I don't have an inner editor. No, really, I don't. I know what you're thinking. . . I must be producing some really sloppy work and never get beyond the first draft. But that's just not true. My work still gets revised, I just hate that four-lettered word: edit. It was the bane of my existence for years. I would sit down to write and would barely get started before my Inner Editor would stick her nose in and start telling me everything I was doing wrong and convince me there was no point in moving forward with the project if it wasn't going to be completely perfect from the get-go. Anyone who has ever tried writing that way knows exactly how counter-productive it is.I struggled with my inner editor through college and grad school, barely eeking out more than one or two short stories a year that didn't involve a firm deadline and a letter grade that would impact my GPA. I secretly worried it would take me decades to finish a novel when I was ready to tackle one. I needed a perspective shift and my inner editor needed a new career.
Photo by Bill Longshaw
When I looked at my writing process, I began to see similarities between the way I write and the way a house is built. I'm no expert on construction, but one thing is pretty clear about building a house: you need the basics -- a foundation, walls, a roof over your head, doors and windows to let in light (light is so important!) before you can start hanging curtains, painting walls and arranging furniture. I began to think of my writing in this way. My early drafts were the foundation and walls going up. A house being built is often ugly, and it is hard to imagine the beautiful finished product in the early stages when it is just a bunch of concrete poured into a hole in the ground and studs stick up out of it. But without that ugly phase, you would never get to the fun part of making it look pretty. Which is exactly what the editing process feels like for me. It is beautifying. It is smoothing out the language, finding the flaws and patching them. Hanging curtains, painting walls, finding that rug that really brings the whole room together. It is taking what is bland and lifeless and making it exciting, welcoming. It is taking an empty room and creating a space that is not just livable, but lovable. Something you will share with your family and friends. Places where memories happen. Places that take on a life of their own.
Photo from Photostock
My inner editor and I sat down and talked. I waved a lot of pretty colors at her and convinced her that editing wasn't for her. She would, however, make a fabulous interior decorator. And I just so happened to be building some houses, as long as she could be patient enough for me to finish them. And so a new working relationship began. At first she didn't get it. She was pretty excited about her new career and kept shoving fabric swatches and paint samples at me while I was writing, but it was suddenly easier to tell her to back off. I could put it in terms that made it obvious it wasn't her turn yet.
"I can't look at fabric for curtains when I don't know for sure if I am going to even put a window there yet," I'll point out.
"Oh, good point. I will just put this in my folder of possibilities until you're done." And she'll return to all her glossy magazines and make mental notes of things she might like to do if the finished space turns out the way she plans.
Photo by Julie A. Wenskoski
It was liberating. I suddenly was in charge of what I was creating and my reasons for telling her no were too logical for her to argue. Sure, she always has plans for the space, and that is acceptable because her plans are ultimately dictated by my finished product. And I was able to give myself permission to create something unrefined and even ugly. When the time comes, my inner interior decorator is always there to help make it beautiful, to make it a habitable home.
I love the city. I really do. Chicago is home to me in ways that all the other places I've lived never could be. I love living without a car and all the fun and excitement that Chicago has to offer. I don't even mind the winters. But sometimes, I find myself really missing nature. I grew up in the foothills of Colorado and let's face it, the Rocky Mountains are hard not to miss. But fortunately for me, my sweetie's mom lives further out in Illinois in an area surrounded by woods. We went to visit her this past weekend, and nature seemed like maybe it missed me too. Saturday had some lovely weather (for a change) and we had a couple deer stroll through the backyard to help themselves to the buffet normally reserved for the birds and squirrels. They didn't seem too picky though. I was able to snap some pictures of them through the windows and they didn't mind. Well, one of them didn't anyway. The other took off not long after I snapped this one.
I was very grateful to them for putting in an appearance and it set the perfect mood for writing. I spent a lovely while outside in the backyard soaking up the sun and writing. I'm thinking a trip to Colorado might need to be arranged soon. Maybe I will have to check out some of my favorite places I would escape to to go write when I was in high school.
In other news, I have finally succeeded in getting Google Friend Connect to work on my site (special thanks to my good luck charm Crystal!) So if you have been wanting to follow me in an easier manner than the RSS feed, now you can.
Back to my WIP!
Books in general make me happy. I love reading books, I love writing books, and I even love the smell of books. I have embraced e-books, but still have overflowing bookshelves at home. I really couldn't imagine my life without books in one form or another.
Because I have embraced the age of the Kindle though, a bit of guilt has started to settle in. I am afraid for the indie book shops. After all, if a giant corporation can fall to their knees because they couldn't keep up, how is the little guy supposed to compete? So, I've been making a special effort to pop into my favorite local indie bookshop lately to make any purchases that I otherwise couldn't get as an e-book. This has consisted of magazines, and lit mags, journals, and non-fiction books that I just simply prefer not to read as an e-book. This special effort to use any excuse to support the indie bookstore has resulted in a renewed love for buying journals and blank books.
