First Draft: Finished!

Greetings, earthlings! I’ve been on an emotional high for the past few hours. When I think about it, I can’t help smiling. What’s going on in my life, you wonder? Remember that post I made a few months ago about the first draft of my novel?

Though I haven’t had the most eventful spring break, I did accomplish one of the many goals I set for myself over this week: I finished the first draft of my book. I typed the last few words of Loud Whispers this evening, right after dinner.

giphyIt was just as exhilarating as you’d think. I mean, I wrote a whole novel. I told 80,256 words of a story. They are terribly imperfect words, and over the past few days, as I realized I was nearing the end of the draft, I started coming up with ways to revise problems that I already know I have (*sneaky writer smile*). I’ll be the first one to admit that my first draft sucks – there are definitely three scenes in a row that repeat the same information or phrasing, scenes that serve no purpose, pieces of dialogue that sound fake, run-on sentences galore and phrases that don’t make sense, even to me. Whole chapters are definitely out of order – I sent two of my characters on a cross-country road trip from Boston to California, and I’ve written their stop in Chicago after the part that takes place in San Antonio.

Like, have I even looked at a map of the United States in my life?

Oh, and did I mention my total lack of description of some of the settings? I swear at least half of this story takes place in a vacuum of boring whiteness, because I just forgot to talk about where the things were happening. That means there’s still a ton of research I have to do – thank the good Lord for Pinterest so I can just add pretty pictures of the cities I’ve never seen to my board.

And how could I forget to mention the fact that there are scenes in my document that are contained entirely in [brackets]. Like right now they’re just summaries of the longer, better scenes that they should be, because I got lazy and wanted to write a part that was more fun and told myself I’d return to that part when I looked at the manuscript as a whole during my editing process.

And – perhaps the scariest thought – who knows, maybe I don’t actually have a story in there at all. Maybe it’s just 80,000 words of pretentious philosophical meandering that no one else will ever want to read. Ever.

But guess what? I don’t care about any of that right now. Those flaws I mentioned – I’ll get to them in stages as I revise. I’ll tackle one thing at a time. Tonight, I wrote those words and then had a big cup of hot chocolate to celebrate. Yes, I know my first draft is crap. All first drafts are. Tonight I finally finished the novel that had been kicking around in the back of my head, in at least some form, for years.

Continue reading, dear friend, and I shall play you the song of my people uh, I mean, tell you the story of the story. Storyception. Kind of like that song How a Bill Becomes a Law from Schoolhouse Rock, but instead How an Idea Becomes a Sort-of-OK-Novel-Draft.

Once upon a time, way back when I was a wee sophomore in high school, I wrote a story. Because I grew up watching too many Law & Order marathons, it featured a crime. The details aren’t really all that important, because the story wasn’t all that good since I didn’t know what I was doing. But the characters stayed with me, and before I knew one of the side characters I’d only barely introduced at the end became the main character, and a new story had to be told.

From there, Loud Whispers (I love a good oxymoron) has gone through about a thousand different incarnations, and just as many titles. I knew the theme from the beginning – the interconnectedness of our lives and the responsibilities we have to one another. After I discovered Katie Weiland’s fabulous writing blog (she’s definitely earned a place in my book’s acknowledgements) and spent countless hours walking myself through her guides, I learned how to map out the plot structure as well as all of the major character arcs. I outlined until I thought I was ready to finally sit down and write.

But I would still struggle to write the story. Every time I set my fingers to the keyboard, trusty cup(s) of tea within reach, I would come to a grinding halt around 20,000 words. Then, as I tried to troubleshoot whatever was going wrong, I’d get stuck in an endless cycle of re-outlining, re-writing, and… whatever the rest of my life was deciding to throw at me.

I think one of the biggest problems I had was desiring that everything be perfect on the first try. This perfectionism infects all areas of my life, not just writing. Recently, though, I’m happy to say that I’m starting to see it let go of me. I can’t pinpoint a particular time or place that I started to see this happening, but I know that I am strong enough to move forward with less fear.

