Sunday, July 24, 2011

View from the Writing Cave

I've been in the writing cave so long, my eyes are having trouble adjusting to daylight. And, needless to say, a certain part of my anatomy is welded to the computer chair. No one ever told me writing was fattening, but it's hard to exercise on the computer.

Oh yes - I've tried it. I even posted here about the fancy gadget that lets me type while walking on the treadmill. That does work pretty well if you're only playing on the computer, but it's hard to stay focused on characters while huffing and puffing.

I entered the cave in January, tempted by the lush greenery and the lure of a new story. Well, not an entirely new story - I took a story I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2008, tore it to pieces and started again with only a root cutting to start the new growth.

My goal was to complete the story in time for Lori Foster's Reader Author Get Together in early June. I signed up for the pitch appointments before I'd written the first chapter. Talk about pressure! I rewrote the first two chapters a gazillion times, which is pretty normal for me. The view from the cave was gorgeous, and I was right on track.

It got a little trickier in March when I went on two out-of-town trips and attended a writer's conference, none of which were conducive to writing. I kept plugging away, but my word count wasn't quite up to par. It was April by the time I got back on schedule, and the beginning of June seemed frighteningly close. I had to get in some major writing - a mini-NaNoWriMo. Of course, that's when my brain froze up. The cave didn't seem quite as pleasant. The letters wore off my keyboard, and I swear the keys were glued down by bat droppings.

It was around this time subversive thoughts would come to me at night: "Why are you killing yourself over this? The story won't sell even if you do finish it. Why not give it up and get yourself a life? It's not like anyone is forcing you to do this! And you sure as hell aren't getting paid to write for ten hours a day!" The ugly voice of Imposter Syndrome had spoken. I wrestled with it for days - in the end, I beat it down. For awhile, at least.

By May, I was making real progress. My husband had long since stopped asking if I was ever planning to come to bed, and the cat disowned me. The words were doing their magic and I was back in the zone. June was just around the corner, but by God I could do this!

My daughter came into town two days before the conference started, and that's when I had a reality check. We had all kinds of activities planned with my writing buddies - activities that didn't include writing. Three days to go and I was at 60K out of a projected 85K. I told myself I could write at night. The day before the conference, I decided I could write in the hotel room. Yeah, that didn't happen.

Instead, I went into full blown panic. I had a pitch session in ONE DAY! Not only was the story not complete, I hadn't even taken the time to write the query, tagline or pitch! I brought a notebook to every event, and cornered critique partners for impromptu brain-storming sessions. My daughter took off with my friends while I went quietly (or not-so-quietly) insane.

Then I found out the lovely editor I was pitching to had to cancel due to health issues. Relief slammed me, and then guilt because - hello? - she was in pain, for Pete's sake! For a full two hours I relaxed. The editor requested a partial, but I could pull that together in a week, no problem. Reprieve!

My daughter Jessica, author Nancy Naigle, me - in a brief moment of non-panic - and author Gabriella Edwards aka Rosie Murphy

My friends - who are in equal parts wonderful and evil - insisted I pitch to an agent instead. At first I resisted until the voices in my head joined in. Damn those subversive voices, anyway! This time they nagged about my lack of professionalism. "Are you going to pass up an opportunity to pitch because you're too lazy to pull something together? Are you a writer or a wimp?" I left my daughter to her own devices as I shut myself in the hotel room and dug in.

By three a.m., I had a query, a tagline and a pitch. They weren't perfect by any means (another agent was seriously unimpressed), but the agent I pitched to that Saturday liked them enough to request 150 pages. She said to hold off submitting until the story was ready to go, because if she liked it she'd want the full the next day.

I was still in the writing cave, but it was sparkling.

The day after the conference, we headed up to Chicago - taking my daughter to see the family and to meet her new niece. I planned to write in the hotel room every night, which proved extremely difficult. I finally gave up and decided to work double time when I got back home. I should have known better - it's always a mistake to let a day go by without working on a story, much less a whole week.

By the time I got home, I had to read through it from the beginning to get myself back on track. I had two weeks to write before heading back up to Chicago (I swear I'm attached to that city by a bungee cord) to dog sit while my son and his significant other went on a cross-country road trip. I had a plan: my new goal was to finish before I left on June 23. Once again, I failed to meet my goal. I wrote about 1,000 words a day, and every word was like drawing blood.

I pushed on, and by the time I went to Chicago I was at 70K. Not where I wanted to be, but by then the remaining 15K didn't sound so bad. Chicago was great. I became I writing hermit - just me and the dog, and my old laptop. The A/C didn't work real well so I got up at the crack of dawn to walk the dog before the heat set in, and then came back and wrote like a maniac. I took breaks to walk the dog along the lakefront, which helped recharge my batteries and sweep the cobwebs from my brain. Finally, I could see the light outside the cave.

I wrote 31,500 words during my three weeks in Chicago, overshooting my anticipated word count significantly. Since I returned home I've trimmed 2,500 words, leaving at least 4,000 more to cut. The revisions aren't going as smoothly as I'd like - when do they ever? I'm still plugging away.

I'm not out of the cave yet, not until I push on and complete the revisions. I feel antsy because the submissions are later than I anticipated, but I'd rather submit a clean, polished story than pages that are rough but on time. It's nearly August, and I'd like to think I'll be done by then. Somehow I doubt it.

The cave is starting to feel like home. My family has adjusted to my state of distraction, and the cat is busy hanging with his raccoon friends. Life goes on.

Is it worth it? Well, I'm not writing the Great American Novel, but I hope I'm writing something fun. Now I'm heading back to the writing cave. Any other cave dwellers out there?


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