Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Opportunity of Newness — Paying Attention to the World Around Us

Hello! After a few weeks off from blogging, I am back! And officially living in a new state!

Things are going well, and while there is certainly too much to talk about in terms of moving and navigating a new city and starting a new for just one blog post, things have been going well overall. And I've started writing (or actually revising) consistently just like before I moved. While I will admit that writing has not been my number one priority over the past few weeks as I prepared to move and have thus been trying to settle in. But moving provides a unique experience that can definitely grow and expand your writing if you let it.

Over the past few weeks I have seen new sights and places that I did not know before. I have started a new job and learned new processes. I have met new people and moved into a new apartment. I completely changed my life and now have to start building anew. But I've also done the little things, like figuring out where the nearest grocery store is, how to get from my house to a friend's, and what to do when you the train you need isn't running and unsure of where I am. Being in a new place, even the small things that seemed so second nature to me back in Boston now have a whole new challenge built in. Simply put: Things are foreign to me. Figuring things out is not part of daily life.

And with the challenge of figuring things out, there are often a lot of experiences and thoughts and emotions that arise. Sometimes, once we settle into our daily routines and feel comfortable in our surroundings, a lot of these feelings tend to dissipate. Things like stress and worry and vulnerability and amazement aren't always as significant in the day to day. You know how to solve a problem. You know where you are going and how to get there. But being the pre-comfortable, shall we say uncertain, state affords a lot of opportunities as a writer.

As writers, we often create situations that require imagination. We build worlds and make up characters and create conflicts and solve problems. And while imagination and creativity are extremely important, drawing from our own reserve of life experience is equally as important. And the more life experiences we have, the more we can draw from ourselves.

This is in no way to say that moving is necessary for everyone or that we can't write about things we've never experienced ourselves. But I do think that as writers, we do want to keep our eyes and ears open. We want to absorb as much as we can from the world around us to inform and better our writing. And when dropped into new situations, whether hours away or in our very own neighborhood, we want to pay attention. To seize the opportunity and take in the emotions and sights and people and newness, and later transform it into a detail or plot twist or character trait that will enhance our writing.

Perhaps it's not actually seeing something and then rushing home to start a new idea, or incorporate it into your story, but rather it might just be tucking it away in your mind for later, or recognizing an emotion or conflict or feeling hidden within the scene you just witnessed. But being aware of newness, and the many ideas and opportunities it can provide, is important for all of us, everyday. Moving has reminded me of this, and I hope that New York brings me many ideas and makes me a better writer.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Change Is in the Air — But What About Writing?

I'm moving! It's official. As of September 5th, I will be the new Junior Project Marketing Manager at a really great academic publisher in New York City. And there's so much to do in such a short time!

Interviewing last week and receiving the job offer two days later, I took the weekend to make my decision. Officially accepting the job this past Monday, it seems as if I have virtually no time to pack up my life and get myself down to New York to start anew. But so it goes, and the adventure begins!

In all of this — interviewing, contemplating, visiting, apartment searching, packing, and saying my 'see you later's  — my writing has certainly taken the back-burner. What can you do, right? Still, I've been feeling bad about this. I so want to finish my final revisions and send out my manuscript and start a new project, but some seasons of life just don't provide for that. Sometimes things get busy. And priorities must be shifted. Yet it is these times that remind me just how much of a discipline writing it is; just how much we have to protect our workspace, or it might never get done.

For the first time in a long time, I will admit that I see how easily writing can slip away. I understand again just how much of a discipline it is. Writing won't just take care of itself. It doesn't magically make time in your day for you to sit down and be magically productive. We have to make that time. We have to carve out the physical and mental space to create and shape our work. We have to set aside the time, set writing as a priority, and stay committed.

And it's okay that I've haven't been doing that right now. It's just not happening, and I accept that. But it can't be okay forever. Not if I really want to pursue these dreams.

So after another week or two, when I get settled, I have to start writing again. I have to be on a schedule that works with my new life, in my new city. The discipline of writing has been part of my life here in Boston, and so, too, will it be part of my life there in New York. Because I want it to be. Because my writing matters to me.

