Writing Life

Titles – Take two

Oh dear. I have had the title for Frankie’s book for some time. Almost longer than I have known Frankie but now, now I think, no, I know, I need a new working title because the current one no longer fits. Not even close.

Why? Well I’m not writing about Frankie at the moment (still doing those revisions) but I can’t help thinking about him. A couple of weeks ago I sent a request to an organization about the legalities of how a particular scenario would be handled. I got a response today and it led me down a complete different road with the plot, in a very good way. I have been wondering for some time what it is that Frankie wants, what he wants so bad that he is willing to do anything in order to get it. And now I know. It was right there in front me all along but I didn’t see it until now. It only goes to prove how important research is to your story. And when you don’t know what’s supposed to happen, do more research. The answer could be right there waiting for you.

There are still a lot of plot holes of course that won’t be filled in until I write and rewrite the story but now I have at least the basic story problem. What I don’t have is a title. And that bugs the heck out of me. It doesn’t do any good to tell me that the right title will come to me as I write because I can’t start to write until I have the title. Sigh.

Let the great title quest begin.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |8 Comments

Where do the words live?

And what makes the right word or phrase come when you need it the most? Sometimes I just have to stop and give thanks, overwhelmed by the magic that is the creative process.

I should say first off that I am in intuitive writer. I can’t outline (in college I wrote all my outlines for papers AFTER I wrote the paper.) Pre-plotting in any standard fashion isn’t something that works for me. Deconstructing scenes for what is wrong or looking through a book and identifying the many layers and what they all mean/symbolize/or are supposed to accomplish makes me feel like I am in a foreign country driving on the wrong side of the road – I’m moving forward but I’m never quite comfortable that I know where I’m going or that I will get there in one piece.

That means I rely an awful lot on instinct in my writing and instinct, like the muse, can be a temperamental friend. Which makes last night all the most special to me. It was one of those perfect writing times when all the planets line up just so and the words come out of their hiding places, creeping, crawling, marching down my arm and onto the page, rearranging themselves into a poem I didn’t even know was missing from the book until I saw the finished lines on the page. And when I read the words, dinking with them here and there, playing around to find the perfect metaphor (and where do THOSE hide by the way?) when I read what is now the second poem in the book, I knew that it was exactly the right poem in exactly the right place and that if I looked closer, even I would be able to see how it set the stage for the crash that is just around the corner. Even I could see that it would lull the reader into thinking that things weren’t really bad as they were when they were really so much worse than they could imagine. Even I knew it was just what the book needed. Which certainly made cutting 8 other poems much easier.

I guess sometimes we just have to learn to trust not just ourselves or the process but the story. The answers are always in the story, if you look close enough.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |6 Comments

no sleep but Frankie

says this is more important than sleep . . . the first line for Frankie’s book. It came to me when I was tossing and turning and waking up the dog. It’s as important (to me) as the title of the book and the name of the main character when it comes to getting started.

I know….I should be thinking Rachel, verse poems, and finishing revisions. But there he was, hiding, and the line came to me and I knew I was seeing the opening scene to Frankie’s book. One doesn’t turn away gifts such as these.

Of course I wish the ASPCA would answer my request for information about a situation so I would know what to do with another scene. And then, sometime in the way dark middle of the night, I wondered if Frankie really had a sister at all. Whoa – now that shocked me even more awake. Last thing I remember before I grabbed an hour’s nap was wondering why someone who lived in such a fancy house was stealing food.

Friday, September 23, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |6 Comments

a non-writing sort of update

Frustrating but not devastating sorts of things: Ordered some “props” for Traveling Oliver and I am not too crazy about the quilts and the pickles are scented and they smell horrible so I had to throw them away and buy different ones. And the bunny slippers are way too small and I should have just had them made. Grrr. I hate wasting money.

