Monday, December 29, 2014

Second Draft Done

After two long years, I finally finished the second draft of the novel. When I typed the final words, I honestly didn't feel a thing. No excitement, no relief, no sense of accomplishment, nothing.

I made it Facebook official, but without a single extraneous word (truly shocking for someone like me), or even an exclamation point. When I told Matt the news, I did the Olympic gymnast pose, but only with my arms. My posture was still pretty slumpy. I poured sparkling grape juice into pretty glasses and made a toast - "May my novels be many and their drafts few" - but we didn't clink them together because we were too busy shooting aliens.

I lay away last night wondering what I was going to do before work. I don't know why I was wondering, because I've only been planning it for two years: set the manuscript aside for three months, go on a reading binge, play fantasy RPGs, practice my DM skills, all in the pursuit of becoming a better storyteller. After the three months are up, I'll get back to revisions with fresh eyes.

Today I woke up, took my shower, and while I was waiting for the tea to steep and the toaster to toast, I still felt mostly numb, but I think there was a little bit of sadness in there too. The numbness I attribute to a realistic perspective on novel writing, particularly first novel writing, that borders on jadedness; the draft is done but the novel itself is far from finished. When it is finished, it's most likely fate statistically speaking is to gather dust on my hard drive, never to be seen by the general public. I'm not quite ridiculous enough to mourn the fate of a novel I haven't even finished yet, but as I told Matt a few nights ago: I can pretend I'm only writing this as a loving tribute to the world he's created, the plot he's crafted, and the characters we've developed, but I also really, really want to sell this thing for actual money-golds. If the latter doesn't happen, I'm gonna be disappointed.

I'm probably gonna be disappointed.

There are a lot of reasons for the undercurrent of sadness. I've started a handful of posts about them over the last six months, but haven't brought myself to finishing them. Suffice to say that the latter half of 2014 has been rough for me, so I'll stick with one reason, the one most relevant to this post.

The only thing that kept me from laying in bed until work every day is no longer there. Or rather, it's finally here, and that's the problem. The thing that I lived to painfully scribble into existence already exists. I can't sit at my desk with my tea and what little determination I have to do the writer's equivalent of brick-laying every day. As long as I got my brick laid, the day was worth it.

I'd love nothing more than to dive right back in today, since it's been over a year since I've looked at some of these scenes. I hate drafting but I love revising. I love, love, love the idea of having a mostly complete sculpture I need only pinch and prod for a few more months to make it beautiful. The only thing stopping me is a nagging sense that without proper distance from the full picture, I'll get carried away and end up breaking more than I fix.

There's a reason most writers recommend working on something else during this vital period of percolation. I really wish I had another idea kicking around in my head but I don't. I'm not the kind of writer who's head is bursting at the seams with story seeds clamoring for attention. I'm hoping semi-weekly tabletop sessions will be enough of a substitute.

Those are supposed to start Wednesday. The entirety of my plans take up maybe half a page of a small notebook. Now that I have the mental resources to spare, I find that I still don't have the enthusiasm I was hoping would materialize now that the novel isn't priority one. DMing is similar to writing, but it nevertheless requires a unique set of skills. It's something I'm new to, and I actually don't like trying new things because it means I have to endure sucking at them. It doesn't help that Matt, Mr. I've Been a DM Since I Was 12, is one of the two players.

Actually it's very helpful because it saves me a lot of time looking up rules, but the pressure. The pressure. It's like a toddler showing off their somersaults to a five-time gold medalist, minus the indestructible toddler confidence.

While I lack both preparedness and enthusiasm, I do still have my daily ration of determination. I also have lots of new pens and notebooks. Those three things carried me through Draft Two; they can help me survive Wednesday.

Friday, July 11, 2014

For Nana

I like small things.

Every time I see you, you have some small, sweet thing for me to take home. A little trinket, a little notebook, a little gadget for the kitchen in my dreams. Little stationary with little cupcakes and duckies and turtles on them. Socks, jammies, sweaters, always size "small", since I am also small. (I won't go so far as to say I like myself full stop, but I will admit to little stretches of time where I come to like myself a little more each day.)

Often you give me things that seem big at first but are really just a bunch of little things. Brightly colored baskets filled with seasonally appropriate candy and knick-knacks. Care packages with hand towels, window stickers, and kits for making cupcakes out of felt cut-outs and pompoms.

You've probably given me some actual big stuff too over the years, but I hope it doesn't offend you that I honestly don't remember them. So I'm going to say that the biggest things you ever gave me were hugs, because I like the sound of that.

See, the thing about big stuff is it's too easy to get too much. A giant piece of cake that you either don't finish or regret finishing is way worse than a little piece of cake that doesn't turn out to be enough. In the latter case, you frequently have the option of going for seconds, and even if it turns out there are no seconds because some jerk took more than their share, you appreciate that little piece you had. You spend a tidbit of time thinking about how good it was, and what a shame there isn't any more. You move your tongue around in your mouth in the hopes of finding some sweet particle you might have missed.

