Jan 26, 2014

Shifting priorities & changing projects--part 2.

So I'm continuing to chew over this whole thing where I'm changing projects and focuses. After I posted that about going away from LDS fiction yesterday, I had some sadness because I really am genuinely excited about the LDS contemporary story I'm working on right now. I am not kidding when I say I also love LDS fiction. And because I'm excited about that one right now, I should write it right now instead of setting it aside for several months or longer & having to come back and re-remember what I intended and get that whole train started again.

I have decided (and this is a tentative decision because it seems crazy to me) that what i need to do is work on both of them. I'm going to switch off every other day, working on one, then the other. That way I can finish them pretty much together, and that actually solves a big worry I've had. It's actually kind of an answer to prayer, I think. I've been praying about how to work on being a great writer for my current publisher but also placing a general fiction where it belongs. Finishing two novels at the same time is kind of a brilliant solution to the problem. And that's all I'm going to say about that for dipolomatic and legal reasons :)

But that means I need to ramp up the writing routine. I figure, if I decide to do 2000 words a day instead of 1100, and I am completely disciplined about not skipping even one day, and I write on Saturday as well as weekdays, that means I'm going to finish two novels in about the same time I've been able to finish one. It will mean probably writing for about 2 and a half hours per day.

That may be difficult. It means I'll be typing while nursing. Thanks to the inventor of the Boppy pillow, that is actually a possibility. It also means I'll be typing while nursing and also fielding questions from my kids about schooling, probably getting up to help them with things, and pause for moments at a time to discipline/make sure they're doing what they should be doing. But that's nothing new. I've had to be a writer that is interruptable. Kids come first.

Anyway. I'm kind of excited at the thought of becoming a bit more professional in my routine. If I write 2000 words per day, that means when I'm back down to writing just a novel at a time, I'll be finishing a couple of novels a year instead of just one. That may actually be necessary, if I end up with books in different venues/publishers. Which I really hope to do. In the perfect world, I'd write LDS fiction for Cedar Fort and Fantasy fiction for a more general well known national publisher. I don't know if that's even allowed. I hope so because that's what I'd love if I could just do it my way all the way.

Another plus about all this is, I finish my fantasy manuscript, and then I can really take time to be patient finding the right agent or publisher, because at the same time I'll be writing and publishing books with Cedar Fort and it's not like my career is on hold while I wade through rejections and then, when someone accepts me, wait the years until a book is actually published in a national market.

So this is a good thing. But it means writing really will be a part time job for me. I've been kind of waffling--doing what "feels right" in the moment, skipping days now and then. But I really need to focus and decide this is a job. Important, that I can't just shove aside whenever anything comes up. I had some inspiration during a temple session a while ago that sort of supports this decision to make it more serious. So... yeah. It all makes sense the way things do when you're finding the right answers. I hope.

Jan 25, 2014

Change of Projects, Change of Pace.

Lately I have felt worried about my writing career. LDS literature is what I've had published so far. It's what I have written that has been accepted and sent out there into the world to be read by people. And now people are kind of niche-ing me. Or starting to. I've had interviews lately on Modern Mormon Men and Motley Vision and Mormon Artist, and in each of these interviews I have been asked why I chose Mormon Lit as my venue. Well, it sort of chose me. That's what I've published so far.

Lately I have thought, well then, I need to make that my focus. I'll write three more LDS stories and give them over to my publisher. But when I'm done with those, I'm going another direction.

My feelings have changed suddenly. I have been editing two manuscripts. One of them is my sister's. One is a friend's. Both are fantasy.

See, my first love? It's fantasy.

Fantasy is what I breathed growing up. And it wasn't just writing, it was games in the backyard about fairies and monkey people and hags and good and evil and poor kids with magical abilities and rich people with lots of jewels, orphans with royal birthmarks, people who make their clothing out of flower petals.

Growing up, fantasy was my favorite. The Book of Three, the Black Cauldron. Dealing with Dragons. The Alanna books. The Ordinary Princess. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Stolen Lake. And all those scholastic or apple paperbacks about wishes that come true or dragons hatching from eggs or teachers being aliens. So, I have written and lived in fantasy from the time I was too small to really be writing yet.

Up until I started writing seriously, with more focus and intent, giving myself a word count and everything, my less-than-serious forays into novel writing (three abandoned chapters, five abandoned chapters, sketchbook full of maps and character descriptions and drawings of characters and places and people, ideas that accumulated in word documents and then got scattered and lost because there were so very many word documents containing ideas) was all fantasy.

