So You Haven’t Been Writing

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Confession: I haven’t been writing everyday.

I haven’t been showing up. I haven’t been sitting at my desk or in a café or in my window seat at Barnes & Noble. My laptop has been dead for days. I literally had to dig my backpack out from under laundry and empty candle packages.

Honestly, my mind is a little cluttered these days:

  • Will George R.R. Martin finish A Dream of Spring?
  • I can totally go one more day without washing my hair
  • We’re short-staffed again.
  • I’m sorry, but your story became too passive.
  • They won’t loan you money to open a bookstore with this much student loan debt
  • He’s not good for you anyway
  • Don’t let them see you angry
  • Why, yes, that is a cheese stain on the page of my book
  • Maybe if I just add a dragon to this story, it’ll be more exciting
  • I’ll just eat my feelings today
  • I’ll write tomorrow

And on and on it goes. Sometimes I find it hard to cut through all of the noise in my head. Halfway through Camp Nano, I’ve lost almost all of my steam. I’m not even a quarter of the way through this draft and I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right.

I have this problem: when I give myself to something (someone), I give it all without a second though. I fall madly in love with that project, that place, that person, that book, that idea, and usually, by the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of me at the end. But it only occurs to me after everything’s said and done that I somehow lost myself along the way. And writing usually helps me discover who I’m supposed to be now, to get back those pieces that I threw to the wind.

It hasn’t happened with this project yet. I think it might be because my brain hasn’t wrapped entirely around the plot. Contemporaries are so hard to write because they rely so heavily on the characters and the emotional pay-off. And recent feedback on my last novel really has me frozen because all I can think about is agency. But maybe I’m thinking too hard about the plot, about the characters, about what I want the final draft to look like.

But maybe it’s also exhaustion and frustration and staying up late after working on my feet all day and not getting enough sleep even when I’m not staying up to read (or write) and drinking too much coffee and worrying too much about the future and feeling like a constant disappointment and a failure and like I can’t take care of myself because of a) my anxiety and b) there are just so many life things I have to do that writing can’t always come first.

Not writing makes me feel guilty. It’s self-inflicted and hard to put aside.

I honestly thought that maybe I would write an inspirational post about how you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you step away from the page. Like maybe I would say things like: life gets in the way, you can take a break to breathe, it’s better to focus on yourself than the story in your head, let it come naturally, you will write again, you will achieve your dreams, you’ll find your way through this roadblock. I even thought I’d mention at least once that it’s not worth it to hold it against yourself, that living is apart of writing, as is reading and exploring and falling in love with yourself and the world and others. It’s okay to step back and let life run its course and the story to draw you back in at a later time.

But the truth is, I suffer for my art. I hold it against myself when I remember to just live, when my thoughts are more on friendships that are beginning to crack, how to not hold on so tightly to people who will never stay, how to just ask him to stay, how there is too much comparison happening, how things don’t just happen at your will, how dreams take time.

The thing is, there will come a point in the future when I sit down and write. I won’t think much of it then, probably not until after I’ve returned to the finish draft. Those months will feel like magic, a breeze against my cheek in a room with all of the windows closed as I reread those scenes: a guy in a bookstore with his hands on her face, a conversation she had with her father at the kitchen table, an elderly man paying for a cup of coffee with pennies, looking at a summer sky through a moonroof, fireflies in the yard, Google searches that lead to rabbit holes, late-night conversations with him about his favorite author and the book he hoped to one day write, fighting with friends via text, losing yourself in a job you don’t enjoy, crying in a Starbucks bathroom.

And it might take a few moments or months or years before I understand where those all came from and why they took me so long to write in the first place.

5 Essentials to Surviving Camp Nanowrimo

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I’ve embarked on a new WIP for Camp Nanowrimo 2019. Every time I think about this new one, I’m not sure I understand it yet. Which is part of the fun, because first drafts are for mistakes and too much dialogue and too little description and INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE moments and plot holes and being continuously surprised by your characters and where they take you.

