Archives for posts with tag: Writing

One thing I know to be true is that life never turns out the way you expect it to. We wake up thinking our day is going to go a certain way, and sometimes it does, but more often there are those moments when the unexpected strikes.

The unexpected can be good, just ask anyone who had a “surprise” baby if they would send them back. It could be something small like a box filled with Hershey’s kisses sent by a friend who gifts you the opportunity to say that you got kisses from the UPS man you have a secret crush on. Or it could be discovering that your car has had barbecue sauce poured all over it because somebody doesn’t seem to understand that when you park on the city street and cars move around you it sometimes looks like you took two spaces when you didn’t actually. Good or bad, it’s not about what kind of “unexpected” it is, it’s about how we face those challenges. Do we laugh? Do we complain? Are we grateful? Do we cry? Or do we just keep going?

This month has not been unfolding as expected at all. Over the past few weeks I have gone on seemingly endless trips to stores (consuming and spending money are very nearly my least favorite things to do) to stock up on supplies for my rural desert life. Mattress buying, dentist and doctors appointments, a worrying medical condition in an extended family member, one flat tire (astutely spotted by my 3-year-old who is also excellent at spotting spiders, Ikea and Mule deer), cleaning, packing, teaching my lovely teenage girls at church and then saying goodbye over and over again.

In the midst of all of this, I was getting up between 3-5am to get my word count everyday. As always, there were days when the writing was quite painful and I just wasn’t happy about where it was going but, I kept doing it because I needed something to anchor myself in these stressful and surprising times. I wanted one good thing that I knew I could count on everyday. And what I unearthed from my imagination was perhaps the most unexpected of all, adventures, people, chases, and secrets I didn’t even know were there.

Not only did I “win” NaNoWriMo this year, but I finished a day early and 1,416 words over my 50,000.

About mid-month I began to worry because I knew that I wouldn’t be finished with my Novel at 50,000 words but, I was pleased to discover that according to the NaNoWriMo rules:

You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel. 

Winner-180x180

I did it! I am halfway through my second novel and once I’m settled into my little house in Texas, I’ll return to finishing my final draft of my first. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this second book. I promise to share it with you . . . someday.

The very same day I won NaNoWriMo another unexpected event occurred. It was literally the day before Michael was supposed to fly home and our family would be reunited after 7 months apart. I noticed there was something not quite right about The Boy. The next day as Michael was getting off his plane and collecting his luggage The Boy and I were at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado being told that he needed surgery and we wouldn’t be moving to Texas two days later, as expected. There was a moment when I almost cried but instead I shrugged and was grateful that all of this happened before we moved to a place where the nearest children’s hospital would be four hours away. It was a blessing with perfect comic timing. So, Michael came, took all of my stuff and the dogs and he left me and The Boy behind. Sounds like a country song, right? Well, I’m writing a country song of my own, “Michael, we’re coming after you . . . just as soon as the doctor gives The Boy a clean bill of health.” It’s not very catchy.

All of this made me realize that life is made up of the unexpected and you should never put aside the things that are important to you simply because there is too much going on. It is those very things that keep you sane when the unexpected arises.

Life isn’t a chain of unexpected events, it is a chain of salvaged moments filled with the things and the people you love.

The editing (or perhaps I should call it, “the total re-write”) continues slowly.

I am at the point of making serious decisions. Decisions so dire it makes editing feel like murder. But, sometimes I know that scenes and people have to go because they aren’t helping with the overall story (even if it makes me a serial killer.)

Mr. Griswald is one of those people. I met him several years ago and it was love at first sight (at least in my mind’s eye.) Then I had the unexpected opportunity of meeting the almost exact physical embodiment of Mr. Griswald in my neighborhood in Chicago. The real man was as delightful as the fictitious one.

Mr. Griswald’s small part in my book is one of my favorites. But, I fear he may have to go. And to come to terms with that, I’d like to introduce you to him.

Mr. Griswald, of The Gourmet

Cleo stepped into The Gourmet, the domain of Mr. Griswald. He peered at her through the fog appearing on his horn-rimmed glasses, a steaming teacup paused at lips hidden beneath an elaborate white mustache. He was a fixture of the culinary shop, a slight, but sturdy man who added a distinguished air to the atmosphere.