Today I got a great idea about how to start the fantasy novel I have been rewriting for the last fifteen years. I did my most recent rewrite of it after Lightning Tree, and Cedar Fort rejected it due to some content. I would have gone on to submit it elsewhere if I didn't know it still needed a lot of work (including the content Cedar Fort objected to. I'm still not sure how necessary it is to my story. Trying to decide.) But today, I got an idea that I think will solve all of that. You have to start a novel at the correct point in the story--that was my problem. I started it in the wrong place.

I also realized that I was writing the story like it was a YA fantasy. This story is an epic fantasy. Totally different. For one thing, an epic fantasy can be longer, so I don't have to think "Okay, how do I tell this entire story in the space of 350 pages." And for another, it's kind of expected that in epic fantasy you meet a lot of people and go a lot of places.

Try telling an epic fantasy in the space allotted to a YA novel. If you're a fantastic writer, you might be able to do it. I'm betting H.G. Wells could do it. I'm not a fantastic writer yet, however. I'm just a pretty-ok writer.

Anyway, I got this idea for a starting point, and the idea just boiled over in my head. And I felt, today, more excited than I have felt about writing in a while.

I kind of need to write this one, maybe. Next. Not after my butterfly story about the guy who ages out of the singles' ward and the third in my planned trio of Historical LDS novels. I've been saying that to myself for a while in the same way you say to yourself, salad first, then dinner, then you can have your dessert. But the thing is, if it's what I love to write most, and it's what's taking over my brain right now, why am I making myself do other stuff?

I am niche-ing myself and drying myself out as a writer. And I'm feeling discouraged because while the audience for LDS fiction is very loyal and wonderful, it's not very big. I can't go ahead and tell all my Facebook friends, "buy my book, you'll love it!" Because some of them wouldn't. I have tons of friends who love fantasy, and a smaller number of friends who love Mormon fiction. Not even most of my Mormon friends read Mormon Fiction.

And while I do love Mormon fiction, in fact, love it enough to write it even though I know I won't find a big audience, my first love really is Fantasy. And man, I need to get back into it.

So. Plans changed, I think. I'm going to launch myself back into the deep-blue of fantasy. I'm going to draw pictures and maps. I'm going to think about amazing places and impossible people and the mysteries of the universe. And then when I've finished this story, I'll probably enjoy going back to the funny, close dearness of an LDS contemporary fiction story or the driving curiosity and deep, aching issues and mysteries of an LDS Historical Fiction.

Am I allowed to do that? Write everything? Will that confuse people?

I don't know. I'm just writing what I need to write... sorry if that's confusing.

Jan 8, 2014

The Selfishness of Recovery

I worked for a while at a residential treatment facility that housed women with serious eating disorders. A lot of those experiences really impacted my life, and I find myself thinking about those women, the things I saw, the things I heard, often. I think one of the most ironic things about that (working there) was, I was watching (hundreds, by the end) of women go through recovery. And yet I hadn't even touched on my own. I was a good employee, and for some a great tech, but I didn't reach probably 70 percent of those women emotionally. And I know it's because I was struggling myself. I wasn't even to "stage one," (awareness) myself. I couldn't be vulnerable and be sensitive sometimes because some of what I saw & heard overloaded my emotions and threatened me to the point where I couldn't handle it. I sat behind the desk and volunteered to chart rather than go out and talk to the girls/women about what they might be struggling with. At the time I thought it was my introvert-nature & fear of rejection that held me back, but now I know it's not that. Honestly, I'm not sure if I really am an introvert by nature. I've just been unable to face my own feelings and feel good about them, and let others see them.

I remember one case in particular. This woman, newly married. She was really put-together. Like, General-Young-Women president-like. She was strong, intelligent, gracious, driven, mature. All the time. She reached out to others and was so great with the other patients, though she didn't talk much at all about her own struggles. I remember kind of looking at her and wondering what the heck she was doing on this inpatient unit.

And then I remember when she started to come apart. She turned into someone clingy, demanding, self-destructive, weak, childish. (See how judgmental I was, thinking these words.) Watching her I felt like, this isn't good. This is wrong. We've broken her. This treatment is bad--it's making her into something bad. It's undermining her testimony and strength. I wondered at the time if it was selfishness--her selfishness, breeded by a system that makes recovery into something self-obsessed and self-focused. I felt very, very conflicted feelings about the treatment program, watching her.

I remember feeling some outrage at how she was hurting her husband. He'd married this kind, strong, others-centered person and now she was cutting, and threatening suicide, and rejecting him, and just, petulant almost.