The house is completely trashed with my clutter all over the place but there won’t be any cleaning going on around here until I get the revisions done. (Thank you to my indulgent husband for putting up with it and cooking for me and making sure that I get something to eat every night.)  All the publicity stuff has come to a halt too. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day when I have to do the day job thing – not whining, just stating facts. I make notes of things to do and leave them at home. Then I make new ones at work with different things on them and forget them at work.

I’m looking forward to going to Santa Cruz on Saturday and even though I can’t work on Frankie’s book I can take some pictures of his neighborhood.

Please let me sleep more than 2 consecutive hours tonight. I need it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

the non-writing side of the writing biz

Whew. The entire weekend was spent doing almost nothing but publicity stuff. I can’t say that it is all done but at least it is closer to being done. I’m getting ready to do my postcard mailing plus a bunch of review copies of Oliver need to go out. And if I am sending a review copy I need to send a press kit and mine was woefully out of date and missing stuff. At least now all the master copies are done, a bunch printed out, and tomorrow night after work I can stuff and address envelopes. I still need to finish my list of schools to mail to but that will have to wait a little long. I wish I could afford to pay for some help with this kind of thing but it is hard for me to rationalize spending money on things like that. Oliver’s traveling bags are just about ready too. One or two more items to tuck into them and I can cross that off MY to-do list.

The office is approaching being done. The new curtains that had to be hemmed will be ready this week. I went to the Container Store and bought all kinds of neat storage boxes. If I had a couple more days in my weekend I might even get it finished but alas, it’s back to work in the morning.

Writing update: Frankie doesn’t trust people being nice to him. I don’t blame him. Dr. M might be a friend. Also RD. Max is still sick.

Me. I’m off for bed, perchance to dream.

Sunday, September 18, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

the limits of a sound wall

Color me tired. My house is 3 houses from the sound wall for the freeway. The freeway isn’t much traveled at night and, actually, for the last year we’ve been really pleased with how quiet this house is. Until last night. Oh my gosh! CalTrans – the company that does the California state road repairs, must have been working on some stretch of 85 last night because about 10:30 some big machinerary started up REALLY LOUD and kept it up until 4am this morning. Since I get up at 5, well, let’s just say I had a lot of time to think about my WIP. It’s a good thing today is Friday because I know that by noon, I will be barely able to hold myself up at the keyboard. Yawn.

On the publicity side of things, did a beautiful review of Oliver’s Must-do List over at YA (& kids) book central. Thanks, Kim! (Edited to add:) Kim also has a new LJ at
And I think Oliver “might” have his first visit all on his own real soon. I should know something next week.

Writing progress? Like I said, lots of thinking time last night. I know something happened at the amusement park and I’m not looking forward to that research. And there’s a dentist, who would have thunk it? Frankie said he needs a bike.

Friday, September 16, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |5 Comments

Where does your story take place?

posted some notes about a recent conference she attended and one of the comments was that we should ground our characters in a specific place. I’ve been writing picture books for quite a while and while place is important, it is different than with a novel. With the current WIP I am thinking about place a lot. (Okay, so maybe I should have been thinking about it more on the last novel too but that was more of an internal journey.) Years ago, many, many years ago, I wrote a YA novel where place really mattered. I set it in a ficitional town near a real town that I knew well. I found that once I did that, landmarks and names wove their way into the story naturally and events unfolded correctly (and sometimes surprisingly) all because of where I set the story.

Since I’m in the thinking hard about a lot of things part of this new book I knew that the setting was important for me to know before I could really dig in and write very far. I had the title (can’t start to write without one), had the MC name (also can’t start to write without one), and I was thinking about place and the other characters in the book but nothing felt grounded in a location that seemed right for the story. Until yesterday. When Frankie ate a piece of chocolate and I knew where he got it, how it he got, and where his story would take place. I got that wonderful, hard-to-describe but physical feeling when you know something is right. From that piece of chocolate I learned where Frankie lived. I knew one of his hiding places. I knew two people who befriended him. And I learned what really happened to his little sister. There’s a lot still to learn and that will come in the writing of the story, but having this place, this perfect place for the story to take place, puts it all into prespective.

mentioned that she likes to visit the places where she sets her book and gather things to take back and remind her of that place while she is writing. I think that’s a good plan for hopefully this weekend. I need to explore the area a bit more and make sure I understand how a couple of things work. Take some pictures. And of course, eat some chocolate.

