Making room for anxiety

Can’t point my finger at just one thing that’s provoking anxiety today,
it’s more an accumulation of a whole lot of stuff twirling in my head.

Image from Morguefile.com

Image from Morguefile.com

Anxiety and I are well-acquainted with one another,
and I know the best approach
is to acknowledge that the anxiety is there,
accept its existence rather than try to fight it,
and then move on with my life.

So.

I’m feeling anxious,
it’s not a good feeling but I accept that it’s happening,
and now I’m going to go work on my middle-grade revisions.

Take that, Anxiety.

 

 

 

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The right tool for the job

Sometimes a manuscript’s revision requires a total knock-down.
hammer-sledgehammer-mallet-tool

Other times a lighter touch is needed.
DSC_0024

Today my process feels closer to weaving than rewriting. I’m focusing on existing threads and interlacing them with other strands.
Loom

Note: This woman has a distinct advantage in that she will, without a doubt, know when she’s finished her project. When it comes to revision, I don’t always know when enough is enough.

 

 

 

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Channeling Muhammad Ali

Bee on coneflower

I must dig deep to find the essence I’ve overlooked, hoping that as I revise I don’t trample the delicate structure already in place.

Gotta float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

 

 

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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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Weebles wobble

If you presume to love something,
you must love the process of it much more than you love the finished product.
 ~  John Irving

Right now I’m not entirely sure I love the fiction-writing process. As I revise this young adult novel, I’m starting to question whether I have any business trying to get published. I received some feedback on another manuscript that has me questioning my talent, and today I’m more wobbly than I’ve been in some time.

So. The bad news is I’m scared and exhausted and wishing someone could cut out this obsessive writer part of me so I’d never have to feel this way again.

The good news? My experience tells me that this ugly fog will eventually lift and then fade to a very faint memory. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I might not always love the process, but I trust it.

a copy

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Tenacious R Us

I’m a perennial gardener which means that the flowers I’ve planted are supposed to come back every year. Some, like the coreopsis that once bloomed long and bright throughout my beds, suddenly stopped blooming. All of them, at the same time, disappeared from my garden. The same thing happened with the exuberant clumps of blanket flower that used to bloom next to my driveway and were the the envy of my neighborhood. Here today, gone tomorrow.

But those are exceptions. The vast majority of my flowers come back each year which is great because I’m lazy. And cheap. I don’t like having to plant year after year and I don’t want to pay a bunch of money for flowers that will only be around a few months.

For a number of years I did plant annuals in clay pots and place them around my patio and down the steps. It was a lot of work and cost a bunch of money, and I had to remember to water them all the time because it gets extremely hot out there in the late afternoon. So I just kinda allowed that aspect of my gardening to fade away and left the empty clay pots stacked in my basement.

However, one huge pot remains outside year-round.
_MG_0202 Petunias

This is a photo from yesterday and the petunias blooming there are the result of the last planting which was 2-3 years ago. Those petunias haven’t gotten the memo that they’re annuals. They keep coming back. They refuse to give up.

They’re tenacious,
they prevail,
and I feel an undeniable kinship with them.

 

 

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Note to self

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

~  Joseph Chilton Pearce

scream-cartoon-painting

Anyway, “wrong” is a subjective term except for when I’m doing math.
Which I most definitely am not.
So it’s all good.
(Okay, not “all” good. But mostly!)

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Fight or flight at the library

I’m at the library again, doing my best impression of The Little Engine that Could. My study carrel is in the quiet section that is liberally decorated with these signs:
20160810_144334

About an hour ago, a man had a conversation on his phone within spitting distance of one of those signs. Several people glanced around as if to say, “What the hell?” but no one did anything. Including me. I figured we all deserve one free pass and that was his. Well, the dude started up another phone conversation. So I channeled my inner Pete Seeger who once said, “If there’s something wrong, speak up!” (and yes, I do realize that Pete was talking bigger issues than cell phone etiquette.)

I stood quietly by the man’s carrel as he continued to talk. And the longer he talked and refused to acknowledge me standing there, the more uncomfortable I felt. But I stayed put and when he hung up, I held out the sign and politely said something like, “I wanted to remind you about this.” He finally looked at me and his faux surprise at seeing the sign was laughable, but he did say, “Oh, okay.”

And that was it.

I’m taking the time to blog about this because I couldn’t believe how much adrenaline was pumping through my system after that interaction. I felt physically ill because of one polite conversation regarding cell phone usage, and I’d like to figure out why.

At this point, the only thing I know for sure is this:

Pete Seeger quotation

 

 

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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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Sometimes I gotta play rough

While reading Gary Paulsen’s LIAR, LIAR and companion novel FLAT BROKE this morning, I found myself thinking an all-too-familiar thought: “I want to try writing something like this.” (In this case I was referring to short novels, about 20k words, with the same characters, setting, and timeline.)

