Do You Remember?– A mother’s heartache

Today is the day I came head to head with the dark truth of my heart about my children; the day I had seen coming since the conception of my first child. The day I had to come to terms with the fact that this world is shitty and my kids are living in it and I can’t protect them from it because suddenly, it’s coming for them with a vengeance.

Hello, Middle School, you feckin’ Teenage Wasteland.

My daughter bawled in my arms today because I told her what a good friend she was and how much her big heart mattered. That she was doing a good job staying positive and reminding people that there is good in the world just because she was alive and giving her friends respect and comfort. My tender heart girl.

Alternately, I had a very impassioned and logical conversation with my (precocious) youngest about how she can’t believe everybody she meets online will greet her with the truth, vying for attention and sympathy and saying anything to get it. In her own way she is a tender heart too but she’d rather be on the front lines defending her bullied friend rather than comfort them in the dark of the night. She uses her anger to try and right the wrongs and sometimes that can be overwhelming. But kids shouldn’t have to deal with that crap at 13.

She was called a Snowflake by a boy at school for no reason other than he knew that word is triggering and disrespectful. (Small miracle she didn’t punch him in the nose.) Poor girl couldn’t do anything except cry out of frustration. She couldn’t defend herself because it would enflame the situation, inciting more bullying and she couldn’t go to a teacher because their hands are tied as well. The “Zero tolerance” is a bull shit law.

My older daughter gets verbally abused by her classmates on a daily basis (she is high functioning autistic, rides the “short bus” and has a class full of obnoxious hurtful boys). The only thing teachers can do is gently reprimand the students to please stop because using ‘No’ in a classroom now is considered negative teaching.

I cannot say how angry this makes me as a mother and as a kid who got bullied herself.

I have to teach my daughters to become hard-hearted so the world and all it’s assholes won’t shred them to bits but at the same time remind them that there is good in the world worth fighting for, they just have to find it.

WHAT THE HELL?

Why should I have to have these conversations with my thirteen year old children? Why do I have to watch my daughter cry because I praised her for being genuinely a good person or caution my other daughter against investing her heart in people because they might hyper-focus her sense of justice and bully her into submission? What the hell kind of backward world did I bring them into?

I feel like this world has aged them into Adults before their time and now they have to run the Gauntlet with only half the advantages. I’m not sure if I want to put them in a bubble and keep them away from society or go sign them up for the military so they’ll harden up and be prepared.

Of course, all this angst can be funneled into stories. Writing down the feeling of ineptitude as a mother, of injustice as a bullied kid, of being ostracized because of my physical abnormalities and hyper-smart brain. Writing down the need to fit in with peers because of ingrained social norms but also wanting to stand out as being unique and different.

What a struggle it is to find our place and our people; to grow out of the titles and labels we’re given as teenagers and young adults. Having a neurodivergent daughter has given me an alternative perspective on life that I count as invaluable. It has been a blessing and source of anxiety and now I get to share it with the world. The trials and triumphs of growing up and now seeing my children grow up.

The world needs more stories about how to handle differentness, about how to teach tolerance and acceptance and also raising strong sons and daughters in the face of adversity. The world needs more stories like Wonder and A child called It and Phantom of the Opera. Stories that make a change, that force people to think differently and feel deeply.

This is the blessing and the curse of parenthood AND a writer. Someone needs to feel your heartache and hear your story from your own perspective. Someone needs to be reminded of how hard it is to grow up. Someone out there needs to have a spark of inspiration and passion from YOUR WORDS.

My mom is a Cougar!

I bet you’re thinking, “Wow, there’s a story in that.” (You should write it!)

Scenario:

Back in 2003, there was a girl who went to high school. Black and gold where the school colors. The mascot? A puma, or more commonly known as, a Cougar.

Fast Forward to 2021:

Daughter of girl now goes to rival high school across town. Blue and silver. The Bull Dogs.

Orientation Day:

Daughter and Mom go do the things that a 9th grader do like take a tour, get pictures done and get the schedule of classes. All the things. Mom reminisces about her High School Days, good ol’ black and gold. Being in choir. Senior Ditch Day. Prom. Embarrassing moments like seagull poop on shirts and bloody noses in class. On the heels of this, excited, and somewhat naïve, daughter goes up to a counselor and blurts out:

“My mom is a Cougar!”

Eyes turn to me and I paste on a suffering half-smile and put a hand on Daughter’s shoulder, patting it. Turns out, High School can still Embarrass me. (This is only made a little less funny because I am dating a man twelve years younger than me. His mother called me a cougar and a gold digger and a groomer upon meeting me the first time. We laugh about it now but back then…)

HAAAAA.

