Wasting words?

I set some new writing goals for myself at the beginning of the month.  I had just watched another birthday pass and decided it was time to write some new year’s resolutions.  The year was new to me, and this seems to be more sensible I think, more personal than the start of the calendar year, and maybe that means I will be more likely to keep them.  One item on my list is to submit something, somewhere, every month.

I find writers’ websites, social media posts, and emails listing Calls for Submissions and writing contests all the time.  I have also heard that writing short stories is great practice for would-be authors.  With those considerations, on top of the dreaded “write every day” adage I addressed in the last post, I decided to try this out.  Maybe having short stories to write and contests and such to which I could submit them will help me have a focus for writing everyday, even if the characters in my novel are not currently speaking to me.

Yet I find myself stumped once more in regards to my question – Am I wasting my words?

I don’t believe writing short stories is a waste of words, don’t get me wrong.  What I don’t know though is how to decide which publications and contests are worth giving those words to.

Every writer fears to submit his or her work to some degree.  It means handing over one’s soul for others to judge.  To me, submitting fresh stories to these contests and Calls for Submission seem twofold in the fear department.  Not only do I risk rejection, no one ever gets completely comfortable with that.  If someone says she is, she’s lying, or she doesn’t care and therefore isn’t really a writer.  But I also find myself afraid of giving over what could possibly be a wonderful piece of work to a less than stellar handler, the risk being finding out the piece was worthy of publication and is now lost to the ether in a place that no one reads.

What if that was my one breakthrough piece and I wasted it somewhere it would never be seen?  Many publications do not accept simultaneous submissions or previously published work, you see.

So am I wasting my words sending off stories I work hard on to all these calls and contests?

Is it possible to waste one’s words?  Or does the effort and practice make the potential loss worth it?

And how does one really know which are the worthy receivers?

Lastly, is it silly of me even to wonder and fear, considering my work may not be good enough to publish anywhere, ever, anyway?

Failed Writer?

To be a successful writer, you must write every day.

I see this adage so often, repeated by published authors, fellow aspiring authors, editors, publishers, and general advice givers.  Each time I see it, I wonder, does this make me an utter failure?

I have not written every day.  I have in fact only written on a handful of days in the past 9 months or so.  I have not published a blog post.  I have not added pages, let alone chapters, to my novel-in-progress.  I have not started a new novel.  I have not even kept a journal.

convergence-cover

But I have written 2 short stories, one of which was chosen for a local contest to be read during a festival, the other was published in a small anthology (Convergence: Words and Images from the West Elks).  I wrote those pieces in 2-3 days though.

It certainly does not feel small to me to have finally achieved my first published work.  And I have not lost my passion, commitment, or ability to tell the stories in my head.   So I do not feel like a failure. Well, most days I don’t.  I usually shove the inner-critic slightly behind me, out of direct ear shot and stick to my belief one can only be a failed writer if he or she loves to write and simply quits, full-stop.

But am I being too easy on myself?  Am I claiming a title to which I am forfeit?  I have several reasons why I have not written more, though I fluctuate weekly on my opinion of whether they are in fact reasons or just excuses.  I know I cannot let my reasons always get in the way.  Sometimes I need to set those reasons aside and let them be what I have not done.  To be fair, having a baby and moving house and states are not things that can be deprioritized for any amount of time.  Doing dishes, making groceries, putting away laundry though, those things could conceivably be less promptly seen to once in a while if it means moving closer to my goal.

My goal is and ever has been to be a successful writer.  Success is subjective, I know.  My idea of success is different than many peoples’ and should not be considered any sort of hard and fast definition.  But to me it is everything.  I want to have my work published and read widely and to make enough money doing it to call it a living.

The thing that comes to me as I sit here typing is that according to my personal definition of success, no I am certainly not a successful writer.  But as I said, nor do I believe I am a failed writer.  There appears to be a lovely grey area in which I may continue to live, for now, as a writer.  

Hmm, that still leaves me with the possibility that the “write every day” adage may, in fact, be true.

Damn.  Suddenly I am chasing my proverbial tail.

On purpose?  Was this post simply another bullshit excuse not to work on my novel?

Or wait, does it in fact count towards the “every day” requirement and will make me more successful?

Oh bother.  I should at least be going mildly crazy at a pub with a nice whiskey.

Phases

The almighty “they” say you are supposed to “write every damn day”  and “shovel sand, you can build the castles later,” and all this other crap about how you need to just sit down and type, type type, and even it’s total shite, you can go back and edit later.  But I just can’t seem to do that.

