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Butt in chair, fingers on keys.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve heard those words or something like them, all meaning the same thing – my job as a writer is to show up for work, no matter what. No waiting around for inspiration, dilatory muses, or “being in the mood.”

Knowing, of course, is not the same thing as doing. Since finishing Swimming North and sending it out into the big wide world to seek its fortune, I’ve found an alarming number of reasons not to fully engage with another WIP. I’ve been sick, I’ve been busy, I’ve been working on author promotional materials, I’ve been brainstorming, I’ve been planning, I’ve been reading comparative titles just in case an agent falls in love with Swimming North and asks for such things.

But I have not been writing.

And last night I finally admitted to myself that this is largely out of fear. Yep – my name is Kerry Schafer, and I am a cowardly writer. Swimming North, much as I love it, was an ordeal at times. Some of the revisions left scars on my own psyche, I swear. I don’t want to go through that again – spending the hours creating, polishing, refining – only to realize in the end that these words, these characters that seem so beautiful, are actually harmful to the book itself and must be excised.

I’d like a little magic writing dust that would allow the perfect draft the first time through. And so, I am afraid to create anything because it may never see the light of day. I am afraid to commit to a new project because it is so much like being married, and you just never know when you dive in what the outcome will be.

Seriously. The old fashioned marriage vows might just as well be recited by every writer sitting down to write a novel. “For richer for poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” That’s what it’s all about. None of this dabbling while the writing is easy and then setting it aside for a newer, sparkly idea. If I’m not prepared to commit to another project, I’ve got no business calling myself a writer.

Once I realized that my problem was fear, there was only one course of action – start writing. I have a personal mandate that involves tackling whatever scares me. Which is how I found myself last night, butt in chair, fingers on keys, wrapped in a blanket to calm the fever chills generated by this ungodly bug I’ve picked up from somewhere.

I didn’t expect much. My brain was foggy, I couldn’t see where the plot was going. Still. I promised myself five hundred words, any caliber of words, for better or worse. And I discovered all over again that when I sit in the chair and move my fingers over the keyboard, writing happens. Maybe not awe-inspiring prose, but progress still. And by this morning I find myself committed, the structure of this novel finally coming clear in my mind.

“What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

I have very little to say today.

It’s Friday, in case nobody has noticed.  My weekend has started early – at 8:30 this morning, to be precise.  Now don’t be jealous – I’ve earned it. My on call shifts have been – interesting – lately, and I am exhausted.

Still, I have dragged myself to this blog site, (cue cartoon of half dead character crossing a bone littered desert, vultures circling, trying to reach the last Oasis) for the sole purpose of checking in with everybody else and seeing what is going on in your various writing worlds.

Not a lot of writing for me this week, but I’m still chipping away at Swimming North, while continuing the query process with Filling in the Blanks. The WIP has taken some interesting liberties with its own structure and story line, as I mentioned previously. As it turns out, I thoroughly approve of the direction things are headed.  As usual, the writing knew what it was talking about.

Since I really am grasping for words this morning, I’d like to share a couple of other blogs with you.

First, for some hilarious takes on the whole query process, go to Julie Butcher’s website and check out the guest posts on the Seven Stages of Query Grief. (The link should take you to # five, anger.  Make sure to go back and read the others, as they are truly funny and insightful.)

Second, another publishing blog I ran across recently is the often darkly irreverent The Rejecter, subtitled “I don’t hate you. I just hate your query letter.”  Good insights into what might be going through the mind of a Query Reader.

So, now, to the challenge. What are your plans for your WIP? I think it’s about time we shared some specific, time anchored goals for what we’re working on and where we are going.  Unfortunately, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I realized I haven’t got such a goal.

Honestly, my goal for the weekend is to do as little as possible while keeping my head in the creative novel space, editing and formatting the WADMHP newsletter, doing regular household chores, and getting three teenage boys ready for the first day of school on Monday.  Beyond that, I’m not prepared to think.

I hope the rest of you are braver and more organized. Please dive in.  Don’t be shy.  Maybe you’ll inspire me and others in the writing world.

In case anybody was wondering, I am still alive.

Barely.

This morning, I swear I nearly choked to death on my own saliva.  I know – I wouldn’t have believed it possible either, but truth is stranger than fiction.  One minute I was stretching, arms up blissfully above my head, expanding my rib cage, breathing deeply – and the next I had inhaled saliva deep into my bronchial passages. There was a brief moment where no air wanted to enter my lungs.  The next moment I was coughing and wheezing like an asthmatic cow, with David pounding on the locked door to the bathroom and demanding to know whether I was going to make it or not.

