Write Like a Champ

rocky 2

You may wonder why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month. Well, dear Reader, I was wondering the same damn thing, so here we are. I’ve been screwing around with that book, the one mentioned in my previous post more than a month ago.

The truth of it is that the first draft, which I thought kicked my ass plenty, was just the start of it. The second draft is harder because I have to keep the good stuff, get rid of the bad stuff and add new stuff to fill in the gaps. I’ve decided that the wish to be a writer is like having a mental illness; you don’t choose it, it manifests at inconvenient times and never shows itself when you need it to.

I decided that the stages of writing a novel really do follow the Rocky franchise, and I’m about to tell you how.

During the first draft, I was slumming. I hadn’t written in a while, and when I did I sent stuff to small-time gilt edged literary journals with a pay entry for competitions. I don’t write for the love of it alone, it’s more like a driving madness. Suddenly, perhaps it’s in a turn of phrase I overheard at the Olive Garden or the galactic shock of Michael Jackson’s death, but I have an opening line for something more substantial than a haiku. I think I’ve got a shot at a best selling title and I sincerely want to go the distance.

That’s the heart of the first draft – I want to finish it. I (pretend like I’m gonna) wake up early or stay up (really) late but I attend to it with the same care that Rocky drank those gross raw eggs. Going ten rounds with Apollo Creed is not unlike how I felt when the first draft was finally done. I felt kinda punchy but I made it.

The synopsis of Rocky II is that Rocky and Apollo fight again, then become friends. This is the stage where I went back and read my book like a regular reader from start to finish. Sure I made notes, but I didn’t make many changes. I noticed discrepancies and added commas where necessary. There were secrets kept from me in the first draft that are apparent to me now as I read thru. Characters developed during the writing and I can see them more clearly. I did get lazy in writing discipline while I let the manuscript rest, so I had to go back into training so I could make it another ten rounds. Training includes deep breathing, reading good writing and turning Netflix off. It also helps to write everyday, even if its long-hand

In Rocky III the tables are turned. The Stallion is now in the position Creed held in Rocky I. Clubber Lang is thirsty like Balboa was back in the day. After I made friends with my novel during the re-write I started to feel like I could be a real writer, one with a career and not just a notebook in my purse and a desperate look in my eye. I felt over-confident from my many triumphant wins during the read through, like witticisms I forgot I wrote or off the charts shenanigans that are brilliant. Rocky III takes me down a few notches, when the notes I made during the reading have to be instituted. This is the cutting room floor, y’all. The re-write beat me down. This is where I am now. I pity the fool!

Rocky IV is perhaps my favorite. Though I’ve seen this installment more than the others, I am far from its equivalent in my writing career. This is where I imagine dealing with the publishing industry. The cold, hard tundra of business and negotiations on behalf of something that could’ve taken eight or so years to write. I can clearly see the tiny Balboa looking up at that giant blond Russian played by Dolph Lundgren. That is how I feel about this stage of my career. When the agents and editors say, “I must break you” I mustn’t let them.

Rocky V is the one I pretend didn’t get made. This is the equivalent of what should end up on the cutting room floor; where the files of bad ideas, false starts and sketchy backstories I might think of resurrecting later for a sequel land. I suggest skipping this stage, and this movie, and go straight to Rocky Balboa.

This installment of the Rocky franchise came later. I saw Balboa in the theater with my grandmother. When Rocky I came out in 1976 I wasn’t born yet. Rocky Balboa shows a much older Rocky back on the old block. He owns a restaurant now, he’s a mostly happy widow with a jerky hitch in his step like he could walk into a hay-maker on his way out of the kitchen. We can still see The Italian Stallion in this old guy, we know he’s in there. Writers have that same stalwart psyche; it’s part of who we are, and if properly provoked we’ll come directly out of retirement swinging wildly. This is where I admit that I’ve considered giving it up, the angst and uncertainty of a writing life is so not glamorous, but sometimes you’ve just got to show ’em what you’re made of.

Creed, the most recent installment had me like….. hold on, I need a minute.

Apollo’s son shows up on Rocky’s door hoping the champ will train him. Rocky is old, y’all, they didn’t even try to make him look good, but he still has that slow brown eyed sincerity. And of course he trains the kid, and this is the stage of writing known as mentorship.

Let me tell you something, right now you don’t want me as your writing mentor. I haven’t done anything but self-published content on a blog I bought and, also, hammer out a few first drafts in typical genres. I also fill notebooks with beautiful handwriting that is as easy to read as classical Sanskrit.

My mentors are Stephen King, who wrote the manual for us would-be authors, On Writing, and Natalie Goldberg because she is so damn consistent about writing for a writer is as necessary as coffee and peanut-butter. It’s part of our well-being. I should add that I’ve never actually met these people, so if you see Stephen King and tell him, “Oh, I read a blog post written by your protege, it was wonderful.” He’ll have no idea what you’re talking about and I’ll probably get a cease and desist order in the mail.

