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“Again and again I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” (Victor Frankl)

Very interesting, Mr. Frankl.  Are you suggesting that I ought to just focus on writing for writing’s sake, rather than aiming at publication?  That I write what is important to me, rather than what I think will sell?  Are you reminding me that even when I feel discouraged by the publishing climate and my own lack of talent and skill, that I continue writing anyway, because it is a cause greater than myself?

Timely words.  I am in the middle of reading Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie.  Picking up this book was a mistake: if I could be reborn as the writer I always wanted to be, I’d write like Sherman Alexie.  Talk about a cause bigger than yourself, and the talent and skill with which to embrace it.  I am humbled and a little flattened, my own work looking small and insignificant in comparison.  What am I doing, after all?  At best, Remember aka Filling in the Blanks is entertaining.  It doesn’t deal with all the pain and suffering in the world, it doesn’t address social ills, it’s not about anything important. 

And so I ask myself – why am I spending so much of myself on this book?  There are other books I could be working on, maybe books with more purpose and meaning.   I could spend more time with my family, or on housekeeping chores, or simply reading other good books.

I am not capable of walking away from a manuscript incomplete, unfinished.  For good or ill, I serve the Writing God, who is truly a jealous god, and holds me to a certain standard of conduct.  Any piece of writing, once I truly engage with it, must be completed to the best of my ability.  Will success ensue when this manuscript is revised once again, and sent back out to seek its fortune in the publishing world?  I doubt it.

It doesn’t matter.  The story came to me, I accepted the challenge, I committed to the writing.  So here I am, revising away, even though it often seems pointless.  Finishing what I started for no better reason than because I started it.  And holding to a faith that somehow, this will have to be enough.

“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” Martin Seligman

I love this idea.  Society has a tendency to work the other way around.  If you have a weakness, it will be pointed out to you by teachers, friends, parents, and certainly enemies.  Your perception of reality can easily be distorted, so that whatever this weakness is, you begin to see it as your defining characteristic.

An example.  Suppose you have the world’s most gorgeous eyes, but somebody has just told you your nose is too big.  When you go look in the mirror, what are you going to see – the beautiful eyes, or the ugly nose which has suddenly overtaken your entire face and turned you into a troll?  Remember the teen years, and how one zit could render you socially inadequate for a week?  (I’m assuming all readers of this blog are not supremely enlightened beings who are beyond this particular problem).

We tend to allow ourselves to be defined and limited by the things we don’t do well, and that focus keeps us from building on our amazing strengths.  This is what the Ugly Duckling story was all about.  The swan made a lousy duck.  It would have made an even worse chicken – imagine if it had never even found its way into the water, because it was busily trying to figure out how to scratch around in the barnyard.  Everything has an intended purpose – a spoon doesn’t work well for eating spaghetti, but it sure beats out the fork when it comes to soup.

When it comes to writing, we all have strengths.  Yours might be characters, or plot, or making music with words.  And I believe it is important to build on those strengths, rather than devoting all of your time and energy toward fixing what you think are your weaknesses.  Think of your favorite authors: what comes to mind is not their weaknesses, but whatever they do that shines.  

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that grammar and punctuation are not important, or that we shouldn’t work to get better at plotting or character development, or whatever it is that weakens our work.  I’m only saying that if you spend all of your time trying to correct what you’re not quite as good at, you don’t get to shine in the area where you have true brilliance.

That said, if I don’t find some time for writing soon, I’m not going to shine at anything.  It’s been a week of distractions and time consuming reality based living.  Time to get on with building on my own writing strengths.

As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muses be easily accessible and full of ideas.

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” ~ Joseph Campbell from A Joseph Campbell Companion

This is my life lesson for the week: to accept the path I’m on, which appears to be winding aimlessly through the thick of the forest, where lions and tigers and bears abound.  Oh my!  I must not waste time and valuable energy wishing I were on somebody else’s path.  This is not so easy.  There are a number of other paths that appeal to me just now:

1.  The Traveler Path: On Facebook, I’ve been watching friends who are cavorting on beaches in Hawaii, or traveling in various and sundry other warm climates.  They appear light hearted and frolicsome, unworried about finances, certainly not suffering pangs of guilt about the writing they are not doing while they lie on the beach.

2.  The About to be Published Path: You know who you are!  Not to mention any names, but Silver James and Gary Corby, are definitely on their way! And my already published friend Trudy has recently had yet another book accepted by a publisher. 

3.  The Attracting A Lot of Attention From Agents Path:  Em, I see you over there! 

4.  The Choose a Plan and Stick With it Path:  The master of this one would be Ken Kiser

I’m not even going to talk about the already published and hugely successful: that is a path best left unconsidered, if I value my serenity.  Now, if I’ve mentioned your name, I’m not jealous of you.  Really I’m not.  I’m delighted at your success.  And there is a lot of pleasant scenery and adventure on the path I’m traveling, so all is good.  Really.

The lady doth protest too much methinks.  

