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Monday, March 26, 2012

About Those Goals ... (March Madness Check-In, Day 26)

I couldn’t help but recall Mother’s warning. “Never mind what you intend, Janni,” she’d cautioned. “A journeyer’s path is neither clear nor straight, and the Land may have other plans. You cannot know where you’ll end up.”

"Guys, I can do this!!" - Four week old kitten scales the leg of a jean-wearing human. Photo © Laura Sheana Taylor.

Welcome to the second day of the very last week of March WIP Madness! Just five more days until the month comes to a close. Can you believe it?

And what a month it's been! Ups, downs, challenges, the unexpected ... and of course, the goals we started out with. What did you set for yourself? What did you intend to accomplish?

Now for the tough question: What have you actually done?

... Okay, deep breaths. Relax, I mean you no harm.

The truth is, I'm a big believer in the idea that if something hasn't gone as planned, then that's the way things were supposed to happen. I'm not talking about the unexpected change of plans like I discussed last week. I mean on the larger scale. Maybe a story isn't ready to be written. Maybe there's more work to be done before you can even think of that other goal on the list. Maybe you need to encounter or read or watch just the right thing to do your work justice. Or maybe something else of equal importance has to happen first.

My point is, we shouldn't beat ourselves up about it if we haven't been making our goals. The fact that we have goals, that we signed up for this month of Madness in the first place, means that we are doing something, taking charge of what we *can* control, and making the most of it when we can't. And that's what matters.

(Not that this is an excuse to slack off, mind. This is March Madness.)

I love participating in monthly goals posts. I think they push me to do more because they help me stay focused and accountable. I may not always manage to get everything I wanted done, but I don't lose sight of what I want to achieve, either. And doing it this way, as part of a community? Whether it's once-weekly or thrice-monthly, or even just a twitter hashtag, the fact remains that it's done together, and we can all encourage each other.

My own goals took a major turn. There was a lot more that needed to be done for the sake of the story, to tell a better story. I'm not going to manage one of the items on my personal March WIP Madness Goals list, sending out queries, because I need to make these changes, first. No, it's not what I started out with, but I am sure glad it happened the way it did. Now the rest of the week will be pushing to get as much of that as I can done.

So, Wipsters, how about you? Are you where you expected to be with your goals? Any major twists or turns? Remember, we have less than a week left in this challenge, and we have each other for encouragement and support. Let's make it worth it!

And remember to check in with Denise Jaden tomorrow for more encouragement (and prizes, too)!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dealing With The Unexpected (March Madness Check-In, Day 19)

 How do we deal with the unexpected?

Sometimes things come from out of left field. We can't always be prepared for all things all the time. Whether they're good or bad, news, events, and even feedback about our work can throw us out of our rhythm.

My plans for the weekend went out the window on Tuesday. A spontaneous family invitation out of town, one that was worth accepting, meant that I'll be away from home until late today. And so I canceled appointments, booked off tomorrow so I'll have some time to wind down when I come back, and early Saturday I left for a relaxing three-day Vancouver Island getaway.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Not exactly something to complain about. *grins*

I am of course grateful for this. I needed it after a stressful week. But it wasn't exactly what I'd planned. I'd set goals for the weekend! Places to be! Don Rocko and I were supposed to catch a movie! A dear friend and I were going to hang out (and those plans, I forgot to cancel. Oops.) And on top of all that, I had this post to write!

But when my plans changed, I had to readjust. I spent time that I would have normally devoted to my creative endeavours packing and getting ready for the trip. It threw me off my game. Fortunately, in this case everything worked out well, but we all know that isn't always going to be the case. So as easy as it is to fall into the comfortable, planned pattern of our daily lives, we've got to be ready to accept surprises when they occur.

How do you deal with the unexpected? What strategies do you have? March Madness folks, have there been any surprises thrown your way this month that you weren't expecting? How have they affected your goals, or did you find a way to work with them?

So far I've had ample opportunity to devote time to my March (WIP) Madness goals, which included catching up on my reading and working some more on my WIP. I finished my second pass last week, and now I'm onto a third (and hopefully final) list of items to fix before I send it out into the wild. This weekend away has proved fruitful, with intense epiphanies about how to make the story better. And earlier last week, I also got some research done on my other novel project, as I researched the character's identity and roots. How about you?

I might not be able to respond much until I get home tonight. And don't forget to stop by Denise Jaden's blog tomorrow, where she'll draw for more fantastic March WIPmadness prizes!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Respecting the Day Job (March Madness Check-In, Day 12)

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the day job, and what it means to me. When I was a kid, once I'd determined that I wanted to be a writer, my dreams centered around me one day being published, rich, and famous. Reality didn't factor into my ambition when I was twelve, and seventeen years later*, I'm still working on that dream—of being published, at least. Rich and famous? I may be an optimist, but I'm also a realist.

