What is Excellence, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

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On a recent interview they asked what is your personal definition of Excellence and provide an example to support that statement. 

Okay so maybe I’m paraphrasing, but that was the just of the question (I know it’s not exact because they don’t let the questions leave the room, because they are a state secret, or a provincial secret?).

My first thought was to my writing, but instead I blithered on about something more day job appropriate.  I was on the spot, and I hadn’t thought about that type of question, and the last time I had opened up and gave incredible insight into my soul, and how I felt about something personally, I was obliterated by it, when they offered feedback as per why I didn’t get the job.  They took personal philosophy that has gotten me through really hard times, and said it was not what they were looking for, and I wasn’t taking them seriously enough. All I could do was stare at them and wonder how they missed the point, and how they could not see the beauty in the point.  But that was them, and not me, so the fault I think lies in their perception not mine.  Still, it hurt. 

But since I did not get this recent position, I have taken some time to think about the question of Excellence. It kept ticking about my head, demanding that I be truthful about it, that I explore that first instinct.

So here goes.

Writing…

Excellence is when you read a book by an author, and you think WOW, that is what I want to write.  They are now on the list of all-time favorites.  Let’s go back and read their earlier stuff.  And you read it, and you think this is not the same quality, but as you go through an earlier series with them you see them improve from book to book.  Their skill and style growing.  And then you hunt down their twitter feed and their tumblr or blog and you get a taste of their writing philosophy, to push themselves to do better from each book.   They can’t change what’s already published, but they can listen to the corners of the internet and figure out how to use that feedback to be better, do more.  

Excellence is that blogger you follow who writes knitting humour but is so much more than that.  Her blog becomes the thing that makes you laugh, and the personal insight that you wish someone had said sooner, because you too have been dancing around that same conclusion.  The blogger, who believes that one stitch at a time, turns into a row, turns into multiple rows, turns into a finished object.  Who knows the value of one small act piled on top of each other to reach a greater whole. 

Excellence is deciding in a time of darkness that you need your own night light, and you figure out what that is and you hold onto that.  You learn how to play the long term game, when you are short term unhappy. 

Excellence is finding your people, and your writing community, and learning how they will help push you beyond chapter three, and root for you, and tell you that your writing is worth it, but here is how to make it better.  It is driving in a car on a road trip and brainstorming plot points.  It is cheers on twitter when you reach word count goals.  It is the support you need, from your people, who know the struggle.

Excellence is reading author after author, of blogs to find out how they broke in, and if that is the path for you.  It is learning that there are multiple paths to writing, and you may still discover a new one.  It is knowing that one person’s advice on how to write a novel, may not be applicable to all.  It is learning how to pick through what works for you and what doesn’t. 

Excellence is reading great works, and crappy works, and mediocre works, and finding what you love in writing, but also learning how to develop your own voice in the face of so many already out there. 

Excellence is years and years of commitment to a thing (writing), a passion, in hopes that you are going to create something worthy.  It is 18 drafts that you know aren’t worthy, and that 19th that you are pushing through.  It is looking back in awe at those 18 drafts and seeing how you have grown as a writer.  How you have learnt how to write a beginning, and a middle, and loosely an end, on many different attempts.  It’s knowing that those 18 drafts are not failures, but grounds for learning. 

Excellence to me is my writing.  It is all of the lessons I have learnt in pursuit of it, and all of the lessons I will still learn in pursuit of it. 

I might not give them this answer ever, but this is my answer for those I trust with bits of my soul, because you fellow writers, I’m sure will get it.  I trust you to see the beauty in this answer and not look for flaws to exploit.  I trust you to know the struggle, and the desire and the passion.  I trust you to understand the context. 

In short, I trust you.

 

 

You Can’t Take the Sky From Me

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Okay world. I feel like both I and you need a little pep talk.  Mostly because I’m having a moment like this from Sarah’s Scribles:

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 http://sarahcandersen.com/page/18

 

Here goes.

