Two-A-Days

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Hey, ya’ll. If you know me, you know that I’m a runner. Sometimes more of a hobbled, panting jogger. Occasionally a hitch-in-her-giddyap mosey-er. Currently I’ve worked up to the ‘two-a-day’ portion of my training schedule for the 2018 Wild West Relay

Basically, this tortuous routine requires two runs within a ten-hour period. They say it will help the body learn how to run on tired legs and get over the mental barriers associated with that. I say, gushing sweat on a 98-degree afternoon, beet red, and looking like I just stroked out, that mental barriers are only half the issue.

I’ve been participating in relay races for the last 4 or 5 years and have captained the team for two of those. It’s one of those stupid, addictive things that once you agree to do it, you hate yourself.

From the nerves that strike even before you start, all the way until the last section of your race when your legs are throbbing and you’re sleep-deprived-drunk and everything and nothing is funny, and you’re pretty sure between the altitude, miles, and meals made of gels and power bars you might be hallucinating that there’s a raccoon pointing you in the direction of the next exchange…where was I? Oh yes.

You hate it.

You f#&king hate it! And why in the hell did I sign up for this goddamn thing again!?

Except there’s this sweaty group of misfits that welcomes you back into the van and gives you the roomiest seat after your leg, and feeds you bananas and homemade pasta salad and nods as you commiserate over all the shoulda’s you encountered over the miles.

 

Except there’s a group of total strangers that cheer you on as you come across every exchange, smiling, and clapping and honestly glad that you made it there…because runners (almost every single one I know) know what you go through on those miles and what it feels like when you feel like you can’t go another step. And they slap your shoulders and congratulate you and it gets to that you are disappointed when you walk into the grocery store and aren’t met by a group of moms cheering you on.

“Atta Girl! You made it and you’re dressed! Look at that, choosing fruit over cookies for the kids! You rock! You got this momma!”

Wouldn’t that be nice? We should start doing that…

Except that you stick around at the exchange to cheer on those tired, aching souls that are pushing themselves beyond boundaries and comfort zones. Those runners, those humans, striking out against every thought that tells them they can’t. That they shouldn’t, and getting to look them in the eye, smile and cheer and say, “You did! And you should! And you will!”

 

Except the stars. The countless masses, splashed over the night sky coming out of the expansive heaven of Wyoming plains and into the hills of Colorado, painted above you and reminding you of how small you are. And yet how beautiful an existence, to stand in awe while recognizing your own insignificance.

 

Except the cold beer at the finish. And the sleep you get in a real bed the first night after. And the way you have to Lamaze breath just to lower yourself onto the toilet for the next couple of days. And the medal hanging in the closet, and the smile that lasts for a good two weeks after…

 

So what can this insane process teach us about writing?

 

That it’s not all easy.

 

That it’s turbulent and painful. Merely signing up for it can cause panic, and self-doubt, and the desire to quit. That training for it, sacrificing other areas of our life to devote time to it, doing the hard editing, admitting to our faults in order to change them, and opening up dozens of rejection letters are the painful “two-a-days” that build our mental stamina for the road ahead.

That there are people, in your own circle, waiting back at the table for you with open arms (and maybe bananas, I don’t know… I’m not in your circle) able and ready to listen to your trials.

That there are people, not even in your immediate circle who are cheering you on to the finish line. Because, like many runners, writers know what it feels like to drudge through the pages, to cut out the organs of your favorite story, the elation of inspiration and the crushing self-doubt of the whole process.

That there will be an end product, and perfect or not, it will be yours. And that’s something, insignificant human speck. It’s something to have your voice put into pages.

 

If you’re a runner of any level and have considered a relay; Do it.

 

If you’re a want-to-be writer who hasn’t committed to it; DO IT.

 

Because the work is hard, and its dirty and painful…but the work is where you find the deeper level of strength that you haven’t met yet. Where feet hit the road and pens kiss paper, that’s where you discover yourself.

 

Get out there and do it.

A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Damn Book. Part Three: The Down and Dirty of Feeding Your Creation to The Wolves of the World.

