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Whatever Happens, Stay Busy.

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans! Hope you’ve been enjoying your leftovers and have a lovely (and possibly lazy) weekend! I cooked the bird yesterday due to the Scotsman being away for work on Thursday, but it was lovely having friends over and even watching of bit of the Macy’s parade online.

I’m about to admit something I’m not proud of. This week, I did what I’ve done the past several years, and that’s listen to the little voice whispering in my ear that the holidays means people don’t really read emails or have the chance to consider them until into the New Year, and that somehow negatively affects me.

Why does this make me worry? Well, in my head, I feel like it’s time where I won’t hear answers, and therefore can’t make progress — but worse is the fear I’ll be forgotten and shuffled into a pile of dustbunnies in the corner, because HOLIDAYS, and therefore, any answers I might be waiting on will blink out of the realm of potential.

Falmouth sunrise
Falmouth sunrise

What a negative viewpoint, right? And how self-centered! I can hear you thinking it. Honestly, I should be focused on my family and making holiday memories rather than worrying about the career goal and dreams I’ve been working toward all these years … right? Or can’t I do both?

I realized after sharing my concerns with a friend how accustomed I am to finding yet more ways to worry about what I’m waiting for. It’s a timely blunder as I’m currently reading Wendy Pope’s inspiring and uplifting WAIT AND SEE.

Every day is a chance to keep up that progress I want to see on my end — and that’s all I can EVER do. So I can’t worry about things like this. It’s out of my control — it was never IN my control, no matter what time of year it is. I’m also reminded again of my favourite read of last year, BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert:

  • You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
  • The results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself.
  • The ones who stand at the gates of our dreams are not automatons. They are just people. They are just like us. There is no neat template that can ever predict what will capture any one person’s imagination, OR WHEN (emphasis mine); you just have to reach them at the right moment. But since the moment is unknowable, you must maximize your chances. Play the odds. Put yourself forward in stubborn cheer, and then do it again and again and again.
  • Whatever else happens, stay busy.

So instead of finding new ways to worry that actually only eat away at the very progress I’m concerned about, I’m spending this weekend doing the things that refuel my tank for the writing that happens throughout the week, and focusing my mind on what I can control. And wishing everyone a hopeful holiday season this year as we look for ways to help others in the days, weeks, and months to come. Roll on, 2017. <3

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Version 2

WIP Marathon February Check-In

A few days late. Fashionable, right?

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These Falmouth clouds mean business.
Last Report WC For WIP:

59,988 on my WIP, SAPPHIRA RISING.

Current Report WC For WIP:

About 75k for SAPPHIRA RISING, 1,297 for New Story A I just started, and 2,384 for New Story B. I have never written simultaneous novel first drafts before. This should tell you something. (See below).

Writing Issues This Month:

I deleted and I wrote, and I wrestled. I had some amazing (for me) word count days: 4,234 one day, 6,043 another, 5,000 another. I’m really proud of the fact that despite how I’ve struggled with this manuscript like no other, the words came out like water from a faucet. It’s just… they weren’t grabbing me. I loved some of the character ideas and worldbuilding and backstory, but I didn’t feel this pulsing NEED to be in my chair writing it, like I did with my first three manuscripts.

I’m still in love with the initial idea, but the words all felt flat. Usually first drafts are the hardest for me, but I felt like I might as well just take a box of letters and toss them into the air and type out whatever landed and I’d have as deep an emotional connection to it.

Bill Bear, moral support on writing trips.
Bill Bear, moral support on writing trips.

So, I did some soul searching, some crying (and moaning to my lovely CPs) and more crying, and yes, I prayed about this hot mess. Lo and behold, the day after I basically surrendered the story, and writing in general — not given up, mind you, just *surrendered* … as in, if this is not what I should be doing, I’m all ears — the next day, I sat down with a notebook and a pen and told my husband to not let me leave my office until I’d written 5 full pages of brainstorming notes.

He didn’t hold me to that, but he didn’t need to. I wrote three pages, and that was enough to ignite me again. I had a shiny new idea — for New Story A. And I’m super excited about it. But I *also* managed to tease out what I didn’t like about SAPPHIRA, what wasn’t working, and I rewrote the entire prologue and backstory. And now I feel like a new person.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Out of that 75k, there are lots of ideas and snippets of dialogue that are salvageable, but I have to face the facts that it was all an exercise in finding the story.

You can't go wrong with the hot chocolate at Gylly Cafe.
You can’t go wrong with the hot chocolate at Gylly Cafe.

