When Creativity Asks to be a Marathon

I'm working on a new book.

I wasn't expecting this. In fact, back in December, I set intentions around me completing my memoir by March. And well, obviously this isn't gonna happen. It wouldn't even happen if I negotiated an extension and told my creativity I would be done by June. I know the time it takes for me to finish a book now, and if I sat down and wrote about 1000 words a day, I would definitely be nowhere near wrapping up that particular story. 

But a few months ago, I realized something that stopped me in my tracks.

This doesn't really matter. All of the moving and breathing through scenes, all of the struggle with wrangling the narrative, all of the wondering why it felt so difficult to write about my own life: it's part of it all. My memoir will be a marathon.

I think I always knew this was going to be the case. I mean, I started this book three years ago when my husband and I went away for the weekend. Sitting on the balcony as the sun ruse above the clouds, I penned what would soon become the first chapter. Since that moment, my ideas for what the over-arching theme would be have morphed consistently. 

Adoption.
Creativity. 
Finding my voice.
Building a life out of words.
Friendship.

It's only been recently — as in a few weeks ago — that I finally understood how it all comes together. Every single piece. Because of this, those words and pages need space and breath to grow. And so, my words slow to a crawl for that particular project while they spill out fast and hot on another that wasn't planned.

This is creativity. 

Building, moving, growing, changing, inhaling, exhaling — it's all a dance. You think you have it figured out. You think you know what's happening behind the scenes. And then something else will happen: a shift in character, a real-life glitch, a flash of inspiration.

Before you know it, you're chasing the muse, desperately reaching for her coat tail so she doesn't get away.

This takes a lot of grace. 

It's easy to get down on yourself — to say things like, you should have seen this coming or you need to be better prepared. But all of that is useless self-talk that will get you nowhere. 

This is what I'm learning. It's easy to say things like I want to become a student of my own creativity. But when things up and twist themselves inward, and suddenly your goals become catty-wompus because the thing you were working on is now the thing you know you're not meant to produce in this season, well that makes your practice a little tricky. 

Every breath we take is an opportunity to give ourselves, and our creativity, grace.

There are no bullet points, no bold headlines that make this easier. It just is: when it comes down to it, we are the conduits of grace our creativity needs.

Think about your own projects. The ones you wish you worked on more consistently and the ones perking up in the corners of your soul just at the mere possibility of you paying attention to them. Which one of these is pulsing with life? Which one of these is needing to stretch and is waiting for you to make room? 

When I stumbled on this new book, it was through a text message. 

"I wish I had something like _______." 

Jolt of electricity. Chills down my arms. Brick in my throat. 

"Oh. I have that. Well. Not that exactly...but definitely the outline." 

Later I would open up the file, shaking off the dust from words I penned not too long ago. Sure enough, those jolts of electricity quickly became tiny spheres of connection. It wouldn't take long to scroll through and get the old familiar feeling back in my bones — there is something here. Pay attention. Develop this.

And so, a project was (re)born.

It's all that writing is, really. Open hands, ready for the jolt. 

It is winter. Ravens are standing on a pile of bones — black typeface on white paper picking an idea clean. It's what I do each time I sit down to write. What else are we to do with our obsessions? Do they feed us? Or are we simply scavenging our memories for one gleaming image to tell the truth of what is hunting us? — Terry Tempest Williams 

1. What in your creativity is asking to be a marathon? How does this make you feel? What is your next step in getting to the finish line?

2. What connections are you making this week that may prove useful for your creativity? These can be conversations, books, movies, TV shows — anything can be a catalyst for inspiration if we're open. 

3. What in your creativity is hunting you? Why are you running from it?

Letters From the Creative Underground

Writing is more than articulation, it's allowing yourself the space to hear the truth that you have something to share. Letters from the Creative Underground is the fuel you need to remember the truth: you are a writer. You have a story. 

And we desperately need to hear it. 

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Posted on May 23, 2016 and filed under Building Your Craft.

How to Build Your Publishing Calendar.

