How Drafting and Revising Feel Different: The Clean House Edition

As I type this, we are having our house power washed. It feels like I’m inside a car wash while sitting at my desk. I don’t hate it.

Power washing a home must be an inordinately satisfying job. You arrive and the walkway is darkened with years of baked in dirt. The fascia is dull. The gutters grimy. As you work, you can see the dirt fall away. When you leave there is a definite difference from what it looked like when you began.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I used to argue about the delineation of chores. Once we finally realized he wasn’t ignoring certain tasks, he just doesn’t always see the dust or know when we need to vacuum, it made a big difference. Since I don’t particularly care for cleaning a bathroom (especially with three boys in the house), he became our bathroom cleaner and I typically handle the dusting and vacuuming. But I sometimes find myself irritated that the bathroom job is his. Not because he doesn’t do a good job or because I love scrubbing toilets (um, nope), but when you finish, there is clear evidence of a job done. And while dusting and vacuuming clearly make a difference, there isn’t that same spic and span feeling.

Writing is like cleaning the bathroom. After you sit down to write, there are words on the page where once there weren’t. It’s satisfying and clear. It’s easy to track. The progress is obvious.

Revising, on the other hand, is like dusting and vacuuming. No one else notices the difference sometimes but you. But I can guarantee if it didn’t get done, it would eventually be a huge mess that everyone would notice.

I’m currently stuck in a big revising mess pulling apart my manuscript and Frankensteining it back together. It feels like I’m pulling a vacuum from chapter to chapter but just as I clean up one area, I realize that makes another scene even messier and I have to follow the trail of clutter to the next room, pick it up so I can dust and vacuum, then go back and inspect them both to make sure some errant character didn’t come in while I wasn’t looking with muddy shoes and a leaking box of glittered confetti.

In other words, I sometimes miss the rough draft writing days when the progress was obvious. (Someone remind me of this when I start my next story and profess to hate that part of the process, too).

While revising may not be as immediately gratifying as the initial drafting process, in the end, it is undeniably worth it. There is something amazing about filling in a plot hole or realizing that random bit ties the whole manuscript together if you just tug on it a bit. In the end, after all the dusting and tidying and rearranging of furniture, there will be a clean and polished manuscript. One that I created. One that sparkles and shines and finds itself onto a bookshelf where once there was nothing.

A bookshelf I will inevitably have to dust.

But I suppose dusting a book with my name on the spine will hold its own special kind of satisfaction.

And if this whole writing gig doesn’t work out, I may look into power washing. It seems like a seriously satisfying job.

Featured image: Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash; Powerwash before and after photos by Monica Cox

Hadestown and the Holderness Family: Love Stories and Anxiety

It has been a long two years.

Full stop.

But Sunday, life felt a little sweeter again. My husband and I finally went back to the theater for a live show. I was so excited I even put on lipstick despite the fact that no one would see it behind my required mask.

The show was Hadestown and I didn’t know much about it beyond seeing the cast performance at the 2019 Tony Awards and being gobsmacked. Something in it spoke to me, deeply. But the world was busy back in 2019 and I moved on to the next thing. My mother, meanwhile, has season tickets to the Broadway series at her local theater. Each year, members have the option of opting out of a show, if they prefer. When she read through what was supposed to be the 2020-21 line-up, she mentioned she might opt out of Hadestown. Remembering my reaction to the Tony’s, I immediately begged her not to, that I would love to see it. She was generous enough to let us have the tickets.

Then the world shut down. And it took a long time for shows to return. But eventually, they did.

And finally, this past weekend, it was our turn.

Hadestown is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which if you don’t remember your Greek mythology, is not a story with a happy ending. But it is a love story. Young Orpheus literally follows his lover to hell to try to save her from the Underworld. Hades agrees to let her go under one condition: They can not look back. Upon finally reaching the top and seeing the sun for the first time in ages, Orpheus is so excited he turns back to show Eurydice who was a step still in the Underworld and she disappears.

Despite knowing this tragic ending, I became so enthralled in Anais Mitchell’s songs and the brilliant performances and the gorgeous staging that I kept hoping that maybe, just maybe the ending wasn’t what I remembered. But it was. And I cried because the heartbreak is unbearable and they were so close and how unbearable have the last two years been and how close have we been to beating it only to be saying no to things again with each new variant outbreak?

