Fear of the Week

Hey Friends,

Just wanted to give a quick update on my own private NaNoWriMo. I made the last goal so I’m at 20,000 words. The way I’ve been doing it is a hybrid method. That is, I’m not writing every day because that doesn’t work with my schedule. Instead, I’ve set aside a week where the writing is the number one priority and gotten 10K words. Then I had to stop and make up all the things I didn’t get done. Then I did another week of 10K words. I’m about to start on my third week.

One of the things that some of you might say is, “Lame. The whole point is to write every day until you get 50K. Taking breaks isn’t NaNoWriMo. You’re a cheater and I don’t care about you.”

Okay. That’s a little harsh, but fine and fair. And, this is my version. Whether or not I’m doing it wrong, I have learned that there is a specific fear associated with each week of writing.

Also, to come back to that whole “lame bit” here are some of the things I’ve done the past two weeks to make up, catch up, and try to triage to prepare for next week long sprint:

One Times: I finished my Christmas Letters. (Now are you getting how overwhelmed I am?)  My daughter Evelyn participated as a cancer survivor in the “Pantene Beautiful Lengths” experience by cutting the ponytails of students donating their hair to be made into free wigs for cancer patients. Dog had to go to vet to get nails clipped, and fresh orders of heartworm preventative and flea/tick meds. Lime disease is terrible in Maryland. Son had to go to orthodontist. He needs braces.  I went to Baltimore for critique group at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Had several stories come in from The Potomac Review that I need to read and get responses back to editor. I called my senators about the cuts to the EPA.

Regular: Post office, bank, drycleaner, grocery store, laundry for six people, I wrote my bills, went through mail I hadn’t looked at in over a week, and then the sports. This is the overlapping of winter and spring sports. My son is regular basketball, all-star basketball, lacrosse. My oldest daughter finished her volunteer hours at the horse stable and then started Track and Field (which is EVERY DAY that I have to pick her up from school). My little ones finished science club but still have gymnastics. They also have birthday parties to attend on the weekends. I wasn’t teaching as many classes this week, but I had to finish the session with all the attending paperwork to be filed and moved around.

Now that I’ve been nice and defensive, let me throw away all the little sticky notes that I write my daily to-do lists on and tell you about FEAR.

The first week fear is: DO I HAVE A NOVEL IN ME? That is, you’ve thought of a premise, you’ve got a hook and a setting and some characters, but do you have enough for 85K words? You kinda know what’s going to happen, but what if it all happens too quickly and this is only a short story?

The only way to get through this fear is to try it. Take a deep breath and keep asking “what if.” What if my character wants A, but then B happens? What if my character chooses to do something stupid when someone else has A and doesn’t appreciate it? What if my character gets A, but realizes she wanted B?

The second week fear: THIS ISN’T INTERESTING. I’ve got too many characters, too many pets, the conflict isn’t threatening enough. All my sentences are subject-verb-direct object with no variety so that EVEN MY SENTENCES ARE BORING.

That’s okay. I’ve read NaNoWriMo pep talks. The authors all say the same thing. You can’t edit something that you haven’t gotten out of your head. You must get something onto the paper and then you can change it around. Also, this writing is so fresh that you are not a reliable indicator of whether there is an engrossing story. You’ll need beta readers and TIME.

As I’m getting ready for my third week (tomorrow is an elementary half-day so kids are getting home as I’m getting home from teaching yoga and my son has three basketball games Saturday because they are in a tournament and I teach Sunday School on Sunday morning, but after that. Monday, March 6th)…

I have another fear: THIS ISN’T WORTH IT  All those things I listed above that I had to get done so that I could write something that no one is ever going to want to read. My premise is stupid, my characters forgettable. I’m stressed and irritable because I have no time and it’s all going to be forgotten, recycled, a waste of paper.

Maybe I’ll have some insight after I make it through this writing week. But, this one seems to be the hardest to fight because I KNOW I’m out of balance. My day, each day, is scheduled down to ten minute intervals and that is not how I want to live. I’m nervous when practice schedules don’t come in ahead of time because I am constantly doing logistics. I’m short with the kids when they want to play instead of sticking to the schedule. I live in the minivan and dread dinner because I didn’t have time to make anything that they’ll all eat. The situation makes me very unhappy.