Adding insult to injury, I then had to explain to the daughter why it wasn’t a good idea to tell people that Mom was a Cougar. Which then embarrassed her. Get used to it, kid. This is only the beginning.

The point of this short blog was a reminder that ANYTHING can be a story. A piece of dialogue can turn into a whole story; an interesting looking person can be a character; a familiar place can spur on a flash back that creates a monologue about how Youth is wasted on the Young. Pay attention. Collect them. One of them could be the next Great American Novel.

Writing doesn’t mean you have to sit down at a computer and stare at a blank screen. It can be notes jotted on a napkin, a bulleted list on an app on your phone, a word written in ink on your hand. Collects ALL the ideas. You never know which one will be the next Great American Novel.

And yes, I will probably turn this into a story. Hopefully a humorous one.

Keep at it y’all. The only bad kind of story is the unwritten one.

Murder your Darlings! (Or at least, Prune their Happy)

Hang on now. Don’t lynch me!! Lemme explain!

As an idealist and a pacifist, it is hard for me to intentionally cause someone or something any harm. I feel instantly bitch smacked by Karma if I say something cruel or do something spiteful out of anger. Guilty conscience. Today, I am wielding pruning shears and as I cut away perfectly healthy, hard-earned plant growth, my soul dying with every snip, it reminded me of the single most life-changing writing advice I ever read:

Murder Your Darlings.

No, DO NOT MURDER YOUR PLANTS. OR YOUR PEOPLE OR PETS OR FRIENDS. ZERO MURDER-Y-NESS!! But you know, Prune their Happy.

Yikes. okay, let me explain further.

So I have a garden (obviously, hence the pruning). It’s a container garden since I rent and am not allowed to put things in the ground. (I was naughty and planted an Iris in the middle of some Agapanthus. SHHHHH..) Mostly it is succulents although I have graduated to flowers and have managed to keep them happy and blooming. (California is wonderful for perennials.) Recently, I was gifted some grape canes by a coworker. For a long time I thought these things were dead. Only four canes out of the eight she gave me survived so I was on high alert, squatting by the sticks and anxiously hoping.

HAAAA. Guess what? NOT DEAD. I can barely keep up with them now. POOF! I swear, I wake up and walk outside and they had a half a foot of growth over night. They are taller than me and still reaching over the trellis for more. It’s amazing, growing grapes. (Even in containers they do well!) Growing food is not something I ever thought my sad little black thumb would ever be able to do. I am Proud.

What’s the problem you ask? Well, because I am such a pacifist–live and let live, you know?–it has made me sort of a terrible Garden Mom. I don’t want to prune my plants. I LOVE the look of a wild garden. Having it take over and fill in all the spaces and have volunteer plants grow in surprise places. GOSH it is so pretty!

Guess what? No bueno apparently. Plants need to be pruned to maintain production and keep disease at bay. Roses need to be cut back hard in the Fall, down to almost a third of their height, in order to make a bushier bush and have healthy blooms the following spring. I learned this and almost keeled over. All that hard work and growing only to Neuter it?! HOW GHASTLY. Grapes are the same way. Tomatoes? You need to cut off the Suckers, or extra branches that come out of the forks of the plant, in order to force the energy into the main branches for sweeter fruit.

No one told me I had to neuter plants. No one told me I had to chop off perfectly healthy growth because it was GOOD FOR IT. You have to give your plants conflict in order for it to grow healthier. You have to expose them to shearing and dry soil and stress to make them stronger. (See where I’m going with this?)

Prune their Happy , you see? I was as shocked hearing that advice as I was about putting my characters through hell for entertainment. But it proved to be a valuable lesson

This is one of the first rules of writing every novelist will truly struggle with, IMO. It’s not a ‘Maybe’ you will. You just Will. Most humans don’t like causing pain. We strive for the Happy Ending because it makes us feel good, like everything is wrapped up in a neat bow. But writing, no matter what genre, should reflect real life. So, as the advice goes, “Murder Your Darlings.” Make them hurt. Put them through emotional Hell. Give them heart break and scars and physical ailments. Do it because 1) it makes for a more entertaining read instead of just sunflowers and kitten parties (even children’s books have some sort of problem to solve) and 2) humans are constantly looking for different ways to sort out their OWN problems by seeing how others solve theirs. Stories are teaching tools as well as entertainment. Humans want to win. They want to see it is possible to overcome the odds, no matter how severe. Hope is a powerful motivator.