If you are one of those people that believe that everything happens for a reason, the reason may be that the universe enjoys kicking you in the gut when you are down, to see how much shit you can take. Rally.  Instead of looking at your life as a failure (or the event as a failure), change perspective, and look at it as a learning opportunity.  Learn how to be stronger.  Learn how to deal with the situation that you don’t like, but need to get through, because if like me you are an eternally hopeful Mother Fucker, then you too will need to say fuck it and move on from it.  Find out how to move on.

That is not to say you are not allowed to feel any of the emotions you are feeling. Sad, angry, distrustful, disappointed, envious of others.  Rallying forth, does not mean you don’t get to feel.  You are human, and you are allowed to be hurt by this.  But after you are done feeling that hurt, know that you are stronger that the situation.  I’m not going to lie to you about how sucky it’s going to be trying to get yourself out of the muck.  It’s going to suck.  But you’re going to do it, because you know you deserve better.  Figure out how to turn your feelings into fuel for moving forward, but don’t let it ruin you and those you love around you either.  It’s a hard balance, and it’s worse for the disappointment of what you are going through.

Know that this is just transient. When I was younger a coworker gave me a plaque that said: this too shall pass.  Knowing that eventually you will be on the other side of this, helps me in rallying forth and getting through.  Sometimes that means you go into survival mode, where you can’t effect change right now, but you know given time, there will be change.  You have to look at the long term goal, and forgive that the short term is not working in your favor.  Figure out how to survive, and get on the other side of this.

Sometimes getting to the other side means reevaluating your situation and your goals. It means looking at the situation and figuring out if this is a long term thing, or a short term thing.  If it’s short term, you move on and find something long term to focus on.  If this is your long term goal and it’s not working, then regroup and find another road.  Not all roads are easy.  Sometimes you have to turn around and go back. This is not a retreat, this a strategic regrouping.  Go back a few steps to see if you can move forward from a different point, a different avenue, a different option.  If the wall is immovable, find a way to go around the wall.  Dig a tunnel, climb over it, blast a fucking crater through it.  Find ANOTHER route.

And lastly, figure out what your Sky is. What is the thing that belongs to you in your heart of hearts? Know this at the very core of you.  Hold onto to this thing.  This will be your life line through all of it. This will be your long term plan. Figure out how to always be working on your long term plan.  This is what gets me through.  Even when it’s my long term plan that is taking me longer than wanted.  I know that eventually, I will make this happen, because I have gone through too much for it not to.  It doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does mean I will persevere.

Why you need to cut that scene

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The current WIP has been the WIP for years now. It started as a quick easy distraction, and somehow I had convinced myself that this was the project to finish.  It would be quick and easy because the story was just pouring out of me, and I wasn’t dealing with any magic or building a universe, just playing in the mundane world with other people’s hearts and emotions.  Pretty much I had taken my underlying love of romance, and decided to focus on just that, and the basic formula for a romance novel is pretty simple, you give them a happily ever after, so the plotting was easy enough.  But the devil is in the details and the more I worked on it, the more complex the thought of finishing it became.  Draft 0 was a hot mess, and slogging through that and fixing that has taken the majority of the time.

I have written scenes multiple times. The same scene told 2 or 3 different ways from the same two narrators.  I wrote it like this with these consequences hanging in the air.  Or a little different, if I place the event over here, because over here they aren’t getting along, but if I move it to later in the story, all of the tension dissipates because they are getting along, and I can’t have them sniping at each other, when they are GETTING along.

There was a scene I had worked over multiple times. I really really really loved this scene.  But the further I got into the novel the more it looked like it wouldn’t fit.  See it was an early attempt to get the two characters who were going to fall in love to um fall in love.  It was filled with sexual tension, and vitriol and an awareness of each other that can only be described as magnetic.  It was a gorgeous scene.  I LOVED this scene.  So I moved it to the trash can.

