Sticky Stance

The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.
— Stephen King

I'm NOT on my feet. I'm in the air and I’d like to tell you this quick thing, but I haven’t much time.

Stickers.

I’ll explain. But first, I am jammed into seat 20F, next to the window but in the back of the plane, flying DC to St. Louis. I have already flown Bangor to DC and SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN THIS BLOG ON THAT FLIGHT. But I did not. Instead I read Martha Hall Kelly’s, Lilac Girls, which is riveting about three women and their intersecting paths in WWII.

I want to share something. But, ouch, my Mac slants half off the tray table in my lap because the guy in the seat in front of me slammed his seat back shoving the corner of my computer into my belly button (that’s the ouch). He has a right to lean back. But still. I am noticing that he’s going thin and grey around the crown of his head. And I’m not proud of it, but this makes me feel a little bit happy.

“Stickers.”

I am returning from a trip to Bangor, Maine, writer-extraordinaire Stephen King’s hangout. No one in her right mind goes on a writer retreat, knowing she will leave 48 hours later for a month in Europe. No one picks a retreat teetering on the far northeastern tip of Maine, on a scrap of land that leans into the Atlantic, jammed with creepy lichen-laced woods and moss-covered rocks. Where the paths are so plush with decayed fir needles that your feet sink an inch as you walk along paths of hushed echoes.

No wonder Stephen King lives near there. It’s the place to birth horror stories. Not really the place for a girl with an historical fiction genre. Good thing I’m going to Europe.

The writer workshop was so, so good. Whenever you hang with people doing what you’re doing, you talk shop and pick up wonderfully potent tips and tricks. “Stickers” is one of these small, but mighty, ideas.

Here’s how it works: If you have something, anything, you want to start doing regularly — like learning French, or improving your golf game, or being assertive in a conversation, or finishing the next draft of your book (yours truly) — the idea behind Sticker is to break those overarching goals into daily actions. As in, learn one new French word/day. By the end of a week, you’ve memorized seven new words. Voila - you’ve made progress. And you'll keep making progress, if you keep it up.

Sounds deceptively simple, but it isn’t, of course, because it’s hard to incorporate new stuff into your already very full day.

However, if you find a friend that will be your “accountability buddy,” someone who also wants to make incremental progress on her big goal, then you can strike a Sticker deal. Each day you each have a daily goal you’re trying to hit. If you hit it, you text your buddy the word Sticker. (You can actually GIVE yourself a sticker if that’s motivating.) But mostly the very act of knowing someone is waiting and you are holding yourself accountable to her, can make the difference in finding the time and energy and effort to accomplish that daily task.

If my goal is to write 1200 words/day and I do it (or more) — I text "Sticker" to my buddy. If I only write 800 (or even 1199 words) - I send no text at all. The little pressure behind this idea is that not only do I know I didn’t hit the goal; my buddy knows too. There’s someone other than me who knows I missed it on that day.

You would think that the pressure to perform is embarrassment, but, no…I don’t think that’s it. Frankly, I don’t need help feeling down about myself; I’m an expert in that.

The force of a Sticker is faith.

The motivation underlying Sticker is that I have another person who cares about my progress and believes I’ll do it. Cares about my aspiration enough to say, “I know you can do this. I am here for you and I believe in you and your amazing talent and the important voice that you are to this world. I know that sh*t happens, and your day may go nuts sometimes and you don’t make it, but I still stand by you. I have your back. I’m in your corner. I haven’t given up on you.”

I have a story about this.

There was a time when my mom was a caregiver for her father. My grandpa was well into his 90’s and pretty much stayed in bed. It was a 24-hour non-ending care-giving cycle. Mom was in Illinois and I lived in New Jersey with two little kiddos.

One day on a phone call Mom mentioned to me that in the midst of the constant care-giving every day she would try to sit down at the piano and play, even briefly. She and Dad had a baby grand that sat just outside the area where my grandfather slept. Even if she could only play a single sheet of music for a few moments, she would try to slip onto the piano bench every day.

A thousand miles away, I was so grateful that Mom was taking a few moments for herself in the midst of exhausting care for another. I imagined the gentle, soothing musical notes strung together, blending, harmonizing, hanging in the air like drifting flower petals caught in a breeze. I loved imagining my Mom finding a few minutes of release in front of those piano keys. When we talked on the phone, I would find myself asking a frequent question, “Did you play the piano today?” Sometimes the answer was yes. Sometimes, no. But really it was less whether she actually played that mattered between us, but rather what the question meant. “I care about you. I want you to take care of yourself. I am reminding you; you are worthy. You are important too. You are valued.”

