Writing Update

Autumn's whisper.

It’s 5:30am and I’ve been up since 9am yesterday. I can’t sleep. I want to say it’s because the story is burning inside me and I have to get the words out before I burst. But I rather think it’s because of my FM and the strange weather we’ve been experiencing.

Friday was the first day of fall and the weather is anything but autumnal. It was 90°F  yesterday (or 32°C). The average temperature for this date is 68°F/20°C. And it’s humid. And storms have been brewing for the last few days, mucking up the barometric pressure and making me feel like an alien in my own body.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I have insomnia.

So I do what I usually do and try to fall asleep, and when that doesn’t work I try to make the best of things. I caught up on Outlander. Finished knitting some fingerless gloves. Planned meals for the week. Updated my task lists. Shopped for a Happy Planner (thanks for your enthusiasm around your planner, Erica). Laid on the floor to comfort Velcro Dog as he freaked out during a brief thunder-storm. And still awake at 3:30am I decided maybe I should write.\

My FM has been in flare mode for about a week and a half, and the revisions I’m making on my novella are still in my head instead of on the page. Which puts me behind my personal schedule by a week. I hate being behind. It makes me itchy.

I’ve spent the last ninety minutes working on a new scene, one that I hope ramps up the tension and gets the antagonist onto the page. I know, I know, how can I have a story without an antagonist? I thought I did, but it was the wrong person. Or people as the case may be. I needed deeper motivation for some of the decisions that my heroine makes. Something the hero can relate to on a visceral level.

So I’m adding scenes for the antagonist to become a three-dimensional character who creates obstacles.  for my heroine. She’s gifted at creating her own obstacles, which is a little bit of myself bleeding onto the page. But for a story to work and work well, there needs to be something external as well as internal creating the chaos and dissonance that leads to growth and change.

Ninety minutes later I’m still working on that damn scene. I have three different versions of it. Something’s not working. I may just pick a version and when it’s time to send this to an editor, wait for feedback. Sometimes I know something’s not working even if I’m not sure why. The joy of being an intuitive writer.

Now it’s almost 6am and I need to at least pretend to sleep. And hope my subconscious will work out this scene so I can write it and move forward with my revisions. I really want to finish them this week. Fingers crossed I can meet that deadline!

 

Photo by Silvia Viñuales via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Done vs. Perfect

I have this stickyDone better than perfect note by my computer to remind me to not give into my perfectionism.

If I let Perfectionism out to play, she will hijack what I’m doing and insist on endless changes to get the project just right. Which doesn’t seem to be all that bad, right? Everything can be a little bit better than it is.

This is just what Perfectionism wants us to believe. That her endless tinkering has value. Is needed. Necessary. If we give into her, she will gleefully attack our work until it has become a mere shadow of what we actually wanted it to be.

Writing is Perfectionism’s  favorite place to add her special brand of torture to my life, but we are by no means limited to writing. Perfectionism loves to get her tentacles into how I manage our finances, how I clean a room, organize my home office, even how I structure the folder system on my computer. Perfectionism would be in every corner of my life if I let her.

(And typing that I have this picture of Perfectionism standing at the edge of the bed while my husband and I have sex, brutally critiquing my technique. I may need to bleach my brain now, thanks, Perfectionism. Thank you soooooo much.)

How do we reign in Perfectionism? We focus on done. Completing the task. Remembering that often good is good enough. Do I want my novella to be perfect? Sure. Am I going to be okay with something that is good instead of perfect? I hope so. So many books I read aren’t necessary perfect and it’s in their imperfections that story is able to flourish. Which is really what I want – my story to flourish. And it won’t flourish if I’m never able to finish it.

So done is better than perfection. Done is real. It’s solid. Perfection is a potential state of being, and I’m fairly certain I don’t want to live there.

Revisions, Neuroplasticity, And Me

The End

I did it! I wrote “the end” on my novella last month. For the third time. And there will likely be a fourth time. At minimum.

Writing is a process of incremental revisions. At least it is for me. I dream an idea, spew out the words while learning my characters and the plot, then revise, rinse, and repeat. My first draft is usually sparse on description and a sense of place, overflowing with dialogue. I learn my characters through what they think and what they say, then I learn how they react. The physical always follows the cerebral. I think it’s because I used to be a therapist. Or maybe I’m just wired that way.

Each revision adds layers. Physical behaviors. Grounding in time and space. Nuances that add depth. And with each and every revision I learn something about the story that surprises me. In my novella, tentatively titled I Thee Wed, in revision three there was a bit of magical realism at play in the final couple of scenes. Which makes me wonder just how much about the heroine’s deceased mother should make it’s way into the story. Do I need to add a plot element to encompass this? Or do I take out the soft breath of magical realism that currently resides in this story.