But then I was like, oh I loved that scene so, maybe I can resurrect it and put it over there. Forgetting all the reasons for the tension, and only remembering that I loved it and the kissy bits.  I re-read it yesterday.  Thinking with a little bit of editing I could make it work again.  Conclusion, no amount of editing will make that work.  If I start cutting out all the reasons they where snippy with each other, then I get rid of all of that tension, and that sense of collision.  It just becomes boring.

On top of that the characters don’t make sense with the novel. I had the girl in the scene doing things that are now completely out of character.  I’m reading this and going, while I like this, it is not you any longer.  This is not who you are at your soul.  Yes you are fierce, but you are not confident in that fierceness.  And this scene had way too much confidence in it.

What I am doing is rewriting it. I’m taking the setting.  I’m taking the events.  But I’m rewriting the motivation to get them to a point where it works.  That means dialogue and body language, and internal monologue has to be redone.  It means that of a scene of 3k works, I might have salvaged 500 in setting and even that had to be reworked, because setting is a reflection of atmosphere, and I’m tweaking the atmosphere, for anticipation, rather than animosity.

I used to bemoan all of the words I was cutting from my novel. Especially the brilliant bits, that where amazing writing that just didn’t fit any longer. But that’s the thing as a writer.  It’s kind of like trying on clothes, you think you like that sweater hanging on the hanger, but once you put it on, it doesn’t look flattering on you any longer.  I liked the scene by itself, but in context with the rest of the novel, it wasn’t working. It doesn’t make it a bad scene, it just means I have to accept the fact that it doesn’t belong.

Cutting now though, doesn’t bother so much. I like seeing the brilliant bits I’m not keeping, only to know that you can be brilliant in multiple ways, and not all ideas work. It’s kind of like doing spring cleaning, and clearing away extraneous clutter.  When you’re done, you have this complete project that works cohesively, instead of a contrast of characters arcs that no longer fit.

Editing for me right now is a combination of cutting, rearranging, and drafting new bits to fit the gaps. It’s a lot tougher than drafting, and takes a lot more attention to detail, because this is where you take all of those disparaging parts, and turn them into once collective.  It’s a craft of its own.  It’s challenging, and I never thought it would take me this long to get through it.  At the beginning I thought of this as an easy distraction, the project I would finally make to the end.  It will definitely be that project, the one I make to the end, but it has turned out to be not as easy as I thought.  Still though, worth it.

The Cold that Lived.

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On this Friday a random list in no particular order:

  1. Last weekend I was like I am going to work on my novel. But then Cowboy had a band thing Friday night, which meant we stayed out till 4am, and didn’t get to bed till 5am, so I natural slept in till 2pm and then, I had a soar throat, and then I decided to clean my house from top to bottom because it was in desperate need of some TLC, and then Sunday when I woke up I was SICK. Full on head Cold. Sinuses so backed there was much pain and some crying. So you can imagine I got zero writing done.
  2. The rest of the week was also a write off for writing, because head colds are not a simple thing for me. They are a take you down and make you pay kind of event for your life choices.
  3. Last night though, I was feeling like I had a brain, and thought yes, me the novel and some dinner and cough syrup.
  4. Then Cowboy was like Band Practice is cancelled, did you want to watch Iron Man Vs. Captain America (alternative titles for this is Captain America, Civil War.)
  5. I watched a movie.
  6. This weekend though! I am going to WRITE!!!!!!!
  7. Maybe.
  8. Hopefully.
  9. We’ll see.

On a Whim but with a Bang!

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A long long time ago, I can still remember, how those tweets they used to make me feel.

I could see them authors having conversations back and forth

and be like I wish I where in that group.

Yesterday was amazing.  On a whim and a tweet my bestie Aura and I got in the car and drove 8 hours round trip to go to an author singing and chat.  To be fair we knew 2 out of 5 from previous interactions at Ad Astra, and thought they where the bees knees and so it was an easy enough decision to make for what did we want to do on a Saturday.