My pretty–and tidier–garden reminded me today how far I’ve come as a writer; from one who didn’t Hurt my precious fragile Bubble Baby characters at all to one that lobs shit at them just for funsies. Actually, it IS for a purpose but sometimes it’s still funsies, like dropping an obnoxious Drag Queen in the middle of a law suit. Stuff like that. In essence, you’re fertilizing them, plants and MC’s, because even though you hacked off their hopes and dreams, you’re providing energy to keep them moving toward their ultimate goal: happiness.

My garden also reminded me that yes, I can grow things from seeds if I put my determination into it (like writing books) and I need prune off dead weight (distractions) in order to come back with a healthier and more bountiful harvest.

Isn’t Mother Nature a bitch—I mean Grand?

You, too, can have a bountiful harvest of words, friends! Or vegetables. Or flowers. Or…weeds. Whatever you fancy. You, too, can learn to Prune Happiness and Murder Darlings (IN NOVELS). Keep at it. No one ever said writing was easy, otherwise everyone would do it.

Poke a Hole

Do you ever have a period of time where you convince yourself you’re too busy to write/create and you do something else? Literally anything else? Weed the garden. Binge watch Lucifer on Netflix. Make pasta dough from scratch. Work on a massive Diamond Dot painting, even though you have tendonitis in your fingers? (If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is YES.)

Yeah. I was there. I AM there, frequently. I call this the Tissue Paper Wall. A slow building film of “I WANT A BREAK” that erects between you and your art and stays there, blocking your view. Out of sight, out of mind and no amount of guilt is going to convince you otherwise. This psychological barrier, thin as it is, facilitates the inability to hold up a finger or a pencil or a stylus to poke a hole because you know that on the other side there is WORK. Lots of arduous work and mentally or emotionally you just can’t. You’ve convinced yourself already that this is okay, for a little while.

Is this stubbornness? Laziness? Writer’s block? Burn out? What do you classify it as? Are there moments where you see the TPW (tissue paper wall) more than others? Curious minds inquire.

Mine usually develops when the habit of writing every day was disrupted. It’s a recurring theme with me and not just with noveling. My writing timeline flew by me, laughing and waving as the chaos of May cramped my routine. Vacation, end of school year stuff, emergencies, covering shifts at work and then having time to be a human and a girlfriend and a mom–writing was a luxury. It bled into June as well so here I find myself, once again ignoring my Blog, ignoring my writing and my goals and scrambling to make sense of my days again.

(To be fair to myself I DID write. It just wasn’t in my novels. There were To-Do lists, bill pay lists, journal entries, music playlists, OneNote entries, Gardening Logs, lots of texting between me and my boyfriend, notes from all the books I read…Haaaa.)

I intentionally ignored the TPW. I let it stay there, comforting me, as I mucked about in the kiddie pool, my will to write slowly draining away. I stopped listening to the novel Play Lists. I stopped created dialogue in my head. I stopped reading Story Genius– AGAIN.

*Sigh*

Reflecting on this today, I was reminded that there is a fine line between “taking a break” and “allowing myself to be distracted.” Life is life and there is only so much capacity for being human we can take. There are priorities that take precedence sometimes, like paying rent and taking care of kids and taking care of your health. Juggling and balancing are a full time job in this freak show circus.

HOWEVER.

There has to be a point where you need to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Why did I start this writing Blog? Why did I quit my full time job to pursue art? Why am I taking singing lessons and trying to book studio recording time? Why did I decide to fold 1,000 paper cranes? (I don’t know. Why ARE you??)

I wasn’t taking my writing seriously enough. It gets so dang hard to make something out of nothing! I made a promise to myself though, that I would make 2021 the year I put serious effort into my writing. I want to complete a full rough draft and do edits and send it to Beta readers. This is a lot of daunting work and mentally exhausting to contemplate as a big picture. But if I let these flimsy excuses take me away from my goal, then obviously my determination wasn’t rooted deeply at all. I let tissue paper dictate my time and my energy into other less productive things. A little break to refresh is fine and necessary for any creative, as long as they get back to it and don’t lose momentum (even if that momentum is a snail’s pace, going uphill in a hail storm).

Poke a hole, friends. Don’t let the Tissue Paper Wall become solidified. Ball that shit up and throw it up at the bathroom ceiling. The sound of the SPLAT will be satisfying, promise.

One word. One brush stroke. One reluctant tap on the keyboard. Poke a hole.

Nine Block Outlining

Back in November I published a blog— (I really dislike the use of this word. it sounds like barf. BLAAUUGGHHHHHH! Am I right?)

