Wednesday, November 30, 2016

You're Almost There

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo. *distant sobbing* I know you’re tired. I’m tired too. But I know we can do this. I know we can push ourselves and finish strong. 

I don’t want to use up precious writing time, so I’m keeping this brief. You are awesome and inspiring. Remember that. Your wrists may be sore and your mind may feel burnt out, but you can rest tomorrow. To dredge up an overused metaphor, NaNoWriMo is like a marathon, and when it comes to long distance running, this is the final stretch. This is where you start sprinting. 

So sprint. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Day in the Life of NaNoWriMo

Note: A little while ago, Cait @ Paper Fury suggested I write a “day in the life of NaNo” post. This is my attempt to provide a completely factual, not at all embellished account. Ahem. (It’s written in second person, because at this point in the month, I am insane and don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Not that I ever know what I’m doing.) 

The sound of your alarm clock bursts through your dreams like an unwanted character in a story that was going so well for you until this moment. For several seconds, you deny the existence of this alarm, until you realize this is no way to live. The protagonist in your novel would never be so lazy. You need to be more like her, or you else will turn into a potato. And that is also no way to live. 

Eventually, you come to terms with the fact that it’s morning (see also, the final stage of grief), and pull yourself out of bed. You hear a sound in the other room, a sort of muted screaming, and remember two things: a) it’s NaNoWriMo, and b) the muse fairies don’t like it when you put off feeding them. You leap out of bed, adrenaline rushing through your veins like caffeine, and zombie-shuffle as quickly as you can to the stash of chocolate-covered coffee beans on the counter. As the muse fairies strain against their cage, you jam your hands into the un-yielding leather of your third set of gloves this month. The chewed remains of the other two pairs lie abandoned in the far corner of the room, a testament to the dangers you are willing to endure, all in the name of NaNoWriMo. 

After you finish feeding your muse fairies, you rush to the shower to wash yourself. This is a good place for you. You don’t have to hear the crunching of the coffee beans, like breaking bones. You don’t have to hear the shrieks as the fairies fight each other for more than their fair share. The shower is quiet. The shower is peaceful. The shower is safe. You can brainstorm here, under the rushing water. You can think or not think, as you so please. No one will judge you or try to chew off your toes. 

But eventually, you have to step out of the warm shower into the cold air, and it is like crossing that painful bridge between sleeping and wakefulness all over again. Then it’s time for you to eat. You toast your bagel and scoot to the far end of the counter, away from the muse fairies, all slouched against the bars, holding their distended little stomaches and wiping what looks like blood off their mouths. You notice with a sinking sensation that the number has fallen again this morning. One is missing. You were warned that this would happen, that muse fairies were not exactly….nice beings. But still, actually seeing the evidence of this for yourself has turned out to be more jarring than you had expected. And considering the number you have lost already and the remaining days in November, you are starting to worry you will run out of fairies too soon. 

At least, you tell yourself, at least the number is not dwindling because they are escaping again. Your toes ache just thinking about it. 

With this in mind, you pull out your laptop and begin typing away at your story, watching the fairies out of the corner of your eye. After you’ve written a few words, to give your mind something to think about, you brew your pot of coffee and don those stiff gloves once more. It’s time to harvest the muse fairy eggs. They look so tiny, so innocent in the palm of your hand, like drops of metallic paint. You don’t want to think about what’s inside. 

Steeling yourself, you slip them into the pot of coffee and watch them dissolve as you wonder with a sinking feeling if the pursuit of success has turned you cold to the harsh realities of the world. Shaking your head, you refuse to allow yourself to dwell on this. Instead, you grab your favorite mug, pour yourself a cup, add the creamer, and sit down to breathe in the scent of nostalgia and words. And you write. Because this is what makes you feel alive. This is what helps you forget the things you regret and the people who want to kill you. 

(You have a passing thought that maybe you are getting a little too into this story. But you stow that thought away in your mind closet with all the other thoughts you do not have time for this November.) 