I used to hate revision work. It felt like drudgery to pull the story apart and put it back together again and again and again. I still don’t love digging in to see whether I have knocked the GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) out of the park. Or if I have balance within and between the various plot and character arcs. My brain hurts when I try to analyze my stories that way. For years I felt like it was a sign I shouldn’t be a writer. All because my brain processes story differently.

This isn’t to say I don’t try to use many of the tools of craft and plotting. They are tools, and sometimes while the brain is forging new neural pathway those tools feel foreign and wrong. With continued exposure these neural pathways are reinforced and the brain “learns” these new concepts. This is an oversimplification of what happens as the brain is a highly complex organism, but you get the idea.

Building new skills require repetition. And sometimes looking at the skill in new ways. It’s also important to know that we aren’t going to be come competent with every skill we try to develop. And that’s okay. If it’s a skill necessary to move my story forward, I will find someone who has the skill to review the story and offer suggestions. Freelance editors are terrific for this purpose. So are beta readers who can give detailed feedback. Just know that if the person you talk to is usually paid for this service, be prepared to pay them. No one needs to work for free.

I’ve finished my third round of revisions and am feeling rather happy with the shape of this novella. Perhaps I will have something to self-publish this fall after all!

 

Photo by Herbalizer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pre-Writing Conference Anxiety and Me

Airport

I’m going to my first writer’s conference since I had to quit the day job due to my chronic health issues. It will be my first time traveling alone since that auspicious event as well. And I’m somewhat nervous.

I used to travel a lot for work. And I used to attend conferences all the time. I’m no stranger to airports and sleeping in strange hotels. I am an introverted extrovert. Or is that extraverted introvert? Either way, I enjoy being around people and can handle the buzz of the masses for a few days with grace and aplomb. Or at least, I used to.

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because I will be navigating the airports by myself . I move slower than I used to. I can’t managing being on my feet for long periods of time anymore. And if my February vacation taught me anything, it’s that the lines are longer and slower than the last time I travelled alone. I’m going to need to give myself more time to make it through the security check and then wind my way to whichever terminal my gate happens to be at. I’ll need to stop and rest along the way.

My stress level is going to be elevated, which is something that triggers the pain and fatigue in my body. I’ve already started making checklists of checklists I’ll need to have with me. Already plan to have them in Evernote and printed out. Cuz it will be just my luck that my phone dies at any point along this journey in July. And I’m not planning on my bringing my laptop. Maybe my iPad and a keyboard. But my laptop is too damn heavy for me to lug around by myself.

It’s going to be hot and humid in Orlando. No, it’s going to be OHMYFUCKINGGODWHYDOESANYONEGOTOFLORIDAINTHESUMMERIAMGOINGTODIE hot and humid in Orlando. This means using my down time to remain cool and comfortable in my hotel room. Maybe at the hotel bar. Definitely not anywhere outside. I love Disney World from the one brief trip I had there during a work trip about ten years ago. I’m so very sad I will through necessity need to skip all the park stuff and will be held hostage by the conditioned air. Heat aggravates my health condition. Humidity nearly kills me. My friends will be having great fun with Mickey while I…won’t be.

I may need to skip sessions or events like the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony. Not because I can’t afford a new outfit (which I can’t), but because if I’m going to make the most out of the conference, I need to save my spoons for workshops and fangirling people like Farrah Rochon, Erica Monroe, Kristine Wyllys, Kimberly Fisk (who is also going to be my awesome roommate), and everyone else I read and stalk follow on Twitter. If a morning is difficult, I’ll have to make the difficult decision to skip workshops or meet ups. If a migraine is coming on, I’ll need to hide in my room for a while. If the fibromyalgia is being a PITA, I’ll need make sure I don’t flare so badly I am in my room for the rest of the conference.

Which means I’ll need to pace myself. And not commit to too much ahead of time. And give myself permission to find a dark corner to sit and cry in when my energy flags and I become very upset with my health. My body and I have this epic love hate thing going on and I’m not too proud to say my body mostly wins. Living with chronic health issues can almost break me, especially when it means I can’t do what I want to do. It’s like I’m the unpopular kid at school crying into her ice-cream because all the other kids got invited to Susie’s birthday party except for me. Okay, it’s not quite that junior high. But it is frustrating.

So, I’m nervous. Sometimes at night I’ll whisper into my pillow just how terrified I am about this trip in July. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. I love my fellow romance writers and spending time with them in person is just about the best thing in the world. But I’m also terrified that my body is going to fall apart and I’ll have the most expensive health flare ever. Expensive in that I paid good money to go to HELLA HOT ORLANDO in order to have it.

