The Never Expected and Always Unthinkable

If you’ve been following me for a while, odds are good that you know the health crisis we’ve been through over the last year as my husband faced a scary pancreatic cancer diagnosis last spring. The kind of diagnosis you’re not supposed to get at 43.

It was awful. It was traumatic. And until this week, I’d kind of sort of managed to tuck it away in the deep recesses of my mind. Because let’s face it—you can’t think about this kind of thing every day or you’ll actually drive yourself out of your head with worry, the kind of worry that comes with anxious, nervous energy that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning every night with no one but your miserable self to keep you company.

And then this week someone I know on Twitter (I can’t even call her a ‘friend’—we’ve never had a single personal conversation!), a Pitchwars mentor & writer whose debut book just came out this month, a woman who is living her dream—the same dream I have—just got word that her husband had been hit by a car and was in the ICU at the hospital. I don’t know the details. I know only what she has shared on Twitter.

But her story has hit me so hard this week. So hard. Because it seems like even when things are really good, they can still be really bad. Clarissa recently tweeted about how wonderful the doctors and nurses are, about how they’re making sure that she’s taking care of herself, too. And it brought the memories flooding back.

The day I couldn’t eat because I woke up with such severe anxiety three days after my husband’s surgery that my stomach had cramped into one big knot. The nurse on shift that day didn’t say anything right away, but by 3 p.m., she gave me a knowing expression with worried eyes that I swear could see right into my soul and she asked me, “Have you eaten anything today?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. So when I finally managed to eat a banana at 7 p.m., I made sure to let her know. Nurses are amazing. They are incredible human beings who give so much more than I ever knew was humanly possible to give to perfect strangers.

And in one tweet, Clarissa sent me right back to those horrible moments after the big surgery, the ones I pushed aside for the last nine months. My heart goes out to Clarissa and her family. I know what she’s going through. I know the fear and the worry and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same—that your entire future is nothing more than one big question mark.

I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Clarissa Goenawan and her husband in the weeks and months of trials they’ll have ahead of them. The medical bills can add up so quickly that it takes your breath away when you stop to think about it. We spent over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. Without insurance, it would have been well over $300,000. Life can turn on a dime and moments like these are sharp reminders to hold our loved ones tight and appreciate all we have been given.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 8.19.19 PMMany prayers for Clarissa and Choo and for a quick and complete recovery and a return to normal life.

And if you want to support a debut author in another most appreciated way, pick up a copy of her book, Rainbirds, released March 6th of this year.

 

Life by the Numbers

What is it about humans that makes us so quick to compare every aspect of our lives to others? We obsess over the numbers—sometimes becoming unwitting slaves to what those numbers represent. From the size of our paychecks to the size of our televisions (and other things…), we’re experts at using numbers in virtually every aspect of our lives. We measure the hours, the minutes, the seconds of our day. All day. Every day. We quantify our lives based on the money we make, how many chores we’ve completed, how many miles we can run, the number of sit-ups we can do, and—as a writer—the quantity of the words we’ve written each and every day.

So, let’s take a little look at my average numbers. Writing numbers, that is. I’m not going to tell you how many carpets I may (or may not have) vacuumed, how many loads of laundry I did (or didn’t do) last month, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how many miles I can(’t) run—mostly because I don’t want to.

Plus, let’s face it. No one really cares.

In the past, my writing was mostly done in the spare minutes after I’d gotten home from work, when the evening had come to an end, and the kids were finally in bed. Writing was something I did for fun and, sure, I hoped it would lead somewhere someday, but it wasn’t really a task I took seriously.

I managed to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 when I added 50,000 words in one month to a novel I already had a 50,000 word head-start on and that was exhilarating, but that’s the most I’ve ever written in a single month and even now, when I’m writing on a much more full-time basis, I don’t write 50,000 words in a month. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything else that month that wasn’t related to writing, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, or putting children to bed. My husband stepped up and did it all that month. If I want to stay married, though, that’s probably not a good longterm strategy for writing.

My writing habits have definitely changed since I began to take writing seriously. Whereas I used to rejoice in putting any number of words on the paper on any given day, I’ve got a schedule that I (generally) stick to pretty religiously these days and it usually results in 5,000 words or more added every week. The key for me is sitting down and making the words happen no matter what. Some days, the words flow like fine wine and other days, I’m lucky if I manage to make the pages sound like they were written by my second-grader… But that’s what it takes to get a first draft done. Fine-tuning can come later.