The Gourmet was not like any other shop. Mr. Griswald had paid quite a bit of money to be sure of that. People often spoke of flow and positive energy, and these were exactly the kind of people he wanted to patronize his establishment. Designers, decorators, and the odd spiritual guru had advised him on the proper form and function of nearly everything and as a result the shop was inviting and refined. Equal parts culinary delights and art; a place a person might never want to leave. The staff, like waiters in a fine restaurant, were ready to run down the nearest aisle to fetch almost any food imaginable. They advised the chefs in the finest homes and restaurants on the ingredients most appropriate for their creations; therapists for the culinary world.

As inviting as his shop was, Mr. Griswald was not. He was perpetually frowning and disapproved of nearly everyone, but he did like Cleo. And she liked him in return, especially his mustache, which he took great care to curl up at the ends each morning. She thought it made him look very literary; not like a real person, but a character with foibles and problems, threatening to nobody, least of all her. His approval of Cleo was not bestowed so generously. She had earned it.

Cleo had been there when Mr. Griswald had been viciously, as he saw it, assaulted by her neighbor, Roman Vance. Roman, who had previously been banned from the shop, stepped inside and shouted “Hey Gris, check out this tomato, it’s quite ripe!” It wasn’t very clever, but the entourage following him erupted in laughter as Roman launched the tomato into Mr. Griswald’s face, where it splattered and then slid down his front, defiling his fine tweed jacket. Cleo hadn’t laughed, which the gentlemen, as he believed himself to be, greatly appreciated. She simply walked over to him, lifted up onto her tiptoes, pulled the handkerchief from his jacket and gently wiped his face, all the while never taking her eyes out of her book. He stood there, frozen in his state of disbelief, insulted by what had just happened and confused by the absent-minded way this young girl was trying to help.

When Cleo did look up, she apologized, “It’s a very exciting part.”

Mr. Griswald laughed, releasing his terrified staff who joined in the revelry, and he decided he and Cleo were going to be very good friends. And friends were exactly what Cleo needed, because those hooligans who were constantly harassing Mr. Griswald did much worse to that poor little girl. He’d seen it with his own eyes.

Mr. Griswald decided early in his career, long before his elevated status as owner of The Gourmet, that it was the duty of grocers to stamp out hooliganism. He reasoned that hooligans, who were not gentle with people, would most certainly not be gentle with fruit. Mr. Griswald knew this lack of respect for proper food handling would cause bruising, and lead produce prices to plummet, which would inevitably lead to the downfall of civilization. Cleo, on the other hand, took great care with her fruit. He liked the way she gently handled each piece, examining every inch of its surface, smelling, and then tasting it after she’d made her purchase.

If Mr. Griswald caught anyone harassing her, he would deliver justice by refusing to sell goods to the chefs in their parent’s employ. “Why won’t I sell my goods to you this fine morning? Well, let me tell you . . .” Results were immediate. Telephone calls were made, apology notes delivered and sizable monetary gifts bestowed in Cleo’s name to feed starving children across the sea so that exotic dishes could be served on time.

Mr. Griswald knew of his great power but never spoke of it, out of propriety. Every good grocer knows, when you control the food, you control the world. And when you bruise the fruit, you will be made to pay.

Cleo picked up a pint of plump blueberries, packaged carefully on a bed of fine linen in a little metal tin, as she did every day. Mr. Griswald, as always, bristled her cheek with his mustache on her way out and watched her protectively as she made her way down the street. Roman Vance interrupted his vigil, suddenly appearing on the other side of the window in brightly colored sneakers and dark baggy clothes, his keen face, dark mirth-filled eyes, and unruly auburn hair just inches from Mr. Griswald’s face.

Mr. Griswald sputtered indignantly as Roman made a rude gesture at him before running down the street, laughing maniacally. By the time Mr. Griswald regained his composure, Cleo was gone, and so was his opportunity to observe the stranger following her.

[Me hard at work, courtesy of The Boy]

On the most recent episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, spoke of a lesser known scientific principle:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand, for example when you’re showering . . . if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering or putting [as in golf], then another part of the brain, the anterior superior temporal gyrus is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.

I wondered, giddy with excitement, how I had not heard of this enlightening principle. Then I remembered, Jack Donaghy is a fictional character and even in the fictitious world of 30 Rock his theories and practices are generally suspect. Not to mention, that last bit of the “scientific” principle (which I’m willing to bet was developed by Dr. Spaceman) is obvious nonsense. And yet, I still wanted to believe in The Shower Principle. I even googled it, just to be sure. I am telling you now, to save you some time, it is not a real thing (For a correction and UPDATE please see this post: “The Shower Principle Revisited”). However, I did find some interesting information (here and here) on a study by Jackie Andrade, that indicates you will pay better attention during a boring meeting or class if you doodle. (You’re welcome for that useful tip.)