Thursday, September 15, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |11 Comments


Saturday night I went to Books, Inc at the invitation of the wonderfully enthusiastic
(who recommended an awesome place for Cuban pressed sandwiches – yum yum.) I also got to meet and and we all had the pleasure of listening to one of my idols in the business, Chris Crutcher. Sigh. I love it that it seems children’s writers, no matter how famous they get, are all so wonderfully open and approachable. (He let me take a picture with him – here’s hoping that some of his magic will rub off on me.) Chris is one of today’s most censored children’s writers. He shared some of his stories of why it was important for writers to be true to the story that they were telling. You never know where in your audience is the girl or boy (or librarian or teacher) whose story you are, without even knowing it, telling. You are the voice for those that cannot yet speak up. What was most interesting to me was that as he was talking about this I felt a physical reaction in my gut and my eyes watered for a minute and all I could think about was Frankie and how hard it is to tell his story. But I sat right there in the audience with one part of my mind on Chris’s voice and the other part reassuring Frankie that I would help him tell his story.

Even more interesting was my husband’s reaction. (It was thanks to him driving me into the city that I even got to hear Chris because I don’t drive in San Francisco.) When we got in the car to go home and were discussing some things that had been said, my husband said, “You know that part when . . .” And it was the very part where I had had the intense reaction. He went on to say,”When Chris was talking about that, all I could think of was you and Frankie and how you have to do that for him.” Whoa! My husband isn’t a writer and isn’t one prone to the touchy-feely stuff that drives much of my life. He listens to me talk about my books (and is very proud of me) but he reads fantasy and science fiction and prefers logical you can see to the emotions that you can only feel. So I was really surprised to hear such a thing from him.

The rest of the weekend was spent working on the office (yes, still). The new bookcases are up and all the YA books have been moved there and alphabetized. The remaining 12 shelves of MG books had to be completely reorganized too. The curtains I bought are too long so I need to take them in to be altered. (There was a time, when I was MUCH younger, I would have done it myself but not anymore.) The room is shaping up nicely though.

Writing update: I know how Frankie got his nickname and I’m pretty sure I know what happened to his sister. I don’t know the whys behind many of the things in this story but I am just going forward with the idea that they will, eventually, reveal themselves to me.

Monday, September 12, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |7 Comments

Promotional brainstorming & independent bookstores

Last night I attended a meeting of the Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association  (a division of NCIBA). There was some frustration expressed, rightly so, from some of the booksellers. Some writers send bookstores info about their books and push the bookseller to promote the books but when the bookseller visits the author website, there is no mention anywhere of independent bookstores. No mention of the wonderful BOOKSENSE program which allows people to shop online, just like Amazon, but with Booksense the sales go through your local bookseller. Instead, said one bookseller, all she found were links to Amazon. She said she didn’t expect authors to only push the independents, but to at least have a link to Booksense right there next to Amazon. (for those who don’t know, Booksense also has an affiliate program.)

 I asked some questions about what authors, authors who weren’t big name draws, could do to improve their relationships with the independent booksellers. They stressed the importance of keeping the bookstores informed of where authors are speaking so they will have books on the shelf. You’d think it would be a common thing for authors to do but evidently that’s not the case and booksellers aren’t mind readers.  Shelf space is a premium and independent booksellers are working hard, long hours trying to stay afloat. Many booksellers had similar stories to share about being surprised when some popular books not only weren’t on the shelf but hadn’t been ordered for a while. Things fall through the cracks. To make sure it doesn’t happen to you don’t assume that your book will be in stock the week of your big event, keep the bookstore informed. One member suggested authors keep a list of who should be updated and every month send them a copy of their calendar.

