being a writer

you know you are a writer when

You know you are a writer when . . .

You post a snippet of your rough draft, as in ROUGH draft for Teaser Tuesday and then keep coming back to revise it.

Sheesh.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |10 Comments

Writing update – Plant Kid

This weekend I did something I’ve never done before – I wrote the last scene in a book long before the end of the book was in sight.

It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t sit down and say wow, let’s write the last scene in the book because, heck, I don’t really even know what this book is about – yet. But I am continuing on my bit by bit method of writing these three stories at once by just trying to write a single scene every night before bed. Of late they have all been in the plant book and that’s okay. The character is very real to me and, I almost hesitate to say this, but I may have found his voice which goes a long way to bringing a book to life.

Friday night I knew I wanted to write a scene about the MC and a particular plant. So I did. And then I reread it, as is my habit before turning out the light and I realized that it was the very last scene in the book and suddenly I knew where I was headed. I have no idea how I’m going to get there but that’s okay, I have a goal for this kid.

Saturday night’s scene was prompting by watching my husband spend most of his Saturday pulling weeds in the yard. So I set the MC to pulling weeds. And in the process of writing the scene I had that wonderful experience where, before you can even get the words down, you can see the whole scene unfold in front of you. I gave him a simple task to do which set something else in motion which created a conflict that I needed but didn’t know how to orchastrate.

Sunday night’s scene was an apology that was not accepted.

I have no title for this book. I don’t even know if I have the main character’s name for sure and I’m not sure I know what his problem is or what he wants.

But I have scenes. And for now, that’s enough.

Monday, March 10, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , |23 Comments

The dreaming writer

I have always tried to use the power of my subconscious to do some work for me when I am sleeping. If I am in the middle of a book I will give myself a sleep question before bed in the hope that the answer will come to me in a dream. And often it does. Lately, as I work my way back to words, I am giving myself a lot of sleep intentions that have to do with writing. I work hard to remember my dreams before getting out of bed, looking for insights into how my brain works when I’m not awake to put shackles around it in an attempt to control it.

I share them not because they are earth shattering but because they are not. They are the dreams of an ordinary writer trying to make sense out of her ordinary life.

Dream from 2/16/08
I was watching a young girl at a desk. I don’t think anyone else even knew I was in the room. Some woman said something to her and she started to write. I realized she was in an editor’s office. I don’t know what kind. She handed the woman her page and the editor said it was very good. That there was lots to work with and that she was looking forward to working with her on it. I stepped back into the shadows more and listened to the conversation about what she should do next and how she should proceed. Suddenly the girl was writing like crazy and getting all this encouragement from everyone in the room. One woman told her she needed to get her picture taken because she would need it for the press. The next thing I saw was a girl rearranging because she needed a place to write.

Afterthoughts
We have been in our new home just a few weeks shy of a year now. When we moved in the only two rooms we painted were the library and my office. The library is so warm and welcoming and gives you a “hug” the minute you walk in. My office is bright and airy and, well, I never work in it. Which means I work on the couch with the laptop resting on a pillow between my legs. That’s fine for blog posts or playing Scrabulous. Not so much for writing a novel.

Since that dream I’ve taken a good look at the office and what does and doesn’t work for me. While both the library and my office have the vaulted beam ceiling, the library was left natural. But the previous owners painted my office beams white. I am going to paint them to match the wood in the library, lower the ceiling and increase the coziness factor. While I love the pale yellow I think the room is too bright for work. I am looking at sage greens now. Most importantly (and actually the most difficult) is covering the windows. I have two patio doors that leave me feeling exposed (since we removed 99% of all the plants in the backyard and neighbors can look over the fence into the house.) Drapes will warm up the room but will have to always be partway open in order to allow the dog to keep watch over her domain. So I am going to look at some wood blinds with a block-out liner. That way I can leave the one section up partway for the dog.

There are other things to be covered in the room as well, two sets of French doors and a small window at the end of the room. It is no wonder it doesn’t feel as cozy. I’d take out the small window if I could but for now, I just need to cover it up.

The most important aspect of the room (and the dream) was the desk. Currently I have two desks in my office. One is working well, the other one, not so much. The two desks are back-to-back. When you come into the room there is a big antique library table. It’s the perfect place to write notes by hand or spread out research books. On the other side is the computer desk. But it is (and has been for a while) too small. Once I have the laptop and the docking station and the big monitor on there there is no place left for a piece of paper or a cup of tea. So I am searching for a new, larger computer desk that will work in the room. (Like one of those old oak teacher desks.)

All this began from a dream.

Dream night 2/18/08
Last night I gave myself the sleep intention to dream about what is keeping me cut-off from writing, from being fully present in the moment and how I could change it. I had three short dreams.

First I dreamt I was trapped like a mummy but instead of with cloth, it was some kind of plaster. Only my eyes and mouth were visible. I couldn’t hear anything.

Then I dreamt there was this tiger laying on his back in the swimming pool – sprawled like arms to each side, just drifting along as happy as could be.

Then I dreamt I was in a pool with a whale and I had my arm around his “neck” and I was dragging him away to the ocean, to freedom.

