Friday, November 11, 2011

Sprinting to the finish line (but never actually getting anywhere)

Have you ever had one of those dreams in which you're being chased and you're running and running, but you never actually seem to be getting farther away from your pursuer?  If so, then you'll have a better understand of how I'm feeling at the moment.

My best friend, Kate, once told me that it's theoretically impossible to actually get from one point to another because no matter how much of the distance you cross you'll always have a halfway point.  I'm probably not explaining this correctly (Kate is *literally* the smartest person I know, so she's great at making very difficult concepts sound easy to understand.  Me?  Not so much).  Basically, the idea is that you can start at point A, move halfway to point B, and there will still be a halfway point between you and your destination.  It just keeps moving as you do, and so, theoretically, you should never be able to reach point B (I know, sounds crazy, but just think about it for a minute and you'll see it's actually true).  This is basically my long and sciencey way of saying that for the last couple weeks I feel like I've been reaching halfway point after halfway point and still never getting anything accomplished.  It seems like I've been monumentally busy (thank you, Cameron Crowe and young John Cusack for that wonderful phrase, and, also, for the iconic boombox scene, which I love), but I still feel like I've got nothing to show for it.

Here are the things I'm doing in November:

  • Reading a 300+ page book and writing a ten-page book review
  • Taking an exam in International Organizations
  • Writing a research paper on the United Nations' efforts to combat Human Trafficking
  • Traveling to Denver for an interview with the Office of Presidential Management for their 2012 Presidential Management Fellowship program
  • Participating in NaNoWriMo, an annual novel-writing challenge to write 50,000 words of a working first draft in 30 days (I'm only about 6,000 words behind--that's ok, right?)
  • Missing Thanksgiving vacation with my family to take an exam, write papers, and generally "catch up" on things
All of that, of course, is aside from the whole raising kids thing that I've been known to do from time to time.

My point is not to complain about what I've got on my plate (after all, I heaped it all there myself and went back for seconds), or to say "hey, look at all the stuff I'm doing, aren't I amazing?"  My point is this:  sometimes you feel like you're treading water, and that's ok.  The important thing is to not let the feeling of getting a little behind keep you from going forward.  

I may feel like I've accomplished nothing at all, but when I really think about it, I've got a lot to show for my efforts so far.  I may be a little behind on my NaNo word count, but I've written 11,000 words of a brand new novel, and (bonus!) I don't think they're half bad.  I have a lot of school work to get through, but my grades are great (so far), and I've definitely gotten through worse semesters than this one.  Also, my kids are still alive, well-fed, and dressed in (mostly) clean clothing, so I must be doing something right (ok, I have to give a little credit to my husband on this one, because he's been amazingly helpful this semester and I'm pretty sure I would have chucked it all by now if I had to do it alone).

Anyway, I've been feeling pretty down about my lack of progress lately, and decided that what I really needed was to sit down and write about it before I gave up completely.  I've had Dory, from Finding Nemo, singing "just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming," in my head for the last few days.  That may just be because my three-year-old insists on watching it on repeat, but I'd like to think it's my way of staying positive as I put my head down and get through the chaotic little tempest that this November is shaping up to be.    

Also, blogging is a great way to avoid doing any "real" work. :)


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Work In Progress

I'm staring at a mountain of books.

But before I get to that, perhaps I should begin this story a bit further back.  For several years, my best friend, Kate, and I have been talking about collaborating on a book.  We tossed around multiple ideas (multiple and varied, ranging from "chick lit" to political thriller), but nothing seemed to stick.  Then, just over a year ago, inspiration struck.  We were inspired to write what turned out to be a young adult fantasy novel centered around a charismatic (maybe too charismatic? *hint hint*) Irish Traveler conman who falls in love with his mark (a rookie mistake, of course), and then has to choose between her and his family.  The book was finished this summer (aside from a few edits in recent weeks that have made it even stronger, if I do say so myself), and we're now in the process of querying agents.

I'm in love with this book.  I love every character, ever line of dialogue, every description.  I love every awkward mannerism of our lovely characters, every nervous habit, ever moment of self-doubt or overconfidence.  These characters have become very real members of my inner-circle.  I feel as though my co-author and I haven't spent a year writing a novel, we've spent a year hanging out with people who were a little weird at first, but who have since become so familiar that lately they've just been coming by without calling, letting themselves in and snooping around the kitchen for a snack all before evening saying hello.   

Which brings me back to book mountain.

I checked them out from the university library about a week ago, but have changed my concept for this new book so many times that they're not even going to be useful anymore.  That means I now have to lug the all back to campus and walk them the quarter mile from my parking space (I have one of those--one of the perks of being a graduate assistant) to the library.  That's not really the worst part, though.  I've been putting off returning the books not because I don't feel like making the effort, but because I kind of feel like I'll be leaving something behind.  I really liked the original idea, and the characters that had started developing along with it, but they just weren't getting me far enough to actually start writing about them.  All the same, does that mean I should just drop them into the dark depths of the return box along with the books that are now just taking up precious space on my desk?  It hardly seems fair.

On the other hand, just because I'm not writing about them now, doesn't mean I won't ever write about them.  Maybe they can just stay safely tucked away in my little dropbox folder of potential ideas until I feel ready to write about them.  I guess the first step to being a great writer is to realize that sometimes there are stories you're just not ready to tell no matter how excited you are to do so.  The beauty is, since you invented the characters in the first place, they'll always be there when you're ready to get to know them a little better.

And, in the meantime, I have a whole group of new characters who are dying to see a little action, and I'm more than happy to oblige.  After a trip to the library, of course.