When I’m feeling really lost about the business side of writing I go look at websites for authors I admire. I also read books that create for me what I aspire to give my Readers. Currently Drums of Autumn performs this task for me, but so has The Mists of Avalon, Clan of the Cave Bear and Ann Rice’s The Wolf Gift.

When Apollo’s son went into the ring Rocky was right there by his side, just like Micky was there for him. That’s what a trainer is supposed to do and that’s how mentors work. The thing with Writing is that it’s a job in which the fighter must be in their own corner, which is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. Certainly we have friends who support us, a mentor we rely on, a Teacher we trust. But in the midnight hour, they’re all asleep! Writing is a solitary career, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a worthy one, like anything you put your heart into.

rocky

 

 

 

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Vintage Word

If you have not read Night Circus yet, I suggest you put your tablet down and go buy it. Get yourself a nice paperback copy, it feels nice in the hands. Be sure and clear your calendar, you’re not going to be available for a while. When you’re finished, come on back.

I was so enamored with the book that I looked up the author, who is almost as interesting as her work (would that someone would say that about me one day!) and her website does not disappoint. I am curious about authors who have crossed the rainbow bridge into the world of publishing, and in particular the author of Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Because she is a good person, she has a page on her website for aspiring writers. You see, she was an unknown who was published by cold calling agents and editors (le sigh). I’ll have what she’s having, thankyouverymuch. I figure she knows what she’s talking about, even if she is a fly by the seat of your acrobat leotard kinda girl.

In her post on writing she says that she writes on a program called Scrivener. Well, obviously I need that, too. Right? But I have written on Microsoft Word for so long that it stands to reason it’s best not to waste time teaching old dogs new tricks, or more accurately, a sassy nearly middle aged cat who isn’t interested in learning anything new.

I pecked and searched my way through quite a lot of my first draft before my computer broke. It wasn’t sudden, either. I got to watch it wither and wilt with periodic spasms and death rattles. Damn the machine! I was in a frenzy to save this long drawn out document that may one day be my retirement from all of the jobs (except the ones I love, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess which ones they are).

I go get myself a new computer with no little whining about having to learn a new operating system. The worst part, I think, is getting accustomed to the new keyboard. It never feels just right until all of the sudden it does. When that moment arrives, good luck if you have to change again; old dogs and all.

I saved my stuff online with great displeasure. I am dubious of online storage things. My precious work, the words over which I labored and have not yet brought to conclusion, what if it ends up in the wrong hands? What if it is pirated? What if it is somehow spoiled or abducted by sand fleas and made to perform in small tents?

Then it occurred to me that I have plenty of content I put on the internet on purpose and very few people read it. I can’t drive traffic to my blog, and I’m worried someone is gonna go and pirate something I’ve written? Are they somehow going to go and get famous with work I can’t hock for free? Doubtful.

So, I started writing on a word processing program and I actually finished the first draft. I wasn’t happy about the way the word processing program felt, much like the new keyboard. The program didn’t have formatting up to my nearly professional standards (standards which I only discovered moments before my previous computer ceased its operations). This online writing program felt hollow and I knew it was a short term relationship, not unlike a passionate and combustible love affair.

Today that manuscript and how to proceed has rattled around in my mind. How to enter the next phase of editing? The Apollo phase, I like to call it. My nerves can’t take another moment of this online program, it’s too blank and generic. The obvious answer is to do what Erin Morgenstern did – write on Scrivener.

This program is confusing as hell. I’ve tried to learn it in the past and concluded it must be an operator error. There are sticky notes, cork board applications, there are even little digital push pins where you can hang your ideas and stuff. In the event you, Reader, and I have met in real life you know that I only have so much tolerance for fancy technologically advanced stuff and by my estimation there isn’t much more advanced stuff than digital pushpins and internet cork boards unless we’re talking intergalactic travel, in which case that might be more advanced.

I went running back to Microsoft Word. I’m not sure why I waited for so long. It came pre-installed but not activated on this new PC. Maybe I was trying to be different, technologically advanced or a good protege of Erin Morgenstern. But I just now put Word on my computer; it is offline and pretty much just the same as it was on my old, long lost computer. I swear even my keyboard feels better with my characters dancing around on a familiar word processor, not that my characters dance much. I will tell you that they don’t do too much yoga, either. I add this because folks are sometimes under the impression that I must be writing some sort of treatise on yoga or other advanced spirituality themed work of inspirational aphorisms.

Nope. It’s fiction and it’s ready to get the second draft treatment. I feel like someone should start the Rocky theme song. Ding. Ding.

When Worlds Meet the Moment

After a ten year sabbatical from fight training I returned to the “ring” this evening at Title Boxing, which just opened on Nine Mile Road. The ring is actually a mirror lined room evenly peppered with hundred pound heavy bags like meat carcasses in a freezer (thank you Rocky) with well hidden speakers pumping bass jams into the arena.

