Lastest Obsessions

Hi friends!

You’ll probably all laugh at me when I say I’ve been meaning to get back to blogging regularly, because when has that ever happened? But I do kind of miss when I used to blog more than once a month, and I’m working on all kinds of things in all kinds of places, so maybe I’ll get better at sharing them with you too.
Stranger things have happened.

I don’t really know if stranger things have actually happened, but it seems appropriate.

I’ve been coming across/using/experiencing all kinds of fabulous things lately so I thought it would be a good time to share some with you. Here’s the top five things I’ve been obsessed with this week, and if y’all find this helpful or useful, maybe I’ll try to do it more regularly.

1) My Fitbit! My work is doing this health promotion something or other so we could sing up for a free fitbit and do a six week challenge. Not only have I realized just how much I underestimate the caloric value of half a bag of Skittles or takeout Chinese, but I’ve been weirdly motivated to get my 10k steps and 10 flights of stairs which is hopefully going to help with the whole preferring my couch to anything else problem. The feature I love best is the sleep tracker. According to it, even when I think I gave myself a good 5-5.5 hours of sleep, I’m only getting decent sleep for about 3.5 hours a night. I guess that’s why I yawn all the time? Hard to say. Anyways, it’s a fun way to get more tuned in to my health, and has a bonus of giving me all kinds of sci-fi ideas!

2) “My Shot” from the Hamilton soundtrack and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” by Fallout Boy. I looooooove the first one for walking to (as I walk in actual circles in my living room to get my 10k steps until I’m too dizzy to go on) and in general when you need a pick me up. The second one I’ve been writing to for a couple days now – there’s almost always at least a few Fallout Boy songs on my various writing playlists, but this one is giving life to a challenging scene where I have to explain the fundamental underpinnings of the kind of magic kind of not in a non-boring way. Plus it’s just catchy and makes me chair dance. Good thing I write at 5 am so no one sees me.

3) Along the writing refrain, I am LOVING the Writer Igniter tool from DIY MFA. I recently wrote a draft of a short story to submit to an anthology, and I’m eying a couple other short story opportunities, but I have trouble coming up with ideas that don’t require 80k of explanation. This generator pulls together the elements of a story in a way that gives me something intriguing to work with but helps me stay just a little detatched from it so I can play with words without getting so invested and deep into the work. It’s a really relaxing way to play with words, which is something I haven’t historically been very good at.

4) My Kindle! I just got this in December, and I’m still not big on reading fiction on screen. I got terrible headaches from reading on screens before and I think I just have a phobia now, plus my eyes get tired after a while. But what I LOVE my Kindle for is reading nonfiction! I am a huge fan of productivity, creativity, and business/marketing/organization books, but nonfiction can be really expensive. With my Kindle, I can use Overdrive to find almost all the nonfiction books I could want and read them for free. This has really helped accelerate my nonfiction reading, and the bonus is that it’s small and light – my movement disorder has affected my hand strength, and sometimes books make my hands cramp up. No such problem with my Kindle!

5) Making “art”. I put this in quotes because there has never been nor will there ever be someone who can call the kind of drawing I do art. I call my style MidAmerican Kindergartner, but that’s probably overselling it. However, I’m finding a LOT of relaxation and fun in getting out my sketchbook and a pack of papermate bright color felt tipped markers and just doodling until it makes something. I did this while listening to an audiobook last night, and found it the most relaxing, easy night ever. I am not good at sitting still or relaxing or any of those things, and audiobooks have never worked for me before because I can’t hold my attention on them. However, drawing gave me just enough of something else to focus on without getting totally swept into it and I managed to listen for over an hour. It’s kind of nice to do something so terribly I know there’s no hope of improvement. It gives me permission to just play.

