A Year in the Life, Week 13: Quarterly Review

August 1, 2013

Last week’s A Year in the Life exercise was to give myself a quarterly review about my successes and shortcomings as a journal keeper, in direct response to my conditions of hiring at the beginning of this project. My supervisor and I 😉 pretty much see eye-to-eye on things, so I’m looking forward to improvement in the next quarter (OK, and I’m a little nervous about keeping a commitment to improving as well.)

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My Last Day of One Job, Embarking on Another

May 3, 2013

Yesterday was my last official day as Teen Services Librarian for the Marshall-Lyon County Library. My heart is sort of breaking over it–I loved that job so much, but it was a two-hour commute, one way, once a week. I’m still processing all of that, and might blog about it more extensively, but for now, I’m working on a new writing “job” to help take my mind off it. I’ve started doing the weekly exercises in Sheila Bender’s A Year in the Life: Journaling for Self Discovery. Before embarking on them, she encourages you to “hire” yourself as a journal keeper. I found this exercise very empowering, because it allowed me to reflect upon how freakin’ qualified I am for the job. I definitely encourage other writers to try it. Below are some of my entries from the exercise, consisting of the Job Posting, My Application Letter, and the Interview.

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NaNoEdMo: A Little Like Being Locked in a Tower

March 18, 2013

Well, March is just a little over halfway over, and I’m barely a smidgen over the halfway mark for NaNoEdMo, clocking in this morning at 26.88 hours out of 50.

Despite putting in an hour and a half per day, the edits sometimes feel as if they are happening excruciatingly slowly. I guess that’s to be expected when one is revising not just any first draft, but one that was written during the “anything goes!” frenzy of NaNoWriMo. Still, it kind of boggles my mind to know that it took me less time to write this story than to edit it — by the midpoint in November, I had made it further writing than I’ve made this month editing, despite the fact that I’m actually putting in more time. That’s right, it takes more time to rearrange words than it takes to throw them all over the page.

I’m also noticing something interesting about working on Rapunzel for my NaNoEdMo project. It’s starting to feel claustrophobic. It’s sometimes excruciating to spend an hour and a half in that tower every day, with only Rapunzel, her cat, and the witch for company. That hour and a half often crawls by. When the timer goes off, I’m usually eager to leave. Free at last!!

But when you do a writing challenge like this, and must return to your project in a dedicated way day after day after day, regardless of what else you’re trying to accomplish as your life continues to go on around you, you’re not ever really free of it. And I think that’s why these challenges work so well for those who choose to accept them. And I’ve found that although I’m not a huge fan of competition, I’m incredibly competitive against myself, so I rarely let myself off the hook when I take on these projects even though there isn’t nay “real” consequence for failing to finish them (you know, the way there are “real” consequences for if I don’t make as much money as I should this month.)

Overall, this has been a very rich experience for me with this particular story because it drives home the isolation and claustrophobia of the tower in a way that working on it a little here, a little there, as time and life allows, never could. Even NaNoWriMo didn’t really impress it on me. Although I had to return to it every day, my output was frantic, stream-of-consciousness, and rushed. I could skim the surface, throw those words down, and get the hell out as soon as possible.

Rapunzel didn’t have that option. And I’m getting a taste of what that must have been like this month.

New Year’s Writing Resolutions 2013

December 31, 2012

Well, I hope I’m not jumping the gun too much when I say that the world didn’t end in 2012 — which is great, because it means I have more time to write (and even to write about the world ending!). So without further ado, these are my writing resolutions for 2013:

  1. To up the ante on submissions from once a month to once a week.
  2. To bring Rumpled through one more round of revisions, and hopefully have it “submission-ready” at some point this year.
  3. To begin revising my Rapunzel retelling.

My New Year’s Resolution last year was to submit once a month, which I mostly pulled off with eleven submissions for the year. I missed April. Weddings are not good for writing (but marriage is!) Although it’s not an official resolution, I’ve found myself recommitted to journaling after my Writing Our Way Toward Wholeness workshop, so I’m hoping to journal more often in 2013 as well.