What’s wrong with me?  Why do I go through these phases where I don’t write for days or even weeks on end.  Is it like working out and I just get totally lazy?  It is my perfectionist side?  Am I “blocked?”  Is it because I need what I write to be good, and if it doesn’t seem exactly right in my head, rather than pushing myself I just don’t write anything at all?  Am I just making excuses and need to be more dedicated?  Some would even say it’s because I’m not a real writer.  That makes me sad though and I don’t want to believe it.

I figure, if I am forcing words out of my fingers and pretty much bypassing the creative part of my brain to get something down on paper, then I will need to go back and erase it all later anyway because it won’t be anything I actually wanted to write.  The critics in my head, and on social media, and the big badass NaNoWriMo, say I am making excuses and that forcing myself to write will eventually create the habit of writing and soon all will be “write” with the world. (yes, I know)

Now, I can understand the possibility that writing each day can train your brain to think in a certain way.   No problem, that makes sense.  But I still can’t figure out how the work I produce through that tactic will one day make the leap from habitual writing to decent, on track writing.  Just because I am spewing forth words, it does not mean the words are meaningful or connect in anyway to the novel I want to produce.

Example –  When I am working on my novel, which is a sailing adventure, to put it simply, and I am having a creative day, I can sit and in about 60 seconds throw down a thousand words like “reveling in the joy of a perfect sunset, I sat in my deck chair 3 days before we set sail, vaguely daydreaming about tropical ports, warm mangoes streaming juice down my fingers, and steel drums echoing happiness from nearby taxicabs bouncing across the potholed streets..”

But when I’m not the mood to write and I force myself to work on the next scene (in which I am supposed to add depth and concern to the male main character), here is what comes out.   “the man he looked *pause* annoyed when I said *pause* something. he ordered for me anyway *pause* fish? I don’t know, I said *pause* interrupted  *pause* his neck gets red, nostrils flare *pause* orders anyway *pause, wiggle back and forth in annoyed trying to think weird gesture*, I don’t know why he’s mad *pause*…”   And then I delete the whole thing because it’s obviously crap and why leave it there just to go back and cut it when I do my first round of draft editing anyway?

Where did that “just sit down and write” exercise get me?  Frustrated, annoyed, feeling like an illiterate moron, that’s where.  So I just can’t get on board with the “write whether you want to or not” credo. NaNoWriMo and it’s Camps are all about this idea.  And if it works for some people, and they someday have enough sand that they can build castles, that’s freakin fantastic for them.  A couple people in my “cabin” this month spewed out close to, or over, 100,000 words in the first 2 weeks of the month.  That’s approximately 267 book pages.  I can only fathom they were following the “write anything, don’t care if it’s good, just write write and write more” system.

Is it wrong, or biased of me due to my perceived inadequacies, to think the majority of that work can’t possibly be either a)something they love and won’t cut at the first round of edits, or b)high quality writing?   Because logically, if 80-90k words is an entire novel, and some people crank out over 100k in 2 weeks… then it follows even if 20,000 words of what they write will be dumped after edits, they will produce something like 24 novels a year.  And I’m pretty sure the whole world would be hearing about authors who were writing 24 great novels a year.

This is why I can’t bring myself around to the value in just writing as fast and as much as you can.  I also can’t bring myself around to keep signing up for NaNos and Camps for the constant base comparison to writers who are mass producing.  It’s simply not my style to try to keep up with that.   I will absolutely say I am glad I signed up for one of each, because both times my desire to not fail at anything I do has kicked my butt into gear and made me get started on a novel that just floated around in my head for years (and start again after having to take months off to focus on my wedding).  I failed anyway, but at least the small amount of competitiveness I do have in me got me started.

This time around though, this “Camp”  has taught me another thing about myself… When I have a couple ‘off days,” when I don’t have the motivation to write, then look at my stats and see how far behind I am, I berate myself for the perceived failure.   I then simultaneously feel bad and get rebellious against my own guilt – “You can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong or how to act or who I should be! I do what I want!”  I respond.  I then turn on netflix and eat cheese for an entire day.

So, I am officially packing up my sleeping bag and my marshmallows and I’m going home.  Home to where I have the support and encouragement of friends, manageable long term goals, an office space I adore, the time and flexibility to write whenever I want, and plenty of cheese.  I have decided nothing is wrong with me at all.  I should not try to change who I am as a writer any more than one should try to change who she is as a person.  From now on, I am doing it my way, writing when I want to write, trying when I feel like I can, and taking time off when I damn well please to research, refuel, or simply go play outside.  I will not cry over unshoveled sand, I’ll build my castles out of big heavy rocks, thank you very much.

