Two Choices: Quit or Stick with It

photo (6)
My kids learned perseverance and to never give up from swimming.

While I’m in the heady first week of NaNoWriMo, where I attempt to write a novel in November, I looked back at my last attempt at a novel. It’s a mid-grade manuscript based on my kids’ swim team life. It explores the struggles with friendships amid jealousy and competitive spirits. Sections of it were published in the Los Angeles Times when they had the Kids’ Reading Room and published children’s fiction in their Sunday comic pages. I hired an editor for a big picture and line- by-line edit. I edited and rewrote it. I created a storyboard based on the book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. At some point, I gave up. I think it’s when I took a zoom class which included a critique by the editor giving the lecture. The critique landed in my email box and the editor said he couldn’t imagine reading any more of my manuscript because he couldn’t stand my protagonist — who by the way was based on my daughter when she was nine years old. I was out.

I ran across this blog post I wrote several years ago while I was actively working on that project. I wrote this before the above critique that hurt:

I got an unfortunate email yesterday. It was from an agent, who was reviewing my mid-grade novel I’ve been working on for years. Long story short, it was a no.

This is a big goal of mine, to get this book published. Finding an agent is one step along the way, and I had glimmers of hope when a couple agents were truly interested and one in particular, wanted eight weeks to take a deep dive.

When my husband consoled me I said, “I have two choices. I can quit or keep going.”

Four times since that email, I ran into messages like someone was placing a big neon sign in front of me with specific directions.

One  

Dad shared that he spent almost three hours fishing yesterday. He was ready to give up, but decided to cast one more time in the last few minutes before he was due to return the boat. Yes, he caught a fish!

Two

I was looking at FB and a writer friend posted how lucky she was to find several four-leaf clovers yesterday after hours of looking. She said to never give up. Never!

Three

On Twitter, I saw from bestselling author Brad Thor a book recommendation for #Grit, a book about passion and perseverance. Yes, I’ll order it from Amazon today.

tweet from Brad Thor about Angela Duckworth and Grit.

Four

On SwimSwam.com, an article jumped before my eyes: “6 TIPS TO KEEP YOU CHASING YOUR SWIMMING GOALS WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP,” by Olivier Poirier-Leroy, who writes really good stuff for swimmers, that can be used in all aspects of life.

Here was part of his advice to get in touch with your feelings when you started on the journey:

“What are the reasons that I want to achieve this goal? List 2-3 reasons for why this goal is important to you. This is the simplest way to get in touch with your original set of motivations.

How will you feel when you push past the resistance you are feeling now? Think back to the last time you kicked down the wall of resistance that was in front of you. Yeah, that time. How did you feel afterwards? Proud? Like a certified O.G.?

Will you regret giving up a year from now? Imagine yourself a year from now. A year smarter, a year older, and hopefully a year further along. Is “Future You” going to be pumped about you having quit today?”

I got the message loud and clear. I’m not giving up on my goals or dreams. This is all part of the process, and yes there will be some ups and downs. It’s so cliched, but it’s also true.

In  masters swimming we have a new slogan and shirts. After a hard set that I was convinced I couldn’t finish, I blurted, “Hey, it’s not that bad!”

Me and my Masters swim friends.
Showing off new shirts at Piranha Swim Team’s Masters. “Hey, it’s not that bad.”

Yes, getting a rejection letter is not great, but how much better is it than quitting on a dream? Honestly, it’s not that bad.

How do you handle disappointment? Do you believe there are more choices than giving up or to keep trying and what are they? I gave up on that manuscript, but I’m off and running on a new one.

FYI, I read “Grit” and highly recommend it.

Needs and Wants Add Depth to Characters

I’m finishing up my NaNo Prep and psyching myself up for November 1 when I attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.

I got some writing advice from my son who graduated in Literature from UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies

He told me to add depth to my characters I should explore their “needs and wants.”

baby crawling and peeking out behind door.
My son a few years ago peeking out from his bedroom.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level. It was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards, I answered smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they always believed it was something they needed.

Here’s how my son ended up giving me advice on needs and wants in fiction writing:

Several years ago, I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy Definitely one dimensional. My son suggested I look at their “needs and wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, and in literature, he explained, needs and wants takes on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids. They both continue to amaze me with their wisdom and good advice.

mom and toddler son sitting on the beach
Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? Have you used needs and wants to develop your characters in writing? What are your needs and wants in blogging?

If I could only remember

Olive with her cat grass.

I’ve been struggling with the NaNo Prep 101 assignments. I can’t quite find my idea or nail down the characters for the writing challenge I signed up for in November where I’m going to write 50,000 words of a novel in 31 days. I’m weeks away and just not thrilled with anything I’ve come up with.

Here’s a description of the first assignment:

Some people struggle to come up with a novel idea that excites them! Some people are idea machines, but have a hard time committing to one. Tackle this week’s exercise to focus on finding inspiration… and then hone in on a few ideas that spark your creative passion.

https://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep-101#week1

Last week I completed the first assignment. I had some inspiration with my characters but struggled through the next week’s tasks:

Week 2: Create Complex, Believable Characters
(Strong enough to shoulder a novel and hold your interest)
Week 2 Exercise: Character Development and Questionnaires
Characters are the active drivers of your story, and a huge part of a first draft is getting to know the characters you’re creating. Get a head start with this exercise!

Last night I had a vivid dream where it was all laid out. I had five characters. I was filling out their backstories, their ages, appearances, mannerisms, pet peeves, desires. It was all coming together. I made progress on the plot and was so excited to write. I was sitting at my laptop, editing, making changes, completing the exercises.

Morning came. Olive the cat jumped on the bed and woke me up. I struggled in my morning pages trying to remember my characters. They floated away out of my mind’s reach. I wonder if they were any good? Or was it my mind working through the process?

Have you ever problem solved or figured out a creative solution in your dreams? Do you usually remember your dreams or not?

About those to do lists….

cloudy desert sky
View from my morning walk. We had clouds, then thunder, lightening and rain yesterday.

I make myself a list each day of what I need to get done. It includes my writing tasks, bill paying, laundry — whatever is on my plate. Why do I list things like grocery shopping and laundry? Because it’s satisfying to cross items off the list with my red pen. I feel like I accomplished something when I get through my list with every single thing completed.

But last week and this week one glaring item stares back at me without a single red line through it. I must be avoiding it. Or to be honest, I feel stuck. So, I put it on the next day’s list where it then floats over to the following day.

I’m not exactly procrastinating. It’s more like I don’t know what to do. I decided to try NaNoWriMo this year.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.

https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo

I’ve heard about it for years. I have writer friends who have done it. I never have before. I’m working on NaNo Prep 101 so I can start November off and running and write 50,000 words. On my to do list is NaNo Prep. Each day. But I haven’t gotten through the task at hand.

I’m going to try a new strategy. I’m moving NaNo prep to the top of my list. Where I can’t avoid it. Also, I think if I tackle it earlier in the day, tiredness and a lack of motivation won’t take over. Maybe I’ll get it done when my energy is better. It takes energy to make decisions about what to write about and to develop characters. I have an inkling of what I want, but then I second guess myself and chicken out.

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? If so, how did it go? Have you written a novel? What did you find to be the easiest and hardest parts?