 

Afterthoughts
I am feeling trapped by something, still, perhaps myself. I am not sure what it means to that I could see and talk but not hear. Perhaps I am not listening to something, to someone that I should.

A tiger is a strong hunter, a powerful animal. I do not know what it means in my life but I felt like the power was there for the taking.

I liked the idea that I was taking the whale to freedom but I wonder why I was working so hard to save someone else and why I won’t work that hard to save myself?

2/24/08
I had this dream while I was at a 3 day writing conference. I had spent the conference just trying to connect with people for talking about how writing and creativity fit into their lives. Just trying to learn how other people made it work from them.

In the dream one of the women from the conference came to my house (I knew it was my house but it didn’t look anything like the house I live in) I walked her all over the house and told her all about my writing and all the wonderful ideas I had for simplifying my life, getting back on track, writing the stories I meant to write. She was very encouraging, kept saying, “yes! yes! yes!” and then she started to drag me out of the house toward her car. My husband came home then and I started telling him all about this fabulous day that the two of us had had, how exciting it was, how motivated I was. He got all excited with me, FOR me.

Then the woman pulled me out of the house and opened her car door. I had a hold of my husband’s hand. She shut the door and he was left on the outside. I had to tell him that he couldn’t go with me.

Afterthoughts
I confess, at first this dream made sad and a bit afraid. I didn’t want to have to choose between my husband and my writing. But then I realized that of course the writing is the one place he can’t go with me. When I think about why the dream scared me I had to think about what my husband means to me. He is my safe zone. He is the one who has given me the comfort and security that I need in order to go deep with my writing. I remember reading this wonderful quote by Pat Schneider that said (paraphrasing) “You can write as powerfully and as deeply as you want, provided you feel safe.”

It was that quote which made me realize that my husband had helped create a safe haven for me that allowed me to write the painful story of Hugging the Rock.

Which must mean that it is time for me to go deep, once more, knowing that he is there waiting for me, making it safe enough for me to write the truth.

Monday, February 25, 2008|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |12 Comments

Shrinking Violets and other introverts

A big thank you to everyone for the support on my post yesterday. I am not feeling quite so overwhelmed today, I even took a picture with the new camera, though I didn’t leave the house to go get my new glasses and I don’t care.

A special thanks to writerjenn who pointed me to Shrinking Violets Promotions. Lots of good reading there. And this wonderful quote in their sidebar:

Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule.
This is rather odd when you realise that about nineteen writers out of twenty
are introverts. We are being taught to be ashamed of not being ‘outgoing’.
But a writer’s job is ingoing. –Ursula K. LeGuin

I love that they make the distinction, many times, of the difference between being introverted and being shy. It’s all about where you get your energy.

I’m going back to my quiet place to store up some more go-juice. In the mean-time, don’t forget it is Thursday and time for poems of 15 words or less.

Thursday, December 27, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |10 Comments

contemplation

Some stories will never be told

Some might be written down and deleted. Some might be passed around among friends but they will never be put to page for fear of someone, the wrong someone finding them.

I can’t tell stories that will hurt someone I love. Sure, I will use the emotion in my fiction but it’s not the same as telling what really happened.

Sometimes there are people you love that you can’t save no matter how hard you try.

Some stories are like nightmares and will never see the light of day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |10 Comments

For those of you with day jobs

I’m still working on my talk about fitting writing into our busy lives. If you are a writer with a day job that requires you to get up and leave the house for hours every day, would you mind weighing in on a few questions? 

The big question is how do you manage to write when you have to be away from home for 40 hours a week or more? Do you send yourself email and voice mails to remember things? Do you have stacks of Post-its and notecards that you have to gather up at the end of each week? Do you take lunch in your car so you can write for half an hour?

When you come home from work do you go right to your writing or do you have to wait until everyone is in bed?
Are you one of those early risers who can get up and write for an hour before they go to work?

Other than not enough hours in the day, what is the biggest struggle for you in trying to write when you also have a day job?

Thanks!

Saturday, December 8, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |21 Comments

Three-bucket theory

I’ve been reading lots of airplane stories this weekend and came across one that I felt applied almost as much to writing as it did to flying. 

Naval aviators tell a story of an old timer with three buckets that they would give to the new recruits. The first bucket was experience. It started off empty but the more they flew, the more experience they would gain. Each experience went into the bucket and when they were stuck on something, they would be able to pull an experience out of the bucket to help them out. There was no limit to the amount of experience you could fit in the bucket.

The second bucket also started off empty. It was called knowledge. To fill that bucket the new recruits had to study as hard as they could and then the bucket would begin to fill as well. And of course that knowledge would come in handy to them again and again. But there was a catch. If they didn’t continually study and learn new things the bucket of knowledge would begin to dry up. And then they could find themselves in a world of hurt when they needed to know something and reached in the bucket and everything had dried up.

Starting out was tough on these young pilots because they had to work hard to fill those two buckets with experience and knowledge. But the good thing was, the more they learned, the more they could put in their buckets and they could continue to fill them forever.