I’ll be okay. No, I’ll be better than okay. There are going to be people at this conference who get it. They understand living with chronic pain and fatigue and the choices that must be made every hour of every day. If I need to breakdown, I know there will be people there who understand and will help me to my room, or lend me a shoulder. It’s a sisterhood within a sisterhood. And that’s what we do, we’re there for each other.

And no, this won’t be like the last time or five I have been to this writing conference. I’m trying to look at this as though I’m a newbie writer attending for the first time. My experience may just be that different. And I need that to be okay.

 

Photo by Hernán Piñera via Flickr, cc Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Dancing in the Rain

Sometimes my life feeds something within the story I’m writing.

I don’t try to put snippets of my life in my stories. I write fiction, not memoirs. But as my writing is an extension of who I am, my life and my experiences feed the fiction.

An example. Today was cold and windy and the air felt like a storm was brewing. I looked out the picture window in my kitchen searching the sky for any signs of impending rain. I had a dog to walk and errands to run and both of these activities would be easier to do when it wasn’t raining.

And it struck me, as I searched the sky, that once upon a time I used to love storms. I would stand on the hill of our former house, the hill that looked out over the western skies, and would dance in the rain. Wild dances, with my head faced up to receive the rain and it poured down. I especially loved thunderstorms, the way the electricity in the air would dance across my skin as I in turn danced beneath the lightening and the thunder.

I  haven’t done that in a very long time, and today as I looked out my picture window, cursing the thought of rain, I wondered why. Why don’t I dance beneath the rain any more? Is it because I’m 46 instead of 26? Because I’m more self conscious? Or is it because as my health has become a slave to weather patterns I no longer feel affinity with the coming storms?

Whatever the reason, I no longer dance in the rain. And neither does Hope, the heroine of my current story. She, like me, used to dance in the rain. She used to live for the feeling of electricity skimming across her skin. Used to life her face to the rain. Used to be the raging storm.  But she isn’t any more. Her life is more…complicated.

And it’s important for the story that she realize this about herself. Realize that she no longer dances in the rain. I didn’t know this until I had my own melancholy realization. My life fed my story. My subconscious worked out a story problem and used my own life to do so.

Introducing My Good Friend Fear

Haunted Trees

As I have stated in an earlier post, I am a writing course junky. I have taken far too many writing courses, actually.

I’m trying to get my writing groove back after the world altering events of the last four months and I’m proud of myself. I haven’t purchased another writing course! Instead I’m procrastinating filling the well by revisiting some meaningful courses I’ve taken in the past.

Years and years ago I took a course from author and teacher Bob Mayer titled Warrior-Writer Overview: How to Go from Writer to Author, Creatively and in Business. Bob is a former military man with a long and varied career that includes time in Special Forces. He has more than 40 books published and teaches novel writing. I don’t know if he teaches this course anymore. I do know that the course kicked my ass when I first took it. And it’s kicking my ass again.

I’m revisiting the second lesson and the thing that has struck me most so far is fear. Right now I’m supposed to be writing out goals. Instead, I’m circling the exercise, an oily feeling deep in my gut. Bob states that anything that causes anger or causes us to be upset is something that we need to look at because anger is a sign that change is needed. That oily feeling, it’s not anger, but it is upsetting. I thought I had banished this fear to the ends of the earth. Instead, it crawled out of the ooze and is attempting to freak me out. All it took was one little exercise to resurrect it.

I talked to a friend last night and we talked about fear. Fear can be a good thing. Fear can keep you from injury or from doing something stupid. Fear can also keep you from doing something risky that will benefit you in the end. Fear can be your ally or it can be your enemy. Today, fear is the enemy. I’m learning, again, to push through it. To identify it and to see it for what it is – a stumbling block that will keep me from truly attempting my dreams.

A few years ago I was part of a writer’s loop where we had little exercises where we were to write about something that was going on in the moment. I was going through some soul searching about my life, my job, my career, my goals and I was honest about where I was at in that particular moment. Funny, eleven years later and I’m struggling with some of the same fear.

In this moment I am surround by my demons. A gut-wrenching, stomach-twisting, brain-paralyzing fear that I will never write. That I will never finish. That I will never accomplish my dream. That my passion is misplaced. That it’s all an illusion created by a dissatisfied soul. That I am lazy. That I am rebelling against the better angels of my nature. That 9-to-5 is what I am born to do. All I am born to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In this moment I stare at the sunflowers I have positioned to the right of my computer at work. In this shades-of-grey cubicle, they offer sunshine and whisper to me incoherent words of hope. I stare at them and I am grounded, if only for a little while. Until the demons start to seduce me again.

