Courage, Merry, Courage…

2016-10-09-glasses-and-book“There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I sent my story off to be edited this past Friday. I’ve been lingering…avoiding. “If I could just edit it one more time…” was the lie I told myself…for a few months. Three things happened recently that propelled me to attach and click send.

One, I’m watching my children grow up and make their own life choices. I am so proud of their courage. I couldn’t help but wonder, where is my courage? Sure, I’ve been courageous in different ways throughout my days, but it’s this plan of following my dream that has been hibernating. Heck, I even started a new novel so as to not send this current one off to be professionally edited.

Two, I decided to no longer ignore the harsh fact that if my kids are getting older– then so am I. And what the hell am I doing if not aggressively pursuing the dream I put on hold many years ago.

Writing is easy. Editing is easy. Everything is easy as long as it is in the nebulous world of “Why yes, I write stories.” After getting my story back and editing it– then I’m back in the rut of sending queries out to people who “don’t feel the story is right for them.”

But, if I keep answering my own queries this way, why bother getting up in the morning? Sometimes courage, a value I hold dear, is not attacking the dragon that is destroying my village but greeting the daily grind with focus and determination.

“Older and fouler things” manifest themselves in my life and I must take care to beat them back.

Three, this past Friday, my editor showed up at my doorstep with a bottle of wine saying, “Your send button is broken. I am here your story…if you’re ready.” My ray of sunshine showed up, thankfully, and carried away my book, digitally, with promises of “I will be in touch with my plan for your story.”

And now that I’ve sent it off to my editor, I am taking the day to read and sip coffee while life churns on around me and, for the moment, I enjoy being out of my rut after having checked off something rather important on my to do list.

Yay me, yay my editor, and yay my courage.

Older and fouler things: 0 My dream: 1

 

 

After a busy time….away…

green-bookIt’s easy to stay in the writing groove once I’ve set it, but something about a change in life makes creating new routines akin to riding a bucking bronco. Apparently I am not a flexible person. Who knew….but at least now I do and so I’m slowly pulling myself back to my focus.

It’s hard work not dwelling on my bitter disappointment that I avoided my focus when I had the most time to spend on it, but honestly, being productive within large amounts of unstructured time has never been my forte. Still, I feel this defeat as time marches on, but I’m old enough now to mute whispers in my head I should not be listening to anyway.

Teaching is back in session and with it, oddly enough, time. Expectations that appear, demanding attention, during my “summer off” slip away once I can declare I am working…you know…the real job.

So now I am back at my favorite coffee shop, Mudbay Coffee, and writing with my support writer/best friend/task master Liz Shine, and drinking coffee. I am editing. The peace of making my writing stronger is a comfortable sweater, and I click away at my edits. In the back of my mind, there is a feral to-do list letting me know I need to work harder and faster and time is slipping away. Hopefully this time here and now will feed the beast and I can keep returning to this routine I love and move forward in my dreams.

coffee-mudbay

I am more happy than I can say– respecting myself feels pretty damn good.

I hope you are respecting your time as well. Do not beat yourself up for falling away…just return…more determined than before.

You can do this.

Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked

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Fuel for the trained brain: routine and caffeine

Spring Break? Vacation Time? Oh please. If you’re a writer, you’re up and movin’ …and I say this as a confirmed night owl. I’m already on vacation mode, though, and writing with a friend of mine today, I thought about my choice that had me at a cafe without a shower or cute clothes or make up. I reminded myself, once again, that I can sleep when I’m dead.

I’m to bed by midnight and up at 6 a.m. most days. There is something so deliciously liberating to sit down with my world at nine o’clock at night and let it run free with all the wild abandon that doing anything at nine or eleven o’clock at night affords one. It is a special time, a safe time where I can get my ideas down without interruptions. I have a life with a lot of interruptions.