So here's to new adventures and chasing dreams. May we all remember what's important to us, and keep the discipline to make those things happen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Remembering the Good Stuff, Even When It's Hard

I started writing my current book in January. January through mid April I wrote my first draft. After taking the rest of April off to finish my other projects and finals, I also decided to give myself May as a free, non-writing month to recover from grad school and catch up on feeling like a normal person. June and July have been revision months, and now I am into August. And in terms of writing and revising a book, the accumulation of these months don't really represent that long of a time frame. Some books take much longer to write, for a variety of very important reasons. But yet, even though it hasn't been that long, I am getting antsy. I am ready to wrap up my project, take a short break, and move to the next one.

Here's a funny story from this week. At work, my friend and I often talk about our evenings plans. So one day she asked me, "What are you doing tonight?" I said, "Oh, I am going to go hang out with Pearl. We're going to dinner." And my friend looked at me like I had lost my mind, because the name of my main character in my current novel is Pearl. Quickly, I understood her thought process and said, "No! Not that Pearl. A real person Pearl."

I tell this anecdote because the truth is that my fictional Pearl and my project have become such an integrated part of my life over the past few months, that I easily understood why my friend was momentarily confused. I love my current novel. After all this time, I still do — which I think is a great sign. But even with my enthusiasm for fictional Pearl, I can feel myself growing weary. I am ready to produce a polished, finished project and start on something new.

Honestly, I think in some ways this is a good thing. It is encouraging to know that I am looking forward to the next project; that I still have a strong enthusiasm for writing and ideas and creating something new. All of that is a great sign. But much like the rest of life, I think it is important not to rush forward, focusing on the end goal and forgetting to enjoy what is going on in the here and now. I know I am certainly someone guilty of this, in writing and in my day to day.

But as I think about all the work I've done with this novel, I can truly say that I've really enjoyed it. Along the way, I've learned and grown and sharpened my craft, but I've also laughed and felt for my characters and lost myself in the story.  And honestly, if I can get pleasure reading my story as if I wasn't the creator, and if I can know that sometimes, after a mediocre day, I find myself uplifted by my story, and thankful for the work I get to do and the way it makes me feel, then I need to cherish those moments — to remind myself that even though there are days when I am tired or working so hard and just want to reach the end goal, the creation is important to. The process of writing matters, just as the finish product matters.

So as I find myself antsy this weekend, and racing toward the end goal,  I need to remember to enjoy the process. Because of course I want to finish and wrap it up and send it out into the world with hope that someone might believe in it. But I've realized that when it is all said and done, I might just find myself wishing it all hadn't gone so fast.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beyond the Delete Button — Revisions and Its Many Facets

When I think of revision, I think about cutting back – deleting sentences, shortening word count, streamlining the plot, making the story as tight as possible. But revision isn't only about cutting. It's about consistency, language, conflict, character, and congruency. And many of these qualities involved adding to the story in addition to taking away. 

This is what I've been working on this week: adding to my story. Writing new bits of dialogue, new scenes, new details. And so far, it hasn't been too bad. But that's because I've left the hardest parts for last. See, I have this big, long checklist of revisions I have to make to my novel. It's nine pages long actually. But after about a week of work, I am very happy to say I have successfully crossed off at least half of those bullets. Perhaps more like two-thirds even. But the remaining third holds the harder bullets. The things that my brain hasn't quite come up with a solution for yet. 

One of my problems is that I need to introduce one of my characters earlier — the king. The reader knows about him from the beginning, and gathers lot of information about him along the way through the dialogue of others and general exposition (for if a story has a king, he is inevitably known about on some level). But these methods are more indirect. The reader doesn't get to see the king directly; she's not forming a judgment based on her experience of watching the king, but only through the perspective of others characters. 

So I need to insert the king into earlier scenes. I need to allow the reader to see who he is, so that later, when he plays a pivotal role in the action, my readers have a strong background that will contribute to the reading of his actions. The reader needs a foundation; a preparedness of sorts for the moment when the king becomes important. 

This has not been the easiest of tasks for me, hence why I've left it for the end of this revision cycle. But it's something I must tackle this week, for sure. And here are some of the ways I plan on doing so: 

Making a timeline. Having a succint visual of all that happens in the story allows me to see a map of the storyline that isn't spread out over almost three hundred pages. Viewing scenes side by side, I then have a better idea of the gaps that exist, the breaks in the action, and the scenes where I can insert key moment to expand my reader's understanding of my character.

