Day 501

I write every day. At least, I have for the last 501 days.

Yesterday was Day 500. It’s the last badge from 750words that is advertised on the ‘about badges’ page. So today, when I looked, there it was, that beautiful spacebird badge I’ve been working toward for longer than 500 days. I reminded myself I couldn’t quit when I was so close.

[Note: I have no idea why all of them are birdlike, but it begins with an egg at zero days, a turkey after 3, and we moved through a Pegasus and Phoenix to get there.]

Today is Day 501. It’s not time to quit today, either. I’ve practiced many forms of meditation with yoga, tai chi, and being seated with a quiet mind. Yet writing is one of the things that calms me and keeps me going, which makes it a form of meditation. It’s not how everyone uses writing, but it’s one reason I pursue it so doggedly.

New goals are ahead, and I’ve also been working editing into a daily schedule this month. I’m struggling with it for several reasons, but I’m slowly improving.

Another lesson from yoga applied to writing: The parts we resist the most also teach us the most. I know I read that type of article the first time and it spoke about the poses. A friend of mine hated chair pose so she taught it in class every week. When I started, my least favorite pose was plank. It’s hard to believe how long ago that was.

When I edit, I’m looking at my words again, changing them, tweaking them, sometimes ripping out entire pages of fluff where I wonder what I was thinking or how I could have possibly thought it would fit in the book. I’m also starting to see how it’s improving, the book is turning into something better, prettier, maybe good enough to share with a few trusted friends. Soon. After the rewrite.

What are you struggling with? How do you go about solving the problem and creating goals that you’re excited to reach for? I’m going to pick another number: 555? 600? Those numbers seem more possible now.

The End of the Poetry [Challenge]

I spent the last 30 days writing a poem every day. Most of them were free verse, a few of them needed to have some sort of form, and all of them had requirements about what to say.

What can I really say about it? I love a challenge. I love trying to do something that’s tough just to see if I can. [That might be part of the reason I like NaNoWriMo, too.]

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from using a different form to express yourself. Poetry that says you have to use a word like carbonated and forbids you to use a word like the. No, those aren’t things we use when writing something to publish, but to start looking at words differently? Mission accomplished.

A couple of the poems I really like. I didn’t expect that, because sometimes a prompt will make you hold to the boundaries so rigidly it wouldn’t fit anything else. I also had fun sharing my work with some of the other challenge-attempters. I would look at the words they poured out, and look at mine, and wonder if we truly did use the same beginning. Then you find the bolded words we had to use, none of the words we couldn’t use, and a minimum or maximum of lines. I’m still amazed.

Today it’s over, though I’m sure several of us held our breath around noon, ready to go look for another prompt. I hear it only takes about three weeks for a habit, and this challenge lasted 30 days. Then my friend who organized it said she might do it again in September. My history has only been to do any sort of poetry challenge about once every three years or so… September might be too soon.

Plus I have a novel to rewrite. More than one, even. Time to dig into that. 

Poetry Challenge

One thing I love about poetry is the way you look at words differently. I won’t call myself a poet. I don’t spend nearly enough time on it for that. I know little about forms. Meter and rhyme mostly serve to frustrate me.

But I read this op-ed, and I was thinking. I know some poets. They have beautiful words to share. One thing about those writer groups where you go and take something to read out loud – poetry is perfect for that medium. It’s also easy to print out 20 copies of a poem to share so they can find typos or anything else.

A friend of mine is running a poetry challenge this month, and every day we’re writing a poem. The challenge comes in finding something to say about the prompt – yesterday was Celestial Musings – and not using any of the forbidden words while using all of the required words and it was the first day we had the option of finding a form (any form).

I find it very intimidating to go find a form and just use it. I like it when someone tells me to try a pantoum or a tanka or a jozzonet. There are so many forms out there I’ve never heard of and I’m not sure where to go find them.

When the month is over and I have 30 new poems – because I’m not the kind of person who backs away from a challenge – I’m going back to my novel edits. I’m doing it to look at the words differently. To change how I see them in my head. To alter how they come out while I’m describing things. Wish me luck. I have 17 down and 13 to go.

My Character Took a Turn

While it isn’t my main character, a major character in the book revealed that he had something to do with one of the Bad Events. He seemed neutral at the beginning, a necessary bridge between protagonist and antagonist and someone who worked with both.

I suppose it all started when a different character – who was supposed to remain in the backstory – left traces of herself from the first page and arrived front and center when my protagonist needed an ally.

So much for my outline- except I’m still following the outline. I don’t believe in cornering myself with the details. I discover it as I write it, with the outline more like a street map. And just like my GPS system, every now and then it tells me to take a u-turn at 70 mph through a four-foot concrete barrier. I always choose not to follow that advice. I’m nearly at the destination now, and I know if I keep writing I’ll find my way.

I’m always amazed by well-meaning other writers who don’t know me well. They say “save it for later.” I’m not going to fix this guy. Except to make this reveal seem planned after the rewrite, of course.

Then, I thought, Man, your wife is way too cool for you. But maybe she also knew. I guess I’d better check in with her and see.

