Hey, writers and readers! It’s once again that time when everyone you know in the writing world looks back and reflects proudly on their accomplishments throughout the past year. I’ll admit that when I look at the writing statistics of other writers & authors this year, I immediately relapse into another bout of Imposter Syndrome. Just who do I think I am, anyway?
Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished very much at all, and that’s why I decided to publish my list of 2017 statistics. Given all the things that occurred in the Personal category, I guess I didn’t do so badly in the Writing category all in all…
Manuscript words written: >71,000 Manscripts queried: 1 Query rejections: 40 Query no responses: 9 Requests for partial: 3 Requests for full: 2 First draft manuscripts finished: 1 Second draft manuscripts finished: 1 Third draft manuscripts finished: 0 First draft manuscripts started: 1 Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2017): 3 Writing conferences attended: 1 Online pitch contests entered: 3 Writing friends made: too numerous to count Blog posts written: 32
Jobs applied for & not offered: 2 Internships applied for & not offered: 2
Letters to congress sent: 110+ Rallies & marches attended: 2 Petitions signed: A lot Political posts on social media: enough to annoy a lot of people
Days caring for cancer survivor: 209 Trips (as driver & caregiver) to Emergency Room: 3 Days spent in hospital with loved one: 11 Trips to Philadelphia for medical care: 23 Days as Mom: 365 (24/7) Lives led: 1
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.)
“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?
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.
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 junkjust 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.
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?