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|This month marks the first anniversary of my wife being diagnosed with the cancer that took her life. Unfortunately, last week hit me real hard: I had no motivation to accomplish anything. Mind you, I went to work like I was supposed to, but I did not want to be there—I didn't want to be anywhere, really. And when I got home, I drowned my sorrows in video games, playing NASCAR hours into the night for a week straight (I owe my body several apologies for forcing it to operate on only a few hours' sleep). |
I loved playing racing games with my wife; she enjoyed watching me slam into walls whenever I (quite often) pushed my car a bit too much. My wife's adorable giggles—even at my own expense—brought such a smile to my face. Fortunately, I recorded many of our game sessions, so I never have to worry about forgetting her sweet voice.
Last Sunday, I resolved to snap myself out of this funk and persevere. I spent a few hours on Monday writing and cleaning up the place. And then I wrote this. So I guess I'm back (for now—grief tends to come in waves).
|I cannot bring myself to enter the Walmart I frequented for the past few years. My late wife and I shopped there quite often. We usually waited until 2:00 AM (pre-COVID, of course) to avoid the crowds. She drove the cart, searching for our favorite foods. I’d rub her back before exploring the clothing section for cute pajamas for her. During one particularly harsh snowstorm, she ran out of feminine products. So I braved the blizzard to snag some more. I also got some Lunchables; we had the most absurd romantic candlelight dinner of our lives |
Six months after her passing, it still hurts go to back there. When you lose such a big part of your life, anything that reminds you of her risks raising the mental dam and unleashing the flood of tears. But I wouldn’t trade that for the world—it’s only this painful because I care so much. A lifetime of agony in mourning is a small price to pay for those four wonderful years I had with her. And as the days pass, the painful triggers slowly transform into pleasant reminders of a joyful past.
|“I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them.” |
The first draft doesn’t matter. It never gets published; it never sees the light of day; and if you’re anything like me, your first draft is hot garbage. Yet, that’s what’s so magical about it. You can take your story in whatever stupid direction you want without facing any consequences. The dreaded stream of consciousness is welcome here. For those of us who struggle with showing, the first draft offers the freedom to tell away.
So maybe your first draft resembles a dry outline of loosely connected events. Dull to read and painful to write, the work lacks soul, but even a tell-a-thon that reads like a novel’s Wikipedia article of itself has value. It’s a starting point. Don’t give up on a first draft because it’s trash. Refine it. Rework it. Rewrite it. Your first drafts may seem like lumps of coal, but through the pressures of the editing process, they become diamonds. After all, you can’t put the pieces of the puzzle together until you first put the pieces on the table.
Or maybe the first draft is beyond salvation. That’s okay, too. Perhaps later you can import some of it into a different story. And if you never touch it again, at least you know to avoid that path.
[Insert Thomas Edison quote here.]
|“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” |
I used to pride myself in overcoming any obstacle life throws at me by myself. But last year taught me I can’t do everything on my own (if I could, I’d be the president by now). Yes, I’ve been betrayed before, but I’ve also been rescued.
I spent the latter half of last year watching my wife die of cancer. A week before Christmas, I received the dreaded phone call. My body suppressed my mind’s ability to render any emotion. I drove to the hospital unable to feel. After an hour of post-death planning, I returned to what used to be a home. I felt numb, although I knew I would eventually spiral into a crippling depression that would hold me down and stop me from living my life. Before I let that happen, however, I e-mailed/texted an assortment of friends and co-workers to let them know what happened. I feared I wouldn’t have had the strength to do that later.
The next morning, people blew up my phone to help me pick up the pieces of my shattered life. One friend even spent several hours on the phone with me. Granted, the next several months were rough, and I still haven’t fully recovered. But had I gone it alone, I probably would be unemployed right now.
On that first day without my late wife, I may have been by myself in that apartment, but I was not alone. That’s why I’m still standing.
|"Worldbuilding: giving my characters a crucible in which to form." |
I love video games with deep storylines and grand settings. Half the fun of playing these games comes from exploring their expansive landscapes and meeting the wacky characters who populate it. I even read the mission text in these games and study the fan wikis to learn as much as I can about these places.