There was a third bucket. this one was given to them full up, overflowing to the top. This bucket was called luck. But the luck bucket wasn’t something you wanted to dip into very often because once you took something out of the bucket, it was gone and there was nothing they could do to fill it up again.

They quickly learned not to depend on the luck bucket. To be sure, they dipped into now and again but the best pilots tried not to. Knowledge and experience were within their reach. They alone could control what they put into those buckets. The more they put into them, the better pilots they would be come. 

Isn’t it the same with writing? We write, revise, submit, get rejected, get published and everything goes into the experience bucket. We read books, go to conferences, network with other writers, listen to our critique groups and agents and editors and it all goes into the knowledge bucket. 

Sure, sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes there are movie options or giant book club purchases that send your Amazon rating down to single digits. There are movie stars that fall in love with your book and buy hundreds of copies to give to all their movie star friends or donate to their favorite charity. 

Luck happens. The thing is, you can’t count on it. 

Fill your knowledge and experience buckets. Work on what you can control. The publishing will take care of itself.

Sunday, December 2, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |7 Comments

One way to play with plots

This is my current work-in-progress. A stack of paper over a foot high, much of it handwritten on old school lined paper which means the ink is fading fast. Add to that about  another 25 MB of files on my computer. That’s after purging.

 This is my current work-in-progress on index cards. 



Granted that tall stack of purple prose has had close to 20 years to grow to that size. Diving back into the story again I knew it was too overwhelming for me to get a grip on the story I wanted to tell. The book was broken, I wasn’t arguing with that, I was just lost in a sea of paper. I made the mental commitment to basically throw out the old story (after reading everything through once more) and start anew. But there were some things worth saving. And because the book required a lot of research, there was no need to do it all over again. I also was, I admit it, a bit afraid of this book because it has a deeper plot and a subplot (maybe 2 subplots) and there was much more to keep track of in this book than in my others.

Enter the humble index card.

I started off with bright green for all the things that needed names. (I had decided to rename everything and everyone in the book because the orginal was a wee bit too, well, cutesy.) As I went through the stacks of papers or thought about the book I jotted down anything that needed a name on a bright green card. The town, the parents, the dog, and the daughter who may or may not be a love interst. (That goes on another card.)

As I read through the old stuff there were some of those wonderful phrases I didn’t want to let go of, even if the chance of me reusing them were slim. They went on the violet cards.

The book is about something I don’t know much about – airplanes. So the pink cards are my glossary of words that are used around planes, like Hobbs Meter and chords and elevators which do not meant the same in the real world as they do in the world of flight.

More details about planes, like the particulars about a Cessna 152 or cruising airspeeds in different planes went on the green cards.

Over the years I had read a lot of flying books and jotted down great words about flying from other people. They all went on the blue cards. 
 
The three most important cards turned out to be orange, white and yellow.

I actually started with the white ones, jotting down just a line or two about a potential scene. I wrote down most of the scenes from the earlier versions of the book and then, of course, my brain generated new ones. I didn’t stop to evaluate it, I just wrote them down. I didn’t stop to think about setting or POV, I just wanted to get the good stuff out of the old stuff and start my subconscious working on bringing up new stuff.

As I worked on the cards I would get an idea of something I wanted to remember to consider during the writing, maybe something about his flaw or strengths or a piece of advice from someone on how to build a stronger plot. Those notes went on orange cards and are great to flip through and ponder when I’m feeling blocked.

The last cards are yellow for any questions that come up that I think I need to answer during the writing. At the moment it’s a very tall stack. It might be something like wondering if the MC is going to fall for Edna’s daughter or if he likes chocolate milkshakes or when he will find out the truth that is driving the story.  As I work and a question pops into my head, I jot it down on a yellow card. One question to a card.

Now I have a stack of a little over 500 cards. Will I use them all in the book? Not hardly. Did it help me wrap my brain around the 17 versions of the book I have had stacked up in my office for years? Absolutely.

I love that the cards are portable. I can take them and some blank ones with me wherever I go. On my lunch break if I want to work on the book I can pull out a white scene card and see where it takes me. As I firm up the scenes I will whittle down the cards I keep close at hand. If I were a real outliner, this would be a good first step to writing an outline. That’s not my particular style. For me I think it is enough that I have the cards. Before I sit down to write I can thumb through and start to warm up the brain soup.

Now here’s the thing about writers giving other writers advice. Most of us love to talk about how we “do it” and quite often other writers, those just starting out, will listen to us and think that’s how they should “do it” too. And maybe you should. But maybe not. The best writing advice I can give anyone is to look at what works for someone else, take what will work for you, discard the rest and don’t feel guilty about it.

Monday, November 26, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |42 Comments

Do you feel safe enough to write the truth?

This post is for my friend Melodye,

who is working on a really tough writing project right now. In a recent post she discussed how hard it was for her to write about some of the really difficult situations she has to address in the book, going back to less pleasant times in her own past in order to mine the truth and tell the story only she can tell. She wrote of waking up shaking and in tears after getting down the words that ripped at her heart for a second time. She mentioned the need to lean on friends and family members for support and wondered, “Is it fair to ask them to stand here in the fire with me?”

