Monday, January 23, 2012

like a bird on the wire

It's funny how you can learn important lessons from the most trifling things.

Evan and I have been watching the show Sons of Anarchy for the past two weeks. We're halfway through the third of four seasons right now, and last night I started putting together some pieces in my life.

One of the show's main themes is recognizing what is most important to you and then doing anything you have to do to maintain it, achieve it, protect it--whatever. And these characters willingly put themselves through hell, throw themselves into gun fire, sacrifice their lives to keep that one thing sacred and to keep it going for the others who care.

I started writing books when I was 9 years old. It was the thing I did above all else, the thing that lurked in the back of my head at all times, the thing I would do after dinner: lock myself in my bedroom scribbling in notebooks. I wrote through puberty, through high school, through the turmoil of college, and through my early twenties up to where you know me now, on the precipice of 26. Almost two-thirds of my life, devoted to writing. The older I get, the dimmer my memory, I'll only remember that I was always writing, always thinking about writing.

And yes, during all that time I always had the far-off thought that one day I'd like to see my name in print. But first, I needed to do this with my writing, and I needed to improve my dialogue, or strengthen my word choices. Always something. As long as I was still writing, still coming up with stories, I was happy. I am happy.

Then I started blogging. And I saw how many people wanted to be published. And I asked myself if there was something wrong with me, that I didn't really think about being published--just writing. Did that make me less passionate? Did it make me a coward, because I hadn't thought about being published yet because I felt like I still needed to improve before I tried to put myself out there, still needed to write a better story, with better characters and better plot and better everything. Was I a coward?

Things started to change. I started finishing novels instead of just starting them. I saw massive improvements in my craft, felt them in my planning process. Saw maturity emerging in my words. So then I thought, yes. I can do this. I am close. I am ready. No more fear: just desire to make myself presentable, to make my words sing, to make them the best I am able.

When I finished my most recent book, I thought: this is the one. I'm going to shine it up and send it out. I'm going to be querying by April, at latest. I'm finally going to do it.

And I thought about that constantly. I thought about the drive to publish, I imagined writing query letters, getting the call, telling my husband that I had a book deal. Fantasy overrode reality.

In nursing school, nearly any student you talk to will tell you that s/he (but mostly she) is going into nursing because of her passion. She feels called to be a healer, to be this profession that is more than just a profession. They all walk around with this enormous depth of drive and well of desire that keeps them going when the cards are stacked against us. When the knowledge seems crushing and the skills are overwhelming and there are three tests around every corner, and everything is pass or fail--they have their passion.

And me? Nursing isn't my passion--I already have my passion, have had my passion since I was nine years old. The thought constantly presses against me: what am I doing in this field where passion is queen, with my passion at home in old notebooks and on hard drives?

This thought was truly giving me a crisis last semester. I finally overcame it by remembering that I will always need a day job, and I chose nursing through the sum of its parts--not the title first. I managed my time a little better so I could write a few days a week, and all the crisis went away.

But then I got the new bug, the publish bug. The query bug. And suddenly nursing school was in the way again. Last semester is a joke compared to this one. I'm learning skills that are honest-to-god life and death, medication administration, starting IV lines, inserting Foley catheters, learning everything I need to know about all the medications I will use in my practice.

In only two weeks, the crisis was starting again.

And then we started watching Sons of Anarchy, and I saw these characters who said: yes, I will go to prison for this thing I did. I won't be in there forever, but I will serve my time as long as I must, and when I get out, things will be back to normal. My passion has been saved because of this sacrifice, and I will live to fight for that passion for many more days.

The understanding started pawing at me pretty quickly, but it wasn't until yesterday that I let myself look at it and feel it and acknowledge it.

Writing isn't the only passion in my life--it's just my doing passion, if that makes sense. It's the thing I'd rather do instead of play video games or play the guitar or paint or photography. I also have passion for learning and knowledge. I crave knowledge. I savor every scrap of new information that I learn and I horde it. It's like those old ESPN commercials: "my greater than your knowledge!"

And most of all, I have a passion for my husband and for our life. Getting into nursing school was a year-long process. School itself is a two-year process. I make a pittance with my day job: he's our real bread-winner. He's the one who's said, "yes--I will put my own soul-searching on hold because I want you to do this, to find yourself through this new adventure." For that, I owe him everything. I owe him my full attention on school, I owe him paying attention to the other elements of my life that can give me happiness besides spending 8 hours a day in front of my manuscript. I can "go to prison" for just one more year, because when I get out, everything will still be here. I will still love to write. I will be a year older, and I will have read hundreds more books that will inspire me and teach me and improve my craft. I will have done my best at what I'm doing, and I won't live with the lingering guilt of I could have done better, if I'd tried harder.

I'm not saying I'm not going to write. I'm saying that the publish bug has been put into stasis. It was a foolish thing for me to obsess about the end, and not the means. I still want to revise and edit my manuscript, but I'm no longer holding up arbitrary words for it like "April" or "by the summer."

I guess passion is meant to burn bright and consume us. I'm not blowing out the flame, I'm just trimming the wick so my other candles can also contribute to the light of my path.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The 5th Time's the Charm? (and other steps in the right direction)

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friends (you poor lot), this will be old news. In fact, you're probably sick of hearing about it by now, but bear with me just a little longer.

Last Friday, January the 6th, I finished my fifth novel.
As my last post hinted at, this novel has by no means taken the usual route. In writing, as in all things, I am a slow and steady pace-r. However, I'm living in uncertain times, and uncertain times often call for drastic measures.

I finished my last novel in April last year and didn't really work on anything else. We'd just bought our new house, were moving, settling in, I had long-term company over the summer, and then I was starting nursing school. I wanted to start a new project, yes, but I thought it was probably a bad idea.