Let me tell you, first, that yoga is the only exercise I do – ever. Sometimes I walk but more to get outside than for fitness because I do not walk very fast. I saunter and sometimes take my mala beads or a notebook, inspired by Mary Oliver to do so.

So, for ten years or so I’ve done plenty of yoga poses, flow, sequences and whatnot. In the last four years or so I have deepened my relationship with breath practices and meditation. I have not been running, walking up or down a treadmill or taking Zumba classes. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do all my delicious yoga stuff and also be Billy Badass.

When I went into the gym today I felt a rush of nostalgia infused with adrenaline and the unique feeling I’d forgotten comes from the experience of kicking something’s ass. When we approached the desk a very pleasant lady asked what we usually do for exercise, which was nice given she formed her question with the assumption that we did something. My sister told the lady that I teach yoga, which was nice of her since I didn’t want to brag.

There is a semi-circle of benches wherein the trainer wraps our hands so we don’t get blistered in the gloves. While the bearded former Marine spins the blue wraps across my knuckles there was a surreal moment of different times in my life meeting in one singular moment. This moment, of getting my hands wrapped is not different from unrolling my mat, not different from opening my computer to write.

I did ask him, pro to pro, if this is his only job. I salivated when he said “yes” this is his only job. I could have foregone the class and picked his brain on how to make the fitness industry work in one’s favor. He seemed chatty enough but there were other folks to wrap and he still had to show us where the water fountains and bathrooms are.

When the warm-up began I started to get a little nervous. It all started to come back to me – the jumping jacks, jumping rope, oh mah god the push ups! Damn! This is going to be more than just hitting the bag.

I wonder when I’ll start to sweat and if I’m going to need my little sister to carry me out of there. If this happens, I might regret telling those people where I teach. I would hate to give Uru the reputation of housing weak ass yoga teachers.

Round 1. I love it. I am not sure what my sister thinks but we smile a few times in the mirror after we discover we might live.

Round 2. A combination of jabs and hooks, my favorite. I observe my breathing, accelerated but steady. My face isn’t contorted and my feet feel light. This does not hurt my knees, though I want to kick the bag even though this is not a “kicking the bag” class.

Round 3. Still not dead. In fact, quite alive thankyouverymuch. I catch a glimpse in the mirror and see my shoulders are buff from exertion. Yoga shoulders, I might add. Yoga breathing, I might add. Yoga focus, I might add. Kinda Yoga Badass.

Round 4. I realize my sister signed us up for eight rounds. I realize, also, I do not have speed. I start to remember that speed is where I struggled and failed. My hands are not fast and neither are my feet. But I can get very low for my upper-cut, so there is that.

Round 5. There are sixty seconds between each round in which we do some exercise but also rest. I think about getting water but am afraid because I had noodles kinda close to this class and don’t want to throw up. I still want to kick the bag.

Round 6. I might have kicked the bag. But only a little bit and just with my knee, so everything is okay. My stance is left-handed, so my right foot is forward. I remember that I was left handed when I began writing at an impressively young age and my well-meaning great-grand mother made me use my right hand so that I didn’t grow up to be a witch. She did not manage to effect my boxing stance, probably because she didn’t yet know I had one.

Round 7. Freestyle. I like this because we get to use our own combinations, but still no legs. I might have to go back for a kick boxing class, if my knees can take. Due to a longtime running habit my knees get crunchy when the weather is cold. It is either from the running or I am an old lady, I am not sure.

Round 8. I am SO not an old lady. I did finally get a very small sip of water and I did not throw up. The last round is a bunch of speed series at which I fail miserably. I sort of stand there bopping the bag with my gloves repeatedly.

The cool down is actually abdominal conditioning. No one does abs like Kali Natha Yoga, so this is, if not easy, then not the worst of it. Since I have been practicing Kali Natha yoga with Swami I have the strongest abs. This is all very spiritual and very convenient  when one ends up in a boxing class.

Finally, downward facing dog for some reason. It is awesome. I want to hang out there for many, many breaths but the class is over. The music is still blaring but it would seem strange if I hung out in down dog when everyone wants to leave.

A few things I learned; yoga is also conditioning. I do not know how it works because we do not hop around in yoga class and we certainly do not do jumping jacks, jumping rope or oh mah god the push ups. Okay, so yes push ups but they are very fine yoga push ups which we call “low plank” which makes them somehow more palatable. We do fire breath and I wonder if this isn’t something like cardio conditioning.

You really do have to settle on one thing, whatever that one thing is. For me it was yoga. When I met my Teacher I focused all of my attention and devotion on the practices and techniques that she teaches. I had to let some stuff go because there isn’t enough time in the day for all of the delicious yoga practices and also being Billy Badass.

Incidentally, it’s the devotion that makes the Badass. It’s focus that helps us grow. Daily practice doesn’t hurt, either. And in the future when a yoga student asks about what I do to stay in shape and I tell them that, honestly, all I do is yoga I have a reference to support that yoga is enough.

 

 

n experience to back it up that yoga is enough.