Word spew

Some writing days are excruciating. The worst are those when I don’t get any words down, and instead spend my time catastrophizing and twirling in my head. The next worse are those days that feel like a death march through neck-deep glue, in which every word has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the page.

Today was the latter. I achieved my word count, and now possess a messy mass of sentences which have the potential to be revised into something less vomitous.

Yay, me.

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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Thumb’s out

I’m ready to skip town.
Still not finished with this draft of the YA-from-hell.
Intended to finish by November 30 in my version of NaNo, but life intervened in a couple big ways and derailed those efforts.

Photo by Atlas Green

This young hitchhiker could have walked out of the pages of my manuscript. (Photo by Atlas Green)

I have written several drafts of this book, but never the final scenes. While I’ve mapped out those scenes, they’ve never been fully realized. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a case of “talking myself out of a book;” in other words, precisely because I have visualized and plotted out those scenes, I’ve lost all interest in writing them. Maybe they already feel done? Maybe I’ve lost faith in my abilities and so want to give up? Maybe I feel my efforts would be better spent on a more high concept story?

I can’t help thinking that my uncharacteristic antipathy toward this project somehow holds the key to my stuckness. I also can’t help thinking that if I just wrote the effing scenes, I’d escape these circles of hell.

 

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First commit and then prevail

Yesterday I was tearing out my hair in frustration over my revisions. I struggled with a couple paragraphs for hours before finally calling it quits. I was in a pretty foul mood.

Today I returned to those paragraphs and am happy to report that the words cooperated. And I didn’t even have to bludgeon them into place.

Even better news is that I then spent the rest of the day going over the entire manuscript and am now ready to send it to a brand-new reader. Do you know what this means? This means I am five whole days ahead of schedule! FIVE WHOLE DAYS, people!

Bracelets

Bracelets made by Laura Hamor of Silver Freckles. Find her on Etsy.

What’s the key to my success?

As always, it comes down to two little words.

 

 

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Real feelings

There’s a real feeling when you know you’re getting it right. It’s a physical feeling.
~  Robert Caro

pop_art_cartoon_ginger_woman_tearing_hair_out_-_154569740__medium_4x3

Yeah, but what about when you’re not getting it right? Huh? What’s that physical feeling called, Mister I’ve-won-multiple-Pulitzer-Prizes-and-National-Book-Awards??

Around these parts it’s starting to feel an awful lot like baldness.

 

 

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All does not suck

The bad news?
I’m suddenly feeling a bit rundown
and kinda puny
which is triggering pissed-off thoughts
such as
ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME?
AUTUMN IS JUST BARELY, OFFICIALLY HERE
AND I’M ALREADY GETTING SICK?!

Sick person

The good news?
I’ve hit my page goal every day this week, including today,
which means that despite
the fact that humanity is failing on a global level,
(a hugely depressing truth that’s undoubtedly contributing to my
run-down
worn-out
had-enough-already
puny feelings),
all does not suck.

happy-stick-girl

My plan of action?
Take it easy and repeat my new mantra:

ALL DOES NOT SUCK
ALL DOES NOT SUCK
ALL DOES NOT SUCK

 

 

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Most tired when I don’t

I’ve been having a really hard time with my middle-grade this past week or so. I didn’t meet my revision goal for the week and was struggling with how to move forward. I was feeling burned out and not-so-enthusiastic about my writing endeavors. Any of them.

It was like an ongoing game of tug-of-war in my head. Back and forth swung my thoughts, emotions, and physical responses. Quit or not quit? Some or all? Finish this or start that? Fiction or nonficiton?

Image from Morguefile.

Image from Morguefile.

But as I did my cool-down walk this morning after a trail run, I realized that not making progress on the revision of my middle grade was part of why I feel burned out. It’s exhausting to be in forever-limbo with a project.

I wanted to quit because I felt shitty but I can’t quit because that will make me feel even shittier. In other words, writing can most certainly tire me out, BUT not writing may ultimately be even more draining.

Memo to self: sometimes I’m most tired when I don’t.

(Despite my wonderful little epihany, I am REALLY looking forward to finishing the damned book.)

 

 

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Procrastination: Exhibit A

I’m “supposed” to be working on my middle-grade revisions, but am having a hard time getting motivated. As in, I haven’t touched it at all today. Instead, I took some photos of visitors to the new feeder location and realized it’ll be a whole new learning experience due to the lighting differences. The feeder used to be sheltered by the branches and leaves of the maple tree. Now the feeder is exposed on a slope where the afternoon light hits it hard.

My feathered friends’ photos ended up washed out, and I just spent a while playing with contrast, white balance, etc. settings.

finch-retooled

All that time playing with settings, you’d think I’d have something more impressive to show for it. Guess I need to get on those revisions so I actually accomplish something today.

 

 

 

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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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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.

Still Here: A Story of Daffodils and Me

In the fall of 2006, I was a mentee at the Rutgers One-On-One Conference where Laurie Halse Anderson was the keynote speaker. In addition to offering smart and funny insights into her writing journey, she offered us daffodil bulbs. True story.

Last Friday, I took this photo of my LHA flowers that keep on blooming, year after year:
Daffodils

The next day, it started snowing. And over the next twenty-four hours, more than two feet of snow fell on those daffodils.

Me several feet away from buried daffodils.

Me several feet away from the buried daffodils.

If I’d been thinking, I would’ve covered the flowers with a bucket to protect them from the elements. Alas, I didn’t think that far ahead. So now they’re beneath the rapidly melting snow where they may or may not recover from the shock of an April blizzard in Colorado.

I share a kinship with those flowers that goes beyond them symbolizing my connection to the children’s writing community. The daffodils and I have been on a nine-year journey together. Every year they push through the soil to face whatever comes their way, not knowing whether they’ll be greeted with sunshine or flurries. And every year I continue writing my stories, not knowing whether they’ll be greeted with warmth or snowy rejection.

