Zooming Out on My Mental Spaceship

I am in my parents’ living room typing away. It is two days before Christmas. 

Two and a half years ago, I was in this same room, except it was spring break of my sophomore year. I had just wrapped up the first draft of my first manuscript. 

Today, I’m pushing myself to hit that fabled 80,000 word mark on my second novel. 

When I finished the first book, I was closing the door on characters who had been jumping around my head, living, fighting themselves & each other, existing, for years. I had finally gotten all of that story out on the page (well, screen). 

And my brain was quiet. Too quiet. 

The mental chatter stopped, because I figured out what I was trying to say. The story, for all the revisions and editing it would soon enough endure, existed. 

At that point, that’s all it had to do. I would still have to shape it, but for the moment, it and its characters let go of me. 

Between going through more revisions than I can count on that book, spending more energy writing poetry, and cycling through a couple of story ideas before my current WIP grabbed me this summer, I thought I would never write another full novel. I would never have another idea that was worth the time. I wouldn’t know how to work with different characters. 

Beyond those fears, I worried I had lost my grip on the act of creating. That the lessons I’d taken from crafting my first book would slip away. I mean, it had been a few years, and I’d changed a lot. Who was to say my creative process wouldn’t grow with me, making every step into unfamiliar territory? I had outlined the first book gain and again until I thought I had a story good enough, but did I even believe in excessively detailed outlines anymore? 

First book took me seven months to draft, from 0 words to 80,000. 

Second book? I started this past October and I’m sneaking past that mark here in the last few days of December. 

I attribute that to a better understanding of how to write a novel objectively, as well as what works for me personally. This time around, I wrote up a brief synopsis to get the bones down. NaNoWriMo pushed me to reach 50,000 words, and you know I couldn’t leave that draft unfinished, no matter how bad it ended up being. 

For the past couple of months, I wasn’t feeling totally consumed by this story like I had been by the first one. Were the characters not compelling enough? Had I not taken the time to do enough research? WHY DON’T I FEEL AS WRAPPED UP AS I DID BEFORE? I attributed this lack of confidence to some deficiency in my writing, some defect in the story I just couldn’t see. 

But it’s not that. Like I said, all this vomit draft has to do is exist. 

Maybe it’s like how Christmas was so magical as a kid. Now that I’m 22, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos, in the business, in the gift-buying and wrapping and giving and cooking and frenzying around, so bad that we don’t even appreciate the real meaning of the holiday. 

I’m in grad school now. I’m more of an independent adult. I’m more comfortable and confident in myself, shifting in so many ways from the person I was in March 2017. I don’t have the unbroken hours to write like I did in high school when I was planning the first book. 

As I wrapped up my current draft, even in the last 10,000 words or so, my vision for this story expanded. Now I see what it’s really about. 

All the bones are scattered, but they exist. 

Hitting my totally arbitrary 80,000-word goal, scrolling through over 300 pages of sentences of varying quality, stepping away from that mess for a few weeks or a month or whatever it takes to marinate, that’s like zooming out. Watching Earth from a spaceship. You’ve lived in this world for so long, where cities, countries, continents, and seas seemed impossibly vast. And you blink, and now they’re microscopic dots on a globe. 

The problems don’t go away, but for now, that doesn’t matter. 

One day in the new year, I’ll come back down to earth and get my hands dirty with revision. 

For now, I’m enjoying the view. 

And you should too. I’m sincerely grateful for everyone who takes the time to read my blog and has played a part in my 2019. From the bottom of my heart, here’s to happy holidays and a blessed, graceful new year. 

Looking Back on 2019 & Ahead to 2020

I wrapped up finals last week and, surprisingly to anyone who knows me and even to myself, I’m doing better at finding time to breathe amidst the chaotic holiday rush. And with the end of the calendar year comes a retrospective wrap-up at the rollercoaster ride that was my personal 2019.

In all honesty, it was probably one of the most important years of my life. I cried a lot. I also loved a lot. I learned about myself in ways that were sometimes painful, but always profound.

I graduated college, presented at a national conference (and I’m working towards a reappearance at the 2020 event), and got my first publication that wasn’t through a lit mag at my school. Thanks to amazing organizations like The Lit Exhibit and She Will Speak, I got my poetry in front of new audiences I never would’ve found on my own. I joined One Love as a writer and survived my first semester of graduate school (which also involved a lot of writing, but also a lot of staring at SPSS).

(Head on over to Boston Hassle to read about my Top 5 DIY Moments of 2019 that inspired me to keep creating even when life doesn’t make it easy or profitable).

In the gap between my graduation and starting grad school this fall, I took my identity as a writer more seriously. I worked at building my social media presence, including this blog, my Twitter, and Instagram, to connect with the writing community. I took more creative risks and let it transform my relationships with friends, family, and other writers.

