Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Accomplishments and an Ode to Scrivener // Also a Snippet

Yes, you read that title correctly. I started out this year cynical and frustrated with goal making, and while I am still hesitatant to make grandiose goals I might not be able to accomplish without running myself into the ground, the year is not even a third over and I already have progress to celebrate. And celebrate I will. 

During NaNoWriMo, I drafted what was intended to be a novella with the idea that I could edit it on the side and hopefully publish it, serially, on Out of Coffee, Out of Mind in early 2018. (Now, please remember that a lot could change between now and then, so I don’t want to promise that I will be ready or willing to share it with the world when the time comes, but I also want to gauge interest. So if a serialized novella on this here blog would be something you’d be interested in, please, please let me know.) 

I have two goals, of sorts, for this project: 1) I want to challenge myself by writing a shorter work of fiction, since I’ve always felt that’s one of my areas of weakness, and B) I want to work on being consistent. *ahem* 

Back to what I was trying to say. I drafted this baby in NaNoWriMo, and if you were paying attention to the individual word counts of the projects I completed during November (if I shared those, I don't remember now), you’re probably wondering why you didn’t see a novella-length work. Um, see, that’s because the first draft for this widdle project clocked in at 103,000 words and change. It’s almost like I have a problem or something. Anyway, this gave me pause, because while I have historically cut half of my novels’ words during the second draft, I have also ended up adding 20-30K during the third. Of course, I got the sense that I had included extraneous information and unncessary internal monologue in an attempt to figure out where the plot was headed (because my writing process could best be described as: “There appears to have been a struggle”), but I also wrote this draft fairly near to the end of NaNoWriMo when I was in a coffee/wrist-pain/food-deprived trance, so you’ll have to pardon me if my memory is a tad distorted and shiny in places. 

Still, I decided to pull one of my more brash moves, which I like to call: “Hold my coffee—watch this. But also, like, I’m going to need that coffee back in just a moment.” 

Okay, let’s put on the brakes here, because I didn’t just write a gazillion words on this here baby. Oh no. That would be waaaaayyyy too simple. No, I wrote everything, and I do mean everything, out of order. In one document. Why, you ask, why? Because Scrivener, I tell you. Now, I have owned Scrivener for over a year already, but until this week, I did not know the true power of what I possessed. (Forgive me, muse fairies, I was young and foolish.) However, I was intelligent (yes, intelligent, we’ll go with that) enough to realize that you can at least use Scrivener to split your document into managable sections, which you can then switch around at will using the corkboard feature. So I let myself go hogwild with this draft, and honestly, I wouldn’t have let myself do that on Word because of all the clean-up I knew I was going to have to do, but it was also what this draft needed in order to come to life. Enter Scrivener, my hero. 

Coffee beans! My dear, dear coffee beans! 

You can color code things.

“But wait,” you say, attempting to be polite and ignore my embarrassing outburst, you kind soul, you, “aren’t you putting the cart before the horse here? You haven’t even finished the second draft yet. Why are you celebrating, you walnut???” 

Because coffee beans, in less than a week, I was able to take my giant 103,000 word “novella”, organize it into some semblance of consecutive order, use the notecard feature to painlessly whip together a detailed outline that has the tiny part of my brain that wants to be a planner in a state of euphoria, and hack off over 48,000 words—48,000 words—bringing my draft to a little over 55,000 words. Obviously it’s still too long to be a proper novella, but just from skimming the whole thing, I can tell that I will be able to cut at least 20-25K easily. This will take a lot of work, a lot of hours, more than one headache, and a devotion to concise writing that I am still working to develop, but don’t tell me it can’t be done. 

So you see, I love Scrivener. But I lied about the ode part in the title. I'm not going to start writing lyric poetry about it, even if it is an impressive word processor. 

You thought that was all, but it’s not. 

Oh no. 

Because there’s nothing like coming clean about an embarrassing personal struggle to get you into the rhythm of things. 

So far this year, I have also edited about 15K words of one of my two major WIPs, and I’m loving it. It’s a harder one, both emotionally and stylistically, than any project I have previously tackled. Had I attempted to edit it two years ago when I first wrote the rough draft, I don’t think I would have been ready to dive into it. Which is partially why I set it aside to age while I tackled DRACONIAN and then fell off the bus for a while (something I plan to talk about soon). But even though this project is challenging, I wouldn’t trade it for any other story in the world. *wipes away fake tear* *stares dramatically into camera lens* 

I do, however, really need to finish DRACONIAN so I can start sending out query letters. I’m so close to being finished, I think the biggest reason why I’ve been stalling is that I’m scared to return to the querying trenches. And by that, I mean, I think I’m scared that I will get an agent and a book deal and have to work on DRACONIAN even more, which at the moment sounds like less fun than chewing off my hand. Consequently, I’ve been burying myself in other writing work, all the while ignoring the red folder in my computer bag. (This, however, is not how you get published, folks. Monkey see, monkey don’t do.) 