And these days, that's something I've come to terms with. Last week's Magical Words post by David B. Coe about the realities of publishing (and even Carrie Ryan's follow-up about YA publishing in particular) wasn't entirely news to me. But still a part of me had been clinging to the idea that my day job was just that, a day job, one that no matter how much I loved it I would eventually leave to pursue my writing.

That's not to say it won't ever happen. Anything is possible, right? Just that lately, I've come to realize that I'm happy with what I've got. The job I do is rewarding in itself. No one minds that I use my lunch break as writing time. And by working a little bit extra every day, I get one day off every two weeks (hint: it's Mondays).

Sometimes I feel confined by days when I don't get as much writing time as I could if I didn't have the day job, but even on those days, lately I've made it work. Writing in the car while DH drives us to and from work (yay carpooling). Squeezing in half an hour before sword class. Making sure I use the lunch break for actual writing. Fitting writing and reading in where I can, because that's what I need to do.

I thought about taking today and the Monday two weeks from now off, specifically for March Madness, but that's not what this is about. The point is (Dear Universe), this is reality. And I love my job enough to know that even after getting published, I could still handle it. Probably would have to handle it. The "Day Job" may be an epithet for some, but I can't let it be that for me. And youthful fantasies aside, I'm okay with that.

March Madness folks: How are things going today? Do you have a challenge to your writing schedule that you've come to embrace and respect? What do you do to squeeze in writing time? Progress-wise, I'm coming along. Since last week, I've edited 9 chapters. Still more to go, but there's a write-in tonight and I'm hoping to get some work done. How about you?

I'll be at work today *points to title of post* but I'll be sure to respond this evening. And don't forget to check in at Denise Jaden's blog tomorrow!

* * *
* You do the math. Guess which big one I'll be celebrating this June?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Embracing Change (March Madness Check-In, Day 5)

Welcome to March Madness Mondays! For those of you participating in the challenge, how's progress? For some, I know the weekend meant a break from the madness. For others, it was an opportunity. For me, it was a weird mix of both. I didn't manage quite what I'd intended to accomplish, but I made *some* progress. I'm up to Chapter 15 in my second pass read-through after making a major change. (More on that in a bit.)

Which brings me to my point.

Do you ever get attached to something? An element in your story. A certain creative habit. Even reading in a particular genre. Whatever it is, it's easy to fall into a comfort zone. We like it just the way it is and we don't want to let it go. So when someone tells us it doesn't belong or that we need to stretch ourselves or do things differently, then it rankles and if we're attached enough, the criticism falls on deaf ears.

But what if that means that we get so attached we refuse to make a change when we really need to? (Yoga pants, I am looking at you. Yes, you're comfortable. Fashionable everyday wear? I wish.)

So, what was it for me? Well, I always thought I was pretty flexible. Editorial suggestion? Sure! If something's not working, I can make changes. As long as the essence of the story remains, then if it makes things better, I can do both the story and myself justice by making those fixes. I'm not adverse to learning new things. If I have the opportunity to be a better writer, then I really ought to embrace it, right?

Yeah, but there was one little detail I'd decided was a non-negotiable.

Some of you already know the story, but I might as well explain it from scratch: My WIP, SIGN OF THE STAR, was written in first-person, present-tense. And even though some of my beta group told me that it didn't work for them, I chalked it up to a matter of opinion. The original was written that way. And that's how I wrote the revised version, too. But I clung to the idea that that was how the story was supposed to be. Even when one of the Magical Words folks made an excellent point that present tense comes at a heavy price. (Seriously, check the comments. See Moira Young's—my cursed pen name at the time—naive response.)

Then last month, I had tea with an awesome beta reader who doesn't pull punches, and she nailed the problem I'd been having with it when editing by telling me that "it was like watching through a veil". She had trouble connecting with the characters because the present tense created an artificial distance. Which was exacty not what I was going for.

So I caved. And before February was out, I'd changed the story over to past tense. (Really not hard, even though for awhile there I was mentally changing the tense of any text I encountered. Hooboy.) Now I'm making a second pass for clarity, voice and flow. And I love the story so much more. It feels more accessible. Janni's voice has never been more clear. Did I damage the story's integrity, or change my heartsong? Surprisingly, no.

Sometimes we have to make the change. Sometimes it can be scary. And sometimes it can be exactly what we need.

So, have you gotten stuck on or attached to something in your work? Have you asked yourself what the cost would be to you to try something different? What are the possible rewards? What's the worst that could happen if you gave it a chance? March Madness, #wipmadness, is about putting yourself out there, being daring. Let us embrace all that it can offer.

Update: Forgot to add, don't forget to check-in tomorrow (today actually) at Denise Jaden's blog.