Character maps. I am sure this could be a called a wide array of things, and that this term might actually mean different things to different people. But basically, I am going to track all the scenes where he appears throughout my novel, and what he reveals in those scene, or how each of his appearances function. Then, I came see a collective picture of what I have revealed to the reader, helping me see both the strengths and weakness of his presentation within the narrative. 

Establishing character goals. What do I want the reader to know about the king? What expectations have I inherently established through the indirect descriptions of him, and how does his presence deliver (or not deliver) on these? Knowing how I want him to appear is half the battle. Then I actually have something to compare the represented character against the intended character. 

In the end, revision isn't just about cutting. I know my strategy for dealing with the king may leave me with more work to do in the end, but coming up with a game plan is half the battle, and it brings me that much closer to the polished work I am hoping to achieve. 

Revision is about looking at the big picture and seeing how each little details fits, making sure that everything within the story adds to the quality rather than subtracts. And revision looks as different from day to day as it does from project to project. So as I cut and add and map out characters, I am going to continue to take it step by step, and try remember that in the end, thinking and mapping and planning and adding all have their place. All of the work matters. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Archeological Dig — Revision and Its Many Stages

This week, I read Gobsmacked! by my formed mentor Stephen Roxburgh. A wonderful piece about Roald Dahl and their time working together, Stephen illuminates how they worked through the revision process, and the various rounds and ongoing discussions had they regarding certain ideas, story structure, characters, and the like.

Not only is it a delightful read, but Gobsmacked! is a good reminder of the ways the revision process evolves over time. As Stephen writes, much "like a archeological dig. You start moving big things, but in the end, you focus on the smallest details." This is something I certainly know is true from my time working with Stephen, and is a truth I was reminded of again as I moved into the second round of my revision process.

Entering the second stage of revision, I was glad both to finish round one, as it is a mark of tangible progress, while also welcoming a change in revision style. In round one, I worked through the manuscript chronologically, identifying larger character and plot concerns, as well as heavily refining my language and deleting unnecessary sentences and/or paragraphs. In round two, however, I am tackling my list of more conceptual problems. Dealing with more minute but wholly significant character inconsistencies, missing pieces, the need for more interactions, and many other problems that require a creative type of problem solving.

At times I feel as if I am looking a piece of wood that needs to be carved to just the right shape in order to fit into the puzzle. I have certain revision points in which I need to actively figure out how best to address the problem that exists — to change things, or manipulate, to reimagine a character and come up with a unique but consistent resolution that fits into the larger whole of the story.

This revision cycle also requires that I work out of order, extracting disparate pieces from my story and looking at them side by side, even though they might be hundreds of pages apart. Jumping around from section to section, I need to make sure that if I change a detail on page 16, that what happens on page 108 and 208 also change accordingly.

This is a round where all the pieces matter together, individually and in relationship to each other; where I have to think more strategically, in terms of the greater whole — because truly in the end, it is the details that matter and the details that could pull a story apart.

So as I continue through this revision cycle and into the next, I welcome the changes that occur and the variant styles I must employ in order to make it all work. And of course, it is always helpful to hear the words of an expert, and remember that even the most brilliant literary minds go through a process of trying, and reworking, and digging through the dirt.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Help When I Needed It — How Writing Gives Back

Writing is often seen as a chore. A habit you have to enforce. A discipline you practice. An endeavor you pursue. And all of this is true. Writing is a practice that must be honed and worked at; one that requires commitment and perseverance. We see writing as something we give ourselves to — an output of ourselves and our stories onto the page. 

But it's also more than that. Writing is an expression that helps us to get through all of life’s challenges. Writing provides a forum for the truths we hold important, and the difficulties we seek to both describe and further understand through our writing of them. It receives our words, like a good friend offering a listening heart. It provides structure in an often unpredictable world. Writing gives back. It gives to the writer, just as the writer gives to her writing. 