So why, you may be asking yourself, was I so desperate for The Shower Principle to be true? Because . . . that is exactly how I get the inspiration for my manuscript. My very first idea came when I was driving and over the next two years all of my ideas came as I sat at my job sticking bar codes on thousands of DNA samples for hours at a time. It became such a regular thing that I wouldn’t move to my DNA “station” without taking my writing notebook with me. I even worried when I left my job, to move to Chicago, that I wouldn’t have that magic window into my imagination any longer. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that inspiration can happen anywhere at any time, I just have to be doing something mundane, mindless or repetitive. Driving, riding my bicycle, knitting, cleaning, cooking and yes, showering too. If I am doing a task over an extended period of time, (it usually has to be something that is almost second nature and does not require intense concentration) I am almost always struck by inspiration about scenes, dialogue, and characters. Then when I finally have a chance to sit down to write, I use that inspiration I developed while under the influence of “the shower principle.” It may not yet have scientific evidence, but I’m pretty sure it’s a real thing. If I have writer’s block I just have to go into my kitchen, turn on some music and start chopping vegetables. Within minutes my problem is solved. And based on the doodling study, it makes sense scientifically (although I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of how the brain works.) The theoretical reason doodling helps you pay better attention is because it occupies your mind so that you can’t daydream. Jackie Andrade explained:

It takes a large cognitive load to daydream. That has a big impact on the task you’re meant to be doing. Doodling takes only a small cognitive load, but it’s just enough to keep your mental resources focused on the main task.

Using that logic, if you take away the doodling, you’re left to daydream which is exactly what I do when I’m writing a story. There was a time in my life (well into adulthood, I might add) when I believed all of the people around me were ceaselessly making up stories in their head, the way I do. I thought daydreaming and creating stories were synonymous until I made one of those off-hand comments about it to someone and they gave me the look, you know that look people give you when they have no idea what you’re talking about and they are suddenly wondering if you’re a little bit crazy. It was just like the time, at my book club meeting, when I mentioned that really sweet foods tickle my tongue. I met with blank stares followed by raucous laughter and I was left wondering, am I the only one?

I have since done some light investigating about how people daydream and although I don’t believe I am the only one, I have yet to find somebody else who entertained themselves on those miserable childhood afternoons spent being dragged around department stores by making up stories about all of the mannequins, or someone who has a long cast of characters living imaginary lives in their daydream world. I know there are others out there like me but from what I can tell, most people daydream about real life or create fantasy lives about themselves. So, thank you Mom, for turning me into an indentured servant every Saturday morning and forcing me to clean the downstairs bathroom because I believe that’s where the stories began. I transformed my childhood angst into creativity and I guess it just never stopped.

Jackie Andrade said:

The exciting thing is that people actually got better while doing two things at once. Doodling is not as bad a thing as we might think.

And neither is daydreaming.

Feel free to let me know if you also daydream in stories, practice The Shower Principle in your life or your tongue gets tickled when you eat really sweet things (I’m a bit worried about that one, I’m really beginning to think I am the only one that happens to) because I would be interested to know. Maybe I should do my own study.

[The boy listening to Paul Simon (his request) and taking self-portraits.]

ANOTHER MATTER ALTOGETHER:

My friend Emily mentioned that I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s nice to know that at least one person missed me. Never fear my faithful readers, I haven’t given up on blogging I have just been preoccupied with my writing. I’ve been having some amazing success with my manuscript the last couple of weeks and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. The last goal I set for myself was to be done with my second draft by April 1st and if you will kindly look at the calendar, you will notice that was yesterday. But, that goal was to mark the anniversary of the beginning of my 5-year-manuscript-project which, I discovered while perusing old emails this past week, I actually began writing in February 2007. The 5-year ship has sailed. The new plan is to be done by May 31st and in the meantime I’ll try to blog more regularly, for those of you who missed me. If I don’t, just know it’s because incredible things are happening on this very computer I’m typing on and you’re one day closer to actually being able to read my story.

The end by Alexandre Moreau | Photography
The end, a photo by Alexandre Moreau | Photography on Flickr.

