Bare List on Nanover

Yesterday, I completed the annual challenge so many authors inexplicably take on despite its obvious opposition to better sense and reason. Yes, I’m talking about Nanowrimo. I wrote my way across the finish line yesterday, and despite the lack of trumpets and balloons, it was a thrilling moment for me. While it’s not my first victory, it was my most stressful battle, which is really saying something because past Nano’s I have been either a single working mother at a high level marketing job while also launching my own small business or the married mother of a two month old who just added a new baby to the mix. Now though, I am solely focused on writing and my small business, the is now a toddler in preschool, and the oldest is double digits. Also, I was super excited to use the event to get started on a narrative that had been nagging at me for a while.

“This will be cake!” I proclaimed on November 1st as I banged out the first 3,000 words without even breaking a sweat. Then God laughed and the trouble began. There were some expected obstacles, like the half-marathon I was running in another state. This was a relatively big deal because I am not a distance runner. I am very fit and active (strong body, strong mind, right?). I love 5ks, obstacle courses, and mud runs, but I can think of zero good reasons to run for 13.1 miles. Like, none. Even if something was chasing me, I’d just lay down and let it eat me around mile 6 cause I mean, damn. Unfortunately, one of my best friends created a good reason for me, or more aptly her sister did. You see, her sister, who was only a month older than myself, passed away entirely unexpectedly earlier this year. She left behind a husband, two children, and my devastated best friend. The sister had always wanted to be a runner but health issues kept her from it, so my best friend decided we would run a half and dedicate it to her memory. I would rather write 13.1 thousand words a day for the rest of my life than run 13.1 miles just once, but I did it. I braved the early morning on four hours of sleep, ran all the miles, and made the two hour drive home. Oh, and did I mention I did that while in pain and projectile puking because I have a hormone imbalance that is wreaking havoc on my person? Cause I did. I did that. What I did not do, was write.

So, there was day one with no words. Then a host of other things collided. There were holiday scheduling discussions, meal planning, co-parenting struggles with the oldest father, fall ball, etc. It was a mess, but we survived…until the plague. The stomach bug, that I can only assume is sweeping the nation because it is all over my Twitter, invaded our household via the toddler. This resulted in baby’s first trip to the emergency room and another lost day of writing for mom, which was especially hurtful because we were supposed to be traveling to see my family for Thanksgiving, so not only did I miss them, I missed those valuable writing hours in the car. (I feel like I should throw in here that in life, it hurt me entirely worse to have a sick baby and miss my family than miss the writing. I need for that to be clear, because I am a Nano nut, but I also have priorities).

Then, like it hadn’t done enough, it got my husband and took me down shortly thereafter. It was madness to try to keep the big one healthy while the three other members of his household and over half his class were succumbing to the vileness. Another lost day of writing, and honestly, Zofran was the sole reason it wasn’t even more than that.

Added to that was a litany of other obstacles of varying emotional and creative sizes. My husband worked from home on more than one of my work days, which doesn’t sound like it should interfere and he really does stay the heck out of my way, but just him being there breathing my air makes it difficult for me to get my rhythm. One of my best friend’s daughters has hit the teenage years and is making the WORST choices and we’re trying to band together to be a village in raising this child, but we have no idea what we’re doing because it’s been two decades since we were 14 and there’s obvious communication barriers, my son’s best friend’s mother has been going through a breast cancer scare and we won’t know if we can call it just a scare until tomorrow. The holidays are hard because I’ve lost a lot of super important members of my family in rapid succession and I’m still getting used to the new normal. It was just a lot.