All this time off for the holidays has been nice, but it’s been a plague for my writing, which thrives in routine. I’m looking forward to establishing my routine again after the New Year begins. For Christmas, though, I did get this nice article from the National Catholic Reporter, which mentions Hungering and Thirsting for Justice.

I hope you’ve all had lovely holidays, and I wish you a happy New Year. Feel free to share your writing resolutions if you have them!

NaNoWriMo: Week Three

November 19, 2012

So, supposedly Week Three is where things are supposed to start coming together. This is where the NaNo journey gets better. Although I’m not quite seeing it yet … I’m still struggling through mid-novel insecurity, and the negligence of many other areas of my life for the sake of this novel is beginning to have an effect. My dear husband finally cleaned the bathroom tonight. I finally walked my dog and got new tires. The dishes remain undone, and this blog post is being written at the last possible moment so I can still cross it off my list for Monday.

More than with my other NaNo novels, this one has me already thinking about what I’ll do in revisions before the first draft is done. I’m finally starting to get a handle on the prince’s character after writing him for a week, thanks to a conversation over pizza with my husband. Now I’ll need to go back to make his behavior so far consistent with what I’ve discovered.

This week has also brought me the most explicit “love” scene I’ve ever written (yes, “love” is being used as a stand-in for a more explicit word ;)). In the traditional fairy tale, Rapunzel becomes pregnant with twins while she’s still locked in the tower, so we can figure it out. And although I’m usually a “pan-away” sort of author with such scenes, that wasn’t going to get me a whole lot of words. So I spelled it out. And I’ll probably go back and “unspell” most of it later.

I’m still struggling with whether a single-person point of view is best for telling this story. Initially, I thought about doing it from both Rapunzel’s and the witch’s perspectives, and now I’m thinking that I’d like to give the prince a chance to say his piece, too. There are certain things that just will never be revealed through Rapunzel, since her experience of the story is rather limited (the whole locked-in-a-tower thing.) On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to be gained in such a limited perspective, both for the way it challenges the writer and the way that it keeps the tension higher for the reader (what ARE those other characters doing?). So, if I get desperate for words, I may play around with some scenes from other PoV’s, but I’m hoping to try all 50,000 words from Rapunzel first and then take it from there.

Now that NaNo is over halfway finished, my momentum has slowed and I’m usually writing the bare minimum most days rather than the more ideal 2,000 words-per-day I started out with (so glad I built that cushion.) But I’m still on-target as far as word-count goes for this part of the journey, even though my progress has slowed.

And now that the end is in sight, I’m looking forward to doing the following things when November is over …

  1. Writing in my journal
  2. Writing book reviews
  3. Sleeping
  4. Earning more money (because my finances is one of the areas that’s taken a hit this month)
  5. Using my “get out of fiction writing free” card again (which I usually invoke on days that I do other projects to further my writing goals, like blogging)

Oh, I can still invoke that card, but it comes at a high word-count price, so I use it sparingly.

A few things I hope to take with me when NaNoWriMo is over:

  1. A life that continues to prioritize my writing (currently, “word count” is in my top three goals for the day every day)
  2. The delicious feeling of being immersed and inspired in a world of your own creation
  3. A shiny new novel!

Don’t Write Until You’re Excited?

September 17, 2012

The September 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest features an interview with Chris Cleave, author of the best-selling Little Bee. When asked for his advice to writers, he says this:

“Make sure you’re excited about your work. When you research a story, it should feel like life and death. And when you come to writing it, it should feel like, It will be devastating for me if I don’t make this story as exciting as I know it can be. You should get up every day and think, If I’m not super excited about the 2,000 words I’m going to do today, how can I make it so I am super excited? It should never feel like a chore. If it ever gets boring, the reader can tell. You need to put the pen down and change something, and not come back to the desk until you’re excited about the line or chapter you’re about to write.”

