Tag Archives: writing

Christmas Mirror

Baking cookies today and writing Christmas cards. A few things I need to buy for the party tomorrow, so shopping on agenda. Also some gift wrapping. I do love a tree full of presents under it. Tonight a simple dinner and tomorrow Anton will help me clean and shine up the house for our friends. Then we will do it again on Christmas Day.

Tomorrow, baking more cookies with Dee and meeting Marsha Tuesday at the bookstore before lunch at Macaroni Grill, our annual Christmas lunch spot. Can pick up the ham while I’m down that way. Christmas Eve, the kids get in late, but I will be on the sofa waiting. Hope the weather is not too bad or that they don’t lose their way. They’ve never been to our new place. I have their room all ready and cozy for the mama-to-be.

Christmas Day I’m lucky; my family is coming here, a long drive down the river and through Detroit for them. Yet, my grandparents lived out this way since the 1960s, and we always came north on Christmas, even before they put a freeway through Detroit, we’d take Southfield and then over to Rochester Road. One of the big buildings would spell out MERRY CHRISTMAS in strategically lit windows.

I’m making my son’s favorite cookies, cherry jam thumbprints…

She shut the Mac, soul-sick at a world that seemed to have the habits of the holidays down so pat. This character seemed to actually feel the cheer and goodwill she only thought about and once in a while wished she could find. Her dinner this Christmas Day: toast with jam. Jam made it festive, a splash of cherry red in the otherwise undecorated apartment.

Why put up a Christmas tree when she was the only one who’d see it? She preferred her walls of books, her comfortable reading chair, the sofa for when she needed deeper rest but wasn’t quite ready for bed. She’d been here twenty years. How was that possible? She’d meant to buy something, stop paying rent and smelling curry and hearing arguments and, less often, laughter through the thin walls.

She bought herself something every year, just because the sales were good. Electronics. A new e-reader, new laptop, new phone. Some years she’d buy herself all three. The newest models were better and faster and made her work less of a hassle. She should work now. She’d eaten her toast without tasting it. Time to get back at it.

She wrote about another world, one unlike her own in every way. In this other world, she had children, grown children, with spouses and children of their own. Her grandchildren. Three of them. Maybe another on the way…she tapped the keyboard, dreaming up a subplot as she typed. Her beloved came into the room and held his face to hers, looking over her shoulder at her words. He kissed her and left her to it. She wanted to call him back. She deleted the line where he left her side and inserted herself turning toward him for a real kiss, one that would lead elsewhere.

Readers liked that.

Her fingers travelled over the keyboard, taking her far away from the apartment, out of the country even, alone on a mission. By the time her fictional Christmas rolled around, the book would be finished and she would have no need to imagine all of the things people kept themselves busy with in this most annoying of seasons where over-sugared minds laughed and drank punch, oblivious as the world burned.

I’m not sure why people bother with such whiny stories this time of year, or why I read them right to the end, or why they follow me into my real life. From where does that chill of recognition come? I might have seen another self in a dream or a distant  mirror, but how is that possible? I pushed my shopping cart, full to the brim, toward the mistletoe. Anton had specifically requested it, and if I hung it between the buffet table and the bar, it could make the party tomorrow even more fun.

Happy Holidays

~ See you in 2015 ~

Five Ways to Find Writing Time

Lately, I just cannot find the time to write and it’s making me crazy because if I don’t write, I don’t fully enter into my inner reality. I live a shallow, surface, running around being busy kind of life. No month is busier than December and no time in recent memory have I been more occupied with everything except writing than these last several months.

One way I worked around my hectic schedule was to write, if nothing else, morning pages every day. They save me when I just can’t find more than a few minutes in my day  to write. It’s like exercise, even 20 minutes with pen and paper (or on the yoga mat) is enough to keep body and spirit in tune. Only just, but some days that’s got to be enough, and it is. I still follow Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” directions: three pages uncensored first thing every day. It works. It has worked for me since 1992. Here’s what Cameron says about morning pages in The Artist’s Way: “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art.” That’s key because my “real” writing needs to be polished and shaped and pretty. So this takes the pressure off thinking about what word to use or if I went off on a tangent  or didn’t add enough detail or any of that other stuff revision requires. Revision takes time. Lots of time.

