Kati Felix

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March 2018 Update

 

You know the quote that says “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

It’s a Robert Burns quote, and even though the Scots language can be difficult to piece through, the meaning is clear. We all plan, but sometimes those plans don’t work out. Right now, I feel like my plans got set on fire, stomped on, and then left in a pungent pile of steaming refuse.

In August, I shared a little bit about the process of writing my UF novel and how to push through when the inspiration isn’t there. It’s a lesson I seem to have forgotten. I just had to count on my fingers to see how many months it’s been since I finished my novel, and how many months since I’ve even opened the document. The result was 7. That seems like a while, doesn’t it?

Not all of these 7 months were fruitless. The most important task I needed to accomplish turned out to be both the easiest and most challenging.  The easy part came first. In September, I cast my net for feedback from my beta readers, and received so many incredible responses. From that feedback, I was able to compile a list of editing tasks. But guys…as much as I was all gung-ho back in August, by October I was burnt out. Six years to work on the same project, bleeding the words onto the paper and then concluding that you have to bleed some more?

The feedback I received was fabulous, and constructive, but some of it was hard to swallow, if I’m being honest. We’re always our own worst critics, until we aren’t. When faced with some of my weak spots, I felt just a teensy bit defeated and uninspired. My creativity dried up. I began to doubt my ability, my choice of genre, and even my desire to be a writer. That self-doubt paralyzed me. Every time I opened my master document of my novel, I hated every word. I wanted to burn it, delete it entirely, and start again.

Thankfully, I had a few amazing friends (shout out to Taryn, especially!) remind me that it was ok not to write. I didn’t have to edit my novel right then. I didn’t have to write anything. I didn’t even have to open the document if I didn’t want to. It would still be there. My work would wait for me to be ready. And it was ok to not be ready for as long as it took.

My brain had a little trouble wrapping itself around this concept. I am such a perfectionist, and such a do-er (my sisters would call me an overachiever) that I forget to let myself and my work just be. I convince myself I am not doing enough, or I am not doing well enough. The merry-go-round in my brain just can’t let it rest. I’m either a terrible writer or I’m not giving my best. That kind of self-condemnation is destructive. And paralyzing. 

And since I’m being rather transparent, that thinking pattern extends to my parenting, my housekeeping, and pretty much every sphere of my life. Perfectionism backs me into a corner and beats me over the head with my perceived failures, making me simultaneously hate my writing and myself.

It’s a daily battle to remind myself that I am enough, I am doing enough, and that it is ok to rest.

A lot of writing advice recommends letting a manuscript rest for a while before you pick it up to start editing. So in the spirit of making healthy choices for myself and my writing, I decided to just stop altogether. Self-care takes on many faces these days.

So, with the decision to put writing on the backburner, I turned my attention back toward more important issues within my family.

We spent the entire month of December in England, enjoying Christmas and the New Year with family. January saw us back home, under the weather with strep throat, and then February seemed eternal, with never-ending colds. March has dawned with an invigorated sense of optimism. We’ve begun choosing paint to redecorate our living room, and I’m buzzing with ideas.

We also just finished up a period of sub-zero temperatures here in Zurich. The sun is finally starting to peek out of the oppressive cloud-cover, and Spring feels just around the corner. With that shift in energy, I feel a shift within myself.

Just like the peeking sun, and the fragile snowdrops pushing their blooms through the ice, my creativity seems to feel the thaw. I’ve posted poems recently  – here and here – in an effort to flex those lax muscles. I even won a small award for a poem, which you can read here.

It feels good to work, even if it’s not my big projects. Motivation and inspiration are still a wee bit sleepy, but I’m confident. With this new lesson of extending grace to myself, I hope to have made the first steps in editing by next month.

 

Until my next update,

Take care, and remember to have grace for yourselves.

Success in Writing and Progress Report – August 2017

Near the end of 2011, I sat down and sketched out my first rough idea for an urban fantasy novel. And as I enthusiastically brainstormed and developed ideas, a bitter voice in my head told me to stop, to give up, to throw the towel in and relinquish the dream of being a writer. “Better to give up than be known as a bad writer,” it told me.

