Surprise Skeletons and a Late Night Run in the Rain: My Week in Review

This morning I decided that the next step in my accountability plan is to report back here- if I have to tell you about my successes and failures, then perhaps I will try a bit harder to give you something good. I know I get spotty with my follow-through, but it’s time to change my thinking and hold myself to the promises that I made. I’m also going to get a bit more specific with my goals- that way I can actually give myself a ‘grade’ for the week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of these new ideas in place until this morning, so this review is going to be a bit of an overview.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a week, mainly because of work. I went in Monday morning slightly dreading an activity I had on my agenda that day. But a co-worker turned that all around for me. I hadn’t been in my own office for more than a few minutes over the past week and half because I was busy covering for people in other departments. I missed my little hole in the wall and my lovely little plants (all named after Wild West personas). When I stepped into my hallway all of the lights were off and my office door was closed- both very unusual things. When I opened it, this is the sight that met my eyes.

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Meet Burnie, borrowed from the Fire Department to give me a nice little scare. It set the tone for the rest of my day; Monday way going to be good, come hell or high water- I was going to be happy and productive.

The rest of the week was a bit of a challenge on the work front, leaving me a tad exhausted and creatively tapped out by the time I got home. I worked on my editing, but not as thoroughly as I wanted to. I was having a hard time getting into the story, I even tried switching to a different project at one point, but without much luck. I got a little bit done, but there is a lot left to do if I want to meet that goal by the end of the month. At this rate I may need to turn October into another editing month (with a dash of Nano Prep sprinked in, that’s right, we are getting close my friends!).

On the bright side, I’ve been trying to journal a bit more- to keep myself sane and mindful. And while I haven’t been keeping up with it daily, I did finish out the journal I’ve been writing in (yay). I love cracking open a new one, and actually- I’ve come a long way since I started this last one. I love going back through and re-reading where I started vs. where I ended. Today I am going to pull out a new one (I have a couple stock-piled), and see what happens in the next few months. It’s been helping. I’ve been feeling more centered, more in control of my life and aware of what’s going on around me. I need to try to unplug a bit more often though. I’ve been catching myself dinking around on my phone a lot without doing anything productive, so that is something to work on this coming week.

Last night I was sitting in my pj’s listening to the rain outside and attempting to get some editing done, but I was getting distracted by the blasted interwebs. So you know what I did? I am so proud of this- Zach and I got up, changed and went out for a late night jog in the rain! Yay for finally getting my booty back out there! We took it easy because its been so long since we last went out. But it felt good to get moving. We signed up for a Stage Race next summer, so we’re getting back in shape for that. I think I’m going to sign up for a few 5k’s to keep myself motivated.

Overall- I didn’t have a home run week, but I’m slowly adding new elements to it. Considering the exhausting work week- I am still proud of what I did manage to get done. Sometimes we have to be flexible, sometimes life throws you a few curve balls that you have to roll with. I am forever a work in progress, but at least I am still working.

 

Armed with a Pen: The Editing War

You must view your work with the clinical eye of a forest fire: burn down the old to make room for the new. Unless you are descended straight from the muses themselves, the first draft is going to be a ragamuffin of a creation in desperate need of some TLC. For me personally, finishing that first draft is a mixed blessing; I’m elated that I actually saw the project through to the final sentence, and I am simultaneously terrified of the mountain that is now looming before me. The editing process takes up the vast majority of my project time; to use an over-worked example: if writing were an iceberg, the first draft would be the little blip on the surface, but the editing is the hulking beast just below the water line. Suffice it to say, it’s a large investment. I have never been able to take the image I have in my head and get it down on paper perfectly the first time. I don’t think I would trust anyone who could do something like that, it just isn’t natural.

I wish I had a series of masterful tricks and rules to impart on the best practices for the editing endeavor, but alas, I do not. I stumble through the process blindly, just like everyone else. It’s really just a matter of grit and determination. I do, however, have my own personal set of guidelines that I try to follow when I reach this stage of the game. I am not a pro, but thus far they have worked out well for me. Spoiler: it involves a lot of reading and re-reading.

If I had to condense my editing theories and boil them all down into one word, it would be: distance. There is nothing more important than giving yourself space to find perspective on your project. It’s more difficult than you would think; these stories take up our lives, we pour our hearts and souls into them, we string one word after another even when we don’t think we have the energy to complete one more sentence. So to take something that is so personal and try to view it with a clinical eye can feel next to impossible some days.