My guess is this is where the author says he or she had to dig deep and have confidence that the novel will help other people, that the story will connect and resonate with others.

I don’t know. We should have an answer by March 13th.

Love,

Sherri

 

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NaNoWriMo Retry

Friends,

It’s been busy and there have been a lot of distractions in our private lives as well as the political sphere. Life was so chaotic that I didn’t even send out Christmas cards this year and that makes me feel like a really bad friend/family member. But, my daughter Evie did have her fourth year anniversary of stopping chemo, my husband and I did get away to NYC to see Hamiliton to celebrate our anniversary, and we did go to France to see our friends get married. All the bad stuff I’ll leave in 2016.

In November I started the National Novel Writing Month challenge. If you haven’t tried this, it’s really well-run with social networking, graphs of progress, and emailed pep talks. Still, I failed with spectacular success. School was cancelled what seemed like every other day and then we traveled for Thanksgiving. So, I’m starting again tomorrow, February 1st. My plan is to write 1,500 words each day for a total of 42,000 new words. To help myself, I’m making a Top 10 list of PITFALLS TO AVOID if you want to win a NaNoWriMo.

  1. Don’t have four children. Well, too late for that. Solution: Honestly acknowledging that I can’t write from 3pm -10pm because I will be making snacks, checking homework, hounding about cleaning up messes, and driving to various activities. And, seriously, after 10 pm I’m too tired anyway.
  2. Don’t check Facebook or Twitter. I admit to being swirled around by the election results and the past eleven days of nominees and executive orders. I do believe in action — phone calls about issues and donating to charities that I feel are especially vulnerable — but I’ve wasted hours reading articles and cross-checking info and reading status updates and generally getting caught up in an extended panic mode. All I’ve ended up with are anxiety headaches. This doesn’t help anyone. (I will, however, continue to remain informed because I believe in the great American experiment in democracy).
  3. Don’t ignore the small successes. Writing is a hard business. I sold two stories this month: “Breakage” to Abyss & Apex and “Saving Money” to Flash Fiction Magazine’s anthology. That feeling is going to have to carry me through the rejections (six in January).
  4. Don’t have a nice lunch. I get tired of making breakfast, packing lunches, making afternoon snacks, making dinner. ALL THE TIME FOR SO MANY PEOPLE. So lunch by myself is sometimes the only time where I can eat what I want to. It’s my treat. Unfortunately, that takes time. So on school days, for February, I’m giving up my nice lunches. Instead, I’ll have a vegetable soup that I can make on Sundays to last the week. (Will this be the first “pit” I fall into? It might be).
  5.  Don’t let trainwrecks at the day job eat into your time or consume your thoughts. In November I was training a new teacher and creating the schedule for the next session and doing time sheets and a million other things. This February, fingers crossed, nothing unexpected should be occurring. I can go in each morning, teach class, and be out.
  6.   Don’t let blog posts, short stories, or other projects take priority. Ummm, guilty. Posts are good — they connect a writer to other writers, to readers, and make the author produce content. Short stories are good. They are a chance to improve craft, get feedback more quickly, and finish a project. I also have a “secret” creative project I’m working on that takes a couple hours a week. Good is good, but it’s not the best. This month I need to PRIORITIZE my novel writing. I want to be a novelist. That has to come first, even when I’m tempted to revise a short story (because revising is EASIER) rather than creating that first draft.
  7. Don’t hate yourself, yell at yourself, or try to go back and read parts of the first draft. Yes, it’s going to be crap. Yes, there are a ton of parts that need to be fleshed out and plot threads that went nowhere. That’s okay.
  8. Don’t be a martyr. Your kids won’t care. Seriously. You drive them to basketball, gymnastics, indoor soccer, after school activities. YOU EVEN DRIVE THE OLDER TWO KIDS TO THEIR VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES. You can go to the writing conference weekend in February. You can go to a critique group meeting in February. These are ways to recharge and become inspired by other writers.
  9. Don’t do any major household renovations. Obviously some things are out of our control (lightning strike anyone?), but I can’t concentrate when I have strangers walking into and out of my house. We’ve recovered from the strike, the upstairs carpet has been replaced. NO MORE PROJECTS.
  10. Don’t stop exercising. I’m lucky that I teach exercise classes — strength training and yoga. I also walk my dog. But when the plot won’t hold together, when you don’t know what happens next, I suggest taking a walk or getting on the elliptical, whatever you need and get your brain in a calm, relaxed state so that solutions can flow.

