Bare List on Writing Through the Struggle

I’ve started this blog 17 different times because I cannot find the words to accurately express the heartbreak today has wreaked on my psyche. While it’s not the most devastating of days I’ve ever survived, it’s been a struggle. Not in the “oh hell it’s Monday” way but in the “oh hell, how am I possibly going to handle my life” way. Between scheduling meetings, working, and hauling the kids to school, I’ve had to make time to have a long and emotional conversation about blending families and holidays. Literally, I found myself in tears three times before 9 a.m.

By the time I sat down at my computer to write, I felt defeated. I was robbed of my inspiration and my anxiety made it hard to even sit still. I was at a pinnacle moment of my Nano novel, a piece that’s been nagging at my peripheral for months, begging for attention and demanding to be heard. I am so excited about this work and this scene is crucial. I looked at the words from last night on the screen and felt like there was no way I could do the story justice today. I wasn’t good enough. Everything I could say today would be worthless anyway and I have so much going on. Did I even have a right to be writing? Thanksgiving is upon us, it’s a short work week and clients want to check-in before they depart for the holidays. My family’s scheduling was a nightmare, I have checks to various charities waiting to be written. The kids have activities. The family calendar hanging to my right hasn’t been updated since SEPTEMBER. There’s laundry to do, decorations to put up, the list goes on. Why should I even be writing?  I’m failing at everything else, why not just fail at writing, too? I mean, I’m going to anyway. I don’t have what it takes to live up to this moment. Not now.

I thought about it. I thought about packing it up and letting today go. “You’ll have time later. You’ll feel better later,” I tried to lie to myself, but I knew neither was true. I’m not going to get any less busy, at least not anytime soon. So, I took a deep breath and I wrote. I struggled through the words, tears leaking from my eyes at the emotional torment of the early day as well as my story. I wrote until I had to stop for an emotional phone call and then I wrote again as soon as the business was handled. I wrote as the word count slowly ticked up-50, 100, 150. I wrote as I fought to piece together the scene the way I knew it deserved to be done. I wrote though I cried, I wrote though I doubted myself, and then…I wrote because I was in the scene.

Without realizing it, my writing switched from pain to purpose. The words came easily and as my stomach ached with hunger, I realized that I had written without pause, without thought of anything outside of myself or the story for almost two hours. Almost 2,500 words had escaped my fingers and I had only fought for maybe 500 of them. It’s not the most I’ve ever gotten through in a sitting. I’ve certainly seen more impressive counts from a host of fellow writers and Nanoers, but it was a count I didn’t believe I could reach when I sat down. It was an achievement my evil inner critic had berated me into thinking was unfathomable.

I share this with you, not because of the pride I feel, but because I know that we all have that doubt. Life throws a lot at us, more than we can ever hope to manage, and it’s so easy to start listening to our fears, depression, and anxiety. Writing can so often be the easiest thing to neglect when those negative thoughts invade our brains because we believe that there has to be this perfect mix of inspiration and desire to do our stories justice. I’m here to tell you, that is untrue. I wrote today, despite the fact I didn’t want to. Despite the fact I felt like I had nothing to offer, I gave myself over to my work because I know that the long term pride I will experience completing this outweighed the short term pit of yuck that I was experiencing. Bonus: I feel better. Maybe I am failing at everything else, but at least I won at writing, and that’s a start. It’s forward motion.

So, friends. Today, or any day, that you’re struggling, I hope you remember that you can write through it. Though it seems impossible, just get to the computer, grab a pen and paper, whatever. Just start writing. Just keep writing. I promise, it will get better.

P.S. I’m not actually failing at everything, my inner voice is just a real f*ckhead sometimes.

Have you been in the struggle? I will grab a drink a settle in to struggle with you.