After an hour or so of concentrated writing, your fingers clicking to the beat of whatever song happens to be playing in your ears, you rise to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing. As you wander about the kitchen, studiously avoiding looking at the fairies, you notice the floor should be swept. The dishes have piled up. The cat waits at the door, her eyes big with the need for attention. All these things cluster at your consciousness, nibbling away at your prospective word count, threatening you with heaps of guilt should you choose to ignore them. So you break and ply the broom, load the washer, pet the tiny animal, and dispose of the disemboweled mouse it has gifted you, again. 

While you perform these mindless tasks, you tell yourself you could be thinking about your story. Instead you find yourself thinking about anything but. You find yourself thinking about movies you want to watch, the responsibilities you have let slide, the books you own but have not read. You get the sudden urge to walk the dog, to admire the foliage, to breathe the fresh air, and most of all, to avoid, avoid avoid the weight of putting worlds on paper. Because it hurts someplace deep to take the kitchen knife of your mind and slice open the skin of your consciousness so you can explain yourself in metaphors and melodrama. Already you can read the reviews—too trite, too sappy, too shallow, too vague, too not-what-I-wanted, too never-enough. And the quitter hiding in your heart is telling you it only wants to spare you future pain by calling it a day now, once and for all. 

Instead, you drag yourself back to your chair, pull your coffee cup close, breathe in the steam, and write. Word after word. Line after line. Building on each other, towering, toppling, tracing the outermost reaches of your imagination and finding there are no limits. Somehow you convince yourself to forget, for this moment, this day, this month, that the stories you are crafting are ugly, wasteful creatures, worth printing only to shred. Somehow you write another thousand words, and another thousand, and another, intertwined with stolen moments on Facebook, on Twitter, on the NaNo forums, on the places that handle your mind with novocaine fingers. 

At some point along the way, your eyelids begin to droop worse than ever. Lunch has passed. A long lapse in the day, a long lapse in judgement, an hour, sometimes two, of nothing but you and the screen, you and the show you are watching, you and the story you bury yourself in to escape the story you must bury yourself in. The coffee never works to make you feel awake, but now it feels like it’s having a negative effect, as though every drop of caffeine sucks the life out of you and gifts it to some other creature. And the muse fairies haven’t laid more eggs today. They are odd little creatures like that. Sometimes they don’t lay eggs for days. Sometimes they lay a new batch every hour. No matter how often you let them gorge themselves on those chocolate covered coffee beans, they decide the flow of inspiration. 

You slide out of your chair and pace around the apartment, knowing you could read on the porch swing and get some fresh air, a chance to bond with the cat while refocusing your mind. But you are so tired. All your body wants is to shamble around mindlessly until the guilt once more builds strong enough to drive you back to your chair and your life. You tell yourself tomorrow will be kinder, because tomorrow you will be going into town with your sister. You will work your job while she works hers in the safety of the church that has become an extension of your ingrown comfort zone. You find focus there, friendship, fewer distractions. 

Eventually your sister gets home from work, and you sit together, eat together, watch shows together. Write together. She doesn’t help you feed the muse fairies because she doesn’t like creatures with sharp teeth. She has her own menagerie of muse butterflies in her office, but you don’t ask about those. Every writer is different. Every writer has their own private source of inspiration. During November, it helps not to compare. You and your sister will not share the same discouragements, but you remind yourself that you also won’t share the same encouragements. That is okay. 

When you finally can find no more words to pull from your brain, no more thoughts to scribble out with your fingertips on keys, you go to bed, drained but content, eager for another day, another autumn moment to paste on the scrapbook of your hard drive. And you drift off to sleep, listening to the scritch of muse fairy teeth on metal. 

Well, that’s it for today, little coffee beans. What about you? How does a typical NaNo day look for you? What do you do for inspiration/procrastination?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

All the Words // Part #3

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, you are likely to enter a writing slump at least once this month. Please allow me to offer you some questionable advice on how to get more words on the page. 

