I am at this tumultuous point in my writing life where my days vacillate between sad departures and happy beginnings. I’m wrapping up final edits before prying my over-protective hands off my newborn YA manuscript, kicking it out of the nest into the big, scary world to fly on its own where it will be rejected, requested only to be rejected some more, requested again, and then hopefully, FINALLY to be adored by just the right person. The more exciting, joyous parts of my days are when I’m moving forward on my next YA manuscript. I think I’m enjoying the beginning of this new manuscript because it is much lighter in subject matter than the last novel. No longer am I trapped in the psych ward with my main character, Sara, struggling through the ugly situations that I put her through. I do love her story, but I’ve lived with it for a very long time and, man, was I brutal. She should never forgive me. With this new novel I get to be funny and explore new things. I’m also I’m dying to try out what I learned while writing the last novel.
First, I want to write my rough draft without constantly editing myself. I’m going to follow some wise advice from a dear writer friend and give myself permission to write a very bad first draft. Although I’m not a big Hemingway fan, I did love this quote I read from him recently that said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Succinct and to the point. (Maybe I will give The Old Man and the Sea another go after all.) I want to have fun with my new manuscript without constantly correcting.
Second, I want to keep a journal of my ideas for changes and questions I have about plot issues or character motivation, etc. I believe I got the idea from Kathi Appelt when she spoke to our Oklahoma SCBWI group last fall. She keeps an ongoing project journal which are conversations with herself about her characters and the choices her characters could make. She writes out where her characters are going mentally and physically, drawing maps to keep directions straight. She turns to her journals whenever she gets stuck while writing to work through the rough spots. I tried something much less organized with notes in the margins of my last book and it wasn’t as easy to reference or to keep track of through all of my edits and it wasn’t remotely conversational. I really like her idea. I have a funky new spiral that will serve this purpose. I must write “hands off!” on the cover so my daughter doesn’t steal it – it is that cool.
Third, I want to handle my stress better. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I’m not going to sabotage myself or stop writing or start doubting that I can do this, I’m just going to take a break and play for a little while. Just play.
My inspiration for this final idea? I found some old pictures of my kids playing a game they made up called Barbie Tossing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Man, were those dolls aerodynamic! This was during a time in our lives when we didn’t have much money, we lived in a cramped apartment while I worked in a very demanding management position that required a lot of travel-time and my husband was still in nursing school, and we were still new to the whole autism diagnosis with our son – juggling all kinds of appointments with specialists and therapists to see what he needed – STRESSFUL! And yet here was this moment when the kids didn’t even notice any of that and just made due with what they had – a bunch of Barbies and a patch of grass right outside the apartment door. They tossed those Barbies for hours. (Finally, a way of playing with them that didn’t make me cringe. I even joined in – yes, I did my fair share of Barbie Tossing, too.) I looked at those pictures and then I remembered how those bright-eyed kids could turn a small corner of our tiny living room into the most fantastical adventure with a blanket and two bar stools and they always, ALWAYS invited me to come along. Once I’m done indulging my need for play, I won’t feel as stressed anymore and all the doubts and worry won’t be able to hold me back.