What, you may ask, is the easiest way to create distance between you and your project? Well, it is no different than creating distance between you and a friend (and no, I am not telling you to have a few too many drinks and decide to have an ‘honest conversation’ with your novel about the new man in it’s life). Time- that is the answer- time creates distance, its only natural. After I finish the last sentence on my novel, I close it up, and stick it on a shelf. Then I work on something else- anything else to get my mind off of the old project and immersed in something new.

In a few weeks, when I finally feel like I am ready to start digging down into the trenches, I will take it down, dust it off and crack the cover open. The first read through is going to be the easiest part. This first round is always where I get a feel for the way my story is presenting itself to the reader. I take care of any small corrections: spelling, grammar, name usage, etc. I also make a ton of notes on scenes that need to be changed, impressions that I get and new additions that have to be worked in. Personally, my first drafts always wind up feeling a bit too ‘fluffy’ for my tastes. So this is the point where I start modifying my word choice and adding some tougher scenes to force the grit to bubble to the surface. It’s always important to pay attention to the building blocks of your story and view how it unfolds to an outsider. I want to capture the big picture before I start tearing at all of the little pieces of my work.

The second round is where the true damage will take place. In round one I am merely an ember; in round two I turn into a raging fire, burning through my work mercilessly. Do not go into this task lightly, my friends. I come ready for literary war at this point. Never charge at that first page without being fully armed with your pen, willing and able to slash through the enemy letters without batting an eye, using copious sticky notes as your shield. This is where most words will be shed, each one fighting for their right to survive through to the final production. There can be no mercy when you are a warrior of the words; everything must have a purpose, the prose must tighten their ranks like the Spartans, each character must fall into their proper role, and all plot holes must be expertly paved over. You forge your work in the fire, making it stronger because of the trials it must endure at your hands.

I’ve found that a thesaurus will be one of your best friends at this stage, test your boundaries, pay attention to the connotation of your word choices, and whenever possible, condense. You can easily give a stronger emphasis to the underlying feel of your novel simply based on your word choice. For example: saying that someone is anxious will give you a stronger feeling than saying that they are very worried, the same way that saying you cherish someone gives you a warmer feeling than that you simply like or love them. Be intentional with the words that you choose, they will become your voice.

Pay attention to your characters and make sure that they remain true to themselves throughout the work, consistency will really give your novel the polish that it needs to become a believable piece. I go so far as to test the dialog: reading their quotes out loud to get a feel for how natural my word choice and inflections are. Are these things that you can actually picture your character saying or do they need to be changed? Do they have enough conflict? Never make anything easy for them; add some drama by strategically placing a few more problems for them to overcome.

When you are all done go back and do it again, as many times as you need. Keep tearing it down and rebuilding it until you feel like it has finally matured enough to stand up on its own. It’s not an easy process, and I know my system is a bit labor intensive; I’m sure someone else out there has a much easier way to go about this. But it’s always worked for me, and editing is one of those things that I firmly believe should not be rushed.

September is the month of going back; I’m pulling out old projects, dusting them off and pushing through until they feel ready. It is one of the most difficult parts of the process, but it is also one of my favorites. I love re-reading scenes that I once wrote, getting lost in a story of my own creation for a fleeting moment and rediscovering what I once loved about these characters. It feels great to dust off the pages and make them shine. I can only hope that the second, or third, or fourth draft will finally sound like the story that I had in my mind, the one that kept me awake at night before I was able to get it all down on paper.

September Goals

This year seems to be slipping through my fingers faster than my dog when he realizes it’s bath time. September is almost upon us, and with that comes a new set of goals and aspirations, something I have been talking a lot about the past week. So what will be on the agenda this coming month? (drum roll please)

September is going to the month of returning to my roots, of refining what I have, its going to be the month to go back and make things shine. I have a large number of projects in some stage of the editing process- in my mind they are still not ready for beta readers, although I know of at least one that is so close I can almost taste it. I have far too many projects languishing in this semi-unfinished state. So this month I am going to hone in and start the tedious task that is editing. I’m actually really excited about it. When I was cleaning out my desk yesterday I came across on of the notebooks containing all of my plot notes for my Twisted Fairytale (I have yet to commit to a name, so nicknames will have to suffice at this point). This one is the closest to completion, and it was one of my all-time favorites to write. That’s probably because when I started it, I meant for it to just be practice, there was no pressure with the prospect of future eyes roving over it in judgment. Along the way, I fell in love with the concept and have been pouring more of my heart and soul into it. It’s about time that the little creation see the light of day and get some input that will really make her shine.