One great thing our local NCCBA group has done in the past years is to develop the WIN guide, for the writer and illustrators network. For a small fee writers and illustrators can get one page in the guide that tells about themselves, their books and their availability to speak. The WIN guide is sold at independents throughout the region. The NCCBA also hosts, twice a year, a reception where they invite the media people and librarians from local schools to come mix and mingle with local authors. I’d love to hear about sorts of things other authors are doing to build relationships and gain exposure with, for and through the local interdependent booksellers.

This has been one of those weeks where, if I don’t count the time I spent at the dayjob, I’ve been immersed in all sorts of writing business/publicity stuff. I love it. Sometimes doing all the promotional stuff makes me feel more like a “real writer” than the writing does. I suppose one day I could get organized and not have a bunch of stuff that needs doing all at once but hey, where’s the fun in that? I would love to have some sort of PR brainstorming group that we could all share ideas and help each other when there was something new they were trying to promote. In the absence of that, I’ll ask a few questions.

What’s the best thing you have done to promote your book? What have you done out of the ordinary, other than mailing postcards, creating bookmarks, updating your brochure? What have you done that you won’t do again?

For my last picture book,  CAN I PRAY WITH MY EYES OPEN? I wrote an article called 10 Things Your Child Should Know About Prayer. I sent it out to various newspapers as a press release type of article, all ready to drop into place in the newspaper. It worked and the article not only got a lot of coverage but I got some newspaper interviews as a result. Later I posted the article on my website and offered it to be reprinted for free. The book came out in 1999 but I still get letters every few months about some place that is reprinting the article. For OLIVER’S MUST-DO LIST  I created Oliver to travel to schools and his blog to report his adventures. Only time will tell if this is a hit or not.

Writing progress: I saw Frankie the other night. I don’t think he meant to let me see him and I’m sure he didn’t mean to let me look right into his eyes, but I did, for a few seconds. What I saw nearly broke my heart. I tried to ask him about his sister but he ran away. Max is still with him, trying to keep Frankie safe and offering love in the way that only a dog can do. This poor kid needs a champion but he still seems to be so alone.

Thursday, September 8, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |0 Comments


Well this writing of my time in New Orleans is helping me in the thinking department of the new book. Not so much in the actual writing of words on paper but that’s okay. I’m spending a lot of time just sitting in my room, spinning in my chair and thinking about Frankie. I feel like I am unraveling my story and Frankie’s story at the same time. And because I shared some of my story by writing it down, I’m hoping he’ll share some more of his.

I’d like to know his sister’s name and I think I know what happened to Max, the dog, but I’m not sure he’s willing to tell me about that part yet. It’s okay. I know he’s scared. I did dream about him last night in his hiding place. He’s very good at being quiet. Very good at being invisible. Even better at keeping secrets. But that’s okay. I can wait.

Sunday, September 4, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |8 Comments

Writing from life, even when you don't want to

Maybe it seems wrong in the face of all that is going on in the wake of Katrina to even think about writing and the writing business but that’s what I am doing, trying to find a path to normalcy because the alternative is nearly too much too bear.

I’ve been silent for a week for a variety of reasons. Busy? Yes. Major overhaul on the office is still going on which in turn puts a major overhaul on the rest of the house. Day-job? Sure. After a 6-day weekend my workload is a tad overwhelming at the moment. I’ve also been working on publicity for my picture book coming out next month (Oliver’s Must-Do List) and will probably spend a lot of time across the long weekend working on that sort of thing.

But mostly it has been a thinking time. I’m thinking a lot about my new book project which has a lot, well, icky stuff going on in it. Bad stuff happening to a good kid. I’m doing some writing but mostly jotting down thoughts and thinking about plot and structure and having to research things a bit. But the icky stuff has to come first. It’s the day that is different. It sets the story in motion. And I don’t want to write it. Instead I clean house and putz and play with the dog.

And, this week, I watch TV for news of Katrina’s devastation, most especially to the city of New Orleans, a place I once lived but never called home.