And I say yes, it is more than fair. Those who love us want to help us heal, they want to help us in any way they can and sometimes the best thing they can do is create a safe place from which we can create.

I have many projects like this, stories that will require me to go deep and think about things I’d rather not think about. I wrote a bit about it a few years ago in this post called, Does your writing scare you? I had to put Frankie’s project aside because, well, it still scares me too much. I’ve been in the process of moving posts from my first blog and this seemed like a good time to move this one over. You can click the link to read it all behind the cut.

I am rereading The Writer as an Artist an old book by Pat Schneider which she has revised is now available as Writing Alone and With Others

I tend to reread this whenever I’m about to start on a new project because Schneider knows what writers are afraid of and says it’s okay and encourages us to write anyone. She gave me my current mantra.

“You can write as powerfully as you talk. If you are safe enough.”

I love that. It rings quite true for me. For years my writing was okay but not really going places and I know it was because I wasn’t digging deep enough to write about the stuff that scares me. I couldn’t because I didn’t feel safe. It’s only now, in a wonderful marriage with the best supportive partner I could hope for that I feel safe enough to visit the dark corners of my mind and write what is real, what hurts. Schneider says that if you can talk, any sense you have of not being able to write is a learned disability, scar tissue that “is a result of accumulated unhelpful responses to your writing.”

She also says that, “For the writer, fear arises in exact proportion to the treasure that lies beneath the dragon’s feet.”

So we need to write toward that fear, past, through, over, kicking and screaming if need be but we need to face the fear, claim it, make it ours so it will reveal the treasure that is our writing, the stories we were meant to tell.

The last novel I finished was my most real yet. The raw kind of real that still makes my stomach lurch when I reread certain scenes and still makes me cry at the end. Now I’m gearing up to do it again. I’m glad I feel safe enough to try and write my truth.

For all of you that have painful stories to tell, stories you haven’t even considered trying to tell (yet), take a look around the support system you have built for yourself. Find your safe zone. Make a list of all the things or people you need around you in order to feel safe. Maybe you’re not there yet and that’s okay. You should still make a list of what you need in order to feel safe so you will recognize it when you have it.

In case you didn’t get it the first time, I’m going to repeat it. “You can write as powerfully as you talk. If you are safe enough.” And once you are safe enough, (note that I did not say that you will feel safe enough because we will never feel safe enough to tell some stories but we will do it anyway) once you have a safe zone, there’s only one thing left to do, dance closer to the fire and start to write.

We’ll all be here cheering you on.

Friday, November 23, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |16 Comments

From research to index cards to story – I hope

Writing progress. I have been working hard on the YA novel. I have gone through about 90% of the notes I have made over the years on VZ and transferred the keeper pieces of information to a variety of color-coded index cards. I’ve almost gone through 3 packs of cards. I need more of a couple of colors to finish off. I had already made the decision to toss all the old versions and start anew. But even after packing those old pages away I was left with a binder full of  notes about characters and airplanes and various plot possibilities. Not all of it is usable but reading through it has helped me sink deeper into the story. Reading more about planes has helped me remember the initial pull to tell the story from 20 years ago. I have one colored card just for questions that need to be answered and as I went through the notes I’d find questions leading to more questions which lead to more plot points. I just kept jotting them on cards without trying to analyze them. That will come later.

I find it all very interesting to see that way my young writer mind worked back then – better in some ways (at taking notes) not so good in others (lots of cliche) but still workable. Still a very writeable story. A story I still want to tell. This is good news because for a while I wasn’t so sure. Anytime I have to do a lot of research for a book I reach a point where I don’t think I can do it. I get scared with all the facts that have to be perfectly correct and want to run and hide behind a story that just has to be emotionally correct. I think that’s why I wasn’t able to write this story before now – I just wasn’t writer enough to stand up to the material. To do it justice.

Jane Kurtz once told me that, “It isn’t just about telling the story but about becoming enough of a storyteller so that people will listen even to the hard things.”

That the kind of writer I want to be – one that compels you to keep reading even though you know some of the story isn’t going to be pretty. Am I still chasing demons of my own? Yes I am.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , |15 Comments

Conversations with myself

There are some conversations I seem to have with myself over and over again. One of them is worrying if I am doing the right things for the writing life I want to live.

Sometimes I think it would be so much easier (in my writing world) if I wrote fantasy or stories with magical creatures or maybe dark spooky stories about creatures of the night. They seem so popular compared to the stories that call for me to tell them. And sometimes I think it would be easier to write if I was writing full-time. That might not be true (though I wouldn’t mind getting a chance to try.) Sometimes I think if I had spent my time just writing novels rather than taking all the sideroads I have over the years, that maybe I would be further along. 

I know it should be all about enjoying the process of writing but once you have sold some books it’s hard not to think about it as a business too. And when I think about the business side I can get sad fast. Books that take years to earn out their advance make it hard. And when I’m not writing fast enough to get stuff out there to deserve a new advance, well that’s hard too.

