Turn into the skid

Writing is a lot like driving in the snow.

It takes a fair amount of practice before you are able to confidently keep yourself from careening into a snowbank. You need to stay focused, proceed slowly and with caution. Be mindful of others on the road, but don’t get too close – in other words, pay more attention to your own vehicle rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing. And mostly, be prepared for the skid. That moment when you feel a loss of control, your tires are desperate for traction, and slamming on the brakes will only make it worse. When your instinct tells you to turn the wheel in the opposite direction because that will keep you on the straight and narrow.

But anyone who has ever driven in snow knows: when you start to lose control, take your foot off the gas and turn into the skid. Don’t ask me to explain the physics, just trust me on this one. I learned to drive in Buffalo. We know snow. And I’ve had my fair share of HOLY CRAP moments when the car does the opposite of what you want it to. My first vehicle was a rear-wheel drive that I nicknamed The Boat. That bad boy fishtailed like nobody’s business. And once, in my little Civic, I made a left hand turn that kept going until I faced in the complete opposite direction of where I had intended to go.

Writing has its share of skids. You’re cruising along, slowly and carefully. Then you send your story/novel/query letter to a beta reader, or if you are feeling especially brave – an agent or editor. Then feedback comes and suddenly you feel yourself careening off the road. You want to slam on the brakes. Give in and slide right off the road and into the shoulder. Or try to crank the wheel in the opposite direction, saying forget it – I’ll never make it as a writer.

Don’t. Ride the skid. Turn into it. Let yourself be out of control for a moment or two. Maybe you’ll end up in the snowbank anyway. It happens. That’s why you carry a shovel in your car, extra blankets, and a bottle of water. After the feedback, you may need to dig yourself out. That’s okay. The important thing is to get back on the road. Cry a little first. Eat some chocolate. Pet the cat. Call a friend.

You are the driver on this journey. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control what other idiots are on the road trying to keep you from getting to your destination. But you are the one behind the wheel. You know when to put your foot on the gas, when to apply the brake, and when to let go of everything and turn into the skid.

My Time at Camp

The night before my early July road trip, a bunch of writer friends were texting and tweeting about Camp NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November and the idea is to write a novel (50k words) in a month. Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in April and July and is more laid back and flexible. You set your own word count or project goal and “win” if you reach it. Writers can opt to join a virtual cabin, full of people who make witty camp related puns and encourage one another throughout the month.

Sounds great, right? And I didn’t want to be left behind. So as I was busy trying to finish packing for my trip, and more and more of my friends were jumping on the camp bus (see, the puns are endless!), I decided to sign up. I need serious motivation to finish my current round of revisions and figured it would help to have a little online encouragement. When it came time to set my goal, I thought that sixty hours over the course of the month (roughly two hours a day) would work. Totally doable.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

As hubs kindly pointed out: I forgot about life. There were a few days where I buckled down and did two to three hours in one sitting, heck I even had an awesome stretch of four hours, thanks to sprints with my cabin mates and the family being otherwise occupied. But on a daily basis, between work, soccer, and general mom/homeowner/adult duties, it is extremely difficult to carve out two hours a day. And yes, I realize that anything I say in the next few sentences will sound like an excuse, but unfortunately writing often takes a back seat to everything else in my life. Especially when I’m trying to revise something that I have read and re-read so many times it makes me dizzy.

My office floor contains multi-colored post-its lined up in rows, surrounded by an edited copy of my manuscript and piles of notes. Several days this month I walked into the room, plopped down on the ground, and simply stared at everything. At one point I asked the cat (who likes to nap on the post-its because of course she does) if she had any suggestions. She didn’t. Revision is not easy, and I may have been foolish to think an online camp would be enough motivation to face the difficult task ahead.

Don’t get me wrong. Camp was great. I had fun exchanging cute gifs on twitter and loved our “craft tent”. When I can carve the time to do it, writing sprints are one of my favorite online tools (write/revise for thirty minutes, then break for ten and report your progress) and a few of my cabin mates joined in, which made me very happy. But it wasn’t enough.

Capture

Sad, right? It’s the last day of camp and I’m barely at 25%. On the positive side, I revised for 14 hours this month. One of my cabin mates hit her goal of 50k. A few others are close to reaching their goals. August is a bit less busy – no soccer, but two real world camping trips – and I’m hoping to start querying this project in September. In fact, I’m declaring that as my new goal: Query ready by labor day. And I’d like to have the outline of my next project ready for NaNoWriMo in November. Because we all need to keep stretching and challenging ourselves in order to grow.

Good luck to anyone pushing to the finish line today, and have a safe trip back home, campers. See you next year!