Well I have eaten a slice of humble pie, more than one serving to be honest. I’ve looked deeply within myself and had a heart to heart discussion: Am I really willing to do what is necessary to not just write this novel, but write it to the best of my ability?
Am I actually going to do the work required? To choose to do it – not expect someone else to do it and just tell me the important parts.
The answer is yes.
Yes I am. I am going to do what is necessary to improve my writing, which will ultimately improve my novel. Or why bother doing it at all?
At first I thought going to a writing retreat, taking workshops and reading books from a variety of authors would do this. Well, yes in some respects it does, it’s a good start, but it’s not the end all. I was given a pearl of wisdom, I encourage you to find your own pearls of wisdom in books and teachers. You should explore as many avenues as you can. But ultimately it came down to me. I had to prove it to myself, just like you have to prove it to yourself before you prove it to anyone else, including an editor, agent or publisher.
I explored different possibilities of learning to write. One was a writer’s forum online in which a colorful character actually told me I would be wasting my time and money and hurt his feelings (?) if I considered taking a writing workshops offered at Columbia University in NYC instead of listening to what he had to say – outside the forum -for a price of course – really? No thank you. I’m not stupid. I know you can learn from everyone, but you also have to be mindful and decide what you’re going to spend your hard earned money on and for what. What is your budget? How much time do you have to devote to this project and the process? Be careful what you spend your time doing because we both know, you can earn more money, but you cannot earn more time. Time is precious, don’t give it away carelessly.
After I finished my pie, and stopped wasting my time. I started looking for help, real help. There is a wide world of courses you can take out there, without having to enroll in an undergrad program and taking out a loan.
I found a remarkable opportunity for learning from of all places, my mailbox. Between Home & Garden and the electric bill, I found a catalog from The Great Courses. Stop: No, I am not receiving any compensation from them. I am simply sharing what “I” choose to order and complete and how it affected me personally.
If you are not familiar with The Great Courses go on their website and take a peek. In the past, I remember seeing their information for exploring Theology, Shakespeare, and even a collection of courses from the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America not the other one, which now that I think about it, would not surprise me if a course on their history is also available!).
I sat on our front porch and glanced at all the different courses offered. Then I saw Writing Great Sentences and Writing Great Fiction. On sale no less! The cost for both programs was well within my budget and would be delivered in three days – score!
Backstory: Recently I have been beyond frustrated with my rewrites. My Editor had been even more frustrated with me. I felt I was losing ground rapidly and my dream of finishing this novel was slipping through my fingers, if I could not move forward productively. I have a great story. I have the bones all in place and now was building the muscle. But my tools were dull.
Was I a fool to think I could take two courses, four DVDs – twenty four lectures each and really become better at this craft? I had to try. I didn’t have enough money to take courses at Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, the Omega Institute or anywhere else right now. My budget was focused on the cost of my Editor. Yet I could afford this, I had to give it a try. So when the package arrived, I created a schedule and stuck to it. I listened to all the lectures, taking notes as if I was sitting in class. I filled two notebooks and took additional notes directed at my actual story. At the end of three solid weeks of working through both programs I was exhausted but felt great! My head ached, but my heart nearly burst with excitement to try and execute what I’d learned. So I began. Chapter One. Page One. Bam!
It was like lightening striking for a second time! I started and the lessons, the rules, the words flowed and ignited the next line, the next paragraph and each subsequent chapter. Things I was unsure of, all of a sudden made sense and built on the next thought and the next. I could see the improvement, hear it when I read it out loud, it was a personal victory that I owed no explanation or reason for anything to anyone else. No matter what happened from this point on – I did it for me, no one else, but for me. It was a private goal, a self-test, an exploration of ‘Could I?’ and confirmation of ‘Absolutely!’!
But where was the tangible proof? “I” could say hooray for me, but unless my Editor saw the improvement, it was not going to get me to the next level and closer to completion of a polished novel.
Preparing to send her the first three chapters made me queasy. What if she wasn’t pleased? What if this still wasn’t what she was trying to get out of me? What if my ‘hooray for me’ was great, but still not enough? I pressed send and waited.
Three days later, my proof arrived. The accolades from my Editor were incredible. She wanted to know what happened, what did I do? When I told her she was surprised but thrilled with the achievement. For the first time in thirteen months of working together – no additional rewrites or critiques were required. The sense of pride and accomplishment has kept me on a high now as I work on my book. Oh I am sure there will be more bumps in the road, ditches, ravines and caverns to work through – but this has proved to me and I hope now shared with you, that you must rely on YOU first. Prove it to yourself, because that is what it really matters most. No matter the outcome, I did the best I could, I did the work and continue to work, explore and learn from sometimes the most unlikely of places. A mailbox, someone you met in the library, a song you hear, a book, or even a blog and you too will be Touched By Words!
Breathe Deep, Think Peace