Another Step Forward

Progress is never a straight line. It’s always a few steps forward, a few steps back. That’s exactly what the past few months have been for me.

While waiting for my editor to return to work, I had someone from my target audience read Fear Unleashed — a 12-year-old girl who reads voraciously and loves scifi/fantasy. The verdict? She loved it. I even had a chance to sit down and ask her a few questions and hear her suggestions. It was a confidence booster. She was anxious to read the next book, so I better get it finished! One step forward.

Beyond the test of patience while I waited for my editor to return to action, it felt like I was faced with another test. I came home last week, opened my mailbox, and instantly my heart froze in my chest. It was a letter from the IRS. It’s the one piece of mail that instantly signals bad news. It’s never a letter saying, “Hey, we found out you overpaid and now we’re sending you thousands of dollars.” It’s never that. No, it’s always something scary and something bad. I instantly went to a dark place. I saw my dream ending. I saw the last of my savings gone. This leap left little room for error. A serious illness, injury, a totaled car… all things that could put me in a desperate place. I never figured in the IRS, but that could do it too. It felt like once again the football was being pulled away just as I was kicking. A huge step backward.

I went to the dark place, but I didn’t stay. Even as a lead ball formed in my gut, I attempted to reason my way out. I read and reread the letter, looking for an indication of what they thought I might owe. While I realized it would be painful, I could take the loss. I got ahold of my accountant, and was reassured that everything was fine. This was a computer error that would quickly be straightened out by him. Once I got him all the forms he needed and signed where I needed to sign, I felt back on track. Having had a chance to get my feet under me for the past two years, it was easier to regain my balance. Being a part of a supportive community also helps me remain steady.  So, I managed to deal with a delay in submitting my manuscript, and a threat to my finances without losing hope. Yay, me! Two steps forward.

Today I finally took the next big step forward. The manuscript is in the hands of a literary agency. It may be months before they make a decision, so there is nothing for me to do at this point except keep writing and wait. But Fear Unleashed‘s journey has begun. Will this be the start of rejection until I finally find a “yes?” Or will I defy the odds and land an agent straight off? Stay tuned to the unfolding saga.

And even though I’m celebrating my steps forward, I recognize I will surely have to take a step or two back yet again. Going with it instead of fighting it, is a more graceful response and turns the whole process into a dance. And that’s what I’m hoping to do… dance all the way to publication. Cha cha cha.

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April Fools & Merry Christmas

For months now I have been telling people my book was done. I believed it was done. After all, I was at 75,000 words and a first time YA novelist in the scifi/fantasy genre typically shouldn’t go above 80,000. So, I found a passable ending and stopped the first book of three. The end.

April fools! No it’s not!

I was never happy with this forced ending. No one who’s read it was happy with it. But what’s a first time author to do? I had no more words.

Except I do!

You see, my editor had cut 15,000 words, and it finally dawned on me that I had more room for a better ending! It will make this book stand alone, which is awesome! It also brings this book closer to my original vision for it.

I am excited to be back to writing, and can’t wait to see the result. It’s always fun to find out what happens next. Despite the fact that I have to sometimes drag myself to my chair as if I’m a kid being told to take a nap, just like that napping kid, once I’m doing it, it’s the best thing ever. Wish I could spend every day this way.

So that’s my April Fools. Now Christmas.

It seemed like it had been years since I had gotten a cold, but this year, they all caught up to me. So far I’ve had two doozies, with this last one being the worst. Perhaps it falls into the flu category, not sure. It hit on Wednesday night and it wasn’t until today, the following Monday, that I feel human again. Because of that, my Christmas was spent alone in front of either a book or the TV. I had said I wanted a quiet Christmas at home this year. Be careful what you wish for.

Despite this sad state of affairs, I actually had a really great Christmas present in the form an of an email from my editor. He told me there is a literary agency lined up to read my book when it’s ready. I was stunned and excited. Of course this doesn’t really mean anything. They might read it and politely tell me to take a flying leap, at which point I can tell them that I already have.

Still, knowing I have a toe wedged in the door, gave me a huge boost on what was at moments feeling like a woe-is-me Christmas morning. It’s no surprise really that I’m feeling better today. This should really push me to finish. The brass ring is in sight. My arm is reaching. I can almost feel the slick metal in my hands… almost…

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Feedback Fear

Whew! Tonight was the night. It was the writer’s group where my first two chapters were critiqued. If you’re not a writer, and you’ve never had your work reviewed, you will not understand the exquisite agony of having your precious child put on display for judgment. I desperately wanted feedback, but it also set off waves of fear. Maybe I’m talentless. Maybe my idea is crap. Maybe it’s boring. Maybe it’s confusing. Maybe this whole leap is a fool’s errand.

Luckily for me, this group is made up of people who also understand these fears, and they are exceptionally kind, while giving lots of notes. So helpful!

The feedback was great. Everyone found it enjoyable, liked the pacing and flow, as well as the characters and dialogue. Since those are some pretty core necessities for a good book, I am pleased. Everyone had questions about what comes next, which indicates they were invested in the story. All good signs.

However, from previous feedback, I knew the story had a weakness and that was confirmed tonight. 25 years of focusing on writing screenplays has left me with a few weaknesses. Probably the biggest weakness is description. Screenwriters do not spend a lot of time describing the appearance of people or places, because that is stepping on the director’s creative toes. A screenwriter might write, “Interior – classroom” and that is all that is writen about what the room looks like, unless you need to describe the additional presence of some prop that is important to the story. That doesn’t really work in a novel. The reader may be the creative director, but they need a little more information to complete the picture. So, I need to spend more time on description of time, place, and scenery.

