Marcel who goes silent when afraid. We eventually quit and went to bed to toss and turn, trying in vain to forget how cold it was outside. At 6:30 this morning, Zippy (again) checked the garage we’d left open four inches. This time, Marcel was curled up in the cat bed Zebu had put on top of the recyling bin. SO GRATEFUL.
Five minutes ago, I finished writing the first draft of my new middle-grade novel. It clocks in at 42,793 words and is a whole lot of talking heads and not a whole lot of description, which means it’s kinda skeletal. But I’d hoped to finish by the end of today and, despite my lack of sleep (see Above), I did it! Will I cringe when I read the draft in a couple weeks? Possibly. But there’s no revision without a first draft, baby. Again, I AM SO GRATEFUL.
Tomorrow morning Zippy, Zebu, Wildebeest’s childhood friend (Kyle C), and I are driving to Durango, CO, where Wildebeest lives. His graduation ceremony is on Friday and we’ll be there to witness that incredible milestone. Wildebeest was an avid student until he hit middle school and then had some bad “learning” experiences that completely turned him off school. His was an on-again-off-again college journey and he laments being such an “old graduate,” but I was also 26 when I graduated college (and look how well I turned out!) I’m proud of my tenacious son and GRATEFUL we’ll be there to witness his accomplishment.
State Forest State Park. June 13, 2019.
How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold. ~ William Wordsworth
So it’s after 5:00 pm here in Colorado and I haven’t yet added one single word to my work-in-progress. Why? In part, I had much to do today. But in greater part? I’ve reached the point in which I need to write BIG climatic scenes and I’m intimidated. It was easier to tend to other business today.
I need to make like a Meadow flower and feel free to try and fail, all the way down to my roots. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Loki on Oct 3, 2018
Here’s Loki more than a year ago, basking in sun so bright his pupils are slits. None of that toasty warmth today. It’s gray. Cold. Drizzling and threatening snow. Soul-crushing, if I’d allow it. BUT. I’m parked at my standing desk, drafting my new novel.
Maybe if it was sunny and warm, I’d be curled in a patch of sunshine. Napping instead of writing. Guess that’s my silver lining on this miserable day. Color me grudgingly grateful.
I’m drafting my way through this new project and am past the halfway point, which certainly feels good. I’m noticing, though, that the “mushy middle” angst is suddenly alive and well. And I find myself thinking about jumping. Or running away. Or maybe abandoning this particular ship for a different ship .
“Don’t jump, Tracy!”
But that’s silly. Because as Emma and I both know, every project has moments in which it ceases to feel like great fun / feels less shiny than another idea / intimidates the crap out of me.
So I’m gonna stay on the beam and keep drafting. I promise, Emma.
Today is cold and icy. Again. Unlike two weeks ago, I am not venturing outside because I very much do not want to slip and fall again. Instead, I went in search of an appropriate quotation for this ice-encrusted day. I found the following . It speaks to me, despite never having directed a film. I read it as “Writing a novel is mystifying…”
Directing is mystifying. It’s a long, long, skid on an icy road, and you do the best you can trying to stay on the road… If you’re still here when you come out of the spin, it’s a relief. But you’ve got to have the terror if you’re going to do anything worthwhile.
~ Mike Nichols
Suffice to say, I’m firmly in the white-knuckle, can-I-pull-this-off portion of the writing process right now. First drafts can be simultaneously exhilarating and puke-inducing.
I just finished reading a young adult (YA) novel that was recommended as a good example of multiple point-of-view (POV) characters. The book recommendation came weeks ago as I debated whether I wanted to write my new project in multiple POVs rather than my usual first-person, but I just got around to reading it. It’s a very good book and I’m glad I read.
Except. One of the POV characters in the book has a home situation and coping strategy that very closely mirrors how I’m writing one of my characters. AND, there are some general similarities to the plots.
Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels
Panic! Doubt! OMG, should I stop reading this? Do I need to rework my character? Rethink my plot? Drop the project altogether and buy a sailboat or take up harmonica lessons?
Well. As mentioned, I did finish the book. And the panic has (mostly) subsided because the draft I’m working on isn’t a YA but a middle-grade (MG) which means it’s for different readers. Plus, the book I read was published in 2012. So, I’m putting on my big girl pants and resuming my project.
I will admit, however, it was very unsettling to come across a reflection of something I thought existed only in my mind.
It’s currently 22 degrees outside.
November 11, 2019
If I were a nicer person, I’d offer this fox a couple pairs of warm, woolen socks.
As it is, I’m staying inside where I can absorb the heat from my laptop as I work on my new writing project that makes me happy, happy, happy.
It’s a whole new week, people. Let’s do this!
Last year I officially signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and so am getting emails from the Colorado NaNo people. As noted earlier, I’m taking a modified approach** this year, so when I received an email about a write-in happening at a coffee shop near me I decided to attend. Big deal, right? Wrong.
I do about 99% of my writing at home and wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit. But I liked the idea of all that collective energy, so packed up and went. I arrived two hours into the session today and people were busily writing away. I found a seat in back, put in my ear plugs to muffle the loud music, and got to work.
Wow. I wrote 2500 words (many of which were keepers) in about three hours. Part of my success was because I didn’t ask for the wifi password which meant I couldn’t procrastinate online. When I’m at home, closed off in my writing room, I find all sorts of ways to waste time. Despite all the sounds and movement taking place around me, something about writing in public kept me more focused. It felt all official-like or something.
I thought I’d be writing this novel at my standing desk, but will most definitely be going back to that coffee shop for more writing sessions!
** My goal is to finish a draft by the end of December.
We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.
~ Louisa May Alcott
Okay, Ms. Alcott, count me in.
Yesterday I made the decision to crash-land my manuscript rather than agonize over the ending. As a result, I wrote 3700+ words in order to achieve 50k words and be free of the NaNoWriMo intensity that felt as if it was destroying my body and melting my brain. Kidding. Except, not really.
Here’s the certificate that landed in my inbox after I validated my novel:
And here’s my Project Target counter at the end of that writing session:
I plan to celebrate in the coming week or so by doing two things:
- NOT writing
- Reading, reading, reading
I’m exhausted. I’ve got mud in my eyes and aches in my bones from sitting so much this past month. Worst of all, my ending isn’t coming together as envisioned. Time to create a new vision in preparation for next month’s revision.