Tag Archives: writing

Digging Into Revision

Back when I missed my deadline last October, I marked off the month of January as what one of my writer friends calls “writing cave” time. No distractions, appointments, or lunches. Just write. Every day. Except Saturday, which is my day with Al.

So six days, flat out, all day, until dinner or until I hit my page target (ten pages a day), or until I burned out. So how’d that turn out? Well, I think I’m going to make it before my trip to Seattle. But there were a few bumps along the road. Some days I struggled to enter the cave at all. I got a cold. Sniff. That was two days. I had burn out days. One or two. I had a problem, a psychological block, which Chuck Wendig (hilarious writer who blogs about writers and writing and other things) would call FAKE WRITER’S BLOCK but I know was just me working out a knotty problem with a character and her situation.

You might guess: it was the sex scene that wasn’t about sex. I finally got it right. But that took a few more days. Other than those things, I wrote most days. I also grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, and dusted and vacuumed the living room and my cave. I’m lucky. Al takes care of the bathrooms. We have three. And he also does a ton of other stuff around here.

When I’d made that January promise, I’d conveniently forgotten about Luke. My book. The one that came out in December that I have done hardly a thing to promote. I mean, really, I have a folder of ideas but that’s it. Everything else, other people did for me, without me asking. I’m lucky twice. Today I posted a picture of the “real Luke” family on Facebook for #TBT. That’s Throwback Thursday for non-FB people.

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It’s  not really promo because I didn’t put it on my author page, but my friend page. I didn’t add a “buy” link or anything. I didn’t even mention Luke or the book. I will get to promo, just not yet. It’s too cold out for one thing! And my Mac is busy doing other things, like writing this blog post. I have kept up my twice a week posting because it’s something I really love to do. But blog posts aren’t really promo…I don’t think social media really works as far as promotion. I like to tweet and sometimes I’ll (rare) throw up a link or quote a review of Luke, but mostly I make a few quick visits to tweeps (Twitter-speak for those of you not on that site) do some RTs (re-tweets) and follow links. Except for the blog, I have spent far less time on social media than usual. As I said, I don’t think it helps sell my books, but it relaxes me and I get to connect with other writers that way.

You know, we all work alone in caves so it’s nice to get out and wave hi every once in awhile. But the way to get the work done is to limit social media and defer all other activities until the pages for the day are done. My limit was ten pages a day but I always went over that. I’ve clocked several thirty-page days. But the thing is, this is revision of a first draft. So those thirty (or however many) pages get edited again the next day.

I remember Louise Erdrich saying that’s how she works from the first draft. She picks up the pages from the previous day and makes them as good as she can before moving forward. I’ve been doing that with this second draft, so it’s a combination of second draft and third round edits. Next I will let the manuscript rest while I’m in Seattle with Owen, then read it again when I return. If I can bring myself to ever leave this little sweetheart!

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Something occurred to me as I went through this month of intense revision. I realized that it was okay to go at a pace that felt natural to me. It was okay not to make my self-imposed deadline. (My editor said “take as long as you need.”) I only have this one life and maybe it’s about more than writing (gasp!) This is, after all, the first month of my formal retirement from teaching college. Writing is now my only job. For the rest of my life. I should enjoy it, not push myself because soon a new semester will be underway. So, I gave myself permission not to finish if it didn’t happen. Yet, it is happening. It was a goal, so I’m happy it’s looking like I’ll meet it, as I’d like to finish this book already and move on to what’s next.

Notice I didn’t say “the next book.” During this month in the cave I realized there’s a lot going on outside. And I want to be part of it. Even though it has a treasured place in my heart, writing has never ruled my world. It’s always been “people first, writing second.” When I was working the day job and wishing for the time of life when I could devote myself entirely to writing, I had no idea that when that day came, I might have other things on my mind. Like a new grandson coming in April. Let’s see, I have a trip to see my first grandson in February. Then in March, two weeks with Al in sunny Florida. New grandbaby in April. Maybe in May I can get focused on writing again. Meanwhile, I’ve got some living and loving to do.

