The Worst Novel I’ve Ever Written

cloud-705729_1280My character is still naked. When I started my latest manuscript, I didn’t think he’d have to be naked for quite this long. Admittedly, it’s causing some funny mayhem. But, it’s at this point when I start questioning if this is the story I should be writing. Will I be able to finish it? Will it be any good?

I know my writing process now, so I know this doubt will continue for the next 300 pages. When I’m done, I’ll say to myself, “That is the worst novel I’ve ever written.” I’ll tuck it away in folder on my computer. I won’t look at it for a year.

I tell myself to persist, though. Without fail, I open the file at the end of the year and actually like what I’ve written. I say to myself, “Hey, this isn’t half bad. Maybe with a couple dozen edits . . . .” That’s the way it happened with my new adult novel, The Miller’s Daughter. I honestly thought that one was going to do me in. It took me longer to write than anything else I’ve undertaken, and when I finished, I was sure it hadn’t come together at all. Now, it’s my favourite.

Living with the self-doubt has become easy. I know it’s coming before it arrives. I know the lies—you’ll never be ableeagle-656437_1280 to finish this one, you’re going to run out of ideas, this MS is never going to come together. So, that little voice chirps out the lies while I keep writing.

I’m not far from the end of my naked scene. I know exactly where the story is going. It’s a terrible story—worst I’ve ever written, but I’ll finish it. In a year, I know I’ll feel differently.

I’ve had new writers tell me they’ve abandoned projects because they don’t think they’re any good. This feeling is normal, but my advice is always the same—trudge ahead. Don’t give up. Maybe it will be terrible, but maybe it will be fantastic. Really, what do you have to lose?

Can the Ability to Dream Big Be a Curse?

aIn 2008 we built a new house. I say we “built” as though we had picked up hammers and actually worked. I should say, we contracted a builder to build our house. We picked out flooring and counter tops and wrote checks.

During the building process, someone made the comment that it must be fun building my dream house. Dream house? Um, no. Don’t get me wrong, I love my house, but it’s not my dream house. I can dream pretty big. I once had a dream that my husband bought us a house with a water slide in the bathroom. I was pretty upset at him because I felt it a little over the top, upset–until I slid down the thing, and then I realized he was a genius. Needless to say, the house we “built” does not have a water slide in the bathroom.

My daughter inherited this “dream big” gene. When she was four years old, we picked up circus tickets. For weeks, we pumped the event–elephants, clowns, acrobats. She was most thrilled about the acrobats. She talked about them non-stop. Finally, the day of the circus arrived, and I sent her to her room to get dressed. When she emerged from her bedroom, she had on tights and a leotard. Turns out, she misunderstood. She thought she was going to be in the circus, not merely watching it. The whole thing turned out to be a big disappointment for her.

My dream of publishing my book was much the same. I dreamed big, huge, colossal. The reality didn’t quite match. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very pleased to have my book, but sometimes being able to dream big is a bit of a curse. Sometimes there is no way for reality to match dreams–no matter what it is–house, spouse, career, children.

My daughter’s big dreams ruined her time at the circus. Instead, of a fun time, it was a disappointment. My big dreams could have ruined the excitement of setting foot inside my new house for the first time and finally publishing my first book. It’s okay to have big dreams, but I’ve realized the need to keep them in perspective, otherwise life becomes one big disappointment. It’s my choice–view my life with thankfulness or with disappointment. Life can still be exceedingly good even if dreams aren’t realized.

So dream big, but don’t let them ruin your reality. Never forget to be thankful for what’s real.

Writer as Artist: A Unique and Surreal Experience

I’m always looking for different ways to get my work in front of readers.

I heard about Mennofolk a few months ago. An exhibition for Mennonite artists, they described themselves as, “a visual overload of art in various media and a traditional Mennonite Faspa.”Mennofolk2

After doing some research, I decided to submit my short story, Bread for Five, a perfect match for their theme, Interaction/Isolation.mennofolk6

First, just a little about my Mennonitism. There are cultural Mennonites and denominational Mennonites. I did not grow up Menno nor come from a Menno family. I married a cultural Mennonite and became a denominational Mennonite, if that makes any sense. 

With the piece accepted and set to be showcased in their readers nook, my husband and I headed to the Exchange Community Church in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would anyone sit down and read at an art exhibition? Did writing have a place among visual artists and musicians?Mennofolk5

The gallery was already buzzing when we walked in the door. People, mainly twenty-somethings, milled around the room, looking at the artwork and snacking on the faspa provided–cold farmer sausage, cheese, pickles, zwieback with jam and butter. (Faspa is a light evening meal, typically served Sundays).Mennofolk3

Beside the stage, I spied the reading nook–a couple cozy chairs, an end table and a lamp and, to my surprise, readers reading. Two other pieces occupied the table alongside my short story–one poetry and one a reflective piece. 

With writing, you send things out for publication and you’re happy if they get accepted. You have the satisfaction of knowing that someone, somewhere is reading your work, but you rarely get put faces to those readers. You rarely get to be a fly on the wall and watch.Mennofolk1

I ambled around the gallery, taking in the other artwork and watching the reader nook from the corner of my eye. People would sit down and read, then get up and others would come to take their place. All through the evening one person after another would sit and read my story. Indeed, people do read at art exhibitions. 

Mennofolk4

It was gratifying to actually get to see people reading my story and sort of surreal too. I realized how abstract the idea is–being writer. We can’t hang our work on a wall for onlookers to quickly peruse. We can’t play a song listeners can passively take in during conversation. We demand your attention–all of it for an extended period of time. Readers take a piece of writing and usually go off on their own to read. What a treat to have the opportunity to share those often private moments of story with real life readers.