And some days? Some days life just gets in the way. Case-in-point—I planned to spend a large portion of this weekend writing. Instead, the husband ended up with a migraine in the early hours of Saturday morning, which meant I needed to take him, kids in tow, to Urgent Care for a shot of the good stuff that magically makes migraines disappear—all before breakfast. Then, kids and I got to wait for an hour and a half (because Urgent Care was a madhouse), tired, hungry, and cranky. Half of the day was gone by the time we got home and, to be honest, I was so fatigued just from the running around (introvert much?) that I didn’t have it in me to write. I think I managed maybe 250 words that evening, but really? I didn’t even care about words at that point. So, it’s okay to throw in the towel some days, and admit that it’s just…Not. Going. To. Happen.

The key is making sure that’s not a regular occurrence in your life, and that can be tricky. The novel I’m currently working on is one I started in November of last year. Originally, I wanted to be finished with the first draft by the end of February, but sick kids, sick husband, and life in general got in the way a lot those first few months and it kept me from making the kind of progress I had hoped to make.

I picked up the pace by January, and I am on track to be finished with the first draft of this story by the end of the month. This makes me a happy writer for sure. My numbers show an average of 15,000 – 20,000 words over the last two months because I’ve been living by my own rules and getting the words written, even if some days it’s like pulling teeth to do so.

Most of the time, I don’t encourage assigning a value to the things we do. After all, it’s not what we do, but why we do it that really matters. And you don’t matter less as a writer if you write 500 words a week. (Just the same, you aren’t valued more if you’re a writer who gets 10,000 words written in a week…even if I do gaze longingly at your ability to get so many words down in such a limited time.)

Do what you do because you love to do it and it makes you happy. If the numbers make you happy, keep track of them and rejoice when you hit your milestones! (I do!) But if they don’t, turn off the wordcount feature in your file and plug away without looking. There’s no need to be a slave to living life by the numbers—now or ever!

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My current WIP progress from start to today, 3/11/18.

Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)

And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!

level up

The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.

About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.

Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.41.06 PM

How do you argue with that?

If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.

You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.

And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.

So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.

Or at least base camp.

Yeah, I could be content with base camp.

 

 

* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!

The Spirit of the Season

Happy Holidays, friends and family! This is the official 2017 Storms Christmas letter! (Look – I even went red and green! Festive!)IMG_2520.jpg

Before you start in on me about how lame I am for sending you to my blog for warm wishes of holiday cheer, remember it’s been a fairly tough year. Go easy on me. I opted to forgo sending cards this year for several reasons. First and foremost—time. As most of you know, there’s a lot going on and I’ve been juggling kids’ school schedules, projects, dance classes, various doctors appointments, dentist appointments, and writing in attempts to get it all done. I’m tired! Secondly, suffice it to say that I’m not feeling all that jolly this year, so the thought of addressing and stamping seventy cards just isn’t…well, in the cards. And lastly, I don’t wanna.

So, there you have it.

Now, onto the more cheery parts of this ‘letter.’

We are still here. 2017 hasn’t managed to knock us out just yet. (Give it time. I guess there are two more weeks left in the year, but we’re hoping for the best.) Nate still has a drain tube in his abdomen. It’ll be 23 weeks this Friday. Our next appointment with the good docs at Interventional Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is this Thursday, but neither of us holds high hopes for the drain tube being removed. And that means we’re probably going into the new year with a drain. I cannot even begin to count the ways that this sucks.

My kids are amazing. No, seriously. They are. They have handled things this year that no adult should be asked to handle. They have done so with courage and grace and I want to award them gold medals. Why is there no ‘Best Kids on the Planet’ award?

Nate has gone back to work on a strictly work-from-home basis as of December 4th. This is great news as it no longer means we are ready to pawn off heirlooms in order to buy groceries… Hooray for food without debt! (And for companies and bosses who are amazing and accommodating!)