I’m going to also take the time to refocus this blog, getting back on track with quality content that will hopefully interest a few people. I am feeling rejuvenated, and I want that to show in my work. I am going to run with this energy while I have it. I am excited to plunge back into the research and start jotting down lines for a few of the topics I have lined up in the coming weeks. I feel like I’ve lost my voice recently, and I am finally getting it back.

Personally, I am going to keep in mind that balance I’ve been talking about. The plan is to keep up with my journaling, even if it is only for fifteen minutes at night. I will start getting up early to work out, my body is just as important as my mind. I am going to work harder at staying in the moment and giving my full attention to whatever I happen to be doing.

So here we go, the goals, simply laid out:

  • Journal 5 days a week for at least fifteen minutes
  • At least 5 blog posts a week
  • Edit Twisted Fairy Tale until it is ready for beta reading (I am hoping to work on a few other projects, but this is the one I want to have done by the end of the month)
  • Work out 30 minutes five days a week
  • Follow meal plan
  • Walk the dog every day (or substitute another activity to keep him sane)
  • Research projects: 15 minutes a day minimum

I am so excited for this month, it is going to feel fantastic to start getting my projects ready for others to see. It’s terrifying, but that’s the name of the game. I can do this, I know that I can. I just have to make sure that I don’t burn myself out this time around. I have to stay mindful and keep on track. It’s going to be a beautiful month, I can feel it now.

 

 

Technological Love Spat meets Determination

I’m writing this post on my cell phone because my laptop and router seem to be having yet another lovers quarrel, and the router is refusing to let anyone connect to resolve the conflict. She has figuratively locked herself in the bathroom and until she decides to open the door and reconnect to the outside world, I am stuck typing on this teeny little touch pad. My fingers are far too large for this and autocorrect is getting much too clever for her own good tonight. But I am still here, writing away. 

This isn’t the first time that my two little technogoical love birds have found themselves in a spat- oh yes, I have bore witness to many a sudden disconnection- leaving me awkwardly hoping that the cute little quip I had finally concocted managed to save before the technogoical silent treatment ensued. Normally when this happens I go through a few stages of my own grief. First there is denial, where I repeatedly click the refresh button and hold my breath. Then there is anger (I will spare you the visual, but needless to say, it involves some very colorful swear words and threats- lots and lots of threats). After that I reach the bargaining stage: trying to make deals with my little cyber couple, using every episode of Friends I have ever seen to convince them that they do love each other and communication is the key to their happiness. From there I spiral into depression: I will never be the author that I hoped to be if I can’t depend on the tools at my disposal. I can’t exactly upload a post with my handy dandy notebook. And then I reach that blissful point of acceptance. This is where I resign myself to my fate, go find a tub of ice team, pick up the remote and begrudgingly embrace my writerless fate of The Big Bang Theory. Better luck next time, ole girl. 

But that was the old Katie, the pre-goal Katie, if you will. Today slinking away was not an option. Instead I got up, grabbed the leash and walked away my frustration with a very happy dog (simultaneously checking off another item on that ‘goals’ list I made). And when I got home, I was ready to give it my all- even if that meant delicately clicking these touch pad keys and scrutinizing every word to ensure that my chubby thumbs did not completely mangle it (providing autocorrect with creative license to turn it into anything her demonic little heart desired).

What’s the point to this odd little story, you may ask? It’s simple, really. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, there will always be something that decides to stand in your way. Life is good at givingus little tests of faith, trying to find how bad we really want what we are striving for. Sometimes we succeed and show our true grit, other times we fail and slink away to lick our wounds. The point is to get back up and keep on reaching, keeping on pushing yourself one step farther. Be creative if you have to, but don’t give up just because a roadblock tries to fall on you. Sometimes what you really need to do is stick out your tongue at the moody little router and remind her that you have a data plan you have been sparingly using this month for just such an occasion. 

You will only be defeated if you let yourself be. If you want an excuse, you’ll find one- the world is full of them. But if you want a solution, take a deep breath, find a new angle and look a little closer. There is always a work-around, if you are only willing to push yourself to find it. 

