process, writer's life

The Growing Roar of Approaching Deadlines: Weekly Update

Okay so maybe I haven’t been the most productive I could be.  I don’t have reasons to offer; just excuses.  Well, not even those.  Between you and me, when too much stress piles on, I just shut down.

But when I’m staring that deadline in the face, it’s a defibrillator to the face.

My deadline isn’t so close that I can count the freckles across its pert little nose, but I can hear it coming a mile away like an approaching freight train carrying the weight of my career.*

I have exactly two weeks left.

My existence right now comprises mostly of me alternating between internally screaming and taking yoga breaths.

Since last checking in, I’ve written exactly two more pages.  (IN A WEEK.  TWO PAGES IN SEVEN DAYS WHAT EVEN?–okay, yoga breaths.  Deep breaths.)

Last night, however, I did write the first four (pretty damn decent) pages of the 10-page story I have to submit by November 2 for my next residency (in January, where we’ll sit around in groups and critique these stories.)  It’s about a girl who was drowned in the ocean and became a mermaid and the girl who helps her try to find her murderer.

Tomorrow, the goal is at least three more pages.  Also tomorrow, a dear friend from work is going to help me tackle my plot so I can write the greatest labor ever put on the shoulders of a writer my synopsis.

So here’s my plan for the next week.

Say it with me: manageable tasks.

I’m going to tackle the two 700-word assignments so they are out of the way, not gunking up the works.  With those two out of the way, the only things I have to worry about are the next twenty-five pages of my story and the two to five pages that say what’s going to happen in my story.  That’s it.

And make the conscious decision to write every day, at least a page.

This isn’t about doing battle.  This is about choosing to put another stepping stone in the path to the career I want to have.  No one is forcing me to do anything.

This next week, I’m going to change my vocabulary to replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”  Because I made the choice to get an MFA.  It was an informed choice; it has a clear end goal.  These assignments are a part of that, and I should take advantage of this opportunity to grow while I have it.

In reading news

I finished The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.  SCARED. THE. CRAP. OUTTA. ME.  I physically cringed several times throughout the book.  If you’re a sci-fi fan who loves time travel and doesn’t mind graphic violence and gore, definitely check this book out.  To me, it was the book version of that long flat note they play in the background of ghost shows.

In other news

I’m trying to learn this Disney medley on the piano.  Just goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve challenged myself on the piano and fallen into the comfortable groove of the styles of just a few (*cough*one*cough*) artists.  It’s taking me forever to get this down.  Which is fine.  There’s no deadline here.  So far, I’m semi-comfortable playing the first section (Go the Distance from Hercules) and today I worked on the next one (Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid).  The part I’m really looking forward to is Zero to Hero from Hercules, about halfway through the song.

How’s your week going?

* alright so it isn’t THAT big a deal, but that doesn’t seem to matter to my stress levels, which are determined to churn out anxiety at the highest rate of production as possible

Currently playing: Beautiful by Bazzi

Currently reading: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

goals, process, tips, writer's life, writing, writing advice

Drawing up Battle Plans: Weekly Update

It’s not that I have a million things that need doing this month, but the items on my to-do list feel so big and insurmountable that it feels like there’s an army of to-do soldiers charging at me.  (Something akin to Mulan facing down the Hun army on the mountain.)

First step to dealing with stress:

The space around you is your first line of defense.  Armor up.

The first thing I do when I’m getting ready for battle to write is clean up my space.  Doing this on the front side minimizes the occurrence of “Well, I can’t think of what to write next, but look, that pile of papers could use a sort-through, that’s very doable.”

It also makes me feel more prepared.  Exercising control over my environment makes me feel more in control of myself.  Which is a good feeling to have when sitting down to write IMHO.

Desk clean, I get into it.

Current battle: the dreaded synopsis

Now there are those of you out there who love writing synopses.  You’re all freaks.  That’s fine, but it isn’t my thing.  Especially when I have to write a 2-5 synopsis for a story I haven’t outlined yet.

This is the to-do item that has taken on Godzilla-like proportions, and of course it’s making a feast of my fear.  Thing is, I’ve never written a synopsis before.  And whenever I approach something I’ve never done before, there’s the possibility hanging over me that I won’t be good at it.  Fortunately, I’ve gotten to the point in the last few years that I acknowledge I’m scared but do it anyway.  In this case, the only thing getting my butt in the chair is the fact that I have to do this.

