Rage Against the 2nd Draft

Last week I attended a talk by Daniel Handler at Hugo House. Handler was witty and intelligent and generous (and the topic, “bewilderment,” fascinating). During the Q&A, someone asked how many drafts he typically writes. If memory serves, he said three or four. What stuck out was his quip about second drafts:

You think, I’m just going to fix this crown molding. And then you step back and realize you have to burn the house down. –Daniel Handler

I laughed at the truth of those words; simultaneously, I wanted to cry and rage and despair at the truth of them.

I usually try and maintain a “glass half full” outlook, but here’s the truth: writing a second draft is really effing hard. At least, writing MY second draft has been really effing hard, and if that’s not a universal truth I don’t want it acknowledged because it’ll make me feel like shit.

I am actively angry at the words that blink back at me from the computer screen. I tweak them and move them and delete them and add them back in. Every once in a while there’s an “ah ha” moment of pieces clicking into place–that one chapter, that one scene, that one sentence finally doing what I want it to do.

More often than not, the words spit back, “That’s all you got?”

I have not met any of my deadlines for this draft. First I was going to have it done by the end of December. Then January. Now here we are with daffodils pushing dirt and the final chapters remain in their untouched state.

At this point I just want to be done. Every cell in my body craves to be done, to no longer have to think about narrative arc and character development and scenery description. And of course the irony is that it won’t be done until I sit down and finish the damn thing. Until I wrestle this untamable, obtrusive, offensive second draft into submission.

I could make excuses about being busy or sick or bored but really it’s just every time I open the project I am angry at the lack of progress, the lack of perfection. I am angry just thinking about it. “Burn it all down,” the back of my mind says. Burn it all down.

But for better or worse, five years of metaphorical sweat and (some) literal tears are not something to just throw away.

Sometimes we just need to acknowledge that this is really hard, what we do. It’s also a blessing and a lark and a joy, but writing is also really damn hard.

No glass half full–that’s just the truth. And like so many writers before me, I will shut up and push on and someday, somehow, finish the second draft.

Then I can move on to the third.

Walk, Read, Write

The way I see it, if I can manage to do these 3 things every day, I’m doing alright:

  1. Walk
  2. Read
  3. Write
The first one clears my head. The second two feed me.

I’m not adding any time limits or stipulations. One thing I figured out from 2015 was to be a little kinder to myself. If I just get in a 10-minute walk, a bus ride of reading, a page of prose…that is so much better than nothing.

Full disclosure: I did not finish the second draft of my book by the end of year, like I had planned. And while I’m a bit disappointed (and mostly like OMG WANT TO FINISH THIS STUPID THING), I’m not beating myself up about it. The ending of the book is…rougher than I had remembered. A lot had to be totally scrapped, a lot written anew. The main point is I’ve been working on it, almost every day.

Austin Kleon has a blog post about how we spend our days. Ultimately, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. It may seem small, but focusing on just three things every day adds up.

Last week I was tired. Eyeball-ache tired. I hadn’t slept well, had a 9am meeting I was stressed out about, slept on my neck funny. I farted away my morning writing time on the internet and really didn’t want to walk the dog. But I pulled on my super-stylish safety vest and headed out.

A small sliver of crescent moon hung above the neighbor’s house. Towards the end of the walk, I noticed that the horizon was turning the most vibrant shade of cerulean blue. Only a week ago, it was still pitch black at that time. The days are slowly creeping longer, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d stayed inside.

Walk. Read. Write.

I Am a Writer

A few weeks ago I attended a “Winter Salon” at Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit that supports women writers. I went up for the day, took classes, listened and learned.

I keep trying to describe the day to people and keep falling short. It seems no matter what I say, I can’t accurately describe the feeling there. So I’m going to try again and start small. Very small: pomegranate arils.

Hedgebrook practices what they call radical hospitality: “everything you need to nurture your soul and your creativity.” When we arrived for lunch after our morning classes, shaking our heads dry from the driving rain, we found long tables laid out with real silverware and cloth napkins. Each place setting had a winter salad dotted with pomegranate arils. It can’t just be me — there’s something decadent about those little red jewels. Pomegranates are only in season a short while, and their round, lumpy exteriors always seem such a hurtle to getting the fruit inside. But here they were laid out before us, waiting to burst between our teeth. The rest of lunch was a hearty, comforting affair — chicken soup and tomato soup and squash soup and buttery galette and brownies and gingerbread — but when I picture it in my mind’s eye, those arils are the things I see. Their presence said, “You are welcome.”

After lunch, the teachers talked about women writers supporting women writers — how elevating one elevates all. As the conversation unfolded, I looked around the room. There were writers there, like me, scrambling to figure out a path in this weird, wordy world. There were writers who’ve been published many times over. There were white-haired writers who didn’t care an ounce for the career portion of things — they were there for the love of writing.

The feeling you get at Hedgebrook is one of validation. Here is a place that says, “What you do is important, and we are here to support it.”

I’m lucky — so lucky – to have people in my life who take my writing seriously. My husband helps me carve out time and space to write. My parents always ask how the book’s going (usually with a kick-in-the-pants from my dad). My best friend encouraged me to start this blog.

Sometimes I’m not sure I take it seriously. Don’t get me wrong — I work hard. I get up early and write and I participate in writing group and I spend time (and money) to attend workshops. But when people ask me about my work — I stutter. I stammer. I mutter something innocuous and turn the conversation. I don’t feel like a “real” writer because I’ve never had my name in print. It doesn’t pay the bills. It feels like a hobby, something done in secret.