New Orleans was never a part of my master plan. I landed there due to a series of poor choices on my part. Looking back, remembering, reliving the pain of those three years in New Orleans is not pretty. It’s not something I want to do, especially right now, but every news report triggers a memory. Every photograph I see online is replaced with an image in my mind of my time in the Big Easy (which was anything but.)  As a result, many emotions I have been trying not to feel about a time I want to forget from a place that is unforgettable, are pouring out of me. I am writing it all down, letting myself remember everything about New Orleans, the good and the bad, though it is much too long to post here.

I hope there is a catharsis at the end of it all. One never knows when you cut yourself open on purpose, if the bleeding will ever stop or if it will just keep on flowing and become something else you just learn to live with.

Friday, September 2, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |10 Comments

Still working on the office

I am actually gaining control over the clutter in the office but I am worried that I haven’t thrown away enough stuff. 1 huge over-sized basket of file stuff and that’s it so far. Well, plus 7 boxes of things that didn’t need to be stored in my office went into the garage. And 1 bag for Goodwill. Still I’ll be happy if I can a) actually have enough room to work in there without feeling claustrophobic and b) actually FIND something when I need it. I know I should sort through the books – they are stacking up vertically on top of the horizontal stacks – but it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I think because when I first moved from California I sold all my books, including the old first editions I had that were worth some money, in order to finance my move. I’ll never get a lot of those books back again but I am loathe to let go of what I have. And we will need to, soon, I imagine as throughout the house we have over 5,000 books. Sigh. It is a comfort to me to see them all. My security blanket.

I have adopted a strange method of sorting what is left in the paper files, I know you’re not supposed to touch a piece of paper a gazillon times but hey, this is working so I am going for it. I have a big stack of paper in front of me and as I pick up a piece, if I know immediately where it goes, I put it away, if not, it goes to the new to-be-sorted pile. Mostly I am find things like receipts (Oh yeah, I’m gonna need those at tax times) and scraps of paper that have contact info or writing ideas. Once I’m done with the easy stuff I’ll have to go through it all again. This could take a while. I have 4 Xerox paper boxes filled with my paper that needs sorting.

Off to wrap birthday presents and drive to Sacramento for my daughter’s 23rd birthday and my grandson’s 1st birthday. They were born on the same day. Expect to see many indulgent grandma pictures upon my return. I haven’t seen him since Christmas.

Saturday, August 27, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

Dreaming our writing

One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.

I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles that she did for The Institute of Children’s Literature. In it she said, “When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”

That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently. I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.

In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a bit a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking.  Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.

No, this is not a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.

So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.

Saturday, August 20, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments

We know more than we think we do

Yesterday I wrote about the confusion I was having with my current WIP, wondering if it was even the book I was supposed to be writing. I could hear my MC talking to me but when I tried to put it into the book I THOUGHT it belonged in, nothing fit. I thought I was working on another verse novel, MTLB. I had a few poems, an idea of where it was going but the more I heard the MC talk the less he fit into MTLB. But doggone if I didn’t keep trying to jam him in there.

I sat myself down and had a little talk about form and function and all the various WIP I have. I was so fed up that I thought about working on a picture book even though I promised my agent I’d commit to novels for a while. Funny thing was, as I reread all the bits and pieces of unfinished stories I started to see a bit of a pattern. Many of them had one really great scene, a few pieces of dynamite dialog, or an image in words that showed exactly what I wanted to show. One them had a perfect title. (I love titles and can’t work on a book until I have the title.) They all featured a boy MC who was a big brother. Yet each of these bits and pieces were in different stories. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the excitement that got me started fizzled without a plot (a common occurrence for me) or perhaps something else grabbed a tighter hold of me and begged to be written. I think a lot of these are stories that just didn’t work, won’t work, but I was afraid to let them go. They had “pretty pieces” in them and I wanted to save all the pretty pieces until I could fix the story to go with them. And I’m sure I was thinking that if I had 5 unfinished picture books with some good parts in them, with revision I could have 5 new picture books. I was thinking quantity, not quality, which is a bad idea with writing. I know better. I know that’s not the way I work. I know I’m an instinctive writer who needs to trust herself to let go and hold on according to some invisible inner guide.