So tonight, I celebrate a small success. It’s just one little post, it’s not my best, it probably won’t be one that anyone finds particularly noteworthy- but it’s here. I set a goal, I promised myself one post every other day. And I kept it even though it was so easy to break, to back down and tell myself that I will simply write two days in a row next time to make up for it. Today I was determined, today I was tested, and today I passed. (Now if I could only find this kind of attitude for my alleged work-out routine. Baby steps, I guess).

Goals from the Ground Up

I have always been single minded and passionate when it comes to the goals that I set out, the dreams that I wish to accomplish. But I am coming to a slowly dawning realization about myself: I have always been the type to have big dreams, I make bold proclamations about goals that I will accomplish, setting out the self-improvement ladder that I wish to climb, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty follow through I get overwhelmed, I fizzle down until I burn out completely.

There is something to be said for chasing your dreams with a vengeance, for putting 110% into everything that you do. You’ll have time to rest when you are dead- isn’t that what they say? The problem with this little nugget of advice: it’s unsustainable. I’ve tried it, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. You are not built to be on the ground running night and day. Even the ocean knows that it cannot continually charge in it’s assault against the shore- even it knows that there is a time for the tide to go out, to retreat and find safety in it’s own calming waters. Life is full of waxing and waning; there are moments when you will be fully charged and ready to conquer the world, other days the only thing that will heal your soul are yoga pants, a ratty sweatshirt and a mug of steaming hot tea. There is a balance to life that you must embrace.

The difficult piece of this advice: there are far too many things in this world to do and experience, it feels like a waste of your precious time when you are not actively chasing down one of them. The world that we live in is overflowing with adventures to have, new experiences are constantly bubbling over, just waiting for your attention. Is it really any wonder that we struggle to slow down? Can anyone truly blame me for wanting to experience it all?

I have always had high expectations of myself. I want to be the Wonder Woman of my own life. I will openly admit that I selfishly want to be the kind of person that truly lives and makes it all look so damn easy. But the truth is that it’s not easy, and no matter how many times I don a cape- I am still not a super hero. I am simply a girl trying to figure out what path is right for me, or whether I should opt to forge into the overgrowth and create my own.

The crux of my issue was always the same: I needed to learn to follow my own internal rhythms, I needed to scale it down and focus on one thing that a time. I make goals that are too big for my lifestyle, ones that I will never been able to reach out and grab because they are simply to cumbersome for my bumbling fingers. I don’t make room for the question marks in life. Some of the best experiences I have had came without warning, when I took an opportunity that was presented to me without any idea where it would lead. When I try to over-plan my life to fit those illustrious goals, then I don’t make time for the real adventures that the world is literally throwing in my lap. There are so many things in life that you cannot plan or prepare for. There are wrenches out there who have a singular goal in life: to throw themselves into any well thought out plan you may have created. There are inevitabilities and contingencies. In a nutshell, you cannot plan for everything, and nor should you. By ignoring these possibilities, you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration.

I need to stop trying to plan out virtually every minute of my life and give myself an opportunity to actually live it. There is a balancing act that I need to work on. It is time to take one of my own lessons to heart and work on baby steps, to build the foundation that will serve me farther down the road. I need to focus on one piece of the puzzle instead of overwhelming myself with the big picture.

August is almost over, and with it, the goals I have set for myself have turned a bit sideways. So it’s time to take a deep breath and slow it down. I knew that this would be a busy month, so I think I will forgive my lack of focus- at least this time. For the next eleven days, I am going to start setting myself up for a successful September.

My goals for the last part of the month:

  • Put up a new blog post every other day
  • Plan out some of my topics and research projects for September
  • Finally finish the first draft of my July Camp Nano project
  • Walk the dog daily (otherwise he turns into a bored psychopath- think of a three-year old on a sugar high and you’ll have a rough idea of the madness that ensues. I’m just thankful he doesn’t have opposable thumbs)
  • Stretch twice a day
  • Make up my meal and fitness plan for September (because cultivating the body is just as important as cultivating the mind- and its also the one I am constantly neglecting).

There- that doesn’t seem too crazy, now does it? I need to work on the building blocks to get myself back on the right track. I need to work on my balance. With baby steps I will stand a chance. I have a hundred other things on my much bigger to-do list, and this doesn’t meant that I wont attempt to tackle a few of them while I am at it, but right now I am building my base. I need something solid to leap from. I will never make it if I don’t first create a firm footing to rest on. I can breath easy knowing I am building the habits that will help me succeed later.