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 Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List on Why NaNoWriMo

Halloween, Thanksgiving, hoodies, changing leaves, the sweet smell of autumn pies baking in the oven. These are a few of my favorite fall things, but at the top of that list is one of my favorite fall traditions: Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. If you’re new to the writing world, you may not be familiar with the 501(c)3 charitable organization encouraging us all to novel out 50,000 words in 30 short days, but you should be…nay, you NEED to be. Even if you’re an experienced writer with a number of books on the shelf, NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity to reignite your writing process. Why is National Novel Writing Month how you need to be spending your November? I’m glad you asked because I’ve made a list:

You Can Do It, And You Deserve to Know That- If you’re new to the game, fifty-thousand words may sound like a lofty and even unrealistic goal, especially in thirty small days that include a busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But that’s only because it is an insanely lofty goal, but I promise you it is NOT unattainable. When the pressure is on, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you’re able to accomplish, especially with the wealth of inspiration and information provided by the organization and community. You deserve the pride in a job well done on November 30th and all you have to do to make that happen is get started. Once you’ve got that first 50 out of the way, you’ll have the confidence to take on any writing challenge.

It’s the Wrecking Ball of Writer’s Block- So, you’re an old pro at writing. You know you can write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hell, your publisher expects you to do it in 3. You’re past NaNoWriMo, right? Wrong. If you’re struggling with new material or having trouble finessing an arc with a current project, NaNoWriMo is perfect for you. Pounding through those words with the pressure of a time-constraint but freedom of WHATEVER YOU WANT is an amazing combination for spurring your creative brain into action.

Great Community of Avid Writers- Writing can be an isolating profession or hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. While you might not have many “real-world” friends that share your zeal for character development or unexpected plot twists, NaNoWriMo does. It’s a huge community of people of varying experience levels as passionate about writing as you. You can make friends, meet mentors, or encourage a new generation of writers.

Bragging Rights-  We can pretend that this is a totally philosophical endeavor for self-evolution and improvement (which it is) but come on, you WANT to tell people you did this. It’s an awesome accomplishment. But, it’s not bragging if you can back it up, right? And you can because NaNoWriMo will reward you with an exclusive Winner’s Package.

Great Experience for a Great Cause- There is an exhaustive list of reasons why this is an outstanding experience for writers. Seriously, this little barely even skims the surface, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what a great mission the organization strives to achieve. NaNoWriMo and it’s various programs promote writing fluency creative writing education, promote communities to ensure the proliferation of the written word, provides free materials for libraries and community centers.

There’s plenty of time to sign up and get your profile ready. I’ll be adding my bare list of 50k words to those of the thousands of other avid writers and I invite you to do the same. NaNo Newb? Share your questions or concerns. Nano Pro? Leave your experience in the comments.

 

 

Bare List on Why Bare List

“Bare lists of words are suggestive to the imaginative and excited mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve received some questions regarding the inspiration of the title of this blog. The simple answer is that I love this quote and I thought it’d make a kick-ass title/theme. While this may be the shorthanded assertion you receive if we’re making small talk on the train, it doesn’t do justice to the reality of it’s selection. I do love this quote, not because of its eloquence and simplicity, but because it encapsulates everything about why I write. Why we all do. Why we write, why we read, why we have a never ending thirst to continue to give meaning to arbitrary words on a page.

As writers, we toil through endless iterations and reincarnations of what, in its simplest form, is nothing more than bare lists of words on a page. We read each one hoping our love/hate/passion/distress is conveyed to our readers in a way that reaches past the page and into their minds and hearts. It’s an absurd task that we give ourselves over to in the hope that even just one person will connect with these bare words. And the even more absurd thing it works.

The magic of these bare lists of words is that to those imaginative and excited minds, to our imaginative and excited minds, they evoke powerful emotions and connections. Their essence becomes personalized to each individual who sets about the task of imbibing them. What is nothing to one reader is everything to another. We can give these bare lists of words to hundreds of readers and each one will come away with a different interpretation. We can set them to music and people will fill amphitheaters to hear them. We can read them again and again and take away a different meaning each time. We can see ourselves reflected in the characters of a stranger. It’s amazing what these simple bare lists of words can accomplish. They can be our hope when we are filled with despair, they can be our friend when we are alone, they tell our story when we’ve lost the strength to tell it ourselves.

So, on my dark writing days when the words on the page won’t work for me. When no matter how hard I try those words will take on no life or meaning, I remember that to those excited minds, that bare list of words can mean anything and I’m able to keep writing.

That’s why Bare List of Words. What’s your inspiration? What inspired your blog and what inspires you to keep writing?