A theme of this week’s obsessions is finding ways to defeat my own…drive? I don’t even know what word to use, but I am generally someone who either doesn’t do something or does it with every single ounce of energy and pursuit of quality I can. I think this works out in my career, but as a general life strategy it can be a little exhausting sometimes, and I catch myself diving into projects even when I know I’m tired or don’t have the right mindset yet. I’m hoping that with things like making “art” and playing with short stories from outside ideas I’m not so invested in, I can teach myself to have fun in a way that still feeds the productive side of myself.
As I type that I realize that still probably doesn’t sound right as a method for enjoying things but alas. Such is my superpower.

Anyways, there you have it – my obsessions of the week. Are any of these new to you? What obsessions of your should I look into?

The One Where I Wake Up

I have always loved the start of a new year- new goals, renewed commitments, a thoughtful review of the past and a hopeful eye for the future. This year is no different, and as we wrap up the first full week, I am feeling pretty excited about my new, improved but not perfected, routine.
I share because I think I’m not alone in constantly trying to find the right balance of work and rest, creative expression and creative restoration, output and input. It’s a challenge to figure out not just how you write best but also how to make that work with the realities of your life. My new method won’t be for everyone, certainly. Right now I’m able to enjoy the advantages of not having wee babes placing buckets of demands on my time and attention, and I only work one full time job. YMMV of course, but perhaps this will still prove useful in some way and help you think about where you could change something to better satisfy you and fit your creativity and life together.

The new schedule: I wake up at 4:45 am. As a lifelong night owl and hater of mornings, this is the most radical change. I write for the first 1/2 hour-45 minutes, however long it takes to journal a page and then add 1k to my MS. Then I spend roughly half an hour doing my quiet time, which fits my resolution to return to some practices of my faith that I’ve neglected the past couple years. Then I make some kind of breakfast, usually slow-cooked eggs and either toast or a bagel with peanut butter, get dressed, find a lunch, and generally prepare for the day, with an aim of leaving between 7:00 and 7:20 am. This allows me to get to work 15-20 minutes early to do some work-related reading and prep for the day beforehand instead of flying along haphazardly as I used to.

What went well:
At the same time as I started this new schedule, I decided to make the switch to fair trade coffee after a number of articles and books and blogs about the atrocities of modern slavery in most major coffee supply chains crossed my path. It usually takes me a few times of hearing something for it to catch my attention, but over six months this issue came up several times and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I decided to switch, but fair trade is, obviously and rightly, more expensive, and I can’t afford dependence on it. Shockingly, I was still able to function. I was tired several times and almost drifted off at work once, but on the whole I’m impressed with how much less caffeine I’ve taken in while waking so early.

I also managed to get up all five days! Six, because I got up this morning also just to keep the momentum going. Usually in all my morning initiatives I’ve petered out by day three, four at the max.
I’ve stayed off social media until after the first two hours of being awake, which was important to me and I’m proud of.

I ate three meals per day all five days. Most of this year I’ve had the very unhealthy habit of skipping all but supper, and suffering the consequences in my metabolism and energy.

I’ve slept EXTREMELY soundly 4/6 nights which for me is a huge deal. Normally I have a terrible time falling asleep and am plagued by extreme nightmares, night sweats, frequent waking, sometimes racing thoughts or restlessness, and generally unsatisfying sleep. Now that I’ve cut down to 5 or 5.5 hours per night, it’s not a perfect fix but I’ve had much more success and haven’t even needed melatonin.

The writing itself has been fairly smooth. I’ve written 6k and read 1/3 of a craft book so far, plus journaled about my sleepiness and my book every morning, and because it’s so early and because it’s just the expectation that I work, without room for not feeling like it, it’s easier to just sit down and begin.

I have loved feeling less rushed. It’s been very nice to have a slow, satisfying, accomplishing morning and feel like things are under control. I used to dread early meetings because I knew it wold be a mad rush and I’d probably be late, and now I don’t have to. I’m ready and my mind is engaged, which is really nice.

What hasn’t gone as well:
Exercising. And cleaning, for that matter. When I get home around 5 or 6, I’ve been so exhausted that even cooking a real dinner has been a struggle. My house is a mess and I’ve gotten zero exercise, which is something I was hoping to incorporate, so I’ve felt a little like a failure for not being able to find a place for either of these things- or, to be completely honest, not finding enough leftover willpower for accomplishing these things.

