Writer Behind the Wheel: Casting off Dead Weight

Hey guys!  Long time no see!  Life has been a whirlwind affair of crazy for me since this summer.  Work went kind of nuts for a while and then I moved cross country back home to Texas back in October, and now I’m here and settled in and job searching.   So, yeah, I had very little time to devote to blogging, unless you count Tumbling, which is more of an avoidance technique and de-stressor than real blogging for me, but I digress.

Anyway, in November I challenged my Mom to do NaNoWriMo with me and we both won.  Woot!  Streamers!  Cake!  Strippers coming out of the cake!  High fives all around!

And now that we’ve come down off of our NaNo high, my mother has talked me into doing to 30 day blog challenge with her.  Okay, ‘talked’ is too mild of a word.  It went more like, I did NaNo for you.  I did 50,000 words for you.  You’re doing this with me or else.

You know how Mom’s get that look, the squinty-eyed, raised eyebrow, you’re gonna do what I say or you’ll suffer the consequences kind of look?  Yeah, that’s the look I got.  That, and the threat of no more homemade frappucinos, which is just a travesty.  So I am blogging again in the interest of keeping my mornings horror free, because homemade frappes are kind of essential to life, right up there with medium-rare steak and Grumpy Cat memes.

On a side note, it’s a new kind of weird sharing space with another writer.  Even though she’s non-fiction and I’m so far up fiction I can see its tonsils, having another writer in residence is like living with a fellow crack-addict.  You keep the same hours, idea sessions at midnight are a thing, and it doesn’t register as strange if you happen to overhear the other muttering to themselves about ‘fainting goats’ and ‘fucking deadlines’.  In fact, you give them a friendly pat on the shoulder and offer coffee.  So, kind of like a frat house: the dishes still pile up, sweatpants are acceptable attire, and drunken crying is a thing that happens, but everyone is on their own computers.  And dick pics aren’t drawn on sleeping people’s faces, we share those by email to make afternoon slumps brighter.

Now, to kick off my first official blog post of being back, I present you with a piece about shedding the skin you don’t need and careening into the great wild unknown.

Writer Behind the Wheel: Casting Off Dead Weight

When I was preparing for my journey cross country I had no idea what to really expect.  When I moved to North Carolina my Dad took care of most of the planning and hotel reservations and mapping the route.  We packed an entire Uhaul of everything I’d accumulated over my 23 years on earth and towed my car behind it.  I did not drive the big truck.  Doing the entire process by myself this time around, two years later, presented me with a unique perspective on a lot of things, but especially writing.

In the weeks leading up to travel date I was juggling a full time job and an avalanche of responsibility that comes with stepping up into a position of leadership.  In my spare hours I had to make a lot of crucial decisions, because I could not rent a Uhaul this time.  I also needed to get rid of most of my possessions and take only what could fit in my CRV because I was doing this alone.

It was daunting, to say the least.  I didn’t have much to begin with; I am not one who accumulates a lot of junk, and the main bulk of my possessions were books.  Getting rid of my bed frame, my dresser, my chairs and bedside tables I’d had for years, that was easy.  I gave those away to friends and to charity, as well as most of my kitchen supplies and clothing I no longer needed.  The weeks went by and I steadily emptied my apartment of non-essentials.  Then it came to the point where I was a week out and I still had too many things to fit in my car.

I had to get rid of my books.

It’s a situation many writers I know have nightmares about.  It takes years to cultivate a writer’s library of novels and non fiction and dictionaries and thesauruses and other odds and ends that round out your collection.  I started in middle school when I was earning my own money from selling goats and pigs, and then in earnest when I joined the workforce at 17.  I had volumes I’d gleaned from Library sales and garage sales and gifts from birthday’s past that held literary and sentimental value.

I ended up donating nine boxes full of books to the local library.

I felt like I had just hacked off limbs and set parts of myself on fire.  Like I’d tossed a box of puppies out into a cold bar ditch and just left them there.  Alone.  Defenseless.  Where strangers, who knew not of their value, would come and comb through them, possibly with sticky fingers.

But then I felt relief.

Though it hurt, when I got home that night and finished packing the books I decided to keep, a sort of lightness came over me.  Those books had guided me through hard times, good times, frustration, elation, and awkwardness.  They had offered me escapes from problems and given me new viewpoints to ponder over in the years I’d had them, but in getting rid of them I freed myself from the burden of stuff, thus making my next steps possible.

When you undertake a new phase of your life you have to be willing to give up parts of the old one that no longer serve you or that hold you back.  For me, it was stuff.  Good books, bad books, books I’d never actually picked up to read at all but ‘always meant to someday’.  Giving away nine boxes allowed me to pack my car down with everything I really needed in order to complete my journey into the next chapter of my life.

The art of letting go is essential in life and in writing.  You can’t move on to something better if you’re still clinging to what came before.  I’m applying this lesson now to a story I’ve spent the past six or seven years working on.  I’ve written and rewritten ten different versions, and this NaNo I ended up cutting half the characters, simplifying the story themes, and dropping the plot line that, while cool and well thought out, just were not working for me.  It hurt.  It felt like dying.  It scared the shit out of me because I had no idea where to go without the old milestones.

I had that same gut clenching sourness in my stomach the morning I started out on my cross country journey.  Before that point I’d never driven more than three hours away from where I lived at the time.  Had never even attempted driving on I-40.  “Now or never,” that’s what I told myself as I gripped the steering wheel and made my way down the darkened 5:30am highway.

“Now or never,” that’s what I’m telling myself again as I sift through disjointed scenes and shred narrative so I can sculpt the story I know is there beneath the pretty painted flesh and crumbling bone of previous drafts.  But unless I get rid of everything that doesn’t work, no matter how much I like or love it, I’m never going to find the real story I need to tell.

So, here is my advice to all of you.  Get rid of whatever is holding you back.  Toss it in the ocean, donate it to Goodwill, cast it into the mass grave of old ideas and broken prose.  Do it.  And then gather what is left and start rebuilding in a new direction.

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