Slogging

I hit 60,000 words yesterday. I was on a high, not just because of the word count, but because I knew I had found my calling.

I’ve always thought that expression, “found your calling,” meant that you had found something you were naturally good at. But since making it a daily habit to give an hour to my novel, I’ve discovered it means something else entirely. It has nothing, it turns out, to do with being good at it, except that when you do something regularly, you become good at it.

It’s about how you feel when you’ve found it. A sense of rightness, of “of course”-ness. I was feeling this feeling strongly the night before last, lying in bed next to Carey, and I told him this, that I thought this was my calling, this novel writing.

He rolled his eyes at me. Smirked.

Hmpf. What did he think was so funny?

“It’s funny because everyone else in the world has known this all along, Heather.” Oh.

So I spent all day yesterday on this high, because everything in the world is right when you’ve found your calling. When you realize that everything, everything you’ve ever ever done has led to this. That everything you thought was weird about yourself isn’t weird:

Obsessively reading drafts over and over because you want to see how it reads from everyone else’s point of view, one person at a time.

Obsessively researching every little thing that crosses your path.

Obsessively reading and re-reading blogs and stories that tear your heart out, and letting the tears course down your cheeks, and beating yourself up for “torturing yourself.” When it turns out you weren’t needlessly torturing yourself at all: You were researching. Researching your heart and the hearts of others.

You listen to this:

And you nod along. YES, that is me. I’m not weird. I’m a WRITER.

You find out that everything you’ve ever done–raising chickens, running a business, being a mom–all of it matters to this thing you’ve been called to. It all contributes. It all makes sense.

And so, last night, I cheerfully set my alarm for 5:30 even though I don’t have to be anywhere until 10. And this morning I rose cheerfully from bed and came to this computer to write. Write! Write my novel! And I opened my tracking document (tip: If something matters to you, track it–this does something to your brain to make it take you seriously. Even the brain science I read matters to my calling!), recorded my starting time and word count. I opened my beloved document with my incredible story, and the characters I have grown to love so very much. And I scrolled to the bottom and I re-read the last paragraph to get my bearings, and then I

blanked. out.

Nothing.

Geez.

So I did what they say to do, and I wrote anyway. About 1300 words of boringness. All description. I managed to eke out a dialog between two main characters, but not much of one.

Sigh.

Calling, schmalling.

This is slogging.

Nice blank page, man.

Coming Out

I did not want to write this morning. Did not. Want. To write. I was so sick of my story. So sick of my characters. So sick of the plot that just never seems to untangle and move forward. The last couple days have been booooring.

I wanted to spend my hour reading advice from novelists, see if someone could tell me how to fix it. I wanted someone else to tell me how to move forward. It’s so frustrating how lonely this journey is, how much of it you have to do YOURSELF. Ha. Wouldn’t it be nice if the stories would just freakin write themselves?

To break through this barrier, I considered going back and starting my edits, even though the draft is not done. I seriously considered it, even though lots of authors say not to edit till you’re done writing, and I’m not convinced it would have been a bad choice. Perhaps it would have been useful, and might have propelled me forward again.

Still, I’m glad I did what I did, which was to keep plugging along. Decided to go ahead and write a specific scene, one where a pair of my main characters is traveling through woods with another group of characters they’ve just met. I wanted to hurry ahead to the plot again, get my characters busy doing something that  will move things toward their inevitable conclusion, but I had too many questions before I could do that right. So I wrote this “boring” scene.

I think I was somewhat inspired by reading several “boring” chapters of Harry Potter to the kids last night. We’re on (rendition #2) of The Goblet of Fire (having already read the entire series to them once before, and to myself several times). This is my least favorite of the stories, so much exposition at the  beginning, so much scene-building, so little action, so. much. Quidditch. Yech. But the kids like it, so I kept plowing through. (“How come you don’t read very much to us each night any more, Mommy?” said Eli. “Because it’s boring!”) And last night I began to see that it’s okay to exposition some. The kids love it, even if I don’t. And so I gave myself permission today to write some “boring” bits. I can always take them out later.

And it turned out to be pretty okay, actually.

It answered a lot of questions for me about the characters’s motivation, and helped forge an alliance between two characters who have been butting heads through the whole thing but who, I’ve known from the start, will eventually be partners if not something slightly more.

And, it was actually pretty interesting to write and I think it will be interesting to read. It’s a scene I’m rather proud of, in fact. Yay.

At the same time, there is something niggling at me. I kept getting distracted by this thought, and then putting it away for later cogitation. My niggling is this: All of my female characters seem to play second fiddle to a male character. This was NOT intentional. It certainly does NOT reflect how I think life SHOULD be or even what I think is “natural” for people. It does, however, reflect my upbringing and my own personal insecurities about leadership.

Now to cogitate on how to address this. If the female/male inequity were central to or important to my story, I would leave it in. I don’t need to make a political statement. But it’s not. I believe it’s a weakness in myself, and therefore a weakness in the story, to leave it like that. I’ll be thinking on it…

Rough Day Today

Wow. Some days you think you just are not going to make it. It feels like every word of my designated hour was bad this morning. And only 900 words, too. Not sure how to get through this patch to the next bit. You know, where I start writing scenes I actually like again.

Monty, age 12, came in while I was writing. He likes to look over my shoulder and read. Usually he gets so interested he wants to ask questions, and begs to read more. Today he turned over and went back to sleep.

Faith. Gotta have faith faith faith.

It will get better, right?

Writing and Trust

I think writing is largely about trust. You have to trust that things will unfold okay.

At around 35k words on the novel I’m working with (my first), I hit a block. I  suddenly became aware that I am not, in any way, at all, cut out for the long form of a novel. My plot had become ridiculously complex and although I knew where the climax would go when I got there, I had no way to get to it. My writing became rambly and general and booo-oooring. I was bored to tears myself, so I can only imagine how a reader would feel.

Fortunately, an old professor of mine who is connected with me on Facebook (Chella Courington), posted this from Richard Bausch at about the same time:

Most of the trouble you have with writing anything is temporary–if you can manage to think only in terms of this one day’s work, while holding back anything other than the determination to stay there the appointed amount of time and struggle with it. As I’ve said many times, most everything ever written was written a little at a time, over time, in a lot of confusion and doubt. It’s the territory. Quite normal and all good. If you’re spending the time, confused or no, happy or no, it is all going very well indeed, even when it feels like failure. 

So the next morning, I got up again and wrestled for an hour. And guess what? The story started to make sense again, the path cleared before me like a fog lifting. Only a little, mind you. I can’t see to the end of the path yet. Just enough, and just enough is enough. Scene by scene, bird by bird. Keep wrestling, and trust. Trust that it will unfold.