14 June 2015

#SparkNA: Choosing to be Brave

Two weeks before the #SparkNA deadline, I shook my head and told my husband, “This isn’t working. I’m not going to finish.”

That admission was really disheartening. After all, I already had my final chapter and epilogue fleshed out. The problem was the four chapters that preceded the last. Although they had some scenes written here and there, the thought of weaving them together loomed before me like a herculean task.

I was on the verge of falling into a writing funk and giving up. But my hubby told me, “Remember Nadine.”

Too cryptic to digest? Let me explain.

Eight years ago, I was on the verge of finishing another bookmy dissertation on the architect Leandro Locsin. But three weeks before the deadline, I had a major panic attack. I ran out of the labmy heart racing and my hands clammy. Like a lunatic, I paced up and down the square in front of the engineering building, muttering as I walked.

I was already considering breaking the news to my professor, when I bumped into Nadine, a Filipino sempai (or senior) who was doing her postdoctoral at the same university. When she asked what the matter was, I told her everything—that I couldn't finish my book and that I wouldn't be able to graduate on schedule.

Instead of indulging my little pity party, she asked me if I had all the data and results I needed. I told her that I did. I just needed to string them all together into a coherent narrative.
I’ll never forget what she said to me that day. Behind her thick spectacles, her brow furrowed, “Gaga ka pala e. You know what you have to do, just do it. Go back to the lab and write. Wala nang next year.”
At that time, the ice bucket challenge hadn’t been invented yet, but that's exactly how I felt—like a bucket of cold water had been poured over me. She was right, there wouldn't be a next year for me—unless I was willing to pay for my tuition myself. Considering that a year’s tuition was more than enough to buy a new car (albeit a very modest one), paying was certainly not an option.

So I went back to the lab and got to work. Two weeks later, I finished the first draft of my dissertation—all three hundred and fifty pages of them (Disclaimer: half the pages were filled with pictures, charts, and graphs).

And I’d never have done it if Nadine hadn’t hit me on the head (well, figuratively at least).

Through the years, when I’m on the verge of giving up on something, my hubby would always remind me of Nadine’s words.

Back to the present daywith Nadine’s tough-love pep talk in mind, I sat back down in front of my computer and forged on. 

Back when I had first started writing a month and a half ago, I mostly wrote scenes, settings, and dialogues—anything to reach my target word count for the day. One day I'd be on chapter three and the next day, I'd skip to chapter seventeen. But although I surpassed 20k words, my story was far from complete. I still had a lot of holes to fill. 

I think that having an outline really helped. The outline gave each chapter a goal—how it contributed to the development of my characters and their relationship. It was a step-by-step process—much like building a house. First, you had to make sure the foundation was solid before you erected the skeleton of columns and beams. Then you roofed it over, poured in the concrete for the floors, built the walls, and put in the doors and windows before you moved on to finishing. The outline was my story's blueprint, it's basic foundation and skeleton. Without the outline, I don't think I would have been able to write a completely new novella in only two months.

Also, knowing how the whole story would end was also immensely invaluable. It was like a compass—even though I was panicking, I knew the general direction I was headed.
Six days later, I completed the first draft of my #SparkNA manuscript. My word count was 40,360 words.

But my journey was far from over.

#SparkNA’s theme is being brave. And for me, bravery is a highly personal journey.

Bravery is not only about jumping off a cliff or initiating a big confrontation. It’s the little things—sucking up your fears, learning, accepting, and moving on. It’s about taking a chance and being vulnerable . . . opening up to people . . . and to the joy and pain they bring. Bravery is realizing you were wrong and admitting it. It’s doing something concrete to salvage the situation. It’s doing something—even if you don’t want to—because you have to.

In this case, bravery meant sticking to my writing goals. This meant continuing to write even though I wasn't in the mood to or even if I thought my words were crappy. I wrote on my phone while my kids played. I dictated dialogues onto the Notes app while I folded laundry. I thought of solutions to plot holes while I washed dishes and vacuumed. On weekends or at night when the kids were fast asleep, I edited and revised. I sent copies to my betas for feedback then scrambled to complete the final edits. My final word count was 38,993.

Even at the very end of my #SparkNA journey, my bravery was tested yet again. It took a whole lot of courage to press the SEND button . . . knowing that I was letting a little part of myself go and not knowing where it will lead.

But I chose my path and I am happy I stuck to it until the very end. Because bravery in battle isn’t about waving a sword in the air and shouting expletives—it’s about getting out of bed and fighting the fight. It’s about overcoming the simple things in your everyday life . . . making time and space for something you’ve committed yourself to.

Bravery is a choice. And what makes it so scary is that you have to do it all by yourself.

*crossing my fingers for ALL #SparkNA participants*

P.S. And to honor Nadine and her tough-love tactics, her beloved strawberries get a special mention in my #SparkNA novella. Though to this day, all I really know about her research is that she makes damn good strawberry ice cream after she finishes her sampling. Hahaha!

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Note: #SparkNA is an free online writing class that was sponsored by Anvil Publishing’s Spark Books imprint. The goal of the class was to help authors write and finish a contemporary new adult novella. For more info, check out Facebook or Twitter :-)

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