Balancing Act, Not!

“Balance is not always obtainable in every situation, however, we have the option to surrender our control over the desired outcome and live more easily in the present moment. This will result in greater peace of mind.” – Nanette Mathews

Last month, I intended to work on two projects. First, I wanted to complete last year’s National Novel Writing Month project, a book of daily meditations about living in the moment called Eat Your Toast. I would be a NaNoWriMo “rebel” on two counts. First, by working on nonfiction and not a novel and second by completing an existing work instead of starting a novel from scratch. I would use the NaNoWriMo structure, attend the write-ins, and participate in the forums. My goal would be to write 50,000 words during the month of November or 1,667 per day.

Second, while doing NaNoWriMo, I’d hoped to continue submitting Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two to independent presses and contests. Although several editors have requested either the full manuscript or chapters, I wanted to keep marketing the manuscript while I waited on word from them.

But life throws curves. First, I got sick and wound up in bed for several days. Then we traveled for a weekend to a conference we had committed to months before. And just before we got home, our ancient dog died. Mr. Dawg, my running sidekick and co-star of Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, had been sick with heart problems for nearly two years and we knew he was near the end, but the reality of his death broke my heart. The house felt like a tomb and I fell into a depression.

Then, one afternoon while I was writing, Ed texted me a photo of a 14-week old yellow Labrador puppy, the same breed as Mr. Dawg. Ed was smitten. I knew how hard puppies can be, but Ed and I both needed the canine energy. “Scarlet” joined our family and chaos became the new norm!

Bottom line? I was able to complete 50,000 words of Eat Your Toast, but I did nothing with Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two all month.

From this experience I learned a few things. First, I’m not good at working on more than one project at a time. Once I’d gotten my head back into Eat your Toast, I couldn’t switch back to Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. I’m hyperfocused, but only on one thing at a time. Eat your Toast took all my energy.

Second, to meet my NaNoWriMo goal, I had to go with the flow and find time whenever I could. This meant writing in hotel rooms and, after Scarlet arrived, working around her sleep schedule so I could focus without a puppy chewing on my shoelaces or the furniture.

And third, I had to celebrate my victory without beating myself up for not meeting my overall goal. I could not change circumstances; I had to adapt to them.

Now that November is through, I will return to Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two with new energy. I’m very excited about this prospect.

Are you able to work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you manage it?

Naked

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public.” – Paulo Coelho

That’s exactly how I feel sending queries to agents. Naked. Even if I weren’t an off-the-scale introvert, submitting my memoir, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, to agents would be terrifying.

But guess what? I’m doing it. I met my goal of querying one hundred, carefully selected agents before the end of July. And guess what else? While thirty-three percent of the agents I queried have said “No,” some of those rejections were accompanied by compliments.

One agent said, “You write well.” Another referred to my book as “original and engaging.” And my favorite rejecting agent wrote, “[W]e found much to admire here in this inspiring story, not least of which is your spunky and very relatable voice.” Although they weren’t taking on my work, their comments affirmed I had written something worthwhile.

Most of the responses have been one line answers. “It’s not right for our list.” Or, “I’m not the right agent to represent this material.” Those are easy to take. They remind me this is a business. A very subjective business. An agent may like my writing and even my voice, but if she doesn’t believe she can make a profit by spending the many hours it takes to sell and herd my book through the publishing process, she simply can’t take it on.

I’ve only had one difficult rejection. In it the agent was more specific about what she didn’t like. At first I felt defensive, but I consulted the developmental editor who helped me with the current draft of the book. She reminded me that the book this agent wanted simply wasn’t the book I had written. That was all. It didn’t mean I had written a bad book. It didn’t mean another agent might not want it. But for now, my job was just to stand behind the book I had written.

Since August is typically a slow time in publishing, I don’t anticipate hearing from too many more agents until September. In the meantime I’m researching contests and small publishers, and taking slow walks with our aging dog. If I hear anything else, I’ll keep you informed. I’ve been posting more often on my Facebook author page. Please feel free to follow along there. I’d love to hear your thoughts there and in the comments.

Writing Practice: One Way to Write

“The calm mind allows one to connect with the inner self . . . the very source of our being. That’s where the music lives. That’s where my music comes from.” – Clarence Clemons

Writing practice is one way to write. It is so much more than mere “practice.” Even when I am working on a project, part of me is doing writing practice. I write much of my work in short spurts of timed writing. I am in the pressure cooker. It is a way to keep going for the short run and also for the long haul. It is a way to not think too much about what is next. It is a way to move on.

Writing practice calms the mind. Similar to meditation, it’s a way to observe the mind. In writing practice, thoughts download and the mind flashes on the way it first captures something. You make connections using writing practice that you might not make with the rational mind.

In writing practice, you don’t question. You don’t judge. You don’t ask what is next. You pick the topic and go. And so it’s a way to get unstuck. You just go. But you keep the place you want to land in the corner of your mind. You head away from it, but since you have it in the corner of your mind, you will wind up there. It’s the same reason they tell you in driver’s education not to look at the headlights of oncoming cars. If you do, you’ll wind up driving right into someone else. Your hands will follow your eyes turning the wheel ever so slightly and you’ll risk a head on collision.

But in writing practice, you use that reflex to your advantage. Say I want to write about Morgan, our yellow Labrador, but I don’t just want to write, “Morgan is a dog. He is yellow, gold and copper.” Instead, I’ll start writing about the weather, about how dry it is and how the trees are wilting and how it makes me sad. Eventually, I will begin to write about how Morgan is responding to the weather. His coat is dry and he drinks so much more water than in a regular year and how I have to take care not to run with him when it is too hot and that I must carry extra water for him so he doesn’t get dehydrated on our runs.

And then I will write about how sad I am that he ages so much more quickly than we humans and how I am afraid for the day he will die because, since I love him so in the present, I will miss him so desperately when he is gone.

And I might notice how easily my mind spins into the future and into fear and how the only solution is meditation or, with writing, writing practice, because it brings us back to the present moment where Morgan is right here, next to my feet, breathing steadily in a dream-filled sleep, his paws vibrating ever so slightly.

That is how it works. You move seamlessly from one thing to another. Or sometimes, not so seamlessly. But you move anyway following the mind’s natural rhythm. It’s the way the mind moves and even if the segues seem awkward in writing practice, when we go back to edit, they make sense.

The mind always takes some time to settle. That’s what writing practice lets us do as well. It gives the mind a chance to settle naturally. The mind is like a jar filed with rocks, water and sand. You shake it up and it becomes murky and you can’t see the rocks. All you see is brown sludge in the jar. And when you set the jar down on the table, you can’t make it settle. You can’t pound the jar on the table or move it around to make it settle. It won’t settle that way. You have to wait. You have to let gravity do its thing.

Eventually, the water will begin to clear. The sand will sink to the bottom and, in time, the rocks will drop and the sand will drop around them and the water will turn clear again and you will be able to see it all. But it has to have its own process. It has to have its own time. That’s what you do in writing practice. You keep your hand moving as things settle. You let the mind settle and the water will rise to the top as the sand and rocks drop away. The things that obstruct your view will fall, sifting to the bottom of the jar and you will be left with the clear water. Your view will be universal.

Those are a few ways I use writing practice. If you use writing practice, I’d love to hear how you use it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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