 

 

A Word from the Emotionally Constipated

I was lying on the hospital bed exhausted, feeling disembowelled. I felt like I was three stories off the ground. As the doctor suctioned the baby he said, “She’s biting me,” and in my Demerol induced stupor I imagined my baby with razor-sharp little teeth. What did I give birth to? And then the doctor asked me joyfully, “Do you want to hold your baby.”

I said, “No.”

That wasn’t the way I’d imagined reacting to the birth of my first child. In movies women always cried with joy. Not me. I watched my husband walk the floor with her and name her when the doctor asked.

I’ve learned that I don’t usually react the way I think I should, or the way others think I should to exciting situations. I think of it as emotional constipation.

So when I got the call that the proof for my book was in, I excitedly drove over to see it. In the spring of 2015, it will have been five years since I wrote it. The subsequent years were spent revising and then giving up on it for a period of time and hiding it in folder called, “Completed Manuscripts.” It hid there with the others.

So how did I react upon seeing the product of five years of work? I was reluctant to hold it, but took it anyway. I turned it over in my hands, read a few words. Yep, my words. Weird. So weird. I’m still feeling weird about the whole thing. Am I so used to striving after something and not getting it, that I don’t know what to do when I get it?  I mean, five years of critique and rejection and work, work, work. I can’t process that it’s over (for that manuscript at least). I want to be jumping up and down with excitement. I don’t want to think about how the dream looked when I first formed it in my mind because logically I know those were pie in the sky dreams, but I’m also having to get over a sense of failure that I didn’t achieve that old vision.

A week after my daughter was born, I caught sight of myself in a mirror, holding my little girl. It finally hit me–this is my baby.  So I’m waiting for this to hit me too–to finally get to take some joy in my first  published novel.

That I’m-Going-To-Throw-Up Feeling

Okay, so I’m the worst blogger in the world. But, this time I have a really good excuse for not blogging. Really, I do.

You know that I’m-going-to-throw-up feeling you get when it finally occurs to you that something big is happening. I’m a master of denial, so there’s always this huge gap between when I find out something is happening and when it actually hits me that it’s happening.

So, I finally have a publisher for my book and I’ve spent my summer slogging through edits with Rebelight Publishing. It’s been an amazing experience. It’s been hard and rewarding and exhausting and exhilarating.

But, I had serious doubts as to whether they were actually going to go through with it. I really thought they’d get to a point and say to themselves, “She’s hopeless. We can’t possibly publish this.” I maintained this doubt until last Thursday.

Then, as I’m driving down the road, it suddenly hits me. Oh. My. Gosh. My book is getting published. After years of rejections and disappointment, it’s actually getting published. Cue the I’m-going-to-throw-up feeling. I considered pulling over and making use of the Plessis road ditch several times.

I managed to keep my dinner down, but I’m still in this panic laced euphoria. This is actually happening.

Obsessive Editing

Just one more edit. Just one more teensy edit. That seems to be my mantra lately. I picasso2contacted a friend who was about to read my manuscript and asked her to delete it because I wanted to edit it one more time. Not a huge edit; I just came off one of those. Just a little edit. A once over to see if the last edit did it’s job. Hmmm. There is such a thing as over-editing, over-thinking and, dare I say, obsessing.

There’s a story told about Picasso and how he would sell his paintings, then buy them back because he, probably after obsessing for awhile, would determine that the painting wasn’t quite done. I don’t know if the story is truth or legend, but I totally understand why an artist would do that.

How I feel every time I send something out.

How I feel every time I send something out.

As I’ve considered my work over the years, it’s clear that I’m a better writer now than I was when I started and I’ll, hopefully, be better in ten years than I am now. Will I look back on my 2014 work and shake my head, be embarrassed at my writing? Since nothing is ever perfect, I’m sure I will. Whenever I send anything off, whether it be to a beta reader, agent, or editor, I get this sense of anxiety. There is a finality to it. Their image of me as an author and my writing will be formed around the piece of work I’ve sent them–AS IS. As exciting as it is to have people read my work, it’s also terrifying. And so, I edit.

I’m editing the piece I have for probably the 25th time. Deep sigh. It’s probably time to stop.

Personal Value Measured in Dollars

I’ve been thinking about worth a lot lately. What is my work worth? I can tell you from a aaa2monetary standpoint it’s a big fat ZERO.

I don’t get paid for caring for my family and I get paid very, VERY little for my writing. I just earned two figures from a short story I sold. Yeah, that’s right. I might be able to indulge in a haircut. Don’t be jealous.

I won’t go into what the hourly wage would. Let’s just say, right now I’d be thrilled to earn minimum wage.

While I know that just because an endeavour doesn’t pay money doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it can feel worthless especially considering the need to pay mortgage payments, buy food, and having a child dangerously close to requiring post-secondary education.

March 2014 has been a deadline for me. This is the month I have to apply for my medical aaaradiology program and I have to decide if I’m still going through with it. Completing this program is almost a guarantee of a pay check—actual money. Gasp. But, I’ve lost my zeal for it. I know I could do it and do it well. But, the writing is a siren singing my name.

I’m reminded of the movie, The Never Ending Story. The boy is told to stop dreaming and get his feet on the ground. That’s what I feel I’m being told, not by any person in my life, but by my own sense of responsibility. I’m torn in two: the sky or the ground. The sky seems a lot more appealing.aaa1

Right now, I’m stuck. I don’t know quite what to do, so I’m praying and waiting a little longer. And wondering, if writing is my path, how to get over the feelings of worthlessness that come with not being able to contribute financially to my family. Maybe that’s my biggest hurdle—not which path, I think I may know that already, but how to feel valuable in the midst of it.