There are days (okay weeks and maybe even months) when all I seem able to do is wallow around in the “if only” ocean, usually after a rejection to a book that I felt was a personal best at that time and was unable to find an editor who loved it enough to champion its cause. And so I wallow for a while and wonder why I bother. And sometimes I try to quit, to think about a life without writing, and the pain I get in my gut at such a thought feels worse than I imagine any heart attack to feel. I think I’ve finally reached the point where I just accept that writing isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. The good and the bad is all mixed up and I can’t even quit when the market is constantly shrinking and the readers seem unable to find us and when even great editors are choosing to spend their money on advances to celebrity authors instead of on the rest of us.

Sometimes I write to learn about myself and how I feel about things. Sometimes I write in order to hide from who I am, who I think I am, or who I am afraid of becoming. But mostly I write because writing defines me. When I’m not writing, when I’m not in the midst of a project of some kind or another, I don’t feel like I really exist. I can walk through the dayjob and do all the right things but it doesn’t define me. It’s just a job. But when the words race out my fingers and across the screen it’s like flipping the switch on Frankenstein’s monster and I’m alive.

I’m sorry for everyone who ever doubts that the work we do is worth the time and pain we invest in telling our stories. All I know for sure is that as a “lonely only” and misunderstood child books were the only place I felt safe enough to be myself. They taught me about other possibilities in life outside of what I was living and gave me dreams to work to make come true.

Books have saved me until I was strong enough to save myself.

And to every writer who has ever written something that I have read, I say thank you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |26 Comments

Collecting tips – Writing against the odds of time

I’m working on a talk that will center around fitting writing into all the pockets of our time, in-between kids and elder care and dayjobs and basketball practice and laundry and sick and so on and so on. Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us get a book finished at all!

I leave myself voice mail messages, write on Post-it notes at work and have been known to write on the back of my hand while waiting at a stop light.

So what are some of your tips for finding time to write?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |9 Comments

The Jealous Writer

Jealousy is tough. I don’t know of any writers who don’t feel varying degrees of twinges of it at one time or another but it is how we handle it and ourselves when confronted with it that matters, right?

Sometimes it’s really hard to hear how people are selling and selling and selling, especially in a week (month? year?) when editors seem to be handing out nothing but impersonal standard rejections slips. I can read in Publisher’s Lunch about my agent making a “good deal” for someone else and for a moment or two or three I feel tinged in green, at least until I remember I am not there yet, with there being that mystical place I call established. A friend I love and care about can land a deal with a top tier publisher or win a coveted award and I admit to cheering and whimpering at the same time.

Does this make me a bad person? No. It makes me normal. Now of course if you become so obsessed with being jealous that it affects your work, turns you into a midnight stalker or someone who posts anonymous negative reviews for the other person online, well that’s a different story.

Joan Didion says, “To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self.”

Ouch! But for me, that quote rings very true. I’m often very quick to put the blame for whole dang thing on my shoulders. The other people are selling because they are writing more than I am, which means they are improving quicker and they are producing more and they are better at the discipline it takes and so on and so on. I always assume that the fault is mine. If I lived up to half of my potential, I’d be there too. So while I get twinges when I hear of things going well for other writers I know, it’s usually followed by a big dose of guilt because I know I’m not working as hard as I could. I can’t imagine sniping to someone about their success, but then I’ve listened to my fair share of sniping from others, so I shouldn’t keep being so surprised at how cruel some people can be.

I never begrudge the hard workers their success. Publication is a hard earned reward. What I DO have a hard time with are the people who are sure that it must be connections that got you somewhere, or that they could do it too, if they only took the time. (Right, and I could be a brain surgeon in my spare time if I wanted to.) And in order to get the word our about work, we need to talk about it. If we don’t flaunt our work, as in being our own best PR person, then no one will ever hear of us. Yet if flaunt it, we are snobs or egomaniacs or something. No wonder so many writers are bi-polar.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the business of writing and publication and publicity and making money or dreaming up ways to make money with words that I forget that all of that is completely out of my control and that I need to concentrate on writing and let the rest of the story play itself out. But it’s hard. How can I read about great reviews and huge advances and not think about how it might affect me or influence my work? How can I stay focused on my work, on becoming a better a writer, a more honest writer when other writers I know are calculating how to spend their various advances and royalty checks? How can I not feel the tiniest bits of jealousy?

I can’t.

So I usually give in and let myself have an hour or two (or a day or two but no more than three) of giving into the feelings and admitting that I want what someone else has. Perhaps a therapist would tell me that what I am doing is counterproductive but personally I don’t think I can ignore what’s right in front of my face. And sometimes it is just what I need to fuel me for the next writing session.

But it isn’t easy.

I think it is the toughest thing to do, to not think about the publishing and the possibility of awards and fleeting and fame and just write the stories and stay true to the writer inside of me.

