The four-day week-end I spent in the Seattle area was not much of a vacation, other than being a break from cooking and washing dishes.
I think I walked three or four miles just through the airports and had the burden of hauling a suitcase and overloaded laptop case. Being old and out of shape doesn't help. Even on wheels, the combination of luggage was heavy. There was no way I could have carried it up and down stairs, so I appreciated the escalators, but in many places there were just ramps. They're fine on the downward slant, but uphill ramps have always done a number on my ankle and calf muscles.
During my stay, we went to baseball games three days out of the four, and invariably there was uphill and downhill walking, with the same effect on my muscles as airport ramps. Nights were often late and most mornings were early, so I didn't get nearly as much sleep as I would have liked. And sleep in an unfamiliar bed never provides the best rest. Each day I fell further and further behind.
Sunday, we went to beaches. Several of them. We went in search of stones and seaglass. I found enough little stones at one beach to maybe make a small tumbler load and maybe produce some casual jewelry, but the seaglass beach was inaccessible. That was a bit of a disappointment.
We also went to the beaches to take pictures. No one has any pictures of me because I'm always the one taking the photos, and I don't like any of the photos of me anyway. But everyone wanted some family pictures, so we found a big driftwood log at one beach and some pictures were taken. I haven't seen them yet. I'm not sure when I will.
I returned to Arizona Monday – the airport walks were longer and even more horrendous because I was already exhausted – and wasted no time. Dirty laundry was the first thing unpacked, and while the washer was running I finished the unpacking. As soon as the clothes were in the dryer, I set the timer for an hour and crawled into bed for a 60 minute nap. There being insufficient groceries in the house to fix supper – and there being absolutely no enthusiasm on my part for cooking it anyway – we went out to eat. I came home completely exhausted in spite of my nap, and was sound asleep shortly after 9:00.
This morning I woke up earlier than I really wanted to and had no desire to get out of bed, so I spent about an hour just being lazy and doing some thinking. It's not the first morning I've done that, but for a variety of reasons this morning was a bit different.
A good portion of the past weekend was also devoted to motivational conversations, for reasons I won't go into here. Although I was not the object of these discussions, much of what was said hit home: I've not been adequately motivated to stick to my writing and I've also been far too willing to come up with convenient excuses. The weather is too hot or too cold, there are too many worries about finances, too many appliances have broken, blah, blah, blah, blah. The end result is that I have two novels sitting at well more than 50,000 words each, and I have done virtually nothing on either of them for months.
A few weeks ago, I figured out why one of the books was stalled. The problems were fixable, with some work, and the fix would make the story much stronger. And even at 50,000 words, the book was going to require a whole lot more writing anyway. The words don't write themselves; I'd have to stop making excuses and get to work.
The other book presents a much more complicated problem. I began writing it without a clear idea where it was going. The plot was vague and strongly character-driven, so I had the character arc well formed, but not much else. The more I worked on it, the more the writing veered to the character part of the plot and away from the story, because the story wasn't strong enough to pull it back.
The story also had a huge hole. No, that's not quite right. The story as I had written it up to those 50,000 words had an obvious weakness. At least it was obvious to me.
As I read other books and saw similar or even worse weaknesses, I wondered if readers noticed, and if they noticed, did they care. These flimsy plots and characters who acted without proper motivation or consistency bothered me. Did they bother other readers? Whether or not they did, I knew I was having more and more problems with this book because it bothered me. I had put my character, the one who was driving the whole book, into a situation I couldn't imagine her actually getting herself into. It made no sense to me the author; how could I even begin to make it make sense to a reader?
Over the weekend I found an answer, or at least a possible answer. As with the other stalled novel, this one would require more work. I'm not sure how much work, or where the changes will need to be made. Will I have to go back into those existing 50,000 words and make major modifications? It's been months since I've read it all the way through and I know there are details I've forgotten. Will they fit in this new "fix" I've sort of come up with?
The truth is, I've allowed myself to be distracted far too much. I've forgotten how difficult writing is. I wanted it to be easy.
In fact, writing has always been easy for me. That's not to say the easy writing is always good writing, but I've always been able to do it.
What's hard is turning off the distractions. What's hard is sitting down and facing the next blank line, the next sentence, the next paragraph, without worrying whether some reader is going to like it or not. What's hard is turning of my internal editor who has the rejection slip already in her hand and just needs my own SASE to send it back to me.
Today is Tuesday. I'm catching up on some other work while I mentally play with these two plot improvement projects. Tomorrow I have another grocery shopping expedition on the schedule, with the follow-up of putting the groceries away. Overall, it will take up my entire morning. Another list of chores faces me related to the upcoming art show season. My first scheduled show is less than ten weeks away.
The arts and crafts stuff is part of this. It's a distraction in and of itself, but it's also a source of income, which I need. There's a necessary balance to be achieved, and frankly, I haven't found it yet. That's another task for the next couple of days as I think this all through.
I've been in this position before. There's always a desire to write, and plenty of workable ideas to which to apply that desire, but the distractions and emotional obstacles stand in the way. Self doubt is a big one, and maybe having these two plots worked out – at least for now – will help erase some of that doubt. I've never had an abundance of self-confidence, and it gets pummeled pretty regularly. Even a light-hearted Twitter query about "Did you ever have someone who had more confidence in yourself than you did, and how did it affect you?" can feel like a dagger to the heart. No, I never had anyone who had more confidence in me than I did. Never. And I never really had much confidence in myself to begin with.
It's hard to push past that, and yet I've done it in the past. I know it can be done. I know I can do it. I just have to do it.
Therefore, I've given myself the rest of this week to put all these other issues in order and out of the way. There will still be work to be done for the art shows, but that's an ongoing effort. The other stuff needs to be set aside, so I can focus on the writing.
There were elements of my four-day weekend that were enough of a vacation to give me the opportunity to think out the problems of these two books and clarify potential fixes. As I continue to think these through, my job is also to make -- make, not find -- the time to do the writing. That means to stop making excuses, stop finding excuses.
I think we get a warm feeling inside at the thought of everyone having a mentor, a supporter, someone who makes each of us somehow rise above whatever is holding us back so we can achieve our dreams. The sad truth is that most of us don't have that someone. Most of us don't achieve our dreams. Many of us don't achieve those dreams because we're waiting for that bit of support or encouragement. But I wonder just how many successes out there are attributable to raw, ugly, solo determination. I'm taking that for my model.