–sorry, I wrote about Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius in THIS article. If you plan on being any kind of fiction writer, this will be your bible. It forces you to go in depth with your characters and story. I have discovered through this crazy writing process that I prefer to start with Story Genius after I get the basics out of the way.

Lisa plumbs the depths of your writerly brain and you find that a rough outline starts to form as if by magic. Great! You are now an Alchemist, creating something new out of two ordinary things (pen and paper, skin and plastic keyboard…whatever your medium). So what next?

Well now we struggle to flesh out the shiny new outline of course! Just because you have lexicon gold doesn’t mean you can let it sit there like a lumpy paper weight (haa….) I’ve tried to outline several different ways over the years. Pansting it never really worked but it gave me some wonderful one-liners of beautiful prose that fill me with pride even to this day. The basic bitch Three Act Story Structure that you can find every-freaking-where didn’t really give me enough to go on as far as definite plot points. It’s a better step forward than pantsing, at least for me, but I wanted something more detailed to follow. Forget Freytag Method (haven’t even attempted).

Enter AuthorTube. (YouTube that mainlines author/writer channels)

I found a gal on there a few years ago whose channel she named Katytastic and this video is the single most useful video I’ve ever found about outlining EVER. When I initially saw this video I didn’t pay it much mind. It seemed a little intense to have EVERY CHAPTER mapped out. (Aww, I was such an innocent little pantser back then.) Nothing against Discovery writing but this ingredient has a specific place in my noveling recipe now.

Katy does a twenty seven chapter, nine block, three act break down of her story. What’s great about the video is she not only breaks down every chapter into title and description, she does an example outline as well to show you how the flow is supposed to work. This time around, when I tried it, it worked wonders. It won’t for everyone and that’s okay. There’s no wrong way to write unless it’s not at all.

So this is what it looks like:

Image result for 3 act 9 block 27 chapter outline | Writing tips, Three act  structure, Kids writing

Katy’s looks slight different but the important bits are all here. This set up is going to turn your lump of raw golden brilliance into the the poignant prose you know your novel is supposed to be. You are injecting form and substance into your project now. This is where the fun bit begins.

I was having issues with my Faustus outline until I tired this method. I knew all the major points to hit but until I tried plugging them into the outline, I didn’t know which gem was supposed to go where and in what order. I discovered that certain beats I thought were supposed to happen later needed to be sooner for pacing purposes and that move left gaps that needed to be filled with…something. However, once I settled on placement, I took what I had already brainstormed and started trying to fit them into different places.

Should the Darkest Moment be when she’s taken into the Pens or when she finds out Zeizal is going to be assassinated?

Should the Midpoint be when her mother makes the announcement about the Sleeper Assassins or when she discovers the truth about her mother’s past?

Where’s the conflict in the first pinch point?

It was a bit of a surprise the points I became stuck at. Most of it was in the beginning right before the Midpoint, Act 2, Block 4. The whole thing was a mystery to me and I could have filled it with lots of meaningless melodrama but since I had already carved out a path for the characters to follow after that point, I just needed to decide which situations best led into those. (How do I hurt my darlings the most? MUAAHAAHAHAH!) It was at this point that I realized Katytastic’s Power Block Outline had done what it could for me and I needed to slip into my Pantsing Pants again.

It was more progress I had done on the book in months. I was just bursting with pride lemme tell ya.

Using the outline, I then used my tapping phalanges to flesh out the story. Once I was one a roll, I spirit fingered my way through the difficult bits, buffing the surface of the one or two sentence guidance and nudging pieces into place until I was happy with how it turned out. I made a note of the things I did not like and things to that needed changing before I moved on to the rough draft.

The next step is to flesh out the second half in order to create a basic rough draft, cut out the unnecessary bits and then start in on Scene Cards, an ancient writing art that is wholly a mystery to me. (I guess I should finish reading Story Genius, huh? Lisa talks about this too…)

*puts on my serious think-y face*

Let me know if this type of outline works out for you and where you got stuck. What did you realize while you were drafting it? Were there any surprises?

Start before you’re ready

…that’s where the learning begins.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that nothing is promised. The cogs that make life turn seamlessly can get a monkey wrench thrown in and suddenly everyone is stampeding to the toilet paper and water sections of the grocery store. (Here’s looking at you Y2K and Covid!)

Everyone wants to be prepared as best they can for Life. They want to read the books and watch the videos and do the things, all of which are excellent ideas. Whether if it’s for school, or a job, or for learning a new skill, downloading as much info into your brain as possible will increase your chances of success. You can study the questions for interviews and tests. You can watch the tutorials. You can take boatloads of notes. You can practice for hours, present the material to your Pothos plants for days, plan the trips down to the gas station stops and start learning a new language in anticipation of international travel.