But holy cow is this a beautiful show that despite its heartbreak is full of hope about creating the worlds we can imagine despite the reality of the world that is. If there is something we all need right now in this current environment of pandemic fatigue and geopolitical conflict, it’s a little imagination as to what could be.

What struck me, however, the most, was the song Wait for Me when Orpheus discovers Eurydice has been gone below and sets out to find her.

I suffer from anxiety. It’s been a part of my life forever but only had a name and diagnosis in the last three years when I landed in a therapist’s office after a series of panic attacks and anxiety spirals had left me unable to function three months after my father died. Through it all, I have had the loving support and grace of my husband. And thank goodness because if you have walked the road of mental illness you know how necessary it is to have someone, just one person, who gets it and gets you and understands the difference between you and your illness because oftentimes the sufferer can’t differentiate between them anymore.

As Eurydice makes the decision to trade her empty stomach and worries of having a warm place to land for the security Hades offers, I understood. Sometimes, you make a choice because you want the discomfort to end. Sometimes that means stuffing down emotions or ignoring your body’s warning signs, and sometimes that means more (please reach out here if you need help). I have never been that far down the road, but the impulse, the desperate need to just make the anxiety stop is real and relatable.

Seeing Orpheus realize what has happened and set off for her immediately, begging her to wait, he’s coming, too, was about so much more than their love story in that moment for me. It was my love story, too. It was every time my husband has reached out to me when I’m spiraling to remind me that I am okay, I am worthy, I am loved. It was every time he didn’t tell me to snap out of it or remind me I shouldn’t worry because look at all the good in my life (yes-there’s a lot of good here, no-mental illness doesn’t care) or tell me to leave him out of it and save it for my therapist. Instead, he follows me down the rabbit hole every time and sits with me in it until I am ready to step back out. Luckily, the same rules of Hadestown don’t apply and I don’t disappear if he looks back for me from the warmth of the sun, instead, he waits until I’m ready to step into the light myself.

This week I was also touched by Kim and Penn Holderness winning The Amazing Race. The Holderness Family first made their break onto the national consciousness when their Christmas Jammies video went viral and they rode their Internet fame into a verified content creator position. Their videos and song parodies focus on the same suburban life with kids we are living. And they happen to live in the same geographic area as we do. To top it off, Penn went to our high school. He certainly didn’t know me, I was a few years behind him, but I knew him by reputation from his turns in the school play and over the top performances with the show choir. My husband (yes, we went to the same high school) was a few years older than me and he and Penn ran in some of the same circles and had some overlap, so it’s also been fun to watch the journey of these people we sort of knew once upon a time.

Kim has been honest about her struggles with anxiety and The Amazing Race editors didn’t ignore it. They often featured it as part of the couple’s main story line, as I am sure it was part of Kim’s every second on the race whether it looked like it or not. I can’t imagine how much harder each moment was for her knowing she was also away from her kids. My kids are the things that usually root me back into the present when I start to spiral. Not being able to see or speak to them for a month must have been extremely challenging in an already challenging situation.

Throughout the race, however, Kim was open when she struggled and Penn just as openly supported her. He walked that walk with her each and every time. And to see that support lead to success was inspiring as a fellow sufferer. I was equally moved to see a well deserved celebration of the spouses who follow us down the road to hell reminding us that they will be here to help guide us back to the sun.

I am not sure how to wrap up these random thoughts from my week other than to say congratulations to Kim and Penn for winning The Amazing Race, go see Hadestown if you can, or listen to the cast album or take it back to the beginning with the genius concept album by Anais Mitchell and friends that eventually became this fascinating show. Then, if you are an anxiety sufferer, take a minute to do the thing today that brings you a little calm (a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend, a bath, a book, meditation, all of the above if you’re me except I won’t call you if we’re friends because that stresses me out a lot but maybe I’ll text you a fun gif) and hug that person in your life who calls after you to wait up when you head into the darkness. Because that person is your love-in-the-moment story whether it’s a parent or a friend or a spouse or a child or just the random stranger who wrote a musical about an ancient love story that spoke to you one day.