The other night I found myself lamenting that it had been so long since I’d worked on my book. Moments later, when I was calculating just how long it had been, I realized that the date was December 1st, meaning it had only been one day since NaNoWriMo ended and I declared myself a winner.

Writing is no longer in my heart. It’s in my blood. A necessity approaching eating and sleeping. I thought when I posted The Doldrums that I was just days away from a month long vacation from writing. A well needed reprieve. But simply the act of putting my feelings and frustrations into words and posting it on this blog revived me and I found myself wanting to write even more.

NaNoWriMo enabled me to write the ever elusive words “THE END” on my first novel but it also taught me a few other things about myself and writing along the way.

1. Goals need a finish line: I’ve never been fond of goals. I am an all or nothing kind of person. If I want to do something, I am determined to do it. If I don’t want to do something, even if it’s a worthy goal, I don’t even try. But NaNoWriMo opened up my eyes to the value of well-defined goals. You may not be exactly where you want to be when you finish, but you’re closer than not starting at all. I have been working on my novels (I’m already 60,000 words into the second one) for over 4 years. I’d always planned on finishing, someday, but I had never actually envisioned the finish line. In my last week of NaNoWriMo I was forced to do that. I had to sit down and think there has to be an end to this. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever would have gotten there if I wasn’t forced into it. If you’re a writer, set well-defined goals.

2. Blogging and practice make perfect: Starting a blog while trying to write a novel in 30 days is very near insanity. Until I started blogging I didn’t understand that blogging itself can be a very serious form of writing. It’s intense and it takes time. Time that could be spent getting my word count. But, there were two benefits. I was publicly accountable to everyone reading my blog and that accountability motivated me on the bad days. (Failure is not an option, although it should be, see above point.) And, as I’ve mentioned, one of my posts pulled me out of a slump. Writing in any form begets more, and hopefully better, writing.

3. Perfectionists and first drafts don’t dance well together: I am a recovering perfectionist. It is something that I will struggle with my entire life. I began to fight it when I realized perfectionists can never be happy because they will never be perfect. When I started writing years ago I was naive. I wanted to write my manuscript perfectly the first time. When I wrote “THE END” I was absolutely certain that it would be my one and only draft. But, that’s arrogant and limiting. Critique and input from other people doesn’t make your work any less valuable, it just allows you to pull more from yourself. NaNoWriMo lends itself to fast, not necessarily good, writing. It’s about filling the page and ignoring the inner editor. My manuscript is a mess. Plot holes. Weak characters. Ridiculous scenes. My new adventure is tearing that manuscript to shreds and making it even better.

4. Failure is an option and an opportunity: I recently read blog posts by two people, here and here, who participated in NaNoWriMo and didn’t “win.” Neither of them is a “loser.” On the contrary, they are both moving forward with lessons learned, ideas, and novels in the works. I recognize that it is a very distinct possibility that I would have lost NaNoWriMo too, if I hadn’t cheated.  Oh, the lessons I could have learned from that!

Writing is a sleep depriving, heart racing, frustration inducing and euphoric journey and I hope that I never find “THE END.”

A new well-defined goal will be coming soon, so stay tuned.

One of my biggest struggles as a writer is balancing my life between the two worlds I’m currently inhabiting; the world of my manuscript and world that I’m actually living in.

When I am in the real world, there are times when inspiration strikes and I am stuck standing in line at the store, walking the dogs, or reassembling a toy (for the 12th time). I began carrying a notebook around years ago so that I could simply write a note to remind myself of the dialogue, character, or plot device when I had time later to give it my full attention. That solves only one part of problem though. I am always slightly distracted and never fully present. No matter what I am doing, I’m gathering information and creating. Which means, if you know me, or simply pass me on the street, you’ve probably influenced me or inspired me in some way. But that seems to be small consolation when you realize that when I look at you I may just be seeing past you, to something else. I struggle with this aspect of myself because one of the qualities that I find to be most valuable (in myself and others) is sincerity. How can you be sincere when you aren’t completely present?

When I’m writing, I can tune out the world going on around me. Simply because when I am completely immersed in my story, the real world ceases to exist, at least for a little while. When I finally emerge from my work I am sometimes shivering from the low thermostat setting of the early morning or late evening, aching from sitting on a hard chair in an unhealthy slumped position, or disoriented from being gone, the way it sometimes feels when waking up from a vivid dream. But that intense immersion takes time and effort. Time that, as the mother of a toddler, is difficult to find. I’m guessing that’s true for most writers, just insert your life situation in place of “as the mother of a toddler.” I get up at 5am every morning hoping to have a couple of hours to write. It feels as if I am laying on my back, staring up at a guillotine, waiting for it to fall . . . “Mommy! I’m awake now!” It’s extremely distracting.