You are loved.

Coming off of this writer retreat I now have two Sticker friends. With their help I am Sticker-armored-up to tackle the next phase of work on my book. I have broken down the many little steps into daily tasks for the next few months. There is an outline to deepen. Bits of research to gather. On our trip to Europe we are going to walk the steps and eat the food and stroll the streets where Johanna van Gogh lived. My daily task will be to journal and write and do my best to chronicle how I can use this wonderful experience in the book. I will post these bits on Instagram and in this newsletter too.

Do you have a goal that could use a Sticker friend?

(We have just been told to put away all “approved large electronic devices.” I have closed up my tray table and now have my Mac on my lap - that kinda counts right?)

A path through Maine's Arcadia National Park where I attended this past weekend's writer retreat, and a quick dash to Kansas City for Mexican food with our Daughter and her Husband.

A path through Maine's Arcadia National Park where I attended this past weekend's writer retreat, and a quick dash to Kansas City for Mexican food with our Daughter and her Husband.

How I’m Writing the Book

Writer Retreat - The 3-day workshop retreat was put on by Author Accelerator where we dug into using a phenomenal writer tool called the Inside Outline, taught by its creator Jennie Nash. If you have a book that gnaws at the back of your mind, this Outline will bring it closer to reality.

"How I Became an Author" video - I recorded a 4-minute video (you can see it on this Youtube link) about the process of deciding to retire from my full-time corporate career to becoming a full-time author. I taped it for a Washington University event in St. Louis for a program called, "Your Next Move: Transitioning to the New Retirement." What I really like about "new retirement" is how it's less about stopping and more about starting -- I'll put it on my LinkedIn or website (post-Europe).

Personal Stuff
Planning for this trip got started last January when Husband and I slapped together an itinerary that honored our frequent flyer miles. We'll go to Barcelona, then Lisbon, to a farmhouse north of Marseilles, then by train to Paris and another train to Amsterdam. We have local tours set with folks, including one in Paris who will take me to Johanna's apartment(!!!). I'll be posting pictures and comments on Instagram (#joanferndz) and Facebook. And be checking in here too.

Finally, I wanted to end on an inspiring quote from Stephen King related to the Sticker idea. I found this: “When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.’” The quote is Sticker-great, but it’s a little ho-hum. I prefer this one:

People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.

Hope that's not too jarring,

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Thick love

Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.
— Toni Morrison

I've got a story about thick love.

I write stories about women and men who use determination and compassion to beat the odds. I came across a post by Drew Dickson that's just this type of story. It struck a chord on so many levels I wanted to share it in it's entirety. It's a bit long, but worth it. (Thank you Drew for being so forthright.)

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This is going to be an uncharacteristic departure for me. This story is deeply personal, for our family, and for our oldest son in particular. But it is a story he’s letting me tell, because it is a story he wants people to hear.

My son Max was born in Detroit in 1997, he spent the next summer in Hong Kong when I was interning at Fidelity Investments, and moved to London before he was two when I accepted an offer to work for Fido there full-time.

He was an amazing child, and became an amazing young man. But he had his demons. And just before he turned 16 years old, those demons arrived with a vengeance. I will spare you the details, but for the next three years, he went through a personal hell. Imagine all the things you don’t want to have happen to your teenager. They happened to him. For three years my wife and I would wait on our front stoop until 5:00 am, in the shadow of the Albert Bridge, hoping that he would come home. On those nights that he didn’t, we would call the hospitals, and call the police. And sometimes the police would call us.

We tried all the things that parents try, and we were very lucky that we could afford to try just about everything. But none of it helped. The change in schools didn’t help. The psychologists didn’t help. The wilderness therapy didn’t help. Our closest friends and extended family all waded in too, but nothing helped.

Max didn’t want to be here. He didn’t feel a sense of belonging anywhere. His self-esteem was non-existent. The anxiety was paralyzing. He often contemplated ending it all, and only the thought of the impact on his three younger siblings prevented him from doing so.