Summer had been slow and our writing group kept saying yes lets meet, and then no progress was made after that.  We where floating in limbo and so was my WIP.  My life is in the midst of falling apart around me, and Cowboy and I are in survival mode, trying to make things work. Cowboy and my relationship is fine FYI. It’s a finances thing due to lack of employment and that is always always always stressful.  ALWAYS!

So this adventure was an escape and a whim and it was so worth it.  The reading was great.  Finding out that most writers are Slytherin sooth my Slytherpuff heart.  See I want to be Hufflepuff.  They seam happy and peaceful and kind.  But like when shit gets real, it’s my Slytherin that comes out.  That shoulder set, teeth grinding determination, that says, screw you, I’m better than this, WATCH ME!  If I take a test for houses, and I’m having a great day, I come out Hufflepuff.  If I take a test and I’m having a really challenging day I come out Slytherin.  Slytherin is my problem solving resolve.  Although all of that is a digression.

The real gold of all of this, was being invited to the inner sanctum.  We drove, we watched, we got books signed, then we went for coffee Aura and I to regroup (Chapters in Canada all have Starbucks attached).  We where chilling figuring out that we needed food, and maybe a stop at a makeup store now that we where here.  And then it happened, I kept popping up in the middle isle to see about going for a photo, but was waiting for the crowd to dissipate.  I didn’t want to hold up the line.  I saw there where a few people left, went back to use the bathroom, and then Emily found me.  She asked if we have to go back right away, and if we wanted to go out for food.

Look I tried to play it cool, I really really did.  But on the inside I was doing cartwheels.

Twitter seams to be a writing orgy.  Although to be fair that is how I have structured my feed.  All authors all the time.  And one of the things I’ll notice is the great dialogue back and forth, but also the personal relationships that have formed.  These people rose of the ranks together and are crit partners, and OMG how do I get to be Laini Taylor’s crit partner?  There is no how to manual for how this happens.

One of these days this will be my writing group.  We will make it.  We will be that envy.  That inner sanctum.  But on the outside looking in, it’s a kid with their nose pressed to the candy store glass, except the door to get in is more elusive, and doesn’t have a bell.

Yesterday, we found the door.  Yesterday, the bell rang.  Yesterday, we sat in the presence of greatness and ordered drinks and had food, and fangirled over the new Ghostbusters.  I told a story how a house I lived in was held together by spiders.  I kept telling myself to sit, and be quiet, and just enjoy, but at the same time, I wanted to participate, and inevitably I stuck my foot in my mouth.  I know it.  I can play it back in my mind in slow motion.  For that I am sorry.

Yesterday, I got to sit with this amazing bunch.  One of these days, I’ll be the one who has the book out there, and oh please do remind me to invite someone out to dinner, because it will make their day.

On a whim we went, and for the signing alone, it was worth it.  But this, this right here, is where I want my life to be.  If ever I needed some more fuel for the fire to burn that bonfire bright and get the WIP finished, this was it.  This is what I needed.  I can still remember

Going around the table starting on the right at the top we have:

Roshani Chokshi – Met for the first time and is an absolute delight, and was fangerling so hard, I definitely stuck my foot in my mouth in her presence.  I am so sorry.

Leah Bobet – who I had previously met at Ad Astra when she was writing short stories, and didn’t yet have a novel.  This woman is fierce, and unapologetically herself.

Emily Kate Johnston – Also met previously at Ad Astra, and followed around to all her panels like a lost puppy because she knows books, and fangirls over them in a way that makes me want to read anything she gets behind.  Also her books are delightful and you should all read them.  Her Owen books are unapologetically Canadian.

Aura Roy – my co conspirator for the day and writing bestie.  One day, it will be her and I on a panel like this.  Also my book dealer, because she works at a bookshop, and I am suggestible.