My afternoon class at Hedgebrook was with a writer named Ijeoma Oluo. Something she said has been rolling around my head for the past week and a half:

“It takes a lot for people to call themselves writers. You just can.”

So I’m trying to embrace that.

I am a writer.

To that end–I’m changing the name of this blog, to my name. I’m not hiding behind a nom de plume anymore. You can find it now at ldoxford.com.

I am a writer. These are my stories.

 

Laura’s New Writing Plan

It’s like Kanye’s plan, but with a lot less crop tops and a lot more word count.

Like I mentioned in last week’s post — I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve gotten out a few short stories that I feel good about, but what I REALLY need to be doing is editing the 2nd draft of my book. I’ve puttered away at it, but haven’t succeeded at getting down to business.

I know I work better with structure. I need deadlines. But sometimes creating those for yourself… the motivation, it’s lacking.

Last week my friend Jay introduced me to a site called Pacemaker. In a nutshell: you put in your writing goals and deadlines, and Pacemaker spits out a plan. The exact number of words per day you need to write (or edit) in order to hit your goal.

So I thought… what would it look like if I made a goal to finish the 2nd draft by the end of this year?

And you know, it’s not too shabby.

Pacemaker Writing Calendar

About 550 words on the weekdays. A little over 1,000 on the weekends. December looks the same. Totally doable. And I’m doing it.

As you can see, I’ve already missed one day–but that’s ok. Not beating myself up over it. I made it up on the weekend, so we’re still on track.

Breaking it down day by day, word by word, makes the goal look much more reasonable. More attainable. 550 words a day doesn’t seem scary. (On a good day, I can get that done in the morning before leaving for work.) The vision of having that 2nd draft printed up and piled up on my desk — it’s taking shape.

You just have to start. One word at a time.

Intentions

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.

 

Sharing Inspiration, Part 2

After the Ankle Incident, my friend Jenny commented, “Wow, you’ve had kind of a rough month.”

“Have I?” I said.

“Well, you got really sick a few weeks back. And now the ankle.”

“Huh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

It hadn’t really struck me like that. November has been an introvert month for me — turning inward, staying indoors, having quiet “me” moments. It’s easier to do when it’s cold outside and dark at 5pm. After Jenny’s comment, though, I realized what’s really been taking up my thoughts this month, if only subconsciously — replenishing the creative reserves. October was a big push creatively, what with the 30/30 Challenge and all. And creativity’s cyclical. I’ve still been tinkering away at the editing, but mostly? I’ve been thinking, pondering, reading, listening, seeking inspiration.

So I thought I’d share — what’s been inspiring me lately?

Wonderbook. One day, Jeff VanderMeer’s book will wind up on my book reviews, but my shameful secret is that it’s taken me a year to read it, and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s not because it’s not good — it’s really good — but it’s big. Like, physically big. Big books don’t fit in my purse, which means they don’t get read on the bus, which means it takes forever to read them.

Wonderbook

Anyway. This book is full of SO MUCH ruminative goodness. Its focus is how to write imaginative fiction, and it goes into more detail than any other writing book I’ve encountered. It’s forced me to examine my work-in-progress in a new light, to question decisions I’ve made, to answer why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. And the book itself is quite beautiful — another reason I’m slow to get through it. It probably takes me 15 minutes to go through two pages — in the best way possible. It encourages the mind to check out and drift.

30 and Bookless“. I’ve been recommending this article by Rachael Maddux left and right, and I keep going back to it. It’s a great reminder that, despite my college-self’s ambition to have a book published by now… it’s ok that I don’t. It’s probably even best that I don’t, because I wasn’t the same writer back then that I am now. We’re two different people, producing different work.

Fleetwood Mac. Specifically, this song.

You guys, I just CAN’T GET ENOUGH. I listen to it on repeat, I sing along, I sway to it in the bathroom as I’m putting on makeup. The slow start, the bewitching build. It’s definitely set the contemplative mood for the month.

The Habits of Highly Productive Writers“.My college advisor recently shared this article by Rachel Toor. Nothing in it is revelatory (“Highly productive writers nap four hours a day!”), but there are some good tips. The part that really jumped out?

When someone’s doing a lot more than you, you notice it. It brings out your petty jealousy. And if you’re like me (occasionally petty and jealous), it might make you feel crappy about yourself. Which is, let’s face it, ridiculous. No one else’s achievements take anything away from yours, or mine. The fact that another writer is working hard and well should be nothing more than inspiration, or at least a gentle prod.

Sometimes, some days, that reminder is particularly important.

What are you reading, watching, listening to this month?

30/30 Wrap-Up

Well, it’s done.

Image from Don't Break the Chain.
Image from Don’t Break the Chain!

I wrote for 30 minutes for 30 days, each and every day. Through some very generous donations, I raised $110 for Seattle’s Hugo House.

I’m not gonna lie, the past week and a half were tough. We were traveling, there were work events, and then — icing on the cake — Byron and I both caught the cold from hell. Multiple days I thought, “I could just skip today. No one would know.” Except I would know, and I would feel guilty, so I sat down for the 30 minutes anyway. Maybe fever-dream writing will be the pinnacle of my book.

Mostly now, I want a break. I want a nap and a day where I don’t think about writing at all. (It is highly likely this is the residual sickness talking. But it’s still how I feel.)

Still… in the past 30 days, I’ve edited 89 pages of my book (89 single-spaced pages, to boot). That’s a little over 45,000 words. That’s a hell of a lot more than I’ve gotten done in the past several months. All from just sitting down for 30 minutes a day.

I’d like to keep this up. Habits are hard to make and easy to break, so I should keep it up. The lesson learned through this whole thing is that it’s entirely possible to prioritize your writing if you make it a priority.