You see, often I fall in the first camp of thinking. I suspect most of us do. I like writing, but mostly I like producing stories that might one day affect the heart of another. I know some people who can't wait to write every day, which is totally great. But no matter how much passion we have to our craft, it still becomes work. As my good friend said to me this week after I described how much time I put into my work —"Books don't write themselves". And she's right. They don't. So we write them, dedicating hours and hours and restructuring our days to make sure to fit it in; and in that sometimes that feeling of "work" overtakes the feeling of "fun" or "passion", and habit overrides emotion. 

In theory, this is good. We writers want to be people of habit and dedication. But what about what writing provides to the writer? Don't we want to get something from this journey, too, apart from the ultimate dream of publication? Don't people say art should be for art's sake and not the end game? 

We could also answer these questions different, but here's why I'm writing this post: Last week, I realized just how much writing does for me. That's right. What it gives to me. And, to be honest, I could probably expound and expound on why I write and why choose this as such a major part of my life, but in this post, I'm just going to make one simple point, which I already alluded to above.  

Last week was a particularly hard week for me. And while I am more than happy to say everything turned out well, it was a difficult week to get through. It was trying. And in the midst of it, when there was nothing I could do but go about my day hoping and trying to be as normal as possible, I found my writing. 

Of course, it has always been there. But this week, I found how much my practice of writing helped me. In the middle of hardship, I found my writing a comfort in a way I had not anticipated. This habit allowed me to feel normal again. My characters allowed me to focus on another, very real part of my world. And above all, my writing was there - consistent, structured, unchanging, all determined by me. It provided the constant, reliable outlet that I needed. And before last week, I am not sure I ever realized just how valuable writing is in this way.  

No matter where I go or what happens, my writing is there. It's familiarity is comfortable to me. It lives within me and on the page. In times of trouble, I am sure writing will not always be easy. But the simple fact that it is there, waiting for me, ready to receive the weight of my heart or create something entirely new, that was a revelation that really helped me through. 

This whole writing thing, it's not a one way street after all :) Wishing you all comfort in your writing, and all good days ahead!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Books! Books! Books! The Love of Reading and How It Relates to Writing

I had a great moment this week. It was the moment I officially knew that I loved reading again. You see, grad school was hard. And reading 5 to 8 books a week really took a toll on me. Even though my second year was relatively light on reading, the first year had done its damage. Reading had lost its urgency for me. At least for a little while.

It's not that I loved books any less or that I didn't read. But that desire, that need to pick up a book and spend my free time in the pages of a story just wasn't there. Perhaps heightened by my own story telling efforts, I felt like I needed to do something different. Be with friends. Watch TV. Go outside. Anything. And while books floated into my routine sometimes, most of the time I felt the need for space; time for my mind to distance itself from the hours and hours spent cramming book after book into my brain.

But this week, things changed. Or shall we say, they returned to normal. This summer, I've been reading regularly, but at a slower pace. I felt no need to rush through one book and hurry to the next, but instead enjoyed a leisurely stroll through chapters and stories, loving picturebooks for their short, visual nature, and gravitating toward adult non-fiction. Last week I ventured to the library, however, picking up Sara Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy. I finished the first last week and began Stead's fantastic book. And when I came to the end of Liar and Spy, when I turned the last page and closed the cover, I knew the moment. I finished the book around nine thirty at night, and instead of turning to TV or deciding to turn in early or call a friend, I instantly wanted to read another book. It wasn't just that I wanted to read another book. I needed to read one immediately. Right now. So I pulled my awaiting library borrow, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and plunged into the pages.

To some, this may sound normal, and to others perhaps strange. But it was the urgency with which I needed to read that got me. It wasn't my interest, for books have never and will never not interest me. But it was that I needed to read. I had to start another book, as if being in the middle of a story would lessen the quality of life.

This feeling isn't new to me. But it was a welcome return. I remember late in middle school and early high school always having the desire to read. And although books have never left my side, that feeling ebbs and flows, changing, coming and going with the seasons of life. And I don't know what it is — perhaps my hiatus from books, my need to have stories swirling in my mind as I pursue my own, these particualr titles, or maybe something else — but I was happy to pick up the torch again, blazing through books and looking forward to the next one.