I hear it’s good for characters to get lives of their own, but they definitely make my book interesting. I also can’t wait to see how it turns out – even though I am following an outline. I’m not sure I could write this book without some kind of guide. I think I’m 125k words in, and I’m not sure where it will end.

A New Level

I write. Every day. I don’t take off weekends or holidays. I also write at least 750 words each of those days.

As my writing habit has grown stronger, I’ve really missed the days when it hasn’t happened. Part of it is the way I can see 750words.com tell me “You have written x days in a row.” But at the bottom of my statistics, I have a number. That number is 384, which is the most days I had written in a row.

I’ve been very proud of 384. Through that time, I moved twice and had a baby. When I broke that streak (July 2012), it was a regular day that went out of the regular routine. I learned through that it wasn’t the big things I could see coming that breaks my writing; it was the little things that you can’t plan for.

Once the streak was broken, the pressure was off to keep going. I even gave myself a month off (December 2012). Big mistake. I felt off the entire month. Like I hadn’t accomplished anything. Like some part of myself couldn’t be connected.

Today that number changes. Today my longest streak starts picking up again. Today is 385. 

I’m still struggling to put my editing into the same perspective. Maybe I’ll start putting star stickers on my binder and start a new row every time I break a streak. Any ideas?

Project Cycle

Every project begins with an image in someone’s head. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s going to be ten thousand or a hundred thousand when I begin.

The first step is to spew out the rough draft. Sometimes, and with more regularity, an outline takes shape before that. I’ve been learning to get better about running through a draft until it’s done. When I stop things in the middle, I lose my place. I can’t figure out where I’m going. It takes forever to build the momentum back up again.

There is a need to let a draft sit, but not for too long. That rough draft turns into a pile of words on pages. The half-edited bundle of papers becomes something I have to re-read to connect to each time a long break happens. Yet I also get little tidbits of ideas about projects I haven’t worked on for a couple months. Sometimes those bits fit and sometimes it takes a change in the entire project to encompass the new idea.

How do you overcome that distance? What do you do to make yourself get through to the end without those long, awkward pauses of, ‘oh, yeah, I’m working on that book’? I’m also working through my resistance to editing. Somehow I will make progress.

Run

When I used to think about running, I remembered gym in high school. l had one teacher who loved calisthenics, and in his health and gym class you had to run, outside, in late November. Every time we passed him, he yelled that we had to go faster, a certain pace, or we’d fail. My lungs burned from the cold air and the only thing that kept me on that track was that I couldn’t fail because I could not stand to be in class with that guy again.

Something changed, though. This year, many mornings, when I wake up early to write – I also wake up wanting to run. This winter has been so much colder than that long-ago November, so I know I don’t really want to go outside. Yet I have that image of lacing up my shoes and taking off for morning run.

This morning I dreamed about it. I woke up too early, stayed in bed, and just imagined the scenery going by. How did this become something that I want to do so much that I dream about it?

Writing is often a sedentary pursuit, as was engineering. Yoga, while a fitness discipline, is often practiced in my home or at the gym at a stately pace. That static nature allows a lot of work on form and strength and patience. Yoga definitely taught me patience.

I’ve been reading Writing Down the Bones, where I finally understood the idea of a walking meditation. One foot raises during the inhale, comes down during the exhale. This slow pace brings focus to both the small movements and the world around. Finally that made sense, especially after attending a Tai Chi class this week. The slow, measured pace matches with the breath. You can’t hurry it. You use your yoga breath with a slow inhale and a slow exhale, which draws out those movements even more. All of it intended to make you relax.

Every morning since November, I have programmed an alarm in my phone that says “Sprint!” While that has been turned to writing, to pouring out my thoughts while my brain is still putting them together and allowing that creativity to drive my words, rather than allowing my analytical mind to drive order during the draft. Something has turned this into a want to run. To not just sprint after one kid or the other to prevent mayhem, but to really run with no other purpose than to go running.

While part of me is still recalling the grueling trek around the track, the rest of me is thinking it isn’t complete insanity to run. Just – maybe not outside. It is February and below freezing. And there’s always the possibility that it will connect things in my head for writing. If nothing else, I can make my characters learn to run, too.

One Million Words

I’ve only been tracking it on 750words.com since I joined. It took 2 years and almost 8 months: 1 May 2011 to 29 Dec 2013. That also only counts rough words, because I take them out of there when I finish and edit, rewrite, tweak, whatever’s needed elsewhere.

One million words feels huge. But when I count all the writing I’ve done before I joined, there might be a million words there, too. I know it’s hard to translate words into pages, but it would be about 4000. It might be 10 books worth, if it could be organized that way and was worth throwing together.  

My longest streak is 384 days, spanning two moves and having a baby. I’m creeping up there again, currently at 307 days in a row.

I’ve been told that writing a million words is more like an apprenticeship in writing than anything else. That it takes ten years to get good at something, and putting the time in is the only way to get better. I’m not sure I can say I’ve put that time into anything else. But writing, that I do, and I continue to do, every day. I’ve been writing more than ten years- it can be traced back to elementary school, though as I get older I get more dedicated to my craft.