Erin Bow – not on the panel for the day, but whose book I picked up because of Emily’s fingirling (from previous ad astra) and an imported Canadian from America.  Also great stuff.

Now to the left side of the table, working our way up from the back.

Person who came with Erin who lives in the area and is super nice, and also I think an imported Canadian from America, who I can’t remember her name for the life of me.  HELP!

Me: The girl in the green dress with the pin curls, who said some silly things because her brain short circuited in the presence of greatness, but was so freaking happy to be there.  Also trying to write a book, and hope to be published.

Ryan Graudin – who I met for the first time who also fangirls Laini Taylor and Maggie Steifvater, and if you read the description for her books they are totally quirky, but also really well written (her books where nominated to be the car read books, I drive Aura reads out loud.  It’s a good system).

Another person who is wearing a green dress who I did not catch her name, but I think is Emily’s friend.  There was some gorgeous lace on the back of that dress.

Lindsay Smith – who first came out as Slytherin, and was delightful to chat with at the end.  Who I also met for the first time, and also likes musicals.  The correlation of things she likes that I also like, make me want to be her best friend so hard!

When we where leaving I was going to give out handshakes because I didn’t want to be up in anyones space, but I got hugs, and OMG!!!!!!!  Guys, this summer has kicked my ass, but this at the end of it, it was amazing.  This is what I want my life to be.  This is part of the motivation I needed.

Off to go make clicky noises on my keyboard until this thing is done.  And then onto the next thing.  It will be a writing thing.

 

At least 31237 of them

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31 237 is currently the number of words on the cutting room floor.

Vs.

59 258 words that have been edited and are being kept (currently)

Vs.

37 448 words that have to be gone through and edited.  Keep Vs. Don’t keep.  Tweak and merge VS slash all together.  Re-order, re-order, re-order.  And some drafting because I am doing alternating POV’s and I need to make sure it balances.

This is what you hear about when you want to become a writer and you don’t believe it.  You think that every word you write is gold and you will keep it all, and it will all come out magically in order and completely perfect the first time.

Okay, maybe not you, but I definitely thought that before I got into it really truly.

And you know the great thing about those rose tinted glasses, was that they allowed me to start and keep on going.  To even, when I realized that reality had shifted, and things where messier and harder than I thought, I kept going anyways, because now I was in too deep.  Now quitting is an affront to all of the effort that younger naive Julia has already put in.

Older more mature Julia knows the dangers.  Knows that here there be dragons, but she’s levelled up and packed a tool kit that she thinks can handle the job.  I have a sword for slashing and slaying the words that don’t work.  I have some potions to heal the parts that need some TLC.  I have some fairy dust, to shine and make fly the parts that need to soar. I have a light to see my way through the dark.  And a compass to find the direction of the novel, even when it is tangled and all feels lost.

Writing is a choose your own adventure novel, except you’re in charge, and you need to cut the bits that don’t fit. Even if the banter is amazing.  Even if the writing is superb.  Even if the colours look amazing but clash with the rest of the decor.  Sometimes clashing is the point,  sometimes it’s not.  Knowing that difference is experience.

My novels is at least 31 237 words of how not to write a novel.  But it is also 31 237 words of figuring out how to write a novel.  It is 31 237 words of not giving up and trying something new.  Of finding a different way around that curve in the bend up ahead.

There is this scene, that I spent days working on, possibly weeks, when I first thought of this book.  I LOVE this scene.  This is the first kiss scene.  You know where it lies?  On the cutting room floor.  Because I had to go back and write my way around and up to that point, and once I got to that point, I had so much other meat, that that point was no longer relevant and I was making altogether a different point there.

I have started this novel so many times.  At least twice before now.  In different incantations has this novel lived.  But the plot wasn’t right.  I didn’t quite have the heart of it.  The whose who that would make this tick.  The clock that drove Hook crazy.  So I scrape those too.