Two things I never thought I would say “I can’t do lunch” and “I don’t have time to read.” When I first read a writer talking about not going to lunch with friends because it disturbed her writing flow, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. That was before I was published. I didn’t know then what I know now. When you are writing one book, correcting proofs on another, and promoting a third, it takes time and skillful management of your day. For me, I began to notice that writing, real writing–which for me right now is revising a novel–came in dead last. “Promotion” on Twitter and Facebook and even here on the blog is fun writing. It’s interactive. I don’t go deep into the writing cave all alone for hours at a time. Putting a stop to clicking around the internet is just another way to say “writers can’t have lunch.” At least until the days’ writing is done.

Three books are currently on the go in my Kindle. A novel, a non-fiction, and a book of short stories. I used to read books for a living and became a very fast reader as a result. These days even that doesn’t help as I struggle with my twin loves of reading and writing. I have heard MANY published writers say they don’t read at all when writing a book. This used to astound me. If I had to choose one, I’d choose…well, thank stars I don’t have to, because I became a writer as a result of my love of reading. So to hear a writer say they don’t read … it’s like a sin or something. Or so I thought. Until I took a look at my schedule and saw where my time was going.

Four things occupy the greatest amount of my time these days: teaching, home-making, socializing, and shopping. It is December, which accounts for the shopping. Also the decorating and baking  puts “home-making” higher on the list than usual, and socializing means cooking more for my own parties and for other bring-a-dish type events. I have one Saturday and one Sunday. Would have had a lunch here on Tuesday but I fell Monday and had to cancel. And then school…just like any day job, it takes the majority of time. But the end of term is in sight. Sigh of relief.

Five ways to find more writing time: Put writing first every day, stay off social media until after the real writing is done, promote your writing after the actual writing is done, don’t do lunch, and take calendar in hand, look at how you manage your time, and then rearrange your schedule so writing becomes a daily priority.

This isn’t easy to do. My day gig is about to end, so that won’t be an issue, but Christmas will. I’m not canceling anything already on the books. Neither am I adding anything else. I’m just saying no. And I have started telling my friends that January is my writing month and I will not be available for visits, lunch, shopping, or anything at all from 6 am until 2 pm Monday – Friday.  Since most of my friends are not writers, they do not understand this at all. They might even be upset with me for putting writing before time with them. They might think “it’s just one day out of the month” but what they don’t think about is that I am blessed with many friends. And once they figure out I’m done teaching for the winter, I will receive many lunch invitations. I’m just going to say no.

My novel was due in OCTOBER. If I say no to lunch in January and get down to serious work, it WILL be finished and on my editor’s desk by February 5, when I leave Detroit for Seattle to cuddle my grandson. My friends know how much writing means to me, but my motto has always been “people first, writing second” and I lived by that. Now I’m changing. Now I’m putting my own desire to write ahead of everyone else and finally am determined to be there for myself and my heart’s desire.

If you want to write more than anything, if you finally want to finish that novel or memoir or book of poetry, then you may have to make some difficult choices. Yours may differ from mine. But one thing I only recently learned is that is okay to put yourself, and your own special dreams and desires, first. Writing doesn’t consume my entire life: I take the weekends off. When I finish a book, I take a month or two to play and travel before I start the next story. When I’m not on deadline, or past deadline, I play with my week sometimes.

But when it comes down to finding ways to write, if you want it, you will do it. I have found ways to write all my life. The ways constantly evolve depending on my life stage. Being a mom and wife came first for a long time. I still wrote, but family came first. Always. Now my children are grown and have families of their own. My husband still needs me, but weekends are our time. Writing is what I want to do with my time right now, and I have a simple plan to make it happen.

Writing Saves Me

ceremony_002I have never missed a deadline in my life. Until this month.

When I used to hear published authors talk about being behind on a book, I judged them. How lucky were they? Didn’t they realize? What was their problem? Why risk losing a career most writers would do anything to get?

So, as happens when I judge just about anyone or anything, it happened to me so the universe could show me exactly how someone might miss a deadline. For the first time in my life, I took on too many work projects, including the third Blue Lake book. It happened because I have always been able to juggle everything. I taught emotionally impaired high school kids days, went to grad school at night, read every novel on the syllabus, including Ulysses (the James Joyce one!), labored over A+ essays on the weekends, wrote my Master’s Thesis, raised my sons, and had dinner on the table every night.

