Somewhere in the great Between

As basically everyone and their mother knows, I recently finished a giant revision. I wrote the book in May and June 2014. I revised in July, got into PitchWars, spent all kinds of time with it in August and September. Spent a little less time with it in October and November, but during that time had people reading it for me and offering all kinds of awesome suggestions. Looked at it in some respect weekly during that time. In December, I started a massive rewrite, almost from scratch. The story is essentially the same in it’s bones, but it’s completely different in personality and style. I kept rewriting in January and February, with an awesome CP and lovely, loyal friends pulling me back from the brink of insanity repeatedly.

And then I finished it. FINALLY. I Finally, Finally finished it. CPs and readers approve. My sister read it in a single sitting and wouldn’t speak to me afterwards due to her crushed emotions, which only gave me great delight. Then I read through it again and polished and doctored and played.

And now it’s really, truly done. A book is never, never done – there is always room to grow and change and learn and improve, but at some point, when you think it’s really the best that you, as an individual, on this day at this hour, can make it, you call it done. And it is.

So I celebrated. And took a little time to bask. And sleep and shower and clean and all the things I hadn’t done in 2015 – well, not much anyways.

But then a few days became a week, and two weeks, and now I’m on week three. I’ve written a 10k short story, critiqued a bunch of things, written a 1k flash fiction, and toyed around with various story starts and things, but I haven’t done any real work. And it was freaking me out a little bit, until last night.

I’m planning a short trip with a friend, and while it’s part vacation, it’s also research for me on a book I hope to write early next year. I also spent some time last night – okay, 2.5 hours – reading Susan Dennard’s series of blog posts on all kinds of writerly topics from planning a book to how to revise to, importantly for me, productivity and developing as a writer. And somehow these two things together clicked and put me so at ease I just had to tell you guys about it.

I might be between projects, and this might be the longest I’ve gone since college without being neck deep in a book project. But it’s okay. It’s okay now, and it will be again. First, like the list above shows, I haven’t done nothing – I have kept busy with a variety of things, and they’ve exercised other sides of my writing that are important. I’ve read a ton of books and filled up my mind with beautiful words and great examples of how to write well, I’ve pulled apart other people’s work and studied the bones, and I’ve let myself explore some new things. I’ve taken the time to notice things about how and when I work, and what feeds me, and all of that is important. Because here’s the lesson I’ve learned from this time hanging out in the inbetween, in that scary quiet space before the words fill in:

Being a writer is about so much more than the moment. See, when I was in highschool, hunched over my aging Gateway at 11 pm throwing words up onto the page with absolutely no idea what I was doing and only a goal of telling a story, I had this burning drive. And in that time, that was being a writer: the sheer, helpless, undirected production of words. Then in college, when I spent three years not writing and studying everything but writing, that was being a writer too: a disciplined production of well-researched arguments, the development of the ability to give focused attention on demand, the dedication to knowing people and how they think and function both within and outside of themselves, the structuring of the world into systems. And after college, when I wrote here and there, books with abominable punctuation and books with entirely unlikeable characters and books that had far more passion than plot, that was being a writer: learning structure, learning how to tell a story, learning what the flow and the rhythm of a book feels like, learning that dialogue uses commas and not periods.

Each of those were individual moments, and there have been many more. Being a writer in each of those moments looked very unique. Sometimes it was more visible or measurable than others. Sometimes it was productive and other times contemplative. Sometimes it filled me with doubt and other times with joy. But those were unique seasons in my life, each one important and valuable. I would not be right here, right now, without each one of those seasons.

Why should this one be any different? You, as a writer, will grow and change. That’s what we all hope for, right, to be better every month and year than before? Growth is good! It may not seem like growth in the moment, but that’s okay. You’ll see it six months or a year from now, and you’ll write it, too. Don’t spoil this season by being afraid. Wherever you are – joyful abandon, quiet learning, nervous first steps – embrace it. And keep moving.

It’s Not About The Love

I told you last post I wanted to blog about passion, because it’s been on my mind lately, and I do – but I need to use both passion and love to describe different sides of the same issue.

I’ve seen some people talking lately about writing only being worth it if you really love it and if you’re passionate about it. And I want to agree, because it sounds so bold and pretty and brave. I also want to agree because I feel like there’s a culture around the pursuit of the arts – music, visual arts, acting, writing – that if you’re not a whole-hearted, one hundred percent in pursuer of that passion, you don’t really care about it.

I beg to differ on all these points though.

First – I’m a big believer in practicality. I can’t help it, my parents, though lovingly tolerant of their strange and hyper-imaginative daughter, have drilled it into my my entire life. I believe you need to pay your bills. I believe you choose the things you want, and if you truly only in the whole wide world want your art, or your writing or your music, and your positive that’s all you ever want, then that’s great and you should totally do that. But I believe if you think you may want something more than that – if you may want to put a roof over your head, or you may want to be able to get married and have kids, or go on vacation, or whatever, you might also want to consider finances and ask yourself if it’s possible you could do something to pay those bills and fund those vacations, while doing your art on the side. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If anything, and I’m biased because I do work a full time day job and always have, I really believe that having to share your life between your dream and another thing makes the art that much more precious. When your time is limited and your resources scarce, you find very swiftly that only the things you love most make it into your life.No art benefits from being stifled or starved, but I do believe it benefits from the myriad kinds of discipline, focus, and patience it takes to do something that isn’t your very first choice in the world. I also believe you can have complimentary interests in multiple things, and if one pays the bills, I don’t think it somehow lessens the value you give to the world through that work.