Reading. Same problem, too tired to read, but I’m also just going through the slump that often happens to me when I start a new book. I’m trying to keep reading some every day, and to let myself start as many books as I want while trusting I’ll eventually get through them all. I did finish one today and I’m in the middle of 3 or 4 others.

Stamina. Monday Tuesday and Wednesday I was exhausted but did a great job staying off of social media more all throughout the day, staying away from caffeine more, getting up after just one or two alarms so I was actually ahead of schedule, and feeling positive about the project. By Thursday and Friday it was really work to prep my mind for the idea of getting up, though I did it, and I drank more caffeine. Friday I slept through nine minutes of a song blasting through my bedroom as the first alarm, and while I build in time for these problems in my routine, it was a little concerning as this is precisely what I’m trying to avoid by getting up outside the window of time that has been so groggy for me historically. I also poked around more Friday morning and only got to work 15 mins early which wasn’t enough to do anything worthwhile.
This morning I got up and did some things but then said since it as Saturday I could take a nap- and slept from 6:30 to 10:45. Oops.

Things to improve: I would like to try and routinize my evening a bit more. If it’s a plan and commitment, as my morning is, perhaps I’d be better at following through. The problem is my work schedule is long and somewhat unpredictable- this week I work until 7 pm two nights, 5 pm one night, 6 pm one night, and anywhere between 4 and 5 pm the last night. It’s not ideal, as it’s both harder to develop a routine and, by virtue of being 10 and 11 hours workdays, leaves me completely exhausted. But I might try making a routine from say 8:30 to 10:30 pm, which are the hours that are for sure within my control. I definitely want to find a way to do less tv and less social media, and more reading plus making sure I cook at least 3/5 nights and fit some kind of exercise in somewhere.

So that is a massively long recap of week one of the Hunger Games. I mean, week one of my new routine. If you’ve hung in there with me, what kinds of routines and rituals have you built into your day to allow you time to work on writing? What elements of your day mean the most to you? Do you have suggestions and ideas for how to fit more in or how to structure am evening routine?

Eying the coffee with hungry eyes,

J

Editor’s note: I wrote this on Saturday, and WordPress was The Worst and wouldn’t post it. Today, Sunday, I take a sabbath from the time I wake up until 6 or so, so I didn’t follow the new schedule. I’ll judge tomorrow if that will work or if I need to get up every morning to keep from losing momentum.

Seeing Shadows

I’m a nomad by circumstance, if not by nature. Throughout my life, for whatever reason, circumstances have conspired so I haven’t spent longer than two years in any one setting, academic or professional, since seventh grade. It has never been my intention, but whether because of a career change, graduate school, or pursuit of the bigger and better, I have been in a perpetual state of change that has come with a consistent timeline. And now, my brain and heart, well-tuned to the seasons and the routines of my life, are noticing it’s almost time to pick up stakes again.

Only, I’m not sure it is. See, I am both nomad and settler. I long to feel I belong, and live in terror of sameness. I search out the unique, the unusual, and the fresh, and yet some place inside hungers for a true sense of home. These parts of me seem to be at war with each other. I haven’t found the right balance, the right place and time and circumstance where I feel safe and at rest, and yet not bored. It’s a boundary cloaked in confusion, even for me.

What I’ve noticed, in my years of nomading, is that the shadows become easier to see with time. I’m a social worker by trade, and most of my professional career has been spent in small towns. Here’s the thing about social work, which is also a Thing about writing: it deals with the deepest and darkest. The work I have chosen for myself, both with the person and on the page, is about diving into the secret places, the hidden things, the private and personal and often ugly. And what I’ve realized is that the longer I stay in a place, or with a project, the easier it becomes to see that darkness, and to have that darkness slowly cover everything else.

