Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!

YES! YES! YES!

And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Post NaNo Blues and How I Conquered the Turkey

Anyone else having a bit of trouble adjusting to life after NaNo? I find myself a little directionless without the ticking clock of the relentless NaNoWriMo countdown to face each morning. My pace has slowed to a crawl without the timed writing sprints to look forward to. Now that I’m responsible for my own motivation, I’m finding myself to be a less than ideal coach. Hey, there’s snow outside and Christmas decorations to put up and gifts to buy.

Distractions, distractions, distractions!

This much snow meant we were snowbound.
This much snow meant we were snowbound.
Great time to decorate the tree.
Great time to decorate the tree.
Perfect weather for cozying up next to a fire.
Perfect weather for cozying up next to a fire.

Maybe we all deserve a little downtime after the craziness of last month.

Here’s a wrap up of last month’s #writemotivation /NaNo goals:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo.  I did survive NaNo, and even though I didn’t officially win it, I feel like I made great progress on my new project. I wrote a little over 25K words and have about 100 pages of a new manuscript to work with that I didn’t have at the beginning of the month. ALL WITHOUT EDITING.That in itself is a major accomplishment for me.
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. Goal made. This is what helped me make the most progress in my opinion. I loved the write-ins and meeting so many new writers. And all the dares worked into my project really well. Even the bonus Dr. Who one. 🙂
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. I did better with this at the beginning of the month than the end. Still, I plan on using this more in the future. One thing this NaNo has really taught me is how to be more disciplined. 
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. Goal accomplished more days than not. There were a few where I failed to shower or make dinner, but I did peek out of my writer’s cave every day and spend some time with the most important people in my life. They love me even when I’m stinky and half-crazed from too much caffeine and when I’m ranting like a lunatic because I can’t make my story work out right, so I have to give them credit where its due.

One day I really tried to spend some quality time with my family was on Thanksgiving.

In support of my writing schedule and because he loves to cook (and I do not) my husband took on most of the burden of preparing our family feast. There was a lot of chopping and simmering that i steered clear of. My husband even did some fancy thing with the stuffing, using cornbread and wild rice that needed to soak in buttermilk like twenty-four hours before. I stayed out of the way in my office, working on my NaNo project, happy as could be. It was also in the middle of birthday week for me, which meant I could ask for special favors from my loving family members, smile at them and then scream at the top of my lungs, “Birthday week!” and they would have to do said task for me. (I love birthday week.) We came up with this a few years ago because my birthday always falls around Thanksgiving and we never really get a chance to celebrate it by itself. Now having a special week every year where I get to boss everyone around is the best gift of all. My birthday actually feels like a celebration. So imagine my surprise when on the evening before Thanksgiving, in the middle of all of these amazing preparations, my husband  turns to me and says that everything is ready to go. “All you have to do is cook the turkey.” I stared at him blankly.

“What?” I’m thinking, isn’t that like the main part of the meal? What did he mean by telling me at the last minute that I was responsible for the biggest part of the dinner? He did remember how much I hated cooking.

“No big deal, just toss it in a roasting bag and pop it in the oven.”

I thought about calling birthday week on that one, but my husband had to work. He wouldn’t be around to cook the damned thing. I think he planned this surprise attack beautifully.

“Sure. Okay.”

Besides, I could do it. I’d made a turkey maybe twice before in my life. Like eight years ago. After all, he was just making all this really fancy stuff, so what if I  just tossed a dry hunk of dead bird on the table as my contribution. How bad could I screw it up? I put my head between my knees to keep from hyperventilating.

After having bad dreams of naked, headless turkey carcasses chasing me, I woke in a panic. I couldn’t just throw the bird in the bag after my husband had worked so hard on everything else. I wouldn’t bring down this holiday. I started with some research. I searched the internet for some sage advice. I needed a great turkey recipe to save the day. What I found were a lot of complicated or even weird ideas. One said I’d need to brine my turkey before cooking it – no time for that! One sounded really tasty, but it would take over nine hours and I didn’t have half of the ingredients. Arg! Then I saw several links telling me I could just pop the damned thing in the dishwasher, and it would be done in an hour and a half. Really? I was sorely tempted by this point, although after reading the fine print, I learned I’d have to carve it up, wrap it in plastic, then broil it in the oven to brown it after it was finished cooking in the dishwasher. No real shortcut after all.