 

That’s all I got. It’s 3:02 and my daughter is rolling her eyes because I asked her to walk the dog and my son is complaining about the cereal selection for his snack.

Do you have any advice to get meet your writing goals?

Love,

Sherri

Self Care and Reading List

It’s about halfway through summer and, if you are at all like me, you were so excited for the school year to end — no bus to catch and no homework –and now you’re getting a little snippy, a little rundown. YOU need a timeout. One minute per age. In a corner with no distractions and no one yelling for you.

You’ve been taking care of your kids — balancing your work with childcare, packing for the pool, trying to take a beach vacation that doesn’t include sharks or man’o’wars, eating ice cream, picking blueberries, movie nights, ice skating to escape the heat (rain if you are in Maryland), more ice cream. And the errands. What used to take you forty minutes now takes you hours and much coaxing (come on, Johnny, one more store. Do it for Mama).

Take a moment and check in with yourself!

Checklist

1) Did you drink water today?

2) Have you eaten today?  Was it more than the remains of your child’s breakfast?

3) Did you get enough sleep? (I hear all my friends with young children laughing wildly. I have four kids. I get it. But grab a nap when you can. Even put your feet up and park it for ten minutes.)

4) Spend time with nature.

5) Physical touch. Get a massage. Exchange foot rubs with your honey.

6) Write in a journal. Whatever is happening will not last. Release your angry feelings or capture an endearing conversation.

7) Practice yoga or take an exercise class to combine work out and socializing.

8)Put away your phone. Trivia Crack will be fine. The game gives you two days to answer. (clears throat) Or so I’ve heard.

9) Do something that makes you feel pretty. For me it’s a pedicure. Don’t judge. I can handle a lot of things if my toenails are painted.

10) Have you read a new book? Have you given a book to a loved one?

I can help with this last one. Some recommendations by age:

Ages 7-12.

My story “Mama Salamander” was published in the July issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk This story came to me quickly, based on an incident in my youngest’s school cafeteria. I read the entire issue with my 7-year-old twins and they enjoyed all the stories and poems, especially the one about Zaxx the “human.”

Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel

Secret Science Alliance graphic novel

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (We’re reading a chapter each night. What isn’t to like about a boy on his way to Asgard to help the Norse gods against frost giants?)

Young Adult

My son loves Brandon Sanderson and we’ve both read The Reckoners series (Steelheart and Firefight). I’ve heard there’s a reveal for Calamity coming out soon…and the book will be released in early 2016.

Juggler’s Blade by Rob Ross (Sequel is coming out in the fall)

Fablehaven Series  (Our copies are beyond dog eared)

The Paladin Prophecy Series by Mark Frost (I haven’t read these, but my son keeps checking them out of the library).

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (magical realism mystery. I’m looking forward to reading)

Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein (my daughter has read this, but I haven’t yet. A story with a modern spin on wish granting genies.)

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge  I enjoyed this twist on Beauty and the Beast. Nyx Triskelion has known for most of her life that she must marry Ignifex, the “Gentle Lord” who terrorizes her world, due to a bargain her father made before her birth.

 

Adult Nonfiction-y

Wild by Cheryl Strayed  The true story of a woman who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail by herself to escape her inner demons, but ended up facing them.

