Adventures in karaoke

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I sang karaoke last week.

Okay, maybe sing isn’t quite the right word. I could look for a better verb but I think just knowing that the correct verb is not sing should give you a pretty good idea of how it all went down. This is not an activity I often do. In fact, it was only the second time in my life that I did it. The first time I was drunk, didn’t know the song and couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the words on the screen.

Over ten years has passed since that performance. In that space of time I have slowly changed from the sort of person that gets up on a stage in front of a group of people to the sort of person who is constantly analyzing everything I do and say to make perfectly sure I’m not being ridiculous or foolish.

See, I have this person inside of me. I call her my Gollum and she is a vicious, angry little thing who watches everything I do and passes judgment on each action. Sometimes, her judgment is instantaneous, a running commentary in the back of my head. She’s like those old men in the muppets, just a lot meaner and not very funny at all. Sometimes, she wakes me up in the middle of the night to go over a list of everything I said and did during the day. Maybe, you have a version of her. I hope she’s nicer to you.

Anyway, this time, when I got up to sing, I told her to take a few minutes off. That yes, I knew exactly how I was going to look and sound up there and I didn’t need her to remind me. She sulked, but she was blessedly quiet and for the space of a song I didn’t worry about how I was going to look or what I was doing.

It was scary and exciting and fun.

Here’s the important thing I learned: Most people don’t want to see you fail. They want to see you get up on stage and give it all you got. They want to see the triumphant smile. They want to clap at the end. If there happens to be a person or two rooting for your failure, you can immediately disregard their opinion because obviously they are monsters and you should never care what monsters think. If you’re like me, that also goes for the biggest monster of all, the one inside of you.

I’m not saying that you should do karaoke and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something. What I am saying is do the things you want to do without worrying about looking ridiculous or failing. Put yourself out there. Instead of being so sure what it is you can’t do, maybe see what you can do without that inner critic stopping you.

It’s going to be scary and exciting, but hopefully it’s going to be fun.

Later, when Gollum wanted to tell me just how bad I was, I just laughed at her, which seemed to shut her up for a little bit. I also asked my husband not to ever show me any photos or video he might have taken. Gollum doesn’t need that sort of ammunition.

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

earneditI went through a Smiths phase when I was a teenager. Maybe a lot of people do? Most likely, I have my older sisters to thank for it. If I had been left to my own devices, I probably would have listened to garbage music. I can go a pretty long time without listening to the Smiths, but out of nowhere one of their songs will pop in my head.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the song, “You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet Baby.

It has become my “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” song. When I feel overwhelmed by editing. When I lose at something I wanted to win. When I want success now, not a year from now. I hear it.

Whatever it is that I may want, I haven’t earned it yet. I haven’t been writing that long, not seriously anyway. I haven’t even begun to suffer through rejection. I’ve managed criticism fairly well, but everyone who has given it has been supportive and constructive. There are trenches where writers spend years, working on their craft and toughening up. I’ve barely put my boots on.

I don’t know how long it will take me to get where I want to be. I don’t know what path will get me there. I’m trying to take every path and road I can without getting lost. The only way I know I won’t get there is if I never try or I just give up. Sometimes, the things we really want are costly. We pay with time and commitment and even disappointment, but I think we can earn it.

Great. That song is stuck in my head again.

On first drafts and the drafts that follow

girl-lostI’ve come to love writing the first draft of a book. It’s the sprint through the letters and the words, a pulling together of paragraphs and pages to get to the end. You’re not required to make every word perfect. You aren’t required to patch up any plot holes. It’s no big deal if your characters need a little work or your dialogue is stilted. All of those things are merely a blur as you rush past.

I’ve written about it before, about how I can’t look for perfection here. If I do, I won’t finish. I’ll be on the first page, agonizing over the first few words.

There’s also the discovery in the first draft. There are two types of writers, the pantser and the plotter. I’ve tried to be a plotter. I’ve tried to outline everything, make notecards, make a detailed map of where my story is going to go from start to finish, but it never works. I feel sort of suffocated by my plans. No, I like to have a couple of characters, a problem that they have and a vague idea of where I want them to end up. It’s a crazy sort of thing, writing something, not always sure how I’m going to get from one space to the next. It can be stressful, but man, it’s fun.