Because this novel is set in a unique world, yet still has many similarities to ours, it can cause a great deal of confusion to the reader. When is it? Where is it? Is this Earth? Is this the future? I had gotten this feedback from people who weren’t familiar wtih the genre, and tonight was the first opportunity for feedback from people who DID know the genre. I got the same note. To be honest, figuring out if this truly was a problem or not, was most of what i hoped to learn tonight, and i did. Success! I think a prologue of some sort will be needed in order to set the stage. Combining that with more description, I think the problem can be solved.

It was also delightful to hear someone say, “I loved this line” and then reel off something I also loved. I actually got chills a few times.

So all in all, a great night. I successfully handled both praise and criticism and walked out of the room feeling more confident than I went in. I have read the manuscripts of a few of the other writers, and they are a talented group of people, so their desire to read more felt like high praise.

There was also an exciting bit of business. The woman who invited me into the group has a novel coming out any day now, and she is starting her own publishing company. When this book gets done, there will be someone I know personally that may be able to help me get it out there. That is so very exciting. The publishing world can feel like a confusing maze, and maybe I’ll have a guide to help me through.

It really is true, everything you want is on the other side of fear. I made it through my feedback fear and am now able to improve my work even more. It was a good night in this writer’s world.

 

 

 

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Be Kind

The house sale is progressing and hopefully this one won’t fall through. If it does, we already have other offers.

I’m working on a Young Adult fantasy novel that has me so excited. I have had several very good ideas I could work on, and for a while it was tough to decide on which one I should focus. Then something sparked in favor of the fantasy novel and I am off and running. It’s so good. The concept is fresh. There is subtext and depth. I just have to execute.

With free time, I’ve been researching my new home community. There are so many activities I look forward to joining. Music was a major part of my life for the first 20 years, but has had almost no role in the last 30. It was exciting to find the new town has a women’s acapella group. My low, true-alto singing voice isn’t really good for solos, but it can be a real asset to a group without male voices. It would feed my soul to sing again, and I look forward to a pace of life that will allow that.

That slower pace of life I so look forward to, is actually happening now. It’s been two months since my job ended. I have not missed it for one second of one day. There has been no loss of identity or crisis of confidence. In fact, my true self feels like it’s re-emerging. I no longer feel battered constantly by stressful incidents. I’m not spending an hour and a half a day in ugly traffic. When a friend calls to have lunch, or needs a ride, I can actually say “yes.” When I wake up, my day can be designed around what I need and want to do, rather than what others want and need me to do. When something stressful happens, it’s easier to step back, take a breath, and deal with it. The unexpected and beautiful consequence of this is that my mind, soul, and heart are opening up again. I am able to be less judgmental and far kinder.

I first noticed myself extending kindness to others. When I was out taking a walk, I saw a kid skateboarding down the middle of the street. My stressed-out, super-judgmental self would have thought, “Stupid kid with a death wish. Get out of the street.” My open self looked and him and thought, “Look at that kid skating down the street.” My judgmental thoughts about the kid would not have changed his behavior, but they certainly would have made me feel unhappy. Instead that day, I was pure awareness without judgment and it felt wonderful.

That kindness and lack of judgment for others has extended to myself. Did I meet all my daily goals every day last week? Absolutely not. A couple of days I only did one of the five things. Stressed-out me would have beat myself up over it. Here’s what the running dialogue in my head about my bad behavior would have sounded like, “Loser. Idiot. It was just 5 things. Five fun things at that! This proves it. You are not a writer. You are a loser. You will always be a loser. Why pretend? Just go curl up in a corner and die, you loser.”

Many people refer to that voice as “monkey mind,” because it leaps from thought to thought and hurls poo at you.  And, boy are those thoughts a whole load of poo. They are horrible. Would I let anyone talk to a friend like that? Of course not! Yet, that is a pretty typical conversation I might have with myself. It may even be typical of a conversation you have with yourself. Why do we do it? Has it ever helped? No! It’s not motivational. It’s defeating. It’s harmful.

Thankfully, the new de-stressed me did not have that hurtful conversation. Well, okay, maybe I did for just a second, but it was quickly followed by stepping back, taking a breath, and showing myself some kindness. I’ve never been unemployed before. I have either been in college or had a job since I was 17. That’s 33 years of marching to someone else’s drum. Before that, I suppose I was marching to my parents’ drum. This is a whole new world! It’s going to take a little time to find my rhythm. Maybe last week I missed some steps, but this week I’ll do a little better. Before long, with a little kindness and patience, I’ll be hearing my own beat, and dancing to it with flair, in my white-girl, hippie style.

Have you failed at something and now you’re beating yourself up about it? Does that help? No? So, did you learn something? Will it help you do better next time? Then you did not actually fail, did you? We are all just imperfect creatures doing this for the first time (as far as we know), and we’re trying to makes sense of a very confusing life. Anyone in that position deserves a lot of kindness. So, I’m challenging you, be kinder to yourself. I promise it will help you accomplish your goals far quicker than that nasty, little voice in your head.

Tell monkey mind to go eat a banana, you’re busy dancing.

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