(**I mean no offense Ms Hale, I’m glad the shoveling thing works for you and I appreciate you trying to encourage other writers, you are awesome.  ““I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” – Shannon Hale)

Failing NaNoWriMo and Loving My Success

21 days ago I joined millions of people in spending 30 days going completely insane.  I have 8 days and 19 hours left to complete this mission.  Not only does my brain waver between lucid and completely bat-shit-crazy, but in those sane moments, I realize I am also walking a thin line bordering failure and success. Apparently I have big feet, or I just swerved into crazy again, because I think I am actually doing both.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month to the non-participants ( I believe this is because participants simply don’t have the time, or extra the synapses, to enunciate the full title, is just what it proclaims.  In a one month, specifically 30 day, time span participants must write a 50,000 word novel.  I do not know where the wordcount requirement came from.  I trust those who chose it know a bit more about fully published novels than I do.  I read them, I dream them up, but until now, I have never considered how many words they contain.

I chose this year to participate for several reasons.  Mostly because I only heard about this madness last year, and partly because last year I signed up right about the exact moment I decided, once again, to completely uproot and change my entire life.  Apparently the decision was too ambitious, even for me.  (I believe I am superwoman.  Sometimes life enjoys disabusing me of that notion.)  Lastly, because I am, still pretty unbelievably, now living a life in which I have the time, the means, the comfort, and the support to be as creative as I please.

Constant and Unconditional Support - they hang out with me, and listen to my madness everyday

Constant and Unconditional Support

That pretty much means that I no longer have any excuses.  I am well aware that my not writing any books  or being published up to this point is exactly that, my very transparent excuses not to.  Even now I try to pat my excuses on the head, telling them they really were very plausible reasons.  I don’t want them to feel bad you see, they have been my companions for a long time.

Without those excuses and kicked in the ass by the knowledge that there was a massive worldwide community doing exactly what I was not, I signed up again and on October 29th I started panicking.  I began a book.  I began it on a patio swing at an Irish pub with friends, whiskey, laughter and imagination.  I began writing it down right here, twice.  NaNoWriMo traditionalists told me though that its best, and most true to the spirit of the madness, to begin something completely new.  Begin something on which you had not worked, had not written a word of.  Begin from word one and go for it!  That didn’t include though outlines, timelines, research notes, character sketches, plot twist notes…  Wait!  No!  I had a book,  I have three books in fact, but one is not ready, one is not a novel, and the other.. I already started!  Not mention, I had not notes, no outlines, no nothing, on anything!  I was a mess already.

How could I possibly leave my love, my baby, my novel in progress, not to mention my other ideas, to make something up off the cuff, just to follow the standard?  I tried.  I asked for prompts from friends.  I got some ink stains on my sheets making notes in the dark.  I missed several conversations I pretended to be a part of.  I asked for forgiveness from my muse.  I couldn’t do it.  Then I realized.. maybe my blog entries, my supposed start to my novel, maybe they could act like my outline.  Maybe I could tell myself they were just notes, and begin again, at the beginning, with a different perspective.  That night I slept.  My muse was happy, my book was waiting.

So I began, November 1st, and it went well.  I used my blog entries as my “notes,” even though I have clearly realized myself to be a Pantser through this process.  I used the blog as notes only because I must write my story, not because I am a note taker, outliner, or Planner.  I write whatever comes next in my head.  So the few entries I had made here were wonderfully helpful, but I found they were cliff notes compared to the book version, and they were over so quickly.  I was soon staring outwardly at empty pages and inwardly at the beautiful story living in my imagination and my dreams.

In order to achieve a “win,” a NaNoWriMo’er must write an average of 1700 word of his or her novel per day.  This is

My stats

My stats

where I am failing.  I am so far behind on my wordcount it is either scary, sad, or hopeless.  I have surpassed (underpassed?) my deficit so far at this point that though other still encourage me, I am losing my certainty, and drive.  Some days, I write 3000 words.  Some days I write nothing.  This is not “what writers do.”  “Writers write.  Writers write everyday.”  That’s what I read, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on the NaNoWriMo website. Write everyday.  You must write everyday to be a winner, to be NaNoWriMo success, to be a writer.  I am failing.

For 21 days I have felt this.  For most of my 21 days I have felt guilty, unworthy.  For the last 2 days I have wondered.  I am so immersed in my book, so in love with my story that I bounce when I talk about it.  I see inspiration all around me.  I buy food and drink that I think my character would buy.  I listen to music she would listen to.  I stare into space seeing palm trees, sailboats, and… (I can’t tell you that part).  But I don’t necessarily write.  So I wonder.  Am I really failing?  I am not reaching my daily or monthly wordcount, but I am deep in research I never realized I would need to do before.  I have more plot ideas and character voice inflections, and even shopping lists for a sailboat voyage than I ever did before.  And I am relaxed, happy.

