Knowing when to Stop and Breathe

Hi everyone!  So, I’m not really the best person to talk about stopping and smelling the roses, mostly because I’ve never been really good at that when I have specific goals to achieve.  In fact, if I have goals, chances are that nothing else in the world will exist for me, especially roses.  But when that happens, I have a tendency to burn myself out and end up overcompensating in the other direction (a.k.a. goals suck, let’s just veg in front of Netflix forever).  It’s an annoying balancing act that I can never really get… well, balanced.

I traced a photo of a rose, then colored it in Photoshop a long time ago.

Is this a common problem among writers?  Honestly, I don’t know.  A lot of the people I talk to seem to have more problems meeting goals rather than being obsessed with them, so of course I feel like the odd man (woman?) out.  I guess my biggest problem is knowing when to let goals slide.  Granted, I’m more apt to look at my list of goals and push reading off to make time for writing, but it makes me feel super guilty.  I also push the things on my list that are for other people higher than things like my word count.  I can always make up my word count tomorrow, right?  Like that ever happens.  It actually usually means not taking that second day off.  *eye-twitch*

And, of course, when I do find a nice balance, I have to start changing things.  I recently decided to try upping my word count from 900 words five days a week to 1500 words.  Throw some new obligations on top of that, and I end up spending all my time doing everything except having a life.  It got a little rough this past week, which is what brought on this ramble.

A random thing I made a long time ago. I like structure.

I needed to stop and take a breath, which I did.  I’ve proven to myself that, under normal circumstances, I can do 1500 words five days a week with no problem.  Right now, I can’t.  As much as it ticks me off to say that, I just can’t do 1500 words AND everything else I need to do AND have time to relax.  It’s impossible.  Thus, my new plan for balance!

I will continue with the new obligations for as long as they last (three to six months at the moment), because I made a promise, I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m gaining a lot of experience should I decide to teach at some point in the future.  That’s my first priority.  Second, instead of worrying about words for a while, I’m going to work on revising my first novel again (surprisingly not as time consuming or stressful as writing all the words!).  When I do get back to writing toward a word count, I’ve decided 1000 words are good enough until I have fewer things to worry about.  And apparently I have to add a goal to my list that boils down to “have fun away from the computer, or  GO OUTSIDE, IDIOT!”

I should probably add “draw something” to that list.

It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but balance is necessary.  We can’t always focus on work (that’s a fast-track to insanity), just like we can’t always focus on fun (unless you’re a billionaire, then yeah).  Remember to stop and take a breath, or smell the roses, or whatever.  Just don’t kill yourself to achieve all the things on a list that doesn’t account for spontaneous interruptions or miscalculated times (we all have those things we say will take half an hour, then three hours later it’s still not done).  Take some time and go outside!  Or whatever.

The Speech of Doom

First, a little background.  At Stonecoast’s commencement ceremony, the faculty elects a student speaker from each genre (pop fic, lit fic, poetry, and CNF).  Apparently, they decided that I should represent popular fiction.  This meant that I had to give a speech.  On stage.  In front of everybody.  Yeah, not my idea of a good time.  But, it went over pretty well, and people have asked me for copies or to post it on-line.  So, here it is, notes to myself and all.

Giving the Speech of Doom. Courtesy of Joseph Carro.

Speech of Doom

Thank you, Dean Tuchinsky. Thank you, Justin Tussing and Matt Jones. Faculty, fellow students, thank you. And a very special thank you to Robin Talbot. She is the heart of Stonecoast, and she keeps our dysfunctional little family functioning. So, next time you see her, give her a hug and tell her thank you.

*pause, deep breath*

Hello. My name is Shawna, and I, like most of you, am a compulsive liar (also known as a writer). Yes, that includes the CNF folks as well. We all embellish the truth and hide things inside pretty little metaphors, some of us just include more fairies and dragons and zombies than others.

In his dedication of It, Stephen King writes to his children, “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.” He’s right. The magic is there, waiting to be found, if only you’re willing to search for it. We all write lies and hope some universal truth is hidden inside, but what about the magic? Now, I know my fellow pop fiction writers are sitting there thinking “we write about magic every day.” But there’s a difference between writing about spells or wands or potions, and knowing that real magic exists.

In May of 2012, I received my B.A. in English. I had switched away from psychology, from my plan, and majored in English. What the hell was I supposed to do with my life? That was when my adviser planted the seed that would lead me to my own magical path. He introduced me to low-residency MFAs.

I fully admit I had no intention of ending up at Stonecoast, but then Robin called. She made me feel wanted, like I could actually be a part of this family, because that’s what we are. A family. In other words, she uncorked the magic bottled up inside me and it started trickling over the edge. This first encounter with Stonecoast was followed by approximately 30 e-mails and phone calls from faculty and students (now, realize that this was over a period of maybe two weeks). Needless to say, I was a little (okay a lot) creeped out. It was like some cult was out to get me to join. The funny thing is, I was entirely okay with that. If you know my writing, you know I’m no stranger to the creepy and disturbing, so their tactics worked. I became part of this weird cult/family/tribe known as Stonecoast. And yes, I have heard it described as all of those things.

The point is, Stonecoast took someone whose mantra had always been “get in, get the degree, and get out” and turned her into someone who desperately searched for ways to extend her time here. Granted, I never found a way to stay and two years was much too short (just ask any one of us), but if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. I found friends here, I found myself among the voices in my head, but most of all, I found that magic is real. Stonecoast is my Hogwarts. A sentiment shared by many of us.

So, this is for everyone here, but especially my fellow graduates: find your magic. If you haven’t found it yet, trust me when I say you will. When it hits you, because it will be that metaphorical ton of bricks, don’t ignore it. As you venture back out into that big, scary world, be open to the magic it offers. And remember, we each carry a tiny satchel of never-ending seeds. Do your best to plant those in everyone you meet, so that they can find their magic, too.

Thank you.