It’s Okay to Say No

“Today is the first day of November and, so, today, someone will die. –The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

Not to be dramatic, but I always feel a side of fear with my excitement on
November 1st. Yes, you’ve guessed it. This is yet another post about NaNoWriMo, where writers world-wide converge into one collective unconscious creation amoeba and delve into a 50,000 word-writing sprint over the course of November’s 30 fall-flavored days.

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Since I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2013, this will be the first time I will not be participating[1]. Learning to manage expectations is just as much a part of a writer’s growth as learning the mechanics of writing. As I sit beside my writing and critique partner, whom I am also fortunate to have as a best friend, and she clacks away at her brand spanking new novel, I realize, for once, I do not feel envious of her ability to jump into new worlds with such ease. This is how she writes. She enjoys world-building, the excitement and possibility of beginnings, while I fear beginnings and yearn, from the outset, for the delicious center, where all the secrets begin to surface like bodies rising in the Dead Marshes. I’ve also been fortunate enough to view Maggie
Stiefvater’s seminar on writing
(which she’s offering for half off today!), and it has reinforced my instinct to hold off on putting this project down into words; the seminar teaches temperance as I hold my novel baby in the realm of perfect forms in the furnace of my brain and continue weaving it like candy floss in this space, safely hidden away from the imperfect translation of thought-to-word.

I completed an exercise from Stiefvater’s seminar to explore the mood and test which point of view this novel might work best in. As I wrote, I was freshly astounded at how stories are woven: an image that creates a story in your head and takes off on its own if you’re lucky or practiced. It seems like a random image that ignites a random movie that plays on your brain screen. However, both that seed of a story and the resulting array of Power Point slides stem from an infinite combination of stimuli and memories that make your unique map of synapses and the sparks traded between them like paper
fortune-teller predictions in grade school. So don’t discount the experience of just writing to write, without feeling like it has to fit in anywhere or be applied to any tangible Work or Project. Even if it never finds permanence in your body of work, it has done important work in your brain and exercised that story-telling instinct with which humans, in all of our pattern-seeking wiring, are born.

I used to think of myself as a procrastinator, when actually I am afraid to commit something to paper before I have an idea of what I’m setting out to do. Not necessarily an entire outline, but as Stiefvater beautifully puts it in her seminar, it is integral to the writing process to know what kind of book I want to hold in my hands at the end of it all, what kind of emotions I want the reader to feel during and days after reading it, and what I want them to remember, years later, about how they felt when they see it on their shelves. We are, after all, conductors eliciting a mood in our readers; we need to know the mood before we can adequately translate it. This has given me the peace to refrain from writing while I fill out its form in my head, letting the rain build before ripping the cloud apart. This takes less time for some people, like my writing partner who asked me to assign her a genre[2] and had a solid idea, characters, and pages of plot and dialogue in 24 hours. For me, it takes more.

I thought this would be a pep talk so that I didn’t feel some type of way about skipping NaNoWriMo, but it’s more of an affirmation that this is the right decision. And if this speaks to anyone else, then welcome to my kumbaya circle. I’m not a particular fan of Kenny Rogers, but I find myself returning to and adhering to the advice of “The Gambler” again and again. The chorus is as follows:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

All this just to say ‘intuition’ in a quirky, entertaining manner. Intuition isn’t some mystical otherworldly place you can only touch with meditation and burning sage (but our kumbaya circle does meet on Tuesdays to do this). Sometimes it takes practice, like anything else, to listen for its voice and know when to follow it. This little seed of a novel isn’t done germinating, so I do not yet know the shape of this very emotional, personal project. Therefore, I will continue slowly curating my playlist and Pinterest board–which has been overrun with wolves somehow–and cheering you all from the sidelines, whether you’re endeavoring to write 50,000 words this month or saying no to NaNoWriMo.

1Not including 2015, when my twins were 2 months old, but I wasn’t even human then, let alone a writer, so it doesn’t count.

2After reading through this for coherency, aforementioned writing partner/best friend wanted me to mention that I also gave her the idea for her main character and his goal, so as not to downplay my part in her NaNoWriMo project. *smirk*

The Horizon of Possibility

stargazing stock photo
Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

God, it’s been a long time. I blame work mostly, but before that it was a general lack of inspiration. I was even flirting with the idea of just never updating this blog again, but for some reason, I couldn’t let it go. Now that I have actual thoughts to relay, I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t even know if anyone is still with me, here. Hello? Is thing on?