And don’t we all need a little more love stories in our lives these days?

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Setting the Mood: Writer Walk-Up Songs

Creativity is a muscle. One that requires practice and even discipline. My husband, in an effort to comfort me on a hard day of writing (or rather non-writing), tried to let me off the hook recently by telling me not to worry about a stuck day.

“You can’t force inspiration.”

Maybe. BUT…

I have kids and volunteer commitments and other work to attend to. Waiting to be inspired is a luxury I can’t afford if I ever want to finish a sentence let alone a 90,000 word manuscript. If I have an hour at the climbing gym while a kid takes a weekly class, then that’s when I have to work. Regardless of my muse’s availability.

Now, that does not mean I can just sit down on the cracked leather sofas of the gym sitting area, ignore the pervasive smell of feet and chalk dust, and just open a creative vein. If only. But, I have learned a few tricks that allow me to drop into the work faster.

One of my favorites is the walk-up song.

If you aren’t familiar, baseball players typically have a walk-up song at their home stadiums that plays as they approach the batter’s box. The ideas is that their song choice pumps them up. Puts them in the zone. Focuses them mentally at the seemingly impossible task of tracking a ball hurtling through space so fast that by the time the batter’s brain registers it leaving the pitcher’s hand it is already in front of the plate then swinging a bat around fast enough to not only make contact with this speeding projectile but to put that ball into play with specific purpose.

Writers have the similarly impossible task of pounding out 80,000 words into a cohesive narrative arc with a well-paced plot, fully-developed characters, tension, sensory details, and snappy dialogue. It might not happen as quickly as the batter at the plate (again, if only), but it’s probably got the same number of moving parts.

So I often use a walk-up song to pump me up, focus my efforts, remind my body of the muscles it needs to swing for the narrative fences. For a long time, I used Wrote My Way Out from the Hamilton Mixtape. It energized me. Reminded me that the only way out of whatever conundrum I’d gotten my characters or timeline into could only be solved by writing my way out. It also works when I just need to remind myself I love doing this thing (let’s face it: some days we need the reminder).

At other times, I have used a mood song more specific to the work at hand that drops me into the emotions of the characters, the tone of the story, or even the setting. For a manuscript set during the Vietnam War, I would listen to lots of music from the time period. But the song that dropped me into the mood of the story fastest was Ray LaMontagne’s God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. The song drips longing and that desperate feeling of wanting to get the hard job done to return home as soon as possible to left behind loves. It helped me find the emotional heartbeat of my story every time. For my current manuscript, it’s exile by Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver. Might seem a little dark for the ultimate story I’m writing that includes lots of fun and games, but it gets me into the complexities of the relationship that is at the heart of the book. I will often listen to it on repeat depending on the scene I’m working on.

Listening to these songs center me whether I am at my desk or sitting at a picnic table during a kid’s soccer practice. These audio cues trigger the part of my brain that is focused on that story. It allows me a short cut back into the work without having to reread an entire chapter or section to get my bearings when time is tight. It also serves as a wake-up call to the muse to let her know it’s time to work and it would be nice if she shows up.

But even if she doesn’t, I’ve got work that needs to get done before the oldest’s drum line practice ends…Batter up!

What song gets you in the zone for writing? Is it specific to your manuscript or more of a generic pump up song? Or, on the flip side, is it a relaxing piece that calms your nerves and steadies your fingers on the keys? `

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year!

Despite proclaiming to not set resolutions I will most certainly fail at for the new year, I do still do a fair bit of planning. I like to have goals to work towards, even if they change throughout the year.

Last year, however, coming out of 2020, I wanted to be gentle with myself. My goals weren’t so well articulated. My focus words were Grace and Flexibility. Two things I wanted to remind myself of when things weren’t going well. The problem? Because I never set concrete goals, I didn’t really have anything to measure against. The result? I did some stuff, but a bit all over the place, and my focus words ended up making me feel like I had a hall pass for procrastination instead of a direction. Not exactly what I had intended for them. But it was really easy to justify watching another episode of The Queen’s Gambit instead of writing when it all just felt too hard last winter.