Searching for Sunday  by Rachel Held Evans (I bought this on recommendation from Glennon over at Momastery. I look forward to reading it)

Adult Fiction

JEFF VANDERMEER  That is all.  No, I’m just kidding (no, I’m not). His Southern Reach trilogy is a treat in surrealist mystery. Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (I’m about to start, but a little intimidated by all the footnotes).

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. National Book Award Finalist. I’m excited to read it. Devastating flu pandemic, a small troupe of actors and musicians, and a violent prophet…in a story that moves back and forth in time.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Everyone is talking about it — comparisons of unreliable narrator to the feeling of Gone Girl.

The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho. Religious fiction of the biblical prophet Elijah.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. Cover says, “A smart, brutal, and ambitious epic fantasy.” An orphan evades death to uncover her bloody past against the backdrop of civil war. Brilliant reviews on Amazon.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. I heard Paolo read an excerpt at Capclave last fall and have been waiting for the book release.The American southwest has been decimated by drought in this near-future thriller. Here’s the Amazon last line: But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Okay. You should all be able to find something on this list. Practice self-care and I wish you relaxation and enjoyment for the second half of summer. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these or plan to….or give me some suggestions to add to the list.

Love,

Sherri

Driving myself crazy

I’m a mom.  I understand that I’ve moved into the minivan phase of my life and  will spend a great deal of time driving around. There are birthday parties and play groups, ice skating lessons and spring soccer, bike outings, and “I want to go to the park” days. Every Sunday night I have to write out the schedule in an elaborate system to make sure that my kids get to their activities. But, I wanted to go to a critique group in Baltimore and I couldn’t fit it in.

I drove to pick up my son from flag football.  I drove my daughter to her lacrosse practice.  I drove my daughter to another site where her practice actually was (and was glad to meet another mom who also hadn’t gotten the message). After I finally got my older daughter to the right place, one of the twins was in the back seat crying because she had brought a drink for the trip and now needed to use the potty.  The other twin was blowing her nose and throwing the resulting snot bombs  through the air.

I was done.  I was mad.  I had driven myself crazy.  I needed another adult.  I needed a creative outlet.  I needed to do something that wasn’t for someone else.  But, my babysitter canceled.  In fact, we split ways because she cancelled often.  The next day — the critique group day –I had to get my son to and from practice, my daughter to and from a game, at the same time in two different directions, no less, and get the twins’ homework done.  Oh, and dinner.  Don’t forget dinner.

I felt resentful of my children for taking up my time.  For preventing me from one little eensy-weensy activity. And then I felt defeated because if I’d gotten an agent and sold tons of copies of my novel, then I’d be a *real* writer and not just be wasting time and giving myself carpal tunnel at the computer every day.

I texted and called and e-mailed to see if I could find another babysitter last minute.

The mind works in convoluted ways.  As I stopped at red lights and switched lanes, I also began turning around events in my mind.  Maybe I’d be a fantabulous writer if my child didn’t have lacrosse practice.  Maybe if I didn’t have to make dinner for everyone every night and pack lunches and scramble for breakfast before the bus comes, maybe I’d be able to write the Great American Novel.  Virginal Woolf didn’t do laundry.  Jane Austen didn’t wonder if she’d defrosted the chicken.

Well…they weren’t the mothers of their family.  I wouldn’t go to the writers’ circle.  I’d be responsible and maybe I could go to the next meeting.

My family — the ones I was busy resenting — realized that this was important to me.

My older daughter said she’d miss her game, babysit so I could go. My heart melted a little.  My son said he’d read the story for me and give me advice.  The twins came to me, held my hands, and told me they’d be very good.  I gave them all a hug.  Dog-pile, we call it when we all smush together.

I felt okay with my decision not to go.  Family comes first.

That night my husband told me I was going.  I said, “It’s just a critique group.”  He repeated that he’d come home from work early. I was going.

As quick as I became angry and frustrated, as quick as I was to blame others, love humbled me.  It’s always the right answer.  My family isn’t a burden around my neck, pulling me down to drown in an indifferent ocean.  I had it all wrong.  They are the ones gathering around me like dolphins with sailors, supporting me and carrying me forward when I’m out of hope and strength.