I have friends who have had great success with a book or several books and I’m happy for them, really I am, but I have to remind myself that I can’t compare any of my experiences with their successes. But I DO compare and that is always the problem. Once we have that first sale, that first acknowledgement publicly of our talent, it is no longer about the writing, but rather about the repeat factor…or trying to play top it with ourselves. I think that with our writing, as in other parts of our life, we go through stages of growth and plateau. Each time we hit that plateau and hunger to push ourselves to the next level of writing and more growth, it becomes like starting over all over again. Makes us once again beginners in our chosen area. I have a hard time with that. And I don’t know the secret to staying focused. I seem to pepper my life with so many activities that I have difficulty balancing without crashing. Writing is tough enough. Then there are so many of us that work full or part time on top of it. Plus add in children, spouses, family folk who need our support and so on. Sometimes I wonder how it is we ever get anything done at all.

I’ll admit that sometimes allowing myself to feel the jealously and then let it go naturally doesn’t always work. It might be because I’m feeling especially vulnerable at the moment. Perhaps my agent or editor rejected something close to my heart just when someone else experienced a giant burst of success. Maybe I haven’t written for a while and everyone around me seems to be pumping out 2000 words a day in-between day jobs and diapers and doctor visits. Maybe I’m just at a low point for no reason I can define and I haven’t managed to come out of it before I hear about someone optioning a huge movie deal on a picture book about cement or some other topic that makes no sense to me at all. And that all happens because hey, that’s life.

In those cases I have to admit to myself that some writing/social situations are negative to me. Sometimes I can’t let myself be around other writers because hearing about all their latest sales and great connections and happy publishing experiences works the wrong way on me. While I can be happy for my friends, at the same time I think, “Why not me?” and “What am I doing wrong?”. Then it becomes more of a downer than a positive experience. So at times like that I just remove myself from those situations. I don’t begrudge my friends their successes, I just have to protect myself from a tendency to feel sorry for myself and whine. Some people can count on going to conference to help them get all jazzed up and motivated about writing. But if I am in a rough spot with myself and my work, that’s the wrong place for me to be. I know that much about myself. Instead I pull books off my shelf to read. Books that tell the story of other writers suffering the same insecurities and worries and envies. Somehow, sometimes, that helps.

There doesn’t seem to be a way, at least for me, to stay focused and positive all the time. I don’t even know how I do all that I do and I don’t do nearly as much as some friends who seem to be building their career every minute of every day. For me it is a bit like just picking up whichever baby is crying the loudest at the moment and hoping that instinct and the need for survival will pull me through. Some days I feel jealous. Some days I feel like giving up. And some days I wonder why everyone in the world isn’t a writer because it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be.

Marge Piercy has written a wonderful poem called “For The Young Who Want to”.
http://www.margepiercy.com/sampling/poems-from-moon-female.htm

No matter where you are in your own writing career, I suggest you go read the entire poem, which ends with:

“Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.”

Edited to add: Another post about the writing life can be found over here, at Wordy Girls. Please add us to your friend’s list.

Monday, April 2, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |18 Comments

What does it cost you to be a writer?

Note: I am closing my old Blogger blog, Write on, Right now. Although I won’t delete the old posts because people have linked to some of them, I want to move some of my favorite posts about being a writer and the writing process, over here and some over to Wordy Girls. Wordy Girls will also be home to my writing prompts and picture prompts. I’ll start moving them in small batches so if you like writing exercises and you don’t have Wordy Girls on your friends list yet, you might want to think about adding it to your list.

Today’s retro post – What does it cost you to be a writer?

*******************************

I love this quote from Toni Cade Bambara:

“I have shrewd advice to offer developing writers about this business of snatching time and space to work. I do not have anything profound to offer mother-writers or worker-writers except to say it will cost you something. Anything of value is going to cost you something.”

With writing, as with most things in life, you have to put yourself into it before you get something out of it. That means giving up some of that time you used to spend watching television, playing games, sleeping late, or even spending time with friends and family. Because get one thing straight right now; writing is work. It means realizing that the first, or second, or third, or maybe even the tenth version of a story still might not be ready for publication and it means submitting rejected manuscripts again and again until they find a home.

Perseverance wins. Repeat that ten times.

Think about your best-written manuscript at the moment. Have you sent it out yet? How many rejection slips have you collected on it? Two? Three? Ten?

Not enough.

Robert M. Pirsig’s bestselling book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected over 120 times before being published. To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, collected 29 rejection slips before it found a home. Stephen King received 84 rejections for a short story that eventually sold to Cavalier magazine. How many rejection slips are in your bottom drawer right now?

Why aren’t those manuscripts back in the mail already?

Writing isn’t easy. And it’s going to cost you something. Are you willing to pay the price?

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |12 Comments

Sometimes we write

After thinking about it overnight I decided to post a longer version of this. Some of you might find some comfort in knowing more of the story and in knowing you are not alone in your own various struggles.

Sometimes we write to try and explain the unexplainable, like why bad things happen to good people. We tell stories about imaginary kids living imaginary lives that no would really want to live. And when someone asks us why, we have no answers except that was a story that kept talking to us until we shared it with the world. Sometimes we make things up because if we told people they really happened no one would believe us. And sometimes we DO make them up. But sometimes they are real, too real to admit they are true, so we write them down and pretend they happened to someone else, to imaginary characters.