And then I remembered, as I always do when I have one of those creative-brain-all-over-the-place thoughts, that I’m in the middle of revising a YA novel that has been in and out of my life for years. I remembered that I really, really want and need to finish this novel. The want and need are wrapped up in the fact that I care about telling this story, but the want and need are also aligned with the instinct that’s telling me if I don’t finish the manuscript this go around, there will be serious repercussions in my writing life. It feels a bit do or die. Not as in THIS IS THE BOOK THAT’S GONNA GET ME MY BREAK, but as in this is the book that’s testing my mettle. I gotta prevail on this one. It feels as if I don’t finish the book, I will have given in to a schoolyard bully and might never venture back out on the playground.

So I put down the Paulsen books and decided that what I needed to do was quit pussyfooting around on my revisions. I needed to let go of the idea that I had to revise-revise-revise as I went along so that every single possible plot line and every single bit of characterization was exactly as it should be in final form. I decided that what I needed to do was revise in a more rough format SO THAT I ACTUALLY COMPLETE THIS DRAFT and then iron out minor issues and pretty up the language.

If I don’t take this approach, I fear this manuscript ain’t gonna happen which means an ugly domino effect.

So I fled the house (where I write every day) in search of mixing it up somewhere new. I landed at the library.

Working at library

Here I am. Revising in a rough and tumble manner, and making progress.

 

 

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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.

Starting Over, One Word At a Time

I’m revising the YA I’ve been working on off-and-on for years. There are a whole bunch of reasons for the delays and procrastination but the main takeaway is that because of the down-time, I was intimidated about jumping back into it. Then I read about one writer’s approach to getting back into a story: she retypes the entire manuscript.

I decided to give it a try.
_DSC4819

I’m taking it chapter by chapter, retyping from the last hard copy I printed out. So far, I agree with the writer who suggested it that retyping helps me revise on a deeper level than if I were only working with what was already there. In other words, my revisions would be more superficial if I was working with a hard copy and pen. Retyping seems to highlight issues such as where the text bogs down and any character inconsistencies. Most importantly, something about putting those words down, again, is helping reconnect me to the story. And in the process, it’s helping shine a light on what needs to change.

Every book I’ve written has taken a different path. There are days when I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse. This method, at least, is allowing me to move ahead.

With a Little Help From My Cats

I am revising and needed an aerial view of two chapters.
I was making progress with that birds-eye view until . . .
Cats and revision pages 013

 

Cats and revision pages 005

Cats and revision pages 011

Scattered pages and chewed pens are one thing,
but clawing at my words brings “critique” to a whole new level.
Cats and revision pages 017“Animals are such agreeable friends―they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” ~ George Eliot

Whatever you say, George.

Thread Count

I am revising. Again.
(John Irving once said, “Half my life is an act of revision,” and Tracy Abell says, “Amen to that.”) My critique group The Writing Roosters gave me feedback on my middle-grade novel, and I began revising accordingly because they’re pretty wise and much of what they said resonated with me.

So far so good.

Then I got a read from my writer nephew who also had a handful of very wise insights. And yesterday I spent hours reworking one earlier scene over and over again until I’d finally gotten it right. I congratulated myself and moved on, only to realize that the subtle changes I’d made in that one scene have to be reflected in later scenes.

Ah, the curse of a tightly woven story.

file2081245101017 (2)Whenever I tug on one thread, there are repercussions throughout, and one of these days I hope to remember that. In the meanwhile, I’ll get back to these seemingly never-ending layers of revision and keep passing the open windows.

Friday Five: The Random Edition

(1) I used to be kinda indifferent about Led Zeppelin, but for the past couple months have been mainlining it at a LOUD volume.

(2) I’m still having to run back and forth on the one flat street in my neighborhood due to glute issues and yesterday did three miles with the help of Sly & the Family Stone.

(3) I’ve started working part time as a substitute library page which means I shelve books at various local libraries, and have developed a love-hate relationship with the Dewey Decimal System.

(4) I’m revising a manuscript and enjoying the process which I call a WIN.

(5) If this rain doesn’t let up soon, I’m gonna scream loud enough to be heard over the Led Zeppelin.
screaming-quotes-1

My Insides Match My Outsides

For the past several days I’ve been working on the first 90 pages of my YA, zooming in on one particular relationship between two characters. I first went through the pages and highlighted every interaction between them in yellow. Then I went back to the beginning, highlighting in red the words I want to delete and using green highlights for the new words I added. It’s been a slow process but I feel as if finally, finally these characters are unfolding at the right pace and that I’m avoiding the dreaded Emotional Ping-Pong (something that was rampant in a YA I read over the weekend).

