the importance of a few words

Right now, I’m not a great writer.

I’m capable of writing well. I’ve written things that work. But at the moment, I’m not good at writing. Amidst a busy semester (and a bunch of little unexpected things), I haven’t found that much-needed rhythm of getting in a little writing every day.

I was down about that for a while. I hated being so tired, so worn out, so not in control of my own schedule that I couldn’t write.

Thankfully I have amazing friends who encourage me to keep writing, who blow me away by how they feel about words I’ve managed to get onto the page.

Today I saw this tweet:

It’s one of many reminders that a few words can go a long way. Don’t forget to highlight what your writer friends do well. I want to encourage my friends who write to keep going, and I can’t thank enough those who support me.

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word sprints

Hello fellow IWSG members! I have a positive post this month! FINALLY.

So, what’s a word sprint?

As far as I can tell, it’s a concept that arose with NaNoWriMo: you set a time range with other writers–10 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour, or any other interval you want–and you write as many words as you can in that time. Some people set goals before they start, others simply try to get words on the page (I’m one of the latter). At the end, you check in with the other sprinters and compare word counts.

They. Are. Magic.

There’s something about writing with other people for a set amount of time that lets my fingers fly. I wrote 2700 words the other night thanks to word sprints. I didn’t expect to write at all that evening, and instead I got scenes that formed in the heat of the moment, scenes that deviated from my original thought process but were so much better for it.

No, really. I had a nebulous idea in my head for one scene, and another scene simply started with the mental image of a house’s eaves dripping with melting snow. Now I have an incredibly important character for my MC’s development, a better sense of my MC’s voice, and a greater love for this WIP in general.

I needed those word sprints that night.

I’m not saying they’ll always be magic. You may have a block you can’t get past even with a deadline, or you may be between ideas (whether for a scene or a character or for entire WIPs). But when you feel like you can’t write–and you want to–they’re a great thing to try. Get on Twitter, look for others who want to sprint or are already sprinting, and get those words onto the page.

You may write something you never saw coming.

the bright side

he knows when I’m getting out canned cat food
(he should know darting between my legs slows things down
but no, he does that anyway)

he runs up to me when I get home from work
(the healthy cat hides; doors are SCARY)

he talks back to me
meowing in response to my inane conversation
just like before he got sick

he curls up on my lap or next to me while I write
he tolerates my snuggles and nuzzles

he loves sunshine and windowsills and neck scratches
belly rubs too (really!)

he’s smart, too smart for his own good
yet that’s part of what makes him special

he’s happy and comfortable (aside from pill time)
all because of an eventual diagnosis and medication

yeah, there’s stress and anxiety and frustration galore
but it’s worth it

it’s worth it

the dark side

the bills never end
the pills merely delay the inevitable

twice a day, torture and drama
forcing medication down an unwilling cat’s throat

then he avoids me, fears me
I didn’t sign up for this

chemotherapy requires gloves
and it has to be kept cold
I see cancer medication whenever I open my fridge

we’ve put him through so much already
the scar on his belly just one reminder of many

some mornings I wake up and wonder
“is this the day I have to face the final goodbye?”

the diagnosis story

Cats are masters at masking their discomfort or pain. However, they can’t hide dramatic weight loss, and eventually we’re going to spot them vomiting.

Those were the two major signs that something was terribly wrong with my seven-year-old cat.

He’d had a regular checkup in July, and the bloodwork only showed that he should get his thyroid checked every 6 months instead of once a year. No big deal.

So when he started showing the aforementioned symptoms in early October, it felt like it came out of nowhere. We took him to a new vet–we’d moved to a different state–who thought he was in pretty good health aside from the weight loss. He knew we’d done bloodwork recently, but we opted for another blood panel to see if that told us anything useful.

It did. My cat’s liver values were elevated. So they put him on antibiotics. We got to learn the joy of giving a cat a pill and liquid medication. Thanks to pill pockets, the pill part wasn’t bad (the pills themselves were TINY and easy to hide).

The physical exam after the antibiotics ran out was fine, so we went back two weeks later (now early November) for follow-up bloodwork. (It was Friday the 13th. Read into that what you will.)

It was worse. This was the first time we heard the big “cancer” word dropped. Cue lots of emotions.

We got referred to a vet school for more tests that couldn’t be done at our local vet. Expensive tests. My cat ended up in the ICU for a few days as they tried different medications and IV fluids while waiting for the test results. Nothing conclusive, though the ultrasound showed a number of things we could be worried about. Of course, I worried about all of it.

The internal medicine specialist thought it could be inflammatory bowel disease–something that could be addressed with a change in diet–or it could be cancer. Only biopsies would confirm which. Since Thanksgiving approached and we had a lot to think about, we decided not to go for any biopsies until all the results came in. We put him on a new (and expensive) diet in case it was IBD and waited. In the meantime, we learned all the ways my cat wouldn’t take pills. (We opted for a two-person wrap-the-cat-in-a-towel-and-force-the-pill-down-his-throat method, followed by water. The “purrito” method for short. Except that’s wishful thinking because he so does not purr when we’re giving him medication.)