Neither of us are big on big gifts. We don't want them and don't give them. It makes us feel weird, and who knows how the other person might react. When we give, we don't want to needlessly complicate a good thing with feelings of insecurity, and frankly speaking, big gifts tap you out for a while. We want to give, because it's in our nature, and we don't like the idea of being unable to act according to our nature for any length of time. Worst of all, trying to cut back on a gift after it's given has a 100% chance of making everyone feel weird. That's where small gifts have the advantage, because if it's not enough then it's no trouble to give another one. We can keep up a constant flow of giving without ever tiring out.

And the little stuff adds up. Enough gadgets, towels, and dishes in enough boxes can become the best kitchen ever just waiting to be unpacked. I keep them tightly wrapped, not because I don't want to use them, but because when I am decorating that kitchen someday I want to open each box and smell the house it was first wrapped in. I hopes it's soon, because I crack them open once in a while, and find that my favorite scent is fading like the taste of a small piece of cake.

Miles add up too - and years, and the little obligations of everyday life. I'm very far away, and right now I really don't want to be. I hate that as the time between visits home has gotten longer our time together has gotten shorter.

Today that bugged me in a big way, so for the shortest of moments I wanted to come up with something huge to give you. Some extravagant thing like I-don't-even-know-what that would convey everything I've ever felt and and am feeling right now about you, me, us. But my brain isn't wired to think like that, and you would probably feel weird anyway.

So instead, I'm dedicating a rambling blog post to you.

Also, I think you might like this song by The Weepies. There's something about the way she sings "sweetheart" at the end that moves me.




Monday, June 16, 2014

Use It Or Lose It

My flexibility has regressed to the point where it's genuinely distressing.

My dance teachers always encouraged us to stretch every day, especially during summer break. "Use it or lose it!" they'd say.

Well, I didn't listen. Twelve years of lessons, and every year I swam in the pool and played computer games all summer instead. For the last three years I danced, I'd make an effort for the first few weeks to stretch at least 20 minutes a day, because I was determined to be a dance teacher, and that's what teachers did. I was determined that that year wouldn't be like all the others. 

But they were.

To this day, my adult self is furious with my kid self for making the decision to not try every year. You'd think I would have learned. The first week back was always brutal. We'd all laugh at ourselves as we wobbled gracelessly into our stunted splits, 6 o'clocks and straddles. Our kicks were a foot shorter than they were just over two months ago. We couldn't move the next day. But it didn't bother me as much as it should have. 

See, dance was like school: I was naturally competent enough that I could stand out from my peers with zero effort, so my not-quite-developed brain thought it would work out the same way when I was adult. I longed to be seen as exceptional, but in the adult art world no one's going to see your "good enough" and mistake it for exceptional. 

Now I'm sitting here, noting the obvious differences between two months without stretching as a 14-year-old and four YEARS as a grown woman. I tried a simple front kick the other day, with my right leg of course, because my right side was always more flexible. (I never gave my left the same attention.) Needless to say, I did not have to worry about hitting myself in the face like I used to. I barely got above my hip, and the fact that it hurt even a little to get that far made me want to die right there.

I don't want to be a dance teacher anymore. I just want to risk breaking my nose with own thigh again.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Observation #1

Is your lone female character in a sea of males having a hard time coming across on paper as the unique, complex individual that she is in your head? Consider adding more females* to the cast to relieve pressure on both character and writer. Being a stereotype is a burden, but being a "perfectly" balanced amalgam of half the human population is way freaking harder.
    

*Definitely more than one. Preferably more than two. If adding more than three seems daunting, then I reiterate: half the human population.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's the Snowpocalypse, and Somehow I'm Still Happy

I almost don't want to say this, in case the declaration becomes the spell that erases all my progress, but I have to:

I have found my writing process, and thanks be to God, it is stronger than the winter blues.

It involved several weeks of honest self-assessment, discovery of the obvious, and the occasional personifying of my issues into a solar powered dancing monkey.


(His name is Procrastination. I give his cheeky little peace sign a tweak when I want to tell him, "Not today, Monkey, not today." Then, to show him I mean it, I turn him around so I can't see his "Aww, c'mon" smile.)

Several different articles written with varying degrees of academic rigor have helped get me to this point. I'll link to a few of them at the end, but the core concept can be summed up thusly: Prioritize your long-term happiness, and the mundane unavoidables of life can be taken care of with a lot less stress.

Like I said, discovery of the obvious.

So, you can't put "live a fulfilling, happy life" on a daily checklist. What you can do is break up that lifetime into smaller segments. Depending on what life's throwing at you, those segments might be as large as years or as small as hours. I'm a happily married woman with a part-time job, no children and no house payment. On a deeper level, I'm a self-aware neurotic with a penchant for navel-gazing, continually vacillating between idealism and an obsession with the worst case scenario.

Weeks work for me.