Cut corners if you have to. Skip difficult or boring scenes that are bogging you down. If writing in chronological order is messing with you, write stuff out of order. Embrace structure, or don’t. Skip dialogue tags if you find yourself struggling with them. Or use too many, if you can’t decide which one to use. If you write a sentence and then think of a better way to phrase yourself, don’t backspace. Just write the sentence again the way you want to. You’ve written both those sentences, so keep the words. 

Don’t hold yourself back. You are just throwing ideas at the page and hoping some stick. Don’t expect to keep even half of what you’re writing here. Go into full mad-scientist mode. (But only in terms of writing. Please don't start dissecting people.) 

Be smart about your rest. All-night sprints are fun, but consider the long term consequences. This writing gig is a month long. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you need to pace yourself accordingly. Make sure you get the sleep you need. 

Vomit words. It’s amazing what your brain can do when you release all restrictions. I know there are going to be purists who cry foul at this, but if you need to spend five thousand words describing scenery or narrating your character's thoughts, do that. It might help you dig up an idea or a plot point or a theme you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. At least it will help you get to know your story world. 

This month, literally anything goes. Toss the rule book. Who even needs that? You are a mighty viking. You make your own rules. Stab people with your viking helmet if they say otherwise. (Please don’t actually stab people. I don’t want to go to jail.) 

If you are fiercely competitive, word sprints are your friend. Slay your competition. You are the alpha. Make it so. 

Embrace alternate locations. Write-ins are great because they are both social and focused. Coffee shops are helpful too. Going someplace specifically for the purpose of writing can work wonders for productivity. It’s like hacking into your mind and rewriting the code, but totally legal. Probably. 

If you are writing blog posts or essays this month, include those in your word count. They may not be part of your novel, but those are words you’ve written this month, and you deserve credit for them. That way the time you spend blogging and doing homework doesn’t have to be so discouraging. And you really want to encourage yourself as much as possible. I am giving you the green light on this. Remember, people sometimes get snippy and try to hold you to their rule book, but this is NaNoWriMo. Rules are for the weak. 

Positivity works wonders. So seek out ways to get yourself in a good mood. Or develop a healthy case of indignation over something and let it fuel more words. Use your emotions in a productive way. Learn what helps you write and then overuse it. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some ways you combat writing slumps?

Monday, November 21, 2016

That Really Deep Writing Post // Part #5

And, here we are again with another That Really Deep Writing Post, because like I said, I have way too much time to think when I’m at work. And if I don’t think about things to write, I will go insane (or, to be accurate, more insane). 

Anywho, here we go. 

Please, Me Do Other Things? (Me writer. Me talk good English.) I’ve already mentioned this feeling a little, but it bears repeating. Even though I have a great boss and I like my job and my workplace, and even though I love earning money, (*eyes turn to dollar signs*) I spend a lot of time fighting the desire to go home. A large part of this is anxiety, but part of it just comes from forgetting that I am tired and in pain now, but if I go home, I will just be tired and in pain there. I have this annoying habit of always wanting to be doing something other than the task in front of me. Every time I start reading a book, I suddenly get the urge to read a different book. When I'm at work, I want to be writing. When I'm writing, I want to pet the dog. If I’m sitting in one chair, then by golly, I would like to sit in that other chair. *shakes head at self* I’m essentially a toddler. 

Likewise with writing. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this November, it’s probably because you want to write—because, despite the many conflicting emotions that come with the job, you do love it, if only in secret. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are likely to spend about 75% of your writing time wanting to do just about anything else. You make your coffee or your tea. You sit down at your computer. And bam! You have the sudden urge to wrestle gorillas or donate your eyes to science. Anything to avoid putting words on the page. And you know what? You just have to push through it. Teach your brain to ignore these feelings of discontentment, these little lines of complaint, and you will get stuff done. If your brain tries to sabotage you, put it in time out. Don't forget that you're in charge here. (Side note: Don't be like me with antsy horses. When I was working in a barn one summer, another barn girl told me to show the thousand pounds of anxiety who was boss, so I left the horse in charge. Don't do that with your book.) 