Now, it’s time to pay the piper. I imagine plotters usually have a better handle on what it happening in their books. They’ve done a lot of the hard work up front. I would imagine that at the end of their first draft, they have a pretty tight story. Pantsers have to make up for their fanciful dance through their story, with big changes in the next draft. I’m like the grasshopper that played all summer long and is now facing an uncomfortable winter.

So, onto the next drafts and the edits that come with it.

This doesn’t feel like playing anymore. This feels like work. I’m reading through paragraphs and it all feels clunky and disjointed and a mess. Maybe, the structure of it is good, but I’m going to have to really make the writing better. So, I make notes. I highlight the rough sentences. I think this is just like painting. I’ve roughed in the large swathes of color and now it’s time to really get in with the detail.

I’m ready.

Pen is up.

And go.

Go.

GO.

I know how to work past the paralysis of the first draft. I know how to just zip right along and not take myself too seriously. That time is over. Now, I really do have to do my best to make it perfect. Perfect is paralysis. How do I find the right words? Do I take this out? Should I add this in? Am I taking a piece of writing that had life and spark and movement and am I with every pen stroke murdering it? Am I turning my writing into wood?

It’s just as easy to doubt myself now as it was before. Maybe it’s worse. Now, it’s not just a case of not being able to do something well. It’s about ruining something that might have been good. This may be a little dramatic but it’s like dismantling a bomb and not knowing which wire to cut. Okay, no, that really is too dramatic. Actually, it is just like trying to find your way without a map. You hope that you’re going the right way and you’re using the little you know to orient yourself, but until you get there, you can’t really be sure that you’re heading in the right direction. I don’t have an answer for this. If you’re reading this and you do have the answer, I hope you’ll tell me. I think it must just all be about experience. As I become a more experienced writer, I hope that it will become easier. Of course, something tells me that there will always be space for doubt here, no matter how long I’ve been writing.

I’m just going to keep moving forward. It is the only advice I can give myself and anyone reading this who might find themselves in this place with me. Keep working. Keep moving forward. Let’s hope we’re not lost.

The fraud in the mirror

notes-514998_1280Over the weekend I applied for a mentoring program. It’s for unpublished YA authors with a complete manuscript and it gives them an opportunity to pair with authors who are in the process of publishing a book in the next year or have already published. The published writers will help the unpublished writers polish their manuscripts and help them with their query letters. If I get in, it could be an awesome opportunity for me. If I don’t get in, my plan is to continue moving forward. Work on my book until I have it where I think I need it and start querying for agents on my own.

No big deal.

So, I put together a query letter, and emailed it along with the first ten pages of my book. As soon as I hit send, the anxiety began to build inside of me.

What was I thinking? Why did I think that my book was going to be good enough to submit to this? Why did I let anyone convince me that it was good enough to send? They were probably just being nice. It’s like when your kids draws a picture and you have no idea what it is but you tell them it looks good anyway and you hang it on the fridge. That’s probably what everyone was doing. And I fell for it. I bought into this idea that I was going to be some published writer. What do I know about writing? I have an associate’s degree in graphic design. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. Before a few year ago, I hadn’t written any fiction since high school. And what? Now, I’m a novelist?

Oh my god. Now, they’re going to know. They’re all going to know, what deep down, I’ve always known. I’m a fraud. A fake. There is a part of me that has always known it and has tried desperately to convince me.

It’s that voice in the back of my head. Sometimes, it is friendly. At times when I’ve struggled with writing, it gives me a sort of verbal pat on the shoulder and says, “It’s okay. You tried. Writing probably isn’t your thing.”

Sometimes, it is mean. It mocks. It urges me to give up because I’m just embarrassing myself. “Everyone feels sorry for you. You’re delusional.”

My fear is always based around the fact that I’m never going to be good enough and that everyone is going to find out. I don’t have to listen to that voice in my head when I’m sitting alone at my kitchen table writing. No, I hear it when I hand my manuscript over for someone to read. I hear it every week when I write my blog. When someone tells me that they enjoy my blog or they liked my book, I want to hug them and thank them but I also want to narrow my eyes and let them know that I’m onto whatever scam they’re running.

