Inching Forward

Writing a novel is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. I knew this before I started. I know it more now. I’m days away from having the final product from the editor. Well, sort of final. I then have to make one more pass to put in a few changes. Clarity on details keep coming.

In some ways, this is the most frightening thing about declaring this novel “done.” There are two more books to write before this story is told, and this world is still revealing itself to me. I know there are more surprises ahead. Which one of them will make me realize that I didn’t set that up in the first novel, and now I either can’t use it, or I use it and hope nobody notices. I almost want to finish all three before trying to publish, but there is simply no way I could afford to do that.

When this one is done, it has to be well enough crafted to be a solid foundation to tell the rest of the story. That’s terrifying. Though, I will probably be done with the second novel before the first would be published, so I suppose maybe there are still opportunities for edits to volume 1.

In adding new chapters at the end, I was pleased to see not only an improvement in my writing, but an improvement in my attitude. When I first got notes and questions from my editor, my inner voice was defensive and resentful. I had worked so hard. How could there be holes? How could there be problems? How on earth was I going to find a way to fix them? It was impossible and I should just give up! I’m a terrible writer and too old to be starting novels. This time, when I got notes and questions, I was excited. I have come to realize whenever I have been pushed, either by a professor, or now an editor, the end product is always vastly better than the original. Those notes and questions mean I’m going to tell a better story. That excites me. While there will always probably be a tinge of panic that I can’t find a solution to the problem, it is quickly smothered with the curiosity of following the problem to its source and its solution, as well as the excitement of a better story. Growth!

By the end of the week I plan to have the manuscript to a proofreader, and after that, it is off to the literary agency that expressed interest in reading it. I really should be working on a query letter for other agencies, because the chances of being taken on by the very first agency are about the same as me winning the lottery tonight. Well, slightly better since I don’t have a lottery ticket. And maybe in this case, just a fraction better than normal because this is a connection from my editor. But still, I shouldn’t start planning my first book tour just yet. Oh goodness, I dread that part of the job (though would be lucky to experience it). Writers are introverts. Crowds, especially crowds of strangers, drain us. Why on earth would you make us do book tours and public appearances? Just let us sit in our offices and dream stories!

The last two years have been beautiful. I will always be grateful for this opportunity. I hope it’s not over. I hope my talent is enough to get me to the other side of the chasm, and I can continue to do what I love to do.

Here we go…

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Ebb & Flow

One of the things many of us forget quite often in our chase for happiness, is that life is in constant flux. I’m not sure why many of us believe that happiness and contentment are just a goal away. Once we achieve X, then life will be good. For a while it is. We revel in our new state and think this will be how life is until we die. That’s why it seems so shocking when sometime later stress piles up and things aren’t going so well. Then you think, “Wait a minute! I had this figured out!”

Nothing is ever static. Whatever you’re feeling today will probably change tomorrow. I’ve been doing better about remembering this. Experience has shown that any time there’s an improvement in life, the euphoria from the improvement lasts about six months. Then it’s back to the same old happiness set-point. Something too many people forget is that “this too shall pass” applies to joys as well as sorrows. So, I watched for this shift after my move. Still waiting…

There were small dips along the way, but in general, my joy and contentment of living here has not faded… until the holidays. There were a variety of stresses going on in life at the time, which led to some insomnia.  A part of me was shocked at how quickly my frustration levels rose again. I thought I was back to my old, happy, chill self. It felt slightly embarrassing that my stressed, less-than-my-best-self came back so quickly.

Then I was surprised again when life settled back down and the joy and contentment returned. I was cooking in the kitchen one night when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the joy of it. I find such pleasure watching foxes, geese, joggers, dog-walkers, drone-flyers, metal-detecting treasure hunters, and today – a flock of turkey vultures, doing their thing in the park across the street.  After having an LA-style 45-minute drive going home in an ice storm, my 10 minute commute suddenly seemed notably wonderful again. With the return of the sun, I feel excitement at the coming spring. There will be thunderstorms, afternoons and evenings spent on my sun porch, fire flies, long walks, and all manner of critters singing me to sleep in a thunderous chorus every night.