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Sex and the Shadow

hawaii3Shadows are where danger lurks. Shame is in the shadow of every single life. And sex includes shame for so many of us. Makes sense, then, that one of my problems as a writer has always been with sex. Open the door or keep it closed?

Those who throw the door wide and step right through would argue that sex is the primal urge in life and drives most of our actions most of our lives. Why not just admit it and stir sex into the mix?

Those who would rather not say hey there are other basic human bodily functions we don’t feel the need to write about so why should sex be any different?

I used to be firmly in the “keep the door shut” camp until I signed a contract that called for a consummation scene and my editor called me on it when I didn’t write one. I think now that part of my issue with writing sex was shame. I’ve got some of that, but then I think most people do, especially women, especially women who have had men take advantage of them sexually. We carry our scars and some of us think it might be our fault it happened. We bury all that and we certainly don’t want to stir it up by writing about it.

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But sex is why we are all here. Literally. We would not be walking this gorgeous earth, not one of us, if somebody didn’t have sex with somebody else, and yes, that would be our biological parents. Also sex is beautiful between loving couples (or whatever combination you are into). Orgasm is the closest we will ever get to completely letting go of our thinking mind and entering into a state of bliss on earth. So why the shame? Why the secrecy? Why the guilt heaped upon me by wrinkled noses, poked out tongues, and suggestions that I give out page numbers for sex scenes so they can be skipped over?

And that’s just my family. Also, yes someone did stick their tongue out at me when they saw the cover of my latest book and the inevitable question arose (ahem) and I answered that yes, this book had sex in it. It’s about a single mom. She falls in love with the man of her dreams. She’s not a virgin. She has two little humans walking around that are part of her deal and central to her identity who prove that. So, you know, sex is an important component of the love relationship. Sexual attraction is what, if you’re lucky, leads to love.

A rational single man, I have heard, will not want to marry a single mom. No way. Kids are baggage. The actual kind you can see and must feed and care for along with this woman. But sex is not rational and neither is love. Also, they go with one another. I can’t be “in love” with someone and not want to have sex with them. They go together like cookies and milk. So yeah, my novel is sorta The Brady Bunch meets Sex and the City. And I’m coming out of my shadow to say I like it like that. It’s supposed to be that way. That is the way the story goes.

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There’s more to love than sex. Of course there is. I once had an emotional affair. You know, that thing where you’re just friends and then one day there’s more? But you can’t have sex because the divorce isn’t final yet or the spouse just doesn’t understand? Only your “friend” who you now love beyond reason understands. There’s no sex there. Not yet. But if the emotional affair continues, there will be sex. And in my case, there was no sex, but only because we both knew the timing was wrong. We stayed friends, too, but it was difficult at first. Because emotion almost took me under. Sex is a healthy release of that emotion we call love, which is why it deserves to walk out of the shadow and onto the page.

I have admitted before that, for me, writing is therapeutic. I can say now that writing sex scenes helped me face my shadow and the shame I formerly, wrongly, sadly, associated with the most awesome act on earth.

7 Stages of a Writer

AYLI.1_1251Shakespeare had his “7 Ages of Man” and as I look toward the cusp of big change, I celebrate my own, happier (but not even close to as brilliant) version.

Stage 1: She opens a book full of words, reads. Then another, then hundreds of others. Next, alongside, in fact, she opens an empty book, one with a lock and key, and day after day she writes her secret heart out. She will continue these two endeavors for the rest of her life.

Stage 2: She meets her original mentor, Mrs. Grow, who will help her grow into her true destiny. She learns the thrilling joy, like nothing else ever, of seeing her words in print in the Cardinal, West Jr. High’s school newspaper. No “A”  on any report card can compare.

Stage 3: She follows her desire, a three chord progression, music-lyric-poetry. More publication, in literary magazines and a brief stop to fall in love. She doesn’t know yet that another love, her first love, the love of words, will win out after all.

Stage 4: She writes everything now: stories, poems, diary entries, book reviews, even (very bad) novels. Some things find publication until another romantic misadventure sends her off-track and into a new world entirely. Still, she holds fast to her pen and paper.