As a parent, from the day they were each born, I tried my best to keep my two children from harm. Sometimes it even worked. For years, every Labor Day, I donated money to the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. I started in 1979, the year my son was born. My husband would go off on a hunting trip and I would snuggle with my son on the couch and watch the show. I held my healthy baby in my arms, so grateful, and gladly gave my credit card number to the lady on the phone to help Jerry’s kids. 24 years later, when that same son was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, I felt numb. But I went to work doing my mommy job, guiding him when he wanted guidance and listening to him rant when he wanted to rant. I had wanted to keep him from harm but I couldn’t. And when (for safety issues) he had to leave a job he loved and go back to college for retraining, I wanted to rant and rave at anyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn’t) about the unfairness of it all. Genetics aside, I felt like I had failed as a mom. I hadn’t keep my son safe.

My daughter was born three years later and as different from her brother as two siblings could be. He was the introvert, content in his small circle of friends. She was the extrovert who had to go everywhere with everyone. She never met a stranger and whenever anyone new moved into the neighborhood she was the first one to know all about them. When she was mad, everyone around her knew it because she wore her heart on her sleeve for the world to see. Her emotions went miles high and miles deep. Keeping her safe was a full time job and over the years we have ranted and raved with and at one another. But even when she makes me crazy, I’ve never stopping believing in her ability to do whatever she wanted to do, even when, as she has many times, she stopped believing in herself.

But she’s all grown up and a mommy of her own now and I can’t keep her safe anymore. That’s a hard one for me. Genetics, sometimes a twist or lack of something in your DNA can give you a battle with something like MD. And sometimes it gives you other demons to fight. The kind you can’t see.

So sometimes, we write. We tell stories to help heal a nameless hurting child because we cannot heal our own children.

Thursday, November 9, 2006|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |22 Comments

The Writer and the Hawk

I live in the Silicon Valley, the land of dot.coms, jam-packed freeways, and a lot of cement. Not the sort of place one expects to find a Cooper’s Hawk but this is after all, the land of big dreams, so I guess anything is possible.

I’m a writer with a day job. A creature who is, alas, not on the endangered species list. I’m up at 5am every morning and by 5:45 I’m on the road, following the ribbon of asphalt that leads me from home to work. It’s pretty much a straight shot of freeway from my house to my office, weaving through the various downtowns and businesses tucked up close against the guard rails for fear of letting a single valuable square foot of Silicon Valley real estate go to waste.

While I drive, side-by-side to the big semi trucks filled with computer parts and silicon wafers on their way to the fab shops, I’m usually thinking about my current work-in-progress. Of late, that means my new verse novel which deals with a kid who not only doesn’t believe there’s a way of out of his particular situation but doesn’t believe he deserves the right to imagine his life any differently. There is much of me in him. Not the me of now but the me of before, when life was less than good. It’s a good time to daydream. The sun is barely up and fog still hugs the foothills I see in the distance.

Most mornings the first five minutes of the drive are hell. Not that there’s much traffic on the road. There’s not. And not that I hate my job. I don’t. But I’d rather be home looking forward to a few hours of working on my novel than just beginning a long day in my cubicle surrounded by engineers who don’t really understand this odd, non-native creature “the children’s author” who seems to have nested in their midst. After the first five minutes comes acceptance that, for now, this is the way of my life. I kick the music up a notch and start to sing, still trying to twist plot points into their most effective poses.

I drive on, mentally placing my main character in jeopardy and waiting to see if he is smart enough to figure out how to solve his own problem, how to get out of his own way.  Every so often, out of the corner of my eye, an occasional patch of dirt surprises me. A forgotten plot left bare perhaps due to an architectural accident or the simple fact that the building owner just couldn’t afford those extra 200 square feet of prime real estate. Perhaps the city owns the dirt. I don’t know. For certain no one tends to it as, throughout the seasons, native grasses, weeds, and wildflowers take turns moving into temporary quarters. Each time I spy a sprawling patch of buckwheat or the brilliant blue on a ceanothus, I get a thrill, almost as exciting as my first sale. Nature and technology as roommates – just the sight of it fills me with hope.

Nowadays, most mornings, life feels good. My writing is going well and I believe that I am doing what I was meant to do. But some mornings I can’t find the balance. I feel too much pressure to go to work and make a living before I can come home and make a life. I think about giving up the writing and just living my life as a “normal” person, someone who heads to work and back home again with time for dinner and a sitcom and who never worries about contracts and book awards and royalty checks that always need chasing down.

There’s a saying (probably credited to Zig Ziglar): If you don’t want to keep getting the same things you’ve been getting then maybe you need to be doing something else. I think about that a lot as I drive, wondering what choices I could have made that would have taken me down a different path. There are many, probably more than I could name, but the one that always comes out on top, the voice I hear the loudest, is that I am meant to write. Yet while I can acknowledge that, I still need the day job because survival in the Silicon Valley most often requires two decent full-time incomes.

Such is life. As I drive, I begin to swap out the scenes in my head of my main character and his teacher for the meeting I have at 10am with an engineer in France who needs my help with a database. Not quite bestseller material. I’ve reached the zombie zone in my drive. I am no longer a writer cruising the highway in search of stories. I am a Dilbert robot who has exchanged Word for Excel. My work day hasn’t really even started yet and I am already at war with myself, “wants” versus “shoulds” and the “shoulds” win every time.

