Tag Archives: celebrating

22Nov/14

The Weight is Lifted

Five years ago, I watched a friend struggle with self-doubt and fear. She had written a novel. A good novel. She had edited that novel several times. She had been to workshops and conferences. She had an author website. But she never actually sent the manuscript to anyone.

There was a group of us, a “Creative Cluster” if you will, who met to talk about our projects and get encouraged and inspired. We started setting goals together. This friend set a deadline for herself to send the manuscript to an agent. She knew which agent. She had the manuscript. But somehow, she never sent it.

It’s five years later and she still never sent it.

Watching her go through that, I made a promise to myself: I would put a book out by the age of 35. I would not be in my late 40s, still wanting to be an author but too afraid to take the baby steps necessary.

That promise proved a heavy weight.

huge.5.29986

 

For the next three years, I wrote religiously. I wrote and read and studied and practiced. I wrote several novels, a few screenplays, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of pieces of flash fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was getting there. I had a few pieces published, and a lot more of them rejected, but I didn’t have a great novel in me.

I shifted gears to work on a project for a friend: I’d been mentoring several friends through the process of beginning homeschooling. Kind of a niche subject, but definitely a pet topic of mine. I started gathering all the essays I’d written and all my best advice to write a short book for my friend.

Within a few months, it became obvious that this little side project was going to get bigger. It had to be done right. I had to make it real. It was weird to me that I was writing nonfiction (and about homeschooling! Come on! I’m a spec fic writer!). But I kept keeping on.

While writing the 3rd draft, I turned 35. This was not supposed to happen. I was supposed to be a famous author by then! But I knew I was getting close, so I kept working. I hired an editor, which gave me a clear deadline. I started talking openly about working on the book with friends, who took it on themselves to watch my children so I could work. This was awesome.

Then I set to work on the self-publishing process. It took about 6 weeks, from edit to finish, but it felt like years. It was hard. I cried a lot. I got frustrated. I doubted myself. I loved myself. I hated the book. People read the book and loved the book, so I loved the book.

I’ve had no energy the last few weeks. I’ve felt clogged, honestly, like my brain wasn’t working right. I couldn’t sleep. I’d get up in the middle of the night to work on formatting or cover work or category research. I was ill. I didn’t care about food. I just obsessively worked at getting this freaking book out into the world.

Yesterday, I launched the book.

me with my book!

 

The most amazing thing of this whole process? I almost immediately felt human again. I had forgotten I’d been carrying the weight of that promise for five years. FIVE YEARS! And it’s over now. Yes, I have more books planned (specifically a middle-grade sci-fi that’s been on hold the last few months). But I’m really going to enjoy just being a person for a few months.

So, that’s my story. It was hard and scary and it sucked sometimes, but I can honestly say I did the best I was capable of at the time, and that’s a big thing to be able to say. So… yay me! That is all.

19Sep/14

How I Fight the Creative Resistance

The closer I get to finishing my book, the stronger the resistance gets. I am Frodo, crawling up Mount Doom, the weight of my precious book dragging on the ground beneath me.

I’ve been working on writing the ending. I’ve been saying this for the last several weeks. I’ve been saying it since the edited portion of the book was sitting at around 30,000 words, and now I have 50,000 words that are completely locked down. I honestly think I have 5,000 or less to go. I’m nearly done.

And when I’m done, I’m going to burn it.

Burning-book-001

 

This is the most common thought I hear whispered in my mind. Burn it. This voice has progressed in violence over the course of the 18 months I’ve been working on this thing. It started by letting me know the book probably wouldn’t get finished, but that was okay. Then it let me know that writing a book was really hard, and maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Then it started in on some character defamation: Who are you to write this book? Why would anyone want to read something you wrote? And now, as I near the end of it, the voice is starting to have a high-pitched panic to it. When you finish it, you must destroy it.

I know I’m not crazy. I know this is all part of the whole creating gig. I know it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid people will hate my book. I’m afraid people will love my book. I’m afraid I wasted my time writing it. I’m afraid that it will get big enough that I’ll have to devote more time to it after publishing it. There’s a lot of fear in this thing. But that doesn’t mean I’m weak or helpless, because I also know that when the fears are big, my courage is big. So I keep hitting the page. I keep putting words, one in front of another, into the places they belong. And I’ve hidden all the matches in the house.

In case you might be in the same place on a project you’re working on, here are a few things that have helped me keep pushing to the end:

1. Make a Promise to Someone You Care About

I wouldn’t have started this book if not for half a dozen friends who asked me to write it. One of them has continued asking about it every few months during this whole process. I keep her updated on my slow progress. As I’ve continued working, more friends have learned about this project. Now I have several people asking me about it. “How’s the writing coming?” If they ask in a large group of people, I’m suddenly the local celebrity who is working on a book, and now I have an extra dozen people waiting for it. Still, when it comes to writing the end, it’s because of my friend Sarah. It’s because she wants the book. Maybe she even needs it. I don’t know, but I’m writing it because I promised her I would.

2. Have Someone Else Set a Deadline for You

In my last post, I talked about the reasons to hire an editor. One of the best things that has come out of this decision for me is the deadline.