That small voice has been present from that day until the day I wrote the final word in my first novel. Three days ago, at 11 pm, I closed my google document and sat back in my office chair in complete disbelief. I’d done it. I’d finally finished my very first complete novel. And I told that small voice to suck it.

In another post, I will describe the six-year-long path I walked to reach the last page. But in this post, I want to focus on the present.

 

 

I began and abandoned dozens of stories over the fifteen years since I began writing. These stories range in genre from historical fiction, to urban fantasy, to romance, and even to fan fiction. After handfuls of chapters, or even just paragraphs, I’d hit a wall and quit, or lose interest and begin another story. I gave up on project after project. And for a very long time, I felt like a failure. I still do, on bad days. The question that runs through my head after every failed short story or work is perhaps a question every writer has after an uncompleted project:

  “How can I call myself a writer if I can’t even finish anything?”

Success can take on many different meanings to a writer. This is especially true if you’re a writer of fiction. For many, the ultimate goal in its simplest form is to finish the project, and then publish it. And if you don’t finish a project, it’s very tempting to call yourself a failure. And even if you do finish something, even if it’s as short as a haiku or as long as an epic fantasy, the inability to publish it can haunt you and create a hell of a lot of self-doubt.

Success for me meant never giving up. Even when depression or circumstances told me that I would never finish, that my novel was too broken, too cliche, too boring, or whatever lies the voice in my head decided to tell me any given day. Success meant that I sat down to write when I didn’t feel like it, and that was a lot of the time.

Success looked like marathon sprints over the course of a few hours, and it looked like one sentence in a month. It also looked like no words at all for months at a time.

I think the true success doesn’t look like the end result, or the achievement of publishing. Through this process of writing and sticking with this novel, through all the structure changes and plot refurbishment, all the character development, all the technology failures and loss of whole chapters, all the rewrites and editing, I learned that the true success is just showing up to the process again and again.

Let the creativity carry you. Let the frustration buoy you instead of lie to you. Sit down again and again and again. Type a word, delete it, come back another day. Just don’t quit.

You don’t have to write every day. You just have to write. That’s real. That’s truth. That’s success.

 

Next Steps:

 

Now that my Second Draft is more or less in working order, my next step is to go through a rough edit of the entire thing. I’ve never really figured out my large editing process, so this will be a fun period to get to know that part of myself. I enjoy editing, on a chapter-by-chapter scale, so editing the whole monster should be just that, but bigger, right? Right?!

Once I’ve gone through and made sure everything follows my plot structure the way I want it to, and I’ve managed not to obsess too much over little details, I’ll be searching for an agent. I’d like to see if I can find a professional editor, but that particular detail is kind of scary. And kind of expensive. So I’ll see if I can find an agent, and if by some miracle I do find one, we’ll see if they point me to an editor. This is going to be a long process, and I will share every step with you. I hope you’ll all come with me!

 

 

Tea for Two

 

My mother taught me about tea when I was young. How chamomile soothes. How herbals heal. How black tea warms a body up from the weary bones to the stretched-out skin.

The first time I drank a mug of tea, if I remember correctly, I was ten, in the fifth grade. It was perhaps 11 o’clock in the evening, or maybe later. I would stay up late reading most nights, even though my teachers complained I fell asleep in class, or had read every book in their classrooms before midterm. But I ignored their displeasure, and so did my mother, for the most part. I usually had my work and homework finished or turned in before most kids had even packed up their school books or gathered their lunch boxes.

This evening, I had no book to read. I’d finished every single one I owned, and rereading my old favorite – Charlotte’s Web, by E.B White – sounded less than stimulating. I couldn’t sleep. The kids at school teased me often for being a teacher’s pet, or being too smart, or being a loner. I let this nonsense slide off my back during the day, but at night their words would creep in under my door and whisper to me, floating like dustmotes caught in the beam of my flashlight.

I picked at a hole in the plastic tablecloth in the kitchen of my childhood home and complained my mom about the other kids. During evenings like this, she’d advise me to ignore them, or talk to a teacher, or even just make friends instead of spending my recess time in a nook in the school library. I would nod and agree, even while I knew I couldn’t do that. Mice don’t make friends with the big, loud cats. They get eaten by them.