However, first drafts are daunting. And when you’re doing something like Camp Nanowrimo, it can be intimidating staring down a new project and not knowing what to write next. For me, there is fear of failure, of not meeting word counts, of writing myself into a corner.

Believe me when I say I worry about this a lot. During November 2018, I failed Nanowrimo. The official novel writing month challenges asks you to write at least 50k in thirty days. You’re supposed to sit down every day and write at least 1,666 words. You’re supposed to make a dent in that story that’s been weighing on your mind. You’re supposed to let go of self-control and perfectionism and just write.

That is hard.

Which is why Camp Nano is one of my favorite times of the year. Because there is more flexibility (of course, you’re not signing away your soul or your firstborn during November and can loosely cheat if that’s your style) with the camp version. You can declare whether you’re editing or writing or rewriting or whatever it is you need to do to finish the current draft. You get to pick your ow word count goal, meaning you can aim high or low and make it easier or harder on yourself.

No matter what, showing up every day to write can be difficult. I decided that I still wanted to write at least 50k this month. My current draft was sitting at a meager 8,377 words before I started, which means it’ll be around the 60k word count by the end of April.

We’re eleven days in and I have no idea if I’ll actually reach my goal. I’ve been wavering around 1k words per day now (but I’m hoping that once I catch up on my GOT re-watch and season 8 premieres, I’ll be back on track).

But I’m still writing every day. And here’s how:

5 ESSENTIALS TO SURVIVING CAMP NANOWRIMO

1. A Pre-Existing Idea

I’ve found that in previous years when I went into Nanowrimo without any solid idea of what I was going to write that month, I always failed. So, this year, I decided to return to a partial draft that’s been sitting in my .docs for a while. with only 8k words, I haven’t put so much time into it that it’s well on its way to being finished, but it’s also not so new that I don’t know anything about my hopes or my intentions for this story.

Knowing the general trajectory of the plot helps me keep writing and doesn’t keep me constantly in a “create” mode, which can be hard to maintain for a week, let alone a whole month.

2. A No Rereading/Rewriting Rule

I struggle with perfectionism, and will often times write several pages only to highlight and delete them moments after. (Sometimes, I really regret that decision and will ultimately undo it). But I can’t spend time this month getting caught up in small details that don’t require my immediate attention or damage the story in any way.

This time around, I’ve instated a new rule that I cannot reread or rewrite any of my scenes. (Admittedly, I’ve broken this rule once because it was very apparent halfway through the chapter that it was not at all what I was envisioning for it). But rereading and rewriting make me lose my momentum. I get caught up in things that don’t actually need to be fixed right away and once I get too focused on the minor problems, I can’t move on. I eventually just stop writing.

3. A Draft 2 Notepad

Because of the above rule, I needed a way to please my inner editor. Sometimes, she just won’t shut up. Like she’ll see something on the page or think of something better and won’t let me move forward until I’ve fixed whatever problem has caught her attention.

So, this time around, I’ve kept blank pages in my project notebook to scribble down ideas for things that need to be changed/reworked/rewritten/deleted in the next draft. It’s not as satisfying as going back and just rewriting everything from the very first line, it’s making it easier to keep moving forward.

(You might me noticing a pattern and it really is all about momentum and keeping writing and not getting caught up in the mistakes.)

4. A Scene Jar

Inevitably, I will get stuck. I will most likely write myself into a corner, or realize I’m missing a crucial event that needed to happen several chapters ago or that I just don’t like the current direction the draft is taking. And since I’m not starting with a random idea and no words, I went ahead and scribbled down different scene ideas on notecards. I dropped them into a mason jar, and now, whenever I’m feeling stuck, I pick a random scene to write.

I’ve found that it works great for a project in which you know the general gist of the characters/place/plot because the scene ideas feel like specialized prompts.

5. A Reward System

Finally, I created a word-count tracker. I’ve been using the pacemaker.press websitte as well as a notebook. At the end of the night, I scribble in the box if I’ve met my word count goal and jot down my daily progress regardless. Each week, I get to reward myself with something as long as I have shown up every day to write. It’s a simple but effective way to hold myself accountable, but also not guilt-trip myself either.