It was a living hell for Max. And honestly it was a living hell for us too. There was nothing we could do about it. The most difficult thing for my wife and I to accept was that only Max could make the choices. It wasn’t up to us. We couldn’t save him. It was up to him if he was going to live, or going to die. As one of my best friends told me at the time, only Max could choose to live.

Just over two years ago, he realized that the scene in London was poisonous for him, and he asked if he could head out. He’d asked before, and we’d let him go to far-flung destinations, but the grass wasn’t greener in any of them. And we didn’t honestly expect anything to come of it this time, but told him that we’d pay for the flight, because he really did need to get out of London, and there was almost no way things could get worse.

He chose a destination a lot of rudderless kids like to visit. It might as well have been Goa, Tulum, Koh Tao or Maui, but he chose Costa Rica. A friend of his, a good guy, was backpacking there, and invited him to come. I told Max we’d cover the first week, but if he wanted to stay longer, he had to get a job and support himself. We honestly didn’t know what to expect, but it felt like a last shot for him.

He loved that first week there, and indeed got a job working at one of the hostels (in exchange for room and board). But after the honeymoon was over (and eventually, the honeymoon is always over), reality set in. His anxiety set in, and his depression set in. At the darkest point, he almost called it. And there was nothing we could do about it. Even if we weren’t 5,000 miles away there was nothing we could do about it.

But, for some reason, he decided not to. Max decided to stay in the game.

We later learned the reason. He’d found an eight-week old puppy roaming the streets of Santa Teresa. The dog had been abused, was eating scraps from trash heaps, and was terrified of people. But Max and the dog, which he named “Chica”, connected with each other. Max and Chica became inseparable.

Max, who by then was 19 years old, started to realize he had something to offer. Chica needed help, and Max was there to provide it. Max started doing adult things, like earning and saving money so that he could take Chica to the vet for check-ups and vaccinations. And Chica started getting healthy. And Max started getting healthy. I could hear it in his voice when he would call. There was an excitement about life and the future that I hadn’t heard since he was 14 years old. He was starting to get his groove back.

On one of those phone calls he said to me “Dad, I think I’m ready to leave Costa Rica.” Then he continued “and while I miss you guys, I don’t think I should come back to London.” “I want to go somewhere where I won’t be tempted by my old habits, but where I can feel at home, and restart everything,” he said. “Somewhere like Georgia or Indiana.”

He said “Georgia or Indiana” because he was vaguely familiar with both. I grew up in Indiana, and then moved to Atlanta, where I lived for several years, and ultimately met my wife, Max’s mom. I told him that either Georgia or Indiana would be a wonderful idea, and that there were great people in both places. I mentioned that I would be comfortable knowing that my old buddies in the ATL would be around just in case he needed a backstop; and that back in Indiana, he’d of course have his grandparents and uncle there for support as well.

So he chose Indianapolis. My wife and our other kids flew over to help get him settled into a new apartment downtown, and they got to meet Chica. And before we knew it, Max was working a full-time job, and not doing any of the bad stuff he used to do. He still had his demons (these kids always have them - heck we all have ‘em – they just learn to manage them), and things were by no means perfect yet. But he could work through the anxiety, and work through the depression, because he had responsibilities now. He had Chica.

On his own in Costa Rica, Max had figured out how to get Chica into the US, and convinced someone at American Airlines to let her fly on his lap, because they wouldn’t let dogs fly in the hold due to the heat. Thereafter, he and Chica settled into their little apartment downtown near the White River canal, and each of them began their new life, together. Max had saved Chica. And Chica had saved Max.

One afternoon three months later, when Max was walking Chica, she saw something she hadn’t seen in Costa Rica. It was a squirrel, and before Max could stop her, Chica chased that squirrel straight out onto Indiana Avenue. Right in front of a speeding car.

The car ran over Chica. My son screamed. In that brief moment everything that Max had worked for, everything he had overcome, everything that he was living for, was gone.

But the blow didn’t kill the dog. The driver that hit her sped off and left Chica half-dead and crying in the road. But the next car did stop. It was a young black kid. A young black kid who saw a young white kid on his knees in the middle of downtown Indianapolis. His name was Kenny. He opened his door, got out of his car, walked up to my son, and said “hey, I got you”. He then walked Max out to the middle of Indiana Avenue and they picked up a bloody Chica and loaded her into Kenny’s car.