I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser through and through. Diana Gabaldon says she doesn’t write in a straight line. She writes what she sees happening, scenes and dialogue that come to her, and figures out where to slot them in as she goes. She does a truckload of research, of course, and this probably feeds into those somewhere-scenes, but I admire her for that. She’s not tied down to must create this in the order it is told on the page.

And why should we be? Maybe some people can ONLY work that way and that’s absolutely fine! But it’s so freeing to see, in practical terms, that this might be how I work best, too. Films are made that way, so why not books? Whatever scene can be practically shot next, whatever makes sense for the production crew and makeup and costume and locations and weather and everything else. So of COURSE books can be written the same way. It seems so simple, now that I’ve experienced it, and it gives me a kind of freedom I hadn’t expected.

All that to say, this is my first experience of writing so many words that I’m not keeping. I’ll open two Scrivener windows and as I go, see what bits I can save, but this isn’t about editing those 75k. It’s a fresh start. That’s really hard for an impatient person like me who feels like she’s been waiting a hundred years to find her agent and publisher and see a book of hers on a shelf. But that emotional connection is so critical. And I’m grateful to have found it!

Things I Learned About Writing This Month:

1) I can write more than one story at a time. In fact, switching gears actually seems to boost my creativity.

2) I can write short stories! At least, one! I took a Lit Reactor class with Richard Thomas and he managed to coax out of me my first ever completed short story! I used it as an exercise to flesh out backstory of a side plot in A SIGHT OF NEVERSEA, so it wasn’t completely new ideas, but it’s just over 4k and I’m stunned I managed to do it.

3) I learned that I can edit like a BOSS. While I was doing all this writing this month, I also managed to cut … wait for it … 5,000 words from one manuscript, and close to 4,000 from another. And that wasn’t cutting “unnecessary side plots” because I don’t think I have any of those left. That was cutting redundant phrases and adverbs. And wow. Does it make a difference.

4) Check out this post Chuck Wendig put up, if you haven’t already. He talks about simplicity in writing. It’s really perfect. But here are the highlights that spoke to me:

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What distracted me this month when writing:

The fun stuff: I got a new tattoo! My first in about 11 years. And my first not with my friend’s husband who’s an amazing artist in Nashville, TN.

The unfun stuff: not knowing if I should carry on. Doubting my ability and my voice, which is the worst thing to doubt because I’ve been writing for the best part of ten years, seriously, and to doubt the way my voice has grown through that time is really painful. My voice will never be for everyone. I just hope and pray that it might be for some. Also unfun was considering trashing SAPPHIRA and moving on, until I reread bits of Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, like this one which was incredibly apt:

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Goals For Next Month
:

I’d like to say finish the first draft of SAPPHIRA RISING but due to stuff happening at the end of the month, that’ll be very hard. I would be happy with 10k a week on SAPPHIRA and 5k a week on New Story A. And go from there.

I hope my fellow #WIPMarathon-ers had a successful February! Onwards and upwards!

Facing toward Swanpool in Falmouth.
Facing toward Swanpool in Falmouth.
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Version 2

#WIP Marathon — January!

Last report word count:

When last I left my WIP, SAPPHIRA RISING, I was at about 20k, with a load of backstory and character arcs written out on top of that…

Current word count:

…but, somehow, despite feeling not *fabulous* about my progress in January — you know, berating myself for too many breaks, too many internet black-holes, not enough consistent daily habits — I somehow managed to get the WIP up to a whopping 59,988!

If this t-shirt would suit you like it would me (though I did a film degree, not English. Sentiment’s the same!) …

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… then to help you out 😉 that means I somehow got almost 40k done in January! WOOHOO! Not including all the other stuff I wrote that WASN’T this WIP.

WIP Issues This Month:

I’ve been away from this WIP for since early summer, busy on other manuscripts and online writing classes. I realized the truth in something Delilah Dawson said in her LitReactor class on world building back in Nov/Dec. As I mentioned last month, she said she sees first drafts as carrying hot laundry from the dryer. You need to hold all of it tightly and walk as fast as you can. If you drop stuff, you have to go back and find it. If you go too slow, it gets cold.

I loved this analogy, but this month, I recognised its applicability. I let this WIP go cold, and as a result, had to work really hard to find any spark in it. I should have written it when the idea first came, but my writing brain was occupied by other stuff. I’m not 100% back in love with the original idea, but at least after January, I can say I’m rolling out the words again, and maybe a *new* spark for me — for this story — will ignite.