What will the third million teach me that the first two didn’t?

December Brings New Goals

Why? Because it’s just fun to start a new month with new things to do.

NaNoWriMo is always fun. I met new people with the Quad City Writing Guild. New name for them, too, because they’re simply trying to organize the WriMos around the area. They decided it was so much fun, they didn’t just want to meet during November.

I didn’t finish my November novel, and I knew I wouldn’t this year. That’s been a goal for a while, but I knew with that idea it wasn’t going to happen. It’s too big. I’m not sure I have it fully contained. I will keep working on it. Last night I tried to match up the pieces I wrote to the outline boxes. Got interrupted, too, but that just means I will finish it later today.

My new habit for November was getting up super early. Before 5am, local time. I have a writing buddy (in Eastern Time) who writes with me for half an hour, first thing in the morning. I made it every day but two in November. For December, we rolled the back half an hour. I already missed yesterday due to illness in the house, but it’s a nice thing to write when it’s quiet and I will continue the best I can.

For December, also, I’m editing, rewriting, whatever it takes to get some projects ready to be released into the world. Three days in, and I have done some work on Don’t Tell Your Mother each day. I’ve also been keeping up the 750words streak, and I have passed 970k on the site. Will definitely pass the one million words mark this month. I have a short story for an anthology with a deadline of 31 January.

One thing that really keeps me on my toes for DTYM: my main character loves food. Everything revolves around food, it seems, and I struggle with that because as long as I’m not hungry, I don’t think about it much. It’s one reason I have such trouble planning meals in advance. My nose doesn’t smell things the same way everyone else does, so describing the food aromas has been a big challenge. Remind me to try to rein in the next character that goes foodie on me.

Yeah, right, like that will work. Characters! They always have to have it their way.

Margaret Atwood, the CON, and NaNoWriMo

All good things come in November, right? Even my birthday is only two days away.

Margaret Atwood spoke at the Englert Theater in Iowa City last night, which also happened to be her 75th birthday. She’s clever, concise, and funny. I might even have an appreciation for zombies after listening to her. After she spoke, there was a Q&A, then she signed books.

The questions were decent, somewhat – I’m going to ignore the best hockey goalie question because the guy was hunting for something she didn’t want to give. Still. One (expected) question was about advice for aspiring writers. Maybe aspiring writer is a different term to everyone who labels oneself with the term. However, this woman was 53 and had not finished a manuscript. (Ms. Atwood asked.) Her advice? Finish it. Then do something with it. Then write something else. That is a writer. And she’s right, of course. She also said if the writer was an adolescent, wattpad was a good, free opportunity to get words out there. Because, sure, writing for an audience of your teacher about a summer vacation is one thing, but having a real audience to give comments and feedback, even if it is just ‘more, more!’ is something that will make that person dedicated to the craft.

When she signed my book, I said I was also an aspiring author. She asked if I’d finished a manuscript, and of course I said I had. And it has been published. And I keep writing. And she said I’m not aspiring – I’m already there. Again, she’s right. Except I might still be aspiring. I want to reach higher- to find more audiences- and to always, always do better. She has a wonderful attitude, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up: in that I want to write the stories, share them, and have a humorous outlook.

Last weekend was ICON. (I suppose in this way, I’m different than Ms. Atwood. I do mingle with the science fiction community. Whenever I can.) I was so excited to go to Paradise ICON, which was the writer’s workshop piece. I didn’t do much with the CON itself. I did see my band, Wylde Nept, and I’m glad. I caught up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a few things that are still rattling around in my head trying to makes sense of themselves.

I’m in the midst of making new goals, trying new schedules to be more productive, and getting “out there” more. I’ve told several friends my focus after November will switch to editing. I know I need to force myself to do it, and with constant prodding is the only way I know to start that. (December 1st, hear me people?! Eleven more days!) Going to Paradise ICON helped. I need to spend more time in serious critique mode, too. Luckily I may have a new friend (or more than one) who will allow me to work on that with them. 

And NaNoWriMo! I love the writer energy in the air around this time of year, and I like to take advantage of it to push out a bunch of words. Greg Frost called what I am doing something like a Zero Draft, and I think I love that term. Plus it only emphasizes the amount of work in the future to resurrect it into something usable, sharable, worthy of the original vision in my head. But you can’t fix it until you get it out. I’m not sure how to describe this project, but it’s big. So I’m going to the end, and then I’ll define it. Whether I finish or not by 1 Dec, I will use that date to start editing my lovely pile of projects.

The other thing I will do (but not as much as editing) is put together another new schedule. Self-imposed deadlines. These I will also share, so everyone can keep me on task to make them. When I dream, I dream big. And I know I won’t achieve those dreams if I allow myself to let the deadlines slide too far. Like they have been doing. So thanks in advance for gentle nudges when I stall and encouragement when I falter.

I can and do own the writer label, but there are so many other labels that must be applied before one can become a successful author. So right now I will dream, schedule, plot, and implement until I make it there.

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