Can’t You Stay Clean For, Like, Five Minutes? As you hurdle toward the end of November, you’re likely to start thinking about revisions. So it only makes sense to include an editorial comparison. 

When I’m cleaning on Sundays, I have to work around the youth group. Basically, they follow me like the trail of slime following a snail. Me being the snail, since I feel like I’m working so slowly all the time. And them being the slime, because they make things messy. (Gosh, Liz, you can’t just go calling people slime. It’s not nice. It’s not civilized.) Whatever. I clean stuff just in time for them to use it and make it dirty again, which is totally fine. That’s what I’m there for and that’s what they’re there for. La di da. But it can be somewhat sad to realize that the set of rooms I have just spent two hours cleaning is going to be dirty again in a matter of moments. When I leave the building, it’s usually with a dramatically mournful sense that I have accomplished nothing more than damage control. *cue existential crisis* 

In the same way, when you edit, sometimes you can think you are doing a wonderful job. At least, you hope you are doing a wonderful job. Everything is so clean and shiny and perfect seeming. You are brilliant, you mad genius you. And then you send the draft off to beta readers, and they dirty it up with all their comments and their red pen marks, and you have to do even more cleaning. You don’t get to enjoy the satisfaction of a tidy draft for long. This is to be expected, though, so it works best for everyone if you refuse to let yourself get frustrated. 

It’s not a perfect analogy, I know. But it works in my mind, so maybe it will work in yours? 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Do you find it somewhat disheartening to think you have done a good job with editing, only to realize you have so. Much. More work to do? Do you struggle to be content in the moment? Do you think that’s purely an anxiety issue, or something else as well?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

All the Words // Part #2

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, it can be easy to get distracted by other writers’ word counts. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s difficult to keep from getting jealous of those who are doing better than me. I see people going for the million and succeeding, people who make my writing efforts look first-grade level. That jealousy can transform into full-on discouragement. But NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a positive experience. So here are some tips for combatting envy and word count depression. 

Have fun with the imperfections in your story. Find a plot hole? Have your characters talk it out. Don’t forget to include disparaging comments about your writing abilities, if you are the type of person who likes to laugh at yourself. These scenes might make you smile when you get around to edits, and that’s not a bad thing. 

Block out stuff when it gets to be too much. If you find you can’t mingle well with other authors this month, don’t. Build yourself a safe place and stay there for the entirety of November. If the forums make you feel discontented with your own progress, get off the forums and use that time to write more words. 

Remember that everyone has their own typing speed. We have people who type quickly, and then we have the Slug Club, a forum for people who can’t type as many words per minute. If you can only type 30wmp, don’t compare your progress to those who can do 100wpm or more. You will feel like you’re failing, when you’re not. 

Find your tribe. We have a forum for overachievers. We have a thread for those dealing with chronic illness (and other health issues), those choosing to write their novels by hand, those who plan ahead and those who don’t, those who are writing multiple books at once, those who are NaNo rebels, etc… If you can’t find a thread for your specific need, start your own. Connect with people who understand you. 

Remember that everyone’s head space is different. We have writers with dyslexia, depression, PTSD, OCD, scizophrenia, etc… Learning disabilities and mental illnesses make writing a thousand times more difficult, so it helps to recognize that your starting point may just be further back than others’. This isn’t necessarily a fair race. 

Focus on your work ethic. One thing that helps to keep discouragement at bay is to focus on what you’re doing right. Are you showing up to write every day and putting forth your best effort as much as you can? Then be proud of that, no matter how little you might be managing to drag out of your skull during your times at the computer. Don’t get so hung up on numbers and graphs that you forget to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. 

When all else fails, embrace your competitive side and let the successes of others egg you on. That’s totally what I do. What could possibly go wrong?

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some ways you avoid discouragement and envy during NaNoWriMo? What are some forums you like to frequent? What are some of your struggles when it comes to drafting novels? 

