Monday, July 14, 2008

Gum On The Bottom Of My Shoe

I’ve recently rejoined the work force. No way, no how was I ever going to dust off my degree and return to my old life as an Interior Designer. Uh, uh. The last thing I need in my life as I nurture two rambunctious teenagers, a passel of mismatched dogs and a bookful of characters who refuse to cooperate, is a job that extends beyond the bounds of 8 to 5 with irritating meetings and revisions that stick in my mind like gum on the bottom of my shoe.

So, instead, I accepted a job as an administrative assistant in our local Extension Office serving the 4-H community at large. No stress, no outrageous responsibilities – just the ordinary workings of your average, every day secretary. You’d think having been an organizational leader of a 4-H club for 10 years would have prepared me for this adventure, right? Okay, so I manage fine with the common garden-variety enrollment forms and procedures, but nothing equipped me for the details, most minor, some very major, that continue to explode around me. . .

. . .much like writing a novel -- you knew I’d work this in somewhere, didn’t you?

For most of us, the love of writing sprouted from the love of reading. How many of us haven’t at one time or another uttered the infamous words, "I can write better than this!!"

And thus we have the birth of an author.

My mundane admin asst position with limitless rules and regulations mirrors the clandestine twists and turns we take as we craft our book. Let’s skip past the obvious elements of simple character, plot and ending and dig deeper into our craft -- isn’t that what we’re always being told?? I’m talking about unearthing some good stuff here, you know what I mean?

Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, yada yada, and live happily ever after. Yup, that’s the way I saw it, and years ago, that’s the way I wrote it. This is afterall, a romance.

And I’ll have you know, my mother loved my writing.

But the rest of the world didn’t. Boring, predictable, cliche. Now, that wasn’t the feedback I got from my crit partners. When I used to go out on Critique Night, my husband and kids would lay wager whether I’d come home with any hide left on my bones or not. No, these short, concise evaluations came from contest judges. And my response?? Pffft, what do they know?? Well, pretty soon, I began to dread paying the $10 - $15 entry fees -- don’t snicker! Yes, I’ve been writing since postage was a minor irritant on my tomb-worthy Priority Mail envelopes -- only to expect similar comments, especially when I’d wait up all night waiting for the coordinator to call to tell me I was a finalist. After a loooong while, I talked myself into looking at a change or two offered by some sympathetic judge whose sincerity twiddled through the pages.

Hmm, dark moment? Give them a situation that looks impossible then have them overcome?? Make’um laugh, make’um cry, make’um wait??? This was when reason began to war with instinct.

I’ll never survive this.
This is a book! People expect larger than life.
But I don’t like fighting.
You’re not the one fighting.
No, but my children are and I don’t like ugliness.
It’s gotta get good and ugly before you can clean it up and win the reader with the happy ending.
It hurts!
It’s memorable!
I want to cry.
That’s great!

And in those tears sits the truth. Writing is hard work. We go against everything rational and safe in our sense of survival to give our readers a ride they’ll never forget. We devour movies and sitcoms looking for clever twists to life; we walk through fields of flowers or beside highways of heavy traffic to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes; we write and re-write until our eyes cross and our finished product doesn’t resemble the original idea in the least.

Ah yes, those irritating traits we now possess that make quirky situations stick in our minds like gum on the bottom of our shoes.


I was less than a six-month tenured employee when the task of preparing all the necessary files for the office-wide Affirmative Action audit was thrust into my lap. I recognized the Black Moment of my otherwise happy job yawning before me. Fight or run? Sink or swim? Do or die?

It’s okay for those frantic thoughts to run through our minds and it’s perfectly alright for them to race through your hero/heroine’s mind, too. Being honest with ourselves puts us higher up on the food chain. God gave us the ability to reason through our problems, and God gave us the desire to encourage one another to be our best. God loves us enough to never give us more than we can swallow.

Go and download the score sheet of a contest you respect. Look at the elements the judges are to consider. Do you have them incorporated in your story? Be honest now, okay? Does your dialogue so natural? Are you using all five senses? Have you sprinkled in enough, or too many, commas?

How badly do you want to enter the Rita? Participate in a booksigning? Be recognized as XXX’s lead author?