I am still writing, tweeting about writing, and—apparently—blogging about writing. I finished up my third manuscript this year while continuing to pitch manuscript number two to literary agents. So far, no major progress. I had several requests for a full read (which is a huge step in the right direction) and some really great feedback on said manuscript. But ultimately, no cigar. Hoping to start pitching book number three by early next year. In the mean time, I’m 20k words into my fourth manuscript and moving right along. What’s a writer if she’s not writing anyway? (Oh, that’s right. A stressed mom who is barely holding it all together. Yes, okay, I suppose I’m that, too, these days.)

Now onto the more serious parts of Christmas, or at least the more sentimental parts. Despite our rollercoaster of a year…

Wait. That implies that there were upswings…  Let me rephrase.

Ahem.

Despite our alpine slide of a year, we are incredibly thankful for so many things. Amazing friends and family who have been there for us in every possible way. They’ve provided emotional support, emergency babysitting and pet care, gifted us with gift cards to movies and ice cream shops to help keep our lives as normal as possible, helped with homework and school drop offs and pick ups. They’ve cut our grass and shoveled snow from our walkways (not in the same day, of course) and they’ve paid anonymously for our kids’ dance classes.  They’ve listened when I’ve felt alone, offered a shoulder when I needed to cry, and handed me a pillow when I needed to scream. They’ve offered financial help and assistance navigating health care and disability insurance. They’ve helped us keep records for our taxes and offered to lend us  money (because let’s face it—we’re not rich enough to actually own heirlooms to sell off).

And this is what I am most thankful for this Christmas. I am thankful that we have a network of friends and family that’s bigger than the heart of the grinch (after it grew three sizes) and people who care so very much. We are so grateful.

I hope 2018 is a better year. For you, for me, for all of us. Love to all, family and friends. Thank you for giving us something to be thankful about this 2017. I wish you a happy and blessed holiday season!

The Storms Family

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2017 in a nutshell.

12 Reasons Why I Haven’t Written Today

When you’re a writer who is also parent to rambunctious school-age children, planning your writing time on a weekend is everything. You see, I fully planned to devote today to writing. I even made all of the appropriate preparations for it yesterday. Without a hint of parental guilt, I signed both of my children up for a 1-month membership to National Geographic’s Animal Jam app so they could blow their minds out on electronics today. (Mom of the Year here!)

But all the planning in the world is a poor dam against the flood of reality. Like the hardworking North American beaver, I keep trying to halt the current that’s intent on taking me along for a ride. (But beavers are better at stopping the current than I am, certainly.)

beaver dam
No leaks here.  Photo credit: http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/beaver.htm

“I’m going to wake up early,” I said as I went to bed at midnight last night, “I’ll be refreshed and ready to go!”

Yet when the dogs whine at 7 a.m., I move from my bed like a zombie to feed and let them out. A crick in my neck and back had me sleeping so poorly all night long that I decide sleep is more important than getting up early to write.

I finally get out of bed at 11 a.m., with more sleep maybe, but the same pain radiating down my neck and right side of my back. I eat breakfast and pull out the laptop after a chorus of “Thank you, Mommy!” has been sung at least a dozen times. My kids have discovered their new memberships and predictably, they’ve zoned out on their tablets. (And this is why we don’t do memberships to apps very often.) I look at my WIP and decide that perhaps a hot shower will ease the pain in my neck, so I put the computer back down and head for the bath.

It’s noon. I kick the kids upstairs to get dressed and ready for the day like normal people do. Okay, time to write. But first, I’d better check the status on that disgusting Senate “tax” bill that also included yanking 13 million off healthcare, approving arctic drilling, and cutting the corporate tax rate while bleeding the middle and working classes dry. Scrolling through my newsfeed, now I’ve stirred my anger. Who can write while angry?

So I text a friend and blow off some steam. Keep in mind that I’ve got my current WIP open on the computer and I’ve reread the last few paragraphs at least half a dozen times. I may have even added a sentence.

At 12:15, older child begs for a friend to come over. Can she come over at 12:30? I agree to 2 p.m. which leads to chronic nagging over the next fifteen minutes. Finally, I relent—1:30.

Between 12:30 and 1:30, I write approximately 300 words while scanning social media for urgent news I might miss and texting same friend about current WIP.