Hello, gentle writer. I suppose it goes without saying that after you’ve written your book and streamlined it into a gleaming beacon of fine-as-hell storytelling, you could easily stop reading this blog. You may even wish you could. But there is one more thing I’m going to need you to do…

Resist the urge to tuck that book safely away in a drawer.

Unless of course, all you want for your book is for it to sit on the dusty shelves of your den and no other eyes need apply. That’s cool.

We probably didn’t want to read it anyway, right? Your story? The shining soul child of your imagination and hard work? The obsession that’s kept you awake at night and in the zombie zone of blank-eyed stares over your cornflakes, morning after morning while your brain builds the magnificent steel girdle of plot and your vibrant right hemisphere stretches the skin of detail and beauty across the iron bones to make something quite unique and amazing. Nah…We don’t want to see that. Who would?

Were you able to pick up on that sarcasm? It’s tricky in Cambria 12 font to really capture the essence of my meaning. Here, allow me be to be perfectly direct.

Show me your work! (Channeling Cuba Gooding Jr.—“Show me the Story!”)

It’s quite possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever do (besides killing your darlings? Why yes, even harder than that!) Being a writer is a parade of progressively harder choices and leaps of faith…but then again, so is life… hang on to your self-help hats here, she’s getting deep.

Yeah, it is scary. Because we’ve learned well by this point in our lives that when we put so much love and heart into our work it’s gut-wrenching to hand it over to someone who can’t possibly understand the grit and soul we put into it. They might misinterpret. They might not ‘get’ it. They might declare us wrong, or awful, or in desperate need to change our dreams.

Nobody wants to face that possibility. You are not alone in this fear. And let’s face facts; there are jerks out there. Legit, bonafide A-holes. Those that are quick to cut down creative efforts (especially when they get to hide behind the curtain of anonymity in some trolling-Wizard-of-Oz’s mother’s basement.) They LOVE to give a good criticism, because of their own fears of failure and are stung by the twinge of jealousy when someone else is bold and brave enough to create and share.

It’s a sad state of affairs but your work can become fresh meat for the slathering-mouthed, teeth-gnashers of the world.Wolf / Gray Wolf / Timber Wolf - eating White-tailed deer prey

You Are Not Alone. You aren’t the first they’ll try to tear down, and you certainly won’t be the last.

Do it anyway.

Why? Why torture yourself? Because, there are good people out there. People who love stories and story-tellers. People who understand it’s a process and that when you come to them with open pages and hearts that they are taking on a mantle of trust. Trust that they will be kind, but honest. That they will work WITH you to make the story better. They will point out things you’ve been too close to see. They will point out things they think could use clarification. They will show you the loosened bolts and torn canvas so you can repair your creation. They will point out the beauty, the grace, the delicate details that gave them shivers or tears and it will embolden your spirit to fight for your creature.

Sharing your book is a monumentally important part of finishing your book. It will teach you what you didn’t know about your writing. It will teach you what works, and what needs work.

My challenge to you, frightened artist cowering over your pages like a hunched Gollum in the dark defending a scarred band of metal, is to offer up your precious. The beauty and the joy of creating are in the sharing.

gollum

I’ve had my cut of criticisms, hard and dirty. Mean. Some of them made me wonder if the person had even read my writing or just made assumptions based on my genre and lack of MFA gilding. I’ve wanted to take match and tinder to 8 years worth of my life on the front lawn while screaming profanities in the general direction of certain publishing houses. But I didn’t. I cooled down and let myself say these words to my disgruntled brain.

bookburning

“What are they seeing? What is slowing my writing/impairing my message? What can I change while still being true to my work?”

Opening the wound is to lay your ego out on the ground beside your creature and do the work that needs to be done. This is not an actual child. It’s an idea. And all good ideas can always get better.

Find a group of friends. Start there. Start with those that love you. Move up to those that think you’re decent enough, but aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. Give it to a few discerning hard-asses. Each step along the way, refining and tweaking, without giving up your voice or the elements that make your writing yours. No one can take that, nor should you let them.