But to just be a midnight writer? Oh no. Then I’d be missing out on the other half. Oh, that morning sunshine. The light of truth blazing through the window, even if it’s raining, demands my world to move forward and be counted. To come out from under the rock, out of the cave and walk on its own as if saying, “Yes, last night was fun but I’m still here and real enough for day time.”

And as fun as writing at night is, I adore the luxury of morning writing with the day spilling out in front of me. Anything I do, I can re-write, fix, alter and get ready for the night time dance, that wild rumpus of the wild things that is my merry story. I have a friend who is up at 4 a.m. most days writing. I’m not there yet, but I’m close. I see the value of that morning time and of being there, at my desk, regularly.

I’m a different kind of writer at different times of the day– not too far from write drunk, edit sober….and I believe that saying is attributed to Peter De Vries, but the actual quote is better– he references two sides of the brain needing to work together for writing. And I couldn’t agree more.

Write drunk is how I feel when my world functions on its own without me tightening each cog into place. Because, as a real place, it turns along whether I’m there or not. I write without worrying about anything or everything. Editing sober means I look through my writing with a critical lens bent on streamlining and tightening for plot points, character development and tension. You see how I need both, that night time dance and that morning accounting.

Peter De Vries actual quote is this: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

Whether you write at night or in the morning, or drunk or sober, or by hand or by word processing, in private or in public, speaks to the perception or misperception of being creative. How is one creative? There are many experts on this, but I’m realizing that we’re all creative in the same way. Either through routine or schedule, for the bulk of what we do, you need a trained mind to function creatively when you need it to, when you are ready for it.

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My focus list for the day

Establish a routine and through that, train your mind to focus and behave.

I have found that training is like anything else you want to be excellent at– treat it like any other job: you show up on time, focus, put in your time and don’t leave until it’s done, and for god’s sake don’t check your email until it’s all over…or never check it at all.

My ‘to do’ lists get made every time I sit down to write and my mind goes monkey on me: errands, groceries, laundry, phone calls, train the dog… and let’s not forget the technology woes of the writer. “I’ll just check my email real quick…” is the death knell to all. I am ruthless with my monkey brain, if I misbehave, I leave the room. I do not reward myself by playing and then writing.

We must take ourselves seriously. And no, there is no rest for us– for if we don’t write our story, who will?

 

 

I am no Tolkien….

world buildingYou know he made his own language. You know he has a book just for the history of his story.

Inspired over winter break, as most inspirations co-inside with my breaks, I decided to map my world. Since I’m not a cartographer let me say here and now that my map looked closer to something Dr. Seuss would be proud of rather than anyone with a lick of sense around geography.

However, despite my Western Cove having a bit, just a touch, of a curlicue, I am proud of my map. It moved me forward in my conceptualization of this planet I love. When my characters were ripped to the East I knew what was there and the native peoples who agreed, via a treaty, to let them enter their space. I knew when students from the South infiltrated the tunnels to attack the school, I knew how they got there and the history of their land and why they’d align themselves with my bad guy.

I have pictures of my characters. I have pictures of the houses and their dress and their art. I was inspired over a glass or two of wine, while watching The Hobbit, to draw my own land and have it take a step closer to being alive in one other way than just my mind.

I’m just bummed I can’t draw a descent map. It my mind– it’s perfect. It’s just when I returned to it, I had a little trouble figuring everything out and what was what. Perhaps it’s in need of a re-draw. *opens map drawing how-to book

Have you ever drawn a map of a different world? I’d love to know if you did anything to prepare or have any suggestions. In the mean time, I guess I’ll go color my Truffula Trees.

A perfect way to begin the day

415162_10150800396532191_1829035793_oI keep thinking I have the final version. Of everything.

I have been sending out my story to agents and I’m still tweaking my queries, but I will admit, less so now.  I’m also tweaking the first five pages so it doesn’t end in a lame moment….LAME moment? Yes, I realized that too. What is THAT lame moment doing there at all? It’s a good reminder, as you impose real or arbitrary limits on your draft– does it still work? As my students will say, “Is it fly?”