Monday, November 14, 2016

That Really Deep Writing Post // Part #4

And here we are with another That Really Deep Writing Post (you can find the others here). You could either interpret this as me being good at gleaning post material from random places, or me being too lazy to think about other things at work besides more work. (That sentence made little sense. Please ignore it.) 

Onward and upward. 

Think Long-Distance Running. I realize I’ve used this comparison several times over the past couple years, but I know from my years running cross country that it is painfully accurate. When you begin the race, no matter how many miles you have ahead of you, it can be tempting to sprint right from the starting line. But you can’t afford to do that with long-distance running. You have to pace yourself, or you will burn out/injure yourself (and also possibly vomit). Only start sprinting when the finish line is almost in view. 

The same goes for writing and working custodial. Janitorial work is not especially difficult, but it is strenuous (if that distinction makes any sense), and it can be easy to set a pace I can’t maintain for nine hours. I don’t want to use up my limited energy in the first two hours, only to find myself lagging more and more as the day progresses and the sun goes down. That is a recipe for an anxiety attack. 

You can bet this applies to writing as well, specifically NaNoWriMo. It can be so temping to ignore sleep and meals and hygiene in favor of writing until you can’t feel your hands on the first day. But unless you know from experience this won’t burn you out, you’re going to be in trouble sooner rather than later. And you could cause permanent damage to your wrists and shoulders. If you’re in it for the long haul, you are allowed to do what you like, but you might want to consider maintaining a consistent (but challenging) pace until the final week. 

Deadlines. I have to get my custodial work done before I can go home, which means I have to stay focused and keep working even when I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t get the luxury of taking a nap when I feel like taking a nap (which is always). Likewise with writing under any sort of deadline, like NaNoWriMo. You can’t afford to slack off when you’re not feeling it. If you are going to reach your goal this November, whether it’s the 50K, or some other number, you are going to have to write even when you would rather be doing something else. But the end result will be worth it. And if you’re like me, you need the deadline to keep that fire under your butt burning hot and bright, or you’ll turn into a sad potato. True story. 

Alone, But Not. I’m alone a lot when I’m doing my job, but there are also plenty of times when I'm not. There are days when the silence of the empty building gets lonely and scary. Likewise, sometimes sequestering yourself in your writing cave might not be the best option for your sanity, even though you still need to get your work done. Writing in coffee shops can help with this, as can hanging out on the NaNo forums. When all else fails, maybe buy cutouts of the hottest actors you can find and talk to them while you work. (That sounded like a better idea in my head.) 

There are also times when the sounds of other people in the building make my anxiety worse and I would rather be alone. One of the functions of my PTSD is that being in crowds, especially crowds of loud young people, can trigger flashbacks, even when I have my earbuds in. Similarly, sometimes the people around you will be too distracting when you’re trying to write. Maybe they won’t give you flashbacks, but they might give you anxiety or slow you down in other ways. Sometimes you can come up with solutions for this, but other times you’re just going to have to grin and bear it. But if I can clean through the flashbacks, you can write through the distractions and the anxiety. I believe in you. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Do you like writing under deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), or do they kill your mojo? What are some ways you cope with unavoidable writing distractions?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Do You: A NaNo Pep Talk from a Mere Mortal

Note: Today's pep talk is brought to you by my sister, Abby Brooks. 

My plan this November is to write 50,000 words. Just 50,000. A measly 50,000. A Weasley 50,000. What am I doing with my life? I’ll tell you: I’m living. I’m doing my job; I’m hanging with my friends; I’m spending time outside in the fall air and getting my exercise. I’m cleaning my house and making hot meals and OH BY THE WAY I’m writing a novel. This is a pep talk for people like me who cheer loudly when we reach 2,000 words on a given day, because that is really stretching it. This is a pep talk for writers who have a hard time celebrating their own achievements this month when they remember that the overachievers forum exists. Overachievers, Smover achievers, that’s what I say. Sorry, Liz. Please don’t poison my coffee.