You’re probably a writer, if you’re here. Maybe you’re a social worker. STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED. But I’m wondering if it’s possible that you, too, have begun to see the shadows more clearly than the light. That’s thing about any profession that confronts truth. Truth is often cloaked in shadows, and reluctant to give up it’s cover. Spend enough time in the shadows, and you begin to forget what it is you’re pursuing there. The shadows become heavy. They crowd out other images – other experiences, the balance of the good, the joy you usually use as armor – and they wrap themselves around you with conviction.

The longer I spend in a town who’s secrets have become familiar to me, the more I see the cracked foundations, the sidewalk that lists to the left, the burned out streetlight near the park. I see the sagging front porches, the darkened windows, the plastic bags tossing in the breeze across yards of browned grass and abandoned toys.

The longer I spend in a writing project, the more I see it’s flaws. I see the listless plot points, the characters who either lack fullness or perhaps are full and yet are despicable somehow, because aren’t we all in some way? I get mired in a draft, loss in the restlessness of the middle or an unresolved end; I find myself stagnating in revisions, when I’ve torn a book apart and start to wonder if there’s any life left in it. It’s nothing but ugly truths and shifting shadows.

Here’s a truth I’ve learned in all my nomading, through books and lives and towns, through relationships and places and versions of myself, too: The ability to see beyond the shadows is a skill to be developed and maintained. How difficult it is to obtain in the first place depends on a myriad of factors, not least of which is your unique brain chemistry, your genetics, your temperament, your personal history, and your general inclination to see either darkness or light. How difficult it is to maintain depends on all those things, and one more – your awareness of the shadows themselves.

You can’t fight something you’re not aware of. You can’t push shadows back if you believe they’re fact. Immoveable. You can’t chase the shadows away if you believe the world to be comprised of nothing else.

The shadows are real. Small towns harbor plenty of sorrows, stories are broken, the world can be a dark and sad place. But shadows are neither reality nor truth. Somewhere beneath them, under a slithering mass of slippery darkness, hidden in the depths of the smooth midnight mists and all the broken things, is a truth far bigger than the shadows hiding it. Even a cracked and barren earth can bring forth flowers in the unlikeliest of places. Even a town with rough edges holds a hundred beautiful souls. Even a slashed up, shredded apart story will become something lovely and true.

Don’t forget about the shadows, my friends. If you, like me, have been feeling a little lost, a little broken, a little lonely, a little confused, lift up your hands and press the night away. Enlist help. Take your time. Truth will be there on the other side, no matter how long it takes you to find it.

 

 

 

About the Losing of Ways and the Possibility of Finding Them Again

Here is a list of reasons I didn’t want to write this post:

1) I thought I might look like a failure – until I realized I am the one who defines failure for myself, and regardless, I am more interested in being of some help to somebody than anyone’s concerns about my failure or lack thereof.
2) I thought an agent might read it and think I wasn’t up to the task of building a career – until I realized, if I may be blunt, that I only want to work with agents who are, themselves, human, and susceptible to struggles and faults, as well as understanding of those things in their probably mostly human authors.
3) I wanted to be able to end it with a bang – I struggled but TADA THEN I GOT AN AGENT AND A SEVENTEEN BOOK DEAL AND ALSO I WAS ELECTED QUEEN OF THE MOON HOORAY!. Until I realized that bang of excitement at the end is really what this post is all about.

Here’s the thing – I don’t feel very much like a writer today. I haven’t felt like a writer for quite some time, at least two months, but maybe more. I haven’t felt like a writer because I got lost in other people’s voices, through that beautiful demon social media, and couldn’t remember what I liked or didn’t like in a story anymore. I haven’t felt like a writer because I celebrated so many people’s successes with real joy but also with a continually stronger feeling of being left behind and inadequate. I haven’t felt like a writer because story became stilted, words were hard to access, and I began to feel I was spending far, far too long in this Almost But Not Quite world (where people love my stories but just need a little something more, a bit more polish, a slightly more likable character, less words, more words, just a spark, something to overcome the like but not love) and I was starting to feel like I was fundamentally flawed somewhere in the deepest down part of me so that my writing would never climb above where it was.