“I feel good about this one,” I tell her. “It’s darker than most of my stuff. I think this one will make the cut.” She agrees with me cheerily while we both ignore the fact that I haven’t yet written more than 6 chapters so far and I haven’t written more than a page today. We both know I’m stalling, but she’s a good friend and she doesn’t call me out.

At 1:30, I’m up for my own lunch, sitting back down to work at 2. At 2:15, husband asks for help tying his shoes. That really sounds bad until you know the context. This guy still can’t bend over without a lot of pain and discomfort.

At 2:30, the dogs jump off their positions on the couches and whine and bark because they know it’s now close to their afternoon meal. Husband happens to be downstairs where their bowls are, so I manage to sneak out of the responsibility by asking him to feed them. But then they want to go out. I get up again.

At 2:45, younger child is upset because older child and friend aren’t including her in their games. A quick lecture about inclusivity steals five minutes from my productivity. And hey, that’s a precious five minutes. Clearly, I’ve been really productive today.

At 3, younger child bounds down the stairs again requesting lunch that I (in my Mom of the Year status) didn’t realize she never had. Up again, I make lunch and get it to her, sitting down in front of my computer again at 3:10.

It’s now 3:45 and instead of writing WIP, I have written a blog post about all the reasons why I haven’t been very productive today.

But, hey, I’ve now written over 1,000 words between WIP and this blog post, so—whew, what a day. I think it’s time to call it quits, no?

Falling Down

It’s Saturday. More specifically, it’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to be happy. We are full-fledged into the Christmas season. I should be baking Christmas cookies (and eating half of them) while my husband strings the lights outside and I watch from the warmth of our living room. The kids should be bouncing off the walls and playing Christmas music. Instead, we’re doing nothing we should be doing and it hardly feels like Christmas at all.

In fact, Thanksgiving, with the exception that we got to spend it with my family and my mom made another fabulous meal for the books, pretty much sucked. Older child had the stomach virus two weeks ago and now quite suddenly has severe panic attacks (most likely due to her father’s prolonged physical illness whether she recognizes it or not). She couldn’t enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and didn’t even manage a bite of dessert. Younger child had lice three weeks ago (that was fun) and we’re still vigilant with our checks to make sure we’ve taken care of the issue. And husband now seems to have a stomach virus on top of all else. It’s 11 a.m. and he’s still sleeping. My guess is that he was up all night. I couldn’t tell you for sure because older daughter has taken his place in our bed the last three nights so that I could make sure she got real sleep.

I have so much to be thankful for, but it’s really difficult to remember when everything around you seems to be falling apart, falling down.

Falling Down. I might be showing my age here, but remember that Michael Douglas movie from the early 1990’s? The main character essentially has a nervous breakdown and starts randomly killing people before ultimately taking his own life. I was 15 or 16 when I watched it with my brother on t.v. one night and I remember being utterly disenchanted. I had just wasted two hours of my life to watch a guy go crazy and shoot people up before killing himself? What was this crap? What was the point?

falling-down

Let me just say: I get it.

I get it. I get it. I get it. (No, no need to call anyone to have me psychiatrically examined. I won’t take that route.)

Watching the outside world tank over the last couple of years has been depressing enough and being part of the #resistance movement has been taxing (especially as a major introvert who just wants a blanket and a good book, dammit!), but when you’ve got life also screwing you over on a personal level at the same time, it’s almost too much to take.

Remember when I thought seven weeks with a drain tube was a long time? Well, my husband has had one in for 19 now. His next appointment is December 7th, so that will bring our total to at least 21 weeks. Short-term disability runs out on December 2nd. He’s trying to figure out if he is able to go back to work, even with his drain in, and I’m not sure he’s at that point yet. His sleep is miserable (as a result, cognitive function isn’t always top-notch), he’s frequently in pain, and he’s irritable (which might not be the best state for the customer-service aspects of his job). We were supposed to talk it over last night, but talking it over wasn’t a possibility when he ended up battling a stomach virus all night, because a tube in his abdomen apparently wasn’t enough misery. Because he needed another hurdle.

Because apparently the universe isn’t done throwing shit at us yet. I keep wondering how much more it could possibly have in store, but I’ve learned it’s not good to ask the question aloud.