While grace and flexibility are things I should still allow myself as we continue to navigate work and parenting and life in a pandemic (just maybe not as excuses for binge watching Netflix), I decided I needed a more firm hand this year. I have big things I want to accomplish in 2022. I want to set myself up for success, not arrive in December with the same wishy-washy “eh, I guess I did some stuff” results I had this year. (And don’t get me wrong. I did do some stuff. I just didn’t finish much.)

First, I will finish edits on my work in progress. My nebulous goal for 2021 was to be pitching my manuscript by the end of the year and I was nearly ready to do so in October until a trusted reader mentioned some possible problems that kept me from hitting the send button. The more I thought about her questions and concerns, the more I realized I need to make some changes. Do I think I could pitch it out right now and get requests? Honestly, yes. The pitch is strong and the overall story works. Do I think I could make the book stronger? Definitely. So why not wait and get it that much better? (Okay, I can think of lots of reasons but most of them boil down to fear that I can’t actually make it better which is bullshit). As much as I’d love to say my 2022 goal is to finally nail down an agent, that particular outcome is out of my control. What I can do is make the book the best it can be and query my little heart out until someone loves this story as much as I do. That is what I will do this year.

Second, I have been studying to be an Author Accelerator accredited book coach and I will start my business this year. I have done beta reading the last few years but felt stymied by the format as well as the lack of follow-up with the writers. I love working with writers and am so excited to be able to take what I’m learning and help others draft and complete the books of their hearts. I am in the middle of working on my submission packet and hope to have that sent off in the next couple of months so I can hit the ground running by spring.

Those are two BIG goals already, but I’m adding a third. By the end of the year I want to have a rough draft of a new book. I have been working on the current book for a while and am ready to rekindle my creativity with something new. I have no idea what that might be yet, but the thought of exploring new things until I find it is extremely intoxicating and I am very much looking forward to that creative process.

Yikes! Even looking at all that on the page together is enough to make me break out into a sweat. But, based on my planning, I think it’s all doable. And if it’s not, that’s what my mid-year check-ins are for. Just because I set it as a goal today doesn’t mean it’s a failure if I don’t accomplish it. Our failures are our teachers after all, so I’m going to aim high in the hopes that I learn a lot this year!

To focus on my goals, I have selected START as my word. Start that edit. Start a business. Start a new book. Just start. I can’t finish what I don’t start. I’m going to focus on taking those first steps and seeing where they lead.

What about you? What are your goals for the year? Do you select a word to help you focus? Maybe a vision board (I did one of those this year, too, for the first time)? Or something else? Let me know and let’s work towards those goals together!

Here’s to a successful 2022!

Let’s get started!

Make Every Moment Count In Your Novel

When writing an essay or a short story or flash fiction, it’s imperative that every word count. The limited space requires every character, description, and word to carry weight. When writing a novel, it can be easy to allow all that empty space to lure you into indulging that secondary character’s wood working hobby or the mother-in-law’s invitation to Sunday brunch. But, it is just as important that every scene, every character, every moment in your novel move the story forward with the same weight that they carry in a shorter work.

Why? Because it all matters. If it doesn’t matter it distracts the reader.

It may distract them into thinking a sub plot is important when it’s not or from assuming that wacky neighbor has something to do with the plot’s mystery or, heaven forbid, distract them from caring about your protagonist’s journey. Either way, at the end of the story, something won’t sit right with the reader and they will be left unsatisfied.

I saw a version of this over the weekend in a fluffy holiday movie. A Castle for Christmas on Netflix was just the predictable fun I was in need of while recovering from my COVID booster shot. Brooke Shields plays Sophie, a recently divorced best-selling author who has a meltdown on national television when her fans protest her killing off a favorite character from her popular series. To avoid the backlash and focus on her next project, she escapes to the town in Scotland her father lived in as a boy wanting to see the castle he always told stories about.

The castle, headed for bankruptcy, is owned by Myles, a duke played by Cary Elwes. Sophie buys the castle and is determined to write her next novel in the beautiful library while the Duke figures he can scare her off by putting her in the worst room and making her life miserable. I think we can all see where this is headed (I mean, there is tartan and kilts and a cute pup named Hamish, if it doesn’t end up where we think it will why are we even watching?).