Okay, so I’m just a teensy tiny bit envious, but not in a bad way, or a mean spirited way.  It’s really more my competitive streak popping up, spurring me on.  Which in itself might be a bad thing.  I’m realizing that Swimming North cannot be rushed.  And shouldn’t be.  I just need to hang out with it for awhile, thus the meandering path.  I can, however, work as fast as I want on re-typing the YA Fantasy, so my plan, at least for today, is to put the energy that wants to get something done onto the Fantasy novel,  and not rush the novel that doesn’t want to be rushed.  And, of course, to consider the frightening plunge of tearing apart Remember one last time for another structural revision.

To all of you out there, no matter what path you are on, may your muse be kindly and the words come easy.

I’m sitting here in the gentle darkness of early morning, accompanied by a cup of excellent coffee and a lap cat, thinking back over the last few weeks and nearly getting lost in the plot lines or my own life.  It’s almost like re-reading a work in progress: I feel like I’ve come so far and changed so much, even though I’ve never left the usual confines of my home and job and family.  I’m certainly not an astral traveler, but sometimes it feels that way.

The outline looks something like this:

There was the suspense of the ABNA quarterfinalist announcements, with the email that didn’t come until after midnight that said I didn’t make the cut but had received two critiques.  Rejection, but not painful.  I never thought I’d win; I did think it would be nice to make the quarterfinals.  And then I thought, hey – I get two critiques!  Not so.  Amazon emailed me the next day and said, basically, “we’re terribly sorry, but we screwed up and you didn’t make the first cut, the one that wins you two free critiques.  Please accept a $5 gift certificate to Amazon dot com. 

Uh… right.

Not a big thing, really, in the grand scheme of the universe, just a little dig at my self esteem, a slight bitterness.  But it came on top of  the ongoing grief, coming and going in its usual waves, and the exhaustion that accompanies that state of being.  At work, there were rumors of deeper cuts to the already overstretched services that keep the fragile people I try to serve fed and clothed and out of the hospitals and jails, not to mention alive.  Writing was like wading through glue much of the time, although it still felt good to show up at the page, to be making progress no matter how slow, putting down words.

Good things happened.  Tasha awarded me the Proximidade Award for my Blog.  I found some interesting and positive new bloggers who are adding value to my life.  Information floating around on Twitter, my newest obsession, expanded my horizons.  I had my first ever Acupuncture treatment.  And I sent out two new queries.

And in my internal world?  Oh, that’s where all the action is.  I’m not even going to attempt a description of that here.  I’m letting it simmer and settle without paying attention beyond the morning journal entries.

All of this brings me, eventually, to the place where all roads and ideas must eventually lead, to the state of my Writing World.  I was on a roll there, with the regular word counts, trying to pull as many of you as possible into setting challenges and being accountable.  And then everything blew up for me, and I’ve been lucky to get through the days and do any writing at all, without flogging myself for not setting goals.  But it is time to dust myself off and have a look at the place I have staggered to, check out the landmarks, and make tentative plans for the journey ahead.

I AM HERE:

Remember is feeling a little battered and discouraged by its ABNA failure,  but is still out there looking for a confidence vote from an agent.  I continue to send out queries – two new ones this week makes four still out there.  And hey, with Em’s twinkly magic dust sprinkled all over it, it almost has to succeed!

Swimming North is slowly regaining the momentum lost with the death of my mentor and very good friend, who inspired the idea in the first place.  I’m very nearly done with the current draft and ready for serious revision.  This novel cuts very close to the center of me, and has since its inception.  One of the most difficult tasks will be to take that objective step back and see what it really is, before embarking on revision.

The Sword of Zelndreh, my YA fantasy novel, has been neglected and ignored this week.  It is used to this, having spent years as a completed draft in a desk drawer, but is feeling sorry for itself.

Gatekeeper.   Ah, Gatekeeper.  My muse started throwing ideas at me about this uncompleted novel this week.  It was like spraying me with a garden hose on a frosty morning.  “What the hell is the matter with you?” I said, but she only laughed and kept on.  So, yeah.  Making notes, and determinedly sticking to the two manuscripts I’ve chosen to focus on right now.

Last but not least, Hippy Chickens, a picture book manuscript that I drafted a couple of years ago, which I’m now playing with and revising, and planning to send out to agents or publishers in the next week or two.

WHERE I’M HEADED

I know better than to set any serious goals for myself right now.  No word count quotas, no outrageous challenges.  I’m working too much, I’m emotionally fragile.  If I want to reach any destination at all, now is the time to focus on the journey.  But I know where I’m headed.  

More queries for Remember.  Start querying Hippy Chickens.  Finish retyping Zelindreh.

I do have specific timeline goals for Swimming North.  Rough draft done by the end of the month.  Tie up enough ragged ends so my Initial Readers can get through it and offer up some constructive opinions.  And then revise, revise, revise, until it shines.

WHERE ARE YOU?

I don’t choose to travel this writing road alone.  So my next question is this:  where are you in the process?  From idea to finished project, revision to query to publication, please feel free to share the status of your writing life.  Whine, obsess, or gloat just as much as you wish.

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