Annie Dillard says, “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.

It may not have been what Dillard meant but I had the feeling a few of those pieces still spoke to me and still belonged somewhere, just not spread out across 5 picture books that had no future. With some cut and pasting, I yanked the pretty pieces from the gaudy frames of poorly written stories. And as I reread them all I got that little electrical charge of adrenalin, you know the one, your personal geiger counter as Stephen King calls it. There was a voice here. Someone worth listening to. Someone who needed me.

For a few minutes, I confess, I contemplated trying to shove the pieces into the verse novel even though I knew they wouldn’t fit. (Yep, sometimes I’m a slow learner.) Then I got to the title I had saved, TMT. I remembered when I first found the title. I remembered knowing that I would use the title. I remember being sure it would be a picture book.

That was about the time that Frankie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s me! I’m TMT.” And it hit me, yes, it was time to tell Frankie’s story but MTLB wasn’t Frankie’s story, TMT was.

Nancy Werlin says, “When I write a thing, I write it with a ferocious trust in the unknown stuff that lurks somewhere in my mind.

Keeping that trust in mind I looked at my saved scraps again, only this time through Frankie’s eyes, and the picture became a little clearer and his voice a little louder. (He even told me about the dog and the little girl.) So this is it. I will put aside MTLB and work on TMT and try to help Frankie’s voice be heard. Most of all I will trust that the rest of the story is hiding in my subconscious and will be there when I need it most.


Thursday, August 18, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , |12 Comments

The doubting writer

You’d think that by now I would be used to the fact that my writing path is always filled with doubts of one kind or another, but no, each time I hit a hill of doubt I’m caught off-guard. Once I am deep into a project the doubt usually (but not always) fades away. In the early stages of a project the doubts attack me like highwaymen hidden in the dark woods waiting to steal my treasures. I think the hardest part of it all for me is trusting myself enough to know when I am on the right path, the mostly right path, the path likely to lead to the right path or the path headed directly for a dead-end. It should come as no great surprise that I have the same issues in many other areas of my life but it is the writing doubt that bothers me most of all, perhaps because the writing, because BEING a writer, matters so much to me. Whenever I do something that my “inner me” considers wrong or a bad choice, I hear a lengthy diatribe that starts with something like “I told you so” and ends with something along the lines of “why don’t you just give up now.”  Sigh. Not that I intend to give up or give in to the “inner me” at all. This whole inner lecture can take place in a minute or two but boy, the impact can last quite a while.

My current doubt centers around my choice of project to work on. I’m still waiting for the revision letter for Hugging the Rock so I have time to get to work on something new. It shouldn’t be a problem as I have many projects in various stages all waiting for my attention. And even if one of those didn’t appeal to me, ideas are not usually an issue for me.

There was an interesting post which was an offshoot of another post from about the concept that every writer starts off being able to do one thing well, one free card you don’t have to work for. I won’t repeat the whole conversation here here since you can go read their posts for all the juicy details but I decided that ideas was my free card. I’m working on characters and voice, plot still eludes me, and theme always has to tap me on the shoulder when I am done to remind me that it needs to be included. But ideas, they are constant for me. So I took at look at 7 of my projects in various stages and picked another verse novel to work on. It was the least together of them all, only a handful of poems, a hurting character, a setting, and not much more. Nothing recognizable as plot. I was drawn to the character, wanting to save him or at least point him in the right direction away from the pain. But now . . .