In the end, I found this lovely recipe by Gordon Ramsey that was very doable as I had all the ingredients and I could watch the video. Repeatedly. Rewinding every five seconds and taking notes like a crazy person. And it included bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon? I did have to rub down the turkey with a lemon and parsley butter, which was so not my favorite thing, but the smell was divine once it started cooking. It turned out great in record time. The bird was delicious.

Bacon Turkey

I decided that this is the only way to cook bacon from now on; on a turkey, basted in lemon parsley butter for several hours. And my turkey stood up to my husband’s fancified dishes like they were made for each other.

This experience was a little like my NaNo experience as a whole. Some panic, some experimentation, stretching my limits, and learning that I can do more than I thought I could once I pushed myself past my comfort zone. And I ended up with something pretty cool that I made myself.

Week 2 of NaNo and I’m Still Alive – The Dog, Well That’s a Different Story

Okay, Okay, he’s alive.

I didn’t mean to make you worry.

It was touch and go for a few days. Honest.

Stormy, our six year-old rescue lab got sick for the first time since ever. He went down for the count in the middle of a hectic week, filled with NaNo and evening plans, school and work, family life bustling all around. It took us all a good twenty-four hours to realize the big guy was just lying there – not moving, not eating, not drinking. He’d stopped barking at the neighborhood kids, the postal worker, the squirrels, the wind blowing in the trees. He’d stopped greeting us at the door with more barking.

It was the silence that alerted us to his condition. That and when my daughter tried to take him for a walk, the usually bouncy, barky dog couldn’t even make it down the driveway.

Then we noticed he wasn’t eating either.

No fluids in or out.

Nothing.

After day two, we really began to panic. And we were wracked with guilt for not noticing sooner and for not knowing what to do. First thing I’ll tell you is the viral email about giving a cat a pill I read years ago is ten times funnier now that I’ve tried to give our dog pain medicine. He wouldn’t take it no matter how we disguised it. Even with peanut butter – and that dog loves peanut butter. Everything we tried went down, but that damn pill always came back up. My daughter and I were covered in dog drool and fur when we finally smashed the pill up and gave it to him in some water. We maybe got a fourth of the medicine down him. Who knows if it made him feel any better.

We read everything online we could and kept trying to feed him and give him water. He’d take a few laps out of a cup if it was put to his lips, but not enough to get him back on his feet. (He was probably a little leery of taking water from us after the medicine trick from the day before.) He peed once, but according to my husband the nurse, it was a very unhealthy dark color. I took his word for it. No, I didn’t need to see it. (He captured some just in case. Nurses are weird.)

We even started an IV on him on day three. Okay, my husband did. After he watched a video on YouTube (you can really find out how to do almost anything on there). For my part, I closed my eyes and held him down, being the good, yet squeamish assistant. Stormy laid still like a good dog. He didn’t even whine after the initial stick. (Yes, Tim, you’re awesome. You can stick anything. Again, nurses are weird.) After getting a fourth of the bag in, Stormy sat up abruptly – the most activity we’d seen in days – and promptly pulled the IV out of his leg. It was a start, but we were done with that line of therapy. There was no way we were doing that again. Because I said so. The nurse probably would have tried again. Stormy seemed to do better for awhile. He moved around and drank some more out of the cup. Then he stopped moving and drinking again.

Still no good pee came.

Later in the day, we made him some chicken and rice. He ate that up. He was on the mend. Water and food intake shot up, although we had to hand feed him. For the next few days, he only drank out of a cup if we brought it to him and only ate if we made him chicken and rice and laid it at his feet. (I was beginning to feel we were being snookered.)

By day five, he peed a good strong stream and we all cheered. (Yes, it really takes so little to make us happy.) He even ran to the door when our daughter came home from school. We knew then he’d be okay. And that the little bugger could drink out of his bowl, again.

Yesterday, he barked like mad when my husband came home and I forgot how nice and quiet it had been while he was sick. I also realized how much his illness had affected all of us. I didn’t write as much during the second half of the week, more preoccupied with Stormy than my story. (I’m always complaining that my dogs are underfoot  – even now they surround my desk while I write – I’m in danger of stepping on one of them whenever I get up and I’ve rolled over an ear or tail more times than I care to remember.) My husband called me several times while working, not to check on me or the kids, but to check on our ailing dog. Both of our kids tried to comfort Stormy and snuggled with him on the floor or brought him water.

I know we’re all glad to have him back to his bouncy, barky self.

Stormy several years ago showing off his creative side and as always under my feet.
Stormy several years ago showing off his creative side and as always under my feet.

