It's not our abilities that show what we truly are. It's our choices.
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
This weekend I made a choice.
Before I tell you what it was - first off, I need to acknowledge that there are a lot of things that are hard when it comes to starting over, but I think the pressure can feel especially heavy if you are pursuing a passion.
A passion claims your heart, not just your brain. A passion carries vulnerability.
Whenever I'm with a group of writers, I feel like, no matter what kind of composed face I try to put on, I'll be found out. I will ask the dumb, obvious question that will reveal what a newbie, hot mess I am as a writer. They will be polite, supportive even, but no doubt are thinking, "Really? How did she get in?"
So, I had a little trepidation joining up with a group of writers this weekend.
Together, we were participating in a writing workshop called, "Blueprint Sprint." Designed for writers interested in doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in which you write a (messy) novel during November), the course followed a blueprint of exercises and instruction that gave me an intense dive into my book's characters, plot and more. The class was taught be Jennie Nash; I've been reading her weekly blog on writing and editing for a few years.
Connected via video our group of 12 writers came from across the country (including my friend Deborah!). In between the writing sprints, we checked in regularly over the weekend to hear feedback on our work while also learning from each others' questions and struggles. Started Friday at mid-day, it ended at midnight on Sunday: a 60-hour sprint (though I did sleep plus take a break Saturday night and watched the sweet and funny movie "The Big Sick" on TV. Juan had driven to KC to visit Cristina and Jay since I would be huddled over my desktop.)
I wrote an outline of my book's critical scenes and how each would need to involve a decision that would move the action forward. I tried hard to think deeply about what was in my character's heart in each scene -- what was she doing, thinking, feeling?
I wrote three versions each of the first and last scenes of the book. Yes, six scenes. Then I picked the best ones and revised them again.
I learned that I must know more about everything in order to write with authority -- so I've got more research to do. I got a taste for how the process is iterative -- I did my best to prepare, but sometimes the scene or the characters developed minds of their own and a new action showed up without forethought.
It was exhausting.
I have a lot of work to do.
It was really fun.
Lately, as more people are realizing that I'm retiring at the end of the year, I've been having more conversations about it. As a result, I'm learning that to a lot of people "writing a book" sounds like a fake answer. I see their eyes glaze over slightly...Isn't everyone writing a book? Doesn't everyone have a book idea they'll write someday?
It sounds like a fall-back answer. Writing doesn't feel like a real thing.
This brings me to the choice I alluded to at the beginning of this blog. Professor Dumbledore said, "It's not our abilities that show us what we truly are, it's our choices." Who better than a fictional character to give me advice on writing fiction? I may not be sure about my writing ability, but I am sure about my choice.
To be a writer.
How I'm Writing the Book
Writing Craft: I am not participating in NaNoWriMo; however, I can use the systems and processes I learned this weekend to keep going on my own. This week I'm developing a writing schedule to map out a short-term plan between now and the holidays to keep up the momentum.
Books I’m Reading: Still really at the beginning of reading The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.
For my final quote, Albus Dumbledore is so wise that he said something that describes the heroine of my book, Johanna:
It's a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantel because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.
What will you choose this week?