I had fun last night editing down a scene I love, but have struggled with– such action and the scenery needs to match. It’s cold, it’s hailing, chaos abounds and the boys are on the run. How much do boys think when they are being chased? How much would they notice? Right, only at key moments. They’d take in information so they could plan their next move and monitor the results. And still I find places, phrases to take out…to tighten.

In any case, I feel my writing has benefited from the arbitrary, five pages, ten pages request that goes along with submissions. A good reminder for us all. Cut it out. Write drunk and edit sober, as Hemingway said.

I feel that the perfect way to begin my days of writing is to go back a few pages, re-read with the eye of ‘how to make it shorter’ and then move on. Sometimes I worry that I’ll get dragged into editing hell before I can move sufficiently forward in my writing goals for the day, but there’s no help for it– I have to sink back into my story before I can write more. And I’m not the kind of person who can read without the thought of tweaking here and there. If I see it, and I don’t like it,– I need to change it.

How do you begin your writing? How do you shut that outside world out and refocus on the world within you?

 

Back to the Grind

When I applied for teaching jobs, I knew I’d get the first one I didn’t screw up the letter of interest for. Names, dates, job title and job #. Were they an EALR district or a Power Standard district? Did they want: standards on the board, three or five letters of reference, experience with the grade applying, a master’s degree, a discipline philosophy?

I find sending out my work a similar process to applying for a teaching job, the first one I don’t screw up will be the one I hear back from.

Luckily, I just laugh as I read more and learn more about how to format: they want Times New Roman font and it doesn’t exist in gmail… Serif to the rescue! But not Sans Serif.

Do you block paragraph or indent? It depends!! What if they don’t say? Then do whatever! Yay!!! Yell I, as I run around the room with my arms over my head.

Place it all in the body of an email? Probably not, but they won’t say so! Include attachments even though everyone else says they will not consider opening any? “Trust them,” says my good friend. “Trust them to a T.”

“Uh huh,” I say, on my third cup of coffee with a dog vying for laptop space on my lap. “No where else will open attachments…maybe they are unaware they haven’t updated their website in five years…”

My friend, a fellow writer cuts me off, “Shush, so this won’t be the one that asks for a partial. Get over it. Screw up according to their requirements and move on. How many have you done today? Get on it.”

She’s right. I have 90 more submissions to send out before I move on to my other story. I have goals. Sending out my story to get beyond this stage is a huge step for me. One I should have taken before the school year started and 125 students walked into my life. Literally.

But it feels good. I’ve got this. I’ve been too far away from my goals and schedules and in too deep over editing. Back to the grind. That creative grind that is my forte. As soon as I’m done with this non-creative part, this exacting yet nebulous part of the writing a novel process, I will return to a story I’ve had on the back burning and dig back in, back into this creative grind I love so much.

maxwell brown
Patient Maxwell Brown

My cat, Maxwell Brown, is being patient, today, while my dog begs me to play. The cat prefers to follow me around, but today I’ve been mostly sitting and figuring out which publishing houses want what. While the cat waits for me to get up and move, the dog prefers the  lap, especially today with the wind and rain we are getting in the Pacific Northwest.

Have you been too far from your goals recently? Shame on you. Get back to them. Focus. You got this. You owe it to yourself and your sacrifices to take the next step. Whatever that step may be.

 

What the Dickens? Keep it Simple.

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I’ve had so much fun recently on Amazon prime, watching a new series called Grantchester. Yes, it is British and a mystery so already I knew I was going to love it. And yes, Sidney Chambers does grow on you and before long you love the two main characters, Sidney and Geordie, crashing about Grantchester and Cambridge solving crimes. These cozy mysteries are really my thing: a neat tidy story and everyone is using their brain rather than luck.

Watching this series encouraged me look back over my own mystery I’m editing and rethink it. I re-planned it all on a legal pad one evening.

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My trusty legal pad full of murder.