Carrying a book around in my purse, planning reading into my day, staying up later than I should repeatedly telling myself, "Just a few more pages." I know I'm not the only one who does this. But my new zeal for reading is a good reminder of why I want to create books myself. To imagine someone else reading my book the way I might read another; to know that my pages could be the reason a kid feelings this love of reading for the first time; to think that my work could sit alongside so many of the books I loved and have yet to discover — this is why I write. Because I love reading. And to provide someone with a book they can love; to contribute to the body of literature that betters my days and provides heart and knowledge and growth; to contribute to the reading experience. There's nothing better than that. Nothing at all.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Finding Your Stride — Sticking It Out Until You Remember Why You Love This

A lot of people ask me how my revision is going. And it's a question I appreciate a lot. It shows encouragement,  interest in my work and my life, and this thing they know is so important to me. And this week, I was happy to be able to answer with a little more enthusiasm. To say that my revision was moving along; that I finally felt like I'd made some progess.

Now, let me be honest. I have a lot more work to do. And plenty more revising hours ahead. But something changed this week. I felt like I kind of hit my stride a bit more. I had a better understanding of my work as a whole. I felt super connected to my characters again. I had new ideas about moving scenes and inserting details and character placement. I saw more potential. And I liked revising, at least for a little while!

See, I'm not sure what exactly made this difference. Perhaps it was that I took a day off from work this week and revised twenty pages in one day, which really helped me feel like I made substantial progress. Or perhaps it's that in this part of the novel, pieces are starting to fall into place and my characters are prearing to embark on their journey. But I think part of it is simply the fact that I've traveled along the journey of my characters again. I'm invested in a new way. I'm re-invested in seeing them through, because at this point, in the way I hope my future readers will feel, I want to see what happens to them. I want them to succeed. I want them to find the answers that will lead to resolution.

Revision is work. And work like this fills a lot of hours. So I understand why sometimes I don't want to revise or why revision often feels like work instead of fun. But there's something to be said for sticking it out. And even more to be said about continuing your dedicated work through your disinterest.

Good book takes time. All art takes time. Time that isn't always fun. But much like running, we all need time to warm up. To find our stride and fall into a comfortable rhythm that will take us the distance. Sometimes, finding our stride takes just a few days. Sometimes it takes weeks. And from day to day that some comfortable level — that interest and motivation and enthusiasm — can change. But when you find what works for you, when you rediscover the excitement of your novel and have a moment that energizes you and brings new life to your work, then it will all seems a bit more worth it.  And hopefully you will that extra motivation you need.

So, here's to more hard work and dedication. And here's to hoping we find our stride just when we need it — that the love our craft surprises us again and again.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Encouraging Yourself — Finding the Thing That Keeps You Going

Last night I went to the bookstore with my mother. While we browsed some books, mostly we poked around the selection of beautiful trinkets my local bookstore carries. After we'd selected our treasures, I said, "I have to go to the children's section."

Not looking for anything in particular, I headed over, happy to be surrounded by the books I love; the land I live in. My mother stayed behind look at other things while I made my way around the books, sometimes reaching out to pull one of the shelf, sometimes just to touch the spine. It's a quiet thing I do, being with the books even if I have no intention of buying one or evening reading the jacket copy.

Because here's the thing: sometimes I just need to be with the books. When writing feels tiresome and I'd rather be doing something else; when I fall behind on my schedule and I'm not sure I can make up the time; when I'm tired; when I doubt myself; when I become strapped with the worry that this book might not go anywhere and the question of am I just wasting my time; when I wish I had something more to show for all my hours and efforts; when I need inspiration; or when I really need to somehow, someway feel closer to my dream — these are the times I need encouragement most. These are the times when I need to go do something that perhaps no one else can do for me. I need to find that thing that will keep me going. That thing that touches my heart strings. The thing that encourages and inspires me. The thing that is most meaningful to me.

So here's way I do:

I just stand there. In the bookstore, in the children's section, I find my area of books: intermediate fiction. Then, I stand in front of the books and I admire the spines. My eye jumps from color to color, from title to title, taking in the physical books in front of me.