The majority of the characters (even the pub’s knitting club and the Duke’s best friend/castle tour guide) and action do drive the story forward. Each decision or misunderstanding leads to the next decision or misunderstanding. Everything is moving along at a fine clip UNTIL…somewhere in the montage scenes of planning for the upcoming Christmas Eve party at the castle, an eccentric looking couple checks into the village inn. The innkeeper, who must leave the action of the main plot to tend to her guests, tells them only the Romance Package is left. “Oh, that’s fine,” the woman coos. On to the next scene.

But wait. Who are they? Are they important? Is it Sophie’s ex-husband and new fiancé we hear about from Sophie’s daughter? Is it a banker who could throw a wrench into the various plans afoot? A childhood friend of Sophie’s father? An old flame of the Duke’s?

We never find out. We never see the pair in the movie again. And here it is, days later since I watched it, and I’m still wondering why they were important enough for a scene. With speaking lines! And a romance package!

Distracting.

My brain automatically totaled up a number of possible reasons they were there the moment they came on screen and when nothing closed that loop, I was left still wondering.

It has me thinking about all the scenes in my novel as I consider another major revision. Does it matter? Does it advance the plot or the protagonist’s journey? Does it serve a purpose? Or is it just a wayward traveler looking for a room?

The fact of the matter is in your novel, there can be no room in the inn for characters or scenes that don’t serve that purpose.

Make sure your guests are all invited.

My Bookshelf: Impacted by Benji Carr

Took a departure from my stack of women’s fiction this summer to take a bite out of Benji Carr’s Impacted (pun very much intended). First of all, I met Benji years ago at a fiction writing class we both took at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. Benji was a master of voice then and his debut novel proves he’s got the chops (the dental puns are just too fun!).

Impacted is a darkly comic coming-of-age story focused on seventeen-year-old Wade who just can’t seem to get it together. Torn between his ongoing, illicit affair with his handsome dentist and the mother of his new baby living with him in his mom’s basement, every move he makes seems to dig him deeper into trouble. Most teenagers struggle with where their life is headed, but Wade’s seems intent to drive his off the rails and see what remains when the wreckage clears.

There are so many twists and turns in this novel that I dare not say too much to give anything away. So, let me simply say, the characters are voicey as all get out and driven by disparate motivations that could complicate Wade’s life at every turn. There’s the hunky delivery man, Trevor. The knows-too-much dental assistant, Celeste. Mary, Wade’s widowed mother who wants desperately to find the best way to connect with her son. Wade’s dramatic girlfriend, Jessa, and sweet baby Lydie who softens every scene she appears in just enough, like the subtle newborn scent wafting off her head.

This book is perfect for fans of dark humor, coming-of-age stories, and maybe folks who already have a distaste for their dentist. I may never look at mine the same again!

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Earlier this year, I delivered my latest draft to my beta readers. And I exhaled. The pressure of the edit was over. My words in someone else’s hands. The stress was still there, don’t get me wrong. My words were in someone else’s hands. Ack! But I had no control over those words anymore. And honestly, I was too close. I needed external perspective as much as I need a forced distance from the story.

Once it was gone, I had every intention of using my writing time for query letter and synopsis drafts. Only my heart wasn’t in it. Not because I was afraid of the challenge (although, I’d have every right to be–synopses are my nemesis), or because I didn’t have enough time, or because something else was clamoring for my attention. No. It was more because I truly needed a break from this story. A real mental vacation so that I would be ready for feedback and up to the task of another pass of inevitable revisions.

I cleaned up all my notes, excavating my desk from the stacks of drafts and myriad of sticky notes with lists of filter words and check lists and teetering stack of craft books. I sat in my office, staring at the walls, wondering what’s next.

Staring at generic beige walls.

Walls jam packed with furniture that weren’t serving my needs. The cabinet that housed early drafts also housed the family’s craft supplies, cast-off blank thank you notes, gift ribbon, and old Christmas cards. Books lined the top of the cabinet and were shoved underneath it. Craft books were relegated to a moving cart that made sense when I bought it but were already overflowing its boundaries. There was nowhere to sit and read. The space had become as cluttered as my brain and, worse. Uninspired. My attempts to brighten the space with a colorful rug and art only seemed to highlight what wasn’t working.