But what about the Doing of the thing?

Oh, yeah. Easier said than done, I know. What an awfully true cliché.

Ever heard of the term “Arm Chair Traveler”? It’s a term given to individuals who only ever deign to read about adventure secondhand rather than going out an experiencing it themselves. It is safer, easier, less expensive to live vicariously through the people that have already done it. We can save face that way too because we aren’t the fool doing the thing and failing at it.

Humans don’t want to fail. We don’t want to be uncomfortable or embarrassed. We don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country in the middle of God Knows Where with a dead cell phone, a broken down rental and no one speaking English near you. We want to go for that promotion but [INSERT REASON HERE] stops us. Mostly likely culprit is that we believe we’re not ready.

There’s another saying:

“The best way to learn, is to teach.”

I’ve been writing for a very long time. Loonnngggggg time. I wasn’t very good at it, at least in my highly critical opinion. I’m still not very good at it; I have some ways to go and I was deeply insecure about that fact, being a perfectionist. But somewhere along the way, I decided that I was going to try and fail and maybe that was going to be okay. Everyone–literally EVERYONE– has been in my shoes at some point in their lives. Maybe not exactly the same but everyone has had to start something they felt they weren’t ready for.

Parenthood.

Moving out of state/country.

Promotions.

Marriage.

I started this little blog before I was ready because I knew if I didn’t jump on the opportunity while the idea was fresh and tempting, I would never have hit the PUBLISH button that first day three years ago. I started it because I wanted to stop feeling afraid of being criticized and I wanted to show my writing to this little part of the internet world. I wanted to find like-minded individuals and join a writing community to share in the fear and joy of creating the written word.

WordPress was hard to navigate at first. I could have chosen an easier platform but this felt right (and was conveniently free!) It was a triumph to create even this simple platform page. Trying to do anything even slightly more complicated makes my brain rebel. So many buttons and widgets and options… ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. But because I started, I now have first hand knowledge of how this website works and I have since started to teach others how to use it.

I learned by teaching. And I started before I was ready.

Humans, at least most of them, are happy to help. They want to see you succeed. They want to share their knowledge and experiences and teach. I feel welcomed and competent by my experiences here as a blogger (even if I’m not very consistent with it). And once you jump in and get the initial embarrassment out of the way, you will gain confidence quickly. You will find your own way to navigate and be able to take the criticism with grace.

Practice doing before you’re ready. Ask that guy or girl out. Eat the suspicious food. Go base jumping. Start that YouTube channel. Sell your wool and leather purses on Etsy. Get your Passport and book the flight. Don’t let regrets haunt you!

Me no like-y the read-y

I have been dragging my ass about launching back into my Nano 202 story. I make preparations! I bring up the playlist. I bring up the draft. I lightly scan my outline– and then promptly find something better to do. I shy away from doing the work as if it physically repels me.

Not because it’s horrible. I actually quite like what I wrote (based on the bits I’ve managed to read before absenting myself from my laptop.)

Not because there are huge gaps in the timeline that need bridging. It’s pretty fleshed out.

And not because I’m still stuck on Faustus, my last novel. I have already committed to that only being half drafted.

It’s not even a mystery as to why I don’t want to dive back in. It’s a childhood proclivity that’s followed me since grade school: I don’t edit. I know, it sounds ludicrous but I was the kind of student that would write a first draft at two am, turn it in and get an A on it. This gave me a false sense of security, making me believe I was a genius. (I blame the teachers for not grading me more harshly. Yeahh…)

Now, I’m no stranger to reading my own drafts but somehow the story always seems to get re-written because of [insert reason here]. I do have a bad habit of labeling things illegibly while saving so it’s a struggle to find the right draft. Usually it’s something like “NANO 2020 Zero Draft 1” and then “NaNo February 3 Remi” or something that made sense at the time but is a complete head scratcher to future me. Losing whole drafts is a big one because my computer goes caput randomly. Technology and I have a rocky relationship. I’m terrible at backing things up too. And sometimes it’s just because I DON’T WANT TO READ IT AND FIX IT. So I start over entirely. SIIGGHHHHHH.

This is how you get to have a WIP that’s 18 years old, people. Don’t be me.

Last night I went through the check list: Tea, check. Computer plugged in, check. Playlist and noise cancelling headphones, double check. Found the right draft (after several missteps), check. I had already filled out the basic Three act story structure previously. I even wrote a list of the scenes both written and that needed to be written. GOSH I was so organized! I’m really impressed with myself actually.