 

My R & D Department

My R & D Department

I realized, waiting for my amazon shipment of maps and books yesterday, that winning NaNoWriMo does not allow for days of research, days of inspiration, days of rejuvenation.  If I push through all those things and just write, write everyday, I might make the deadline, but would I have the pleasure or dreaming, the certainty in my words, or even the quality of the novel that I really want? I am not so sure.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are many, probably thousands of people who write amazing, fully developed, artistically worded novels in this 30 days.  Also, I praise the system for giving me a goal, a deadline, the kick in the ass to get back into the habit of writing.  I praise it and am immensely grateful that I am finally turning my dreams into reality, my thoughts into words, my excuses into memories.  I am writing my  first novel.  I am writing it the way I want to, expressing each thought, developing scene, getting to know each character, learning how to sail for goodness sake.  I am loving it.  I am finding  success at last.

Keeping me honest

Keeping me honest

And I am totally failing NaNoWriMo.  I’ve got 30,000 words to go. The NaNoWriMo monkeys are scampering around my workshop and whispering in my ear that I just write 1200 words I can’t count towards my wordcount goal.

Hmm, maybe not so sane after all.

Home Port for the Sailing Adventure

I recently mentioned that I am at a bit of a confusing crossroads with this blog.  Ink Stains On My Sheets was created with the intention of tracking my career life while I have struggled to find and survive “normal” jobs on my way to becoming a professional author.  Lately I haven’t known what to write here though because I ditched the conventional world and took off to play on a ranch for the winter, with no major plans to return to the grind full time, hopefully ever.

In my other blog, Ink Stained Adventures, I write about all the crazy adventures in my life.  I got bored a while back and decided to create an adventure for myself because life was too mundane.  I’ve been writing that story, The Sailing Adventure, in Ink Stained Adventures.  However, life is not quite so oppressively normal any longer and all my adventures are becoming a bit muddled being contained within the same blog.

So now that I am not working, in the traditional sense, and I am making real steps towards my dream in that I am writing more often and working on my first full length book, transitioning the Sailing Adventure here to Ink Stains On My Sheets is the answer to both problems.  This will not only untangle the Ink Stained Adventures, but help me visualize my progress towards my goals, which we all know the experts say is the only way to go.

Moving (this is not the actual boat)

To those of you who follow both blogs, first of all, thank you so much.  Your support means the world to me.  Second, please forgive the repeat of the Sailing Adventure posts 1-4 on Ink Stains on My Sheets.  I will keep the same titles, so you know when to pick back up again.  Ink Stained Adventures will have new posts to read though so you don’t get bored or forget me  🙂

To any of you who might only be following this blog, thank you just as much, and would love to have you join me at the other site as well to read more landlocked adventures.

I’ve Offended My Muse

Every writer and artist has at least one personal muse and I believe one of mine lives in soap bubbles and steam.  My shower muse has been generous to me lately and I have been tremendously grateful.  And tremendously neglectful.

It has been my newly developed Plan to get up earlier, get house stuff (making breakfast, laundry, cleaning, etc) or ranch stuff (feeding horses, shoveling sawdust, cleaning the chimney, etc) completed by 11 and devote 11 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. to writing.  It is  to be my time when the animals are out playing, the man is doing man stuff, and no one needs me.

Every day this week I have started my morning out with a wealth of ideas for my writing, plot development, post subjects, character defining details, etc.  I’ve been enthusiastic and inspired.  It’s been wonderful!  And every day other “ranch tasks” have cropped up and eaten away my hours to the point I haven’t even been able to jot down the basic elements of all the beautiful and (seemingly) eloquent stories I’ve been brimming with.

So last night I made a stand, not that I really needed to, I have all the support and encouragement I could ever hope for to spend time on my writing.  But I did it for me, because supposedly if you announce your goals to others, you are more likely to follow through on achieving them. “I’m not letting ANY other tasks interrupt me tomorrow, I’m not doing ranch stuff, I am writing! I am sticking to The Plan!”

Today the plan was totally on track, all was running smoothly.  I got in the shower at 10:45 prepared with “writing clothes” to dress in afterwards, man fed and outside, kitchen clean, laundry hung.  It’s usually in the shower that my brain, cleared of to-do lists and freed by hot water and solitude, gets all stormy.

Today my shower muse did not come to visit.