Then one day, while I was unloading the dishwasher, this character voice started a soliloquy in my head and just would not shut her hole until I went to the computer and wrote out the first scene of what ended up being my first chapter.

Note to the above: I've always sort-of rolled my eyes inwardly when I've read other people's accounts of what I just said. My characters don't talk to me. That's ridiculous. Neither do they control me. I control them. So trust me, when this narrative voice popped up, it was weird.

Truthfully, she shut up after I got that first chapter out, but her voice was so strong and so insistent that I wrote the entire novel springboarding from this single character's voice.

The voice started talking to me around the beginning of August; I started class on August 17th (I think--around there). I wrote during those last two weeks, around 17k or so. And then, during the beginning of the semester, I would write a little here and there until I got a few more chapters out. Then nursing school hit me with its full force, and I stopped.

Fast-forward to NaNoWriMo. This was the first time I picked the story back up, after at least 2 months of nothing. I wrote diligently for the first 2 1/2 weeks of the challenge, but as you may remember me whining about, I had 3 tests and the end of the semester in the latter half of November, so I quit writing in order to study (and it paid off--4.0, baby!). By the time December break rolled around, I was exhausted. I'd had great plans to finish the novel during my break, but it was looking bleak.

Then, after the Christmas festivities were over and everyone (hubby) was back at work, I thought--heck, I only have 2 more weeks of break. Maybe I should do some writing.

So I did. I started at 51k and wrote every single day. I wrote like a mad woman. I would run, work my at-home day job, then write for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening/night, and start again the next day.

Last Friday, I finished writing at 86,115 words. It was freaking cathartic. I even cried during a scene of the climax.

Now, even though I've been writing diligently for (counts on fingers and toes) almost 17 years now, I started seeing my biggest changes when I finally started finishing novels. And with each novel that I've finished, I feel like I've learned stuff and grown even more. This time was no different.

So here are some things I learned from writing ALL THAT REMAINS:

1. If I don't write, I don't feel like myself. Those 2 months of the semester in which I was so bogged down with school and studying, I was deeply depressed. I hated nursing school. I resented everything about it. Then NaNo came along, and it was like a slap upside the head.

2. I can write, even when I'm so busy I can barely go to sleep at night due to the anxiety (I worry a lot. Too much.) The writing makes me feel like I'm in control of something in a storm of uncertainty.

3. Every time I finish a novel, my capacity for daily writing grows. I used to only be able to write 500 words or so a day (which is great, don't get me wrong.) But during this weird exercise, I was averaging more like 3-5,000 words a day. (And that's how I wrote 35,000 words in 8 days.)

4. There comes a point when your writing muscle truly responds like a muscle. Even when you're tired and battling a headache and just plain feeling crappy, you force those words out, and when you read them the next day--they're not as bad as you thought they'd be. Some of them are even halfway decent. Hard work, diligence, and constant refining of your voice and your craft does pay off. It's like running 2 miles every day. It's not long, and it's not much, but it's enough. It strengthens your muscles and improves your cardiovascular system, cuts down on stress, fuels your body with endorphins and gives you the juice to succeed for the rest of your day. Writing is like that.

I'm sure there are plenty of other "lessons" I could squeeze out of this crazy experience, but this post is long enough. Soon I'll be venturing into revisions, which is entirely new territory for me. I start back to nursing school today. I'm starting the semester off with a test--if you don't pass it with a 90 or higher, you're out of the program. No pressure, right? But it's a muscle, and a muscle that I've worked. I lay in bed last night mentally calculating IV drip rates and insulin dosages. I've got this.

You've got this.

Believe me, I'm no one special. I just like to punish myself every once in a while, and I can be like my cat with her catnip-stuffed Christmas tree toy: once I've got my teeth in it, I'll shake it until it's dead. And I'll growl at anything that tries to take me away from it until I'm done.

That may have been the worst analogy ever.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You Know What's Weird?

It's weird to be Facebook friends with people you had small crushes on in high school or earlier. Weird to remember that little thrill of passion when you saw them or talked to them, only now to see them in photos with their wives and little kids. And you in yours. Weird.

I've been writing pretty steadily for the past five days. As any of my Twitter followers know, I start back to the new semester of nursing school this coming Monday, January 9th. Back when I was college the first time, I actually looked forward to the return to semester. Breaks felt like a lot of flailing around with nothing to do. This time, I'd easily give an arm for another month or two. I know there's no sense in complaining, but I'll do it anyway, right?

Anyhoodle, I've pretty much written this entire draft of Token (new title pending) in fits and bursts. I went two and a half months without touching it, then did NaNoWriMo, then stopped, and have written almost another 20k since last Thursday. It's weird. I'm not like that. I'm definitely the tortoise--slow and steady, 2k per day kind of thing. But this has results, I can't deny it.

The book has a fairly extended climax, or rather several smaller climaxes before the big one (still talking book here.) I'm in the second of these four climaxes, and it's now to the point where Husband can tell what kind of scene I'm writing based on the angry music pounding out of our office while he plays Skyrim from the safety of our living room. So far the tune of choice has been A Perfect Circle's "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums."

My original write goal was to be at 80k by Friday, but now that I'm already nearly to 75k, I'm going to push it up to 85k by Saturday. I've had this crazy feeling that I won't be able to write once I start back, but that's silly. I have to save a little time this weekend to study, though, because guess what I have to do on my first day back in class? Take a test. And it's one of our pass/fail the program ones. No pressure. I'm not too concerned about it, honestly--it's a med calculation test, and I made a 100 on the one we took in November just like it. So yes, you want me to calculate your drug dosage. I'm also learning how to insert IV's and catheters this semester--any volunteers?

It snowed on Tuesday, too.