Two summers ago, before I started college, I finally nailed the plot twist that was going to tie all the story’s pieces together. When it hit me, (I won’t go into too much detail because, you know, spoilers) I was unsure about including it. I thought it would be too mature, beyond my abilities. But now, I don’t think the story that I want to tell would be half as powerful without it. And even then, when I knew what was supposed to happen, I struggled with the actual writing.

According to Google Docs, I created the document for this draft on August 19th. So I’ve been working on it for almost exactly eight months. I spent many months before that trying to figure out what was wrong with this story that was keeping me from writing it the way I wanted to. There’s definitely at least a dozen (probably more) half-started drafts hanging around my computer, which I kept in the hope that the many hours I’d spent working on them wouldn’t be in vain and that at least a sentence or two would be valuable. And maybe there’s something of value there.

Anyway, I can feel myself starting to lose my focus. My point is: I’ve learned a lot writing this darn thing – about the craft of writing, yes, but also about life. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t let the fear of failure scare you off from what might be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

And accept humble, crappy beginnings. Potatoes have to grow in a lot of dirt to become the beautiful sources of nutrients they are.

I shall end with this meme, which I stole from Pinterest/Whisper. Maybe it will explain what I mean.


An Update on That Secret Thing

This is going to be the year. Maybe even the month, if I’m a real overachiever (which I am). The year of what, you nonexistent readers ask? Well, among other things, I’m finally going to nail down a real, messy first draft of my novel.

Which is probably the big bad secret project I’m working on and hide when you come near my computer. I have several, but that’s probably the one.

I have probably half of the first draft done as I write this, meaning that 1) I should stop writing this post and go work on it and 2) I still have a lot left to do because the story changed so much as I wrote the darn thing that parts of the beginning are now totally irrelevant. But fixing all those issues, like my lovely prologue that I’m going to cut, is what rewrites are for. And oh boy, am I going to need several rewrites.

But yes, my novel is happening and will happen. *insert cool sunglasses emoji here*

A Trickling Stream of Words…

It’s August 1st. That means only 27 days remain until I get to move back into college and start what will hopefully be another brilliant year. The flip side of that, of course, is that I get to enjoy the company of my family and cats for only 27 more days. The start of August also means that most of summer 2016 is behind me, for better or worse. Most of summer is behind me, and I have to confess that I haven’t written as much as I’d hoped I would when I came home in May with all the intentions of using up every bit of daylight ahead of me.

My writing is where I go to escape the narrowness, the stress, of my everyday life. In streams of words I can build worlds, tell truths and explore fantasies, and speak in a voice that is authentically mine. Lately, though, that stream has been running pretty dry. It’s like I can hear every drip. This is supposed to be the one thing you’re good at, I tell myself, so do it!! But it’s hard to set aside a silent block of time conducive to creativity amid all my other responsibilities and tasks, and the last thing I want is for my writing to become just another chore I need to check off of a to-do list. And lately, as Everything Else has been forming a chaotic storm with me in the middle and the clouds build, I find it even more difficult to focus than during school when I had three papers due and squeezed two hundred words onto my story before passing out around midnight once (that’s a true story).

I think the first thing I need to do is shut out all my distractions: leave my phone in another room so I won’t be tempted to snapchat and check Instagram and my email every five minutes, then put on my big headphones and get into the groove of some instrumentals (because lyrics, however beautiful, no matter how much I love the artist, are distracting). Then I should just say a prayer, open up a new document, and dive in.

The second thing I should abandon is my fear. Writing and reading have always been my things, like how some people have passions for baseball, or hiking, or… whatever. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words, how much influence they have over us in various settings. Bottom line: I’ve always been a nerd. My parents know it. My friends know it. They believe in me. Heck, I’m taking a whole 3-credit course in the fall about tutoring other people in writing! That doesn’t mean I’m the next Shakespeare (and I’d never imagine even coming close to that level) and of course, academic writing requires a different approach than creative writing or personal writing. When I write an essay, I first want to understand the topic and what I’m supposed to do, and then come up with a possible thesis. When I’m writing a poem or a story, I try to start with a feeling. There might be a particular scene that plays out in my mind like the perfect movie; those are my favorite and I try to get to those. Or I might start with a person, who’s probably got some deep emotional baggage, and get them to resonate with real people. In either case, a certain phrase I’m dying to use will probably start rolling around in my mind. I just have to convince myself that even though I’m not getting a degree in English, I have a mind and a keyboard (sometimes it’s a notebook and pen, or my phone) and a perspective that I need to share. That’s why we do this, after all. It’s easy to quote Hemingway and say that “the first draft of anything is shit.” I know that nothing short of a miracle will let my fingers spin pure gold out of those little square with letters. Writing would be a million times easier if it didn’t feel like putting together an invisible jigsaw puzzle, but it would also be less meaningful.