Despite it all, I am still thankful. I am. I am thankful for medicine, for incredible doctors who have brought us through the most difficult times and quite literally saved his life. I’m thankful that, by some miracle, we managed to discover the cancer early. I’m thankful for others’ stories who help us get through. I’m thankful for friends, old and new, who continue to offer support of every kind. I’m thankful that he didn’t need to follow his surgery with radiation or chemotherapy. I’m thankful that a miserable drain tube can prevent the need for another surgery.

I am thankful. And nothing the universe throws at me will ever change that.

pancreatic symposium
He’s in the third row, second one in from the left. Two thumbs up because even with a drain still in, he attended the 12th Annual Pancreatic Symposium at Thomas Jefferson.

Fresh Paint

Egads, has it really been over three weeks since my last blog post? How does time slip away so quickly? (Also, who actually says egads?)

Oh, let me count the ways…

  1. We had more hospital time recently. After his initial surgery, my husband ended up with an infection which necessitated a drain. “Drains are great fun,” said no one ever! It’s been an issue on and off for seven weeks. Read that again. He’s had a drain in his body for seven weeks. Seven. (And we were told at the beginning that it would be two weeks and gone.) Complications made it necessary to change drains repeatedly and we’ve been back and forth to Philadelphia six times since mid-July to keep tabs on the progress. Supposedly, we’re looking at having the drain removed next week, but I’m still waiting for someone to rip the rug out from beneath our feet once again. It seems to be par for the course.
  2. Remember my post about PitchWars—the contest that’s kind of like The Voice for writers? I didn’t get in. This is no surprise to me as there were nearly 3,000 writers vying for mentee positions and only 150 mentors. (I’ll let you do the math on that one.) While disappointing because PitchWars would have been a great opportunity to get extra eyes on my manuscript, not getting chosen as a mentee hasn’t deterred me in the least. I’ll keep querying this manuscript (as I have for the last couple of years) while I revise my most recently finished manuscript and work on my newest WIP. It’s all part of the job.
  3. Critique Partners. While I didn’t get into PitchWars to get mentor eyes on my manuscript, I did manage to hook up with hundreds of other amazing writers. I now have not one, not two, but three new possible critique partners. (That’s a lot of reading!) Right now, we’re in that crazy “first date” stage. We’ve exchanged first chapters and are determining our compatibility as critique partners. In a CP, it’s really important to find someone who recognizes the flaws in your writing, but who also recognizes the potential. You want someone who will cheer you on while also letting you know why a particular paragraph isn’t working or a character isn’t reacting the way it seems they logically should. Furthermore, it’s a must to have a critique partner who actually enjoys your writing and doesn’t feel it’s a chore to read your work. But perhaps most importantly, you want someone who is encouraging in every way. The last thing a writer needs is someone who will pull them down and stomp on their heart. (Really. Writers do enough of that to themselves.)
  4. School. School has been so quickly approaching that it’s taken everything I’ve got not to fight against it. I’m going to refer to the last three months as The Summer That Never Was. Because that’s how it feels. Between the rollercoaster of medical visits the past four months, all of our summer plans went out the window. (2018 had better make it up to us!) And so this last month I’ve been busy preparing for the kids to go back to school. School supply and clothing shopping completed, my kids were ready and excited for their first week back. So far, so good. (We’re three days in and no one has complained yet, but give it time. I’m betting they will by next Tuesday.)

Anyway, my point with all of this ramble? Life gets in the way. The unexpected (which really should be expected at this point) has kept me from doing the things I thought I would be doing throughout this summer.

IMG_1801And that brings me to a new point (and, consequently, the title of this post). Fresh paint. I first saw this sign when my husband was just out of his initial surgery and was being moved from the Surgical ICU wing to a regular hospital room. Six weeks later, when we came back for an emergency visit and ended up admitted because of an abscess, guess what sign was still there? Two weeks after that, when we came back because the drain had stopped working, he was in extreme pain from the abscess, and had a fever once again, it was still hanging. Three days later, and then another two weeks later still, it was there. I’d bet money that when we visit next week, that sign will still be in the same place on the same door at the end of the same hall we’ve been seeing all summer long.

Fresh paint. I’m fairly certain that the new coat of ‘fresh’ paint dried long ago. (I wonder how long the sign was up before our first visit.) The last time I saw that sign, I laughed. Somehow, in some obscure way, that sign is a metaphor for my life at this moment. That sign is the universe speaking directly to me.