Now that I'm looking at things from the other side, though, I understand a lot that I didn't back then. She was already hurting inside. Why else would someone come to an inpatient facility and spend thousands of dollars to be locked up in a small set of rooms and eat cafeteria food? She had been hurting from the very beginning. That petulant, selfish, emotional, childish person--that was always inside her. She just hadn't ever allowed herself to take off the mask she wore. And it was killing her. It was distancing her from those who she should be able to trust. She was trapped--not feeling, except when she was feeling too much and harming herself in feeling.

This child inside her? That was her hurt self that needed healing. And you can't heal something you and others cannot see.

This last year has been a hard one for my spouse. I think often of this other patient and feel so bad for judging her. I also think often (in my petulant moments) of those things that have hurt me, and I feel angry that I even have this hurt being inside of me that needs healing.

This last year has been the most difficult of my marriage. For Jeff, it has been really worrying, and at times hearbreaking, I think. We still haven't had many conflicts, but he's seen me be completely dysfunctional, and unpredictable emotionally. He's had to pick up a lot of slack with the kids. He's had to put up with some reactions that are not his fault, where he suddenly turns into something in my head that he is not. I think that's the most painful for him.

And yet, Jeff has said that this last year has also been the most wonderful of our marriage. These last few months, especially, we have been far closer--kind of comfortable and gleeful and best-friend-y and just real, and appreciative of each other. I have felt so much more capable of being his best friend, as well as his wife, because I've been able to actually reach out. If you've got a mask on, people are at arm's length. You've got to peel that sucker off if you really want to be close to someone.

I think back on my very weakest moments of this last year with a lot of sadness. And yet, I wouldn't change it, because it has ended in much deeper, "real-er" happiness.

It's hard to think about it that way, because we've been taught in the gospel that faith can heal everything. Sometimes people draw from that the conclusion that it will be a painless, struggle-less, graceful healing. But the thing is, healing never is. Wounds are ugly. They aren't pretty to look at even when they're half-healed. They hurt.

The labor of healing from significant trauma is, I think, a lot like the labor of childbirth. You know it's God's will. He, in fact, rejoices in it. And you know it will end with something precious. But you also know you're going to do silly things. You're going to groan and complain and maybe get a little whiny. You might, in the moment, feel angry and blame people, simply because you're so overwhelmed with pain. If you can focus, you can relax to a certain degree and let it happen, but it will still be and feel messy, and ugly, and overwhelming and in moments you'll think, "how can this be from God?"

My husband gave me a blessing before delivery. He said it'd all be allright. Doesn't than mean I should be able to labor in a cross-legged position, hands outstretched, chanting in soothing tones and looking absolutely serene until it's time to lie down and bring forth a baby?

well, no, that's ludicrous. And yet we know, Labor is a godly thing.

The labor of recovery is also a godly thing. I need to continue to remind myself of this, and not feel guilty for having feelings, having needs, even for having people judge me, or having people I love get worn out at times.

One thing that has been indelibly apparent to me, driving me through this process--I am a better wife. I am a better mother. My husband and my kids are my first priority. Therefore, I *must* continue to recover. It doesn't matter what others think; if they judge me the way I judged that patient, if they feel that my difficulties are born of selfishness or immaturity or not communing with the Spirit. They don't know. They don't know how I've prayed, and the way I feel so very close to my heavenly father even in those moments when I've done things that have been petulant. I feel His love and comfort surround me even in those moments I've had that have been ugly to myself and those around me.

I think if I were truly being selfish, I would have allowed fear of judgment, or self-judgment, overwhelm my desire to heal, and just continued to go through motions--be a mess inside but mostly functional on the outside. I'd do the safe thing and just slap a lot of bandaids on those wounds. But I feel Heavenly Father bending my knees to recovery. I feel Him opening my lips to ask, to express, to allow people to see my weakness and reach out. And as this year has worn on, I have felt some truly happy, truly peaceful times. Perhaps the first in my life.

I find myself wanting to hug my kids, and my husband, all the time. Wanting to be around them. I find joy in being around people, in listening to them and even opening up to them. I think that joy has always been there, just buried under layers of fear and pain.

My heart has clicked into place over the last few months, especially. I'm feeling stuff. Oh, lots of stuff. Not all fun. But I'm also feeling the good stuff-- delight in my kids, happiness with friends, peace instead of fear of rejection when I find an opportunity to help someone else.