Anyway. Nanofreakinwrimo brings me out of my self-imposed hermitude. (I’ve dutifully transcribed my experience with this novel writing month here, here, and yes, here) Possibility is in the air. Do you feel it? Do you see how it breathes through the leaves on the shivering trees? Wait. Is it growling? Just me? Okay. So many ideas and current works-in-progress to dedicate myself to, and I just want to–do them ALL. My gothic work in progress, Wrathmoor, that I’ve been writing since 2011; my contemporary work in progress The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, which just makes me giddy and terrified every time I think about it; the short story I wrote for a contest that didn’t win, but that I love so hard I want it to have a face so I can pinch its cheeks; and the poem that is writing itself in my brain right now, revealing itself to me from the end going backwards, so yeah, that should be interesting.

This month makes me want that exhilaration of a cause and accomplishment and fighting tooth and nail to do the thing I love and what matters to me. I will never have an acceptable answer that “demonstrates critical thinking” or is particularly unique and especially meaningful for why I love writing and why writing these novels matters to me. Why does a child love painting and drawing? Why do we love to go to parties? Or, contrarily, why do we love to stay in and submerge ourselves in fanfiction? Just because I don’t have a textbook or Nobel worthy answer for why I love it, is it any less valuable?

No.

This life is too transient to get caught up in abstract, diaphanous terms like Meaning and Purpose in attempting to justify why we do the things we love. You get all tangled up in Plato’s Perfect Forms, and when you live in an imperfect world, it’s just not an ideal place to be, am I right? So, I say to you, my friends, on this day of new beginnings, of fresh, dewy eyed wonder, go. Find your horizon of possibility. Grasp its coat tails and let it carry you through the night.

Anyone else venturing into the great beyond with National Novel Writing Month? What will you be working on? Something new or something you’ve already started? I’m curious to hear how other people do NaNoWriMo: a little every day until you reach 50,000? Or just push yourself into the project with more gusto during this month of possibility?

Resolving To Let It Go

This post revisits some of my goals I made on the new year.

Summer is in the air, which means the year is already half over. Summer has always given me a sense of urgency, a deep stirring I can’t quite shake (or maybe Vivaldi did that). This feeling is full of want and drive. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to do with all of that yearning, especially when you’ve conveniently forgotten all your New Year’s resolutions and intentions.

Resolutions? What resolutions?

As the year progresses, I often lose track of my well-meaning intentions, which means productivity turns into a mythical creature and flies away on newly minted wings. But I want to be better about spending less time trying to wind down on Instagram after my kids go to bed and more time producing work. Which brings us to revised goal #1, which may seem a bit counter-intuitive.

Let it go.

Hear me out.

For me, being my best self means being the most perfect mom possible but also someone who cares for herself, which means quiet reading time, keeping my body strong, and writing. This is a feat when I’m just trying to keep my cool with kids at that age where  controlling any aspect of their behavior requires dabblings in the occult–they’re extremely selective eaters, they tantrum daily, and they get into these manic moods where they just dart around like very large, very loud squirrels. I’ve been reading How Toddlers Thrive, which has helped me understand that letting a little of my control go can go a long way toward happy, healthy children. This will make for a happier mom and human being, which will ideally result in divine creative inspiration (right?!).

So the goal is to stop striving toward perfections, and let it go. I’m learning this with writing too.

Submit work

I have achieved a couple things on my list in 2017 in Review; 2018 Goals. I have already beat my number of submissions from last year. After one bout of divine inspiration for a flash fic and some serious work on a couple other projects, I have some stuff I’m pretty confident about. Problem is, all those polished pieces are out right now, and I’m in that purgatory of WAITING. Maybe someday in the near future I’ll have some good news to share on this front.

I also finished draft #3 of The Space Between Me and You, and I am 5 chapters into my current WIP and pretty dang happy with them. Despite these achievements, I wage a constant battle with the negativity that seems woven into the very fiber of my being telling me ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re raising your kids wrong’, ‘you can’t even get anything published when writing is what you do‘.

But like with loosening up on my reins in parenting, I’ve realized that every day, you have to make a choice. And sometimes, that choice involves letting go of your best laid plans. You have to embrace things the way they are, and no matter how strong that inclination is to control everything, you may never be happy if you don’t loosen up your expectations just a little.