At about the halfway point between home and work I see it. Every morning, without fail. A Cooper’s Hawk perched high atop the light pole beside the freeway. And every morning, without fail, it surprises me. A touch of wildlife following ancient instincts deep in the heart of the concrete jungle. It watches over a small field (no more than a quarter of an acre and really not even a big enough plot to house your average Silicon Valley mansion). It watches and it waits. The field is walled-in by freeway on one side and busy frontage roads on the other three sides. It would seem to me that there’s a limited amount of buffet options for the hawk. But still, every morning, he is there, waiting for breakfast.

I realize it’s a lot like writing. Even when life seems overwhelming, you have to show up, expecting write, expecting the words to come, every morning. Even when the roads around you threaten to choke the creativity out of your soul, still, you have to show up. You have to do the work. You have to believe the words will come as long as you are there waiting for them.

Because if the words don’t come, you will die. Oh, not physically as the hawk would die from not being fed but emotionally from not following the path you were meant to walk. If you are a writer, you know what I mean. To thine own self be true because really, no one else cares. Write or don’t write – the world will still go on spinning. Except for you. Because if you are a writer, you have to write. And even when the words don’t come easily, you have to show up and expect that they will come when you need them the most.

The Cooper’s Hawk is mostly monogamous and usually mates for life.

A writer, once exposed as such, can never really separate from the words that demand to be heard.

For a few days last week my car was in the shop and my husband had to drive me to work. Each morning we left about fifteen minutes later than I usually would. By the time we reached the halfway point between home and work I could only point to where the hawk usually sat and try to explain to him how good it made me feel to see the hawk in the same place every morning. We were kindred spirits, I could sense it. We were both hunting for what we needed in order to survive. I wondered if, once I went back to my regular routine of driving myself in a bit earlier each day, I wondered if the hawk would still be there.

My husband assured me that yes, as long as the hawk continued to score a single meal from that tiny scrap of countryside beside the freeway that it would continue, day after day, to expect more, and possibly better meals than the day before.

It’s just like the writer who needs only a few lines on a personal rejection, encouragement at a conference, or that elusive first sale, to help them believe that they are doing what they are meant to do. That they should write, no matter what or who tries to constrain their creativity. That they should write, because it is the writing that will allow them to soar.

It’s easy to imagine the Silicon Valley of just thirty years ago – rolling hills of chaparral covered with poppies and sage and coyote bush, orchards of apricots and plums, and families of hawks feeding across the land that would one day be bottlenecks of freeways and computer chips.

Thirty years ago I was about to graduate high school. I loved to write but I didn’t believe my words would take me anywhere. Like my main character, I didn’t know how to get out of my own way. So I put the words aside, afraid to let anyone know how very much they sustained me. The longer I hid the words, the more constraints the world put on my dream of being a writer.

I wish back then I had been a bit more like the hawk, that I had believed anything was possible, even against the outrageous odds life throws at you. I used to give up too fast and too often, sure that the fault was always mine. But I understand things better now. I know there are times to watch and times to feed. I know that there will always be things that try to get in my way and keep me from doing what I was meant to do. I know that I must be willing to let go of the past so that I can find my place in the future.

I am a writer.

Watch me soar.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006|Categories: Essays|Tags: |23 Comments

Pride – the other side of the story

Thank you for all the great ideas about what embarrasses kids today. My brain is going 900mph. When I can’t sleep tonight because I am playing with plot ideas it’s ALL YOUR FAULT! 

 carriejones brought up a few interesting questions that I didn’t want to leave buried in the comments. She wondered, “In a different light, it might be interest to turn this around and ask what are kids proud of? About themselves? About their parents?”

What makes kids today proud?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |7 Comments

Is there an inciting incident that led to your writing life?

I’ve been thinking a lot of about the talks given at the Otter dinner the other night as well as other talks I’ve heard from writers over the years. Sometimes listening to writers give those talks is hard for me. It seems like everyone has some concrete moment in their past that connects them to books and to words, that draws them to the writing life. A magical moment that brings tears, the good kind, as they look back and wonder how they got to be the writer they are today. I don’t have an inciting incident in my life for why I do what I do. I don’t have a treasured memory of driving for hours to a favorite bookstore or of being read my favorite book by some family member. I don’t remember first learning to read or write. I got yelled at for checking out too many books from the library and I got in trouble from teachers for writing papers longer than they were supposed to be. Not the sort of events that might lead one to a literary life.

As a child I had holes in my life that only books could fill. There weren’t many books in my house and my family was not a family of readers. Just me, the oddball. The one who learned to be seen and not heard. Still, somehow, I found my way to books and words. I wish I knew how and why and when. But I know what’s most important is that I found my way at all.

Monday, March 13, 2006|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |30 Comments

what do these phrases mean to you?

I’m not going to put this in any particular context, but I am curious, what do the following phrases mean to you?

“brave writing”

“brave reader”

Thanks!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |12 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