My love for blank books started when I was in middle school and I still have the set of three that my mom bought for me when I was somewhere around the age of 11. Back then though, I was afraid to use them, wanting only completed stories and poems that were worthy of such a fine home as those beautiful books with their pages so full of promise. To this day, all three of them remain only partially full. I continued to buy blank books well into my adulthood with this fear of mucking them up. It was only within the last few years that I finally realized that the act of writing is in itself beautiful and even when messy, incomplete, and full of errors, any form of self-expression deserves to be house in a book with a beautiful cover. I have begun to fill all the blank books I've collected over the years quite zealously. I relish their worn, well-loved looks and enjoy flipping through the pages, remembering where I was or what frame of mind I was in when I wrote a certain story or jotted down a new idea. They are more beautiful when being used.
Because of this relatively new idea for me, I have become especially interested in journals that are made to be messy -- journals that contain some sort of theme that mandates you use it and abuse it. I found one such journal last weekend, hiding out on a shelf that was inaccurately labeled "Young Adult Fiction". When I purchased it, I assumed it was intended for a YA audience, but as I have dived into it, I recognize the authors actually expected adults to make use of their book. The Happy Book is intended to celebrate what makes you happy. This struck a very special chord with me because for so many years of my life, I had no idea what it really felt like to be happy. The last three years of my life have been about cultivating happiness, not just in me, but in those around me. I was enchanted by many of the prompts after just a few seconds of flipping through it. I decided it would be $15 well spent, and not just because I was supporting the little bookstore either.
I officially started my happy book today and I can't tell you how excited I am! I have decided to give myself a full year to complete the book. A lot of the pages require interaction with other people and there may be times I share parts of it here on my blog or even ask for help from anyone who may be following along.
The first exercise in the book is to make a list of things that make you happy. I have decided to save this and add one thing every day for the next year. That way I will have 365 things by next April 13. The first item on my list, the one for today: Writing.
My first therapist once told me, "Pursue what you love, and everything else will fall into place." I believe that wholeheartedly, and I have found her words to be true time and again. I pursue writing because I love it. It makes me happy. And I am looking forward to finding and remembering all kinds of other happy things over the next year.
Just a quick announcement to let everyone know that one of my short shorts is up on The Mom Egg blog as their featured story this week. Split Set is the same story that just placed as an honorable mention in the WOW! Flash Fiction contest, so for those of you who wanted to read the story, now's your chance!
(I sit at a table in a coffee shop. A glass with a straw and melting ice sits on the table. Condensation pools around it. My laptop is open in front of me. I stare at the blank word processor document that fills the screen of my laptop. A teenage girl approaches me timidly. I ignore her.)
Girl (whispering): Um, excuse me?
Girl: Hi, I'm. . .um. . .
Me: Sure, I'd love another iced tea.
Girl: No, I'm not the server.
Me (looking up): Oh. What can I do for you?
Girl: Well, I'm the one you've been waiting for.
Me: I'm sorry, can you speak up? I can barely hear you.
Girl: That's because you've been ignoring me.
Me: I don't even know you.
Girl: You know me better than you think. Look closer.
(I close my laptop and study the girl.)
Me: You're not. . .
Girl: Yes, I am.
Me: But you've changed so much. You were just a little mouse of a thing when I found you. I told you to go sit in the corner until I had time for you.
Girl: Yes, I know. But you didn't leave me alone like you intended.
Girl: No, of course not. You know very well that you've been adding to me secretly -- when you ride the train to work, when you are drifting off to sleep at night, whenever you remind yourself you need to be writing, you slip off and visit me.
Me: I know, but I don't mean to. I really don't have time for you right now.
Girl: Why not?
Me: Well, I am still editing my first novel.
Girl: As you have been for over two years now.
Me: And then there is my second novel. You know, the one I am two chapters away from finishing a first draft on.
Girl: These excuses would hold more credibility if you had actually worked on either project at anytime in the last month.
Me: You don't understand. . . the experts say. . .
Girl: The experts? There are experts on you?
Me: No, the experts on writing.
Girl: And they know the perfect process for every writer on the planet?
Me: Well no, but see, I'm a beginner. I've never had a novel published.
Girl: And you never will at this rate.
Me: Gee, thanks. Can you go back to your corner now?
Girl (sighing): Fine. I'll go back to my stupid corner now. But first I need to give you a message.
Me: When did you get so bossy?
Girl: Just now.
Me: And I did that?
Girl: Of course. I wouldn't exist at all without you.
Me: Okay, what is your message?
Girl: I'm the one you've been waiting for.
Me: Who now?
Girl: You know. . . the One. That Character you've dreamed of creating since you first dreamed of writing.
Me: I still don't get it.
Girl: Sheesh, of all the aspiring artists I could have been saddled with. . . look, I am the reason you haven't typed a single word since you sat down.
Me: Well, thanks a lot. Please fix it.
Girl: Oh, I can fix it alright.
Girl: Do you really need to ask how?
Me: You want me to write you, don't you?
Girl: Thank the powers that be. There may be hope yet.
Me: I'd love to. I really would, but there are my other projects. Fiona and Regan need to see their novels completed.
Girl: And they will be. Trust me. But there is something else the experts say that is even more important than the advice about not trying to write multiple novels at the same time.
Me: Trust my instincts?
Me: So now what?
Girl: Give yourself permission. And start writing.
Me: I think I can do that.
Girl: Good. Still want me to go back to my corner?
Me: Not a chance.
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