So I stopped writing. And since, for the better part of two years, I have largely defined myself as a writer, and since the term “writer” has been the single solid element of an identity that has shifted numerous times over the past several years, I felt entirely lost.

But to my surprise, the world didn’t end. I thought it might, since words weren’t my thing anymore and I really didn’t have a different thing. I thought it might, since writing wasn’t my morning and evening and I really hadn’t considered doing anything different with my time. I thought it might, since I wanted it so badly it colored my dreams and my walks and my conversations, and without it I was afraid there wouldn’t be anything left.

Here’s what was left: pancake breakfasts. Second hand books. The crunch of ruby and gold leaves under my feet, the first slash of October wind against my cheeks, the comfort of falling into bed exhausted from the emotional and mental toll of a day job I love but also give everything to some days. Movies with my sister. Long drives through countrysides ripe with wheat and corn, bathed in long sunbeams and watched over by long stretches of brilliant blue skies. Small children saying red is a “cemetary” color, or beaming as they inform me they might have been “thinking” for the first time, or inchworming across a classroom to get out of nap time. Long chats with my coworkers. Flashes of ideas, drops of inspiration, the constant sense that the world remained, as it has always been, just slightly larger than everything I’m able to capture with my senses; infused with magic and possibilities and deep veins of mysteries that remain unsolved.

Here are some more things that were left: children in crisis, with hurting hearts that need my help to stay unlocked and unbroken. Family tragedies. My own health fluctuations. The sense of being completely overwhelmed by the vast range of terrible, hurtful moments and the impossibly joyful ones – by the distance between them, by how close it could be sometimes, by the heavy aching weight in my chest when both these things were too much for me and the emotions were too many and since I wasn’t fleeing into words I had to stay and confront, accept, come to terms with, everything the world was offering me.

Here is what I know: I stopped writing, and it hasn’t broken me. I stopped writing, and I didn’t become blind. I stopped writing, but I didn’t stop creating, because creating is a thing that’s in your blood, in your bones, in your spirit. When your heart is creation you simply can’t see the world any other way. Your burden is to be exquisitely awake, in tune with your feelings, with the painful hope beating in your chest, with the breathlessness of a beautiful moment gone before you can be quite filled up by the sensation, with the misery of things that are so, so close and yet can’t quite be completely absorbed. This will not vanish on you. You will not suddenly become unaware of the world. You will not be closed off.
You might wish for it sometimes.
Maybe you will be equal parts afraid of it and desperate for it.
But your heart will not grow quiet, except in a peaceful, observant sort of way.

I haven’t been writing in the same way. I don’t necessarily feel like the same person I was a few months ago. I’m still waiting to see how it’s all going to shake out.

For a long time writing meant late nights at an old, borrowed laptop in my bedroom after homework was done. Then it meant snatches over summers, without any real aim. Then it was an act of quiet desperation because everything in my world kept changing from month to month, and for a while I didn’t know if I had another month or not, and words helped me through it. Now, it seems, writing means being alive. In tune. It looks like a few mornings a week, without too much worry over total wordcount or anything much except how those words feel and if they are true. It looks like an evening, here and there, at the kitchen table with a list of revisions to make and ear for the heart of the story I always meant to tell, underneath all the noise around it. It looks like taking the time required to really notice and appreciate the exact angle sun through October leaves makes, and the time involved in deciphering what that feeling that clenches my lungs and aches in my chest is in it’s purest form, and the necessary time to be not just a writer, but a daughter, and a sister, and a friend, and a person. Without agendas or schedules or career expectations. Without fear, and with plenty of questions.

Am I a writer? I don’t know. It probably depends on your definition, and your reason for asking, and the baggage you assign to the term. What I know is that I am, in my bones and my blood, a lover of stories. I am the kind of person who can say to the world, I see the story in you, and it matters to me. I will give it it’s due. I will listen, and I will see, and I will experience with every bit of me I can offer. Fully awake. Fully aware.

And maybe, as it has in small pieces for now, this being alive will translate to words on a page.