See the truth, face your fears, and stifle your impatience. God has good things planned for us.
Oh, and BTW, here it is, a year later, and I’ve been gifted with a new office chair and two lateral files of my own. Next year, I’m hoping for an electric stapler and keys to the postage machine.

May God’s blessings fill you abundantly!!


Samara Leigh said...

Great post, Audra!

I often getting bogged down in the "hard work" of writing. Suddenly I am distracted by other things and the next thing I know, it's been several weeks since last I touched my writing project.

Thanks for the reminder that anything we want to succeed in requires that we rise to the challenge. As an AA I faced much harder challenges every single day. So why wouldn't I put the same effort into my own project?

Lynn Romaine said...

Thanks, Andra.- It's so easy to believe our stories about life - not enough time, feeling bad, other people own my time (and monery) - not that they're not true, but rather how can we go for what we love and tell the truth about our lives? I see I've used being in pain, post-surgery, to justify not working on my MS. Recently I realized I was getting something from that little saga (true as it was) and could write in the face of the pain; i.e. use the pain to further my story. Oddly enough, now my pain is going away and I'm finding other things to distract me - but I won't let them consume me - thanks for your blog words -
lynn romaine

Donnell said...

Wow, Samara, you're an inspiration! Way to put things in perspective. Audra, you have such an amazing voice. I hope you get your electronic stapler. Maybe I can borrow it some time :) As always, you leave me thinking (and that in itself takes some effort ;)

Audra Harders said...

Thanks for the kind words, Samara! Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one afflicted with doubts. Silly, I know. But logic isn't always the topmost emotion, especially for writers : )
Good for you!

Audra Harders said...

I think you have the upper hand, Lynn! Me whining about having to support a day job compares little to pain and surgery! I'm glad to hear you're recovering and back on the road to writing. Distractions are nasty little elements, aren't them? Especially since I have such a de-railable personality : )

Thanks for your words of strength!

Audra Harders said...

Ha, you're funny, Donnell : ) I'm happy to share any office equipment I have : ) And you know, thinking is always a good thing, LOL.

Misty Evans said...

I can relate to your story, Audra. I stopped entering contests after my first try went down in flames. However, with time, a lot of writing classes, and agent critiques, the writer in me morphed and became stronger. This year I entered a contest and won. As writers, there are many bullets to dodge and potholes to step over, but the work gets in our blood. Nothing can compare with that passion!

Audra Harders said...

Thanks for commenting, Misty! You know you're just not going to make it in this industry if you have a thin skin. Pretty tough to have your heart ripped out then come back for more -- voluntarily. I'm proud of you for not giving up and your persistence paid off. Atta girl!! I agree with you wholeheartedly--nothing compares with that passion!

Leslie Ann said...

De-railable? Now that's a great word. And don't you dare get an electric stapler before me!

Seriously, it's so easy to be/get de-railed. With my new work schedule, everything gets in the way of my writing. I used to write in the morning, now I work every morning, blah, blah blah.

As I type, I'm talking sternly to myself and reminding 'lil ole me what my passion is....writing. I know I miss I gotta sit down and get to work....right after I post this.

KL Grady said...

Awesome post as usual, chica.

Persistence definitely pays off - like Misty, I stopped entering contests after some terrible feedback. I took time to read a lot, really get to know the craft, and try to push myself in new directions. In coming back to contests, I'm two for two on finaling. Woot!

I also agree that when you work hard, God notices and rewards you, though the resulting reward probably means even more challenges and hard work.

Leslie Ann said...

KL, I love that thought, that the resulting rewards probably mean even more challenges and hard work.


Audra Harders said...

Hi Les and KL! As writers, don't we just wallow in persistance, hee! My attention to the story may ebb and flow, but my passion for writing never dies -- yes, I turn purple toward the end of the day : )

You guys are doing so well in contests lately, you're true inspiration!

Mary Marvella said...

Excellent! My daughter was a 4 H leader and the "4 H lady" who went into schools during her college years. She even interned in DC with the national council. Even I knew working with them was a big job.

I taught school for 15 years and wouldn't tackle the jobs she did, or the one you did.