A large part of staying happy from week to week is doing stuff I like to do, and find fulfilling. I know. Mind = Blown. I'm fortunate enough to be a woman of simple pleasures. I require only a handful of things to feel like the day was worth getting out of bed for:

1. Drinking good tea.

2. Writing my book.

3. Reading someone else's. (Or playing a good, story-driven game.)

4. Doing at least one thing to make my husband happy.

It really does work best in that order too. I need to write before my head gets filled with other things. Reading after writing is encouraging and reminds me what published prose sounds like, whereas reading first can lead to either never writing because I'm too absorbed in the book, or never writing because reading published prose made me unsure of my own. When I write with inhibitions, I end up with a bunch of forced, overwrought nonsense to trash the next day.

Matt has been working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for the last 2 months at his soul-sucking retail job, so I have to get creative with number 4 sometimes. *eyebrow waggle* Mostly though, I bake cookies, keep up with laundry, play co-op games with him, or scratch his back while he runs around in a single-player game.

The funny thing is, life circumstances haven't changed much since last year. My year-long "temporary" position as assistant manager is as ambiguous as ever, and I'm never sure what my hours will be from week to week. We still don't make enough to live on our own. I still don't have a driver's license, for reasons better shared with a therapist than the internet.

The main difference is that last winter I did nothing but sleep and mope, and this winter I'm the most content I've ever been. My craft is improving, chores are getting done without childish drama, and work is just work - not something else for me to fail at, but something that pays the bills and gets me out of the house and my own head for a while.

I imagine my outlook will be even better once snow and ice stop trying to murder everyone. In fact, there's a strong possibility that if I stick to my process I'll have a complete second draft by the end of this fall.

I might actually need beta readers in 2015!



Links: Waitbutwhy's funny and insightful blog posts on Why Procrastinators Procrastinate, and How to Beat Procrastination, and this guide gave me a good starting point to help me figure out what my ADD brain needed to function optimally.

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is NOT Procrastination. It's NOT.

Because I like to torture myself, I've spent most of January working out a timeline for the entire series. Now, I don't think this is something all, or even most stories need; however, I have the plot outlines for four more books after the first, and my best guess is that it will take another two or three to complete the story. All this in mind, it's probably in my best interest to get this thing under some semblance of control while it's still in the R&D stage.

Since Matt and I had already created a calendar a few months ago, I decided it would make the most sense to use the in-world calendar when making the timeline. Duh, right? So when this thing is finished, every plot-relevant thing from road trips lengths to significant event dates will be nailed down to a precise year, month, and day. 

Things were going fairly smoothly for a while, but as the story grew in scope and the cast list increased, I encountered the bane of every multi-book story: continuity errors.

I found myself running into problems like:

"The notes say Character A and Character B meet at such-and-so date, but according to the passage of time last session, Character B is still on the other side of the continent that day."

and

"Okay, going from Point A to Point B took this amount of time last session , but a couple of sessions ago it only took them this long. The route and means of transportation hadn't changed, so what gives?"

and

"You know, their horses were trained for this kind of constant long-distance traveling, but we're getting dangerously close to animal abuse here. Can't these people stay in one spot for more than a week at a time? Or maybe invent a car?" 

So I sit, and I stare at the map of the continent, the map that is created with Microsoft Paint, and not at all drawn to scale. I take a deep breath, and turn my fledgling organizational skills up to 11 (which is probably a 5 for most people.) I start a new document containing the definitive travel distances from Anywhere to Everywhere, by miles, by days on horseback, by days on foot. I color code plot lines. I count on my fingers because my brainmeats are too sizzled to do mental math, and I don't trust myself to interpret the formula I punched in the calculator correctly. 

When I can't even finger-count anymore, I write blog posts because clearly I need a break.

But I tell myself the headache is worth it. That everything will line up perfectly with enough hard work and wrangling. That future outlines will be so much easier because of my efforts now. That once this is done I need only concern myself with the fun part, the prose.

Most of all, I tell myself, "Thank GOD this continent doesn't have to deal with snow."

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Letter of Advice To Myself

Dearest Dopey Self,

While it was very smart of you to translate your shorthand notes from the October sessions into proper English longhand immediately upon your return home, it would have been even better if you had actually printed out said transcription and placed them in your Giant Blue Binder of All Knowledge, also known as The Story Bible, before traveling to the next state over. This would have spared you 15 minutes of staring at 2-month old shorthand like an illiterate bumpkin gawping at Greek when the Game Master asked for a quick recap.

Also, a pro tip: writing shorthand is not like riding a bike. Not even a little. Like flexibility, it's a use-it-or-lose-it sort of thing. If you want to continue to take faster, more accurate notes (and fool your friends into thinking you're some sort of linguistic genius) consider setting aside more than two days out of the month to practice. Flipping through flashcards 20 minutes before the session starts is not sufficient. 

Your earnest attempts at organization are both admirable and amusing. 

Keep it up,
You