When I worked outside of the house, I toiled in careers where giving 110% was something I heard all the time and would even find on my evaluations. Of course, it was really only a matter of being organized and focused. The goals were pretty huge: working on experiments that would lead to cancer cures, makes it kind of hard to slack off. Even later, when I was temping as a graphic designer and illustrator, the discipline and drive was still there; although, no lives were at risk. Later, when I had my own business with my now husband, we worked around the clock with clients around the globe. And yet, throughout those years, I managed to get several poems published in respected journals, get paintings accepted into juried shows and maintain healthy relationships full of friends.
My dream was that of every artist, to write or paint full time, preferably both. Then my partner, now husband, was offered a programming job in a rural area of Northwest North Carolina. He had a steady salary and benefits. Woo hoo! I kept the company going but not so well. One night, he said, “Just write, paint whatever -let me worry about the bills.”
I was doing cartwheels! I sat down and wrote a book! Then, read it… oops. No biggy, I can now edit it. I should have put up a little tombstone and given the poor child a grave. I got a poem published but sadly sent it to a vanity poetry press by mistake -there is a big difference between Poetry and Poems… the shame! No Pushcart for me… with all the time in the world I was making mistakes and not doing the due diligence.
Eventually, I discovered a world of bloggers, mostly women, mostly romance writers and suddenly, I started to find a path in the overgrown grass. Wrote two more books, one a paranormal mystery and a local mystery destined for a series. I joined RWA and took a boatload of online classes. I discovered a group of local women who wanted nothing to do with me, oops. I started rewriting and editing my books based on the ton of advice given in classes and blogs. Soon, I would have filled the dog’s yard with all the book graves.
Each setback, each wrong path added emotional baggage to my home office. Eventually, everything was too much, caring for the house, exercising and staying healthy, being hostage to four crazy huskies… and writing everyday was akin to digging my own grave or at least filling book graveyards. I discovered emotional scars from years in the past were re-opening. Husband was saying things like, “as long as you’re happy… ”
I was confused, was this really my dream? I couldn’t go back to work, I was ‘out of date’ in the technologies I worked and no longer had the 110% drive. So, I started meditating, which is a fancy way of saying I listened to meditations and fell asleep but subliminally something must have occurred inside the cranial cave. I began walking daily, I sat myself down with journals and slayed old demons; I set up boundaries to keep the wolves at bay. And I avoided writing. I listened to audio books of my personal best teachers: Stephen King and Sol Stein. And, eventually as I hoped and prayed would happen, one day I woke and walked into my office and wrote furiously in a large notebook, the same kind of lab book I kept for years, bound with numbered pages -commitment journaling.
I wrote synopses and detailed outlines of the stories I had already written and knew so well. I had decided to ditch the fix-it editing and rewrite each of them from scratch. I had built up my writing stamina, I new I could easily write 2000 words a day -it was my ‘sweet spot’, so I set a 60K goal and opened Scrivener. September 1st – 31st: finish first draft… the outline was readjusted, I decided to redesign office, I baked cookies… September 15th and suddenly 4000 words a day needed to meet goal and then I started. After two brain dead evenings, I realized the boss needed to realize I had a 2 week late start, so deadline became Oct 15th and goal was 2000 words day again.
So, what happens when you retell a story you’ve written to death? Surprises! This time, when they find the body in the woods –they discover she’s alive! Well, damn! I was as surprised as my characters. Fireworks and lightbulbs snapping on! Suddenly, the plot works, it worked when she was dead but now having her alive tied every thread into a beautiful bow rather than a tangled knot.
It’s still hard work but it’s the kind of hard work through which I thrive -my 110% efforts. I am writing the outlines for the other books and every book is falling into place. I’ve dug up the book graveyard and discovered they were only in comas. And as someone who was in a coma at 17 yrs old, let me tell you -it’s a nice rest, best sleep of my life. My books are still alive!
Word count goals? I know everyone is writing, talking and blogging about them, no issue here –I own my goals, they don’t own me. Keeping them helps me build the stamina I need to push through. I have found the way that works for me. And of the previous years, the books I wrote, babies I killed? I prefer to see that as the landscapes in New England where I grew up -it took centuries of careful hard work to pull up those boulders in the fields to build the stonewalls to keep the boundaries to plow the fields. Now, I have my stonewalls, my ‘mending walls’ and now my fields are easily plowed and sown. Everything is shiny.
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963 (from North of Boston 1913)
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’