Sunday, 30 November 2014

Writing My First Draft



For the last two years I’ve been on a vision quest.

Actually, I’ve been writing a novel, but the similarities between the two are astronomical. Almost – dare I say? – cosmic.

For those of you unaware, in some Native American cultures, there is a ceremony called a vision quest. It is a rite of passage, a means for an individual to discover themselves and their life purpose as they enter adulthood. The person on the quest would wander for days in seclusion with only nature at their side, stomachs empty and wanting from fasting, and likely tripping balls from psychedelic drugs. Once attuned with the spirit world, dreams and visions for the child’s future would come to them, and they were blessed with direction.

While I did not wander through the wilderness, fast, or partake in hallucinogens, there was a shaman involved. (Don’t worry; he’s a character in my story. I haven’t resorted to a drastic change of lifestyle. Yet.)  

No, I was seated at my desk, fueled by caffeine, and restrained from the internet over the course of seven hundred thirty days. Well, mostly restrained. I’ll get into that later.

In that time frame I discovered plenty about myself, the craft of writing, and the supportive communities that exist for writers. This is about my journey writing my first draft of Lucidity, the lessons I learned and the meaning I found through my trials.

Lesson 1: Time Must Be Made for Writing 

For the past few years I’ve been in quite the transitional period in my life. Not only was I brainstorming and outlining my novel for about a year before I started writing it, but I was consumed with obtaining a job I could turn into a career at the same time.  

I acquired an entry level position, worked my way into full time permanency, took on leadership roles within my team, and then decided it was time to develop my skill set further. Currently, I am in a new department with new challenges. Since I’m a sucker for punishment, I’m not daunted at this point. I find anything that tries my patience and wants to bend my will is a good beast to tackle. And I love a good wrastle

That said, times have been stressful; taxing on my health, even. Aside from future-paving so I could build the rest of my years with a solid 9-5 (or 7-3, in my case) foundation, I was also writing. Through the tough times, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to write. Sometimes I was too overwhelmed to focus my thoughts on my story at all.

But, thankfully, writing is my fuel. Even at its most frustrating, writing is something that elevates my mood, allows me to reflect, and gives my ideas free reign. It’s solitude with paradoxical access to worlds and people I’ll never meet but know by heart. The magic of the craft fills me with so much joy that I have to return to it. It’s an addiction to words, a submission to imagination. Nothing compares to it, so even though my literary reserves tap out, they replenish.

Because they have to.

I forced myself to write on breaks at work, to spend nights in instead of out with friends, to get my butt sitting and focused in front of my keyboard when I’d rather stare out of a window. Or at a wall. Or pen. (It’s amazing what a writer finds to be distracted by.)

I made sure my dream was worked on like a goal - something real, tangible, and achievable with hard work and determination. Not to mention bullheaded stubbornness. I didn’t want to let my dream slide through my fingers because I wasn’t holding on tight enough. 

So time was made.

I set myself deadlines. When they passed, I didn’t get discouraged. I reevaluated my plans. Refocused.

Life is busy. It always will be, but unless you practice time management, you’ll never hit your deadline. You’ll never make your goals. They’ll remain dreams. It’s only up to you to make them a reality. 

Lesson 2: Motivation Trumps Inspiration

It's spectacular getting hit by that lightning bolt of literary glory known as inspiration. Suddenly, you're a conduit for your story, the words are an unstoppable torrent, and BY GOD - before you know it, it is 3 am and you work in 4 hours.

Those days are magic.

They rekindle within you the passion of storytelling, that spark you feel when you're inside your
story and it’s perfect. It’s not a jumbled, struggling mess. It’s not hitting your head against a wall or wanting to flip your desk over. It’s … how it always should be, dammit!

However, those days are about as rare as true magic. 

Sometimes the well of creativity is dry, the characters don’t want to listen, or writing from Point A to Point B is suddenly like trying to follow a treasure map written by a directionally-challenged, dyslexic pirate. And, let’s face it, you’re that pirate. 

Suddenly, instead of hunting for treasure, you’re marooned. It makes that pistol loaded with a single shot an attractive option.

But there is a better way to bite the bullet.

For me, when inspiration fails, I rely on motivation. It’s the desire, the will, to do what you gotta do. We all have different things that stroke our fires, get our forges hot and ready. (I’m not being perverted. You’re projecting.)

What gets me going is the future.

When I am stuck, I enjoy interviews with published authors, those who achieved success through their efforts. I love hearing what they’ve learned, their varying experiences. They’re a reminder that if I don’t stop, I can see my work in print.

Speaking of seeing my work in print, my goal is to get traditionally published, so something else I do is research literary agents, various publishing houses, and advice on writing query letters. I have information stored and filed away for later use. I have quite the roster of agents, publishers, and selection of tips. It’s fun and exciting to think about being at that stage, where I can start sending out my work, seeing who bites. But, clearly, in order to get there, I have. To. Finish. What. I. Start.

So I sat back at my desk, or I rested my laptop atop my knees in the living room, and got back to my manuscript. I disconnected the internet from my personal office computer. I only kept my phone at my side to stream amazing playlists of ambient music I found online. (I’d listen to songs with lyrics, but I find them distracting. It’s like trying to mentally swat mosquitoes away. Kind of like this Larysia Fact shoehorned between these brackets! Enjoy!) The majesty of an orchestra tends to stir my muse into action and words return to my hands. 