Go me!

So I start reading, a kind of perma-cringe twisting my face weirdly as I slowly start to toe the waters of my draft. It’s…not bad. I like the voice of my MC, Juno and her side kick Benny. (Ha, yes, Benny and June was an intentional thing. As was Juno Marsi–Juno Mars–she’s Italian…and a writer using that as her Pen Name…Wow, okay just read the dang thing when it comes out in 2035, okay?) I absolutely love Remi Nissent, Drag Queen Extraordinaire. I remember her coming to life like a fire cracker in the dark of the night and she made a rather blah love story sparkle with wit and fashion and hard truths. Who she really is made me laugh and applaud my genius brain. Seriously, everyone needs a Remi in their life.

I read through a couple scenes and slowly it started to sink in: this isn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. I quickly became engrossed in my own writing, seeing the two women sparring verbally and feeling how hard Juno was trying to hold her shit together. How Christian (the love interest) was trying not to push but at the same time trying to make her understand she’s not the villain of her own life. I felt the absence of inner conflict, how the scenes were all talk and no introspection but I did enjoy the talk-y very much. It was delightfully complex.

It was definitely complex.

IT WAS A FECKIN MESS.

Enter problem number two of Jessie not like-y the read-y: WHAT DO I CUT?

This wasn’t like a school essay where I might only have to rearrange a few sentences or rewrite a paragraph to make things flow better. This was an ENTIRE ZERO DRAFT. Do you know how daunting that is?! It almost stopped me dead in my tracks when I realized that this was my fate for the rest of my writing life. What was good and needed to stay? What was bad and needed to go? What needed to be reinserted somewhere else and how do I make that transition? What would make the most sense to readers without giving too much away? What was too subtle and what was too obvious? What was too repetitive? What was just my wish fulfillment and needed to be chopped?

Drowning…can’t breathe……HAALLLPPPPPPP! >_<

I was genuinely starting to have a panic attack over this. I got up and did a mini work out, doing squats and lunges in my living room and breathing deeply. I’m sure all writers do this sort of thing too. Freak out I mean, not work out in their pajamas. Newbies just get it the hardest because well, we’re new. Or maybe it happens to seasoned writers too?

Okay, okay, hang I got this. *beams false positivity*They’re just words! MY words! It is better than a blank page!

I noticed during my exploration that there were certain obvious scenes that could be cut out. A scene that carried on and on and on that really should have ended five pages ago. Scenes written as experiments to see how the characters would play off each other. Intimate scenes between Juno and other characters that were not right but have some really excellent dialogue and inner conflict. (I have a file folder called Random or Alternate Scenes where I can plunk these in, no problem). The first draft is the story you tell yourself, after all. (Right, Terry Pratchett?) My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to bridge the gaps between scenes in the same voice or *GASP* have to re-write a really good scene because it didn’t end where I wanted it to.

Oh my gosh writing is hard. IT’S SO HARD.

This is the first time I have actively written from a completely outline and then gone back to edit a nearly complete draft. I really hope the freak outs are normal. I know that part of this will go away partially when I figure out the mystery of the Scene Cards. There’s precious little out there about the use of scene cards, surprisingly. Abbie Emmons is my go-to girl for explanations and she has a good video about it but I feel I need more to go on. Lisa Cron has a whole chapter on them in her book Story Genius but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Oh the woes of choosing between reading and writing (and now, editing). Any suggestions? Please comment below if you do. I am a voracious book dragon but a pitiful lowly editor; I yield my pride to the more experienced. Links, books, videos, blogs, articles, anything. Scene cards, editing drafts, maintaining writing voice…give me the tools!

Better yet, give me people! I need a good writing community to join and commiserate with. I mean help and support, of course.

Thank you my fellows for hanging in there while I word vomited ❤ You are wonderful and appreciated.

W.I.P #1.3 Words. BOOM! splat

So I had a writing schedule that I wrote out back in January. I decided that THIS YEAR was going to be the year I full drafted and edited an entire manuscript and I was going to send it off for query. I can’t procrastinate on it anymore; not after the shit storm that was 2020. More than ever, I believe that stories and art and opinions and voices matter and I want to make my mark on the world before paper books are phased out completely by the digital age.

It’s amazing what a world-wide pandemic can bring into focus, right?

I recently attempted to zero draft my Faustus story. Turns out only giving myself a month is a brutal turn around time when I have to juggle kids, covid restrictions/shut downs, work and real life. Maybe if I was in a hermetically sealed bubble…HA.

Well, I didn’t finish the draft. I initially freaked out and beat myself up for it since I just put myself way behind schedule. Now I look at the calendar and scoff.

