Sharpening The Saw (Part I)

St. Jane contributor Kim Norris is a writer based in the New River Valley region of Virginia. This piece was written ahead of the Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference and is the first in a series of reflections on the craft. You can follow her writing at Four Good Ideas and follow her daily thoughts on Twitter.

Kim Norris

I had big writing plans for 2016. I mean, technically, I still do; it’s far too early in the year to concede failure, but my lack of progress frustrates me. I need to finish two first draft novels; each is only three chapters away from completion. I had figured to have Novel Number One completed by now and be well on my way to wrapping up Novel Number Two. Way back in December, I believed this schedule would put me in good shape to finish The One Act Play, which could also now be called My Writing Nemesis, by October – earlier if I could contrive it. I approach year four of working on this sixty-page, forty-minute treatment of events from my own past, re-arranged and re-imagined.

Year. Four.

My inability to finish any of these projects exasperates me. Never mind all the extra blogging I wanted to work into my schedule. Time is making a fool of me again. Spare moments to write are being eaten up by things like needing additional hours of exercise to maintain my current level of fluffy (I call it fluffy. You can call it pudgy if you insist.) and sleeping in on weekends to make up for the rotten nights of insomnia that during the week whittle my energy to the metaphorical dimensions of a standard number two pencil.

These physical changes are immutable; acceptance is my only reasonable option. Last year was supposed to be, for me, The Year of Acceptance, but I didn’t manage that as thoroughly as I had intended to. I still want things I know I will never get to have. Regrets about missed goals, previously unrecognized, have made themselves known to me. Too often, my ugly voice whispers, “Shut up. No one gives a crap what you think. Deal with it.” It’s so hard not to listen.

In the face of this relentless negativity, a younger, less foolish Kim would have thrown in the towel, but here, in The Year of Fifty, as mid-life panic sets in, I find myself determined to meet these goals or die trying. Nothing may come of the effort in the end, but nothing will come of it now if I don’t restock my reserves – “…sharpen my saw…” to quote Stephen Covey. So to that end, I have signed up to do something I have never done before: attend a writer’s conference.

I’m stoked. I am also very nervous.

It’s a regional conference, not a national event, which feels like a good place to start – baby steps. I don’t have far to travel – the venue is less than an hour from my house, and there will be familiar faces: a current friend, two former grad school professors. Knowing this calms me. I get nervous in new situations. The bravado my friends and acquaintances accredit me with is actually a bullshit act I put on so folks won’t know what an insecure, self-conscious wreck I truly am. “Fake it until you become it” – the strategy is surprisingly effective.

Hand to God, though, to sign up for this conference required a firm boot in the ass of my comfort zone. Part of me is still trying to talk myself out of the experience: what if I get lost on the well-marked interstate between home and Hollins University while traveling with someone who has been there before? What if I can’t find a parking space when I get there? What if everyone tells me I am too stupid to write? Why wouldn’t they? I tell myself that all the time.

As I type, in my inner ear a giant nasty, nasally voice (think Ted Cruz, but shriller) is screaming, “This blog post is rubbish! Why are you wasting everyone’s time with this?” I’m ignoring it because, my editor would tell me to knock it off and finish the damn piece. At least I think he would. But to me, the words feel dull, and pulling the sentences out cleanly from the fibrous pulp of my wooden brain has left me exhausted and a touch depressed.

Time for me to sharpen the saw, leave my comfort zone again, and do something for myself as a writer. The friend I am traveling with also happens to be a presenter. I won’t be sitting in on her session, which I am sure will be brilliant. But the topic, increasing blog readership, something Alice de Sturler knows well, is not germane to the goals I am bringing to this conference: finish a novel, finish a novel, finish a one act play. I’ve chosen a track that includes crafting a memoir, writing a character driven story, perfecting them through editing, and selling them to an agent. The final session will be about writer self-sabotage and how to avoid it.

I can definitely use a refresher course in that.

This is part of our series on the Roanoke Regional Writer's ConferenceRead the conclusion to Kim's experience here.