Turns out that Kenny had just moved to Indiana, and had grown up down in Georgia. He had been traveling around a bit, and had recently lost his job up north. He subsequently found an offer for a temporary position down in Indianapolis, and had just started work there. He was apprenticing at his new shop, and was hoping to be made a permanent employee. Kenny was just 21.

But none of that mattered to Kenny at that moment. What mattered to Kenny was Chica and my son Max. So Kenny looked up a vet clinic on his phone, and took Max and Chica there. The vet said that without surgery, Chica would die, but the vet wasn’t a surgeon, and they needed to go somewhere else.

Luckily Kenny had stayed. Kenny was there by Max’s side, like a big brother, and this wonderful young man then took Max and Chica to another vet, one that could do the surgery.

The vet did the surgery. It worked. Chica lived. Her pelvis was broken, but over the next six months Max nursed her back to health.

Without Kenny, none of this would have happened.

Kenny even stayed in touch with Max afterward. He would text and see how Chica was doing, and how Max was doing. This last Thanksgiving, about one year since the incident, Kenny even got some tickets to go see the Colts play, and asked Max if he would like to come, and then took him out to dinner afterward.

Max is doing great now. He’s been working full-time, got super healthy, started running marathons, and is now on the good path. These were his choices, they had to be, and he did it. But it almost didn’t turn out this way. Kenny made sure he stayed on that path.

This guy Kenny, I want to reach out and give him the biggest hug he ever got. I want to tell him that he is special. I want to thank him for saving Chica’s life. I want to thank him for saving my son’s.

Oh, and as a follow-up. We got some news about Kenny this past week. It’s some really good news.

Kenny not only got that job offer, he just got a nice long contract along with it. Kenny Moore, from Valdosta, Georgia, just signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts to be the highest paid slot cornerback in the NFL, in a deal that is going to pay him at least $30 million over the next four years.

Good things happen to good people.

Kenny stayed in the game too.

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There are tears in my eyes again. How caring for another living being is healing. How compassion is not turning away -- not from a broken puppy, or a crying teenager by the side of the road, or making sure they're at the right vet, or even staying in touch. Or being a parent letting go. How selflessness is self-care.

How love is taking a risk.

If the story made an impression on you... in what way?

Oh, may my writing be true to these truths.

I decided my grandma name is Jojo. Husband settled on Gov'nor (!) We were in Flagstaff when Toni Morrison died and on that same day came across a used bookstore where I purchased one of her books,    Jazz   .

I decided my grandma name is Jojo. Husband settled on Gov'nor (!) We were in Flagstaff when Toni Morrison died and on that same day came across a used bookstore where I purchased one of her books, Jazz.

How I'm Writing the Book
I have an interview with a Van Gogh Museum Director! No kidding, my heart speeds up writing that (Deep breaths.) Here's the scoop: I've been procrastinating sending an email to the Van Gogh Museum for months. It's intimidating to tell officialdom that I've written a first draft of a novel about an individual in the Van Gogh family. Their family. I worried that they'd be mad or throw up roadblocks even though my story celebrates Johanna van Gogh. But I've been thinking that sooner or later, I should let them know. After all, it was in their museum that the idea of the book first hooked me. I finally got the nudge I needed to write the email. The museum's research area has been working on a biography of Jo for ages. I've been hoping they'd publish it soon because I have questions about Jo and her world I haven't been able to find answers to yet. A few months ago, I noticed an announcement on the museum website: The biography will be published in September! So Husband and I put together a plan to be in Amsterdam in October. Time to write the email and ask for a meeting. I write an introductory email to the Senior Director heading up Jo's biography. With the help of Google translator, I address him in formal Dutch (hoping this will be a gesture of respect). I cheekily request a meeting during the time we're in Amsterdam, then hit "send." I check my email the next morning. Nothing. That entire first week... crickets. Another week goes by... thunderous silence. (Darn it! Maybe I wrote "m'am" instead of "sir" in Dutch?!) The third week...a hollow, aching voiceless void. So I'm back on the museum website hunting around and notice a link I hadn't paid attention to before: Press Office. The site says the office takes requests from media and bloggers. Bloggers?!! I can say I'm a blogger! Okay, so I send them a note and receive a nice reply back, "We'll be in touch soon. We're all on holiday." Phew! Then this week I received a wonderful warm response from the Senior Director saying he's crazy busy with the book launch but will still meet with me. YAY!!!