So imagine my delight when a few minutes ago I opened my computer to resume work on my project and I realized the screen mirrored the glorious colors outside.More fall leaves and computer screen 001

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Making Courage a Habit

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.          ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because I didn’t write much over the summer, it’s been difficult finding my groove again. That nasty little voice whispers in my ear, calling me delusional as I try to shake off the rust and gain some traction on my project.

I’ve had a few starts and stops, but for the past three days have written 1000 words per day. It’s starting to feel like a habit again although each day there’s a flutter in my chest as I prepare to sit down to work. “What if today I can’t do it?”

But as the wise Mr. Emerson pointed out, courage gets a bit easier each time you face down a particular fear. So right now I’m off to write my 1000 words for the day with the knowledge that I’ve done it before and can surely do it again.

Courage.Cowardly Lion receiving courage

Wordless Wednesday: The Thirst Edition

Northern Flicker 008(I’m going to cheat and add some words…)

Today I’m feeling a bit like this squirrel sipping at a less-than-pristine pool: my YA revision process has suddenly turned murky. However, it’s what I’ve got to work with so I need to suck it up. (And maybe sometime soon, some kind being will clean and replenish my brain pan!)

 

Birds and Munchkins

Happy Solstice!  Happy New Year!  Happy Happy!

I’ve been hard at work on revisions and had The Plague for about ten days. I’m just now easing back into life. One good thing about being ill is I could keep a close eye on the feeders and bird bath, and so caught lots of  fun activity. Here’s a finch-in-flight in front of a fellow finch.

various birds 005

Here’s a Northern Flicker:

various birds 017

This is our first winter with a heated bird bath and it was the best investment for our feathered friends, especially when temperatures were below zero early this week. I’m always so happy when someone drops by for a drink.

The other day I was working at the table next to the window overlooking the main feeder, the many finches, chickadees, juncos, etc. chirping away, when I became aware of SILENCE. I looked outside and there was not a bird to be seen. Not a one. I scanned the power lines for a predator, and finally located a hawk at the very top of our old maple tree at the other end of the yard. I was craning my neck for a better view when it took flight. Within a minute, birds began to reappear out of the plum bushes behind our fence, reminding me of the Munchkins in Oz.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are . . .”

How Do You Know When to Let Go?

          

Cross-posted from From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle-Grade Authors

According to Thomas A. Edison, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I’m not sure to what Mr. Edison was referring with that statement, but I do know much writer-ly advice disagrees with the sentiment. How many times have we heard that writers should stuff our unsold manuscripts beneath the bed and start something new? Fellow writers, agents, and editors caution against obsessing over one manuscript. They tell us to let go and move on. Give it up, already!

I wholeheartedly agree with that advice in regard to a first manuscript.  And maybe even the second. Write those books, learn all you can in the process, test them in the market, and move on. In fact, I’ve pretty much subscribed to the Write Your Next Book approach since I began writing novels. I’d give the manuscript my best shot and then put it away to write another. In fact, I’ve been so concerned with writing the next book I have two drafted novels I haven’t looked at in a couple years; it’s as if I’ve convinced myself whenever I’m not creating brand new work I’m treading literary water.

But I’ve recently realized the Write Your Next Book advice doesn’t always ring true. I wrote and polished a book I love (my fifth) and while writing my next book (a story I was exceedingly excited about, one that’s high concept and has a bigger hook) received editorial input on that fifth book.  Conventional wisdom says I should continue with the hook-y work in progress.  Exploit the commercial potential and finish that shiny, new book!

Instead, I set it aside and went back to the old. Am I obsessed? Delusional? Clinging to the past?  Maybe. But thanks to the editor’s comments I now understand where the story was lacking. I understand why readers weren’t connecting with the main friendship and why they didn’t believe the protagonist’s fear. And because I’ve written a whole bunch more since that fifth book went out, I have faith in my abilities to make the revisions work. I want the story to shine the way it always has in my head and heart.    

So I’m going to offer my advice:

  • It Is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if your love for the story hasn’t wavered.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if working on it helps you learn more about the writing process.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if the changes you’re making aren’t merely a superficial editing but represent a significant revision.

That's my thinking, but I’d love to hear your take on all this.  How do you know whether it’s time to move on or take a step back?

                

Snowy Day Visitor

Most days the Dark-Eyed Juncos are chased from the feeders
by the other birds (mostly House Finches) but today the juncos
are holding their own.

I had great fun watching this one hop and dance about the tree
(I know it’s crazy but it seemed as if s/he was clogging).

© Tracy Abell 2012

And now I’m headed back into the revision cave although I’d prefer hanging out at the feeder. . .