In addition, I have drafted more blog posts over the past week, and will hopefully be blogging every Thursday (plus any bonus content I feel like throwing at you) from now on. 

I mentioned in my 2017 resolutions-ish post that I didn’t want to set many public goals for myself, but I do want to share my current project deadlines with you for accountability reasons (because I have been bad at meating deadlines for DRACONIAN, and I can’t afford to make a habit of that). So, you have my permission (and my encouragement) to pester me about these deadlines and revoke my coffee privileges if I fail to meet at least two of them. 

Here are the lines of death (to my sanity): 

DRACONIAN: Finish final draft and begin querying by March 31, 2017

BMT (my other full-length, priority WIP): Finish second draft by March 31, 2017 (sic)

SSNSP (Super Secret Novella Side Project): Finish second draft by April 15, 2017

Obviously, I have other writing plans for this year, but I’m not going to talk more about them in this post. I have to keep some secrets, don’t I? (I don’t, not really, but something about starting an editing project in secret lets me enjoy it more. *shrugs*) 

Anyway, in the title to this post, I promised you a snippet, so here’s a snippet of BMT (and be forewarned, I still have a lot of editing to do, so this probably won't be the final version, but I still wanted to share a little something of what I’ve been doing): 

“The sink of his mind was backed up again. His thoughts made slow revolutions, draining in microscopic increments. The paper swam before his eyes until all he could see, for half an instant, was a snapshot of her bending over a rosebush, a white dress clinging to her hip bones, a floppy straw hat shielding her brittle hair from the sun, a trowel in the dirt-stained glove of her hand. The single sliver of her face he could see past shadows and faded memory was the hint of her mouth, trying for a rueful smile. His fingers found the watch by habit, toyed with the dials as he toyed with the thought. Habit took over and he almost pressed the watch face. Barely managed to stop himself. Felt the whiplash as his body careened to a halt while his mind kept going. 

Not again. The memory was slow poison. Already he sensed it dripping into his veins, seizing up his heart. He blinked and he could smell her perfume, could feel the cool breeze braving summer to bring him the faintest taste of her scent, the smallest sample. 

His eyes slid halfway shut as the world blurred. Reality untethered, let him squish soil between his toes, let him relive without returning, and he sat there in a daze, his body pressed heavily into the dying couch, until a famliar metallic click woke him from his reverie. 

His hand found the watch face, but the cold press of a gun barrel kissed his temple, and time ran out for the time traveler.” 

And that's it for today. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What writing shenanigans have you been up to lately?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Mind

I so appreciate your support, your prayers, and your kindness since I announced my illness. I understand that for some (perhaps most) of you, the general lack of information in my post might have been distressing. I have spent the time since I posted weighing my options and more closely evaluating my reasons for desiring privacy. I have come to the conclusion that, as much as I would like to keep silent about this and never ever tell you what’s going on, the price of keeping my mouth shut is not worth it. And you deserve to know. 

However, it’s important that you understand I have a laundry list of reasons for not wanting to tell you what’s going on, the first of which being that, when I tell people what I have, the first question (whether voiced or just visibly thought) is generally “why?”. Which is unfortunate because, to me, the why of the illness is more complex and private than the illness itself. So while I want to be able to help you understand why this is happening to me, I can’t. 

But I can still tell you what’s going on. 

The summer after I turned sixteen, just a few months after my friend died, I lost over thirty pounds in two months. Another good friend asked me point blank if I had an eating disorder, and I told her that no, I just hadn’t had much of an appetite lately. I might have blamed it on the heat or something—I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. The point is, I lied. 

For reasons that I won’t go into, I got a handle on the disorder before it got scary far, and it left me alone until this summer, when I was beginning to feel safe and happy and more like a person than I have ever felt. Somehow it managed to sneak up on me, tap me on the shoulder, and catch me by the throat when I turned around to see who was there. It seemed innocent and harmless at first. I was stressed about the idea of working late, so I decided to make a habit of skipping lunch breaks, with the idea that I would eat when I got home. As November progressed and things got worse, I skipped lunch on writing days as well because I’d had coffee and I wanted more time to write, and again, I could just eat more later. Only there were times when I forgot to eat later and felt proud of myself because, for once in my life, I felt like I had finally managed to exercise self control around food, that for once food was not the one in control. One thing led to another, and somewhere along the way, I changed from someone who had an embarrasing sweet tooth to someone who has frequent anxiety attacks at the thought of eating. 