It’s going nowhere. I mean nowhere. I can deal with a crummy first draft (second and third drafts even) but I don’t think I’m feeling Frankie as strongly as I THINK I should. I don’t know if I have his voice or if what I have IS his voice or if his voice is even one worth listening to. I don’t know what happens next, but that’s okay, to be expected even. Most of all, I don’t know if this is the right time to tell this story or if I should just force myself to keep going even when I feel like I am driving with a flat tire. I could pick up my YA instead. I know the story. It’s all written and “just” needs to be revised for about the 20th time. I could pick up any one of several MG novels that I have started and then stopped somewhere after chapter 4 or 5. I am not feeling obsessed by any one story more than another at the moment which is what makes it most difficult. The obsession phase is important to my creative process but it is difficult to attain when there are so many other non-writing things that want my time, like the darned day job, cleaning house, and sleep, just to name a few.

I am filled with doubts so I will probably do nothing for a while (which then inspires great guilt) and hope for the best. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |5 Comments

The balancing act: writing and the day job

Warning. Serious whining ahead. Monday mornings bring this out in me. Gawd I hate getting up at 5am. Hate hate hate it. Maybe if I was off at some lovely writer’s conference and was getting up early to meet with other writers and discuss the latest and greatest in children’s books and which celebrity author we’d most like to see choke, maybe it would be different but I doubt it. Let’s face it, every year at our Asiliomar SCBWI conference I skip breakfast just so I can sleep another couple of hours. I love sleep. I love it more because now I never get quite enough of it. It feels different than when the kids were young and sleep depravation was a way of life.

I know, I did this to myself by switching my work schedule so I could go in early and then come home early. The logic was that 5 years ago when the Silicon Valley was booming, it used to take me over an hour to drive 15 miles straight on the freeway just to get to work. Same thing coming home. That means I lost about 2-1/2 hours every day to DRIVING. I hate driving. So I got the bright idea that if I went in to work early I could skip a bunch of the traffic and the bonus being that I could leave work at 3, missing more traffic on the way home and then have more time to write before my husband comes home from work. And it works most of the time but of late I think more and more of the literary lifestyle and sometimes nothing makes me happy. On the weekends I follow my body’s timeclock, stay up working until 1am, sleep until 9, and wake up refreshed and ready to work. Of course that means that Sunday night there’s no way I can fall asleep by 9 or 10 pm. Ha! So I either stay up late, working, or go to bed and toss and turn for a few hours. Then the alarm goes off at 5 and I start the week in negative sleep numbers. Okay, done now. Maybe if we were building something that could save lives or enrich lives or do some good in the world it might not be so bad. It doesn’t help that we’ve been spun off, bought and sold, and then endured quarterly layoffs for what feels like forever. The mood is seriously dark around the building, unless, of course, you are one of the top guys bringing in the big bucks and all the stock options. Enough. Time to think writing thoughts even while I contemplate engineering schedules and slips and shortages.

Every time I complain about my day job someone points out how much writing I get done because of or in spite of it. I suppose they are right. My last novel turned out to be a verse novel, (please let it sell soon) nothing I ever really planned to write, all because of a suggestion from a friend. When I was working 7 days a week with really no time left to write, this friend suggested that I try playing with poetry. Maybe just short poems about the characters to help me keep the story in front of me while I was working.

It turned out that breaks at work were just the amount of time I needed to jot down some rough ideas. Later those rough ideas smoothed out into something that screamed VOICE and I realized that I had broken through whatever was blocking the novel from coming to life. From then on I was obsessed with writing free verse for the novel. I’d drive to work thinking about one and then sit in the parking lot and write it down before I went inside. I’d keep a notebook in front of my computer because it never failed, I’d be in the midst of something intense in Excel and the boom, I’d hear a line for the poem and jot it down. Some days it happened often enough that by lunch time, I had another rough draft of a new poem. I started sending myself emails from work to home so I didn’t forget things. Some days I would be stuck in traffic and no pen or paper (I know – what kind of writer am I anyway?) and I would use my cell phone to call home and leave a message for myself on my answering machine about the line I didn’t want to forget. It was my busiest time at work but darned if I didn’t write my middle grade verse novel smack dab in the middle of it. And of course, because writing begets writing, by the time I had finished that book I had several more ideas clamoring for attention.