And guess what, the murder plot is better than it was. What I realized in the Grantchester series is that it is very unlike my favorite mysteries by Dame Agatha Christie. Her story lines are crisp and surprising and I think it’s that last part where I really fall down.

I’m not surprising in my plot lines and my mystery is very straightforward. I don’t have a “A-HA! If we’d only known a certain flower blooms at noon in Egypt for two hours only in May” then the reader would have been able to solve the murder too. Grantchester is not like this either. There’s a murder, they interview a few people, see something strange down the street, ask about strange thing and then throw it all together and arrest the one responsible. You, as the viewer, are with them on this journey. I like that style as it lets me concentrate on what I love about stories: the people.

I’ve been worried about this lack of obscure information and twists, and have worked hard to complex-ify my plot. In watching Grantchester, I realized that I may have that wrong. I may not need to make anything more complex about the murder I created. In fact the murder is not really the point. The development of my character, not the mystery, is the main point. The mystery is the vehicle that allows my characters grow and explore and live.

I’ve read two collections of Grantchester by James Runcie and the story lines in the books are similar to the series: straightforward. It’s Sidney who is complex and struggling. I find that focus entertaining. Sidney grows and becomes more complex, more real with each mystery he helps solve.

I guess I’m here to say: keep it simple. Keep your plot simple and remind yourself that your characters are rich and strong enough to endure. Let them take side trails and meander off and away– just be sure to bring them back, older and wiser and all the better for their adventures.

Clear Your Mind

cell phone to ditch
My #1 Enemy

The more research I do the more I’m realizing how we are hardwired for distraction. Perhaps it saved us from the T-Rex during those caveman years…but right now I’m not seeing a huge benefit to my main nemesis. My mind is constantly distracted and it feels cluttered as a result. And for a writer– this is bad.

Being a reflective person, my friend asked me why I wasn’t writing very much recently. My quick response was to say “It’s too hard right now.” Reflecting some more, I realized it was too hard. And so I got really reflective and analyzed my life. I acknowledged that I wasn’t sinking into my story- I wasn’t letting go of this space and going into the other and so it was hard to write– heck it was hard to focus.

Top two reasons I loose focus:

  1. Avoidance of pain: as in…editing my previous words really makes me doubt my skill
  2. Not knowing what I’m doing: is all of this pain really worth it- will it yield a better product

Goal setting, special location, shutting the door, and routine are good ways to beat distraction. And I rely on those constantly. However, there was (and is) a larger beast out there to slay: technology.

I know it was (and is) an issue for me because I will misplace my keys, my coffee and the dog, but never my phone. I’ve been experimenting and here are my insights:

Top four ways to clear your mind and be more productive:

  1. Throw your portable technology (all of them) far away. Stop your excuses about research- think old school writers and how they managed. You are just as good as Hemingway but you can’t be with distractions. Do you find no smartphone to be a painful or unrealistic idea? Arguing with even just the idea of it? Dismissing it out of hand? Yeah, I sound that way about coffee. Addiction isn’t cute. Get rid of it.

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    Parked in the shade, next to my neighbor’s house, writing.
  2. Write offline. Turn off your wifi to your house- everyone in your house can deal for the two hours you’re writing. That in itself motivates focus. If you are out and about, disconnect from the public wifi. Still having trouble controlling your behavior? Get in your car and go or get in your car and sit (can your family really see you in the driveway?). Again, if you claim that wouldn’t work for you– you might just be lying to yourself..
  3. Get rid of the word “just” in your vocabulary. I’m just going to check my email….I’m just going to check facebook…I’m just going to check the news- said no one ever. There is no just anything, It’s all a lie… a pretty, seductive lie to keep you from success.

(As fun and cute as all this sounds- I’d like to make a plug for the harms technology brings both mentally and physically. Do some research and rethink what you’re doing and why. Free yourself and clear your mind from this addiction and reliance.)

