Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Falling Down

Six weeks ago I was biking in Hilton Head with my family when I had trouble pedaling up a steep hill.  I put my foot on the ground, intending to dismount and push the bike up the hill.  I don’t remember much, but I felt more than heard the snap, crackle, pop in my ankle just before I went down, skinning my arm in the process.   I couldn’t move, much less stand.  I just knew a shard of bone was sticking out of my ankle as I lay there on the scorching pavement under the shade of palms waving in the wind, praying no one would come flying over the hill on their bike and run me over.  When Mark helped me to my feet, the shock kicked in and tingles rippled through my leg, replacing the shards of electric pain.  Blackness closed in around and nausea rose in my stomach and chest and I knew sitting was going to be a semi-permanent position for while. 

Level three sprain, the doctor called it.  I had completely torn the ligaments.  My ankle was swollen to three times its normal size, a thick fat sausage, black and blue and purple all over.  It was going to be a long time before I could walk without the help of crutches or the special boot they’d given me. 
And running was definitely (depressingly) out of the question for at least three months.   

Like running, writing is something that’s pretty much a part of who I am.  I put on my ear buds, listen to music, and run for miles, free and happy and listening to my characters tell me their stories.   They’re real, and I feel what they’re feeling.  But like that bicycle six weeks ago, a couple of rejections have knocked me down, telling me that my writing is passive, my characters are not engaging, my beginnings are weak, my worlds aren’t clear. 

(Sickening crack of ligaments tearing, crashing to the ground)

See, writers are used to rejection.  I certainly am.  When agents and publishers receive an average of fifteen hundred queries a week, rejection is almost a given.  We pick ourselves up and try again.  And again.  But these very specific ones left me on the ground, broken and unable to get up.  Confidence, like a body, can wane the older one gets, I suppose.  It takes longer to heal.

But, it does, surely if not slowly.  The light reveals itself around the darkness.  Aching throbs will probably always be in that joint, but at least my shoes fit now.  I have to wear a small brace but only sometimes hobble around like an extra from The Walking Dead, and running is, well, still not happening.  But, I can get up and walk around on my own, unlike that first day.

The rejection aches, too, but they let me know I tried; they told me what I may need to work on and yeah, even told me some good things about my work.  I saw these once the dust settled and eventually that Scarlet O’Hara “another day” attitude did kick in and that felt good.  And so this is me, pushing myself off the pavement, ready to go again.  I may not be hitting the pavement running like I want, but I’m up and I’m walking around. 

I’m probably never going to write as much as or at the level that I want, just like I can’t run at the level that I want right now.  I might never, but here’s the thing: I love it. 

Injuries and rejections don’t take that away. 

And so that’s why I’m still here, listening to my characters, trying to tell their stories the best I can.  

Eventually I’ll be running while listening to them, too!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—Taught Me

Image result for nanowrimo

In November, I committed to NaNoWriMo—to write a book in a month or less.  I’d had an image in my mind for a long time of two characters in conversation.  I often fell asleep thinking about them, but I never explored their story beyond that.  I always just kept it for myself. 

But in November of 2017, I wanted to know more.  I knew it was NaNoWriMo, that month when writers are crazy enough to try to write an entire book in a month.  It’s an easy thing to say one is going to do, but nothing short of exhausting to complete, especially when time seems to slip away like a melting ice cream cone.  But I wanted to know their story, and I chose NaNoWriMo to have them tell it to me from beginning to end.  I’d tried it before, but never finished, sometimes never got started good.  Would I finish it this time?

I started with the scene I’d envisioned so many times,  and it ended up being several pages in.  I committed to writing every single day whether the characters were speaking up, telling me their story (in which I wrote upwards of 4,000 words a day) or not (in which it was a struggle to get 700+ words).  It was nearly impossible to miss a day because if I did, that would be double the work the day after.  I made the choice to just do it and had to make sacrifices, sometimes, with that choice.  I was teaching three classes online where I would have fifteen new essays to grade every few days.  And Connor and Lydia were still my first priority and so taking care of them—whether it was getting them to school or picking them up, taking them to lessons or appointments, remembering school responsibilities, due dates, helping with homework, reading stories or making art together—took precedence.  Then there was the everyday domestic work of cooking, cleaning, and laundry.  Oh, and we volunteer to teach Sunday School once a month for our church and we hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year.

I had to make sacrifices.  There were a lot of nights I didn’t get a lot of sleep, days I didn’t go for my daily run because I made the choice to write instead.  I’d be falling asleep writing, my carpal tunnel killing me, bones aching and nauseated because I’ve been awake and pushing my body for too long—it’s not easy, but the feeling after is nothing short of wonderful.  It’s like after a run—wonderfully exhausting. 

But despite the exhaustion and sacrifices, something this called to mind and reminded me of from when I had a lot of time to write is that it’s freeing, also.  You write every day, you stay with the characters in their minds, in their stories, you go with the ideas that come next and sometimes (not always) those are the best because they’re your first instinct and more often than not, first instinct is best. 

I’m usually thoughtful after I write.  I need time to think and process and maybe just dwell with my characters a little so something I learned, also, is that night time is a good time for me to write because when I’m done, I can set my laptop aside, lay down and just let these thoughts open up in my mind before sleeping and then when I get up the next day, I’m fresh enough to look over what I’ve written with new eyes or have thought enough about it to be ready to start the next scene.

So, writing every day (no matter how tired I am) and at night has been a new goal, a 2018 resolution if you will.  It won’t be easy, with teaching a new class, taking two, learning a new job and still keeping up with best thing that ever happened to me J .  But, it’ll be wonderfully exhausting.  I can’t write a book in a month (maybe next November, though), but  every day—even if it’s a little.