In this moment I crave silence in my soul. So I can hear my thoughts. So I can find my voice again and speak. So I can have peace. So I can know that peace does exist and isn’t a wistful wish tossed up to a falling star.

In this moment I hear the clack of keyboards, of good, dutiful worker drones pushing through their call lists, connecting with applicants who desire higher education. I hear muted conversations and nasal cackles. I feel alone in the middle of business and not a little lost. I want to jump up from my cubicle and yell and convince someone that there’s more than these glass walls and shades-of-grey cubes and pointless conversations trying to sell the idea of knowledge. I want to toss my project lists to the four winds and dance on my manager’s grave. I want to shuck this life of expectations and conformity and politics and perceptions.

At the same time, i feel naive in this want because no matter where I go or what I do, the world is made up of shades of grey and politics and perceptions. Visionaries are lost by those who are afraid of different. 9-to-5 means shackles but it also means regular pay. Security in exchange for freedom. I’m torn. I’m tired. I’m afraid.

So where do we go from here? I stop talking about change and I start enacting change, that’s what. The next exercise I have in this course is to create and claim some goals. I’m going to do that. And post them here. Fear has a way of keeping us from making time to pursue our dreams. Goals have a way of creating concrete ways to move through the fear and toward our dreams. So even though I’m torn, tired and afraid with my writing I’m not going to let fear win. Not this time.

Thanks, Bob, for this course. And to think I almost didn’t sign up. That would have been a tragedy!

Photo by Dan Zen via Flickr (cc by 2.0)

Self-Care While The World Burns

Sunset

The title sounds a bit melodramatic. For some the past election and current political environment is invigorating. Self-affirming even. For others, such as myself, it feels as though we have entered an alternate reality where the world is burning all around us.

It’s no secret that I have chronic health issues. I deal with pain. Every. Damn. Day. I am also am prone to depression. Both of these health conditions become worse with stress, especially stressful situations that do not seem to have an end in sight. With a POTUS , Cabinet, and Congress who appear to be hell-bent on destroying every civil liberty we the people enjoy in this country, life is beyond stressful.

I’ll be honest, I have had to up all my meds just to deal with the increases in pain AND depressive symptomatology. I’m not alone. All over Twitter and blogs I hear other people stating the same thing. And it feels like it’s going to get worse long before it gets better.

So how do we take care of ourselves when the world is burning?

  • Surround yourself every day with beauty. For me that’s flowers and art and good quality yarn and tea. And stories.
  • Spend some time in nature. In Japan there is a practice called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Studies in Japan and elsewhere have shown that spending regular time in nature actually boosts the immune system.
  • Find your safe people. Safe people are the people we can turn to when we need to just be. Or need to rant. Or need to be vulnerable. They love and support us free of judgement or recrimination.
  • Listen to your body. There will be days you need to turn off social media and the news and huddle away from the world. There will be days you  need to allow yourself extra rest. There will be days you need to up your meds or see your doctor or therapist. It’s okay. Listen to your body so you can give it what it needs.
  • Move your body. This sort of goes with spending time in nature. Our bodies are meant to move, so every day try to do some movement. Walk, yoga, Pilates, cardio, dancing. It’s all good. Do what works for you and your body today.
  • Drink your water. Hydration is another necessity for our bodies. I tend to trigger migraines if I’m low on hydration so I carry around a water bottle where ever I go.
  • Eat healthy food. I’m not going to tell you what is healthy. We all have different dietary constraints and requirements. Just please, make sure you eat something. Please, for me.
  • Volunteer. I have volunteered my time at many places and I always leave with a change in perspective. Volunteering can help us explore our empathy and compassion in a controlled environment. And giving back helps to ground us.
  • Say no. Oh, this is a difficult one. I’ve had to learn to say no to things that are going to trigger me, or to things that will overload my day. Or things that I would only do because I feel obligated. Saying no has been so very important for the management of my health and well-being.
  • Say yes. Saying yes to things that will bring me joy and create wonder in my life has been equally as difficult, but just as rewarding.

The list could go on. You will need to fill in the blanks with those things that bring you joy and nurture your soul. Maybe it’s traveling, or going to a museum. Maybe it’s eating amazing food while surrounded by good friends. Maybe it’s watching the sun as it starts its low descent in the evening.

This is the joy of self-care. We are all unique individuals and aside from keeping our bodies moving and nourished, we all get to define what self care looks like.

Photo by Sunny  (cc by 2.0)