Stepping out.

I finally did it—I attended an SCBWI event. And it was totally worth it.

A neighboring regional chapter hosted a workshop on revision techniques yesterday, led by a local professional (bestselling) author. It was truly fantastic, and completely worth the 45-minute drive.

I’m still in that gap between Draft 2 and 3 on the novel I started in 2010. There are a few parts that I know need to be rewritten that I’ve been avoiding. After yesterday’s workshop I realize I’ve been avoiding rewriting it because it’s actually boring. I’ve got my work cut out for me—and a lot of different tacks I can take.

Another memorable takeaway from the workshop was an exercise in determining a story’s theme. “It’s 10 years after the events of your story. Imagine that you’re at a bar or a coffee shop and your main character sits down next to you. You get to talking, and the character recounts his or her experiences. Then you ask, ‘So what did you learn from all of that?’ What does your character reply?”

That’s one I’m going to be chewing on for a bit.

Onward.

My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.

On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.

After two weeks of spare time.

I think I did well these past two weeks. I didn’t spend any egregious amounts of time on the Internet, though I did watch more TV than I probably should have. But on the whole, I made time to do things like:

  • write the solid beginnings of a song
  • practice ukulele (a lot; that thing is addictive!)
  • write the beginning of a short story
  • work on Draft 3 of my untitled novel

I also cooked a lot. I guess I never thought of that as a creative endeavor, but as my good friend pointed out, it kind of is. It’s a particularly satisfying one, too: not only do you get to see the results; you also get to eat them!

I can’t say I “look forward” to starting work again tomorrow, but I think a bit of imposed structure will be good for me. You can’t binge too much when you have a full-time job. Plus, I find I do some of my best work when working it in around other commitments. Not sure why.

Frustrations.

Missed my self-imposed deadline for a post again. Maybe I’ll make the week start on Monday. I was sick for a couple days and had to miss work, which has gotten somewhat intense.

No harp practice to speak of, though I picked at my novel a little bit. Annoyed at myself but determined not to wallow. I have two weeks off from work starting next week, but having large swaths of free time is always a minefield for me. Too many choices leads to agonizing indecision leads to dumb YouTube tangents and other numbing activities.

Still no Switch, probably for the best. I’ve sworn off actively looking for stuff about it on the Internet; this should curb the distraction somewhat. Trying to hold out till the holidays, or at least summer.

Adventures in un-ickying.

Tried un-ickying my goals this week and ended up writing a list of musical instruments I want to eventually learn how to play, ranging from the tin whistle to the $2,000 Array mbira (seen in this video). Retitled the list “How I Will Go Bankrupt.”

My harp’s still in the shop. They say they’ll need to contact the manufacturer and get parts, which means I’ll probably be harpless for a while yet. I should focus on my other, functional instruments.

On the writing side of things, I finally compiled and sent my responses to my friend who critiqued my second draft. Now I need to start looking toward Draft #3, which I’m determined will not take four-and-a-half years like last time.

Taming monkeys and un-ickying items.

Some months ago while looking up completely unrelated things for work, I came upon Tim Urban’s popular blog post Why Procrastinators Procrastinate and its follow-up How to Beat Procrastination. It’s resonated with a lot of people, and with good reason. He might as well have been describing my entire life.

I’ve been finding myself in a familiar rut these past few weeks. It’s the kind of rut where I love taking in other’ creations and reading about the art of creating, but create very little myself. Receiving those revision notes from my friend on my novel draft gave me enough fuel to power through some preliminary revisions and put some vague notes on how to proceed in the margins, but with no real objective in sight I set the whole thing aside and nearly forgot about it.

To put it in Tim Urban’s terms, my goals have gotten icky.

When I finished that second draft in December I had a specific goal and a specific due date, and I think that’s how the thing even got finished at all. This coming week I’m going to work on un-ickying my goals and finding the starting point to achieving 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.