Editing, Writing

2014: What I’ve Learned

Last night while jamming away to some Lana Del Rey, typing out a scene on my third novel, hanging out with my writing community on twitter, it occurred to me how completely in the singularity I felt in that moment. I pounded out the words like a steady waterfall, the music in my ears pushing me toward greater heights while in the background my twitter friends threw out tweets on the latest viral hashtag. Everything felt perfect, and it didn’t take sex, booze, or hiking a thousand miles through the wilderness to feel that way. My husband sat on the couch, oblivious to the world spinning out through my keyboard. My kids were fast asleep in their beds, finally sleeping completely through the night, and as my scene came to life from my mind to the page, I felt the confidence of a real storyteller. My Chaucer professor once demonstrated how a bard would gain control of a room by letting out a loud QUACK. I don’t remember how to spell it, but I remember the sound as it echoed in the classroom, loud, commanding, a little wild. She flung her whole body back and belted out the word. I guess you could say this year, I found my QUACK. I hit my stride. I took life by the balls. It felt good.

So here’s my takeaway from 2014.

1) If there is something you love to do, do it. Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it for validation from your parents, your friends, your significant other, your teachers, or those assholes back in high school or wherever. Do it for yourself. Do it because it calls you. I spent ten years not writing and I told myself writing was childish, a waste of time, that I could never write anything great. But the truth is, I was afraid of failing and failing hard. I went for the low-hanging fruit because I knew I could grasp it, but I what I didn’t know is…

2) Love never fails. You can never fail at anything you love. If you have a calling, if you are driven beyond all reason to do something–art, activism, writing, spirituality, teaching–you don’t define that love in terms of wins or losses, failures or successes. You can’t quantify it, monetize it, box it up, sell it, or hang it on a wall. The books I’m writing right now may be bestsellers or they may end up collecting cobwebs in the purgatory of smashwords, but I love writing as I love my spouse. Rich, poor, smiling, or grumpy when the Packers lose, our marriage goes on, the love keeps going. It is endless and doesn’t break against whatever shit life throws at it. Rejection? Bad review? They hurt, but the love barrels through like the light beaming on the face of a cargo train rolling through the desert. Loud, fierce, and unstoppable.

3) Craft Matters. In spite of the hippie love fest above, I discovered something that most artists won’t tell you. It’s not magic. I mean, it is magic. But it’s not. Not really. There are tricks, techniques, and structures that work very well and can make your life so much easier if you get a grasp on them. As an example, when I sat down to write my first book, I just thought…I don’t think I thought anything, honestly. “Oh, a book! Let’s write a book! And there will be characters and magic and romance! Weeeeeeee!!!” I don’t think I would ever just “sit down” and “write a book” ever again. While I still write most of my work by pantsing it, I’ve realized now that my first drafts seriously blow if I don’t have three things sorted out:  goals, conflict, and stakes. As long as I have these three things (and a butt load of sex), I’m golden.

4) It’s okay. You can look like an idiot in front of your peers. You won’t die. One of the scariest things I did this year was get involved on Twitter with various writing contest and pitch parties. Before, I had only showed my work to a few very carefully vetted beta readers. It’s not that I can’t take criticism or don’t welcome it when it comes in the form of solid, constructive feedback, it’s the vulnerability that comes with showing people your writing. The page never lies. It tells all your secrets. It shows you for who you are every single time. Worst of all, as a beginning writer, it shows you struggling, making mistakes, just…not being very good. The most courageous thing I did this year was post something on a forum and basically admit to the world, “Yeah, this is pretty awful right now.” And yes, there were one or two jerkstores out there, but there were also people who encouraged me, gave me awesome comments, loved my ideas, and wanted to work with me. I created my own little writer haven, albeit virtually, and it’s the happiest I’ve been since I used to hangout at Jim’s Coffee Shop, writing poetry with my neo-Beatnik pals.

5) I have courage. And not the get up in front of a bar full of people and belt out Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” courage, but real deep down, Harry Potter fighting Voldemort emotional courage. From posting to writing forums, to sending out my first query, to going to my first karate class, to writing love scenes, I know I can dig deep and persevere. I’m not afraid of what will happen next year because I know I can face it with my foam bat posse and my mad karate chop skills.

So, bring it, 2015!

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