But then ideas are never a problem for me. It’s the execution that slows me down.

I spent most of the entire day working on the website. I think I am almost finished with the writing section of the site. New bullet design (only took 2 days) so I had to replace all the bullets on all the pages. The resource section is complete. All the articles that need to be there for the launch are done. Need to finish the motivation pages and the creativity shop. Oh, and integrate the writing exercises somehow. Okay, maybe I’m not almost finished but I am more than halfway. I never was good on judging time anyway.

I have to admit that as much as I want to be home writing full-time, it’s a little scary. I worry if the lack of structure from the DDJ will make it difficult to write or to even try to write. Discipline isn’t my strong suit. (If it were, I’d be a whole lot thinner than I am now.) Funny, sad funny not ha-ha funny, how when I had the time to write all day because I was a stay-at-home mom I was too naïve or young or inexperienced or something to put the time to the best use (I mean I wrote but I didn’t WRITE to build a career) and now that time is such a luxury, it is all I think about. I’ll get there, I know I will, the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

Write on, right now.

Monday, May 9, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments

A rough draft for my life plan

 I’ve decided that a blog, for me, is a rough draft sort of thing. A place where I can spill my thoughts, try to tie them into some sort of sense, and then leave them there to simmer into something I can work with down the road. Sure, I should be able to do this in a notebook, and sometimes I do, but this blog has the focus of trying to help me take steps to live a literary life as well as define what a literary life means, for me. I’m also hoping it will help me find a focus, a voice, a definition of my writer-self. So I imagine that there will be fits and starts and bumps in the road.

In an ideal world a literary life means (to me) being able to work at my writing full-time. Since I live in the Silicon Valley where housing is outrageously expensive, that makes it tough. I could ask my husband to live in bad part of town where the environment seriously affects my ability to create (and not in a good way) but we’ve “been there, done that” and boy, that SO did not work. Which means I need to keep the DDJ where I work in the engineering department for a tech company. You might have guessed that has nothing to do with writing. And it is frustrating as heck. Go ahead, tell me how John Grisham wrote while he was working as a lawyer and any number of other famous writers, more famous than I could ever hope to be, did the same thing and I say, “Good for them.” I DO write while I balance the day job but it is not my ideal literary life and that is what I am trying to build. Maybe it is Pollyanaish of me to even imagine being able to do so while living here in the Silicon Valley (and moving out of the area is not an option) but Pollyana has worked for me over the years. She’s part of my “fake it til you make it” aresnal.

I love to write and I love the Internet and it seems to me that a writer ought to be able to combine her tech knowledge with her craft and make a living of sorts. That’s my plan. I am not so naive as to expect I stay home and write children’s books full-time and match my current salary. I know I need to work at many things and that’s okay. I just want them to be related to my career and not to building more widgets for a tech coblogginmpany. We have enough widgets in the world already, thank you very much. My thought is that it is time to get back to work on my adult book projects. One I could have back out in the mail in a week if I would just move it to the top of my list. (Note to self: finish BOR.) I love to speak but in order to make decent money at it with school visits I would need to do a lot of it which would mean taking the time off work (which cuts into my vacation) and right now that doesn’t seem like the best use of my time. I will be picky about the speaking gigs I take on right now merely because of the time investment required. I need to do more articles, maybe try some essays, branch out into other writing areas that appeal to me. But it is scary because it means starting over in a place where I am a beginner and have no connections. (sigh)

For now, the biggest project in front of me is still to finish the website redesign. Once that is launched I can promote it, and me, at the same time as well as my books and my writing workshops (taught online, of course) and anything else I can think of.

And that’s how it will happen. My literary life. Taking steps, little as they might be, toward my goal. One literary life step a day. That’s all I ask of myself-to do one thing every day that will help me live a literary life.

I feel like I need a pep talk. Time to go back and reread one of my favorite books Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See.

Write on, right now.

Previously posted on my original blog – Write on Right Now! 
I am moving all old post into this journal.

Sunday, May 8, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |0 Comments