A Purposeful WIP Yards Yesterday

Do you ever feel held back by the past? Plagued by hurtful reminders of things done or undone, said or unsaid?  Me too. That’s why this week’s ABCs of a Purposeful WIP message is about Yarding Yesterday.

To yard something means to confine it to a restricted area. Like the fences we construct to keep our family and pets safe, yarding yesterday is important not only for protection but also for making progress. Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember or reminisce about the good times, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deal with the not-so-good ones, but it does mean that we shouldn’t dwell on them. Progress doesn’t live in the past, it lives in the present. And so should we. We cannot grow, we cannot progress if our mind is still gnawing on or scolding us for something that happened ten years ago.

Now, I am absolutely speaking from experience here as I am a recovering ruminator. I have a habit of replaying and rethinking through past events and past conversations until the memories become fuzzy and grainy like an overused VHS tape. I have a tendency to dissect and analyze every piece, every part, every word. I search in vain for meaning or explanation or answers as if in the process I can manipulate the past. But in truth all this ruminating does is suck the joy right out of the present.

This was one of the biggest obstacles I faced in completing my novel manuscript as attempting to create a well-paced and logical story while my mind was constantly assaulted with any number of shoulda, coulda, woulda or wish-I-hadn’ts from days long gone was like trying to drive straight ahead while looking in the rearview mirror: a near impossibility.

Naturally, we all carry some extra weight from the past. Our regrets and mistakes and those painful reminders of times when we didn’t behave as our best selves and hurt someone else as well as those times when we were the recipient of someone else’s unkind behavior. But even more detrimental than the initial event or action (or lack thereof) is the pain we continue to inflict on ourselves and sometimes on others by not letting go.

It’s no question that life is hard and given the choice each and every one of us would no doubt prefer to run through it unscathed, our hearts and bodies and minds fully intact and free from all wounds and scars. Unfortunately, that’s not a decision we get to make. What we can decide, however, is what to do with the memories of those scars and wounds. Do we hold on to them, dragging them around like an extra, unusable limb that just weighs us down and holds us back? Or do we learn from them, grow from them, and step away from them as better, wiser people?

If you’re feeling stuck in your life—in old mindsets, in unhealthy habits—or you just can’t seem to make any headway toward that goal you’ve been wanting to achieve for years and years, then my advice to you is this: Go ahead and sift through the memories that resurface most often. Gather the lessons learned, offer forgiveness wherever necessary—especially to yourself—but then cut the rest loose. Yard your yesterdays. Protect your present and propel your progress by keeping the past where it belongs.

I Finished My Novel Manuscript – What’s Next?

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

I’ve been asked a couple of times over the last week whether I’ve finally hit that stage of great relief since finishing my novel manuscript. The short and surprising answer is no. Years ago, when I thought about that moment, I envisioned grand elation, perhaps even a fancy celebratory dinner. But back then, I was still wrestling with the fear of finishing and the belief that I may be incapable of doing so. Reaching “The End” was simply an imaginary ideation. But this year, determined as I was, typing “The End” was no longer imaginary but inevitable. I got there because I decided I would. Maybe that’s the reason for the missing sense of accomplishment. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel the need to stop and celebrate or even pause to take a breath before pushing on to the next step.

If you’re wondering what that next step is, here’s a quick overview:

My goal in writing this novel has always been to pursue publication. For any writer in this day and age, that can happen in several different ways. My first choice is to go the traditional route. For a detailed definition of traditional publishing along with the other available pathways to book publishing, you can check out industry guru, Jane Friedman’s, super informative chart here.

But the nutshell version is this: traditional publishers pay an advance to an author in exchange for their work and assume the financial risk in the book’s print run. The author earns royalties (a percentage of sales) only if/when the book sales climb over and above the advance paid to the author. This is called earning out. These days, the likelihood of a book earning out is fairly low, and since the author is not required to return the advance either way, that is the risk absorbed by the publisher.

Although it is possible to publish traditionally without first acquiring a literary agent—an industry professional who acts as a liaison between the author and publishing houses—the benefits of having such a valuable and knowledgeable resource on my side seem too great to pass up. So, I’ve decided that my next step will be to seek literary agent representation.

How do I do that?

First thing’s first: Research with a capital R. Depending on your perspective, the plethora of available literary agents can seem both fortunate (lots of options) and unfortunate (an almost overwhelming number of options), but however you look at it, the list needs to be pared down. Since not every agent/agency represents every novel genre, I was able to strike from my list those whose interests don’t include women’s fiction, which is the category where my novel fits. Beyond that, armed with the most recent edition of the Writer’s Market, the Internet, and a subscription to Publishers Marketplace—a handy, dandy website filled with all the latest industry news, deals, and agent info—I am compiling data on the hundreds of other agents remaining on said list.

I feel a little bit stalker-ish as I peruse agent websites and social media pages, looking for background information regarding their experience, searching for books sold and authors represented, and trying to determine if our personalities might mesh well based solely on their online presence. It’s a daunting and immense process, one that is going to take me much longer than anticipated. But diligence at this stage is oh so important because the author/agent relationship is often compared to a marriage, so finding a good match is as vital to creating a happy writing career as it is to forming a blessed life union.

Once I have my completed research in hand, I will compose a query letter and synopsis (more on those in a later post), which I will then submit in batches to the agents on my list (with breath held and fingers crossed that one of them might be interested). But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so here’s to the next step . . . onward and upward, as they say.