So that’s it. The third and nearly final part of this series. Next week I’ll wrap it all up with a handy and bulleted (we all know you love the bullet lists) list of how to query your work to someone who can serve as a gateway into the realm of publishing.

Good luck, kiddo. And if all else fails and you don’t know where to turn with your work, send it to me or another writer you trust. Nobody knows the soul struggle better than your own kind.

A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Damn Book. Part Deux: Seeing The Bigger Picture

Bonjour!

I’m so glad you decided to come back.

How was last week?

Did you separate the amoebic tendrils of your technological parasites long enough to remember how to write, free-style? Did you get hand cramps? Keep it up, before you know it, you’ll be cleaning and jerking 7,000 words a week, vocabularian veins popping out all over the place.

For this week we’re going to zoom ahead to the future; to the cumulation of all your writing efforts and the massive chunk of story sitting in front of you. All of those beautiful words you’ve poured into a pile are just waiting for the dexterous hand of a good story teller.

Your rough draft is like a thousand pound hunk of stone. If you want to get all “Americana” on it, you could even say its akin to a 100 pound ‘pat’ of butter. Yeah, let’s go with butter.

The rough material has potential. Your story has energy and power. But if you were to send in a stick of butter to the Iowa State Fair judging committee, they’d probably to one of three things: write you a scathing review for wasting their time; send it back and write a scathing review for wasting their time; or batter it, deep fat fry it, and send their thanks for the mid-morning snack.

jabba butter
Jabba the Butt(er). No? Come on. You have no idea how many hours I spent looking at butter sculpture.

Your book, your words, your ideas deserve better. If you loved it enough to write it, then love it enough to shape it into the best it can be. And by that I mean…learn to edit your work properly. This week’s true secret to finishing your damn book is something you won’t hear from a lot of writers and here it is:

Being a great writer is 20% writing. and 267% editing. Shut up, I’m not good a public math. Seriously though, when you get your ass in that chair and throw all the good and bad down, and your mind learns to work in the space and time you give it to create, you can really accumulate a massive amount in a short period of time. But the art of writing, the finesse, the je ne sais quoi, if you will, lies in the ability to edit that beautiful mess into a story that captivates.

Que voulez-vous dire?

How does this magic happen, you might ask? If you’ve been around in the writing game for any amount of time, you’ve had the old adage banged into your skull over and over “Kill your darlings, Kill your darlings…” Yes…yes Maestro Faulkner, whatever you ask!

What does that really mean? Well–*le sigh*–it means you as a dreamer, a wordsmith, a lover of story and character…you, creator…must become a destroyer. A hard, eagle-eyed machine; disconnected from the rapport you’ve built over the years with your characters. You must let go of the personal angst, pain, and joy you’ve brought into the world enough to see its true potential. You have to take that beautiful hunk of marble (or butter) and break the rough and useless parts away to reveal the true work of art beneath.

buttered saddled cock
Yep…that’s a giant butter cock with a saddle. You. Are. Welcome. (By the way, ‘giant butter cock’ is now trademarked. By me.)

Oh, Mon Dieu!  (which literally translates to OMD—OMD Becky, regarde ses derrière!)

The practice of “Killing your Darlings” is meant to make you understand that editing is hard. That letting go of the phrases and pieces of your novel that you love, when they are distractions to the story and its flow, can be the best thing you do. Cut. Cut deep. Cut the subconscious catch phrases and passivity. Give your readers a stronger character by making them the center of the action; by putting the reader in their shoes. Stop telling us everything. Cull the useless, the distracting, the stuffy, the monologues and head hopping. Give us the moonlight glinting off of window panes.

Take that lump and make it into something where details pull double-duty and every word counts. Line by line, strike out that which does not serve purpose or cause emotion to rise in the chest. Because even the most indescript lump of butter can turn into something quite magnificent when given the time and attention it deserves.

angelic butter
Sweet, Angelic Milk Fat.

Next week…after all of you hoodlums have taken a hard look at your work and gutted it to buttery perfection, we’ll take a look at what you can do next to get that silky minx out into the world.

Until then, keep writing. Drop me a line. Tell me how you’re doing.

Does anyone really want a giant baguette right now?