As I said before, I have multiple reasons for wanting to keep my struggle with anorexia a secret. The guilt I feel at having this particular mental illness is ridiculously disproportionate—if you were to step into my head right now, you would think I was admitting to being a serial killer (which I’m not, in case you were wondering) rather than admitting to being someone whose brain has just broken down tremendously through no fault of my own. (I say “through no fault of my own” because that’s what trusted people have told me, and I am trying to believe them.) See the thing is, I blame myself. Even though this sickness snuck in through the attic window when I was preoccupied with cleaning the grime from the backs of the cupboards in my head, I still catch myself thinking there had to have been some conscious moment when I held the door open for the devil and led him to the kitchen table of my mind, where I proceeded to let him dictate my death. So, in that way, I feel like admitting to this means I’ll have to wear a scarlet A now (only this time it stands for anorexia). 

Furthermore, the idea of people thinking I’m suicidal or nuts or stupid or high maintenance or attention-seeking bothers me more than I can adequately express. I don’t like reflecting on the multiple small deceptions I have let myself use to mask this illness (even though all the times I screamed on the inside for someone to notice and call me out must amount for something). Perhaps my gradual break-up with full disclosure might explain why I’ve not felt like myself for some time. 

In other news, I feel unoriginal, because why do I have to have such a mainstream disorder, of all things? Seriously. I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be interesting and imaginative. (This is the part where you laugh awkwardly because I make bad jokes when I’m in distress. And also just in general.) 

I have felt ridiculous because I feel like I don’t fit the visual profile for someone with anorexia. Which, when you think about it, is rather ironic: I feel like I’m too fat to be taken seriously as someone who has an eating disorder that makes them feel fat even when they’re not. Ahem. 

As a Christian, I have felt shame at the amount of time I have dedicated to listening to Satan’s lies. Because at it progressed, I was aware on some level of what was happening. And you could argue that at that point it was already too late simply to make the choice to stop my behavior, but that doesn’t change what my thought patterns looked like. It doesn’t change the fact that I was willing to look to the devil for salvation because I stopped trusting that God loves me enough to take care of me. All this, even though I knew Satan would never help me out of the kindness of his heart, that his “aid” would never come without a monumental price tag. Because while I know this is a mental illness, I also know that it is very much fueled by lies that I have ingested and continue to embrace, lies like: I take up too much space, I am intrinsically unworthy and unlovable, every bite I take disqualifies me from being loved, etc. 

Additonally, I am afraid that people will attempt to slap me with easy solutions like “just eat” because they don’t understand how complex this disorder is, how the not-eating issue is a symptom, not the root of the problem. I don’t want people wrongly assuming I crave self-destruction when, in reality, this disorder has so much control over me that even eating a mouthful, much less a meal, feels like a defiant gesture, and straining against the boundaries of this disorder brings down fresh punishment from the enemy. 

In other news, I care too much about what people think. Years ago, a friend of mine told me that, and while I have tried to fix this aspect of myself and have made strides, I’m sorry to say that it’s still very much the case. Even though I know you won’t judge me, my coffee beans, I am also afraid that you will. Honesty, however uncomfortable, is important to me, now more than ever, and I am sorry that I have let myself pretend that it doesn’t matter this time around. I am sad because, in giving ear to this disorder as it tries to trap me in silence where there is no help, I have drifted from the person God designed me to be. I still want privacy. I still want to pretend things are normal. I know, after posting this, people I have to see in person on a regular basis will likely look at me differently (not that they don’t already), and that’s almost enough to convince me that I am making a mistake. There is an extent to which I don’t want people to know because I don’t want the constant pressure to get better—or rather, that’s what the disorder tells me I don’t want. But I have established a precedent for honesty on this blog, and I don’t want there to be any confusion or misinformation about what’s going on in my life. 

So here’s the deal: I have been getting help, and I will continue to do so. As much as it feels like pushing a boulder uphill on the daily, I will continue to fight. I’m not eating normally yet; I probably won’t be for a while. But for the moment I am eating more than I was, and that is not nothing. 

There are many things I can’t be certain about with regards to this, but there are a few things I know for sure. I won’t be the same person I was before. That could be a bad thing, but with God’s help I can also make it a good thing. Like most mental illnesses, anorexia is also not something you recover from—as people have reminded me—it’s something you learn to manage. Regardless of how well I reorder my mind and relearn normal eating habits, it will always occupy some small space in my psyche, and it will always be looking for a way to return. 

Again, I would really appreciate your prayers and your understanding. I’ll also be sure to update you from time to time and all that fun stuff, so please don’t fret. And hey, no worries if you don’t know how to respond to this—just share your favorite Bible verse or Twenty One Pilots song or something. :)