4. Replace your cell phone with a journal when you’re done writing. I have a colleague who discusses on her blog the importance of journaling before and after each writing session– apart from planning her goals. This allows her to adjust her writing needs as she, her life, and writing shifts throughout the months. I feel her perspective on flexibility to be honest and important as the weeks march into months and the months march on into years. It answers that question “Are you in this for the long haul?”

24/7 tech access is not healthy for me. Cold turkey chunks of time without my phone are encouraging me to thin my use of it overall. I am now leaving my cell phone at home when I go out to write (and shop). Not being reachable is the new fun, for me…and yes, I have children. My grandmother did it and so did my mother– leave the house and be unreachable. Convenience and reassurance vs sanity? Sanity, baby, all the way. And I gotta say, it’s pretty damn nice.

My job is starting back up in a few weeks and another colleague said “No more time for crap” which is true. No one has time for anything other than doing exactly what brings them joy–  sustained, effective writing. I’m tossing my cell to a kid and telling them to fold the laundry until I’m done in two hours. And as for the online stuff– it’s time for me to grow up and clear my mind for what’s healthy and important.

Now it’s your turn. You can do it. Clear your mind for your job and respect it enough to show up fully focused and ready. You can do this– unload the technological distraction beast however you can, and get real about what’s important.

…that would be you…you are important…

Embrace Creative Chaos

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How many U2 playlists do you have?

I sat in the parking lot at Costco last night waiting for a song of theirs to end on the radio (I can’t be alone in this)…so they’ve been on my mind.

The sun has taken a break in my neck of the woods and we are having overcast with a hint of a shower soon. I’m listening to U2, while sipping coffee and I’m loving this morning right now. Of course I’m not writing, but I figured I’d clear my head first.

I don’t know how you write or if you even feel comfortable with it. I tend to hammer the story out in a blitz rather than slow and steady, which may have more to do with skill than artistic temperament. Other writers talk about painstakingly crafting artful sentences and their complements of particularly well structured word groupings to each other, and I end up feeling like I’m smoking in a church. I don’t craft sentences with artful perspective, I craft stories like my life, messy and sarcastic. And I’m ok with that, mostly, but it’s this editing phase that I feel like I can never leave that has me scurrying through my story glancing furtively over my shoulder. It sounds like there is a thing of artful sentence writing and artful plotting…is there such a thing as artful editing? I worry I loose my artistic edge during editing and forever float on a placid lake of line edits.

And so with U2 and my craft on my wind, I went down a quick rabbit hole this morning about creativity. When in doubt, I always turn to the experts. U2 has done much for explaining creativity and respecting your own process, and as I’ve been listening to them since high school, they’re like an old friend. I trust what they have to say– they have been so honest about their struggles, challenges and successes.

Ruth Blatt, U2 Embrace Chaos As A Creative Process In Making Their New Album, wrote, “U2 is one of the rare bands that initiates the songwriting process with skeletal ideas that they jam, or improvise on, until a song emerges. Or doesn’t. It’s an ambiguous, long, and frustrating process with many false starts and dead ends. It takes patience, commitment and faith.”

I’ve been writing about getting out of my editing jungle and back into my creative world of writing. I learned I could edit forever. Talk about false starts and dead end– that could be the engraving on my tombstone.

It’s time though, for commitment and faith, to move forward. Write on your wall, among the motivational quotes you have about writing, when to be done with editing or tweaking and simply move on– take what you’ve learned and apply it to the next project. This is where having structure can help focus artistic efforts. Blitz, pants and plot away but the clock is ticking.

Blatt went on to write, “Creative growth comes from taking risks, from going somewhere new and slightly dangerous, from being on the brink of the unknown. U2 keeps jamming because the sense of discovery is generative even though it’s not easy. “‘When we’re making the records, it always feels a bit like we’re drowning, and you do wonder if there’s an easier way,’ Bono said. ‘But we seem to need some chaos to bring us together.’”

As writers, we have the gift and the insight to know there’s a story in us. It takes tremendous courage to move forward with it and hammer it out. Drown a little or a lot, but do come up for air and see what you’ve got.

Good luck out there.