Personal Stuff
Just call me the Baby Whisperer. Little Jackson can wail like a champion, but I have the magic of bouncing out troublesome bubbles he needs to burp out. Yes, that pretty much sums up our super-happy Flagstaff visit. Jackson was born on July 24 (early), so we flung mismatched clothes into our suitcases and took off. Being around a newborn brought back a flood of memories of being a new mom. Time recedes. It's a 24-hour continuous cycle of breastfeeding, changing a diaper, cooing, napping, repeat. Giving a good fuss every now and then to break things up. There's no rushing. You must surrender; your reason for being is simply that moment.

Thank goodness for social media or we'd already be on a plane back there.

On a final note, with author Toni Morrison's passing two weeks ago, I've spent some time going back to her writing. Reading her is like taking a masterclass in writing. Toni was 39 when she published her first book. In her early 60's, after writing six novels, she won the Nobel literature prize. In 1988 she won a Pulitzer for her novel, Beloved. Her writing is exquisite and searing. No sentence is neutral. Her storytelling is so indomitable it's intimidating. Then I read this wonderful remembrance of her from the Paris Review, which made her feel more approachable and fun.

So, here's a last quote from Toni:

Make a difference about something other than yourselves.

Lay the love on thick,

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What you must not ever do

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.
— Mary Oliver

Oh, easy to write, Mary Oliver.

Tough to do!

I am a sucker for quotes about "living your best life." Even if they are on bumper stickers. 

These last few months I feel like I've been struggling with this be-lighthearted/be-accountable framework. Two months ago I finished the first draft of my book (Woot! Woot!) Then once the euphoria settled down, I got busy planning the next phase of work: 1) plug up some research gaps in my book, and 2) focus on how to market myself as an author. I'm taking a virtual 3-month marketing course to guide me.

But the book's not done!  Why would I be marketing now?

Because in today's age of jillions of books being published (tons of self-published as well as those through traditional publishers) -- if I hope to be read -- it would help to figure out who my potential reader is now, and find out what's important to her/him, and to begin to show up where they are.

So, I've been experimenting with things like:

  • Reading books in my historical fiction genre and posting reviews of them in Goodreads and Amazon and Library Thing websites.

  • Following, liking and sharing/retweeting other women's fiction authors on social media

  • Tweeting and hash-tagging topics that align with my book's message like #progress and #inspiringwomen 

  • Teaching a how-to tactical workshop on "jump-starting your art" at my former employer

To be honest, this last idea, sharing steps on how to follow the creative yen that pulls at you, felt pretty far afield of marketing my book. I mentioned it briefly in my last newsletter. The workshop was all about the process of getting started. My book was just a frame of reference. And, frankly, I wondered whether I was credible. I mean, the book's not done yet. Does that make my title of "author" a sham?

Still, I just liked the idea: Sharing a story with others of how to pursue the art that tugs at them. 

Taking a step to being true to yourself.

So, when I drove down the highway to teach the workshop, I'd stamped down the "you're an impostor" demons enough to be cheerful. Traffic was light, the sky a bright clear blue. Thank goodness that day was "business casual" -- I'd recently gleefully donated away my suits and heels. And after a late dash to a Fed-Ex print shop the night before (my printer quit working), I had colorful handouts in my bag. I'd practiced a little; I'd controlled as much as I could.

Now what was left was completely unknown: Would my story connect with the 10 people that signed up? Would the journey I've followed to be a writer be relevant to them?  Would one hour be the right amount of time? 

(Would I be boring?)

I find the conference room, and women and men begin arriving. There's been a last-minute flurry of sign-ups: 14 hurry into the room, plus four more call in to a conference line. Gulp. I have just enough handouts! There's a little bustling of introductions, then we settle in. "Let's get started," I say, "Would each of you share the creative thing that pulls at you? Why are you here? What art are you trying to jump-start?"

A beat or two of silence.

Then the magic begins.

Imagine sharing an idea you've barely given yourself permission to think, let alone, say aloud. At first, the voices are self-conscious: "I have a knack for scrap-booking. Making cards" and "I paint with oil, like to draw with charcoal." Whispers. "I love design -- gardening and interior design." A throat clears, "I've had this screenplay in my head." Words spill out jumbled together, "Theater and dance and photography." A glance up, just enough for eye contact, "I love woodworking." 

