I’ve been planning on giving birth to a baby dragon. I’ve planned for the dragon. I even consulted Daenerys Targaryen for parenting advice. She told me to leave room for the dragon to grow, and she threw in a few coupons to Pet Smart (thanks Danny). This is before she pillaged and went a little nutso.
I’ve planned for this dragon for years. It turns out I’m not having a dragon. I’m giving birth to a shape-shifting beast who mocks me. I don’t know what kind of book baby I’m having because the damn thing keeps changing. I’m in no way giving writing advice, but my advice is NOT to think the first draft is the final draft. Go ahead and file for a first draft divorce. You are going to lose your favorite scenes—the ones you wrote with flowing prose and perfect pacing, but they don’t move the story along. Your main character might not be your main character. (I just figured this out, and the anguish and grief will wane soon.) The setting might be off. Your POV may change. So, your baby dragon will look nothing like a baby dragon when you are done. If you can un-marry yourself from parts of the book that slow it down, don’t make sense, or are downright unnecessary, then you have done yourself a favor.
The scenes where you are dumping backstory, but nothing is happening, NEED. TO. GO. I’m learning to imbed the back story into the scene structure. But, this in itself, while keeping up pacing and weaving in theme and character arc is like juggling a knife, monkey, and a small child.
One thing I’m learning about writing is that I know nothing about writing. Here’s the epiphany that keeps my masochistic obsession going. I’ve always strived to know the most I can about any subject. Peeling back the never ending layers of the writing onion is daunting. I dissected 140 scenes. I came the harsh reality that many of the scenes do not move my story forward. I loved and nurtured those scenes. I fed them dragon food and stayed up with them at night. I’m uninviting them to the party. It doesn’t matter how fun they are or how much I like them. Ok, so cut, delete, slash..what’s left?
I will unearth the bare bones and scrape away the layers of dirt covering my story. Once I see the skeleton, I’ll add the flesh and other vital organs.
From here on out, I will outline all future writing projects. It makes more sense to start with the skeleton instead tearing into the body of a Frankenstein monster first draft.
I have another conversation with my editor on Friday. I’ll have my shovels and picks ready. Here’s to writing, never giving up, and loving your inner shape-shifter.
I’ve been Instagram-shamed by both of my daughters. Violet: “Why are you posting everything twice? You have the picture on your story and on your page.” Me: “I am posting on my page then putting it on my story. Doesn’t the picture need to be there first in order for me to put in on the story? I tried archiving, but the picture disappeared? Oh, and what are those little circle highlight things? Can you put those on my page…uh…story…?” Violet: “Give me your phone. Look at the tiny icon of you. Do you see it?” Me: “Yes.” Violet: “Click on that, press this, double click here, do 23 burpees, dance around a maypole, and wait for a full moon. Then you can post. Violet took my phone. She performed some crazy, maniacal blurry finger magic vampire edits to my Instagram. When she was gone, I attempted to post ONE TIME. The icon she showed me had disappeared. I posted twice which seems to be the reason some people were convicted of witchcraft. I assumed she wouldn’t know. But, it’s social freaking media, and she knew. A few days later… Serena: “Why are you posting on your page and in your story?” Violet: “What happened? I showed you how to post. Remember? The other night, in the kitchen?” She followed this up with a post on Instagram proclaiming that she spent two hours schooling me on Instagram. I tried to find the post, to post here, but it’s gone, or in some secret cyber abyss. Me: “Yes, but there were a lot of steps. There may have been wine. Why can’t it all be my story? What’s the difference? Why do some posts stay and other posts disappear?” Serena: “Also, what’s up with the 1,000 words a day update every day? It’s kind of random. You don’t explain it anywhere.”
I was about to publish this blog when Violet decided to write a letter. Although this part digresses from the topic at hand, I couldn’t leave this out based on my recent Instagram shaming. Violet: Do we have envelopes? ( I get her an envelope.) Violet: Where does the address go?” I’m suddenly feeling like writing-letter-shaming her. Me: “You don’t know how to address an envelope?” Violet: “No, that’s why I’m asking.” This was delivered in her best OMG/DUH tone. Me: “Her address goes in the middle.” (I point to the middle of the envelope.) Violet: “Do we have stamps?” For the love…I get her a stamp and place it on the correct spot. Me: Your address goes here.” I point to the upper left hand corner of the envelope. Although there were no reasonable spots left, I thought I should show her. Envelope sealed. Violet: Do I go to the post office to mail this?” Me: “Put your letter inside the mailbox, lift the red flag, and the letter will disappear, like magic.” I reminded her that this was the old- school communication equivalent to my neophyte Instagram skills.