I always read Writer’s Digest with a pen in hand, and in the margins next to this paragraph, I drew a big question mark. I think I disagree with Chris on this one. While I think it’s definitely a good idea to try to psych yourself up and to get excited about what you’re going to write, and to examine your piece closely when it does start to bore you, I don’t think it’s safe to leave the work alone until you are excited about it. Nor do I think the reader can necessarily tell where your enthusiasm has waned. I’ve often had the rude awakening of reading back over work I wrote full of excitement and inspiration, only to find that it’s no better (and is sometimes even worse) than scenes I’ve written where each word felt like it had to be wrenched out of some quicksand pit in my mind to be put on the page.

It’s fairly common for writers to experience a “lull” mid-story, when the initial excitement has worn off and the momentum of the end being in sight hasn’t begun. One of the biggest challenges facing new writers is getting past this and finishing their stories. Many writers who lose their “excitement” over a work in progress end up starting something new that feels more exciting; until that one becomes boring, at which point there’s another new beginning; until soon you have file drawers full of half-finished manuscripts with none of them anywhere close to being ready to see the light of day.

So my modification of Chris’s advice would be this: If you’re not excited, see whether you can do something to get excited (brainstorm ideas in your planning notebook, take a walk to mull over your story, read over a scene that you’re really proud of, journal about what made you want to write this story in the first place). But if you can’t get excited, write anyway. The last thing we writers need is one more excuse to abandon our craft.

My rigorous new writing schedule

September 3, 2012

I always do my best and most productive writing at times when I have a set routine, which is one of the reason I do so poorly with my writing when I’m going through big transitions. Now that my life has evened out sufficiently after the wedding, move, and new/shifting jobs, I’ve formalized my schedule even more — it helps me not to feel like there’s no way I’ll ever get it “all done,” and so far, it’s increased my writing productivity. It looks like this:

Mondays – I blog here. (This has been a staple of my “schedule” for a while, since I noticed that if I didn’t have a set time to do it, I wasn’t very good about posting regularly to my blog.)

Tuesdays – Every other Tuesday, I write for Young Adult Catholics. I used to cross post links to everything I wrote there, but I haven’t been as good about that lately. My most recent posts have been about praying at work and Natural Family Planning (The NFP post is currently the “top post” for the blog).

Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday – I work on my fiction. For now, that’s my Rumplestiltskin retelling.

Friday – I buckle down and work on studying my craft, preferably for two to four hours. This includes reading my back issues of Writers Digest and The Writer, reading books helpful to my writing, and working through the training modules on Scribendi (available to editors only). Currently, I’m reading Self-Promotion for Introverts by Nancy Ancowitz, in hopes that it will help me feel more comfortable with book promotion.

Thursdays I usually don’t write at all because I spend four hours traveling and eight hours working.

So far, I’m finding that the schedule makes me more productive. I think it’s partly because I thrive under routine, but also that it lends a sense of urgency to my writing, especially when it comes to my fiction. I’m worst about procrastinating when it comes to fiction writing because there’s no immediate audience and because it demands the most creative energy from me. But I want to finish my Rumplestiltskin revisions, and knowing now that I only have three days a week to do that (four when I’m on an  “off” week for the YAC blog) is a great motivator. It reminds me of how people often, paradoxically, get the most done when they’re most busy. The most busy I’ve probably ever been was the summer before I went to college, when I was working three jobs to save up money for a trip to Disney World. A lot of things suffered during that time (probably most of all my mental health), but my writing didn’t — because I knew that one hour in the morning before I left for work was the ONLY time I’d get for writing all day — and I took it.

And I like that this gives all my different writing “muscles” regular exercise. Since it’s a Monday, I’m blogging here — but since it’s also a holiday, I plan to do a little bit of fiction writing and development, too. My husband is devoting the day to working on his website, so I have a long, uninterrupted alone stretch spreading out ahead of me. I wish I could spend the whole day writing, but I should probably pay some bills and get caught up on email, too. Still, writing first!