It’s halfway through April and I have barely written anything at all except blog posts and OneNote journal entries. I’m okay with this because those are important endeavors too and it totes counts as writing. And then looking back through the zero draft, I realized that I wrote straight through many of my question mark story beats. The rest of the story had been fleshed out pretty well but there was a part right before the break into Act 2 where I was just….derrrrr WHUT HAPPENS HERE??

So those are all wins. I had a creative word boom in March and then went SPLAT in April. I think this is healthy. I’m doing alternative projects that have nothing to do with writing. Crochet. Note cards. Baking. And those STUPIDLY ADDICTING DIAMOND PAINTINGS. So time consuming. So satisfying. SO SHINY… It is good to give the brain a break and let if play in other areas of fun so it can be refreshed and stimulated in different ways.

But it’s time to get back into the game. Even my iPod is urging me to write again, playing multiple songs from book playlists in a row. The plan was to re-read and flesh out my Nano 2020 Story. Possibly even name it properly. #Goals. I can’t let this grace period of abundance pass me by without making a concentrated effort toward my writing goals.

DECLARATIONS:

I am giving myself April and May to get a rough draft of the Nano story typed out and then I will set it aside and go back to Faustus.

I will write at least two blog posts a month in an effort to boost my author platform.

I will write every day.

Hopefully. Probably. Maybe. We will see what the Universe throws at me. Haaa. What are your writing goals? Did the pandemic force you to buckle down too?

Love the Journey, Not the Goal

(…but love the goal too, by all means.)

I read that recently in a book (of course in a book) and it really stuck with me. As a budding SERIOUS-MINDED writer –HA– I am having to learn how to be okay with not being a genius.

(I never got anything below an A- in English, okay? It’s hard to transition from being brilliant to being average.)

Writing is hard. Creating a coherent, likeable story out of our own experiences and thoughts and then showing it to people to criticize and judge is terrifying. Most people in their life think about writing a book but usually never get very far for this reason or another like, No time, No motivation, No idea how. But the few of us that hang on, who eat, breathe and live the written word, we know that there is nothing else for us except to write.

That doesn’t magically clear up the fear of failure or criticism though does it? Big fat NOPE. So what do we do?

We can learn to love the journey.

Yeah I know, easier said, or in this case, written, than done. But isn’t it more rewarding to have earned the prize instead of it being given to you? It’s certainly easier to be a unicorn and have the Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster look at your napkin scribbles, claim you are a prodigy and offer you a six-figure book deal (here’s looking at you Christopher Paolini).

You still have to write the dang book. And, if you are anything like me who has started a dozen or more different stories but never finished them, then this makes it doubly hard to love the WHOLE JOURNEY or writing a book. We all have strengths that make the process go fast: Fast outlining, excellent Zero draft skills, ignoring your inner editor, unique character development or realistic world building. Inversely, we have skills that we lack and we dread: writing the Murky Middle, outlining, staying on deadline, not editing every paragraph you write, or refusing to hurt your Darlings with nasty conflict. Whatever it may be, we all have stumbling blocks that make us want to stop or quit.

There’s tons of advice out there on the subject of How to Write a Book, Fast! You wanna know my advice? You’ve heard it a hundred thousand times:

FINISH THE DRAFT.

You can groan and click away from the page. That’s okay. But the advice will still haunt you everywhere you go. That naggy little voice in your head will still be there.

I made a plan for myself to zero draft and finish Faustus, my current WIP, by the end of March. I didn’t finish it, which freaked me out initially. It was the first time I had ever set a deadline for myself and even though I was working steadily on it, I realized that one month to zero draft an ENTIRE BOOK was not in the cards for me. I failed. Queen of Procrastination.

Of course, it depends on what one defines as a “Zero Draft”. Mine felt more like a rough draft but I was working off the rough outline I wrote so it was more like…fleshing out the outline? IDK. It took longer than I thought it would and I was kind of bummed about it until I saw that I hard written straight through my rough patch. Every chapter and beat had been fully conceptualized except the few points at the break into act 2 that I was drawing a blank on. How does one have “Fun and Games” out in the desert and mountains with a newly prosthetic/bionic arm, with demonic but well-meaning kidnappers and a good friend whom isn’t entirely human?

(Guns and ATVs it turns out. Who knew? My brain did! YEAAHH GO BRAIN!)

Now I should mention that I never had zero crafted before this attempt. It was straight pantsing with my stories, or Discovery writing. I wrote where the wind took me. But I tried a different route this time, with Faustus. I had a concept. I had a character, a side kick, a love interest, and a villain. I had a world and history for that world. I collected all the little shiny marbles into the circle and looked at them and decided, “Lets try something different”. And you know what I discovered?