(Which was the main appeal of doing an MFA, not gonna lie.  I need the damp breath of a drill sergeant on the back of my neck to get me to do things I don’t want to do–like write 25 pages a month and figure out a synopsis for a story I haven’t planned out yet.)

The Battle Plan

Obviously, I’m a list person.  So when I’m panicking about getting stuff done, I make a to-do list.  Only this time, that wasn’t enough.  I needed a comprehensive approach to exactly how I was going to tackle this Godzilla problem.

Fortunately, I know that when I’m stuck like this, the thing to do is bring in outside help.  So I’ve recruited one of the girls I work with, who has no previous knowledge of my story, to sit down with me next week and help me brainstorm the rest of this novel.  A fresh pair of eyes is just what this novel needs.

My goal is to make a first attempt at it myself by this Saturday.  And then work with my friend next week to see what we can come up with.

And of course, this isn’t the only major thing I have to do this month.  I have to write 25 new pages (versus my critique partners, who are working on revising their first 50 pages).  I have to read a craft book (Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig) and write a 700-word response to it.  And write a 700-word self assessment.  The 700-word responses induce only nominal stress.  The 25 new pages and the 2-5 page synopsis are the things that get me.

That’s just for my writing course.  I also have to read two novels this month and write essays for each for my reading course.

Until next week!

Currently playing: Side Effects (feat. Emily Warren) by The Chainsmokers

Currently reading: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

writer's life

Announcement + moving forward

Hello, darlings!

So, this past October, I went into this blog with starry-eyed enthusiasm and a fistful of determination.  I set myself a goal to respond to a self-made prompt every day and stuck to it…for just under two weeks.  My enthusiasm died out and so did my posts and this blog has been a tumbleweed-filled wasteland in the months since.

But I’m back here with you today because I have some news that I believe will change my relationship with this blog and hopefully offer y’all some helpful information in future.

I was accepted into Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program!


How I feel waiting for my first residency to get here already is similar, I imagine, to how a dog feels with a treat laid across their nose.  Just say I can eat it already!  While I can’t believe it’s May already, I’m ready for it to be over because then it’ll be June and I’ll be on my way to Pennsylvania for my first residency!

There are so many things I’m looking forward to with this program:

  • Meeting new friends who are also writers.  This will be a big thing for me.  If you’re the lone writer in your friend group, you know what I mean!  I’ve already made a friend from my program (check him out here!) and I’m hopeful that similar relationships are to come!
  • Being surrounded by classmates who are not only writers but GENRE writers (have you discovered this weird dichotomy between fiction writers and genre writers?  What even, y’all?)
  • Getting specialized support for what I want to write, i.e. I feel comfortable going to my teachers and asking about how best to represent power dynamics between dragons in my magical world or whether my megalomaniacal boy wizard prince’s tragic backstory is plausible
  • Back to structure!  I was one of those weirdish kids who really enjoyed school.  Not particularly because I enjoyed learning but because I feel balanced and grounded when I have a structured schedule and externally imposed deadlines
  • Deadlines are going to save my procrastinating ass!  I have yet to finish a draft of ANYTHING but I’ve been writing for over a decade now?!  I’m so over it and ready to Get Shit Done.
  • Getting to visit Pennsylvania.  Despite having lived abroad in two different countries in the past two years, I have yet to see anything outside of the American South (other than airports).  So I’m actually giddy about getting to drive through a bit of the Appalachian Mountains and visit a state on the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line!

With writing about to become a huge part of my life in a way it’s never been before, I want to use that momentum to grow this blog.

In the months to come, I want it to be a place where I

  • share my writing from in and outside of class
  • update y’all on my writing life (would y’all be interested in daily check ins from residency? or perhaps a summary afterwards? any questions about MFAs in general?  Share your thoughts in the comments!)
  • share some digests of what I’ve already learned about writing and what I’m learning from my program

Some ideas I have for future posts:

  • share writing exercises and story prompts
  • invite fellow writers onto the blog for guest posts
  • critical analyses of books I have read/am reading

I’d like to post at least once a week, possibly every Monday.

I really enjoyed the writing practice I did here last October, posting my response to self-made writing prompts every day.  I’d like to start that up again in order to stretch my writing muscles before my residency begins in June.

Ever onwards, my friends!  See you in the next post!