It is a constant human temptation to compare ourselves to others. I do it all the time. See, I’m a fairly standard human being, who happens to have a ton of truly extraordinary friends. There’s the children’s book illustrator, the private investigator, the screenwriter and the philosopher. There are spy boys, musicians, poets, and writers. So. Many. Writers. Some days I wonder why I presume to do anything, to pursue anything, when my closest friends, and even my little sister, can do it so much better. 

When I play this comparing game with my circle of extraordinary friends, I lose sight of the fact that I, too, am a little bit extraordinary. I may not play guitar and sing for hundreds of people each week like my office mate, Taylor. But I do play the ukulele. On my porch swing. For the cat. I might not write poetry in my sleep like I once caught Belle doing, but I do write three or four pieces a year that I’m sorta kinda proud of. Same with painting and languages and knitting and running and blowing bubbles in chocolate milk etc., etc.. BUT LISTEN. The point is not that I don’t do each of these things as well as the next person. The point is that I do them. That alone makes me a little bit extraordinary. Do stuff, coffee beans. Each of you are a little bit extraordinary too.

I heard this saying while bumming at my house, watching Netflix: “You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” Ai. Shucks. Ain’t nobody sacrificing no Grey’s Anatomy anytime soon. The way I see it, there are two types of overachievers in the world. The first kind is the most obvious. They drop everything except their coffee mugs and pound their keyboards for a month, and trade their sanity and the sound structure of their wrists for five shiny, new novels which they then edit for forever and then publish and get rich and drive their Lamborghini’s around. These people sacrifice everything else for their one, big dream, and they succeed through sheer, brute force. This is how I suspect my sister’s life will play out. Which is awesome. But I’m not like that. I’m the second type of overachiever. The type who could never pick just one dream. The type who could never sacrifice literature for music or music for fitness or fitness for writing or writing for beauty or…or.... I overachieve not in any particular area, but in the sheer number of areas I stubbornly continue to invest in. 

How is this a Nano pep talk? I can hear you yelling now. I’m saying Do You. Succeed on your own terms. Examine yourself. Set goals. Decided how much you can sacrifice without losing yourself and then by all means, sacrifice it. Don’t do less than your best. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that your best is the same as someone else’s best or that your best in any given area isn’t good enough just because someone did better. Just do you. Give yourself all the credit you deserve, and plenty of grace when you do honestly have to admit that you’re not living up to your potential. Ask yourself: What am I doing with my life? and by all means possible make sure that’s an answer you’re proud of. Maybe that means hitting 25,000 words today. Maybe not.

Here I go: 

It was a dark and stormy night…

Nailed it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

All the Words // Part #1

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, and you find yourself struggling to get words down on the page, it helps to remember that you are free to write what you want. You’re writing a contemporary and you start feeling the urge to include a scene with dragons in it? Knock yourself out. You want to write a chapter in the POV of that one neglected potato at the bottom of the fridge? Do it. I dare you. Whatever keeps the words flowing. A lot of the stuff you write like this may end up getting cut during edits. In fact, count on it—give yourself the leeway to write for the sake of writing, not for the sake of immediate perfection. You will be able to polish later, but right now you’re trying to work loose thoughts, and sometimes you have to do that in roundabout ways that also happen to get you more words, even if they feel beyond ridiculous. 

If a tangent interests you, explore it. I’ve gotten at least five new novel ideas this way. When in doubt, include it in your story. And if you hate something you’ve written? Don’t go back and delete it from your total. Just write around it. I add a lot of notes to myself along the lines of: Okay, let’s just pretend the last chapter didn’t happen. So we’re picking up at point XYZ and moving on from there. 

There is no rule that says you have to limit the description you use in this draft. There is no rule that says you have to limit the characters or the plot lines. That’s for when you edit. If you have a ton of elements, and you know there are just too many for a proper novel, include them anyway so you’ll get the chance to explore them in detail. And then let the threads drop along the way if you find you need to. No harm done. When trying to decide what to write, err on the side of more, not less. You're not Hemmingway this November. You're Dickens. 