I LOVE IT.

I LOVE ZERO DRAFTING.

Terry Pratchett has this quote “The first drafts is just the story you tell yourself.” That’s kind of what Zero Drafting is. It helps me to have a basic outline so I don’t stray too far away from the original intent of the story, but within that outline I dig up all sorts of gems like, the good friend has a mother who lived through a horrid ordeal that the main character will have to go through in the future. Now she has a mother figure to relate to since her own mother figure is the worst anti-hero ever. Other things try to work themselves into another direction, like the main character having a human love interest that just don’t work so I made a note to cut those parts out. Not that kind of book and my main character only has room in her heart for one person. It makes what she does later more relatable I think. Maybe.

Point is, I never would have figured any of this out if I hadn’t tried something new. And now I have something to add to my writing repertoire that will help speed along my drafting. The art of writing is the same as writing the words themselves; you have to find your own voice, your own method, that works for you and you have to be brave enough to TRY EVERYTHING.

Write for eight hours a day like it’s a full time job. Write 500 words directly after dinner and make it a habit to do so every day. Wake up an hour earlier to write. Use the Snowflake method to write. Use the Three Act Structure. Use Story Beats. Use Scrivener. Use your lap top or a pen and paper. Write word sprints at a bar or a park or your bathroom with the shower running. TRY IT ALL and discover what will make you fall in love with the process.

Life is a journey. You should love it, not just survive it.

If you’re Failing, you’re Trying

Seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Jumbo Shrimp. Icy Hot. Falling up.

Failing has such negative connotations attached to it and has psychologically powerful stigma. There are F’s following us around as young as six years old, usually in red ink, the color of doom, on report cards and tests. F’s are Failing. That’s what it says on the bottom of those papers. D’s are below average but an F is the end of the line. You are at the bottom and do not pass go or collect $200.

Failure, even the thought of it sometimes, makes us feel less. It cripples us, makes us shrink down into the smallest, most inconspicuous being we can be, and it is the fastest killer of dreams on the planet (besides money). It make us feel limited, beyond help, and, above all, inept.

Failure means END. Red means STOP.

Let me tell you something. Let me remind that if you find yourself facing an F, that means there’s no where to go but up, baby. That’s right. Look up into the light!

“If you’re failing, you’re trying.”

It's okay to fail | The Sentry

Image from the movie “Meet The Robinsons”

Read it again.

I am a thirty five year old woman and am just now realizing how early life failed to prepare me for the real world. My perfectionism and lack of interest in people cost me valuable lessons. My aversion to responsibility and my disrespect for deadlines created an intrinsically lazy person. I am now having to break down and rebuild those skills from scratch. Life failed me but now I have the chance to make it right for myself. I can TRY.

My ex mother-in-law told me once as I looked on in horror at her unraveling a beautiful crocheted blanket, that every time she did that, it reminded her of how many times she’s had to unravel her life to build it back up better and stronger and with more confidence than the last time. It was always such a comforting image to me, the unraveling of yarn. It gave me comfort that she, at fifty-five, was still learning the lessons too.

Failure looks different for everyone. It’s what you do with it that makes you sink or swim.

Denial of a promotion doesn’t mean you failed, it means not right now but KEEP TRYING.

Getting an F on a test doesn’t mean you’re failing the class, just that you need to make the effort to LEEP TRYING.

Burning the eggs doesn’t mean you completely suck at cooking. Do it again. Eggs are cheap.

It is an incredibly hard thing to be comfortable with failure. It’s like deliberately taking cold showers every day and drinking black coffee (literally the most horrifying thing to me besides willingly holding a live spider.) Our mind rejects the thought of doing the uncomfortable thing because we know that there is a great probability of failure and we are scared to be at the bottom. But what if we can reprogram our brain to believe that failing isn’t Doom and Gloom? What if we can convince it that Failure doesn’t mean we aren’t enough, just that we’re not quite there yet?

Failure means you’re trying and it should be a friggin’ BADGE OF COURAGE. A bright yellow happy face sewn into all your clothes that makes the statement:

I FAILED AND I’M STILL HERE TRYING.

Lift the 3lbs weights. One day, they’ll be 5lbs, and then 8lbs, and then 20lbs.

Keep fighting the courts to take back custody of your kids. Fight back with knowledge and persistence and a fierce love.

Keep saving for that wedding dress.

COOK THE DAMN EGGS.

Failure means you’re trying, even if it hurts.