Most days it isn’t an issue because I’m completely invested in my actual life; but lately with NaNoWriMo and a deadline, of sorts, hanging over my head, I find it to be a daily struggle. The ultimate question is, if I am between two worlds and rarely ever entirely in one, does that mean I’m failing in both?  Do other writers struggle with this? If you do, tell me where the “off” button is.  Please!

I keep reminding myself, it’s only for 17 more days.

November 11 NaNoWriMo word count: 1,650

November 12 NaNoWriMo word count: 3,248 (it’s a record!)

November 13 NaNoWriMo word count: 0

Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 21,925

Also, I need recommendations for books to read.  Got anything for me?

I am surrounded by writers who are publishing novels for the first time. OK, not surrounded, but there are two. My father, Michael Roueche, who published Beyond the Wood on Kindle earlier this year (it will be out in Hardback soon). I have read his book and highly recommend it (you can see my review on Amazon.) My brother-in-law, Dan Haring, who I’ve mentioned before. I haven’t read his book, Oldsoul, but I am looking forward to it. (Maybe he’ll let me read it early so I can give him a glowing review!  If it’s deserved, of course.) Not to mention my friend, Jason Hardy, who is a published author many times over and intimidates me because even his flyers announcing Turkey Bowl touch football games are incredibly clever.  Check out his Kindle short story about a Ghost Hunter here.  (To me it’s reminiscent of Mark Twain and it left me wondering over a few questions I’ve been meaning to ask him.)

Because of this publishing frenzy, I find myself drawn into discussions about the business side of writing more often than I would like. Suggestions to join Twitter (and rejoin Facebook), networking, agents, cover art, marketing campaigns . . . are regular conversation topics. And I don’t like it.

When I started writing “seriously” a few years ago, I did it because I’d just finished reading a book that I really loved and I just couldn’t find anything amazing to follow it up with. Then I had an idea, so I started writing. And I really liked it. No, I loved it. I wasn’t writing with an endgame in mind. I thought maybe someday I would publish. But that’s not why I started writing and that’s not why I continue.

After feeling unsettled by one of these business oriented conversations, I thought of a specific scene from the movie About a Boy. If you don’t already know, About a Boy was actually a book by Nick Hornby, first. I haven’t read the book in years and as the movie and the book diverge a bit (there is a remarkable lack of Kurt Cobain in the movie), I’m not sure if this particular conversation takes place in the book or not, so I’m quoting the movie. To set the scene, the adolescent, Marcus, is about to educate the immature man-child, Will, in the nature of what a meaningful relationship is.

Marcus: What’s the difference between a girl who’s your friend and a girlfriend?

Will: Well, I don’t know – do you want to touch her?

Marcus: Is that so important?

Will: Yeah, Marcus.  You’ve heard about sex, right?  It is kind of a big deal.

Marcus: I know, I’m not stupid.  I just can’t believe there’s nothing more to it.  I mean, like, I wanna be with her more.  I wanna be with her all the time.  And I want to tell her things I don’t even tell you or Mum.  And I don’t want her to have another boyfriend.  I suppose if I could have all those things, I wouldn’t really mind if I could touch her or not.

This scene is exactly how I feel about my manuscript and writing in general. Is the touching, or publishing in my case, so important? I write for myself. I write for the love of writing. I write because I have a story inside of me that wants to be told. I write to entertain anyone unfortunate enough to have me thrust my unpolished manuscript on them. I do it for the love of the art, even if I am not the greatest artist. Would I like to be published? Absolutely. But, if I can feel fulfilled, if I can write my story, if I could share it with many people who adore it, I wouldn’t mind if I was published for a meager sum of money or not.  (But, maybe, if I have to rely on writing as my livelihood one day I’ll feel differently.)

In case you’re wondering, NaNoWriMo is going well.

November 6 NaNoWriMo word count: 0

November 7 NaNoWriMo word count: 2, 046

November 8 NaNoWriMo word count: 2,009

November 9 NaNoWriMo word count: 2,733

TOTAL WORD COUNT: 15,100