So I noodled the paint color I’d seen on someone’s Instagram feed and had jotted down weeks before. I trolled the Internet for bookshelves. I pinned chair options. I felt a creative spark start to burn. I decided I’d spend the time distancing myself from my words with a giant redecorating challenge.

But…

Just as I worried about my words being judged by my beta readers, that they would soon be disappointed in my ability, or lack thereof, to sustain an entire novel, I began to worry that my decorating choices would disappoint and be visible to all. My failure on display.

I moved through the fear anyway, just as I sent the pages anyway. We can’t know for sure until we do the thing. The scary, risky, nagging at your gut that it may just be fantastic thing.

And in the end, it’s lovely. The cabinet of art supplies has been replaced with two bookshelves. My rug suddenly has a purpose. The art is highlighted in a new way and I added house plans designed by my late father to complement his drafting table that is now my desk. A chair beckons for my next beta read or craft study or a place for my feline assistant to cuddle on rainy days. My craft books have a shelf with room to grow. My binders of drafts and workshop materials are now easily accessible. This room is mine. I made it. I will use it. It’s a space in a house crowded with people during this last, most unusual year that allows my mind a place to breathe.

When the feedback from my readers came back, I was ready. Fresh and inspired by my new space. Now I am tackling the edits with the same perspective I did this room–by asking what is working, what serves, and what is simply a colorful rug in a scene that falls flat? Hopefully, in the end, the book will shine as much as my new space.

My Bookshelf: Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

I was thrilled to receive a copy of Blind Turn from fellow WFWA member Cara Sue Achterberg. It was the perfect book to dive into on a cold weekend with nowhere to go (isn’t that every weekend lately? Never thought I’d actually miss those crazy weekends of kid sports and family commitments and birthday parties and errands that kept us going hither and yon, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose).

Liz Johnson is a single mom with a less than dependable ex-husband and a teenaged daughter, Jessica. Jess is an honor student and budding track star on tap to earn a scholarship and escape their small Texas town, a feat her mother was unable to achieve when she got pregnant with Jess in high school.

When Jess is involved in a fatal texting and driving accident that leaves the high school’s beloved football coach dead, her dreams of escape are replaced with the possibility of jail time and the burden of ending a life in an accident she can’t even remember.

While the legal battle wages, the public delivers its own guilty verdict, ostracizing Jess and Liz, jeopardizing Liz’s job, and sending Jess into a spiral of shame and despair. Jess and Liz navigate this rocky terrain with the help of Liz’s ex-husband, a lawyer Liz calls on for help, the high school guidance counselor, and a few unlikely new friends.

This story is all too real. I read as a mother of a teen who is yet to start driving, but who is often distracted from simple conversation by his devices, and immediately believed how quickly a mistake like this could happen. I could also relate to the struggle a mother would have to protect her child while also holding them accountable for their actions–a seemingly impossible balance in a situation like this.

What I loved about this book is that the characters in Blind Turn were all fully drawn no matter how much time they spent on the page. While small town characters in books can sometimes fall back on caricatures, this author does a wonderful job of portraying a unique, complex, and complete cast without relying on stereotypes or quirks simply for the purpose of being quirky. She also allows the characters to explore their own internal battles without sugar coating—Jess often considers self-harm while trying to come to grips with what she’s done in addition to the online and in person bullying she endures; and Liz confesses she’d take Jess across the border to Mexico before letting her daughter go to jail.

Ultimately, this is a story of accountability and forgiveness. Yes, we all make mistakes, whether that’s not using protection or taking our eyes off the road or not speaking to a loved one for years after a disagreement, but we must own our mistakes in order to forgive ourselves first before seeking amends, being able to forgive others, and being able to truly move on in a new direction.

So, does one mistake define us?

The book posits that they can, but they don’t have to. To tweak an old adage, it’s not whether you fall, but how you get back up that makes the difference.

Cara Sue Achterberg does a wonderful job of weaving two points of view throughout this story and creating multiple points of conflict between characters despite their common goals. I found myself hooked into their world and cheering for them all. A truly satisfying read and a wonderful book to spend curled up with on a winter weekend.

If you made it this far, I wanted to also spend a second to talk about how hard it has been for authors to launch books the last year. There are no more book events, no more booksellers able to talk up new titles to shoppers as we all rely on online orders and curbside pick-up, even from our local book shops. Marketing has become an extremely nebulous and onerous task for authors.