When I set out to write a novel, I know it's going to take me about two months to complete. I know this because of my experience writing three other novels. I wrote a majority of Every Shattered Thing in a month. I wrote Somewhere Between Water and Sky from mid-March to the last week of May. And Secrets Don't Keep was written from December to early February.

Publishing calendars can be tricky. There's a reason I use pencil in most of my calendars — especially when it comes to book-related dates. So many things can change at the drop of a hat, it's almost impossible to know when you'll really finish the manuscript.

But deadlines are powerful.

Without deadlines, I would never write another word. Having something blocked out in my calendar, something that I'm producing with the intent to share, something that other people most likely know about and are waiting for their chance to read, proves convincing when I'm trying to decide between projects. 

Having an agent was great for this. Giving her a date — "I'm going to have this book to you by February 8" — made it impossible for me to procrastinate. I couldn't. Even if my brain was being sidelined by another plot bunny (totally happens) or I'm waylaid by sickness, the separation from my words doesn't last for long. The pressure (for me) serves as the best catalyst.

But what about when there's not an agent? What about when there isn't an audience necessarily waiting on the other end of the manuscript? How do you set a publishing calendar? 

Be honest with yourself. 

I know that there isn't any way I will be writing five books this year. I won't even be writing three. At the most, I will maybe squeeze in two. I know this because of my own limitations: I'm working 40+ hours a week, there are relationships I want to cultivate, and I have other passion projects I'm pursuing this year.. Projects that are just as noble as the paperbacks with my name on them. 

Be honest with yourself about your own capabilities. Set smaller goals first, especially if you haven't finished a manuscript before. Aim for 10,000 words in a week or 2500 words in a day — tiny chunks that can be carved into a manuscript. Once you have one under your belt, you know your own habits. 10,000 words in a day has happened once for me. I know there is really no reason for this to be an expectation in my own writing. 

However, 5k word days are pretty common when I'm in the midst of writing, so this is something I often aim for when I'm trying to complete a manuscript. What's important is knowing what works for youNot everyone can do 5,000 word days, and some people may consider 5,000 word days standard. 

Know your process, be honest about it, and move on.

Share with someone on your tiny slip of paper.

Brené Brown has a slip of paper in her wallet of people who matter. When you're in the midst of creation, opinions are fierce. You experience it almost instantaneously. You're writing too much or you're not focusing enough. You're staying up too late or you're wasting time. Your story is the best they've ever read or there's strange silence on the other end of the line. 

The opinions that matter in these seasons are miniscule. They are the ones that are on your tiny slip of paper — the three or four names that you know share the same dirt as you in the arena. They're getting their hands dirty with their own art and dreams and because of this, and because of how they've had your back repeatedly, you know they know you. You know they want you to succeed. These people are for you in every way. 

And they will be damn sure you finish this manuscript if you tell them the deadline.

Leave room for error.

Life doesn't give us cushion. There's not a warning label on a particular month where we know to leave some extra room for that unexpected something to happen. However, when you're planning out your year, you can cushion the dates. 

Whenever I'm setting a publishing date, I easily add two or three weeks around my editing time. I also overshoot my completion date, knowing there will be two or five weeks where I feel hopelessly stuck. All of this usually places my publication date a solid month past what I could probably get away with, but I'd rather have an extra month at the end to plan a really amazing launch then feel rushed because I didn't anticipate the week I battled with the flu or the crisis at work I had to navigate.

Remember grace.

You'll forget to change the spelling on that one word in chapter five. You'll forget a punctuation mark in your acknowledgements, creating a super-confusing sentence. The formatting on a specific chapter will be off or (personal story) you'll swap the page numbers so your book is opposite the industry standard (who pays attention to what page the even numbers are on and what page the odd numbers land?)

Perfection is a ruse. There will be mistakes. Our own personal margin for error will feel microscopic, but remember to breathe and offer yourself grace. The beauty of self publishing is that you can edit at any time. And with patience and care, and sound editing by someone who you trust and who is skilled, your manuscript will be so close to perfect there will be few who even notice the mistake you're freaking out about at 3:30 in the morning. Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Remember your why. 

And then start all over again.

