Not Failure

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Outwardly, December looks like a failure. I hoped to revise Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, the running memoir, and submit it to additional independent publishers. I also wanted to follow up on some of the submissions I’d already sent. And I’d hoped to finish the first draft of Eat Your Toast, the daily meditation and practice book. But December got away from me.

Let’s blame it on Scarlet, the immensely adorable yellow Labrador puppy we got shortly after Morgan, my co-star in Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, died. In addition to her actual care and training, Scarlet takes a lot of mental energy. I feel exhausted a lot of the time.

Even before Scarlet arrived, November had already worn me down. National Novel Writing Month which I love, drained me this year. Beneath my desire to achieve my daily word count was the sadness of Morgan’s final decline from congestive heart failure. We turned our house into a doggy hospice reminiscent of the final days with my father and it brought up emotions I hadn’t felt since I’d written about that several years ago.

And then Morgan actually died. Man. That’s such a punch in the gut even when you know it’s coming. I didn’t realize how sad I’d been until that happened. So when Scarlet entered our world two days later, I was already worn down and reeling. She’s a gem, but such a distraction.

As a result, I spent much of December staring blankly into the middle distance unable to find the mental space to do the work. I did a few things, but nothing near what I’d hoped and I feel disappointed.

I refuse to beat myself up for this however. It is a new year. Scarlet is nearly potty trained! (Yay us!) And one month will not make or break the submission process. So here’s to not giving up. Let’s move forward and continue courageously toward our goals.

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?

Troubles, Great and Small

“Of all your troubles, great and small, the greatest are the ones that don’t happen at all.” – Thomas Carlyle

What if agents don’t want my book? What if small publishers don’t want it either? And if I self-publish, what if no one wants to read it?

If I had worried about these things before I began writing Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, my memoir about running and mental illness, I would not have started writing at all. And now, even after I’m far into the process, I still can’t think too far ahead. Rather, I must focus on the small tasks that make up each activity. Write the email. Double check the requirements on the agent or publisher’s website. Check the email again. And again. Hit send. Then wait. Small steps. None of them overwhelming. None of them all that complex.

Depression and bipolar disorder render me easily overwhelmed. I have to chunk things down and keep it very simple. Perhaps other writers are more skilled at doing these things naturally. Perhaps their minds don’t spin negative scenarios the way mine does. Perhaps. Or maybe we all struggle with this in our own ways. I’m thankful I have meditation to help me stay centered. I find my breath. I feel my feet. I look around and ground myself in my surroundings. I think of one small task I can do right now. And then I do that. And then I think of the next small task I can do. And I do that. These small tasks make up my days as a writer. It’s not the big stretches of time. It’s the minute by minute things.

In November, I took a break from submitting and picked up a project I’d set aside many years ago, a book tentatively titled, Eat Your Toast. Ironically, it’s a book of daily practices geared toward helping people, myself included, live in the moment. I struggle with this more than anyone I know. I needed the reminders. I needed to read quotes about it. I needed to research teachers who focus on this. And I needed to write out exercises I could do all month while I was writing the book. I wrote 50,860 additional words on that book as a rebel project for National Novel Writing Month.

And now, in December, I’ll pick up Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two again and continue my journey toward publication. I still don’t know how this will play out. But if my project in November taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to know the outcome. All I need to know is the next step.

What October Means to Me

“The world is a lot more fun when you approach it with an exuberant imperfection.” ― Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month

Here in central Ohio, the weather has cooled and a few trees have begun to turn. To many folks this means pumpkin spice, football, marathons, and ghosts. To me, it means I’d better start planning what I’m going to write in November!

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual challenge in which writers from all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The original challenge was for fiction, but NaNoWriMo welcomes rebels who write nonfiction and poetry as well.

I love both the structure and camaraderie of NaNoWriMo. Broken down, it requires 1,667 words per day. That’s manageable. Depending on how fast a person types, it usually takes about two hours. And I love attending write-ins and hanging out on the on-line forums. It’s bliss knowing other Wrimos (that’s what participants call each other) are also hammering at keyboards.

I’m often asked how to plan for NaNoWriMo. Although participants aren’t allowed to write even so much as a single word of the actual project before 12:01AM on November 1st, preparation is encouraged. I usually prepare by procrastinating and daydreaming.

More pantser than plotter, I write first drafts by the seat of my pants. I’ll start out with an idea (what if a unicorn barista is enlisted by some homeless tree huggers to save a giant sycamore from destruction in the I-270/315/23 construction project?) and an ending (the unicorn wins!) and when November rolls around, I’ll start typing. So far, I’ve been able to “win” every year I’ve entered. Did I wind up with a publishable manuscript? Of course not! But I did complete a ton more writing than if I hadn’t started at all.

In October, I also stock up on supplies. For me that means plenty of decaf coffee and healthy snacks. One year I needed a giant dry erase board. Another year required colored markers and gel pens. And I’m never without my fingerless gloves for when the warm days of early November give way to the frigid final weeks.

Are you ready to take the challenge? I hope you’ll join us. Check out the website and be sure to join the region for whatever area you live. And friend me. I’m willwrite4chocolate. I’ll watch for you!

Do The Math!

“Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.” ~Dean Schlicter

I was surprised recently during a conversation with my left-brained friend, Maureen. I was complaining about the daunting task of sending query letters.

“It’s overwhelming,” I said. “I get freaked out. And the rejections are so depressing.”

“Do you have a goal?” she asked.

Although the word “goal” set my teeth on edge, I admitted that I wanted to send one hundred query letters by the end of July.

“How’s it coming?” she asked.

I explained that I’d sent out twenty. “Some days I can’t send any,” I said. “Other days I send three or four.”

In response, she asked something that seemed so contradictory, so absurd, I laughed.

“Have you done the math?”

“The math?” I asked, certain she didn’t understand me, or the creative process. Right-brained people like me don’t do math. Besides, what did math have to do with asking agents if they would represent my book?

Exasperated I said, “What’s math got to do with it?” Then, only joking a little, I added, “I’m a lawyer. We pay accountants to do math for us.”

She chuckled, “Well, if you figured out how many query letters per day you needed to send in order to meet your goal, it might take some of the drama out of the process.”

Drama? Yes. Drama.

She added, “It would quantify things. Make them more mechanical. Less emotional.”

“Quantify,” I repeated. Then it dawned one me that quantifying a project was exactly what I did each November during National Novel Writing Month. We each have the goal of writing 50,000 words in thirty days, but none of us can think about that. Instead we each focus on the daily goal of 1,667 words. Every day we meet that goal and by the end of the month we’ve each written 50,000 words.

This is why it’s helpful to have left-brained friends. Maureen’s solution had never occurred to me. She is creative as well, but her first instinct was to apply structure to what seemed to me to be a very messy problem. Structure made it manageable.

Our conversation happened in the middle of June. I had 80 more letters to send and there were 32 week days left until the end of July. (80 &divide 32 = 2.5 per day) Therefore, if I sent three query letters each week day, I’d finish before the end of July.

I’ve followed Maureen’s advice and I’m well on my way to my goal. As an added bonus, focusing on the mechanics of sending letters and on the number of letters sent instead of the emotional prospect of receiving a rejection, has toned down the drama.

Keep those left-brained people around. We need them!

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