So I guess my conclusion is, recovery, while self-focused, is in no way selfish. Because it has made the people I love very most on this planet much, much happier to have a mom whose heart is fully turned on finally. It has made Jeffrey, who is the best friend anyone could have, really and truly my best friend. This last labor, he climbed into the hospital bed with me. He labored with me. That's what a best friend and a spouse does--labor with the other. I can finally allow Jeffrey into that place and it feels so incredibly wonderful.

When you've had bad stuff happen to you--stuff you didn't choose, or stuff you brought on yourself-- and you are trying to heal, it's good to keep in mind that there will be some pain an petulance to get through for a while, and people around you might be sad simply because they love you, and seeing you sad will make them sad. But remember--you're doing it for them. For yourself, so you can be there for them.

Birth is, in the end, a beautiful process in spite of any messes it causes, and in spite of how sore your husband's arms might be from counter-pressing your back and lifting you off the edge of the bed and hugging you tight when nothing else really helps, he wouldn't change anything-- you woudln't change anything. The end result is obviously worth every moment.

Jan 3, 2014

Stuff I'm Learning About Writing: Start Slowly?

I just finished final draft edits on a manuscript and sent it to my publisher. I think, after finishing a novel, the temptation to "take a break from writing" is very high, simply because you've just exerted a lot of teary, bloody, sweaty writing effort and you feel you need a break. One trick I've learned is, instead of taking a break from writing altogether, which has some risks (writer's block, stagnation, habits dying)I take a "break" by working on something else; something vastly different. Maybe not even a novel--maybe poems. Or maybe (as is the case right now time for me) working over someone else's manuscript.

This manuscript has sat in the dockets for over a year. I owe this guy one because he took one of my manuscripts and meticulously went through and commented on every page, sometimes every paragraph. Now, if you're a new writer, you might not see the gift that this truly is--for someone to go over you manuscript and say every single thing they feel could be improved. It can feel soul-crushing if you're just barely footing it into the whole serious writing thing, because writing at that stage takes so much motivation, and really, you just need lots of encouragement. But after you've written for a while (and particularly, after you've been published and realize how very unsympathetic at times an audience can be) you see the treasure of a close, good critique.

Anyway. I've been returning the favor, taking it two chapters a day with his manuscript. And after that, I have my sister Caitlin's to look at. It's been a refreshing change that surprisingly (or not surprisingly) has motivated me to start unwinding some spring-growth on my next two stories. Outlining one, and slowly coming up with events, characters, and conversations for another. And you know what I've realized?

It's really, really great to go into a new story slowly. Giving myself time to get to know the characters. Allowing myself to stop short after just a paragraph (because I *am* still getting a quota of writing in by reviewing his manuscript, and don't have to feel guilty or worried about stopping and stagnating.) Being able to just stop because I'm not sure I know what comes next, or what "feels right" for a character, and not being threatened at the idea of completely rethinking things and revamping all the pages I've written so far so that a character evolves before the story gets to that 70-page mark where my stories usually gel and then having to go back and re-work 70 pages-- it's been a nice thing.

Some people say that the end of a story is the hardest part to write. I would disagree, possibly violently (if I tended to be the sort of person who disagrees violently.) The beginning of the story is where you get to know your characters, where you start your plot threads. If you start in a wrong place, you can sometimes discover this way further into a story than you'd like. And it takes a while to get a really solidly great thing going. No matter how good a writer you are, I'd argue that actually writing, that process, is what starts the real development of a story. Which means... you're writing it *as* it's solidifying and becoming better. Which means you may need to revamp, revamp and revamp at the beginning of the story. OFten, for me, the beginning has periods of time where I feel like I'm working reaaaally, really hard to get up a hill. Then you get some momentum going, and it clicks, and things start to run smoothly. You've hit the track and things glide, and eventually, seem to go faster than you can even keep up with. But just like breaking a path in snow is far more difficult if you're at the head of the line, breaking that path at the beginning of a story is sometimes discouraging. Dogged determination and 1100 words a day has sometimes been the only thing to get me over the hump.

But right now.... it's actually a very good feeling. Hammering away 1100 words a day can take a toll on writer's morale. I still love that routine, I still feel very accomplished and powerful and happy when doing so, but feeling "fresh" and "new" and all that. It's something I need in my writing career right now. Forget all the worries about copies sold, marketing, what Cedar Fort will think of this next manuscript I've slaved over and... just play. Savor details. Savor creating characters. These things, they are the love in it all, the thing that makes it delicious and something I could never leave behind or cut out of my life.

So that might be my new thing. I'm going to start slowly this time and see just how much better it works. Maybe I won't have to slice apart 70 pages at the beginning of my story this time. That would be VERY refreshing.