Complete was one of the six verbs in my six-word resolution for 2010. My goal is to complete the work I begin. And that means more than just complete a scene or a chapter or a draft. Complete has to mean, for me, take a writing project as far as I possibly can.
To the point where I feel comfortable sharing my work with others.
Can you tell I’m beating around the bush? I can’t even say what I really mean…
Complete work means ready to submit to editors and agents.
Geez, was that so hard? Actually, it was. Here’s the thing—oh, and this is a big confession—I haven’t submitted anything actively for a long, long time.
When I first started writing, I wanted to get published so badly. Anyone who’s been writing for more than a year knows what I mean. You’ve seen newbies at writing conferences or in classes, and they’re the first ones to raise their hands and ask all kinds of marketing and publishing questions, and everyone else knows that they only advice they really need is “Focus on the writing.” Ok, so that was me. I sent out a query letter after my first conference and, a few months later, got a very lovely rejection note to my first submission.
My first and ONLY submission.
Since then, I’ve worked on craft, trying to focus on improving my writing without worry about publication. I've written a couple of picture book drafts, a couple of short stories, and three middle grade novels. All in draft form. Now, it’s not like I’ve never shown these things to anyone. But I’ve never considered them finished.
Now it's time to finish something. To take a story or one of my novels as far as I possibly can. That is my task.
So, now that I’ve made my confession, let me move on to the word complete. In December 2008, YA author Laini Taylor spoke at our local SCBWI meeting. She told the crowd that one of the ways she combats perfectionism is to “cultivate the habit of completion.” I love the way that sounds.
"Cultivate the habit of completion.”
Last year, I said I would do that. I did not. This year, though, I resolve to complete my work. I will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I will be more like my friend Debbie, who sets target goals for herself and meets them.
How will I do this? Good question. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, a great new book, has a list of tips for sticking with resolutions on her blog. Here are several tips I plan to follow:
- Write it down (check)
- Hold yourself accountable
- Set a deadline
My first deadline is to revise a short story I drafted last month into decent shape to share with my friend Susan in two weeks. More details on this resolution to come.
Lips Touch: Three Times
I mentioned Laini Taylor above. Last month, I read her new book, Lips Touch: Three Times, a National Book Award nominee. Lips Touch features three stories, each introduced with artwork by Laini’s husband Jim Di Bartolo. Can I just say how much I admire Laini’s lush writing? Her work is filled with metaphors and vibrant imagery. Here is a line from the first story, "Goblin Fruit":
Kizzy wanted it all so bad her soul leaned half out of her body hungering after it, and that was what drove the goblins wild, her soul hanging out there like an untucked shirt (p. 21)Like an untucked shirt.
"Goblin Fruit" is probably my favorite of the three stories. I love the juxtaposition of Kizzy’s life in a small Oregon town with the superstitious traditions of her eastern European family. Let me highlight just one more passage. Here, Kizzy sees herself in a new light, thanks to the attention of the handsome new student, Jack Husk:
Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy’s blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn’t possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them (p. 41)The paragraph continues in the same vein, spinning out a fabulous array of dreams and images. It’s poetic and unusual and adventurous.
Sometimes, when I write, I’m in such a rush to get the story down that I forget to spend time developing the language. This sentence from “Goblin Fruit” is an example of the richness that comes with staying in the moment and developing the emotion. Don’t you connect to Kizzy’s longing? And furthermore, don’t you suddenly wish you, too, had such dreams?
I recommend "Goblin Fruit" and Lips Touch: Three Times to anyone who loves great stories with beautiful, lyrical language.
(By the way, you can read more about Laini's method work working at Not for Robots)