Questions to consider — 

1. Being honest with yourself, when do you believe you can finish your manuscript? MARK THIS DATE DOWN SOMEWHERE. 

2. Who is on your tiny slip of paper? This week's challenge: email them and tell them your date. Ask them for help in accountability.

Letters From the Creative Underground

Writing is more than articulation, it's allowing yourself the space to hear the truth that you have something to share. Letters from the Creative Underground is the fuel you need to remember the truth: you are a writer. You have a story. 

And we desperately need to hear it. 

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Posted on May 16, 2016 and filed under Indie Publishing.

Mother's Day.

A few years ago, Russ and I got into one of the biggest fights of our marriage. It lasted weeks. I don't even remember what started it initially, it was certainly nothing he did. I just remember feeling as if I was on a bed of fire, and I needed my outsides to match my insides. So I yelled. I nitpicked. I might have even punched a wall....the memory is hazy.

It wasn't until the storm was over that I realized the root behind my pain. I woke up one morning and opened up my computer to write and work and there — right in front of me — was an ad for Mother's Day.

This is grief, I thought. And then I wept.

.::.

I didn't want to be a mother when we started this process of adoption. I kept it at arm's length for so long, ignoring the call I knew we were meant to take. I'd known it for years. It was a rhythm I couldn't escape: this is the way, walk in it. But I didn't want that rhythm....that interruption. I was confused, scared, worried and overwhelmed. 

I wasn't soft enough to be a Mother. 
I wasn't right. 

I'm not sure when the transition happened, but I do remember moments where I could feel my heart turning to this someday child of mine.

Overheard conversations between mothers and children.
Dreams where I wake up, certain our child is waiting for me. 
The growing excitement of knowing The Call could come at any second. 

My hesitation was all based out of fear: fear I wouldn't be enough, fear I would muck things up, fear this would cause more heartache then anything else.

That last fear. That's the one I reckon with the most.

.::.

Last week I could feel the emotions swirling internally. Every morning I woke up, the tears a liquid ball at the base of my throat. I art journaled, fighting the urge to scratch my pain into the pages. 

And then yesterday, I went to Target for some vitamins.

In the early stages of our adoption, I would walk around Target and dream. I'd hold a onesie in my hand and imagine what it would feel like to shop for a baby — our baby — when it was our turn. I would weave in and out of the baby aisles, a small smile on my face, and pray. 

Come soon, I would whisper. Come soon. 

I'm not sure what propelled me to walk the long way around Target, maybe just habit or the internal chaos I could feel reaching fever pitch. There were a lot of families there. As soon as I walked in, two men approached the customer service desk and asked if they had flowers. 

"You know, for Mother's Day." 

I swallowed and kept my eyes focused. I walked around, noticing the clothes and the shoes and the fabric. One foot in front of the other, snippets of conversation falling around me. 

And then I saw them. Crib sheets. 

I wasn't even looking. They were an end cap by the carseats. I walked over, running my fingers over the fabric. The loss in my gut was palpable. I blinked and drew my hand back, as if the sheets themselves were on fire. I wouldn't cry there. I wouldn't be that person.

I got my vitamins. I checked out. I walked to the Subaru. 

And I didn't cry until I pulled into our apartment. 

his is not what my life is supposed to look like right now, this isn't right. I wiped my tears and walked up the stairs to our apartment. The anger felt real — tangible. I could hear the niceties — the when the time is right it will happen and there's a season for everything and everything else everyone always says when they don't know what to say to someone who's waited for so long. 

But really, I just wanted silence. How can you tell others that when they notice the pain it makes it more prevalent for you? How can you also say that when nothing is mentioned there's a gaping hole begging for acknowledgment? 

No one wins, here. 

In the beginning, I feared the heartache. Now we know each other intimately.  

Letters From the Creative Underground

Writing is more than articulation, it's allowing yourself the space to hear the truth that you have something to share. Letters from the Creative Underground is the fuel you need to remember the truth: you are a writer. You have a story. 

And we desperately need to hear it. 

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Posted on May 8, 2016 and filed under The Memoirs.