I find myself wondering when it will go away. Is there any level of success that would make me believe in myself? I was a graphic designer for three years and it never went away. I always felt like a hack. I still contend that I was. Will I always feel that way about my writing and my painting as well?

impostor-syndrome-cartoon-823x1024I know what it is. It’s called imposter syndrome and knowing it by name helps. It also helps to know that a lot of people have had it at some point in their careers. I wonder how many people will read this and nod their head. Everyone? It’s prevalent enough that there are tips on how to overcome it. Talking about it is supposed to help. Imposter syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young says, “It’s also a matter of changing your thoughts, slowly over time, and taking risks in spite of the inner voice telling you you’ll fail. Do the thing that scares the heck out of you, realize you survived – or maybe you fell flat on your face. But you gave it your best shot.”

So, I think we have to just keep working. Keep moving forward.  My writing isn’t actually some destination that I’m working to get to. It’s the never-ending road, the eternal journey. This feeling that I’m never going to be good enough can be the wind at my back, always pushing me forward, motivating me to do and be better. If I’m going to think of myself as a fraud, then I’m going to put my heart and soul into fooling everyone, especially myself.

For days when I’ve taken the risk and failed, when I’ve fallen flat on my face, there’s whiskey. And after that, a new day to dust myself off and got started again.

Maybe, I’ll get into this mentoring program. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, I’ll have to go a different way. This isn’t that song, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. There isn’t just one shot. We have a lot of chances and a lot of ways to get to the same place. There are also a lot of ways to mess up and a lot of ways to feel rejected. There are countless ways to fail. The only way to avoid that is to never do anything at all. The problem with that is, then you never do anything at all. No dreams. No plans. No goals. I just sit at my kitchen table and write stories that no one reads.

Just like “‘Tis better to have loved and lost: Than never to have loved at all.” Tis better to have tried and failed : Than never to have tried at all.

Lessons from the dance floor

danceDo you know what I learned this weekend? I learned that for me dancing the electric slide is not like riding a bike. It is not something that I just remembered how to do. I shouldn’t have walked out onto the dance floor and expected all of the steps to come back to me. No amount of wine was going to help me and I think if I’m honest with myself I think it might have been a contributing factor in my subpar performance.

In case you are the one person in the world who doesn’t know the electric slide, it’s a simple dance, basically a lot of shuffling. In fact, when you have a second, watch it on YouTube. It’s fantastic. You are going to love every second of it.

Anyway, I seem to recall being fairly excellent at it when I was a kid. I know that my memory is faulty when it comes to what I was and was not capable of as a child, but I had to have been better at it than I was the other night. I don’t think for the duration of the song that I was ever going in the correct direction and there is a poor woman out there who nearly had to limp off the dance floor when I stepped on her foot.

I only danced to one other song that night. I forced my poor husband to dance to YMCA and it was awkward and we were clumsy and ridiculous. Twice, I tried to do the letters too early and my husband kept doing a backwards letter C. We made up for our ineptitude with buckets and buckets of enthusiasm and we had fun.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, oh here we go, Amanda is going to take her tipsy foray onto a crowded dance floor and turn it into some sort of life lesson.

And my answer to that? Yes. Yes, I am.

There are so many times that I don’t want to do something or I hold myself back because I don’t want to look foolish. There was a time that my butchery of the electric slide would have mortified me. But now, that I’m trying to loosen up and not be so hard on myself I think, what’s so terrible about looking foolish? Do I have such a weak sense of humor that I can’t even enjoy a joke at my own expense? Do you know what’s really foolish? Not ever doing anything at all because of being afraid of being laughed at. No, it’s not foolish. It’s sad.

So, from here on out, I’m up for it. I’m doing it. I’m going to treat my life like I’m in the middle of a dance floor and I’m trying to learn the steps as I go. What I do know how to do I’m going to do with enthusiasm. Gusto even. What I don’t, well, I’m going to learn. And until I do, I’m going to have a sense of humor about it.

If you’re out here on the dance floor with me, I’ll try to be mindful of your toes.

Sidenote: I’m going to be doing Inktober for the first time, which is an ink drawing for every day in the month of October. I’m not committing to 31 drawings, but I am hoping to do what they call the half-Marathon, only an ink drawing every other day. I plan to write a post about it at the end of the month and share my work, so stay tuned.