Breathe (This Makes Me Wanna Listen to Michelle Branch)

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So, it’s been a minute. I know, really, it’s been a lot of them. But I’m forever learning that life doesn’t always go the way you plan. Things most certainly don’t unfold in the dramatic scenes you play in your head, and, unfortunately, there’s a lot of disappointment down the road. Not to be cheesy, but there is beauty in that, too. I guess there’s just a lot of lessons to be learned.

Lately, I haven’t been in the mood for the world to prove me wrong. For the sake of my ego–and my mental health–sometimes you just gotta take things as they come. As I’ve learned many times in the past year, you can’t control everything.

Recently, my life has pulled me away from creating. It’s a weird headspace for me, being so focused on practical things–saving money to move out, trying to figure out where I even want to go, if I can handle moving to another state and leaving behind my family, what I even want to do these days–that I’ve lost that part of me that loves to create.

The further I drift from writing, the further I drift from myself. Me not writing is a reflection of my brain.

All I want is to get back into the fun (and hell) of a first draft. I want the mess, the characters that do whatever they want, the plot holes, and that feeling of being so involved in the story that hours go by without me noticing.

Countless times I’ve started and scrapped something. I even made it fifty pages into a draft before I stepped away because I couldn’t work my way through the plot.

This new idea scares me. It’s intimidating. In size. In emotional heftiness. In all of the world-building it’ll require. In all of the essential character development. In maybe prying open a wound I’ve left festering for too long. Also, in this new idea, my characters are older. It’s even a different genre. So this is way out of my comfort zone, which is exciting yet terrifying.

Ultimately, I think this is about me not getting ahead of myself. I have all sorts of ideas, and I need to remind myself that writing is about the adventure. About the love I have for it. How it has saved me time and time again. That it’s okay to take a break. That I will find my way back to it when I’m ready.

I mean, in May of 2017, I thought I would never write again. And then I opened a random Scrivener document and there was nothing but a single note about a basic plot idea. That sparked the novel I’ve spent the past year working on, a novel that I will always love regardless if it goes anywhere.

So, maybe, I should just breathe.

Let life do its thing.

And see how it all works out in the end.

When Writing Feels Like a Competition

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First off, I finally finished Draft(s) Three and Four of my novel. The fourth one was just to fix a small plot thing that I had found while writing Draft Three and couldn’t resist fixing before I sent it out to my readers this time around. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but also not, and this post is pretty much to talk about why.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately as fellow writers’ manuscripts come in and out of my inbox that at some point, writing becomes this weird competitive thing. Especially coming out of a MFA program, where almost all of your friends want the same thing.

We’re a year out. It’s sort of hard to believe that we’ve been out for a year, and honestly, I’m still not sure what I’ve done with that time. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been feeling extra uninspired lately, and a little off-kilter. I’ve spent so much time thinking about who I was then and who I am now, and reliving many of my mistakes. That’s a post for another time.

But, right now, I’m thinking about my class as a collective. At the end, we scattered, the wind blowing many of us in different directions across the country (and maybe other countries because one or two have fallen off the radar). Some are published, some are teaching, some are writing blogs, some are making music, one for sure is agented, some are running amazing indie presses, some are living together, some are working in bookstores and in marketing, some are actively writing, and some have given up on writing altogether. For a short two years, we shared classrooms and airplanes, Pittsburgh and bars, cigarettes and tequila, jokes and tears. We gave the most personal bits of ourselves on the page, only to have other people critique us. And now, now many of us don’t share anything except Instagram pictures and short texts.

I try my hardest to keep in touch. I read manuscripts when people send them my way, and most of them are from my fellow children’s writers. It’s getting to the point where we all have manuscripts, almost complete ones, and we’re hyping ourselves up to query. Or, at least, we want to be querying.

As I talk to them about their desires for the future, I find I’m both happy and hesitantly disappointed. Jealous, really. Because though none of us will be the first from our year to land an agent–that honor has gone to one of my critique partners who is seriously a writing goddess–it seems like there’s a weird storm brewing.

Some of my friends from the program are actively querying, and I’ve been reading a lot for them–query letters and summaries and first ten pages and author bios. And as I continue to read, I panic. Because I thought I’d be further than this, thought I had finally found my footing in this damn novel, but, like all writers, I’ve experienced several setbacks.