A Purposeful WIP eXamines eXcuses

When I started The ABCS of a Purposeful WIP series, I had alliteration on my mind. I envisioned topics that resonated and titles that were memorable. In the beginning, it was simple. Finding meaningful words that begin with A, B, C, and D was easy peasy. Then I got to J and K and U. Eh, it was a bit more of a creativity challenge, but I managed.

But X? Impossible. The English language is severely lacking in the X department. In fact, the entire X section of the dictionary, which covers less than two pages, runs extremely short on purposeful nouns and verbs. And since I don’t feel that xylophones or xenon are particularly inspiring for a work in progress (unless of course you’re a musician or a chemist) I had to cheat a little. So although eXcuses don’t actually begin with the letter X they are an important topic to discuss here primarily because progress doesn’t really stand a chance unless we take some time to eXamine those eXcuses.

If you’re a parent or a teacher or maybe even a personal trainer, you’re likely very familiar with the area of eXcuses. You’ve probably heard them all: from the enduring, “my dog ate my homework,” to the generic, “I just didn’t have time.” We all, in fact, have at some point been frustrated or annoyed or just plain angered by someone else’s eXcuses.

But what about those we tell ourselves? What about those justifications that we refuse to tolerate from others but for which we repeatedly offer grace when they come from our own mouths (or minds)?

I’m just not good enough, talented enough, creative enough, [fill in the blank] enough to even try. Yes, I have this great big dream I’d like to pursue, but right now XYZ is more important [release giant sigh]. Oh, I’ll chase after that goal someday when the time is right, when life is less hectic, the kids are grown, I’m retired, etc., etc. I’d really like to do that one special thing I’ve always wanted to do, but I just don’t have the time, energy, resources to focus on it. And my favorite: I’ll get started . . . tomorrow. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam.

Another day, another month, another year goes by and that goal is still lying stagnant at the bottom of a drawer beneath a crushing load of eXcuses that we’ve heaped upon it. Why? Because progress is hard and eXcuses are easy, they’re safe. They take the responsibility off of us and place it on someone or something else. And even sneakier than that, at first glance, they can actually appear valid. Now I’m not saying that all eXcuses are created equal—some may very well be real—but for the most part, eXcuses are just clever ways to mask some underlying feeling. Like fear or insecurity or doubt.

My agenda is not to find remedies for your eXcuses, nor to judge you for having them—believe me, I have delivered eXcuses aplenty over the years for why I wasn’t making progress on my novel manuscript. But my purpose today is simply to encourage you to eXamine those eXcuses. Pick them apart and look at them closely. What are they made of? Are they built on truth or old beliefs that you’ve carted around for years?

For example, if you’ve always wanted to write a book, but you say you don’t have time, ask yourself if there really is absolutely no leeway in your schedule or if it’s possible that any free time you might have to write is just being eaten up by other less essential things. If you do find an open block, but you’re still resistant to writing, ask yourself why. See if you can’t uncover the real reason behind your eXcuse. Once I discovered that my own eXcuses for not finishing my manuscript were powered by a deep-seated belief that my words don’t matter to anyone, I was able to move forward by finding ways to counter that old story with new facts.

The truth is there’s very little room for eXcuses when it comes to making progress because, like any other habit—good or bad—we condition ourselves to accept them and the longer we do that, the harder it is and the longer it takes to break out of that cycle. And we have such limited time here on this earth as it is, so think about how you want to spend it. Do you want to keep making eXcuses? Or do you want to make progress?

My Christmas Muse

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

Now that it’s December and Thanksgiving has come and gone, I feel as though I can safely broach the C-word. Christmas. My Christmas muse to be exact. For centuries, many writers have claimed that a certain person, force, or source served as the inspiration for their work. Although a good majority of these motivational muses tended to be women—Dante had Beatrice, T.S. Eliot had Vivienne, John Keats had Fanny Brawne—mine is a conglomeration of both human talent and joyful spirit. An uplifting, creative spark generated by one thing and one thing only: instrumental Christmas music. (That seems logical, right? Christmas Muse-ic.)

While I most often prefer to write in silence, there are days when the words become lodged in the recesses of my too-busy mind, unclear and inaccessible, and I must coax them out. Next to journaling, music has always been my go-to for clearing the muck, but lyrics and writing are not a good mix for me. Any boost I may experience initially is lost when my train of thought tunes in to the words and I start singing instead of scripting. I decided I needed to find another avenue to open the floodgates. That’s when I stumbled upon the instrumental Christmas music channel on Pandora.

Aided by a Pandora-produced random blend of uber-talented artists such as Jim Brickman and Tim Janis and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (as well as Lorrie Line and Kenny G, whose holiday albums grace our CD player on a regular, rotating basis), the chatter stops, my breathing slows, and my fingers float across the keyboard as though dancing along with the gentle, moving melodies. After a few minutes, my focus sharpens, the music fades into the background, and my writing, which had moments before been stilted and stagnant, transforms into an easy and elegant flow. And that is the essence of a muse.

I will admit that this is a tactic I rely on regardless of the time of year. Yes, I am THAT person. I’m also the person who celebrates the arrival of Hallmark Christmas movies in October (shamelessly filling the DVR with all her favorites . . . sorry, honey!) and the crazy neighbor lady who refuses to skip over the Garth Brooks Christmas songs when they pop up on shuffle—even on speaker—while she’s working in the garden in July. What can I say? Apparently, my phone has it figured out. Because, really, when there is something so simple that inspires such joy and creativity, why would I want to limit it to just a handful of weeks out of the entire year?

So what about you? Do you have a muse? A specific person or spirit or source that elevates, enlivens, and encourages your creative side?