Yet again the results were inconclusive. Yet again only biopsies would give us a definitive result. (By this point I’d developed phone anxiety because every time it rang it was just more bad and/or inconclusive news.) So we opted for the surgery. Cue more bills. Cue more stress. Cue more anxiety.

Then the surgery got delayed, the teams got switched around, and a surgeon I’d never spoken to before called me and gave me the spiel of what they’d do–a spiel I’d already confirmed with my cat’s specialist AND had approved the cost estimate for–calling my cat a “she” the entire freaking conversation. And he said they might take out my cat’s spleen. WE NEVER TALKED ABOUT REMOVING HIS SPLEEN. HOW IS THIS RELEVANT. WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THIS UP NOW.

I didn’t know if they were operating on my cat. I didn’t know if the costs had changed between conversations (that surgeon heavily implied that the costs were going up, way up). I didn’t know if they’d have trouble in the operating room because apparently my cat’s clotting ability had weakened. You know, assuming the cat in question WAS IN FACT MY CAT.

I know he’s just a cat, but that afternoon was utterly wretched. The procedure was supposed to take an hour and a half, but we didn’t get a follow up call to know my cat was okay until eight hours later. Eight hours of “Hey, is my cat still alive? Did I just agree to spend all this money so you could operate on the wrong cat? Does he still have all his organs?”

Eventually we heard that he was okay and they’d gotten all the samples they’d needed and he hadn’t need a transfusion and okay I can sleep now.

We were supposed to get the results back within a few days, but it took a week. And we got the news. The bad, bad news. The news that came as a surprise to the internal medicine specialist and the students who’d been taking care of him and pretty much everyone else who’d looked at him and/or his test results thus far.

My cat has small cell lymphoma.

prioritizing

I can’t explain why, but it seems like IWSG Wednesdays sneak up on me every month as of late. Maybe it’s the timing with holidays? Maybe it’s all the other things going on in my life right now? Last month around this time I found out my cat has cancer. This month I’m down with a cold and working a long week as the semester starts up again.

So today’s post is about priorities.

Right now I’m prioritizing work responsibilities because there are SO many of them. The holidays piled up a bunch, and a new semester always comes with its own list.

I’m also sick, so I’m prioritizing getting better. I’m going to bed early instead of pushing myself to write a few words before I eventually crash for the night. And I’m giving my brain a chance to rejuvenate from all the stresses of the last few months by not forcing myself to write when the inspiration isn’t there.

Writing is good. Writing is important. You need to tell your stories. You need to tell them the way you want to tell them. You need to hone your craft. If scheduled writing time every day helps you, you should stick to that. But you also need breaks. And you need to know when other things are more important than writing.

Hopefully by prioritizing other things when needed, you’ll find the breathing room to prioritize writing at other times. (Keep a notebook or a similar kind of app on your phone handy, though. You never know when inspiration might strike!)

the pesky issue of POV

For a long time I didn’t like first person POV. I didn’t trust it. I didn’t think an entire world could be shared through the eyes of a single person.

It wasn’t until I read the first novel in the Dresden Files series that I began to take first person POV seriously. I realized how voicey a narrative could become by telling the story from one person’s viewpoint. (More recently I read Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz. The voice in that book absolutely blew me away.)

As you may know, I’ve been struggling to write lately. My Pitch Wars entry didn’t get any agent love during the agent round, and there’s been little movement on the query front. (I’m still far from the 90+ rejections touted by many published authors, but each rejection I’ve received can get to me anyway. That being said, I’m so appreciative of each one that’s been personalized, that’s offered advice, that’s helped me think about my story in a new way.)

Then I read a post about Surviving Nearly There. It spoke to me. Really spoke to me.

First of all, if I’m honest with myself, I’m not “nearly there” yet. I’m nearly to “nearly there.” I’m close. I have over half a dozen WIPs floating around in my mind. I have two completed novels. I honestly believe I have what it takes to write–and eventually publish–more than one book. That’s the place I want to be in when I get an agent.

But I’m not there yet. And that’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve realized I need to take this time to find my own voice. To experiment with ideas I’ve either shunned or been too afraid to try. To explore concepts, issues, character qualities that scare me. To learn things about myself in the process, both good and bad.

My current challenge to myself is changing POVs. Writing a short story as first person. Re-writing part of a completed novel as first person. Experimenting with some second person, just for kicks. No one else has to read these words.

As Robin LaFevers said in the blog post linked earlier:

Give yourself permission to write as if no one—not your mother, not your sister, not your spouse, not even another living, breathing soul—will have to see it. There is great freedom in slamming that door shut while you write.

I need some of that freedom in my life, and I’m going to take it for myself. Because I’m the only one who can grant it.