I cranked up the heat of the water.  No ideas.  I washed and conditioned with my eyes closed. No inspiration.  I soaped, then shaved, then soaped again. No little character voices. I stared at the wall.  My mind stayed as blank as the beige tub.  I dredged my memory for the creative sparkles of yesterday.  The dull chunks I dug up held no luster, let alone the glinting excitement  and detail I knew existed the first time the shower muse presented them to me. I turned off the shower, dried off in silence, and put shimmer on my eyelids in a last attempt to attract my benevolent friend.  No luck.

I’ve offended my muse.

I got out my pen and notebook. I turned on my computer.  I instagrammed a desperate plea for help from other sources. I made cookies.  I prepared dinner.  I drank extra coffee.  I ate chocolate.  Nothing.  I can’t even come up with the brainpower to respond to an email coherently!

I had a week FULL of inspired ideas and a caffeine like buzz of motivation, and I wrote not a single word of it down.  It’s now 3:05 p.m. “Me time,” even extended by my supportive treasure of a boyfriend, was a complete waste.

I’m sorry muse.  I’m so sorry.  I have all the time in the world here and I still spent every ounce of it this week on uncreative and non-goal achieving endeavours.  I realize my mistake and I promise to be more mindful and actively embracing of the gifts you give me.

Please come back.

And, um, if I promise to bring my coffee into the shower tomorrow and pour out a little just for you… could you bring me back the awesomeness I wasted from the last few days?  That was some really good stuff…

New Year, New Direction

I am tremendously excited, and a little uncertain, and a tiny bit skeptical, that my time has finally come to start changing the direction of this blog.  It has always been my intention to write about my work until I can write as my work.  That goal has not yet been achieved, but this year, quite literally starting at the beginning of January 2015, I have the chance to start tipping the scales away from meaningless paycheck earning in favor of fulfilling my dreams of becoming a Writer.

Granted, the scales will have to hang balanced for a while yet as I have no clue how or when I will make the leap from amateur scribbler to professional author and still need to pay some bills.  However, for the next three or more months I have the opportunity to spend a few hours every single day at minimum scribbling away with no guilt, timetable, or mental exhaustion to limit my creativity.  And after that time, through the love, support, and unique set of ideals of someone who cares for me, my paycheck earning has been decreed to be not only part-time, but also must be a job I find enjoyable rather than tedious or stressful.

I can’t actually really believe this is happening to me yet.  Part of why I am writing this post now is to help myself absorb this knowledge, to drink it in in my favorite flavor (the written word), savor it, and let it become fuel for my imagination.  There is so much hope in me and that hope is now seeing the light of day!

My uncertainty comes in that I am not exactly sure how I will transition this blog.  I will continue to write about my job search when it comes time to enter the working world again and find that fun part time job.  I will also certainly talk about how the greater Job hunt goes i.e. what it’s like trying to make writing earn wages and how I am doing it.  I have, however, begun posting some of my writing, in the form of a fictional adventure story which looks (in my head) to be shaping up into possibly a full novel, on my other blog.  So I am not sure exactly which pieces of my books or words will actually end up here.  Hmm… I suppose, just like I do most things, I will simply veer towards the feather-weight, penciled-in plan and not worry about straying from it if something else seems better at any particular moment.

I suppose I must bring the “tiny bit” out into the light as well so I can poke at it a little and hope it goes away.  I am afraid and skeptical that I will fail myself.  That I will waste this opportunity.  That I will find everything else to do, but write.  That I will allow my innate, immensely strong impulse to put others first to keep me from shouting “Hey world! Taking my few hours now, so Bugger off for a bit, and don’t try to tell me you’ll fall apart in the meantime!”  That I will fill my precious time with tasks that could be left off for just a bit and not hurt a thing.  I do that, you know? I feel bad about doing what the tiny, ugly voice in my head says is “not work, not productive, not important, not helping anyone but yourself.”

A wise man reminded me yesterday though… “You are important.  Your Dreams are important.  And if you don’t take the time to do what makes you most happy, then you feel cranky or preoccupied, and then you can’t really be successful at making anyone else happy. In simpler terms, I like your smile.  So take the time.  Write.  The dishes will wait.”

So New Year, here I come!!!  I will be bold, expansive, outrageous!  I will change direction finally!  I will leap out of bed in the mornings and charge into the unknown, wielding my mighty sword, uproarious and joyful and wild! For those of you unfamiliar with that sort of behaviour, it looks an awful lot like a messy-haired girl rolling from under the covers, slightly grumbly and sleepy-eyed, squinting at the steeping french press working wonders on its little magic beans, and crawling into an armchair by the fire with her pen.