A few people use words of identity --  "I am a singer" and "I am a writer" -- they've crossed the threshold of doing their craft and now look to keep going.  A few are at the very beginning, "I've always liked photography."

Ah, and so right away I learn the hour is not about me. The content takes on a unique life to each person because the steps I share are like water to the unique seeds of each individual's deeply rooted creative expression. I needn't have worried about being authentic. The authenticity lies within each workshop participant and the steps they choose that make sense to them.

We laugh. Lightheartedness lifts the room. It's so joyful. It's as though fragile ideas are forming into skeletons and with each step in the process, a little more sinew and muscle and blood forms. It is really fun.

And it is really hard. Each individual in that room and on the conference line has demanding careers and an absorbing family life and lots of life obligations. My hope was that just seeing a path forward to do their art -- opening up the possibility, whether they choose to walk it now, or later -- is a step forward in itself.

Wow, the hour flew by. 

Here are a few of the comments I received later:

"I thought that the workshop was inspiring...The biggest goal that I have for my family is to find more time for joy. It's funny how things like that tend to slip when you're busy with the daily grind."  

"It really lit a fire under me as well has motivated me even more to perfect my craft. I went home and told my husband about how much I enjoyed your work shop and had a whole discussion surrounding your statement, 'I wish I'd had the courage to live true to myself, not the life others expected of me.' "


I'm grateful for these thoughts, but in getting back to how this whole experience got started... was the workshop a worthwhile marketing strategy for my book? Well, I...

  • Made 1:1 personal connections with others who now know about my book - Win!

  • Feel grateful for the progress I've made so far on the book - Win!

  • Have three more invitations to do similar workshops in the future - Win!

  • Recognize I am not a "sham" 

Big win.

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Never mind the baby will be in Flagstaff -- he'll be a Cardinals fan! Meanwhile I try on my first "Fabulous Grandma" t-shirt...you bet I am.

How I'm Writing the Book
Filling in Research Details - Found a cool new book on our trip to Washington DC's National Gallery, The Vincent Van Gogh Atlas. It's full of info bits. For instance, since the time period is the late 1800's I'd wondered whether it was OK for my protagonist, Jo, to send a letter and receive a response in just a few days. Turns out because of the telegraph and rapidly growing train network in some cities (like Paris where she lives) the postman made as many as four deliveries a day! 
Trave
Books on Strong Women by Female Authors - Please, please pick up Teri Case's, In the Doghouse. Perfect summer reading. A dog is the main character and he is trying his dogged-hardest to patch up a human romance. Behind this silly premise and funny story is a gifted storyteller's warm wisdom about loss, family and love. (The dog is a dude; his human is a woman who ultimately finds her own strength.)

Would you share your summer reading recommendation with me?

Personal Stuff
Last week my husband and I took off to visit our Son and Daughter and their Significant Spouses (I first wrote, "Significant Others," but that phrase --  "Others" -- makes them sound like aliens, right?!)  Our visit to our Son was a flight to Flagstaff to attend a baby shower for soon-to-appear First Grandson. The other was a 24-hour Daughter birthday-blur drive to Kansas City and back. We DO NOT SEE THEM ENOUGH, so each visit is super fun.

Also...since the drive to KC is 3-1/2 hours each way, I brought along the hard-copy of my manuscript to thumb through and make sure I'm capturing all my research questions. Thirteen chapters to KC; 13 chapters back. At the end of reading and making the last of my margin notes, I closed the 4-inch binder and said to my Husband, "You know. I think this is a pretty good story!" It's been awhile since I actually read it page-to-page. 

By the way, if your interest is piqued on taking the marketing course, Dan Blank's Mastermind, registration is now open for the July - September time-frame. 

Let me say goodbye for now with another lovely quote from poet Mary Oliver. 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Wildly,

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Fight your way through...(the first draft is finished!)

It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.”
-Ira Glass

It’s done.

Those are the last words Jo says in the novel.

Coincidentally, the same words I’d hoped to utter weeks and months earlier when I kept charging forward to punch through the finish-line tape of completing my first draft...but the tape kept getting moved. Every time I lunged for that final sprint, a new hurdle would appear out of nowhere. ARRRRGGGHH.