My time was squeezed so tight sometimes I couldn’t take a phone call or have a cup of coffee with family. But I still made homemade cookies every Christmas and gave away dozens of tins as gifts. That was then. This is now. And I can’t do it all anymore. Much to my surprise, I have slowed down. Must have been over the winter of ’13 when I wasn’t looking.

I knew the last thing I added to my schedule in September was too much, but I thought, you know, lie low in October and get it done. Power through. Except I couldn’t. I needed recuperation time between teaching and learning and writing and keeping house. And then I got it into my head that I needed my house to feel more like a home, and made a list of what that would take. If I just felt easy in my own space, all would be well, I thought.

It worked, sort of. I do feel more at home in my new place now that I’ve added some more Cindy to it. But this summer I got in a car accident, got an air bag concussion, and have had ongoing headaches, sleepless nights, and panic. So I had to add in therapy once a week to nip that. And therapy helped. Is helping. In fact, therapy, and talking to a spiritual counselor, helped me figure out why I couldn’t get it all done and what my priorities should be. So I dropped the least important items from my list and only kept my happy home, teaching and writing front and center.

I still will not make my October deadline and finally wrote and told my editor. She was really nice about it — I mean it’s better for her if I turn in the best book I can write, and it’s not there yet. But it will be and I have her blessing to take all the time I need. My publisher is a small boutique house and in that I am lucky. They do most of their sales in e-books and have flexibility that another, bigger publisher wouldn’t. And they treat their authors so well.

Yes, I missed my deadline, but it won’t be by much, and I hope to get this series rolling very soon. I have one “work” thing on my agenda in 2015: write. Because, in the end, writing is what saves me.

Finding Writing Time

photo-8When I asked for help with my writing dilemma in my last post, the online response was quick and effective, from comments here to email to Twitter to Facebook. And then I had a terrific session with the writers and instead of deconstructing my pages, we talked about the overall picture of how this last part of the book is going to play out. My critique group, Tom, Bob & Vernie, plus a bunch of other people, handed me back my happiness yesterday. Thank you!

Right away the group figured out that it’s one book, not two, so whew, although they are in favor of me putting the murder plot first. Surprise! My reunited high school sweethearts as subplot? They are almost fully written and I’m just now getting into the murder plot, wrote a scene yesterday morning instead of moaning in my diary again. Personal life sorted. At least for now.

Suggestion from a reader: “Write first thing”  is something I have always done but just lately I’ve been writing a lot of journal entries. Some personal turmoil has me questioning everything about my life (even writing!) and my private diary is the place I take that kind of problem until I can resolve it. In the past six months I have probably written a novel’s worth of journal entries. Yeah, 300 or so pages. I’m ready to stop now, or at least defer writing in the diary until I get the novel pages written FIRST THING.

Sometimes I know stuff, but I just need someone to remind me. I love a Facebook friend’s suggestion: hire someone to clean my house until the book is done. Why didn’t I think of that myself? I’ve done that before when life got super-busy. I’m doing it again now for sure.

Other suggestions:

Figure out what I can stop doing just for now, not forever. Right now, I can stop journaling so much and get back to the novel. And hire a cleaner.

Keep dance and meditation because they are important and will help the writing. Too many times I’ve let important things like mind/body health issues fall by the wayside as I push through a particularly busy period of my life. Not this time. The writing will be better if I feel good.

Make writing top priority just for now, not forever. I like to say “people first, writing second” but right now the people in my life are my students. I’ve got 60 of them. I’ve got the people first thing covered. More than. So I can take the first hour, at least, of my day just for myself.

Consider writing at night.  Never say never, especially if I write longhand in a notebook.

Butt in seat, baby. Basic writers’ mantra. Our “just do it” slogan.

Get rid of the idea that the story needs to have a happy ending. Switch it up! The day before this suggestion came in, even before I wrote my post asking for help, someone sent me an article about the different ways that stories can end. It was fascinating, and I’ll post more about it soon, but the synchronicity of it coming in at the exact right time feels like a blessing.

So I’m all set and thank you. Hope some other writers searching for answers found help here, too. And yes, wrote my pages first thing this morning. And  yesterday morning, too. There’s always time, if you make it. Knowing that people want to help, that’s happiness knocking on my door.