You are not trying to be masterful. You’re trying to unleash the full power of your creativity. (Okay, that sounded ominous.) 

Sometimes I’ll write a scene three times, back to back, each a look from a different angle, like I’m using a three-point turn to get my car headed in the right direction. Because later, when I edit, I will have three options to choose from, and I will be more equipped to evaluate which version I want to run with. This can also help pinpoint what might be off enough to give me a touch of writer’s block, all without taking the time to slow down and read back through to figure out where I’ve gone off track. 

Get crazy with this. Write fanfiction of your novel. Gender swap a few scenes, or gender swap the whole thing. Change up the main characters for a couple thousand words. Try to imagine and reimagine your story as much as possible, so you know it front, back, and sideways. It'll help you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Explore all the paths. Blaze new ones. Don’t restrict yourself. 

You are literally making this up as you go along, so embrace the flexibility this gives you to map out your story world in your head. There are no limits—don’t act like there are. Go where you will. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some ways you maximize your word count for NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

That Really Deep Writing Post // Part #3

Ever since I got a custodial job in August, I’ve been amassing ideas for another Really Deep Writing Post. (If you want to read the first two, you can find them here and here.) This one will, of course, be somewhat NaNoWriMo-themed, as this is technically my first pep talk of the month. It's on the short side, but don't worry—there's more to come. 

Manuscript Mountain. If you’ve been reading the official NaNo pep talks for any amount of time (or anything about writing, for that matter), then you’re probably familiar with the concept of Manuscript Mountain. I think it goes without saying that comparing writing a book to climbing a mountain creates a painfully accurate picture (but I’m me, so I’m going to say it anyway). 

What you may not know, however, is that custodial work can seem like its own mountain. I have to clean my church Fridays through Sundays. And it’s a large church. To break it down, I have to clean the building twice every weekend—roughly one third on Friday, two thirds on Saturday, and then the whole thing all over again on Sunday. Sundays can be especially overwhelming, since I have tended to need about nine hours to get the work done. It’s not that I can’t handle the job, because I can, even when I feel like I’m two steps away from falling asleep on my feet. Literally. But my anxiety has a tendency to look at the amount of work ahead of me and freak out. It tells me that I’m going to be stuck there all night—that I’ll still be cleaning the same bathroom when my boss gets there in the morning. As can be expected, I have to work harder to overcome this anxiety. 

Likewise with writing (and editing) a book. When you think about the concept of writing 50K words (or more), it doesn’t necessarily seem all that difficult. That’s why so many people will cavalierly declare that they would write a book if they had the time. Anyone who has written a book will hear this and laugh while crying hysterically on the inside. 

However, anxiety or no anxiety, once you actually break ground on your novel, you’re likely to start feeling a little overwhelmed. And by “a little overwhelmed” I mean, you would probably sell your own kidneys to get out of finishing that draft. This is an understandable emotion. But please don’t start selling your organs just yet. 

The trick is to focus on the task at hand and, for the most part, ignore all the work ahead of you until it’s time to move on to the next task and the next. It’s fine to plan ahead, but you’re going to exhaust yourself if you spend too much energy thinking about all the stuff you have left to do before you can call it a day. Yes, anxiety does not listen to reason, so either way, you may still suffer. No matter how much I remind myself that everything will be okay, I struggle. Every day. But the more I fight to control my thoughts, the more I win small battles in this larger war against my mind. 

But the thing you have to remember is this: Just because your veins feel like live wires doesn’t mean you should quit. And it gets better, even when it feels like it’s getting worse. I have, in small measures, gotten from the point where I couldn’t even think about leaving the house by myself to the point where I am sitting here, typing this in a coffee shop full of strangers. I have gone from the point where I couldn’t fathom getting another job to the point where I work overtime every week because I like getting the job done and doing it well. It doesn’t get completely better, not right away, maybe not ever. But it improves. You can improve. 

Motivational speech over. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Do you struggle with anxiety, in life and/or in writing? What are some ways you fight your fears?