It’s the same with my novel. While it’s a constant project that never leaves my mind, it definitely has its ebb and flow too. As discussed in my last post, sometimes I’m slogging, sometimes I’m flying. I’m trying to understand the shift. Does slogging mean I’m off course? Just haven’t had time to daydream so I don’t know where the story is going? Or is it just the normal ebb and flow of life.

I am back to a bit of a slog at the moment. Thankfully I’ve learned to fill that time with editing. It frustrates me when the word count doesn’t rise as quickly as I think it should, but the editing has to get done too. Experience tells me eventually an idea will spark and I’ll be off to the races again.

The trick, I’m learning, is to simply relax into it. It’s like surfing. When the wave is coming in, paddle like crazy and catch the ride. And when the water goes back out, let it take you past the breakers so you can catch the next wave. Don’t worry about either phase. They each have their role. Just relax. Whichever state you’re in, this too shall pass. And so shall the next one. Ebb and flow – that’s just life.

 

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Twinges

Here we are again. Another week has gone by. It’s been 3 1/2 months since I arrived here in Missouri. In some ways it feels like I’ve been here for years. In other ways I’m still settling in. There is still a hefty list of things that need to be done before I’m fully “settled.” As I type, my sunporch is finally being screened. I’m excited to get that off the list, and to be able to enjoy the outdoors without the mosquitos. They can go snack on someone else, thank you very much.

Heading towards my fourth month here, things are definitely starting to normalize. Every commute is not another opportunity to marvel at the lack of traffic and abundance of courteous drivers. Now it’s just a commute… a 10-minute, lovely commute, but still just a commute. I still obsessively check WeatherBug to see if there might be a thunderstorm that day, but thunder is no longer the novelty it was when I first arrived. Even my cats can now deal with all but the loudest cracks of thunder.

With this expected loss of novelty and excitement, I am starting to have twinges of… not sure if I would call it homesickness, but I am starting to miss people from California. It’s starting to sink in that despite Facebook, I’m really not around old friends anymore. Yes, I can see their lives play out, but we can’t get together for dinner, a hike, or a laugh. I don’t regret the move, it’s just a fact that old relationships are missed, despite having developed new ones here. When I first arrived, people would ask me if I wanted to go back to visit, and my answer was always a resounding ‘no!’ Now I’m starting to feel like it would be fun to visit. Time does make the unpleasant fade, and soon I will only remember the good aspects of life in California. Several clients at our fitness studio have taken trips to CA and their thoughts when they come back are that they can see LA would be a miserable place to live, but it’s a lovely place to visit. They may just be right.

Work has provided some wonderful access to some amazing physical treatment and care, so I’m no longer living in so much pain. This has given me twinges of restlessness for physical activity. Today I took my first cardio class and it was just as awful as I expected. Ha! I should have gotten up early to eat early, but instead ate just an hour before class. Combine that with my desire to push myself hard and see what I’m capable of, and about 2/3 of the way through class, I was losing my breakfast. Lesson learned. I was disappointed I couldn’t keep up with class, but on the other hand, it’s pretty much the first cardio I’ve done in a year. What did I expect from a 50-year-old, out-of-shape body? I’m tired, I know I’ll ache tomorrow, but it feels good.

And finally, there have been twinges of frustration as I have struggled with the prologue for my novel. I just couldn’t find the right voice. As soon as this post is finished, though, I will be writing, because I think I’ve finally found it. It’s going to be a very short prologue – no in depth information, which was making it feel like reading a history book. Just a quick, simple, and light couple of paragraphs to help people understand where they are. Then I will get back to writing the story. I’m truly beginning to believe that some day this book will be published, even if only friends and family read it. And as I’ve learned with weight loss, or finishing a novel that could take years, without faith you will not continue. You have to believe that your goal is possible.

I believe!

 

 

 

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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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