That's right, a post not about being a nurse! My needles and nitrile gloves are safely put away for this one.
Right now I'm doing revisions/edits on my sixth novel. I've also been pretty sick recently, and also trying to keep myself on a less slingshot schedule, which equals me awake at night, thinking deep thoughts and exploring the bowels of the internet.
I'm not an expert at writing. I don't think anyone is, truly. We all hack it out the best we can, learn from our mistakes, glean information from others, and try to cram it all into our little addled writer-brains so the next glut of word vomit might be slightly more palatable than the last time. Like throwing up mashed potatoes instead of Taco Bell*.
Here are some things I've figured out:
1) You can finish a novel. It's not easy. It takes mountains of faith in yourself, in the process. Dedication, determination, and most of all, time. From the day I started penning (literally penning--I didn't start writing on a computer until much later) "stories," it was 15 years until I finished my first novel. Guess what? That was three years ago. Since then, I've written 5 more. That's almost 2 novels per year, including while I was in nursing school and also my first year as a nurse. Which leads to...
2) It gets easier with practice. Savor the feeling of finishing your first novel. You won't ever capture that same feeling. I didn't, anyway. When I finished the second, I was more like, "well, duh." The reactions have dulled for each subsequent book. But the "writing of a novel" is no longer a mythical beast. It's a given. You know that, like a math problem, if you add x and y (words and time), you will = novel.
Since I finished my first novel, I have only given up on one since then. And it was a NaNoWriMo project, so I don't really count it.
The more you write, the more you learn about yourself. You learn your process. You learn how much time you have to spend lying on your office floor with your feet propped on the wall, rubbing your dog's ears, to untangle a plot problem. You also may learn that the fastest way to end writer's block is to shave your legs (or maybe that's just me). You get a feel for the cadence of your own voice. For instance, once I'm about 10-15k into an idea, I already have a rough forecast for the completed wordcount. So far, I've been within 2-5k of that projection.
What's good about this is that you can therefore accurately plan your writing schedule. Say you can, 99% of the time, write 2-3k in one sitting of a novelling day. Well, because you know your usual style of plotting and pacing, you know that 2-3k is going to be, roughly, one chapter. If you can devote 3 days per week to that writing, and you estimate your novel is going to come in around 90k, that's roughly 3 months, give or take some extra writing flurry days as you near the end.
3) At various points in your current project, you are going to feel like a genius and a hack. And honestly, as long as you can be objective and you have extra eyes reading your MS who are also objective--and you listen to their feedback--it's okay to spend more time feeling like a genius than a hack. There's plenty of time to feel like a hack. You'll probably feel like a hack for the entirety of your writing career, at some point or another. I feel like a pretend nurse at my job all the time, and I have the degree, the license, and the letters after my name to prove otherwise. Feeling like a hack is human nature. When do you ever "feel" like an adult? You don't. Simple enough.
4) The time to throw yourself off your own pedestal is during revisions. You may be fortunate enough to ejaculate decent rough drafts. Good for you. Pat yourself on your back, then go ahead and use a little extra force to throw yourself into the dirt. Dirt is where you belong. Because now is the time for gritty. Repeat after me: everything can be changed and probably should. Okay, so that's some hyperbole. Maybe you're a talented plotter, and truth be told, your first draft is only as holey as baby swiss instead of a fishnet stocking. Congratulations. Everyone has a special talent as a writer. Believe it. The point of revision is to look past your special talent at all the stuff you're not so special at. That's where the work comes in. That's where you need to really sweat. If you're lucky enough to have someone in your life who has a real brain for plots, use them.It's going to hurt. Believe me, it's going to hurt. Especially if that someone happens to be your spouse. But guess what? They're objective. They're smart. And they didn't write the thing, so they couldn't care less if you meticulously crafted that one sentence that throws the entire plot on its ear. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Listen. And if you are married to that person, it's okay to occasionally remind them that hey, you are married and hey, it's okay if you wanna sometimes maybe say some nice stuff too, okay? Go ahead and work on your dedication, and make sure that person, whomever they may be, is the star. You may be capable of solving many of your own problems, but chances are you wouldn't have had some of those problems in the first place if you could solve them on your own. Know what I'm saying?
5) Research agents with care. I mean this in two ways. 1) the obvious. Don't throw your query to the wind. More important, 2) Don't put the cart ahead of the horse. In this case, don't put the agent ahead of the novel. It's easy, and very tempting, to get carried away when you're somewhere around the 75% complete stage. You may think that's a good time to start grooming your agent list, making your fancy Excel spreadsheets, and stalking their Twitter feeds. And sure, doing this in moderation is fine. You're excited about your book. It's only natural to let yourself daydream, because at this point that is what you are doing. Your book is not ready. 75 percent? NOT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. In nursing school, 75% is a failure. Would you want your surgeon to repair only 75% of your abdominal aortic aneurysm? Of course not. So why would you want to believe that your 75% book is ready to be seen by the world?
This is the hardest part. Writing the book was not the hardest part. Revising is not the hardest part.
The hardest part is being honest with yourself about your book's readiness. A lot is objective. The most important part is subjective. And we, as greedy writers with shiny book covers in our eyes, are more biased on our books than pretty much anything else in the world. And that's a good thing. If you don't think your book is the most shiny, beautiful dadgum manuscript to ever wend its way into the querysphere, then chances are things may not end so well for you.