Stranger To My Happiness

unnamed-1Sharon Jones’s song lyrics deal with how another person can steal your happiness, leave you in misery. I know that’s true, but other things bring me down. Well, mostly one thing: no time to write my novel. And it’s almost finished. First draft, but still. So close … a million miles away. “I feel like a stranger to my happiness.” That’s it, exactly.

I always have time for a blog post, which is good as a stop-gap measure, at least it’s SOME kind of writing, but not even that happened yesterday. Opened up Mac to write this post and up popped an email saying “before you start your online certification training, you need to complete these tasks…” and five hours later, I finally did. This is BEFORE class begins. I complain but I want to do it, I signed up for it. Teaching online is handy in Michigan winters. 

Also, then there’s, you know, life. I get so involved in writing real life feels strange to me. I wake up from the “vivid continuous dream” that is my book, which runs like a movie in my head, and look around my house thinking where am I? Who do these things belong to? What am I supposed to make for dinner?  

For a while now, I have been immersed in reality, some of it really icky, like a car accident and other stuff, some of it necessary, like my day job and the extra training. And I’m still taking Mac classes! My whole way of being in the world has flipped. Which might be healthy, but the fact remains: I gotta write or I’m just not happy.

Blog posts and diary entries are well and good, but what’s really stealing my happiness is not being able to come up with a good, sustainable plan to work on my current novel-in-progress. It’s all fits and starts, an hour here, a few pages there, and that doesn’t work for novels. You need consistent hours and days, or I do. So, looks like that’s just not gonna happen for awhile and I have to accept it.

I knew this was coming and I thought I was prepared but I’m just not. So how do I steal back my happiness? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of dancing. And then I meditate and that clears my mind, which allows me to come up with creative solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. 

For one thing, my WIP has some issues I need to work out in my head. Right now it feels like I have two stories and they are not embracing each other, which is fine at the beginning and even in the middle but somewhere around the last third of the book the strands need to come together and I’ve been wondering if what I have is really two books because I’m not sure I see how this coming together business will happen.

I’m okay with breaking the book in two. I’m even okay with writing a murder mystery. But it will take time, I’ll need to learn some new things, because mysteries involve more time than my usual books: contemporary fiction with current social themes, a juicy love story and a HEA (happily ever after) ending.

I can’t figure out how I’m going to make this current work end on my usual HEA note. Sister Issues, my first published novel, was a “happy for now” ending, and I liked that okay, because my protagonist solved her biggest problems. But the end for my murder girl, I just can’t see it. When that happens I usually just write and the words come and if they are not good I fix them.

Maybe I can use this “not working on book” time to think about some of these things. My critique group meets tomorrow and they have the murder/mystery first pages. Right now it’s the subplot of the book, so they’ve read the first plot, a love story with a twist. They’ll tell me if they think the two work together.

Happy about that, but circling back around to, okay, when I figure out the answers, or want to try a few things, where’s my writing time?

First papers are coming in on Monday (before I’m finished with the term I’ll be reading and grading more than 500 essays) I’m also taking a class with tons of work, so I see that wave and there’s just nothing I can do but stay on top of it. While my novel floats to the bottom of the ocean and dissolves.

Or, I can find a way. Got any ideas?

 

Happy Accidents

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A happy auto accident is when nobody gets hurt. That’s what emergency people kept telling me when this happened to me last weekend. At first, I didn’t see it that way. My Jeepster was new with only two thousand miles on it and, as I told one of the sweet police officers, I had my last car for ten years and never even dented it. I’m not usually attached to my vehicles. I like a nice ride, sure, but the Jeepster was my first car crush. So I was a little heartbroken.

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And, as usual, when disaster (as I then saw the accident) struck, I was alone. My two best friends in town were unavailable. My husband was gone on a long weekend. I myself was headed out of town on an adventure of my own. My bags were packed. I hadn’t even hit the village limits when bam, the Jeepster hit a car in front of me and my air bags unpacked. The results looked like this arm and leg shot, but more all over my body. The arm (on left) is an air bag burn. The leg (on right) is just a bash.

