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!

The Bright Side

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So…it’s been awhile.

I know at the beginning of January, I had all of the intentions of posting weekly, but I started a new position at my job that quickly deterred me from a lot in life (and ate up almost all of my free time). It’s not glamorous in any way, and more often than not, I’m left exhausted and angry at the end of the night.

Let’s just say that 2019 isn’t exactly turning out to be the year of my dreams.

If anything, I’m quickly realizing that this might be the year that challenges me, that will continuously ask me how far I’m willing to go and how much I’m willing to sacrifice to achieve these dreams.

I’ve been holding onto a lot of rejection lately, which has led to a lot of dissatisfaction about my current place in life. After feeling incredible about the interview I had with a publishing house in New York, I ultimately didn’t land the job. The last agent who had the full draft of my last book didn’t want it. These were two things that could have changed the trajectory of my life. (I should be clear to point out that all I really want right now is some form of stability, which only one of these could have truly offered. I’m well aware of how competitive the publishing field is and I’m so grateful for these opportunities.)

Anyway, it felt very much like the publishing world wanted nothing I had to offer.

Admittedly, there was a lot of anger and frustration and many tears because these are things I’ve wanted since I was a child. Things that I have spent more money than I will ever have in order to be educated to increase my chances, to have internships, to have spent time writing, to buy books. Things I had romanticized as an escape from this very present stuck feeling that I cannot shake no matter how hard I try.

I am ridiculously hard on myself. Failure is a word that makes me deeply uncomfortable, but I have always gotten back up. Sometimes, I just power through it and suppress any and all emotions until fate brings them rising to the surface and I have no choice but to confront them.

So, this time, I tried to deal with it. I felt it all. I spent the Friday evening that both rejections landed in my inbox at home alone. I read my book, pretended it didn’t hurt, dug the knife in deeper by telling myself I’d never get my foot in the publishing world door and that I wasn’t good enough to be an editorial assistant or an author anyway. I watched too many episodes of Bob’s Burgers and cried through the funny parts (because losing out on both opportunities felt like going through a break up), and then I took a bath and went to bed.

It’s been about a week now, and I feel a little better. I talked to a friend about it, someone who has always been upfront with me, whether it was about my manuscript or life. She told me about a friend of hers that made her realize writing/publishing could be a career. But this friend ended up taking every rejection very personally and just gave up.

That’s something I refuse to do. Even when I feel I’m at my worst, at my lowest, I will always try to stand back up. It might take some time, but I’ve learned through the years of rejections arriving in my inbox that this is proof that I’m trying. And, yes, it’s extremely hard to look on the bright side when you feel further from achieving your dreams than ever before. But isn’t it worse to just walk away? To not keep trying?

Because in the publishing world, all it really takes is one yes.

And it was that alone that made me sit back up. Yesterday marked the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve been sitting on a third of a draft for some time, but have hardly written anything in months. But I woke up yesterday morning with one thing on my mind:

it is time to begin again.