 

These are just small pieces of my process for Camp Nanowrimo. They’re all relatively simple, but I’ve found that they keep me writing, which is ultimately my goal for this month.

Do you have any tips or tricks to tackling a draft in one month? Drop them below, I’d love to know how your project is going!

Each WIP Requires Something Different

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It’s Day 5 of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m once again at Barnes & Noble. When you live outside of the city, there aren’t very many small cafes to escape to. So, I always end up at the same place, at the window seat, where the view isn’t more than the parking lot and trees in the distance.

Right now, I’m craving nature. All I wish for are sunny days and warmth and hours spent in the woods. What I’d really love is a writer’s retreat: a weekend in a cabin up in the mountains with two or three other writers, several bottles of wine, and conversations about writing. But there are currently too many things up in the air right now to make that happen, so instead I settle for this chair near the window.

I’ve found these days that my writing is very much dependent on my space. It’s so important during this drafting stage for me to just get the words out on the page, which is interesting, considering that when I was a teenager and writing mainly to post on Wattpad, I could write just about anywhere.

I’m still accepting that my process is an ever-changing thing. This is both encouraging and frustrating.

It has a lot to do with the fact that each WIP requires something different. When I was writing my last project (for this post’s sake, I’ll refer to it as Project B), I was a different person. I was fresh out of a heartbreak that shook my entire world. I was running three times a week just to clear my head, relying heavily on my friendships, drinking far too much, and battling shame and depression and change.

I’m a much different person now, so what my current WIP is asking of me is different. While set in the same town with a few reoccurring characters, I’m tackling a whole new subject and a completely new voice.

With Project B, I was able to sit down and write all day. There was just so much built up emotion and frustration and sadness, I found that the best way for me to deal with it was to write about it. Once the words starting flowing from my fingertips, I often couldn’t stop. I’d write and write and write, most days forgetting to eat, forgetting to hydrate, sacrificing sleep to write whenever the urge struck me.

This time, I can’t do that. Not only does my job really interfere with my writing time, but I’ve tried to spend an entire day at my desk and it doesn’t work. I’m fidgety and maybe only ever really writing for two hours at a time. Forget any sort of linear trajectory. I write whatever comes to mind (thank goodness for Scrivener).

At first, I thought that maybe it was because I don’t quite yet feel like I understand the voice of my current main character. During Project B, I felt like I was just pouring my heart onto the page. After my mom read the second or third draft, she said to me, “Kammi, this sounds just like you.” I hadn’t mentioned to her how much I felt like that character was a part of me.

This time, I feel kind of the same way the further I get into the story. My current MFC is just a different version of me. If the one from Project B was a reflection of the person I was two years ago, my new one is a reflection of who I was as a teenager and perhaps the things I haven’t yet outgrown or dealt with. Our situations are vaguely similar, and if anything, her journey is shrouded in the same confusion I’m still dealing with, especially when it comes to a political divide in her household and who she is versus who her parents want her to be.

I decided to use a lighter tone, to have this character use humor as a defense mechanism. (If you know me in real life, you know I am definitely not funny. And most of my humor is based around sarcasm and genuinely me just being a pretentious asshole). Regardless, I think at times this is why I’m struggling to really get into the story because both the form and the voice are so different from what I usually write.

That’s part of the beauty of writing a book. With each one you write, you realize it requires something different from you. In the end, though, it teaches you something in return. Sometimes it’s something about yourself, about your process, about your outlook on life, and sometimes you just can’t pinpoint what about you has changed.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to get from this draft. And maybe that’s because I’m also not entirely sure what is happening with these characters or where they will take me.

And with Project B, I dreaded all of the unknowing. I felt like I had to have absolute control over the story and the characters and the message, and if I didn’t, it meant I would ultimately fail.

But this time, it’s different. I’m excited about the newness, about the adventure, about how I haven’t the slightest clue how it’ll all end.

I think that finally means I’m just excited to be writing again.

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.