So what can you do to help? Did you read a book you liked recently? Review it! You don’t have to have a blog to do that. Leave a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Engage with the author by following them on social media or signing up for their newsletter. Encourage your book club to select a favorite read, you might even reach out to the author to see if they will join your book club meeting via Zoom. It’s easier now than ever if your book club is already meeting virtually like mine is and some authors love it (don’t be offended if they turn you down, though. Writers tend to be an introverted bunch and some love public speaking more than others). Look for online author events as well. Many are still doing readings through local bookstore pages or on their own platforms. Engage, share, review! It’s easy and goes a long way to spreading the word about a book during a time when it’s hard for authors to get their books into the hands of new readers in the traditional ways.

Happy reading!

2021: Looking Forward

My last post took a look back at what I did and did not accomplish in 2020.

Now, it’s time to look forward.

If you’re like me, it’s hard to find anything to look forward to this year. My kids are still at home doing virtual school. We still aren’t hosting family gatherings. There are no workshops or dinner parties or retreats on my calendar. Vacation would be nice, but hard to know when and what to plan for with a slow vaccine rollout and current numbers spiking in our state. Not to mention the distraction of recent events on Capitol Hill.

But, look forward I still need to do.

I have determined that 2021 will be the year of the small victories for me. And perhaps that’s a good thing. I’m currently writing my third novel, the first two now taking up drawer space, and it can be easy to judge my success based on the fact that the big milestones (securing an agent, going on submission, ultimate publication) are still lurking out of reach. Taking a step back to acknowledge the small victories (finishing a third novel, strengthening my craft, taking risks on the page) is probably the perspective I need to keep pursuing. After all, those “small” victories are big wins and the only things I can control on this journey anyhow.

Like many of you, I enjoy picking a word to focus on for the new year instead of a resolution. A touch point when I start feeling a little lost in the logistics of a goal or get off track with a side project (or global pandemic). Looking ahead to 2021, I needed to pick a word that wouldn’t mock me later like 2020. Last year’s word was venture. I had planned to attend my first writer’s retreat and commit to taking professional risks. When day-to-day life became risky, I shied away from adding any additional emotional risk to my already full mental plate. This year, I needed something softer. Something that didn’t focus on ambition or end goals. I needed something internal.

So, this year, I am focusing on two words: Grace and Resilience.

First up, Grace.

In 2020, I found it very easy to wrap my own self-worth up in what I was and was not handling well during the meat of self-isolation. While I easily doled out grace to my kids and their teachers and even the school board as decisions were changing and morphing during the end of one rocky school year and the start of another, I did not so readily award that same grace to myself. If I had trouble concentrating on my creative work, I was a failure. If I had to put aside work for the day to help fill a child’s emotional bucket, that was still time lost and due to my own lack of time management or dedication or focus or commitment. I often allowed my green-eyed monster to wonder how so-and-so managed to finish that book or languish in the knowledge that in this marathon-paced business of publishing, I was only delaying my own potential success. Luckily, I have a very understanding spouse who never seemed to tire of reminding me of the unique circumstances we found ourselves in.

This year, I want to extend grace to myself. To grant myself the openness and softness of inviting whatever emotion, challenge, experience into my life with acceptance and acknowledgement. My mantra is if it’s okay for my kids, it’s okay for me. Time to parent my inner self a little.

So, grace.

Next up, Resilience.

In looking back, I was able to recognize when I had adapted to the circumstances and make progress elsewhere even if the work in progress writing train stalled. I want to take that flexibility and nourish it in 2021. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity.” Not always a strong suit of mine, so I want to focus on continuing to work hard; to adapt when necessary; to bend, but not break. Basically, I want to remember in 2021 it’s not about how many times I get knocked down, but how many times I get back up.

Grace and Resilience.

The last few years I have selected verbs or words that represent forward motion. It’s not lost on me that after 2020 I have settled into something a bit more cerebral. This slower pace of life without social engagements and meetings and date nights and chauffeuring kids to sports and clubs and play dates has allowed me to take a step back and really analyze what about this writing journey is important. Sure, I still want to find an agent, have the book published, see my name on a spine in a bookstore, but the process of getting there is beautiful and I don’t want to miss it because my eyes were too focused on the prize.

