Resistance is futile … or is it?

This has been a rough week, the second of two spent out of town for the day job.  I’m exhausted, feeling ill, and I seem to be getting a lot of bad news, or rather I’m taking the news (in itself, neither bad nor good, just news) I’m receiving rather poorly.  I know, that’s my problem, not yours, but I’m sharing anyway in the hope that someone out there might benefit from my momentary struggles.

On a side note, I was moved to join Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group, but the sign up page does not appear to exist at the moment (!)  Yes, it’s been that kind of week.

This goes back to the issue of having, or in my case lacking, thick skin.  When I blogged about this originally, I wrote that having thick skin was kind of like being brave.  Being brave doesn’t mean you’re fearless, it means that you act despite your fear.  Having thick skin doesn’t mean shrugging off criticism or refusing to be affected by it.  Having thick skin means that you have to find a way to view criticism objectively, find a way to accept what you can, compromise where necessary, stick to your guns on what you believe is truly essential, justify your position, and write on.

That’s where I’m having trouble this week, and I think I just need some time to get some objective distance.

So what was the news?  The biggie was the illness of a friend.  The specifics I won’t get into because they’re not mine to share.  Needless to say, it was a bit of a blow.  Perhaps it was more of a trigger.

It’s coloured everything else I’ve done, and all the feedback I’ve received, this week: my coursework, my day job, and especially my writing.  What would otherwise be constructive criticism (taken in stride), or even compliments, have taken on a significantly more subversive tone.

Fraud, the sub-text whispers …

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...

writer’s block – crushed and crumpled paper on notepad (Photo credit: photosteve101)

Why?  I’m blocked.  For the first time in years I can’t write a sentence without rewriting it five times.  Even then, I delete half of what I’ve written (the equivalent of the old-timey writer crumpling up sheet after sheet of paper as they emerge from the typewriter) and try to come up with something that has meaning.

For five years, I’ve written every day.  I’ve returned to the words and they haven’t failed me.  Until this week.  I’m hitting a crisis point, truly overwhelmed, and clueless as to how to proceed.  Surely this means that epiphany can’t be far away?

What I really think is that my old frenemy, depression, is starting to rear its ugly head again.  And yes, it’s my head, so I can call it ugly if I want.

Time to count my blessings:

  1. My health.
  2. My husband (wonderful man – unlimited hugs).
  3. My mom (amazing woman).
  4. My friends (all of them, a blessing in my life).  I have to note a couple of specifics here: Margaret, out of the blue, sent me a card because we’d shared emails of woe; Kim put a quote of mine on her forthcoming book cover (wonderful poet! I’m so honoured!).
  5. My work friends.  More specifics: Monica, dealing with some heavy personal issues of her own, saved our training bacon this week; the training team – most of us got together last night for a lovely evening out and lots of laughter and hugs were shared; my manager commended the training team for our superb work and dedication.
  6. My dog.  Has to be said: unconditional love and sweetness.  Panacea 🙂
  7. My critique group, honest and tough, but very supportive.  They help me become a better writer.
  8. The Wordsmith Studio community, sources of great ideas and resources, chats (though I don’t get to participate as often as I’d like), and networking.
  9. My classmates and our instructor: encouraging and informative.  Another virtual community in the making.

I’ll work my way through this rough patch.  The way is not yet clear, but with all of the above help, how can I not succeed?  Sometimes we just need a reminder.  Life is good, folks, for all that it seems otherwise.

Is anyone else out there fighting the good fight?  What do you do to remain positive?  Any tips and tricks to share?

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The endless, stuttering, intermittent draft

As promised, I’m taking a break from worldbuilding, itself a fairly endless task, to talk about my most recent draft.

Officially, this is number six (oh gawd, will I ever be finished?) but I’ve actually been through the MS once, and now I’m editing in fits and starts between critiquing and platform-building, and working.

I’m so tired, I feel like I’m sleepwalking.  With my somnabulant history, maybe I am …

I started honing number six in January when I joined my critique group on Author Salon.  The focus, at first, was my profile, which only featured about six pages of my writing, plus a short synopsis, hook line, conflict statement, protagonist, antagonist, and other character sketches, unique world, climax and denouement.

I still haven’t got the hang of it.

In February, AS announced their first Showcase, and I submitted my bits and pieces, only to be advised that my novel was far too long to be considered.  This happened at the same time that my original blog, labbydog, was hacked.

Faced with two fairly substantial pieces of bad news, I was initially paralyzed.  As I cobbled together my online life, I tried to figure out how I was going to compress a 250,000 word novel into 110,000 words (the AS upper limit).  I sat in a stunned boggle for days trying to think of what I could cut without sacrificing the story.

When my mind stopped spinning long enough to have a coherent thought, I realized the solution was simple, and had been staring me in the face the whole time: cut the bloody thing in half, revise, and edit down from there.  It was a far less daunting task that the one I was considering, and eminently doable.

So I cut, and went through the whole thing, tweaking as I went.  My mid-point was actually a little more than half-way through the original MS and even after that first review, I was still at 150,000 words.

In March, I also posted my first 50 pages to the AS critique group.  Well it was supposed to be the first 50 pages, but mine was close to 90.  The feedback I got was great, but meant that I would have to rewrite a fair chunk of my first act.  I started thinking about how I was going to do that.

Then life got a bit crazy.  March 14 would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, followed in quick succession by the anniversary of his death and funeral in April.  I wanted the world to stop at that point, but the crazy continued with some unexpected kudos at work and a new position in May.