Still, it reassured me that she wanted to help. Other issues in our lives were not so easily bonded over, or repaired. This particular evening, however, her usual reassurances fell on deaf ears. I switched from picking at the hole to scratching the various mosquito bites on my arms. My mother saw my anxiety, tilted her head, and sighed.

 

“What you need, my reader, is tea.”

 

She meant, of course, Sleepytime Tea, from Celestial Seasonings. I’d watched her make it for herself often enough. First, she’d boil a saucepan of water, and then pour the hot liquid into one of the hundreds of mugs she and my dad collected. Then she’d get a stool and place it in front of the refrigerator. Her tea boxes lived in a wicker basket up there.

She would plop the little filter bag into the water, and soon the herbal bouquet of chamomile, spearmint, and lemongrass would rise with the steam. She took hers with milk, and so this evening I also took it that way.

We sat together at the table, each with our own mugs, sipping and talking about nothing. I went to bed soon after, with a warm belly and a warm heart to match. From that evening onward, if I ever had a bad day at school, or life at home became a little too tough for my sensitive heart, my mom and I would share a cup of tea late at night. Eventually my sisters would join is, one after the other, though never all together, and never regularly.

 

 

Years passed, and I grew up, got married, moved overseas. In a country where I didn’t speak the language and had no friends, I missed my mother, and how she reassured me that it didn’t matter if I was abnormal.

She confessed recently to me that, back then, she’d actually had no hope of me ever fitting in, or making friends. She despaired of me ever being a “normal” child. And, to my own surprise, this pleased me greatly. I have long held pride in being abnormal, or odd.

I think, as children, we find our identities however we can. Some of us take our identities from the people we surround ourselves with. Some of us find identity in rebellion. And some of us savor our solitude. I took comfort from being left alone with my books, and my papers, and my journals. It was the only peace I found in a motley six-person family of adopted special-needs children.

Often, teen years can be characterized by rifts between girls and their mothers, and perhaps the same could be true of us. But tea proved to be one of our bridges back to one another. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, or what fight, when one of us suggested tea, the other would never refuse. Recently, gin has insinuated itself into our lives. Usually accompanied by a binge session of Outlander. We watch it for the landscape, of course. Definitely not for the kilted men.  

The power of tea has followed me into adulthood, burgeoning into a love of coffee and cafes. I worked as a Barista for several years in my early twenties, and co-managed a cafe overseas for a year before I became a mother myself.

If tea has followed me, then so has the penchant for owning numerous and myriad mugs. I jump from one style to another often, never using the same mug. Although recently I’ve been collecting hand-made stoneware. I find them appealing to my rustic and old-fashioned interest in medieval history. I recently shared this with my mother on a trip back to Texas. “I got this habit from you,” I’d told her, but she only smiled and reminded me again I left two shelves of tea when I moved overseas six years ago.

I haven’t forgotten. My home boasts three shelves full of a variety of tea. Assai, green, chai, spearmint and lemongrass, earl grey, and so on. It’s almost unhealthy, if it weren’t so nourishing for my soul. I can’t pass up a tea shop while I’m out shopping. I’ll overpay for a sub-par green tea from a paper cup at a cafe. It’s more than an antidepressant, or a nostalgic salve. Perhaps I collect teas and mugs as a way to feel connected to my mother, despite the ocean between us.

Tea fixes everything. This has become a mantra in my life, and is something I repeat often to friends. My son is growing up with a mother who often has a mug of tea in her hand, and a book in the other. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I still drink Sleepytime. Only now I drink it with honey; my mother still drinks hers with milk. And if we’re in the same place for just a while, digitally or physically, we smile, sip our fragrant favorites, and talk of nothing.

Finding a Way to Make Your Soul Sing

This is a guest post I made for The Stay at Home Something, a blog written and curated by my good friend Brooke Gale Louvier. In it, I detail the struggle of being both a mom and writer. Often, it’s a dark and difficult path. But sometimes, once in a while, there are days when my soul sings.

