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Shifting gears

My inner critic is confused.

For the nearly six months I was working on the first draft of The Polaris Uprising, I kept her locked in a room, with nothing but jigsaw puzzles and Angry Birds to keep her entertained. Occasionally, I’d let her out to take a whack at a particularly egregious typo (I couldn’t let her muscles atrophy, after all–I needed her in tip-top shape when I unleashed her for the editing process), but for the most part, I was pretty disciplined about keeping her in that room, no matter how many times she’d bang on the door and beg me to unlock it.

But then the editing process came, and I set her free, and boy did she have a field day. How she mocked me with her cruelty and hinted I was a hack writer with flat dialogue and repetitive phrasing and plot holes the size of Rhode Island. I bowed to her whim, fixing everything I could, pouring out blood, sweat, tears to get to a draft that was a far cry from what it was when I first typed “The End” (ok, I never actually used those words, but you get my meaning). It was a grueling process, but one that brought me results I was proud of, and when it was all over, I thanked my inner critic for all her hard work, and then…

… forced her back into the room and locked it up again, because I had a new first draft to write as I begin book 2.

She’s in there now, whining and pouting, calling me all sorts of nasty names. I can hear her still. The thing is, she had a taste of freedom, and she was enjoying it a little too much. Now she’s back in her room and the jigsaw puzzles ain’t cutting it, and she wants out again.

See? Confused.

That’s the thing about switching gears. You get used to one thing, and you start to get proficient at it, and then you change things up again, and it’s like starting at the beginning. In theory, I know it’s not the absolute beginning; I know I’m starting from a far stronger foundation than I did before. I know this world. I know its people. I know the story inside and out, backwards and forwards. I’ve constructed a story structure that’s very sound, mapped out a character journey that’s compelling and (hopefully) moving. And yet, all my inner critic can focus on is the crappy words I’m producing right now, and she’s sure letting me know it (even from way inside her locked room).

It took me a while to get good at learning to ignore her. I suspect it’ll take me just as long this time, too. Beginnings are especially hard; it’s where I struggle most in a story (once I get in my groove though, man, there is no stopping me!). But the only way to get through it is… to get through it. Just keep hacking away at it. Eventually, she’ll get bored and go back to putting together those puzzles. She’ll leave me in peace to just get this draft down, knowing I’ll let her out eventually so she can have a field day with it. I’m in those negotiations with her right now.

Until then, it’ll be painful for both of us.

At least until I let her out again temporarily after I get my editor’s feedback on book 1 and need to shift gears again back to editing mode–boy that’s going to be fun. But then, back in she’ll go, and hopefully she’ll give me a good 5, 6 months of harassment-free writing.

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode...

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode…

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Back at it again…

I’m about to start training for my 6th marathon this weekend. So it seems somewhat fitting that earlier this week, I began training for another kind of marathon: writing book 2 of my Polaris trilogy.

As you might have gathered from the previous statement, yes, I did finish The Polaris Uprising! Woohoo!! It was amazing to cross that finish line, of course, but I did end up celebrating quietly because I realized that my true “finish line” isn’t completing the manuscript; it’s seeing it in print. Seeing it in bookstores, on e-readers.

So until that day, I will hold my “celebration to end all celebrations” — although I will hold on to the feeling of accomplishment for getting to this point at all because let’s face it, the path to get here wasn’t easy either!

You might be wondering why in the world I’m plunging back in again and embarking on a “new” marathon. After all, some of you may remember my story that when I finished my first marathon, I was telling everyone left and right I would never, ever, ever do another one of these things again, and if I ever spoke of another one again, I gave people permission to call me crazy.

5 months later I ran my second marathon.

See where I’m going with this?

I love challenges. But more importantly, I love challenges that come from things that give me passion. Writing, like running, gives me tremendous passion. This story gives me passion. These characters, this world give me passion. I’m not ready to let go of them yet, and I want to tell their whole story — and until then, it won’t feel over to me, and I’ll keep running these marathons.

So as I start that terrifying, frustrating, but ultimately thrilling journey of writing the continuing saga of Ryla, Alanna, and Owen, I can’t help but think how fortunate I am that 10 months ago (almost to the day, in fact), a little seed of an idea took hold in my brain and wouldn’t let go. Whatever happens and wherever the road takes me with these guys, I will always be grateful for the privilege of writing about them.

Now onward with the “training”!

Back to this again... mapping out the key storylines for book 2!

Back to this again… mapping out the key storylines for book 2!

The best things in life are worth working for

When I was in the last half mile of the marathon where I set my personal record, my run coach joined me for the home stretch. I was tired, I was hurting, and I just wanted this to be over. I’d gone through the gamut of emotions up until that point, and I didn’t know if I had anything left in the tank to take me home.

But my coach, having run many, many races in her own right — including an Ironman — knew exactly what I was feeling at that moment. And she knew that a few encouraging words would mean the difference between me giving up right then and there and me digging deep and finding that last bit of something to get me over the finish line.

I’ll never forget what she said to me.

“Look at all those people on the sidelines. If this were easy, they’d be doing it too. But they’re not. Because it’s not easy. But you’re going to do this. You’re going to finish.”

I’m not sure I really believed her at the time — your brain does very strange things to you at the end of a marathon — but I internalized her words all the same and used it as fuel to take me to the finish.

I thought about her the other day, as I was almost in tears over a particularly rough patch I’ve been going through in the revision process. A pesky plot dilemma reared its ugly head, and not only did a solution stump me, but in the process of trying to find a solution, I uncovered another plot dilemma — and ended up having to cut a scene I really, really loved. Yes, it happend. I had to kill a darling. And it was brutal. Beyond brutal.

I have some friends who tell me that they actually preferred the revision process to writing the first draft, because they got to see their story transform before their very eyes and improve each time they sat down to work on it. That may be true and there’s no arguing that the results are very gratifying, but I’d be lying if I said that I’ve enjoyed the revision process so far. I haven’t. In all honesty, it’s felt very much like taking a sledgehammer to my head again and again. And then stabbing my chest with an ice pick, just for good measure.

I’m two weeks in and it’s been torture every step of the way. But I know it’ll be worth it, and I know I’ll be happy I did it. I think about what my coach said. “If this were easy, they’d be doing it too.”

The fact is, only 1 in every 200 people ever finish a marathon. And I bet the statistics aren’t that much better for people who finish a novel. I’m doing something that isn’t done very often, and I forget that sometimes. This isn’t meant to be easy. Not that I had expected it to be, but it’s even harder than I thought.

But still, I’m keeping at it. When the butterfly bursts out of its cocoon, the ugly caterpillar will be a distant memory, as will the grueling process it took to transform it. That’s what I have to focus on.

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Hard work is never wasted effort