I love deadlines. I thrive on them. Rather than sending me into a swirling panic, they give me a laser-sharp focus. I know exactly what I have to do to meet this deadline. However, if I try to set my own deadlines, they don’t work. Last Fall, I told myself I would have the book finished by the end of the year. Did I? Nope. I did get the third draft done around that time, so it wasn’t all bad. My next deadline was in April. I was going to have it published. Did I? Nope. Not even close. Now, I have to have this book to my editor on October 1 to squeeze it into her busy calendar. Am I going to finish it? You bet your sorry deadline-avoiding tail I am. I wouldn’t let my editor down.

I’ve discovered there’s a trick to this: you have to be more afraid to fail the deadline than you are afraid of the book. And if you’re not afraid of the book, what in the world are you writing it for?

3. Celebrate Early

Now, this may not work for everyone, but I have this psychological thing about making stuff even. I don’t like to do things if I haven’t earned them (which explains a whole lot of my issues, but that’s a post for another day). I tend to be stingy with myself. However, I decided several months back that when I published my first book, I would get a tattoo.

That might not be what everyone else plans to do, but I had a little stick figure tattoo that I got during college that has needed to be covered up with something lovely. I had it in my head that I’d publish the book, I’d go out to celebrate, I’d have a drink or two, and I’d get some fresh ink. I’d even started asking around to find out where I might get it done locally.

Then an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thing happened. A tattoo artist was coming to visit a friend of mine and had agreed to set up a private tattoo session. He only had a few openings, so if I wanted one, I had to get on the list, fast. This was a month or so ago. It was one of those moments, similar to the one when I booked my editor. “This is it. You have to take this opportunity.”

I got that tattoo done last Sunday. It’s beautiful. The artist was amazing. He gave me a full color rendition of the owl and feather quill my brother had designed for me. It’s a tattoo that declares I am a writer, and it’s big, and it’s colorful, and it’s not going away.

It’s also the tattoo I was supposed to get after I finished this book. So now I have this debt weighing over me, and it’s visible (and kind of itchy and peely at the moment). I have not finished the book, but I already accepted my reward. The world is out of balance. I must rectify this. I have to finish.

4. Tell Everyone You Know

This goes along with the first tip, but it’s a little different. The first one is about someone who actually wants to read my book. This tip is about all my friends and family who probably won’t read it, but love cheering me on anyway.

I hate being embarrassed. I know there are a lot of writers out there who don’t deliver. I know there are a lot of times I haven’t delivered. How many times have I told people I’m writing a novel or a screenplay? And I was! I wasn’t lying. But for the first time, when someone asks what my book is about, I can tell them. I can pitch it to them in a few sentences, answer any questions they have about it, and then accept any of their ideas or criticisms without feeling like I’m being a total poser.

This is the thought that keeps me away from lighters in the house. Because I know, thanks to the huge number of people that I’ve talked to, that this is a good idea. It’s a good book. It’s something people want. It’s something people might need. It’s from a perspective that’s a little different. And the more I talk to all of them, the more courageous I get about it.

So when I hear that voice telling me to burn it, I think about my friend, and I think about the fantastic editor I have waiting for me, and I look at that tattoo I got in advance of all of it, and I tell that voice to suck it. Because this book is going to be finished within the next week and then put out into the world where I’ll have no control over it anymore. I hope it helps people.

Really? Wouldn’t you rather play video games today?

Shut up, Resistance. You’re dumb.

 

15May/11

Celebrating

 Recently I discovered something so key to my personality that I wish I knew it decades ago: I like to celebrate.

Yeah, so does everyone else, I’m sure. But for one of the stodgiest, most serious, quietest, hermit-like people in the world (that would be me), this desire to celebrate came as a revelation.

I gave a screenwriting workshop along with a friend back in March. During the planning, she made sure we planned a party afterward, as part of the workshop. I thought it was silly, to be honest, but I went along with it. Then a strange thing happened. As I planned the workshop, I started looking forward to the party afterward more than the workshop itself. I kept repeating the mantra of my friend: “No matter what happens, we’re still celebrating when this is over.” And we did. The workshop was a grand success, and even though we thought we were too tired afterward to do anything fun, we made ourselves celebrate. We ate good food and drank good wine and partied with good friends, and it was amazing.

Instead of going home alone and reliving every mistake I made during the night, I got to be with people who talked about all the great things we did. I felt like a superstar.

Fast forward to April. I finished a screenplay, a project requiring many hours of grueling hard work (most of it just trying to make myself sit down and write the damn thing). I started in January. I finished on the last day of April. And I fully planned to go home alone and feel ambivalent and depressed about it. I know the writing needs work. I know the story has holes. How can a rough draft be something worth celebrating?

Thanks to my good friend, I didn’t have a choice. She dragged me downtown to a shopping event (okay, I went willingly) and we bought matching cards to commemorate our successes (she wrote a screenplay too. She finished hers first). And just to make sure we did it right, there was actually free champagne at one of the stores. We met friends there. We all toasted to finishing, to meeting goals and destroying them. We celebrated!

What did I learn from all this? I learned that I accomplished something grand and it was worth celebrating. How different that is from feeling ashamed of a mere rough draft and wanting to hide away! I wrote the first draft of a 112-page screenplay and that is a BIG DEAL. Now that I know what it feels like to celebrate, how different it is from sinking into that anti-climactic ambivalence, I will never go back to my old ways.

And guess what? I’m looking forward to the next celebration so much that I’m working harder than ever. I’m even excited to tackle the rough draft of that screenplay and make it something better – something worth a big party, even.

What was the last thing you did that was worth celebrating? How did you celebrate? I hope you’ll take the time to find joy in your next accomplishment – you may find it makes all the difference in the world.