I knew I wanted to be a writer/story-teller when I was in second grade. This was the period where I was banned from show-and-tell. Instead of talking about an oblong object found in my mom’s nightstand, or a kitchen appliance–grabbed at the last minute, on the way to school, so I could participate in show-and-tell–I invented my own stories. I used this as my time to get literary feedback from my erudite audience. ‘My brother is missing. He put on my mother’s favorite dress and her favorite red lipstick. He got on a raft and sailed away on the Chattahoochee River. We haven’t seen him since.’ This was in the hub-bub of the Wayne Williams child abduction cases. Coincidentally, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Williams. I assumed they were related, thus explaining her abrupt end to my story. She told me to sit down, and I wasn’t allowed to participate in show-and-tell anymore. It turns out that they weren’t related. I
Twenty years ago, I started writing my novel. I stopped at about 54,000 words. I don’t know why. The characters had been developed. The entire story had been outlined on notecards. I met with writers who were in the editing and publishing stages of their books. They gave me feedback, and I made the changes. But, that voice, kept going, ‘Why do you think you could ever write a book? Who do you think you are?‘ I didn’t have the answer then, but I have it now. ‘Because I can, and I will.‘ If I had that voice years ago, I can’t imagine what I could have accomplished. I’m not saying it’s a great book, but it’s me, and it’s my heart and soul. So, in that respect, it’s great.
I’ve kept myself accountable by posting my daily word count. I have gotten up at 5:30 (during my teacher ‘summer break’) to get in my 1,000 words (and to work out). Finishing my book is a non-negotiable. Quitting is so much easier than following through. The time we take to complain about our sorry lots in life could be time used to fuel our drive to start living our dreams. It is no one else’s fault if our dreams don’t happen. But,isn’t it easier to blame those people or events who had a negative impact on our lives eons ago? Those people don’t think about us, haven’t thought about us, and some may not even remember us. It’s easier to reach into the Mary Poppins’ bag of life and pull out the myriad of excuses that tell us it’s ok not to follow through. Looking in the mirror and literally and figuratively reflecting on our ‘stuff’ is difficult. We are socially trained not to boast. We all know those people who hang their own moons. But, it is important to honor what we have achieved. It is necessary to name those achievements and think about how we got to those ‘wins’.
When I was in the fitness industry, I wanted to win a body building competition. I didn’t say participate, I said win. There is a huge difference between merely participating and going for a win. I learned then that I shouldn’t put limits on my dreams. There are plenty of people out there who will do that for me. I worked toward this goal with drive and willpower that I didn’t recognize. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Every day, I trained for three-four hours, practiced the competition routines, and ate bland and boring food. My family didn’t understand my goal. I may as well have been training to be a rodeo clown or a circus performer. I competed in one fitness and three bodybuilding shows. I kept training and dreaming and imagining that win. Every day I thought, “I‘m one day closer to my win.”
I won my third bodybuilding show. Hearing my name in the same sentence as first place was surreal. I am grateful to have had that moment of sheer accomplishment. I was so happy and proud of myself. I had imagined my dream true. When I went out to the lobby to meet my family, my father wasn’t there. He had left before he knew I won. I embarrassed him because I was on stage in a bathing suit. I leave that part of the story in because although his absence was like a gut punch, I owned my win. I honored my determination and my drive. Other people don’t have to buy in or approve of our dreams. I know my dad was proud of me. He was uncomfortable seeing me in a bathing suit, on a stage, performing a bodybuilding routine because of how he was raised. Some people will not understand or support our dreams, and that’s ok. My dad had his reasons for leaving. But his reasons for leaving did not affect my reasons for staying.
A few years ago, I decided to go back to school and earn my Specialist degree. It was horrible. These days were rough. I taught all day, drove about an hour to school, then sat in class for three hours. When I got home, I’d do homework. The weekends were filled with grad work and lesson planning. On grad school days, I treated myself to a Diet Dr. Pepper from Chic Filet. This coming from the anti-soda, former vegan Nazi. There were group projects. I would rather have a pap smear and a wisdom teeth removal in lieu of participating in a group project as a middle-aged human. I had help; people supported me. But at the end of the work/school/homework/paying bills/taking care of kids day–it was me who got up with hope thinking , ‘today is one day closer to my diploma‘.
Eighty-thousand plus words went from my brain to the page. The words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are in their own unique order. I developed characters who live in a world I created. I completed my first draft of my manuscript! It may go nowhere. It may suck like Howard the Duck (which, in my opinion, was the worst movie ever made). I kept my promise to myself. I am done with quitting at the first sign of failure. Build a bridge; get over it,and slay those dreams!
This is the beginning of my novel-writing journey. I will be advised to remove some well-intentioned yet unnecessary plot points. I will need to develop some characters more, and scale back on the characterization of others. Maybe, the story will flatline from chapter one. I’ll fix it. I’ll rework it. But, I will not give up on it which would be the same as giving up on myself.
Here’s to achieving GOALS, recovering from Instagram shame, and learning how to address a freaking envelope!