Deadlines

I work best when I have deadlines–the distant memory of working on research papers down to the wire, procrastinating and then pulling off my best work when the time was nigh. Or the flash fic I wrote this year in response to a contest, which had to be submitted by a deadline. When I plan a critique meet-up with my partner, I make the words happen. And sometimes they are pretty good. However, when there is no goal, I exist in a pudgy, lackadaisical state of ‘maybe I’ll write tonight’, ‘after I finish cleaning the entire house, I’ll write’, or, my personal favorite, ‘maybe I’ll be inspired’. Therefore, I will be better about giving myself a time frame to have a chapter plotted or drafted by and keep track of my progress for motivation. It will also help me structure my free time better, so it isn’t all spent winding down on Instagram. 😮

Get active, stay active

  • I’ve been working out at least 3 days a week for 2 months now, and 5 days a week for 3 weeks!!! I also kept true to my goal to go on more adventures. Today, I encountered this handsome fella (coyote or kit fox? We may never know. Unless you do, then tell me, please), and also a piece of wood shaped like an Edvard Munch depiction of a lizard monster in agony. But you know, I was like whatever.20180625_070911
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  • I will be participating in Pitch Wars this year, so I’m getting my submitting goodies together (query letter, synopsis, and pitch) for The Space Between You and Me. Follow me on Twitter to watch me be awkward–digitally!
  • Plot and write Chapter 6 of my WIP; maybe outline the dang thing? But let’s not put the horse in front of the cart. Wait. That’s exactly what we want to do? Oh…

READ

Keeping myself buried in stories ignites all the hodgepodge stacks of kindling in my brain for my own stories. I am five books over the halfway mark to my goal of 40. It isn’t so much about the number, as it is about the goal to let myself revel in this almost completely indulgent pastime (hey, it’s research like 20% of the time at least) and to read widely.

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Some books I’m excited to read (be reading) this year: Contact by Carl Sagan, rereading the Harry Potter series so I can undertake The Cursed Child, of which I am wary, but I need it because it goes with HP, therefore it goes in my soul (Look, I don’t own a wand or a Dumbledore beard or anything, so I think we can all agree this obsession is safe). Also, mysteries! I have so many mouth-watering mysteries waiting for me to feast my very dry eyes upon.

So that’s my biannual checkpoint on my year’s intentions. My goals for the rest of the year are modest, but even taking the time to document them is an achievement in and of itself for me. 😉

How have you done on your resolutions or intentions for the year? Does summer make you productive or lazy?

 

2017 in Review; 2018 Goals

Reflecting on 2017 and looking forward at 2018.

I have a problem with negativity. Not in my life, but in my mind. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Fortunately,  these posts forcing me to acknowledge my accomplishments and give myself goals to be more mindful help me to exorcise a little bit of that pessimism. So thank you for being a reader and for any comment-love you’ve given. Know that I appreciate you.

So here is what my 2017 looked like and what I hope for 2018.

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2017 Achievements

  • I read 47 books of my goal of 30 (next post tallies my 2017 favorite reads), plus a TON of fanfic. Like, you have no idea. In retrospect, I might need a support group.
  • I submitted short stories 6 times and poetry 5 times, and I got 2 encouraging rejections back on one of my poems!
  • I finished my LGTBQ urban fantasy, The Space Between You and Me. 
  • Finished a 2nd draft of TSBY&M (I missed it, okay?!)
  • Between November 1st and December 31st I returned to my gothic WIP, Wrathmoor, that I had begun back in 2013 and stalled out on, and I wrote 8 chapters, totaling 52,780 new words written for the year (while listening to The Village soundtrack approximately 48 times).
  • I set up one bookshelf in my office, after a year and a half of living at my new place! And it’s pretty damn fine, just sayin’

  • I revamped and resurrected my Instagram to focus on one of my favorite things in the world: books!
  • Attended a Maggie Stiefvater signing that was just *kisses fingers*
  • I went on a writing retreat with my bestie
  • Alongside my husband, successfully grew two babies into mini-humans who talk, sing, throw tantrums, and celebrate the general chaos of life in high Dionysian fashion

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My goals for 2018:

  • Read 40 books. Follow me on Goodreads to see how I’m doing
  • Finish my office (maybe get on Annie Neugebauer’s The Decorative Writer, cause I’m a goal-oriented nerd like that)
  • Publish a poem, short story, or article. If I achieve this in 2018, I am allowing myself to buy a domain for my website, so simple domain name and no more ads! (Apologies for any assault upon your person those ads may have wrought)
  • Finish 3rd draft of The Space Between You and Me, polish a blurb and synopsis, and begin the submission process
  • Finish 1st draft of Wrathmoor
  • Brainstorm for what will be my 8th novel, The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, a contemporary/literary mystery with sparks of fantasy shot through. Comparable titles are Byatt’s Possession and The Madwoman Upstairs. Though this idea is probably entirely out of my depth, I am really looking forward to it.

