Today I aim for GENTLE

Novels are such mysterious and amorphous and tender things.
~ Arundhati Roy

True that. And not only am I treating my novel gently today, but also myself. This revision doesn’t need to be perfect, and will never be so. No nasty voices allowed.

What will matter most at the end of the day is that I showed up.

Thankful Thursday: friendly NaNo nudge edition

Today I’m thankful for critique partner and friend, Laura Perdew, who encouraged me to try NaNoWriMo this year. I’m positive I wouldn’t even have considered fast-drafting if she hadn’t suggested NaNo as the cure for my exceedingly slooow outlining and drafting of this new project.

Today is the halfway point for NaNo and here’s what I’ve accomplished thus far:

I’m more than halfway to my target of 52,169 words for November (I’d already written 2,169 words and didn’t want to “cheat” on achieving 50,000 words in 30 days so included them in my final draft target). I am thrilled. Absolutely over the moon with my progress. Hooray! Etc.¬† ūüôā

It’s amazing what I can accomplish once I banish my internal editor to a corner with tape over her mouth.

Perfection isn’t perfect

I’m working on my revisions and mostly succeeding in ignoring the nasty voice in my head that says “this is crap” and “why even bother?”

What’s the key to my (mostly) success?

Remembering there’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript. Perfection is an unattainable ideal that just so happens to also be highly subjective.

From my perspective this purple coneflower is perfection. Flawed petals and all. I love it and have spent quite a bit of time gazing at its loveliness. However, your mileage may vary. And that’s okay.

Twofer Tuesday: running mantras

This morning Zippy and I went for a run on the trails. Trailrunning is great fun because it usually keeps my thoughts focused on the rocky, uneven terrain. My mantra is “Feet on the ground. Feet on the ground.” That helps keep me in the moment so I don’t hook a toe and fall on my face. However, today I struggled with the nasty voice in my head, telling me I was slow and tired and really-Tracy-you-should-just-walk-because-you’re-not-a-real-runner.

So I fought back with two new mantras.

The sky was blue, the temperature was a perfect 58 degrees, and the Western Meadowlarks were out in force, warbling their beautiful songs. There was no reason to feel anything other than pure joy and gratitude for my time out in the open space.¬† Today’s mantras became “Beautiful day, beautiful day. Birds are singing. Birds are singing. Beautiful day, beautiful day. Birds are singing. Birds are singing.”

Once those went on repeat in my head, the nasty voice was nowhere to be heard.

Thankful Thursday

Today I kept writing despite
the overwhelm
the nasty voice
the fatigue
the feelings of futility
the sweet seduction of giving up
the anger
the impatience
the I’m-so-effing-sick-of-you
the stack of unread library books
Netflix
despair.

 

 

 

 

Today, I’m thankful I kept writing.

Dazed and Confused

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.

Aha.

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.

Thankful Thursday: The I-finally-freakin’-did-it edition

If you happen upon this, writer-friend Linda Salzman, you might be happy to know that yesterday I finally, finally wrote the final scenes of the YA I’ve been wrestling with since the beginning of time. Are they perfectly written scenes? Hells no. Are they fleshed-out scenes? Absolutely not. Are they even close to being what they’d need to be in a final draft? HAHAHAHAHA.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

In which Linda is the pug offering encouragement (“Do it!”) to the tortoise-slow Tracy.

The scenes I wrote yesterday are, at this point, a collection of placeholder words. A roadmap for the next draft (should I ever have the inclination to wade into the manuscript that right now feels like a horrible, torturous place to spend time). I learned about the value of using placeholder words from writer-friend Laurie Schneider, and I must say it’s one of the most liberating tools in my writing kit. The pressure is off when I’m creating placeholder words; all that’s required of me is to literally hold the place in the manuscript with clues for my authorial intent. The details come later.

So after writing those scenes, I printed out a hard copy and wrote out a few notes for myself before packing everything away in an accordion file. At the soonest, I’ll read that manuscript again in a month. But I have a feeling it’ll take longer than that for me to muster enthusiasm. After finishing, I’d gone back to read the opening chapter, thinking it would fire me up by reminding me the rest of the book is stronger than the ending. *insert hysterical laughter* Turns out, I’d arrived at the THIS BOOK SUCKS MORE THAN A HOOVER stage, and it’s gonna take some time for those feelings to fade.

The good news? I’m already reacquainting myself with another project. This one has huge potential and fills me with excitement. So take that, nasty voice! (Also, I was very grateful for the distraction of this “new” project when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Debbie Reynolds dying the day after losing her beloved daughter.)

There are sad and horrible things happening all over the planet, but I’m grateful for the fictional worlds I create in my mind. Sometimes the pretend is the only thing keeping me from being crushed by the real.

 

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A little bit of blue

Last night I found out I wasn’t selected as a Pitch Wars mentee and I admit to feeling down. I¬†went to bed thinking I was¬†a loserhead. Then I woke up this morning and reread feedback I’d received from one mentoring team last night, and the wheels began turning. When another mentor sent feedback, one of her comments dovetailing nicely with a bit from the earlier critique, the wheels in my head started cranking in earnest.