From those words come even more, and soon, inspiration returns. Sometimes, when the universe doesn’t offer you magic, you just have to make your own with self-motivation. Guaranteed, you’ll find that’s the best kind.

Lesson 3: Don’t Make Excuses

Ah – ah – ah!

Protest all you want, but I can feel your shame.

I should know – I’ve made many excuses. I’ve been tired, cranky, and frankly, lazy. Eventually I realized that being all those things meant I wasn’t going to be successful. Every time I gave myself a reason why I couldn’t or didn’t want to write I knew better. And it felt awful.

As writers, we understand the power of words. This is no exception. Every time we say we can’t, there’s no time, or something more important has come up, we give excuses more cushion. It makes us comfortable with being unproductive.

Mind you, some days I did need a rest from stress overload. When things became too hectic, I took a few days off. By the time the mental fog had cleared, I could return to a story full force. 

Distinguishing between an honest intermission and an excuse, however, is the trick. The second you’re truthful with yourself, it’s easier to accept what must be done. Reinforce that with a routine and the discipline to stick with it and that completed draft gets closer every day.

Distractions are everywhere. Real world obligations are en masse. Writing is hard. But still, your work won’t get done unless you do it. Pitter patter!

Lesson 4: Building Discipline Doesn’t Happen Overnight

I can talk about discipline, try and give pointers, but they’ll mean nothing unless you find what matters to you.
My experience with honing discipline has first been finding that part of me that respects myself enough to ensure I follow my dreams. It’s the part of me that loves the craft, that’s called to storytelling, that above all else, wants to show myself I can follow through.

Once you establish your mental anchor, setting a routine is a lot simpler. However, it doesn’t make the process easier, per se.

It’s a lot of trial and error. A lot of failure before success. It’s experimenting with finding your groove, determining what times you’re most productive, or what you need to feel accomplished in a day. Basically, creating your routine. I’d have fancy tips for that, but all I have to say is actually sit down and write. You’ll figure it out soon enough.

What works for me is word count. If I can write bare minimum 250 words a day, I’m happy. Of course, I’m much happier when I aim higher and hit that target, but if I can get at least that amount, I’m pleased.

Goals don’t have to be huge. Small steps lead to great things. Every little bit matters. It all adds up, so don’t be discouraged as long as you’ve written consistently, which is key. Making yourself write honestly is a labor of love, but there’s nothing greater, frustration and reward-wise. Just keep at it – especially when you don’t want to.

Lesson 5: Two Heads Really Can Be Better than One 

Writing may be solitary by nature, but sometimes a writer needs to be in the company of other brilliant minds. This, perhaps, is where my lonesome vision quest analogy strays. Actually, it probably went a little off topic when I started talking about pirates, but I digress.

Whether you’re stuck, need support, or a fresh set of eyes, getting yourself involved with a writing group or community is one of the best ways to meet helpful kindred spirits. 

I started my local writing group, the Scribe’s Society, because I wanted not only to have a handy army of beta readers when the time comes, but also because I want to be immersed in the culture of writing. It keeps me on my toes, fresh, and up for new challenges. And dang, do we get challenged sometimes. (Definitely more on that another time.) 

I can always count on them to let me know when something is off, what else needs work, what can really add pizzazz. Being surrounded by bright minds with vivid imaginations can help immensely. Not only that, but they’re supportive and encouraging, a wonderful morale boost. They make me excited to share my work. I absolutely recommend becoming involved with a group. 

However, if you’re more private or can’t commit to a group, there are wonderful writers online in different communities who are more than willing to network. Personally, I’ve found a lot of fantastic writers on Twitter. I was surprised, to be honest. For years I thought Twitter was remarkably vapid and pointless. Then I went to a writing convention and learned about platforms. That, however, is a beast to slay another post. 

I’ve encountered the fantastical poetic plumber, Eric Syrdal (@Blade4hire), whose verses paint remarkably beautiful imagery with the evocativeness of a true wordsmith. 

I’ve also come to know the charismatic J.D. Estrada (@JDEstradawriter), the philosophical author of “Only Human,” with more excellent works in progress on the way!

These fine fellows have been very communicative, expressing interest in my work and offering advice or feedback. Not only that, but I’ve come to know them as friends and am thrilled to have such ingenious people in my life. They each hail from a different part of the world (America and Puerto Rico, respectively), but I feel as close to them as I do the members of the Scribe’s Society. It makes this Canuck feel very fortunate, indeed.

So don’t be afraid to reach out.

You never know what wonderful people will reach back. 

While I’m certainly no elder, those are the pearls of wisdom I learned on my vision quest. I’ve come out of the experience of writing my first draft smarter, more mature, and prepared to handle the next trial - revisions. I know I still have a long way left yet, but this is one monumental step in the right direction. And while I didn’t encounter anything too trippy on this journey, I still came to believe in the power of my dreams and the promise they hold. 

Thanks for reading and take care!

Larysia

3 comments:

  1. Absolutely wonderful post Larysia!! I am so very envious of your tenacity and dedication!! And you do me a great honor to speak of me as you have. Getting to know you has been a great experience here on the electronic frontier that I hope will continue. You are a good friend and wonderful person. All my best in your continued success.

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  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, Eric!

    And no worries - you're a talented fellow with a big heart! I hope many people view your blog and Twitter as your work really is fantastic!

    Your positivity and encouragement mean a lot!

    Thank you again for reading and commenting :D

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