And as for first drafts, these two recent tweets spoke to my soul. Maybe you can relate, too:

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Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 2.14.16 pm

That’s the best way I’ve ever seen to summarise first drafts:

“Here’s the worst version of this scene I could write. Moving on.”

That should be my aim. In fact, I want to write that on a Post-It and stick it to my monitor whenever I’m first-drafting.

Four things I learned this month in writing:

Apart from the above, there’s also everything I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s rad book, BIG MAGIC. Walk, do not run, to your nearest bookstore or Amazon and buy this book. I’ve never read EAT, PRAY, LOVE nor anything else by her. But this book picked me up from a dark place and put me on my feet. And each time negative thoughts have encroached on my flow, I’ve gone back to highlighted passages. I went to a café and copied all the best bits into the back of my daily planner, so they’re there, with me, all the time. Reminding me.

One of my favourites:

“The ones who stand at the gates of our dreams are not automatons. They are just people. They are just like us. There is no neat template that can ever predict what will capture any one person’s imagination, or when; you just have to reach them at the right moment. But since the moment is unknowable, you must maximise your chances. Play the odds. Put yourself forward in stubborn cheer, and then do it again and again and again.”

(emphasis mine).

What distracted me this month while writing:

David Bowie. Alan Rickman. The days we learned of the deaths of these two wonderful artists, I felt physically hit by a wave of loss. I’m writing a very belated blog post about this that I’ve not put up yet. That was an extremely emotional week, especially given of course that I didn’t know either personally, and I can’t begin to imagine what their families and loved ones are going through now. I’m just another fan and appreciator of all they did. But wow. I hadn’t expected the impact.

On the bright side, I dove into Bowie’s music and Rickman’s work with renewed love, and am inspired more than ever.

Gylly Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall
Sunrise on Gylly Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall

On another bright note, I then went to Falmouth, Cornwall for another writing retreat for five entire days. (I know, right? I’m trying to enjoy it while I can). I got a lot of thinking, reading, and writing done, so while this could have been a major distraction, the weather was decent enough that I got out for seaside walks but didn’t sit lost in people-watching all day. I actually sat in my closet of a hotel room most of the time, pounding away at the keyboard.

Goal for next month:

I’d hoped to get 50k written in my WIP during January, but since I got almost 40k + a few thousand on two separate stories, plus my first completed short story ever (4k) through a 2-week Lit Reactor class with Richard Thomas on short story mechanics, I’m absolutely thrilled with my progress so far in 2016. Praise God.

So for February, I’d like to finish my WIP first draft, and finish the edits on my last MS that I thought were long done. But no. An adverb hunt led from one thing to another. It’s amazing how in love you can grow with the adverbs that have been in your story since the beginning. You feel like they’re part of the DNA. I’m here to say, THEY ARE NOT. CUT. Cut the ones you don’t need! I’m leaving in a few that I think are integral to the tone, mostly in dialogue. I don’t think you need to cut them all, but just try it. Cut out an adverb you’ve been clinging to for months, and then re-read the entire paragraph, and come back and tell me it doesn’t sound cleaner, neater, more elegant. 🙂

Last 250 words:

This is so very first-drafty. But I haven’t done it in awhile, so here’s something.

“Fretting doesn’t suit you, Charon,” came Galen’s voice from the tank. “And it’s unnecessarily. It’s my fault. I told you people on Staffa were after me. I stole tech from Staffa when Arthur was still alive. He required help with a project, and that was the easiest source for the parts he needed. I got them, but not before being ID’ed, and banned from entering this sector. They only discovered it was me four years ago, but when they did, they had my commanding officer inject me with tracer fluid.”

“So if you flew in this sector, an alert would go up. Great. But why the hell did this affect Sapphira just now? What’s going on?” Jericho stood and leaned over the tank, glaring down at Galen’s face.

Galen sounded like he might shrug if he was attached to a body. “I went rogue, shortly after.”

“I can understand why,” said Charon.

“But why Sapphira?”

“I suspect those on Staffa raised an energy field when the tracer fluid set off alarm bells. The timing of the field raising must have coincided with your download of my memories back into my brain. This set off a reaction, like static electricity, only much more powerful, and as Sapphira was touching me . . .” His voice trailed off. “Also, you’ll find this cruiser is unable to pass out of the field.”

“Lovely,” muttered Jericho. “We’ll see about that.” He pulled up a chair to the comm panel and Charon got out of his way. “I’ll see what I can do. Charon, see if you can get that tracer fluid out of Galen’s head. We need to get the hell out of here before his old friends lock on.”


If you’re writing, I hope you have a fabulous and productive February 🙂 The days are getting longer! Hooray!

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