Not the best way to start the day, although admittedly better than inhaling a large foreign object and winding up dead. The next life threatening event was a kamikaze yellow jacket, the insect equivalent of suicide bomber action.  One minute I’m driving down the road with my window open, the next something hard whips in through the window and smacks me in the face.  A little yelp, a little swerve action, and I carry on with a few muttered imprecations.  When I stop driving and look for the missile, there it is, lying twitching on the seat right next to my leg.

I feel personally targeted.  In fact, it seemed unsafe to eat my lunch, and if I wasn’t on call I’d consider climbing into bed and staying there all day for my safety and the safety of others.

Blissfully ignorant of his own compromised security, teenage son #1 is now asking me to take him driving. “Later,” I say, thinking there is no way this side of a frozen hell that I am getting in the car with a student driver today.

Maybe, though, I might write.

This too is a scary proposition.  Swimming North has taken some unexpected liberties with its own structure and plot, and I’m not entirely clear where we are headed.  It happened a few days ago.  I was editing and revising happily along when it struck me that there was an entirely new way to look at this book.  One minute I was like a little kid at the beach, playing at the edge of the waves, and the next I was surfing one of those giant and potentially lethal monster waves like they show at the IMAX.

I tried to tell myself there was a choice: safe, peaceful paddling vs. adrenaline producing challenge.  And then I realized there wasn’t a choice.  I only know one way to write: follow the story.

This time, after the idea dropped me back off at the beach, cold and dripping and somewhat frightened, I tried to be sensible.  “This time I’ll plan it,”  I said.  “I’ll plot, like the organized writers do.  It will save time and energy.”

As it turns out, I can’t work this way.  I don’t know what I think until I write.  I can’t visualize where my characters are, or what they are thinking and feeling, until the words emerge from my typing fingers.

Normally, I love working this way.  Starting a new book is an adventure.  I don’t know where I’m going, or who I’m going with, and it all unfolds around me as I write.

This time I already have the first half of the book and an ending I want to keep, and I’m really not sure where the story is going to take me.  But I have no alternative other than to follow its lead.  Except to stop writing altogether, and that is really no longer a possibility.

So, the adventure continues, in real life and on the page.  If I stop procrastinating, I might even get a few words written today.

Yesterday my nephew got married.  It was a beautiful outdoor affair, simple and heartfelt.  As I listened to the bride and groom share their individually written vows, gazing into each other’s eyes with love and faith, I’ve got to admit I got a little bit teary-eyed.

Not because I’m a romantic, but because I know what these kids are up against. For better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. It rolls off the tongue so glibly when you’re twenty-something. You think all of those things are going to happen to somebody else. Your partner isn’t going to develop a drug addiction or a brain tumor or cancer.  He would never beat you, she would never sneak around with your best friend.  Your kids will be healthy and well adjusted and outlive you, you’ll never hurt for money, and every time you look at each other for the next 50 years you’ll feel this same uprush of love.

Right?

Wrong.

In my mind, playing like background music throughout the wedding, was a litany of all of the people I know, both as friends and clients, and the hard knocks life has thrown their way. Divorces, deaths, tragedies of every make and model. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a pessimist.  I love life, and I believe in marriage. But I also know the hazards that are out there.

And it occurs to me this morning, sitting here with my coffee and looking out over the town where I grew up so many years ago, that writing a novel is a lot like getting married.

Whether you’re the organized type who begins with an outline and every last detail in place, or the pantser who just dives in with nothing to sustain you but love for the story, you’ve just made a life changing commitment.  There are obstacles ahead.  There are days when you’ll wake up to discover that you have developed a loathing for this project you once loved. Obstacles will arise – plot problems, personality conflicts with your characters, questions of time and money. You’ll be tempted to stray by flashy ideas that seem to offer more promise. Many of us will ask, “what the hell was I thinking?”

A lot of writers will abandon their writing, beginning new stories over and over again, without ever completing a thing.

As it turns out, just like in marriage, love alone is not enough.  You have to believe in what you’re doing.  You have to be committed, and work at it, and show up on a regular basis to fulfill your obligations.  Sometimes you even need a little help from friends and professionals.

Commitment is what makes the difference – a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. That said, I think it’s time for me to show up at the page.

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