Grace and Resilience. All about the process. And the process is ultimately what brings us happiness, satisfaction, peace, isn’t it? This year, I’m focusing on the process.

What are you focusing on for 2021? Share your words in the comments or how 2020 changed your approach to your creative pursuits. And let’s cheer each other on in 2021! We got this!

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

A Look Back

It is hard to look back on a year that is so currently in your face. We are facing the worst numbers in the pandemic so far, making the cold, winter months ahead more intimidating. The election is behind us, but political bickering continues. And civil unrest–well the fact is we shouldn’t leave that one behind at all because there is work yet to be done and we need to continue to listen and fight for a better world for all.

But, taking a step back from the mountain of world events dominating our consciousness, we are all still taking care of kids, aging parents, and work. For me, that work is writing. And since that makes me my own boss, it was time to sit down and review how the year really went.

On the surface, it did not go great. At the start of 2020, I plotted out very specific goals:

  • Finish a New Novel in 2020
  • Write 12 Short Pieces (essays, flash, short stories, articles)
  • Query Existing Book

Each goal was then broken into actionable items and until March, I was killing it. But the world fell apart and so did my creative drive. The first two months were focused on adapting to new pandemic rules, sorting out the kids’ school and mental situation, and, honestly, taking care of my own anxiety levels. Eventually I did finish a very rough draft of the new novel this summer, but originally I wanted to be able to start 2021 querying it. That will not be happening.

As for short pieces, there are a few starts of things, but that’s about it. And querying? I tabled that manuscript after some (admittedly fair) feedback and decided to focus on the new book for now so I didn’t lose the creative thread (I’ll go back to the other one and dive into revisions again at some point).

As I scanned my journal at all the touch points I missed this year, I felt…well, honestly, I felt like a big fat failure. So many items were left unchecked on my list or stalled in a virtual file folder. Then I read this blog post on Writers in the Storm and decided it couldn’t hurt to make a list of everything I did do (as it pertains to writing) in 2020. Just to see. Here is my list:

  • Rough draft (99,000 words) complete
  • Currently halfway through revision pass
  • Participated in the WFWA mentorship program as a mentee
  • Created and launched a new author website
  • Created and launched a new author Facebook page
  • Participated daily in the annual WOW (Work our WIP) month in February and met my goal
  • Participated in a Writing Career Vision Workshop
  • Participated in an intense Donald Maas Workshop
  • Wrote 5 (now 6) blog posts (compared to the 0 written in 2019)
  • Created 45 Instagram posts
  • Sent 23 queries of the earlier book before deciding to pause
  • Read three craft books

So. Not a big fat failure after all.

The stories we tell ourselves in our head, are often more compelling than the ones we are trying to put on the page. Because I had not met one part of my original goal (DUE TO A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!!), I went ahead and deemed the year a waste. But, in looking back, I adapted, creating new challenges (like the website revamp) that were more achievable for my current mindset. Because my pace changed, I was able to read the incredible Intuitive Editing by Tiffany Yates Martin before beginning my edits, completely changing the way I approached them. I jumped into the Donald Maas workshop that otherwise I might have skipped because the timing conflicted with my original 2020 timeline. And thank goodness, because that workshop still whispers in my ear as I revise adding emotional layers I might not have considered before.

Maybe I’m trying to put a silver lining on a shit storm of a year, but taking a second to see all the small things I accomplished (I fed my kids three meals a day and occasionally posted on my author Instagram!) reminded me that I am resilient and adaptable and still working. Maybe not as much as I would like or as fast as I normally would, but I am working. I am making progress. Slow and steady.

The fact is, we can’t all be creative during a pandemic (seriously Taylor Swift, two albums?), but we can take baby steps to nourish that creativity through books, music, coloring books, knitting, binging a new show, or simply writing a note to a friend, so that when our mental space feels free, we’ll be ready.

Ready.

Slow and steady.

See you later, 2020. Here’s to a healthy and happy new year filled with grace and gratitude for each other and our writing wins, no matter how big or small they may be.

Photo by Cedric Fox on Unsplash