I thought I had a strong manuscript, thought I was making good progress and getting closer and closer to querying. I say this all of the time, but this is the story of my heart. It’s the story of my soul. I would be all cliche and scream it from the rooftops so the whole world could hear it. I can’t. It’s scary, because I’m ready to share this oh-so-personal novel with the world, but the novel isn’t ready to be shared.

And as my friends continue to write and as they get more excited about querying agents, I panic more. It’s really freaking stupid to be honest, because it’s not like there aren’t a lot of agents out there, and the time it takes for me to get one isn’t a reflection on me as a writer. There are a whole lot of variables that come into play when querying–I’ve seen it firsthand, as I was an intern for an agent for the past year–and sometimes, it has nothing to do with the writing, and almost never the writer. (Unless they do something stupid, like not read the guidelines or CC several agents on one query.)

I know who my dream agent is, have a nice long list of ones that I feel like I could not only grow an author/agent relationship with, but someone who can help me learn, who will help me navigate not only my (hopefully future) writing career but also life. These are the ones who resonate with me not just as agents, but as people. I’ve read their bios and websites and their Manuscript Wishlist posts and their blogs and I can see my novel in their hands and trust them to make it better.

I don’t know, though. I’ve posted before about not rushing the process, about taking my time, and despite the urge that I feel to just send out my novel, I won’t do it. It’s just weird, because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a competition with my friends. When one of them (and they all will) lands an agent and then a book deal, I want to be happy for them. Their biggest fan.

So, for now, I guess it’s about the writing. Knowing that I’ll get there eventually, too.

Fighting the Draft Slumps

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The (first) (second) third (fourth) (fifth) draft slump is real, y’all.

I tend to be a pretty slow drafter, but that’s because I like my first drafts to be as full as possible, not just snippets of scenes or bits of dialogue. A lot of my writer friends word vomit whatever’s on their mind and then work backwards for draft two, filling in as need be. It works for them, and it might work for you.

It doesn’t for me. I’ve tried. My first-draft game-plan is always overwrite. I work best when I have too much rather than too little. And I think that’s because I like to lose myself in the first draft, see where the character/place/plot wants to take me as opposed to where I want to take them.

My WIP has been a weird experience. Like writing takes up a weird part of my brain, and not just some, but all. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, and if I am writing, well, I’m actually (hopefully) getting stuff done. And I’ve found that the more drafts I have, the stranger the experience.

Unfortunately, Draft 3 requires a lot of heavy-lifting. I have restructuring to do, have to move a character from the past into the present and change how my MFC sees that character. (This is probably the part I’m looking forward to the least because even though I accomplished what I’d set out to do with that character, it isn’t working with the rest of the draft.) And moving them into the present will raise the stakes and make everything more heartbreaking when it all falls apart.

It’s not just the moving that’s hard. I basically write every draft from scratch, and each time, I have to grieve with my MFC all over again. That is probably the strangest part. In real life, I’m overly emotional. I’m almost always crying over music and books, living in the past, getting angry over everything and nothing at all. As a writer, I tend to put it all on the page. I want readers to feel, to grieve and laugh and think while they read. I want it to be a visceral experience. I want them to close the book and basically be a mess of emotions.

So, really, I guess this slump is mostly due to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in this draft, but also longing to write a new story so I can stop grieving someone who isn’t even real. But here I am, lacking commitment to the things I create, and it’s borderline devastating.

My mind is a mess. Heck, I started this blog with the intent of keeping track of my writing. But I haven’t posted in a month, and that, despite the newness, despite the excitement of this project, leaves me feeling guilty. Because all I do anymore is start things and not finish.

In the past, I’ve taken up a slew of things: writing nonfiction, knitting, cross-stitching, baking, eating healthy, going to the gym regularly, a dozen or so Stephen King novels the size of an encyclopedia, yoga, mindfulness, painting, TV shows, writing poetry, a face-wash routine, making my bed every morning, growing plants. I have opened more books and started writing more stories than I can count. I’m always trying to do something, but I hardly ever finish. As a writer, as a creator, I want to finish things. But why. Can’t. I. Finish. This. Draft?

If you’re out there lying (laying? I’ll honestly never know the right one) on the floor, feeling some of these frustrations, I’d love to know how you fight these slumps, how you keep up writing and creating when finishing something feels out of the realm of possibility.