When writing novels, I look forward to worldbuilding—populating my universe with my creations who follow my rules. I overcome my "first draft" struggles by first drafting the world: design a few characters, give them personalities, assign them goals, and let them have at it. The plot practically writes itself when I know precisely what the heroes and villains want. I need only think of a goal, stitch some obstacles together, and imagine how the characters would overcome them.
A lot of work goes into designing entire settings and populations, though, and I need to do this before I can write a first draft—hence why my word count stays at zero for quite some time. But once I'm ready, I hardly need to think. Sure, it's a stream of consciousness, but it's more focused.
|“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” |
Last year, I lost my wife of nearly three years after a five-month battle with cancer didn't go our way. The grief continues to strike hard—at any time and without warning—and always will. It invades my mind, corrupts my thoughts, and conquers my body until I'm left with a sinking feeling that, at times, literally brought me to my knees. In that state, I can do nothing but stare blankly ahead, running on autopilot, until my mind regains control of itself.
Yet, I know where to seek refuge. My late wife and I played a tabletop RPG together, where we developed several characters and expanded the pre-designed world beyond the four corners of the book. I decided a few weeks ago to jump back into this world and turn these characters' stories into full-length novels, starting with the cutest one (my wife loved all things cute). When I'm writing, I suppress the enemy within. As master of this world, I accompany these characters on their adventures. Through them, my wife lives once more.
Of course, I can only spend so much time there before I have to return to reality. But writing refreshes my aching soul and ensures my wife's memory lives on. I think she'd like that.
|"You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head." |
In writing anything, the first draft poses the greatest challenge for me. I understand the appeal of a blank canvas—a vacant world waiting for an artist to populate it. But for me, I see that blinking cursor, parked in its familiar position at the top left of the document, and I know it’s taunting me. As I struggle to free my ideas from the prison in my mind, the cursor enjoys its Winter wonderland of a blank page.
Yet, once I get some content on the page (no matter how good or bad, but usually bad), then the fun begins. Perhaps because logic and reason drive me, I love rewriting. I can finally start putting the puzzle pieces together. Once I have a draft, I meticulously examine every word—striking and changing, adding and emphasizing—and fine-tune my work until I run out of things to change (I know I'm done rewriting when I reach the point where I'm mostly undoing changes I made during the previous draft).
I have more fun editing a novel than writing one. In fact, I met a writer on this site and published her first novel. We worked well together: she wrote and I rewrote. Going through so many drafts, I felt like I knew more about her characters than I did about my own family. That's when you know you have something special on your hands.
|"To do nothing is the way to be nothing." |
Content creation grants me an escape from life's innumerable stressors. Seeing my work come to fruition fills me with peace, even if few people ever view it. But for each of the many ideas in my head, there's a voice telling me to give up, because nobody will ever view it. So I explain - i.e., rationalize - to myself, "you need to build a following before you start a series." However, I have yet to answer the fundamental question, "how can you build a following if you give people nothing to follow?"
My ideas need to breathe; by trapping them in my brain, never to see the light of day, I suffocate them. Abandoned by my own insecurities, they cry for the sweet release of initiative. I owe them as much. Or maybe my ideas suck, but I'll never know until I give them a fair shot to show the world what they've got. And if it doesn't work, I'll regroup and try again. Even Michael Jordan failed initially: he didn't make his high school varsity team on his first attempt.
|"A late game is only late until it ships. A bad game is bad until the end of time." |
My friend cranks out word counts like nobody's business. The stories seem to flow effortlessly from his mind to the keyboard. My writing process, meanwhile, leaves me trapped in purgatory. Before I start writing, I outline the entire book. Then comes the carousel of minor edits leading to plot inconsistencies leading to more edits, until my outline becomes a different creature altogether. About ten rewrites later, I scan my outline (yet again) and create profiles of major characters—each profile getting its own set of rewrites. Next, I sketch drawings of the world and principal locations we'll be visiting (eventually) in my never-starting story. By this point, my friend reaches six-figure word counts, while I’m stuck in the planning phase. But I learned about an author who spent ten years writing a single book, because she wanted it to be perfect. I aspire to demand such dedication of myself: preferring to write one great book instead of five acceptable books. So if I need an obscene amount of time to finish—or start—my book, that's okay. It's only late until it's done, but if it's bad, it's bad forever.
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