When I think about how I want my current story to end up, it’s easy to imagine it in someone else’s hands, perfect, making her laugh and cry and feel. It’s easy to think about how everyone will love it. But more importantly, I also know exactly why I wanted to write it in the first place. I just have to get back on track. If I get too caught up in daydreams, I try and remember this motivation.

I have to be confident. I have to believe in the words that got me to where I am. I have to break this gray cycle of monotony that keeps me from focusing on what I should be doing.

Which is writing. 🙂



What is Love? – Not Just Baby Don’t Hurt Me

I’d like to take back a word that society has hijacked. Take back a word that is only used in a stressful, specific romantic framework. And I know Frozen was supposed to shatter our notions. But why is it awkward for me, a heterosexual female, to say “I love you” to my male friends and not to the female ones?

Loving someone means you want the best for him or her and you will support him or her. Love means you will sacrifice. It’s not always romantic. Our loose society has amped up the moments during which you say these words. Let’s take back the words and feel free to say “I love you” to our friends.

What the Thunder Said

Well, I guess technically it didn’t say anything, because it only rained today. But this title comes from a fabulous section of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem “The Waste Land.”

As you can see in one of my recent posts, the transition from college back to living at home brings cascades of different emotions. It’s easy to feel terribly alone when your best friends from school live far away and all your friends from home are either on family vacations, otherwise out of state, busy working, or hanging out with all your other friends and acting as if you’re invisible.

That last part hit me hard today. I thought it was going to be a great day; I slept in late and woke up to fresh air and the sound of birds chirping. Finding myself alone in the house, I made some tea and ate breakfast. I read some Flannery O’Connor. Listened to the rain. And then, even though the storm eventually stopped, the waiting game began.

Waiting for what? Waiting for someone to come home, or text me, or snapchat me, or call me, a storm to blow through, a trumpet to call from the heavens. Anything that could be perceived as a form of interested contact. It is still cloudy outside.

Well, I’m typing this post on my couch right now, after I cried and cuddled with my cat because I was watching my family members sleep and feeling terribly alone (now they’re fighting and I’m still sitting in my corner listening to rare demos of my favorite songs on YouTube).

I know that the people I know here aren’t intentionally leaving me on an island. They might just don’t think I’m interested in spending time with them because I tend to be quiet around them. I’m just not the kind of person to insert myself into an already established social circle and lead and ask what everyone wants to do. We have different stories, and I was never super really wicked close with anyone anyway. Still, though, it’s sad that they never reach out to me and put all the blame on me for not trying to be a part of a friendship. To me, any kind of relationship is supposed to have a shared responsibility for connection. Clearly, no one was reaching out to me, so I stopped reaching out to them, knowing that they didn’t want to be around me. This was exacerbated by watching everyone have fun together on social media. Especially when they can’t respond to my texts or snapchats within days, it sends a clear message to me at least, regardless of whether that’s really their intentions.

I know I sound pretty paranoid, but that’s my perspective. I just feel like that if I ever text somebody to hang out or do something, it won’t work out. Past experience has taught me that, and being at school was a totally awesome, welcome change because we were all there together.

I am tired of being a slave to my phone, constantly checking for signs of life even when there’s not a single notification there. I’m tired of feeling like an afterthought. I want my positivity and happiness back. I started reading a list of maxims from one of my favorite saints, Philip Neri. He had one for every day of the year, and even though some of them were harsh, I pray to have humility and joy like him.

So I wrote a daily reminder for myself, and anyone who needs it: you are not an afterthought to Jesus.