Keeping it up.

Wanting to remind myself of how serious I am about writing, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators this week. It’s something I’ve been looking at for a long time, and with this second draft finished and revisions underway I feel like I could get more use out of the resources it offers. That is, if I can concentrate and apply myself enough. Maybe one day I’ll have the money and the body of work and the confidence to attend their New York conference.

I’ve also taken in one of my aforementioned folk instruments, a little lever harp, in for repairs. A couple of the levers have gotten buzzy and I’ve been using that as an excuse not to practice. Sending it in is not only to remove that excuse, though; it’s also to remind me how much I enjoy it. Somehow, even with how I’ve been slacking at practicing, not having it in the house makes me miss it, and more resolved to keep at it once it comes back.

My self-discipline has been lacking recently, even at work. I need to watch less TV and remember where my passions lie.

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Discipline and direction in music.

A few years back I attended a special “make a joyful noise” kind of worship service. The music director brought every portable instrument she had and handed them out to anyone who wanted to play. I received a djembe. Though I had no idea what the proper technique was, I happily thumped away at the thing until my palms were red and sore.

In reality, percussion and rhythm are some of my weaker points–so when I saw a flyer last month for a beginning rhythm and African percussion class offered locally, I decided to take the plunge.

It’s nice to be in an actual class with an actual teacher there to observe and correct my technique. I don’t think I’ve had a real instrumental music teacher since I took piano in high school thirteen years ago; I’ve forgotten how valuable the presence of one is. YouTube tutorials and looking in the mirror can only get you so far.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t have a lot of self-discipline. Even back when I had a teacher you’d have to chain me the piano to get me to practice twenty minutes a day. My parents weren’t terribly strict about it, either; they tended to be more invested in my moral development than stick-to-itiveness. Which I suppose is important, too, though I had to play some hard catch-up in college when it turned out my study habits were not up to snuff with their rigorous liberal arts curriculum.

I think (hope) I have a little more discipline now than I did in high school; I’m intrigued by the things I learned this week and maybe will come home with a rented djembe sometime soon? The issue now is finding direction for all the instruments I want to become proficient at. My “musical goals” are pretty vague; I just know I enjoy the heck out of music and I’d like to explore composition and arrangement. I have a pretty good keyboard and a small assortment of odd but good folk instruments, and I’d like to develop skills worthy of them.

Confidence and supportive writer friends.

I started writing a novel in December of 2010 and finished the first draft (an unreadable 100,000-word mess) in June of 2012. I remember being embarrassed that it took me so long to finish (eighteen months!), but revision took even longer. I finished the second draft (rough but readable at 45,000 words) last month, after four-and-a-half years, and sent it out to some writer friends. One of them read through the whole thing in a month, leaving copious notes in the margin.

With every step I’ve completed in this process has come a strange but welcome confidence. Before I even started the novel I was terrified to even tell people I wanted to be a writer. Finishing the first draft was an endorphin rush, but after that faded away and revision purgatory began, doubts crept back in as to whether the thing was salvageable, and the last thing I wanted was anyone to read it. Finally, last fall I resolved to throw myself into the thing and at least write a decent ending.

Something about that second draft flipped a switch in my brain. I actually liked what I was writing. Sure, there were some definite problem spots and it wasn’t ready to hit an agent’s or editor’s desk (or the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, for that matter), but I felt like I’d found decisive proof that there was a good story somewhere in there. It was like waking up to find that Santa had eaten the cookies you’d left. He does exist!

Then, Sunday night, I got the email attachment from my friend. The copy of the draft with her 1,430 comments. I purposefully put off reading it for a couple days, excited and terrified. Plus I couldn’t commit more than an hour or two at a time to it, and I knew once I started reading it, I wouldn’t stop until I’d read all the way through. I ended staying up two hours past my bedtime on Wednesday to finish, and am I ever glad I did.

Everything she wrote, from her raw reactions to her predictions to her snarky (hilarious) comments to her frustrated keyboard-mashing (either at characters’ actions or author’s negligence/apparent stupidity) was helpful. The praise and the critique both. The next morning my sleep-deprived brain was buzzing with ideas to make the story better. It was amazing until the headache hit around 8:00pm and I went to bed.

I used to keep my writing very close to my chest. After entering high school or so I stopped showing it to anyone. I still can’t write with someone else in the room. Sometimes, when writing longhand, I write in extremely tiny letters so I don’t have to face the insipidity of my first-draft voice unless I squint.

No, my second draft isn’t perfect. But the Mythbusters proved you can polish even a turd, and I’d like to get this one to at least a good shine. Thank God for supportive writer friends who take time out of their lives to help me do this.

Embarking.

What’s that famous quotation? Something about how if the thought of some venture terrifies and exhilarates you, it’s a pretty good sign you should take it on?

A bit of Googling attributes a form of it to Derek Sivers: “If you keep thinking about doing something big, and you find the idea terrifies but intrigues you, it’s probably a worthy endeavor for you.”

I want to write fiction. I want to create music. I have a tangle of fears about both that have kept me from pursuing either with any semblance of discipline for years, but I’ve also never stopped wanting to do them anyway.

This blog is an attempt to embrace the sheer terror and log my progress.