I wish I had more to offer you, but this is the thing – your hope is not found in an agent, a book deal, a career path, even a finished manuscript. Your hope is found in your unwavering determination to live not in a day to day sort of way but in the moment to moment, through open eyes and hands, through a willing heart. Your hope is the belief that stories shape us, and give meaning to our experiences in the world, and that perhaps at any moment you may be called upon to give voice to one such story. Writer. Not writer. We are fluid, nebulous, difficult to define beings as people, and this is our birthright – the only thing that matters is story.

A World In The Palm of My Hand

I was talking about writing with a lovely friend tonight, and we were discussing how to build the world of a story. We agreed that one of the most terrifying things is the sensation that you’re writing yourself into a corner and you’ll never be able to get yourself or your characters out. We talked about taking risks, making false starts, and all those other fun adventures books tend to take us on.

Then we started talking about how to move forward in a story when we’re not sure what happens next. There’s a lot of buzz about character-driven stories and letting the characters lead, and I completely agree with that. But something I realized through this last round of revisions I did was that usually, in order to write a character-driven story, we must explore the unknown through the eyes of the character. That can be frustrating and confusing, though, when you don’t KNOW how a character might see something, not to mention why. So I thought I’d share a little trick with you that I’ve only just started using in my writing, and you can tell me how it goes!

My education is in social work, and one of the myriad theoretical foundations for the practice of social work is something called systems theory. Systems Theory is a way of viewing the world with the idea that people exist in a series of systems, both internal and external. These systems act on people who in turn act upon the systems, and the more people and systems involved, the more complicated both the problems and the solutions. This theory is summed up by the phrase, “Person in Environment,” which is a solutions-focused concept that suggests problem solving begins by recognizing that a person is influenced by everything from their country down to whether or not they have a stomachache, and that solving the problem requires recognition and analysis of systems first. It’s a way of understanding not just what has happened but the nuances of why and how, and a way of recognizing that certain solutions to problems may only create more problems in other systems.

This gets much more complicated, and I’d actually encourage you to research it if the idea is interesting to you, because I rely heavily on it both in my day job and in my writing. But hearing about theoretical concepts can get confusing, so let’s give it some legs.

Parks and Rec is one of my favorite TV shows ever, and the episode where Leslie is trying to keep the Parks budget from being cut is an excellent example of systems going awry. Leslie convinces a councilman not to cut the Parks budget, but because the money must come from somewhere, she learns the animal shelter will be closed to obtain the funds. She doesn’t want that to happen, so she does some research and finds some unnecessary jobs to get rid of which will make room in the budget. However, when she does that, her best friend’s job gets cut.

I won’t tell you more because some of you guys might be crazy and not have watched every single episode eighteen times, but you can already see the issues. Leslie wants to solve the problem right in front of her, and she sees that problem only from her perspective as a Parks employee. She makes her decision from a position where the systems exterior to her are the state, the city, the local government, the parks department, her immediate friends, her neighborhood, etc. Interior systems are her passion for the parks, her loyalty to city/government, her drive to solve problems, etc. Because of her unique perspective and relationship to the systems around her, Leslie doesn’t see the problem or her first (or even second) solution clearly which causes a whole string of new problems.

This is where it benefits you as a writer – your character exists within some kind of array of systems, and every one of them exercises some level of impact on your character. When you get stuck and don’t know what happens next, or you’re having trouble figuring out motivations or who your character is, think about systems. How is your character impacted by her geographic location? The times in which she lives? The political, religious, cultural surroundings? How do these things shape her reaction to your plot events, and how does it shape the choices she makes in response to those events?

I recently used these ideas in my own revisions. I realized that most of the book as it used to be was just my character being acted upon by the other characters and floating along, always reacting to other choices and not making her own. I knew I didn’t want that and I read everything I could get my hands on about making characters more active, but I still struggled because I felt like I didn’t know enough about her to know what she might do when NOT just reacting. It wasn’t until I thought more about her background of poverty, and how that might cause her not to trust the systems around her, to distrust sources of help someone else might naturally turn to, and to view the world as being against her, that I could begin to understand how she might think and act. Revisions were still difficult – are they ever not? – but I finally understood my character, and that moved the story forward. I understand how my character saw the world until I figured out how that world has shaped her view.