I think about the covers. The authors. The hard work that went into this seemingly effortless and beautiful story that is just patiently waiting to be picked up by the right hands — to touch just right heart. I move slowly from shelf to shelf, my gazing settling on the names of various authors, sometimes purposefully, sometimes at random. And then, after I've taken in the books and moved quietly amongst the shelves, I think to myself, "That could be me. This could be my book." And then sometimes I feel a bit tearful as I know that day will eventually come — that someday, I will see my book on the shelf. Someday, this dream will come true.

And then I am ready to work again.

You see, I usually don't tell people this. It's kind of vulnerable, admitting how deep this personal hope of mine really is, even if most people know it about me. And I know to some, this practice of imaging my book on a shelf might seem silly, but it's what keeps me going. In a way that nothing else does. Sure, I am hugely dependent on the support of my loved ones, the encouraging words, the excitement of new story ideas, and my honest love of writing itself. But seeing these books on a shelf, it just gets me differently. It makes me feel hopeful in a way that's hard to explain.

So whether you're a new writer or a veteran; an artist or a singer, I would encourage you to find a way to encourage yourself. Find your thing that gets you through — the one that inspires you in that unique, personalized way. Because it helps. It really does. And it bring you that extra boost of energy you need — an energy to keep working hard and to an energy to see the joy that sometimes gets hidden in the pursuit of your goal.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Joy of a New Idea!

So as I've been plugging alone in my revision, I will admit, it hasn't been the most exciting venture. But hey, that's okay. Because just like life, writing has its up and downs and plenty of plateaus, and as long as your moving forward, you're doing good work. And just like life, at times writing surprises you with unexpected joys — namely, the joy of a new idea.

You see, at work on Friday, a bunch of my coworkers and I started talking about a balloon that has been in my cube for about a month now, given to me as part of a graduation celebration from all of my awesome coworkers. And because it bobs and floats just above my cubicle walls, said balloon greets everyone daily, twirling about as the day idles on. This balloon thus attracts attention, and speculation as to just how long it will remain floating. This topic came up in a morning chat with my friends, which was actually the product of conversation from the previous day with my boss, and so a competition sprang to life. How long will this balloon last and on what date will it fall?

Wonderful fun, I must tell you. Not only because guessing at little things like this is innately interesting, but also because of the enthusiasm it garnered and the joy it brought to our growing group of participants. Of course, this spurred some great fun during the day and naturally led to funny conversations, during which someone suggested I write a story about this. I smiled because I myself was loving the competition, and then she said it: the perfect, beautiful title. The title that I could not help to write down. The title that I knew had to be the nameplate of a story. The title I want to write a book about. And a new idea took shape.

Now, unfortunately I cannot share this title as the internet is a tricky thing and we all need to protect our  work. But brainstorming with my other good friend later that afternoon, as I melded this beautiful title with a previous book scenario I have been kicking around, the idea morphed and changed and grew into something completely different. I scribbled and drew arrows and wrote all over several sticky notes. But the title remained. And a new idea stood strong.

Honestly, this new idea has nothing to do with my current project and really doesn't help me along in my revision in the slightest. It's not something that today I can do much with or something that will be easy to execute. It also must wait for my revision to be finished. But, that doesn't matter — because it was exciting. It gave me something to look forward to. It got my mind racing and ideas flowing. It made me remember how fun idea creation is; how fun writing is.

We all need the joy of a new idea now and again. Whether it comes in the middle of a current project or right when you need to start something new, that joy is necessary because it reminds us of the purest and more quintessential point of our writing — that we love stories and we want to make good ones.

So no matter what you're working on or how long you still have to go before starting something new, keep looking for that new idea. And cherish the joy when you find it. Because we need it — to remember why we love to do what we do.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Slow and Steady — You Will Finish the Race

Oh, revision. That's what I've been doing lately. And to be honest, part of me misses the days of writing and creating, though of course, within revision both exist. Still, I miss the feeling of cranking out the pages and getting the story down on paper for the first time. There's something thrilling about that. Whereas writing is driving down a road never traveled, revision is going back and making the path smooth. There is beauty in that, to be sure, but it isn't always as thrilling. Some days I love it more than others, and I know some writers just rejoice in the land of revision, but right now, I kind of wish I could go back to that exciting, fast paced, write-it-all-down-before-it slips-out-of-your-mind kind of feeling.