Image credits go to Brooke.

 

Finding a Way to Make Your Soul Sing

When you’re young, it seems that the whole world is full of adventure and promise. If you’re a writer or an artist, you seek to capture that wonder and possess it for yourself. Perhaps as an escape from the darkness in the world, or just for the ability to experience and share something beautiful every day. You’re a person who creates because that’s what makes your soul sing.

But what do you do when the singing stops and you’re left with silence?

I am a dreamer. Since I was a child I had a vision for my life that I held as the ideal.

When I was four, I wanted to be a paleontologist and discover Jurassic Park for myself. When I was ten, I wanted to be Indiana Jones and travel the world. I wanted to read every novel and story ever written. When I was twelve, I discovered writing. I wanted to create and live the same adventure novels I devoured like they were food and water and my very breath.

Then I grew up a little and wanted to be a missionary. For a girl who grew up in a charismatic church culture, this was the ultimate adventure. Serve God and have adventures? I could be a writer and a missionary! What an awesome idea!

My whole life seemed to be planned out perfectly. Though there were many vague details, I generally knew what I wanted to do. I never struggled with trying to figure out what path I should take in life.

Three years ago, my husband and I went bankrupt while in ministry in England, and had to move to a different country to start all over again. I also suffered a miscarriage. We weren’t planning to have kids for many years, so it was a double shock to us. This was the beginning of my worldview crashing around my ears. Right after the miscarriage and bankruptcy, I had to leave my husband for months to go back to the States to sort out my visa. Soon after I got back to my husband, we got pregnant.

Since I was a young teenager, I have struggled with cycles of situational depression and anxiety. After a year that felt like I was taking hits right and left, followed by an emergency C-Section and postpartum depression, I fell into a dark hole further and deeper than I thought possible. I lost the desire to create, to live, to even get out of bed most days.

My husband and I live in a country where we don’t speak the language, and can’t afford to put our son in a daycare. So I am a full-time stay-at-home-mom. I never expected this to be my life.

How do you find the way to make your soul sing when nothing makes sense?

I would be lying if I said I loved being a mother that first year and a bit. This sounds harsh, but I never believed a writer should conceal their true feelings. I can’t hold that rule for others and not myself. There were so many days when all I wanted to do was leave my son with someone else just so I could sleep or be alone. I felt better with time, though there are still challenging days. I am learning to find the joy in every day.

If every day is a gift, then every moment is meant for discovering the joy of living.

If you’re struggling with depression, with exhaustion, with lack of inspiration, or just plain old lack of motivation, listen. I hear you. I know what it feels like. I know the guilt can eat you alive. I know there are days when all you want to do is crawl back in bed and sleep the day away. I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.

But isn’t that the grandest adventure of them all?

What if the best adventures are not the ones you imagined as a child, but are the ones you live every day?

I encourage you to find a routine that works for you. It takes monumental amounts of courage, but take it one day at a time, one moment of joy at a time. If all you want to do is write one word that inspires you, do it! Who cares if it’s not a whole sentence or a whole page or a whole novel? Give yourself the grace to live. Create your own adventure. Allow your soul to sing again. When you find a way to let a few notes out, over time they build to a symphony.

Letting Loose Your Inner Child

We have all heard the little nuggets of wisdom and read all the articles on how to be a good writer. We’re taught grammar and punctuation in school. We are even taught that good writing looks a certain way, such as Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Steven King, Shakespeare, or all the other great story tellers of grandeur. We are also somehow led to believe that bad writing takes the waif-like, substance-less forms of works like Twilight, self-published ebooks of the dinosaur porn variety, or even mediocre fanfiction.

I contend that if you write down anything at all, even if it’s one stanza of poetry, or a line of dialogue, or even just a single word of passion written down in haste simply because it stirs something inside you – You are a good writer.

Hear me out before you tell me how terrible your writing is, or how much you want to improve. We’ve all been there. We all want to get better.

“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. – Erica Jong

Isn’t this what we’re all afraid of? We’re all so scared of someone else – another writer, perhaps – judging our work and therefore judging us as not good enough.