Let’s talk about weekly goals now that my head’s back in the game.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeHere are my #writemotivation /NaNo goals for this month:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo. (I will finish a first draft this year. I WILL!) I broke through the ceiling of the 10K mark and that felt so amazing. I’m a little behind right now, but with everyone in good health and after talking through some of my plot points with my husband this weekend on a nice long walk, I’m ready for round two. Bring it, NaNo!
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. I didn’t attend any write-ins this week because of sick puppy and husband’s work schedule, but this week shouldn’t be a problem. And I will be taking another dare. I double-dog dare you to take one, too.
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. I did get some posts pre-scheduled and this made life so much easier. This is my new favorite thing to do. If I don’t watch out, I may become…ORGANIZED! ACK!
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. Family took precedent over writing many times this week, if you count Stormy, which I think you all can tell, I do. (I spent time with the younglings and my husband, too. But I didn’t hand-feed them.)
2013-Participant-Facebook-Profile

I know some people have already finished – insane! – and some are ready to give up because life or their project is too overwhelming/not working out right now, which is okay, too. I’ve given up a few times, myself. This is a very personal/individual thing with a community of support to drive you on, no matter how your NaNo goes.

How’s your NaNo going?

Progress forward is progress – #writemotivation and NaNo update

2013-Participant-Facebook-ProfileI did something crazy this year for NaNo and started with a completely blank page. I had the barest inklings of a premise to start with and that was it. Usually when I start a project I have a little more to go on. Some basic research, maybe a character sketch, even a vague outline. Not this time. I started with a word count of zero.

Frightening.

I did find my mind working on the premise a few days before the start of NaNo. Anytime I was driving or showering or doing some mundane chore, my brain was coming up with ideas. Yet, I didn’t write anything down.

I waited.

I let everything percolate. Simmer on the back burner.

When midnight struck on November 1st at the kick-off party, I let my fingers take off and words actually filled up the blank pages, much to my relief. It really helped to be surrounded by other writers just as eager and excited to get started on their new projects. I’d never been to a kick-off party before. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed meeting some new writer friends and hearing about their projects and how anxious they were to get started. Many of them were first-timers. The energy was contagious. After an hour, I had my first thousand words.

And I got to take home my very own box of doom. So cool.

At the second write-in on Saturday, I took part in a couple of timed word count challenges. And one dare. Oh, yeah. It was on. What surprised me most was how much I could write in those thirty minute spurts – unedited spurts at that.

This has really helped me overcome my biggest problem as a writer – too much editing during the first draft. I think a few more days of this and I’ll stop flinching when the strong impulse to edit rears its ugly head.

writemotivation_header1Here are my #writemotivation /NaNo goals for this month:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo. (I will finish a first draft this year. I WILL!) I’m right on track so far. As of today, I’ve written over 6,000 words out of the 50,000 needed to win NaNo.
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. I should have made this goal harder. I’ve already attended two write-ins and taken one dare – which I accomplished, with bonus points, no less.
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. Although I did prep some posts, I didn’t flesh out as many as I’d hoped. Still time to make this goal before next week! I do have a couple finished, so how about partial credit?
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. I have a family? Just kidding. My husband has made me promise that I will take the day off from writing every day that he takes off from work. A healthy compromise. That just means I have to do more writing on the other days. So far it’s working okay. Although we’ll see how well this goes near the end of the month if I’m behind on my word count.

So how is your NaNo going? Surviving the first week okay?

Not doing the NaNo? What other writing goals are you working towards?

It’s Tricky to Rock Nano

As I gear up for the ultimate writing challenge next month, NaNoWriMo, not unlike a marathon runner prepping for that insanely long distance race, I find my brain filled with a haunting tune from the prolific rappers of the 80’s. Those poets in gold chains, sporting Adidas with style and grace.

Yes, Run DMC.

Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
Photo Credit: from Wikipedia

♫♪This speech is my recital, I think it’s very vital
To rock a rhyme, that’s right on time
It’s tricky is the title, here we go

It’s tricky to rock a rhyme
To rock a rhyme that’s right on time
It’s tricky, it’s tricky, tricky tricky tricky ♪♫

.

Those of you who write in rhyme know that it can indeed be tricky to rock well.

I myself have never conquered NaNo. I’ve never reached the 50,000 word goal. I’ve never been focused enough. In the past, I’ve done more lip service to NaNo than actually participating and I’ve let anything bright and shiny distract me from reaching my goal.

But this year, I vow to make it all the way.

