I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning again I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning my brain -talking heads, "Artists Only"
if you change "cleaning" to "writing," well, that's where i am. writing again, writing my brain. which is to say i am writing from memory a story that has been with me probably longest since i began this crazy journey. the characters came about in october of 1993 when i deliberately took 10 days off from work with the goal of writing something i'd been thinking about, beginning to end. and i did it, first draft finished in 9 days, over 260 pages of raw, crazy, impossible YA story with a LOT of problems.
the main one being that it was a sprawling road story with the thinnest of plot lines and nothing comparable to it on the market. i had no frame of reference, and no real training in writing for a YA audience, but i had some characters and situations and i felt good about it.
many of those characters and settings have run through a lot of what came after, but they solidified around another story that i'd begun in 2004 and revised in 2007. that story was my "audition" piece for admission to VCFA, and the opening pages were workshopped in the summer of 2010.
and that's where it stopped. reaction was positive, the questions posed were helpful, there was no reason why i shouldn't have picked up the ball with it and run.
but i didn't.
instead, surrounded by so much kidlit writerly energy, my brain flooded with idea that i chased down like a magpie collecting shiny objects along the highway. wanting to make the most of my workshops i produced something new and different each semester, looking to woodshed a collection of solid starts. as a final project i wrote and revised (4 times over the course of 6 weeks!) a middle grade novel that i thought was my best work. after graduation i queried that book around for the better part of a year before thinking it needed more work.
and then i kinda sorta quit writing for a bit.
I don't have to prove... that I am creative!
i started a new job, and with it i eventually found myself with a new routine: i'd commute to work early, grab a tea and a pastry and sit in the lobby of a business hotel with good wifi and wrote for a solid hour 2-4 days a week. first it was a short story (later published online) and another short story (published by One Teen Story) and in between i wrote another middle grade story.
all on my phone.
this was the crazy part, writing a couple thousand words here and there as "notes" until one day i decided i needed to maybe transfer my notes to a word file. turns out you *can* wrote 15k words on your phone. i was stunned i'd written that much of a novel, much less in the amount of time that i had and all on my phone. once finished a first draft i read it over and over and... something was wrong. i'd read enough, studied enough about writing that it should have been obvious, but it wasn't and so i set it aside because another project was itching my brain. i was barely into it when a writing group looking for new members caught a tweet of me lamenting not having a crit group. they liked me, i liked them, so it seemed like a good time and place to work out this new project of mine.
You can't see it 'til it's finished flash ahead two-plus years later and that original project was done, revised, where i wanted it to be. it took plenty of trimming after all the overwriting, but i felt good about it and was ready, finally, to share with the world. i researched a ton of great agents and sent out nearly a dozen queries, got some early rejections, but was patient. i began working on something new, and another something new, and really felt energized.
then in august of 2020 my trusty laptop did something horrible. the details aren't entirely important except to say that i'd lost a sizable chunk of the manuscript out on query as well as recent sections of other projects. gone. lost. i was depressed and not sure i wanted to write anymore. i watched rejections come it thankful that if they'd asked for full manuscripts i wouldn't have to explain that the last third of the novel they wanted to see no longer existed.
then just last month, i was gifted a new laptop by my most loyal fan, my wife. everyone had cautioned me that i needed to change my ways around backing up often and in multiple places. i agreed. and then came the question: what would i work on? i didn't have the heart to work on any of the lost projects -- not yet at least -- but more importantly, i needed to go back to that place i was, that place where i wrote with joy, without that inner voice telling me things weren't working before i'd even committed them to the page.
fun. i needed to find the fun.
so i decided to go back to my earliest characters, and that story i'd workshopped and abandoned. i knew that story cold and sat down and outlined it. all the pieces were there, all the plot twists and character development and the select details, but i wanted to make it fresh for me so i decided to ignore what came before. i sat down and broke down the major chapters and wrote key lines of dialog for each and decided that was my new road map. break scenes down cinematically, write the dialog, fill in around that. and it's been a joy so far.
it will be a loooong time before i can find the great laptop meltdown of 2020 a blessing, but i am happy to have come out the other side with a renewed sense of starting over. cleaning my brain, as it were, and starting over with fresh pages.