Maybe this’ll open up a flood of new ideas for you and maybe it’s just confusing, but if you decide to give it a shot, let me know how it goes!

The One Where It’s Finally Done

This is a story about strawberry tea and sparkly star stickers and avocado fries.

It’s mostly about doing impossible things, the importance of having people to complain to until your face melts, and why you should have a really nice chair at your desk.

It’s about how I finally, Finally, finished the book.

A brief review: In January and February I revised a different book. It was hard and it was long and then it was done.

In March, I did…possibly nothing. I know I wrote a 10k short story, which you can read right here on the blog, and I have absolutely no idea what else. This is not uncommon for me. Nothing to see here. I do know that I went on vacation and stayed in a gorgeous hotel and walked through some ruins and started dreaming about a book.

In April I did Camp Nanowrimo and tried to give that book some guts. I got 20k in and I realized there was no story there. It was all too clean, dry, dull. It was already boring me and if something bores you at 20k, my friends, just don’t force yourself through 50-70k more. It’s just not worth it.

In April I also moaned and complained and blogged and fussed, until I suddenly realized what I was really telling was the story of a somewhat villainous girl with a stone for a heart and a whole lot of fears hidden away underneath it. Then I found the story.

In May I worked on the book. Which is to say I wrote in fits and starts, interrupted by days of staring at the ceiling or reading books so I could hide from how scared I was of the book. I talked people’s heads off. I brainstormed via DM and email and I’m kind of surprised I have any friends left. I was grouchy, irritable, and then giddy sometimes. The story inched along, and it got bigger and deeper and darker. It started a body count.

I started getting cramps in my forearms and elbows.

In June I started the sticker system again, annoyed with my brain and my apparent need to only write 3-4 days a week instead of six. I’d never written a book so slowly and it was slowly crushing my confidence.

And then it wasn’t. It wasn’t slow, it was bloody, there was a lot of kissing, my back was aching from the hours in my antique, lovely, awful chair, and there was Progress happening. I only missed two days of writing between June 1st and today. Aside from those, my lowest wordcount for a day was 1500. The last two days, Monday and yesterday, were 7k and 11.5k respectively. That’s right, I finished this book exactly the opposite of the way I started it – in April it was a creeping, miserable thing. In June it was a marathon fueled by avocado fries and tea from my lovely OTSP secret sister, the encouragement of my very, very lovely and sweet and understanding first reader, Pinterest, Woodkid and Two Steps From Hell, and a kind of satisfaction I’d been missing before.

Finally the story is right. It’s not necessarily good, y’all, good takes more time and I already have a list of things to polish up, but it’s very solid. Much more so than usual. Which makes all that extra time and frustration very  much worth it. AND IT’S DONE.

Usually I write six or seven drafts of books per year. In 2015, I’ve written one. This one. And where that used to scare me, now I’m a little bit proud of it. Because I know it’s already on it’s road to being what I want it to be – what it’s capable of being. And that’s what any writer wants for their story.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m back in a week or two weeping and tearing my hair out over how it won’t polish up as shiny bright as I’d like it to. But I finished a book, y’all. And if you’re staring at a screen or a page and moaning and stuffing yourself with cookies, let me just encourage you – it is, it is, it is worth it in the end.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to see these kind of things, I’ve included a little scene below from this draft. Words in the rough, you know.

You guys, it’s done.