They are nice shades of purple and yellow now. Healing and hurting just a little bit. That night, they didn’t hurt at all. After it was determined that everyone was okay and I was not getting a ticket as really the guy had slammed on his brakes so fast I didn’t have time to react, after I had unbelted and removed my overnight bag and checked my Mac to make sure it still worked (priorities!), I decided what the hell. The Jeepster was done for and I needed a rental. My bags were packed. I might as well continue on my journey

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EMT and police, even the tow truck and car rental guy, everybody thought this was an okay idea. My first instinct had been to go home and hide under blankets in bed. But then I thought about that empty house, and I just didn’t think it was gonna be good to go there. I needed to move forward with my plans. So I did. I was maybe 90 minutes late for check in and I was famished. No time for writing before dinner, but I did have an emergency vodka (mandarin orange!) on hand, so I poured that over ice and pressed my not-jeans. Yes, this picture is BEFORE the accident. But they are the same pants. I call them my Jack White pants because they remind me of him.

IIMG_1031 didn’t have the foresight to realize this was going to be a photo blog, as I don’t do those. But I always admire my friend Sharon’s photo blogs, and I did take SOME pictures, so I thought, well if I have to write about this, and I do, I’ll do it a little different. So thanks for the inspiration, Sharon! I only took this photo of myself for my dear friend Bodicia, who encouraged me to take a solo trip when I wavered. She gave me specific instructions on the delicious meal I should order and the wine I should drink and the snap I should take and send to her. So I did.

You can’t tell but my face has so much concealer on it (my nose and cheeks looked like my arm, red and raw) and it looks puffy to me, too. I had a very attentive waiter and a wonderful dinner. I let him treat me like royalty. I felt so good; I can’t remember the last time I felt that good. (Well, yes I can, but I’m not sharing.) I was, without a doubt, in shock. But I didn’t realize it. I just sipped my cocktail and thought, wow this is a happy place.  And I tweeted the picture of myself to Bodicia.

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This was my view. The staff didn’t know a thing about my accident, but they gave me the best table in the house, tucked into a corner where I had full view of the room but felt private, like I was in my own little world. Well, I was. And that magic feeling I mentioned before still has not gone away six days later, even as reality crashes in. I had a few moments these past six days of feeling anxious and worried, but much more I felt cared for by some unseen force, by the universe and by love. So much love came pouring in when I posted pics of the accident on Facebook. I think I was still in shock then because somehow a sunset got in the pictures … I feel like it was a happy accident. The sun is setting on a lot of trouble I’ve been carrying with me for awhile now.

IMG_0942One of my friends, Laura (here with me in Seattle) had a great perspective on my wish to find meaning in the accident, writing something like, well I guess you have the answer to the dilemma we discussed over brunch last week. Laura and I had an amazing time, we’ve known each other several years, but it was our first real life meeting and within minutes I was confiding in her like an old friend and she was listening and exuding empathy. Laura (I realized all at once) was right. And clarity about the next phase of my life was not all I gained by the Jeepster’s unfortunate crunch.

I also learned to take care of myself in a way I had only taken care of others before. This is a lesson I will never let go. It has taken firm root. Call it shock, call it my sweet Aunt Louise, who said “bubble bath, lots of bubbles.” It just so happened that my hotel room had a soaker tub twice as tall as the one at home. I’ve only ever been in a taller one in Belgium. And there on the counter was a nice bottle of bubble gel. After dinner, I drew myself a relaxing bath. I’m sure it helped the next day, when I hardly felt sore at all.

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After the bath, I fell into a deep sleep and woke three hours later at one a.m. feeling so alive and refreshed. I immediately thought “this was supposed to be a writing retreat, and I haven’t written a thing except Facebook comments!” I grabbed Mac, pulled pillows all around me and got to work, writing until the sun came up. Then I took a cup of coffee outside by the water and watched rosy-fingered dawn fight its way through the clouds. And then, I checked out of the hotel and drove home, where I slept the day away and got up to do more night writing.

IMG_1036As it must, reality has intruded on my happy accident interlude. But what remains is the sweetness of my find, and that is more than just figuring out an answer to my “What’s Next?” dilemma. I have my answer now. I know where I’m going, and I know how I will treat myself along the way. The lessons of that blissful adventure and the feelings it captured will live long after the bruises fade.

 

journal

Guest Blog: Plans by author Cynthia Harrison

I’m so chuffed! My wonderful pal from across the pond published my post on “Plans” today at A Woman’s Wisdom! Check it out:) Guest Blog: Plans by author Cynthia Harrison. Those of you who are my Facebook friends know about the irony behind this story as a plan I made over the weekend went crazily awry. I’ll be writing about that, maybe with pictures, soon:)

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