The number one thing I’m doing to make that happen is participating; making time to park my butt in the chair. That means I’ve had to clear my schedule ahead of time by preparing blog posts and arranging for childcare so I can attend write-ins.

Did you know that you can prepare blog posts ahead of time and schedule when they release? So convenient! How did I not know about this a year ago? (It pays to read all of the directions.) I’ve been prepping posts for the first half of the month to get me started on the right foot. I even have my premier post scheduled for The Great Noveling Adventure blog already in the queue, ready to go. Now I don’t have to sweat that. I can be nervous about something completely different.

Like what the heck I’m going to write about for 50,000 words.

I do have a beginning idea, but after that, who knows where this thing will go. Thankfully, if I get stumped, I can hit the NaNo Forums to find ideas for character names, adopt plot ideas, get help developing characters, etc. I’ve never really taken advantage of all NaNo has to offer.

I also plan on hitting a lot more of my local write-in events this year, including the kick-off event set for Halloween night. My costume?  A dedicated freakin’ writer.

Another way I prepared for Nano was by organizing my workspace.

My office has slowly been creeping up on me, with ever growing towers of papers – notes from conferences, critiques of chapters, books on craft to read, etc. Things were getting way out of hand. And that was just on my side. My husband and I took about a week to tackle the clutter – midway through, I wasn’t sure we’d survive the disaster we’d created trying to organize our lives. Mass quantities of beer consumed settled my frayed nerves. Then an open space in the carpet appeared, the mountain of debris dissipated. My husband redesigned and built from scratch two fantastic desks that opened up the room and made me eager to get back to work. He more than earned his Xbox time at the end of each work day.

My side.

new office pic 1

My husband’s side.

new office pic 2

My desk is clutter-free and ready to see some serious action. My husband also helped me set up a studio microphone so I can pace around the office and do some hands-free writing to encourage me to write with less editing – which is what this NaNo exercise is really supposed to be about for me. I need more practice letting myself write that messy first draft without editing the crap out of it.

So how do you prepare for NaNo?

Are you participating?

If you are and you need another buddy, I’m litbeing. Add me and we’ll rock NaNo together.

And don’t forget, for all you picture book writers,you’re not off the hook! There’s a fabulous program for you during the month of November called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) started by the lovely Tara Lazar. You should definitely check it out!

July #writemotivation Week 1

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeIt’s only day two of July and already this month is kicking my butt. Not only am I participating in Camp Nano to complete a first draft of my latest YA project, but I won a spot in Natalie Parker’s Crit Camp this month (along with some fabulous books and other swag) and that will keep me plenty busy with my other #writemotivation goals I have set for this month. I asked for it, though. I wanted to really challenge myself this go round. God, I hope I survive. You may want to check on me from time to time to make sure I haven’t crawled under my desk to eat a pint of the tasty, tasty New York Super Fudge

better stock up, it's gonna be a long month.
Just a little taste?

Chunk…Mmm! Doesn’t that sound good right about now? No! We will find some semblance of willpower. WE WILL!

Here are my lofty goals for this month that may or may not render me insane:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents.
2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!)
3. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog.
4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!)
5. Exercise 4 times each week.

Need to add #6, participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters.

This month should be a hoot. I also get to house-sit for my folks this week while they attend my brother’s wedding out on the West Coast. So sad I can’t go, myself. My hubs couldn’t get out of work. Now I get to babysit chickens and dogs alone with the kids on the 4th. Should be a gas. Ah, well. Next month I get to travel to LA once again to attend the most fabulous of SCBWI conferences with some of my close friends. That will be a real vacation uh, fantastic working experience. (Maybe a little bit of both, to be honest.)

Here’s to a kickass month with serious goals; may we all survive them!

Just for your information, here’s some opportunities you don’t want to miss:

Late last week, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter when agent Jessica Sinsheimer created a hashtag for all agents (and even some editors) to let writers know what was on their manuscript wishlist #MSWL and YA writer KK Hendin created a Tumblr page to capture the hundreds of responses all in one place here. It was a fascinating conversation that kept many of us enraptured for hours. Some agents even reopened to submissions if writers used the hashtag #MSWL in their query line. If you are ready for query submissions, you must check this out.

On another note of upcoming opportunity, Ruth Lauren Stevens and Michelle Krys will host the second Christmas in July Pitch contest where chosen entries will be allowed to show off their queries and the first 500 words of their COMPLETED manuscripts to 16 participating agents who then may make comments or even requests. It’s a fantastic opportunity so stay tuned for the details.

Good luck, everyone!