I wanted so badly for life to just slow down, for clients to stop calling, for issues to stop popping up, to have a safe place to worry and grieve, and to not run 13.1 miles. But, those weren’t options. Which, I guess is why I share this with you because all of us are dealing with stuff we’d just rather not. Cancer is an asshole, empty seats at the holidays are heart-wrenching, raising children is scary, work-life balance is a fictional carrot at the end of stick, chasing your passion is a hard fought battle, and running sucks. These are universals. Okay, maybe there are some people out there that would disagree on that last point, but they’re wrong or on better drugs than me. For the most part though, we are all dealing with versions of these hardships. Your cancer may be chronic illness, your missing loved one may be a spouse you’re separated from, but we are all dealing with stuff and we all fight on and that’s kind of freaking awesome. Truly, it’s a victory that we all continue to get up everyday and not just survive, but thrive. It’s amazing that even after the days we fail, we come back for more. We keep getting up, even if we’ve got to lay down for a moment.

For NaNoWriMo, whether you won with 315,000 words (that is an actual number I saw, hand to gosh. That is not my number. My book is still a chapter or two away from being finished and even then won’t hit 90,000) or you didn’t hit the target and ended with 25,000 or less, you won. You won by putting words on the page. You won by breaking through all the shit we have to live through, work through, survive through everyday to put in the hard work to follow your dream. That’s impressive y’all, and I am so down proud of everyone that tried.

Bare List on The First Draft

It’s that time of year again. A time that new and established authors alike gather to defy the clock and better judgement to bring their characters to life through writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. We are thirteen days into NaNoWriMo and that means that your social media feeds are filled with word counts and declarations of early victory, but amid that chorus of cheer and exuberance are silent cries of self-doubt and even defeat. I hear those cries. I see them in the absence of updates from a once elated newbie. I see them in the lamentations of the disenchanted first-timers disappointed in their work. While I see it more this time of year, it is there throughout the course of the year. Every time someone sits down to write a first draft. The words start flowing as a dream comes to fruition but the fear, doubt, writers block, and sometimes just life step in and rob us of our vigor, our determination. You might think that this is an affliction specific to the first time writer, because seasoned writers, we know that this happens EVERY SINGLE TIME so surely we are prepared. Surely we can shake it off and continue pounding out the words, but this is not always the case, because doubt lies. It pretends that this time is different. That we may have survived before, but surely we can’t again. So, for those that are experiencing it for the first time or need a reminder, I’m here with tips for fighting what I have deemed the First Draft Fear Monster.

FDFM is a beast that attacks writers at they fight to complete a first draft. Its weapons include but are not limited to: making you want to scrap every word (maybe the entire concept) because it tells you this brilliant work is stupid, it tells you every word is wrong and illogical, makes you doubt that you can ever accomplish this dream, tries to get you to shelve your work, and generally steals your desire, maybe even ability, to write. It’s soul crushing enemy, but I promise you it is beatable. Here’s how:

  1. Redefine Your Expectation – A lot of writers, especially newbies, think that a great book is written on the first time out. That the purpose of the first draft is to put pen to page and create a work that simply needs a few typos fixed to be ready to go to print. That is categorically incorrect. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it’s rare and setting yourself up to that standard is asking for failure. Instead, think of yourself as a sculptor except you can’t just go out and buy a slab of marble, you have to create it. That is the first draft. You are building a giant hunk of rock that you can contour and detail, hammer at and cut away. It is not the masterpiece. It is the canvas on which you will create it.
  2. Don’t Get Married to Your Notions– Every author has started one story to end up in another. Every author has cut a character they thought they would love or changed a setting they once thought was important. You are not required to write anything. Having an idea does not set it in stone. If your story starts to go a different direction, let it. If an unforeseen character gnaws at the edges of your mind, give them a spotlight. Evolving your story line does not mean you have failed your novel. It means you have given it room to create itself.
  3. Forget Perfection – That’s not a thing right now. It may never be a thing. Even J.K. Rowling has things she would have done differently if she got a chance to write Harry Potter again for the first time. You are going to edit and edit and edit this thing and just when you think you can’t anymore, you will edit it again. Then, even when it’s published and on display for the world to see and you think “my gosh I’ve done it and it’s perfect” you will reread it and still come up with things, however minor, that aren’t perfect because perfection is impossible. Everything about writing is subjective, not just to the individual but to the individual’s mood, circumstances, hunger level, etc. I cannot iterate this enough. Perfection is the enemy of publication and you will kill yourself and your dream if you hold yourself to its fantasy.
  4. Change Your Definition of Failure¬†– The hard truth of embarking on any manuscript is that it may never succeed in being published. That does not make it a failure. It makes it a stepping stone to your ultimate goal. Harper Lee never would have published To Kill a Mockingbird if she hadn’t first written Go Set a Watchman and the world NEEDS To Kill a Mockingbird (GSaW maybe not as much). Writing is the only forum in which we hold our first attempt as the definition of success. You probably didn’t get the first job you applied for, but you learned how to get better at interviewing. You didn’t win the first marathon you entered, but you got better as you kept going. Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Simone Biles…they have all lost and they are all champions in their fields. Your current work isn’t the next great classic. So what? That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. That doesn’t mean it isn’t purposeful. That doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you are working towards success.
  5. Write¬†– There is this great misconception in the writing community that if you put things away, this spark of inspiration will hit you in the middle of the night or a big meeting and you will suddenly have all you need to steamroll to the end of your work. For most people, this is bull. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you put something on the shelf, it will stay there. Will you think of it? Sure, but then you’ll berate yourself for putting it there in the first place, then the FDFM will use it as ammunition to torture you with until you’ve lost your will to write again. The exclusive way to shut that lying beast up is to write. Write until your you’ve found the story. Write until it’s turned into a new story. Write until you can proudly proclaim to that monster “you are wrong. I know I can write because I have written” and when you’ve done that, write some more.

You are not alone. People out there pounding out the words, sending queries, and signing deals…they are not different than you. They just learned to fight the self-doubt, the agonizing pain of the writing process, and you will, too. The only way you can possibly fail is by not trying, and you’re here. You’re writing. Despite all the life, worry, time constraints, etc. Despite all of it, you are writing and that is how I know that one day you will be able to say “I have written”.

Share this with anyone succumbing to the First Draft Fear Monster. Have you battled and won? What tools would you add to the belt?

Bare List on Blankness

As the icy rain poured down over the back porch I took a deep swig of my dark roast coffee, it’s steam warming my face against the chill of the early morning and thought “This is a day God made for writing.” I opened my latest project full of quiet excitement for what this scenic day would bring. Those words that raced from my fingers days ago, that sparked awe and admiration as I pondered them in the dreary morning hour, now lay lifeless on the page. Where do they want to go? How can they have paved a path so clearly and now I can’t sense their direction?

Call it what you will: writer’s block, creative impasse, brain strike. It’s all blankness. An inability to coerce the story you know needs to be told to come to life on the pages in front of you. Everyone who’s picked up a pen or sat down at a desk knows the pain, the panic of reaching inside yourself and coming up blank. It’s a harrowing experience to have all of the right materials and none of the words, but what can I do?

I can write. I can force my fingers across the keyboard pounding out ideas I have no intention on keeping until I stumble across something that clicks. I can trust that the movement of my fingers will eventually rattle awake my sleeping brain and my creative mind will swoop in and takeover where my fingers have failed me, and so I do.

I write in the hopes that today will be more than it seems right now. I write trusting that I can do this, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Does it work? Not always. There are days I struggle for hours only to destroy everything because I never found my way, but there are days that I persist long enough that something beautiful happens. There are days I see myself over the struggle and on those days I am more proud of myself, my stamina than on any day when the words flow easily and effortlessly. It is for those days I write. Because I have to. Because whatever well-meaning outsiders may tell you, you will not tear down that blockade by forgetting about it. You will not break through that wall by trying to pretend it does not exist. No, the only way to keep writing is to start writing.

For those reasons, today I write. Though my mind is blank and my inspiration is lacking, today I write, and so should you.