*digression – maybe your work is caring for your babies, or nursing a frail parent, or doing a less creative variant of your work, or maybe you’re one of those rare people who through talent or luck or whatever is able early on to survive off your art. Heck, maybe you LIKE living off your art even when it doesn’t pay anything, and dealing with that financial struggle. That’s just fine, everyone should do what works for them. I’m just saying, if you’re worried that you’re not a real writer because you major in something else, work in something else – in my opinion, you don’t have anything to worry about. Only worry if you’re not writing at all, and not even thinking about it or missing it.

So that’s the passion. But the piece I titled this with (I always get around to my point, even six hundred words later) is love. It’s not about the passion, because passions come and go and grow and fade and have to be shared. But it’s also not about the love.

At least, not the way I suspect people speak about love.

Love meaning that fluttery feeling where the world is the color of roses and you’re awash in delight is a great thing. We live for that kind of love, in our relationships with people and in our work. But my friends, to think that you are not a writer, or should shelve a project, or should give up when you don’t love the work is a grave mistake.

I’m not married, but my mother informs me one does not LOVE one’s spouse every moment of every day. We aren’t even capable of love the fluttery feeling at all times, and people – and projects – will fail us. They will have twisty bits, refuse to cooperate, hurt you, make you question lots of things about yourself. And it’s not a reason to toss people – or projects – aside.

See, love can also be a verb. Love, meaning to give things up for, to tolerate when you don’t want to, to want to make better, love meaning constancy and commitment, love meaning there’s some tiny part of you that would miss even the struggle if it were absent. And if you’re missing that kind of love for writing, then yes – maybe it’s time to consider if this is really what you want.

Because it’s not going to be pretty all the time. The words will build you up but they’ll also destroy you. The words will make you feel like a courageous genius and give you the kind of joy that comes rarely into life, but there will also be nights – even weeks, maybe a month or two – where none of it makes sense and the flood of doubts washing over you is almost stronger than you are and you can’t even imagine why on earth you’re putting  yourself through this kind of stress when no one in the entire world would care if you stopped.

That’s not to say there aren’t times and places for starting and stopping, shelving and trunking, and all of those things. But ultimately every project and every career is going to have some pretty dark and miserable passages.

If you keep going – if there’s a part of you that misses that angst, that struggle, and that incredible high when you finally, finally sort of all out and find your way again – you’re a writer. It’s not about loving it, with roses and joy and uninterrupted streams of words. It’s about loving it, giving up other things and wanting the very best. If you say  someone who does not love, with roses, their project should shelve it or someone who doesn’t love, with roses, writing, should stop, I have to disagree. Roses or no, only give up if you can no longer, with any part of you, love writing as a verb.

It’s About The Work

One of my favorite blogs ever to read is Study Hacks. I read it a lot to get ideas for how to approach and organize my chaotic day job differently, but several of the articles apply incredibly well to writing.  The article that really caught my attention is here, but if you just want the quick summary, the author references an interview of President Obama, where he talks about a time he got creamed in an election race, and had to cope with that and how he wondered if that level of losing meany maybe he wasn’t supposed to be doing this or something. And then he had to remind himself it wasn’t about him, it was about the work – losing there didn’t mean anything about him as a person, basically, it meant he still had work to do, and he had to decide if he thought himself capable of doing that work and willing to put in the time.

What I love about this, and other Study Hacks articles, is that they completely dismiss the idea of passion. I’m going to blog a little more about that next week because it’s been on my mind, but for now let’s side it aside and think about that idea – it’s not you. It’s about work still being left to do. Failure, even failing in a really big and spectacular way, rarely has anything to do with you as an individual person. It has to do with the work. It has to do with putting in hours and hours of thought and careful crafting. It has to do with spending time doing the nasty bits, and with persevering, not by ignoring detractors completely, but by weighing advice carefully and being humble enough to dive into projects again and again, digging deep and sifting thoroughly.

I especially like how the idea of it being about the work separates the self so tidily. President Obama’s quote even talks about the idea that questions like “Am I succeeding?” “Do people notice me being great here?” are the wrong ones, and lead to frustration and irritation because for a long time that answer will probably be no. But turning it to the work always leaves you a path forward. Making rejection and failure about the work means you have opportunities to improve, because work is not intrinsic. Work is art and craft and science and labor. Work is action.

When I was a kid and got very upset about things, my mom used to tell me I was focusing on myself too much: that I was having “inward eyeballs”. Though at the time it made me QUITE irritated, I still think of that phrase often, and I’ve seen in myself and others how too much time and too many thoughts focused on yourself only lead to negative, self-pitying, stagnant places. I’m quite familiar with those places as well, but I know I hate them and I think it’s a pretty fair guess to say you do too, my lovely reader.

So it boils down to something pretty simple in the end. Rejection is going to come in a million forms, both in life and in writing, and probably ten thousand times. But we get to pick how we’re going to react to it and where we’re going to focus on our attention. We can allow ourselves to make it about us – we suck, we’re terrible, we’re never going to be good at writing and why are we even wasting all this time getting back problems and carpal tunnel when Netflix is calling? We can let that focus on our selves make us angry and bitter both at our own selves and everyone else in the universe. Or we can make it about the work, weighing one thing with another, balancing the truth of being the only ones who really know our story with the wisdom of people more experienced and knowledgeable than we are, and take decisive action to move forward.

As I say to children ten quadrillion times a day – you have a choice to make.