  • I had to write more when Jo (my main character) still had stuff to say — I’d been too stingy letting her speak her mind but withholding what was in her heart.

  • I had to write more when I (satisfyingly) made the bad guy, Georges, GET HIS DUE — yet I hadn’t explained why he was such a mean old bully to begin with.

  • I had to write more when I cockily thought all I had left was a cakewalk-of-an-epilogue to write — then my book coach enthusiastically commented that she couldn’t wait to see how the loose ends come together like how Jo reconciles with her family and why she will end up marrying that guy and how she paid for her son’s tuition….

“Shoot,” I  thought, “No cake walk. Another real chapter to write!”

So when the final words revealed themselves —  “It’s done” — (I kid you not) tears came to my eyes. It felt right that Jo and I should say them together. We have been through this journey side-by-side for 15 months and I have to say I admire her. I slung a lot of mud at her. Somehow she always found a way to wipe her face and keep going.

Twenty six chapters. One hundred eleven thousand four hundred eighty words. 

Writing is an intense, messed up, horrible thing. I would write until my mojo bled out. I know that is a disgusting image but hey writing is a nasty business. It got down to power-writing. I would sit down and write, write, write just getting the words down on the page even when I knew they weren't good, until I was disgusted and had to stop. Then I'd make a bunch of notes on where I had to insert feeling or detail or something-missing-but-I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it, and power off. The next day I'd open up the Word doc with fresh thoughts and nimble fingers to fill in and pat down those gaps, then power on. These last few weeks I've felt the end coming and I couldn't help it, I was getting a little bit happy, feeling a tail-wind begin to whip up at my back.  The head-rush came when my book coach wrote back, "Woot!" then I got giddy, Juan popped champagne and the cat danced a jig.

(Oops. Got carried away. Natasha, the cat, is way too dignified for jigging. Only does River Dancing.)

You and I would go to lunch with Jo. She’s cool. She got over all the BS about doubting herself and the bad guy gets it in the end plus she finds a new honey who loves her. She had to stand up in front of all these people and prove she wasn’t crazy. (Now could you do that? Or me? Spoiler alert: She pulls it off.)

When I started the book I felt a little desperate. In my heart I knew it was time for me to say goodbye to my Corporate America career, but…Still. It was a big step to walk away from identity and salary and certainty. I am most certainly not “done” yet, but I know that retirement can carry a stigma of stepping back and taking it easy. I don’t want to be identified that way. 

Whoa. I had NO IDEA I was entering this world of Survival-of the-Fittest, Take-No-Prisoners, Naked-Til-You-Make-It tough world of WRITERS. They can spot hogwash a mile away and aren't afraid to call it out.

So, what's next?

This next week I'm headed to Madison for a writers’ conference put on by the Univ. of WI’s Writer Institute. Dear heavens, I opened up my email on Friday and saw that I have HOMEWORK from one of the master classes I signed up for. Three hours, just six of us. With a heavy heart I realize I will not be able to hide. We have to submit our first 5 pages to be critiqued… which means I need to REWRITE those pages since it was months and months ago when I was a wee young tyke and wrote them. I'm also taking classes on revision and publishing. The conference is Thurs – Sun and it comes at the perfect time since (drumroll….can't say it enough!) my first draft is FINISHED.

My final thought:  We are not meant to do stuff alone. Our lives are about connection. The law of reciprocation means that sometimes our role is to accept, and other times to give. I was not alone. My wonderful book coach each week gave me tough love and encouragement. I have found some awesome writer communities online (WFWA and Author Accelerator's Mighty Network and Reader Connection on Facebook and more). And there's YOU. When friends and family asked, “How’s the book going?” it felt like a vote of confidence, like they believed I could actually do it. And I can’t even get started on my husband’s support. I’m not sure if he popped champagne for me or him.

There’s more to write about this, but I will stop here.  It just feels so good to hit a milestone and I wanted to tell you about it.

By the way, 111,480 words is too many… so I’ll be revising and cutting soon, but, for now: Every.Word.Is.Golden.

There's only so much comma correction a cat can do in 15 months before needing a nap.

There's only so much comma correction a cat can do in 15 months before needing a nap.

I can’t sign off without sharing this fuller quote from Ira Glass, host and producer of the radio/internet show This American Life.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners...is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.     For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential but it’s not... but your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work...    It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close the gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. 

It’s done? No, it's begun!

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