In this first round of major revision, the pace isn't fast. It's not a whirlwind. It's slow and steady. I am not the hare in the proverbial race with the tortoise. I'm the tortoise. Moving along, getting it done, but certainly not impressing anyone (namely myself) with the speed, and not really doing anything flashy. Yet, there is a lot to be learned from this venerable animal:

The tortoise never gives up. He works at his own pace, allowing for the best work to be done instead of only completing a haphazard job. He is self assured. He doesn't allow a comparison to another animal's style to mess with his own, proven way of working. He is dependable. He will not burn out. He is self aware. And he will finish the race — with pride and integrity and just the way he was meant to.

We all have times of being the tortoise. Currently, this is my season. And at first, I felt slightly downtrodden with my lack of speed and flash and the basic need to just keep moving along without the excitement of the first draft. But actually, it's okay. It's more than okay. Working steadily, at your own pace and in your own style leads to the best work getting done. It leads to something you can be proud of. A piece of art that is well produced.

Revision is not easy. It requires commitment, and it requires that we go through each sentence with a fine-toothed comb. But rushing isn't going to help anyone, and it certainly won't benefit the quality of your work. And ultimately, revision is about producing quality work. So if you're revising, or just feeling stuck in the mire of writing, or struggling to get started, just remember the story of the tortoise.
Remember he is admirable and smart, dependable and able. And then work at your own pace, knowing you will finish. Because you will finish, and with commitment and dedication, you will produce good work.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Creating Discipline All Year Round!

The first day I started revising, after I pushed through my nerves and sat at my computer and crossed the start line, I think I felt something like this: "Wow, this feels so good! I'm so glad to be back in my story. I missed my characters. I really love this. What a surprise! Maybe revision won't be as bad as I thought!" 

Several days later, my thoughts settled somewhere in the land of, "Hmm, this is actually not so fun. It's kind of hard. I don't really know what I'm doing. I have my lists, sure, and I've done this before, but do I really know how to do this?" 

A few more days later, after several days of work and evening activities, and a fun weekend, this is what I am now thinking: "I need discipline!" 

The funny thing about life is that time just speeds by. In high school and college, I remember so many adults talking about life after school — how time just flies by and weeks become months and soon enough you look back and several years have passed. I always felt kind of disconnected from that idea, and slightly tired of feeling as though all these people were trying to preach to us 'youth' about how we should enjoy the time while we have it. But now, at the still-young-but-wiser age of twenty-four, I understand this sentiment better. When you go to work every day, each week, months can suddenly disappear. It's June, already? we all say. And when there is no forced structure of semesters and class deadlines and summers off, one season flows into another and into the next. 

Time passes quickly. So if your not careful with your work, you, and I, can lose a whole lot of time that leads to a whole lot of work not getting done. 

I know I've only lost a week, really. But this morning, I was shocked to realize just how much revising I did not do this week. Yikes! I don't want every week to be like that. In fact, I can't afford for every week to be as lax. I have to stick to some sort of schedule. And while it can be more relaxed and fluid than the one I had while in school, I can't let it go entirely. Not if I want to have specific writing goals. Not if I want to continue and produce a lot of work each year. 

Summer is a hard season. We all want to be outside, cookouts abound, and naps and ice cream just seem so enticing. Summer is specifically a hard season for writing because swinging in the park and meeting with friends and general relaxing are so much more fun than revising. But discipline is an all year requirement. Whether you are big into writing or exercising, perfecting a craft or learning a new skill, stick to it-ness is something we all need. 

So this week, I've decided I'm going to write out my revising schedule in advance. I've set specific goals, already made some social plans so I know just which days I'll be busy and what time of the day I should set aside for writing, and mapped out some revision goals for the next few weeks. To some, this may sound silly, or even too rigid. But I need to be committed to my work. I need to get revision done so I can send my work out to agents, and so I can start on my next project. 

Rest is important. I know that. Especially after two intense years of work and schooling. But discipline is really the only way to make sure we all achieve our goals. So while I hope to enjoy the summer, I also hope to get work done, too. Wishing you luck! I'll report back later, hopefully to say I've made lots and lots of progress!