I’m Going to do a #Challenge to Overcome my Fear

It’s that time. It’s time for change. All my weight has settled into one slump and my bones are shrieking for the mercy of movement–any movement. I’m ready (am I? the doubtful mind gremlin asks) to shake things up.

I’ve tried challenges in the past. On this here blog, I did a 30 Day Restart Challenge leading up to my June 2018 residency. I only got about halfway through that one. Whoops.

But I’m ready to commit more to my writing. I’ve been dragging my feet for years now and I’m done. It’s time to pick up these weary bones and park myself in front of Perseverance and Discipline and wait for the blood drops to form on my forehead, if that’s what it takes.

Having taken a step back and looking at myself, I’ve been ridiculous these past few years. What’s stopping me? Why am I not taking this glorious opportunity I’ve been given to make writing my life? To live and breathe it? What’s stopping me?

Fear is very likely the top answer. Well, okay. That’s all well and good but I’m going to refer myself to one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite writing gurus:

Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting–and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are a part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still–your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

My favorite part of that entire passage is “You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”

Here’s to not giving fear a vote.

So, what will this challenge look like? After watching Cynthia Koo’s How to Start (And Finish!) Your Very Own 365 Day Project, here’s what I’ve decided.

Starting February 1, 2019, I will write everyday for a year.

I hesitated saying a year. Why not just start with 30 days or 100 days?

But then I thought about it: what’s a year in the career of a writer? And if I can’t write every day for a year, that doesn’t exactly bode well for my aforementioned career.

Also, I feel like I’ve fallen so out of touch with my writing these past few years since I started college, so I want to get to know my writing again.

So with that, here it is: with this challenge, I want to

  • overcome my creative fears
  • become more disciplined
  • up my productivity
  • rediscover my process

Thus begins my #WatchJeanWrite365 Challenge

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Less is Way Too Much: A Lesson on Specificity in Plotting

When my American Literature professor assigned us our final paper, her advice was to make our argument as specific as possible. For an 8-page paper.  I thought this woman was completely out of touch of the undergraduate reality because there was no way a narrow argument would fill up that many pages.

Not that what I thought mattered because this paper had to be written come hell or high water, and as the deadline loomed, the water was rising up around my shoulders.  So, okay. Let’s try the out of touch professor’s advice. For grins and giggles.  Picture me then, a college student delirious with panic because this 8-page paper had to magically appear by the next morning. 

In a fit of indignant pique, I made the following argument (in the spirit of being as specific as it was possible for me to be in my panic-fueled state):

Despite the criticisms that this novel is disorganized and meaningless, the analysis of the episode of the mutiny onboard the Grampus leads to an interpretation that suggests that the seeming madness of the story can actually be understood as a repressed fear of slave rebellions in the American South, and this interpretation leads to a unification of the piece as a whole.

(I was writing about The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe, if you were wondering.  It’s an extremely weird and chaotic book that I had to argue was actually a work of genius.)

Okay, now what? The 8-page quota loomed ever larger, like a demon growing stronger the more it feeds on my panic.

What happened still amazes me to this day.

The thesis is essentially three claims, each of which I had to set up and defend: 1) criticisms of disorganization and lack of meaning, 2) the interpretation of the mutiny, 3) how the interpretation fits the novel as a whole.

Having actually read the book (God help me), I started to realize how long it would take to set up and defend these points. Suddenly 8 pages had shrunk to maybe not being enough?

Who’d have thought specificity would strengthen my argument? Not I, that’s for damn sure.  After five hours in the library, my 7-page long paper was concise and well-structured. And I got that paper back with a beautiful red “A” on it.

part ii.

Okay, confession: I sprawl. I’m a sprawler. I lounge languorously from page 1 until I run out of steam and collapse, exhausted, around halfway through the manuscript because my arms just can’t juggle that many subplots and extraneous “character building” scenes anymore.

I wasn’t pleased with my external plot of my current manuscript because of this reason. It lacked cohesiveness. I was throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it was done and it all ended up at my feet in a soupy, gloopy mess.

Enter specificity in the form of a mentor from my MFA program.

Explaining my problem to him, he nodded, his mouth scrunched, disappearing into his beard as he thought a moment. Then, “Why don’t you do [insert very simplistic but brilliant idea for external plot here]?” he says, very nonchalantly, as if he hadn’t just possibly fixed a problem I’ve been having with this book for years.

WHY DON’T I JUST, SIR? WHY DON’T I JUST.

In the space of, oh, two seconds, I had a single cohesive line of thought that I could hook into my internal plot and instead of my characters wandering around like lost little lambs whose shepherd was directionally challenged, they were charging like Braveheart warriors in a straight line right towards an end goal that actually made sense.

Specificity, my friends. Specificity is where it’s at.

What Have I Been Up To? An End of Semester Update

It has been quite a haul since I last checked in with y’all.  Here’s a quick breakdown for you:

  • I turned in my final pages of the semester to my mentor.  Spoiler alert: I passed with flying colors ^_^  
  • I am two shakes of a lamb’s tail away from finishing my reading course.  Plot twist: I’m very ready to be done with it because while it was fun, this girl needs a breather
  • I caught a cold a week and a half ago and am finally over it, voice finally restored to fully-accented volume.  ‘Tis the season, indeed.

One of these days, I’ll share with you the chaos of trying to get all my pages and side assignments done in time.  That was quite a time, but also for another.

I’ve taken a month off of writing, putting some much needed distance between me and my story.  With that space, I feel I can breathe easier and come at my story with fresh energy and perspective.

My mentor wants new chapters out of me by next residency (which the fancy countdown in my sidebar informs me is a month away).

My goal for December:

  • Reestablish a writing routine
  • Experiment (once again) with goal-setting
  • Write outside of my story some for funsies

Here’s a quick question for y’all:

If I were to start a Patreon, would y’all be interested?  I’ve sketched out the potential tiers and made a list of pros and cons to whether I should and the pros are looking pretty good.  The one variable I can’t control for is interest.  *shrug*

In reading news

finally get to read what I want for a while!  Currently on my reading pile:

  • Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman (I’m 15 pages in and um, wow?  SUCH a cool world idea so far!)
  • Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend (YAS. I’ve been thirsting after the next book ever since I finished Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow)
  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke (I’m a few chapters in but I’m holding my opinion for now)
  • Airman by Eoin Colfer (This is a reread for me because it’s that good.  This will be the third time reading for me.  ALSO.  Have you seen the teaser trailer for Artemis Fowl?!  *squee*)

What’re y’all reading?

Featured image by The Lazy Artist Gallery from Pexels