There are times when it’s necessary to take on new challenges under new circumstances. And after you’ve done so, you’ll need to refrain from ‘touching’ no matter how much you want to. You’ll have to ride it out until that paint is dry. But just as importantly, you need to know when the paint is dry and learn to take control again. Otherwise, you could spend your whole life waiting for someone to tell you when it’s okay to start ‘touching’ again.

Or something like that.

Next week. Next week we go back to the hospital again. And dammit, that paint had better be dry because it’s time to start moving forward.

Slimming Down

Revision can be painful. Digging into the words you put so much effort into writing, not to mention deciding which of them need to go, can overwhelm a writer with fear. Which words do I cut? Filter words? Entire paragraphs? Scenes, even? What if cutting this particular scene is wrong? What if it changes the entire dynamic of the story?

But slimming a novel down is a healthy part of the writing process. Writing a first draft is basically loading a bunch of paint on the palette and throwing it on the canvas. You know what colors you want for this piece and you might even know the general design, but you can’t begin to imagine the more delicate intricacies until you begin refining the work. The same goes for writing. A first draft gets the basic idea of a story onto paper, but it’s hardly more than an outline, and an outline is not a masterpiece on its own.

When I write a novel, there are entire sections that need to be scrapped before I’m ready to query. Some of these sections are minor, but many (okay, most) impact the story in a major way. Like ripples in a pond, one thing affects another. So if I make one small change in chapter 2, it’s likely that I’m going to have to go through the entire manuscript to make major changes the rest of the way through.

Case in point. I changed a major character’s ethnicity a couple of months ago in a novel that was 85% drafted. I went from having a short-haired blond with green eyes to a Rihanna look-alike. That meant changing a lot of visual cues, quite a bit of dialogue that referred to body image, and rewriting entire sections of her family background.

But revision isn’t always about rewriting what’s already there. Sometimes it’s about taking out what we don’t need. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve written sections that weren’t needed. Sometimes these segments must be written in order for me to get familiar enough to move forward with my characters, but in the end, there’s always a lot of chopping going on! During the revision process, I erase entire chunks of dialogue and sometimes whole scenes. If a scene isn’t moving the story forward in some way, it needs to go. If it doesn’t show, in some way, shape, or form, the character’s wants and desires, cut it. If it doesn’t present a conflict for the character in some way, delete.

It’s a painful process filled with uncertainty and doubt, but it’s a necessary evil and the sooner you convince yourself that each cut is the right move, the closer you’ll be to having a refined, polished, queryable novel.

Because, seriously…no one wants to read a 186,000 word debut novel. Certainly not an agent.

You know what else is painful?

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Time to dust you off, old friend.

I made the horrible mistake of stepping on the bathroom scale today. Between the stress of spousal health issues (a cancer diagnosis adds a little stress to say the very least), running to constant doctor appointments, and driving back and forth to various kids’ activities, we’ve done a lot of running around over the last couple of months. Suffice it to say that my eating habits haven’t been the best. And to talk about eating habits, I have to talk about anxiety issues.

When I first began having issues with anxiety at twenty-one, I lost weight quickly. My stomach was upset nearly all of the time, I could hardly eat, and anything I did eat went through me pretty quickly. I easily dropped to 99 pounds, a weight I hadn’t seen since maybe freshman year in high school. Meds helped fix the issue, but throughout the years I learned to live and to cope with my anxiety without them.

I wonder now if I’m coping a little *too* well. When I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, my stomach immediately feels as though it’s about to rebel. Add in a stubborn streak and my determination to overcome anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I now view eating as a challenge, and instead of just eating a normal amount (or eating, say, decent foods), I’ll eat more junk just to spite my anxiety. Go figure.

Needless to say, a few months of this results in pounds gained. Throw in the writer’s dilemma of working while sitting on your butt all day, and the problem is easily exacerbated.

So.

Starting today, I’m going to do something about it. Losing weight can’t be much different than revising chapters, right? A little work, a lot of pain, and in the end you’ve got a better version of what you started with. (Or at least a healthier version!)

Slimming down in more ways than one! Who’s with me?