Did I agree with everything written? Nope.
Did I have AHA moments as I read their comments? Yep.
Can I quit this manuscript when it’s within my power to strengthen it? Nope.
So does this mean I’m embarking on yet another round of revisions? Yep.

The season's last clematis bloom.

The season’s last clematis bloom.

I exchanged emails with a writer friend about all this and he was a bit horrified that I’m revisiting this manuscript for the umpteenth time. His exact words: I think you’re the type of person who puts a band-aid on just to rip it off!

But that’s the writing life: patches of¬†blue poking through the clouds, an occasional burst of sunshine, and a steady stream of self-inflicted pain.

So it goes.

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes revision looks like this

Vinca plus

As I posted yesterday, I’m focusing on getting through this draft of my revisions and am trying hard not to get bogged down in potential issues. I want to trust that I can fix anything in need of fixing next time around. Right now the priority is maintaining forward momentum. The problem with pushing hard rather than employing my usual tweak-and-polish-rinse-repeat approach is that I can still see those potential issues and I start to doubt.

For instance in the above photo, I see all sorts of stuff:

vinca leaves
vinca blossoms
holly leaves
holly berries
pine needles
maple leaf
landscape timber

In this photo, it’s not clear where the eye should go. The focus isn’t great and there’s all sorts of stuff going on. And that’s a bit how it feels with the draft I’m revising. What potential issues deserve my full attention right now and what’s okay to let go? Where should I zoom in and where can I pan the camera? Inquiring voices (in my head) want to know.

I’m not in any kind of panic about this. I’ve made solid progress today and still believe (24 whole hours later!) that I’m taking the best approach to this draft. It is, however, interesting to note that the voices insert themselves into my writing process regardless of what that process might be.

 

 

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The ins and outs of editorial voices

Every writer knows about the internal editor,
that yammering
whispering
haranguing
insidious
voice
that says
Your story sucks
Your writing sucks
You suck¬†so why don’t you give it up already?

I utilize different strategies for getting past my internal editor,
but without a doubt
the most effective approach is to keep writing.
Head down, pen moving.
Guaranteed, that voice will eventually shut up.
At least for a while.

In my experience, the external editors are sometimes harder to ignore.

Marcel and Loki insert themselves into the process.

Marcel and Loki insert themselves into the process.

 

 

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A Running Start

One of my favorite writing strategies is to take a running start at a manuscript, a technique that works for me both in the drafting and revising stages.

How do I define a running start?

A running start is sometimes merely rereading the work from the previous day¬†in order to find my rhythm so that I can continue in that flow. Most days that’s¬†all I need in order to keep going.

Other days, however, the nasty voices whisper so loudly in my head¬†I worry that writing in that mindset will result in me inflicting big-time¬†damage on my manuscript. I’m talking crash-and-burn, holy-hell-how¬†did-we-end-up-on-this-tangent kinda damage OR, worse-case scenario, convincing myself that the only logical response to the crap I’ve put down on paper is to give up on the project, my writing, and all dreams. Forever

Those are the days in which my running start requires that I go back to page one¬†and read everything I’ve written/revised thus far.

Image from morguefile.com

Image from morguefile.com

Today was a nasty voices day. So I read the 50+ pages of revised¬†manuscript¬†and, as predicted, my literary goblin’s voice faded away. I liked what¬†I read.¬†I was proud of what I’d written and felt a renewed enthusiasm for the¬†project. I made progress on the revision.

It’s important to note that there are multiple decisions required of this strategy. I have to ask myself¬†two questions:
1) Is this a regular running start kinda day or a Page One running start day?
If I immediately know the answer, it’s all good. If not, I ask myself the following:
2) Are the nasty voices so relentless they will dominate no matter what I try?
If the answer is Yes, it’s best to not even fight back. No running start, no¬†writing, no thinking about the project.

There’s always another day and another¬†perspective.

Revision = To See Again

John Irving wrote in the opening to Trying to Save Piggy Sneed,
“Half my life is an act of revision.”

Ain’t that the truth.

I share Mr. Irving’s love of revision. I enjoy blue ink on paper, deleting the fat and plumping up the skinny parts. I love drilling down to find the essence of what I want to convey.

Right now I’m revising the first several chapters of my YA. Again. I recently received stellar editorial input on my opening pages that has allowed a minor miracle: I am reading the pages with new eyes. I’ve already worked and worked and worked some more on those chapters, yet this editor’s input changed my perception of what was there on the page. It’s as if her reaction to what she read is forcing me to “defend” each and every word, every motivation. I’m no longer reading the pages with the mindset of someone who knows the entire story and all the backstory, but as a brand new reader! I didn’t think it was possible to read stuff I’d already read gazillions of times with fresh eyes, but it is. It really is.

Wow. Amazing stuff. Yet I’m alternating between thinking, “This is so cool that I have this new heightened awareness!” and “What is wrong with me that it’s taken so long to achieve this awareness that any writer worth her laser printer should already have?!”

So, in an effort to be kinder to myself, I’m focusing on this quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Take that, nasty voice! I will prevail.
Prevail bracelet 010