At that point, I was just struggling to keep up, treading water and taking big gulps of air while the waves washed over me.  I know I was overwhelmed.  I knew it even then, I just didn’t have the time to feel it.  I didn’t work on my novel for the entire month of May.

Since then, I’ve conquered the rewrite, revised 30 pages out of the first part of Initiate of Stone, and just recently returned to the critiquing world.

So I haven’t finished this strange draft yet.  I have to work through the three remaining parts of the novel and cut the words/pages to the point where IoS is a streamlined machine, within the AS word limits, and hopefully suitable for a future AS Showcase.

I also have to revise my profile (again) to try and reflect the unique angle my novel presents.  This is a challenge, because IoS is a straight up, traditional fantasy.

What this process has taught me so far:

  • Life continues to happen while you’re making other plans.  It doesn’t stop because you want or even need it to.  The good and the bad crop up at the most inconvenient times and you just have to deal, take care of yourself, and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.
  • Balance is the thing.  Time and project management skills come to the fore when you’re under stress.  Do what you can and don’t feel guilty.  It is enough.  You are enough.  All will be well.
  • Don’t stop writing.  Even though I wasn’t working on my novel, I was still writing, critiquing, and blogging.  Return to the words every day, and they will reward you every time.
  • Have a plan, or, if the plan you have isn’t working, change it up.  You can be the most meticulously organized person in the world, and something will always happen that sets everything awry.  It’s not a failure unless you quit.  Sometimes you just have to angle into the wind a bit more to keep sailing in a straight line 🙂
  • Write what you want to write, but then you have to find a way to make the concept of your novel interesting to an agent or publisher.  I’m still working on this one.

Will let you know how it goes.

A wee side note here: I’ve started using the super-cool journal my friend Margaret gave me for Christmas.  Embossed leather cover with a nifty semi-precious stone embedded in the leather, home-made, recycled paper laced into the cover.  I even have a refill that I can lace in when I’ve used up all of these pages.

Isn’t it just the coolest writer-gift ever?  I think so.

How is your creative project going?

Finding awesomeness at Laurentian University

It was a brave new world and I had a newfound dedication to my studies.

Phil didn’t turn out to be a distraction at all, but facilitated my work with his support, and by providing me with a computer on which to write my many essays.  Soon I was spending a lot of time at his place, locked up in the basement with his 286.  I had a computer too, thanks to one of my correspondence courses, but it wasn’t even that powerful.  Seriously.  My mind boggles when I try to remember what life was like back then.

In any event, my renewed academic career was full of B’s, B+’s, A-‘s, and A’s.  I started entering writing contests … and won third place in one.  I wrote a column for Lambda, the Laurentian University Student Newspaper.  My essays began to be featured in the English Literature Society’s annual academic conference, and a couple were recognized by the English department as among the best of the year.  I entered the President’s Award Essay Writing Contest and received and honourable mention.  I also participated in a colloquium on the future of the university.

Enter great teacher of my life number three, Dr. Susan Dobra.  She was from California and ended up returning there after a few years.  While she was at LU, I considered her to be my most significant influence and one of the reasons why I excelled.

Unfortunately, my appreciation of her approached the stalker-ish.  I do hope she’ll forgive me 🙂

Another reason was Dr. Hoyt Greeson, with whom I studied Old English and Chaucer.  I and several of my fellow students joined him on a road trip to Kalamazoo, MI for an academic conference in medieval literature.  It was a great experience to be exposed to the theses and dissertations being written by some of the best and brightest in the field.

A third positive influence and support was Dr. Laurence Steven.  Through him, I entered a program whereby I became a writing assistant.  I essentially taught the composition portion of the first year English literature survey course for a couple of years.  Yes, as an undergrad.  I also tutored through the Writing Across the Curriculum Program.  Laurie was my advisor for my honours thesis project as well, which received the departmental award for best honours project that year.

Honestly, I can’t think of any professor I had at LU that wasn’t a great influence on me.  There was one I didn’t see eye to eye with, but I still benefitted from his class.

I also gained a couple of special friends on the way, Yana and Kim.  Yana was (and remains) a wunderkind.  Yana knew what she wanted from the first: to be a teacher.  Everything she did was focused on that goal and she was a brilliant student.  She also had an interest in writing science fiction.  She was president of the English Literature Society the year I joined.  Through Yana, I started working at the Huntington music library.  It was a student job that would see me through several years.

Kim is a poet and in many ways, a kindred spirit.  We were TA’s and tutors together.

All of us participated in several ELS events including a particularly memorable poetry sweatshop in competition with the professors.  Together we had some grand adventures, becoming groupies of Great Big Sea and following them around the province for a summer.

With Yana, I took karate lessons, and for myself, I joined the Bel Canto Chorus.  Creativity is fed in different ways.

Phil proposed, and we were married July 15, 1994.

Margaret, though she had moved to Port Elgin with her spouse, continued to keep in touch and keep tabs on my creative efforts.  She invited me down to Port Elgin for a workshop with Susanna Kearsley, author of the recently published Mariana and winner of the Catherine Cookson Award.

I took a creative writing course with Dr. John Riddell–Siobhan’s father; don’t you love synchronicity?–and had one of my stories published in an anthology as a result.  I started participating in writers’ groups and became ELS president in my last year of study.  I wrote a short article for Slin Roller magazine.  Thanks to my short story prize and publication, I was invited to write a science fiction story for the flagship issue of Parsec Magazine.  By the time I graduated cum laude in 1995, I was on my way.

Focus is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen in school, but at work, or at home.  When you have a particular goal in mind, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.  When and where did the pieces of your creative puzzle first come together in awesomeness?