What I’m telling you is don’t quite.  It’s harder than you thought, yes, 100% yes. But it is also more worth it than you thought too.  Because of all of the parts that didn’t work, I’m more determined to make the parts that do work shine.  I know what skeletons lie slayed  beneath them.  I know what blood sacrifices that have come before.  At least 31 237 of them.

A View from anxiety

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I don’t talk about this a lot because well I try not to be this person.  This person is an ugly version of myself, who is scared and fragile and paralyzed by fear.

See I grew up with a background of abuse.  This will shape you as a person.  See what I did there.  I said you.  I distanced myself from the fact that yes I was shaped by that.  I put it on someone else who is not me.  But it is me; I was shaped by this.

It makes me questions who I am.  It makes me second guess a lot.  It makes me fearful of people in authority figures.  On good days I can navigate through the world and I’m not thinking of this background.  I’m me, just being me, and I like me most of the time.

On bad days, days where I am anxious or nervous, or feeling sad or hurt, I think about this more.  How my past has shaped me, and how I must second guess myself.  Because my initial examples in this world where not always positive.  And I have to personally fight against bad examples.  I have to remember to not hurt someone simply because I’m hurting.  That there is a difference between expressing how I am feeling in a productive manner, and lashing out on those around me.  But sometimes, I get so hurt, that I can’t see through that fog, and I don’t possess logic any longer and I lash out.  I hate when I do that.  I try not to be that person, but I know I can be that person.

I also have anxiety.  Other words we use for it are nervousness and excitement.  But to me the feelings all funnel into anxiety, and I feel like I have a little monster sitting on my breast bone.  If you see me pressing my breast bone, it’s because the little monster is there that day.  Sometimes that monster, will grow tentacles into my belly.  Sometimes it locks its gears up and it hurts to bad I can barely breath, like my entire chest is locked.  Sometimes it crawls up my throat and I feel like I am going to be sick.

I try to remember to be easy on myself, but there is a difference between being easy and not pushing too hard lest I melt down under the stress, and being lazy and being paralyzed into inaction.  I’ve done both.  I’ve gone too hard, done too much, and found myself a sobbing mess.  I’ve backed off and given myself space, and then stopped all together, and then am disappointed because I’m getting nowhere, but I’m at fault because I’m not putting in the time.  I need to get back to putting in the time.  I need to find a way to separate in my brain that right now things suck, because of reasons I can’t control, and that right now we want an instant solution to a less sucky situation, but right now we don’t have it, and so instead of wallowing in the current suck, let’s work on those long term goals.  Those long term goals will not get us out of the clear of right now, but it will give us something to focus on to survive right now with hope for tomorrow.

See what I did there, I went from an I to an us as well.  Like there is more than one version of me.  And there is.  I am not schizophrenic, or at least I don’t think so, but I do believe there are different versions of yourself.  I am different when it’s just me, compared to me with my friends.  I am different when I am happy to when I am sad.  And I like to sometimes think of them as being separate versions of me.  They are all me, and they all deserve their time and space.  The internet makes you feel sometimes like you are not allowed to be sad or upset, or rail at the injustices of the world. It puts on this super happy music and says always look on the bright side of life, dodododododododo.  You know that song.  And like yes, that is me.  Ever the optimist, because seriously that is how I survived my background.  The belief that it gets better.  However, it’s okay to feel sad, and sometimes you just need your space for that.  We don’t get to put sadness in a bubble and ignore it.  It needs to be acknowledged and felt, and accepted as part of the process.

So this is my confession. I am a hot mess right now.  I am full of stress and anxiety, and it’s all situational, and it’s nothing I can control.  But I am also tired of saying to myself, I will focus on my heart projects once everything else is sorted.   Life will not be sorted out.  And this heart project is a long term project.  It won’t bring short term relief.  But I won’t get that long term goal if I never make time for the heart project. I am going to channel this feeling of unease into productivity, and rest control out of my life where I can.

Also, know that you are not alone.  That we all have our own monsters.  That is okay.