Some less specific goals:

  • Write at least once a week.
  • Reflect often on the positive things in my life
  • Embrace, appreciate, and love my life, because it’s mine and no one else’s. This goes hand-in-hand with not comparing myself or my work or my life to others’.  Everyone’s got their own things, and yeah, it’s cool I can kill cacti (yeah, multiple) with almost no effort at all and play the opening of Malaguñea on guitar and nothing else. I’m gonna own it.
  • Take adventures. I often idly wish I could travel, but I’ve decided I am going to be a bit more spontaneous about this desire and just get out there and do stuff. Our little town has quite a few places for good close-to-home adventure. I’ll be sure to post pics or my super eloquent philosophications on them (Not).

So there are my goals for this big and wonderful year. I hope you are feeling refreshed by the new start as well. What are your resolutions, goals, or intentions for 2018? Inspire me in the comments.

Recovering from NaNoWriMo

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So here we are, almost a week into December. Throughout these past few days, as I continue working on my novel–which I still love writing by the way–I have nevertheless begun to feel a malaise settle over me. I get into these slumps sometimes with regards to my writing “career”, if you will. Sometimes I’m super excited about all the possibilities and I can’t work on enough things to satisfy that excitement, and other times…well, other times I’m like this. It only took me five days, a post on Writer Unboxed about getting lost in all the things that could be wrong with your WIP, and an email from a writerly penpal ‘just checking in’–you know who you are, and thank you–to realize I’m, like, totally depressed or something. I don’t mean to sound whiny, but I need to address this unexpected after-effect of NaNoWriMo. Sure, I wrote 50,917 words in one month, more than I’ve ever generated in that time frame, AND, get this, it’s not all complete tripe (would you look at that).

But now that I’ve attained this goal, there’s still more to be done. There’s always so much more to be done. Stories and poems to submit, novel drafts waiting for revisions, or hell, even entire rewrites, and not to mention the completion of this first draft. As award-winning poet, short story author, and soon-to-be-on-the-shelves-of-your-local-bookstore novelist, Annie Neugebauer points out, it will never feel like enough. That’s what I’m going through right now, and I don’t even have a whole lot under my belt in the first place.

Perhaps it’s just a seasonal thing, I thought. I was ecstatic at the commencement of fall (see here), but now, the pure, leaf-laden air of fall has been replaced with a heavy, contemplative chill. No, this malaise is likely a symptom of something more insidious. And I realized that my problem might be, as I stated on twitter, here,

I don’t have a set goal that I’m driving toward anymore. Not to mention all that self-doubt, repressed compulsive procrastination (however unsuccessfully), and fear catches up and hits you like a freight train as soon as you stop to take this well-deserved breath. But as my best friend/writing partner extraordinaire told me in condolence, “try not to focus on the difficult aspects of being a writer for now. We do this because we love it. So that’s what I’ve decided to focus on. Yeah, NaNoWriMo, I kicked your ass, but what’s next for me? I’ll tell you what’s next.

Making goals: This Writer Unboxed post, Becoming a Better Writer in 2015 by Barbara O’Neal, made me start thinking about setting solid goals, not only for submission and revisions, but also, reflecting on the things I’ve gained this year, and what I could do next year to make small but meaningful progress like that. I love O’Neal’s idea of investing in another creative endeavor outside of writing to “fill the well” and rereading old favorites to see what you can take from them as the writer you are now.

Reaching out to my community of writing buddies: Virtual and face-to-face writing sessions, reading other’s blogs for advice and inspiration, and just a good ole chat every so often to check in with someone who understands what I’m going through.

Positive affirmation: I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist–okay, more than a bit of one. So in an effort to turn that around, this is my new mantra: You love doing this. That’s why you’re doing it. Think of a favorite scene you wrote recently, an angelically wrought sentence, or super steamy love scene (or high-speed chase scene, or epic fantasy scene, or creepy, stalking killer scene, or literary character achieving self-actualization scene). Now hold it in your mind. Tap into the feeling you had when you created that. And just revel in the fact that you created that.

We do this because we love it. And this is me recovering after NaNoWriMo.

This is more of an indication of what you're battling afterward...
Might be more indicative of what you’re battling afterward…

What about you? Any creeping negativity or distant doubt come into play when you finished? Do you share in my malaise? What do you plan to do about it?