It’s a risky business for those flowers and me, but we keep on doing what we need to do. And year after year, we prevail.
Prevail bracelet 010

 

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.

You Heard It Here First

I’ve been creeping toward The End on this YA project for FOREVER. (Okay, it obviously hasn’t been forever because that would indicate a major hiccup in the time-space continuum. Not to mention that “forever” would mean I’d have even more wrinkles than I already have.) So let’s just say it feels like a mighty long time I’ve been working on this book, yo.

One of the reasons I’ve been taking it slow is that I don’t like to write myself into a ditch. I’ve learned that if I allow the words to gush willy-effin’-nilly, I often live to regret that output because it can take an awful long time to get the literary wheels back on the road. However, it just occurred to me that because I am only scenes away from The End, that I can’t possibly do great damage. Even if I write myself in a wrong direction, it won’t be any big woop. I KNOW the big picture and I KNOW how this story ends and I KNOW what needs to be written. If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll delete. No big woop.

So here’s my public announcement: I am going to finish those scenes this week!

I_Take_This_Oath_FilmPoster

 

 

Letter to Self

Dear Tracy,

Angst and uncertainty are part of the creative process. You know that. You also know those feelings are best handled by writing and pushing through to the other side. But sometimes those feelings become so huge and unwieldy and the voices are shrieking so loudly in your head that you convince yourself you hate the project and want to quit it forever.

Please don’t give in to those feelings.

Instead, remember this: sometimes you feel stuck and unable to move forward NOT because you’re no-talent and the project is worthless, but because your approach is wrong. Sometimes you can’t make progress because something deep inside your creative self digs in its heels and refuses to budge. Sometimes you just need a little time to find the way.

Your project doesn’t suck. You don’t hate it. And it would be a sad, sad thing if you quit it forever.

Love,
Tracy

You Talkin’ to Me?

“This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside.
It should be hurled with great force.”
~  Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Dorothy Parker was 50 years old when George Platt Lynes took this portrait in 1943.

Okay, so Ms. Parker was not referring to my work-in-progress, but the quote strikes a nerve. Wandering the wilderness of my creative mind is always a scary endeavor, and one which I’m currently going to great lengths to avoid. I would very much appreciate a sign . . .

Writing Through the Distractions

It’s slow-going on my YA, but I’m making progress despite the usual distractions:

  • books I want to read
  • food that may or may not be in the refrigerator so let’s take a look, shall we?
  • the internets and its many permutations
  • bird action at the feeder and/or bath
  • that patch of sunlight calling for me to come take a nap
  • etc., etc.

All that’s hard enough, but now I have these lovable cats in the house and they demand my attention.Loki and Marcel 002A few minutes ago I was working on my manuscript as Marcel sat in the window behind me, looking at birds and making that funny chuckling sound cats make when they see something they’d like to de-feather, but I was stoic and blocked out his bizarre noises to keep writing. Until, that is, he climbed over my shoulder and down onto my chest where he curled up and aimed his big goofy eyes at me. Really, I’m supposed to have the willpower to ignore such overt emotional manipulation?

And how about his brother Loki who has no respect for my writing boundaries or, for that matter, any boundary?Loki in dishwasher

Loki in dishwasher 2

Maybe I’m supposed to treat him like a Muse?

Not Ready to Quit

I’ve been at this writing thing for a while, working toward publication. There have been highs and lows throughout the journey, validation followed by rejection. It’s been tough, but I’ve always been tougher. Something inside wouldn’t let me quit. Something inside knew I did not want to give up.

Several weeks ago, I began to seriously consider quitting.

Seriously, as in, I actually said out loud, “I’m thinking about quitting.” And I spoke those words to a new non-writer acquaintance who’d asked about my writing. That was a huge moment, because during all the years of writing in the bleachers during Zebu’s basketball games and being asked by other parents if I was a teacher grading papers, I always said, “No, I’m a writer.” If they asked more questions, I’d let them know I was writing novels for kids and when the inevitable question came, I’d say, “No, I haven’t been published yet.” And it was okay. There was a core of steel in me that allowed me to have those conversations. I knew I’d keep writing until my stories were published. I knew I’d prevail.

Nothing specific happened in the past month or so to shake my convictions, but somehow I felt I’d reached my limit. As in, maybe it was time to quit putting my work out there to be judged because maybe, just maybe, it was unhealthy to continue making myself vulnerable to others’ opinions. Sending out a manuscript is like offering my heart on a plate so that it can be stabbed, sometimes repeatedly.

So I gave myself a little break. A break from writing and a break from decision-making about writing for publication. I kept reading, though. One of the books I read was a YA from an author who’d written one of the best books I’d read in 2013, an author who sells gazillions of books and seems to be an awesome person. The YA I read was a huge disappointment. Weak, weak, weak. I was flabbergasted. And slightly annoyed. I knew better than to write a protagonist who doesn’t change and secondary characters who serve as placeholders and plot lines that go nowhere, fizzling out into big nothings. Why do I know that? Because I know how to write.

And just like that I knew I wasn’t ready to quit writing for publication. Not because I have any delusions about knocking that author off the best-seller list. And not because I’m angry with the publishing world that has, thus far, excluded me from the club. I’ve gone back to work on my YA because I want to continue doing what I know how to do, and to continue learning how to do that even better.

I am a writer. And no, I haven’t yet been published. Whatever.

Image from MorgueFile.com by Alvimann

Image from MorgueFile.com by Alvimann

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

The Agnes Toolbox

       

Agnes 6.10.12

Okay.
I know I have talent, but I'm for sure also wielding my perseverance
(although I hope not in a bludgeon-esque manner).