In book news, a totally new idea took over during the second half of this year. I started drafting it in October and I’m hoping to have a vaguely book-shaped thing by midnight on January 1.

I’m also excited to share that my personal essay, heavily based on a talk I gave at a retreat back in April, will be printed in this book, available now. If you’re looking for a book full of Christian witness for the holidays, this is it!

Thanks for being a part of my journey this year. I’m going to take a break from this blog over the next few weeks to really be present with my friends and family, so enjoy your holidays and I’ll see you in 2020!

Strategies for Writing

Last night, I wrapped up my last final of my first semester of grad school. The past few months have simultaneously seemed to fly by and drag, if that’s possible. I got used to a new program, new professors, a totally new campus, and a totally different approach to learning, all of which caused some significant shifts in the beautiful chaos that my life had been since starting undergrad.

Don’t take me as the authority on all graduate programs, because I’m sure they vary, but at least in mine, the classes meet once a week for a couple of hours, and there’s even fewer assignments than your typical undergrad class. So the bulk of my final grades this semester were determined by a huge group presentation and a final exam that took the form of multiple essay questions, each question with multiple parts. Still waiting to know my official fate (and it still confuses me that we’re calling essays “exams” now, but I digress).

Are you stressed yet?

Even though I’ve always preferred writing papers to taking exams, these were challenging because 1) I didn’t know what the professors would really expect and 2) most of my energy was spent figuring out exactly what the multiple questions were asking before I even thought about writing.

This got me thinking. Theoretically, I should know a lot about useful learning strategies. I researched them for three years! I presented at a national conference! But most of the strategies that would help you study for a test don’t really work when you move beyond concrete, testable knowledge (think true/false questions, multiple choice, something where there’s an objective, correct answer) to more abstract tasks like paper-writing.

Or… do they?

I’m excited to share that a post I wrote earlier this year is now featured on the Learning Scientists blog. In this piece, I review some previous education and cognitive research and suggest ways we might apply what we know about learning to writing, as well as how writers’ brains work in general.

These tips can work for educators or students at any level, and I hope you find them just as enlightening as I did.

Stay tuned for my year-end retrospective wrap-up, coming within… well, these last few days of THE DECADE (is anyone else just as excited and shocked as I am that we’re entering the 2020s?!).

I’ve also got some extra special things in store before the end of the year, so watch my social media for updates! In the coming weeks, I hope you get to enjoy some holiday cheer.

Photo by Bram Naus via Unsplash.

3 Things That Inspired My WIP

All my favorite bands.

You get +5 points if you got that Dawes reference.

All the time I’ve spent the past decade crawling interviews with artists, watching concert videos, and generally procrastinating has not been in vain! I’ve been imagining this book as a love letter to every artist I’ve loved since I was a kid, and I’ve been putting pieces of them into my fictional rock stars.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about the music I’ve loved without obviously fangirling too hard, and I think it’s finally happening. Get ready for some dusty, indie chic adventures with a folk-rock flair.

Strong Women

I’ve been describing this book as A Star is Born in a post-#MeToo world. It even starts on October 15th, 2017, when Alyssa Milano sent out the Tweet that would spark so much societal outrage and inspire so many women to tell their stories.

It’s one thing to hear celebrities talk about workplace harassment and feel that powerful men will always exist in the structures that have allowed them to do terrible things. That can be easy to look away from.

But it’s quite another thing when someone you know and love relives her own pain and trauma to share her story, and I wanted to honor the stories of women I know while putting my secondhand rage into something productive. Words are the best weapons.

Daisy Jones & the Six.

If you love music, if you love books, if you love learning the psychology and personal conflict behind the creative process of great musical and artwork, read this book. It’s a deep dive into the history of the biggest (fictional) band of the 1970s, and the personal chaos that led to their breakup. It drew me in because author Taylor Jenkins Reid said Fleetwood Mac was a huge inspiration, which is obvious once you dive into the story.

Side note, that cover is goals.

It was up for many awards this year (deservedly so) and it’s going to be an Amazon series, so get on it! OK, I said I wouldn’t fangirl, but this is fangirling over a book, so does it count?

Anyway, reading this music book over the summer solidified my long-term dream into a plan to write one of my own. I told myself that if Taylor Jenkins Reid can write a fictional band so clearly based on real people without a lawsuit, I can write one based on… someone else with whom you may be familiar.

I had originally planned on writing an entirely different book this year, but right around June or July I was hit with the perfect storm of ingredients. I crossed the 50k mark in the draft this November for NaNoWriMo, and I hope to finish the remaining 30-ish thousand words of what I’m affectionately calling my vomit draft by the end of 2019. Cheers to 2020!

And if you’re curious, or just really like indie rock like me, check out the novel’s ever-growing Spotify playlist here.

Photo by Kristopher Roller via Unsplash.