Don't be premature.
Read all the archives of Query Shark. Seriously. It won't take very long, if you're a dedicated stalker of information. Absorb the advice. Go elsewhere on the internet and do the same. Do all of thisafter your book is "finished." Maybe while it's in the hands of beta readers/critique partners. That's a pretty good time. Even better, do it after you've revised it from their feedback, after you've given it the spitshine and are rabid to begain to query. Chances are, you'll get lots of good advice in your internet searching that not only applies to your query letter, but applies to your MS too. Nothing is worse than hitting send, then going "oh wait!"
This is a long blog post. None of this advice is new. And most of it is aimed directly in the mirror. Especially the last bits.
Go forth, fellow writers. And get a cat.
* This disgusting metaphor brought to you by my Thursday night. Except it was Taco Bell.
Before I started my professional nursing career, I was scared of many things. Two major things pre-nurses are often scared of, me included, are:
1) The thought of phoning the on-call hospitalist at 2am to ask for something, especially something like Benadryl or a stool softener.
2) Very unruly patients.
Turns out--not so much.
Now that I've been working nights for a few months, I've pretty well gotten over my fear of #1--at least, depending on which doctor is on-call. Some are nicer about it than others, but none are allowed to be nasty to the nurses because we called--too many HR meetings about that. I mean, it is their job and all.
As for the second, well, I got a little more experience in that then I'd wished this Labor Day weekend. My patients included a state prisoner and a woman almost 100 years old. Which one was meaner? Good question. One of them tried to bite me on four different occasions. One accused me of "putting dope" in her IV. One tried to kick me in the head--twice.
Turns out, there's a Big Bad Bitch Nurse (TM) living inside me. That nursing student never would have thought I could go head-to-head with someone in handcuffs and come out victorious--then get teased by my coworkers for the rest of the night that I should be a prison guard. The nicely-raised Southern girl never would have thought I'd shout at a centenarian for "being ugly."
Did I enjoy any of this? Absolutely not.
Am I proud of myself for authoritatively handling two difficult situations without letting anyone get hurt, protecting the hospital, and making the best decisions for the patients? Absolutely.
If anyone needs me, I'll be over here, practicing my sleeper holds...
2) I got noise-cancelling headphones. For the writing and listening of too-loud music.
3) I withdrew from my RN-BSN program and am now in the process of searching for potential grad schools for a MSN in Health Systems Leadership. I've made a tenuous career plan, y'all. It's weird and scary and exciting. Currently, my top two picks are Vanderbilt and Duke Universities. I'm taking the GRE in 2 weeks.
There are a lot of jokes about nurses, considering that the kind of work we do often involves bodily processes and orifices that don't make for good dinner conversation (except in my opinion.)
What you don't hear so much about, at least not from outside the circle of nursing, is the great lessons in humility you experience day after day, sometimes every hour of your shift.
My job is in a very rural area, serving close to a 100,000 people who have spent generations living on conventional wisdom. Often that leads to poor health choices, low compliance with prescribed health regimens, and equals frustration for all members of the health care team. When I took this job, very aware of the area in which I'd be working (an area I grew up in), I was afraid. Afraid that I would lack compassion. Afraid that I wouldn't be able to see past the disease process, past the poor choices and unfortunate events leading to this person lying in the bed in front of me. Afraid that my middle-class, highly-educated judgment would get in the way of the empathy integral to the heart of nursing.
I'm grateful, and humbled, to say that I was wrong.
Do I still feel frustrated when I see people out in the community making poor health choices? When I see parents chain-smoking in the car with their children? Absolutely.
But when I've had substance abusers overdosed and diabetics losing another portion of their foot, I'm finding that the compassion I thought I would struggle to find is eager to come to me, eager to show my patients that it doesn't matter how many times they've misstepped or screwed up, there is always a chance, a hope for a new beginning.
The humility is everywhere. When I enter a patient's room at 1am and find their loved one quietly sobbing in the corner. When a proud diabetic admits they don't understand their disease, but they're finally ready to. When the bereaved spouse of a marriage older than my parents graciously bids farewell to their partner.
I grab this humility and I hold it close. Nursing is a profession where it's easy to become jaded, where patients stop being people and start becoming just another insert diagnosis here.
I don't want that.
So in the still of the night, when the darkness is forgiving and offers a screen of protection for pride, when patients and families are at their most vulnerable, I stop and I listen and I feel. And then I do my best, day after day, hour after hour, to remember.
Now that the major stress of nursing school is behind me, I'm trying to find my way through the new stress of a new job, a new career, and the sometimes seemingly-impossible challenge of being a new nurse. Most of all, I'm desperate to get back into a routine that allows for both working (and working extra), and still spending time on doing the things I love, like writing and running.
The running part is proving more difficult (spending 13+ hours on my feet doesn't incline me to want to run the next morning), but the writing part I'm hoping to get back on track soon.
A lot of people in the writing/blogging world know DL Hammons. I had the distinct pleasure of having breakfast with him and his lovely wife a couple years ago, when they were in town for a football game. DL has been hosting WRiTE Club for 2 years, this being the third.
WRiTE Club is a fun, simple, head-to-head weekly challenge between anonymous pieces of 500 word fiction, judged by the readers.
And there's an ultimate prize!
I think I'm throwing my hat into the ring this year.