Of all the writing advice I’ve ever encountered, there is one “rule” that sticks in my mind.

We all have two voices in our heads while we write. The Child and the Critic. They both are useful, if you let them do their job cooperatively.

The Child is the one with all the ideas, the joy, the sheer eagerness to pour your heart and veins onto the page.

The Critic is the one who tells you how to improve and how to edit and how to make it shine.

My Achilles’ Heel is the Critic. My brain is mostly attuned to the editing portion of the writing process, so I am always looking to improve it. But, like so many of us do, I take it too far. Like the Erica Jong quote above, I’ve never finished a work longer than a short story for school because I always got stuck a few chapters in, or right at the beginning of the “good stuff,” or conflict. I found myself hating everything I wrote and thinking it was too juvenile, too unstructured, not clear enough….you get the idea. I still struggle with these thoughts every time I sit down to a blank page.

Let me give you a bit of background:

The earliest I remember wanting to be an author was 7th grade. I was in a very small private school in the inner city. To improve the tiny arts program we had, the school introduced a creative writing teacher. He held all of two classes. I don’t remember much about what he taught before he left, but I do know that it made an impression to my barely-thirteen year old self.

A few weeks later, the school introduced a journalist. I knew him previously, he was a member of my church. I wrote a short story based on a dream that I had for an assignment and showed it to him. He showed me where I could improve and told me to bring it back to him when I’d rewritten it.

These two teachers encouraged me to see writing as something realistic, something I could do, something I had a talent for.

 I still have that story, in an old composition notebook. Later, I realized that my dream was based off a book I’d already read, so I’m glad I never showed that to anyone else. God forbid that a young girl plagiarize another author’s work!

As a teenager, I wrote Lord of the Rings fanfiction and dark poetry. My life was a turbulent wreck at that point, so these things were my escape. As I got older, my heart warmed up to the idea that this was my calling; this is what I was meant to do. although my mind continually pointed me in other directions.

So, back to my point. I took a Writing Class in East Texas in early 2010. I wrote more in that three-month period than I ever had up to that point. Every week, I was turning out work that I hated. Consistently. There was maybe one story that I didn’t want to rip up and burn. After that class, I was so burnt out that I didn’t put a pen to paper or finger to keyboard for a year. Aside from school assignments, the writer in me just didn’t think she “had it” anymore.

Everything I wrote seemed terrible, overthought, contrived, and immature.

But then I took a few classes in community college and I got a small measure of confidence back. I had a teacher who thought I had talent and asked me to be an editor for the campus magazine. While that didn’t pan out, it did renew in me the sense that this is something I could do for a career, or at least as a serious hobby.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”  – Louis L’Amour

The Child portion of my writing does not like to come out and play too often. She is cautious, wanting to stay within the boundaries, always looking to the Critic to police her actions. And the Critic, too often, steps in to make sure everything is “as it should be.”

The last three years, I have worked on an urban fantasy novel. I am always embarrassed to tell people the genre because it’s “too nerdy,” and not serious enough. But I am proud to say I haven’t stopped working on it yet. Sure, I’ve gone months without touching it, but then I’ll come back to it and write ten pages before I get stuck for another three months. The first 10 chapters are absolute crap, but I won’t edit them until the whole damn thing is finished. When that will be, I have no idea. Sometimes it’s better to just tell the whole story, and then go back and fix it.

This is the primary function of the Child and the Critic. Let the Child out to play, unhindered. Children need to explore everything, need to see how things work, need to see what is in every nook and cranny.

Write your story, your poem, your essay, your memoir. Let it go where it wants to go. Just get everything out.

And then let the Critic out to polish it up. But always remember to let both of them respect the other.

However, you need to find the process that works for you. If you find you write better when you edit as you go, then do that! But if you find that you hate everything you write, and want to constantly change it, maybe it’s time to reexamine your process and let the Child have fun.

You are a good writer simply because you have the guts to open your veins to the page and bleed out words. Let yourself play. And then, once you have had your fun, let yourself make it shine, without worrying about someone else’s opinion.