They climbed the steps into the ruins themselves, and she was swept by a silent awe that nested in her bones, wove itself through the fabric of her skin, laced itself through the slipping furious strength of her blood. Evian’s hand fell from hers as he walked slowly across to the far wall, running a hand across the stone with head bowed as though he absorbed the whispered pleading prayers of a nation through his fingertips over the rough façade.
She felt loose. Untethered. It was a heady sensation.
Marguerite turned slowly the way they came, staring out across the sun-dappled gravestones to the river beyond, flowing blue and green and fast along it’s path. She felt it’s movement, wild, in her veins.
The high arches where the bells used to sit framed a sky so blue it made her breathless. Low branches of trees hung overhead, drooping down over the stone walls into the dirt courtyard they stood in and sneaking through the wide square windows carved into the stone. There was nothing but rock and sun and late afternoon breeze, ripe with spring and lilacs blooming somewhere beyond the walls. The silence wrapped itself around her, easing the pain in her side, the burn of her cuts and the stitches woven through them, and the aching gape of her fear of the future.
She sat on a low stone stoop leading down into one of the copses standing diligently on either side of the arched entrance to the ruins and tilted her head back, letting the sun fall full and hot across her face, washing away the damages.

The Best Might Feel Like The Worst

Let me set the scene for you. It’s Sunday night, 8:00 pm, on a tempestuous Spring evening that wants to be a thunderstorm. Branches are swaying against the lilac blue of dusk falling, I have an apple scented candle burning and a playlist of epic movie soundtrack music playing, and I may or may not at some point this evening be making words. I will also likely drink tea, eat cookies, possibly lay on the floor, mumble under my breath a lot, and scribble in my notebook in fits and starts interspersed with a fair amount of Twitter.

This book is going to give me gray hair, kids. I’ve blogged before about how my writing process seems to suddenly have taken a left turn, how it’s been much harder than I remember. It still is. It would be really cool if I got to come on and say OMG Y’ALL I WROTE 50K THIS WEEKEND AND IT WAS MAGICAL but alas. This I cannot do.

Here’s the thing – none of this is feeling good as it happens. My productivity is at more or less an all time low – the only time it’s been lower is when I wasn’t writing in all, like in college. I’m averaging 3-4 days, and 1-2k on each of those days. And in my head and my heart, this feels like a failure because why isn’t writing the way it’s always been, why is it suddenly HARD?!

But then there’s the objective, reading, knowing a little more about writing and publishing than I did before side of me, and that part of me knows somewhere at the very edge of my thoughts that this is actually a good thing. Every other book I’ve drafted has either remained in draft stage or required serious down to the bones revision. This one may not need that – it will absolutely need revision, but I’m already aware of where some of those places will be in the beginning, which is helping me craft a much stronger middle. I know exactly why I’m crafting scenes the way I am – everything they do, everything they say, the bits of history I choose to share and where, the reason certain relationships exist, all of that and more is deliberate and chosen for a place in a bigger picture. Which is not to say this draft isn’t a mess because man, first drafts. But it’s a first draft with purpose, and intellectually I know that even if it takes more time, this may just save me in the end.

But it doesn’t feel good.

Which is why I wrote this post to begin with. Y’all, not everything that is good for you is going to feel that way. I know that’s just very shocking, but it’s true. Reading craft books isn’t always going to be the top most interesting thing to do with your time, nor is diving into nonfiction for research when you could just eat ice cream and watch Netflix for six hours. Slowing yourself down to create a character arc or work out a thorny plot problem your characters are doing real, not just convenient, things, or acting just for the sake of an interesting plot, isn’t easy and sometimes isn’t that fun. Writing fast to fly through a section that scares you may not feel good either, you might be a little sick to your stomach or have to type with shaking hands.

But that doesn’t mean those aren’t the things you need to do. Just like there are times and places where maybe the very best thing you can do, the most you have to offer to your writing, is doing some reading, or scribbling 100 words per day into a notebook. There are stages, places, times. There are best efforts, and there’s discipline and there’s patience. There’s plodding and there’s plot firestorms, and there’s cookies and tea time.

You will not always feel good about your writing. You will not always understand your own process, or rather, each particular book’s process, because they can and do differ wildly. You may feel like you’re doing the worst, slowest, clumsiest work of your life.

But see it through. Because it just might be your best.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be here rocking and drinking tea and mumbling under my breath.