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Stage 5: She must teach and in teaching she learns the craft of writing. She writes a book for her students and in writing this book, her only full length non-fiction to see print, she fulfills a long-held dream: to hold her book in her hands. And she blogs, taking her diary public, but keeping a private one as well. The bad novels turn better as she teaches and learns and never ever stops reading. Now in fact she is paid to read and write about what she has read.

Stage 6: She finds a way to fold writing into her life, a summer here, a winter there, a five year sabbatical that led to an agent and — at last! — a few novels that are not terrible. A small publisher offers her a contract and now 7 novels in, she has realized all of her dreams and more. Who, in 1960, could dream up the internet? So as some modes of writing fall away, others replace it. Tweets instead of poems, blog posts instead of book reviews. Life is rich and rewarding if a tiny bit too full … until finally retirement from teaching opens a new door.

Stage 7: I am here. Still writing. And reading. My children are grown, my life is serene, and I sit in winter at my desk, revising my best book yet. The book I am writing is always the best book.

Serious Moonlight

If we let it, the full moon tonight will work in perfect harmony with things we want to come true in 2015. I’m not one to make resolutions in the new year. I resolve to make changes, take actions and move forward with my life’s purpose every single morning.

But 2014 was an unusual year for me, so with this first 2015 new moon I thought it couldn’t hurt to ritualize my daily habit of trying to do my best. First, do you know what you want to accomplish with your life? Try to clarify that if you can. I want to love and be loved. That’s really it, although this love business manifests in a few different ways for me: writing, relationships, health.

Writing

My goals for writing have always been simple: to write the best books I can and to keep a daily writing routine. I feel that writing is a sacred gift that steers me through life, so I am humbled and grateful when anyone else reads and appreciates my words. I’d do it even if I was certain I was the only person in the world who’d ever see a word I wrote. Me and Emily Dickinson:) But even Em, with her carefully stitched manuscripts tucked into a box under her bed, sent some of her work out into the world.

This year’s first new moon calls for us to take action on our life goals, and in that spirit I have stretched a bit further this year, resolving, like Emily, to take my work out into the world by setting up readings, book signings and some other things truly out of my comfort zone. Too often with resolutions, we don’t do the footwork so much as make a wish. This new moon demands we put in real effort, something beyond saying the words. So what else can you do to forward your goals? Maybe something you’ve been hesitant to try? Now is the time to go for it, because success is in the stars.

Relationships

I have a new grandchild coming. I was blessed with little Owen last year, and now his cousin is set to come into this world in 2015, and that kind of love, well, you need to experience it to understand it. I certainly had no idea of the bigness that would be my love for Owen. It’s pure and it’s powerful. I’d like all my relationships to be that way, so effortlessly full of kindness and compassion.

So, for the action portion of this intention, I will use a mindful meditation that focuses on lovingkindness. I have meditated daily for many years, and only occasionally have I added this extra piece to the practice. You begin by summoning up a mental image of a particular person. There is a sequence some teachers recommend: such as a friend, an acquaintance, an enemy, a loved one, a stranger. If you need self-love, as I do, include yourself. In fact, start there. I kind of just let this part flow as far as the mental pictures, and there are words too. These can be any variation on one Spirit Rock mantra: “May I feel protected and safe/may I feel contented and pleased/may my physical body support me with strength/may my life unfold smoothly, with ease.”

And of course, through it all, breathe, notice thoughts, let them go.

Health

Self-love. Self-care. I have not done much of it in this life. Writing has taken care of the inner me. For most of my life, I kind of just let the outer Cindy fend for herself. She’s getting on in years. In 2015, I will be 60 years old. I want to be kind to my physical body this year by giving it what it needs and reversing or slowing down the habits that help me stay in false security. I’m talking about soothing substances…food, drink, chemicals…I put into my body and the frequency and enthusiasm with which I choose unhealthy stuff.

Actions here include keeping a food journal, working on a book about health and diet with my friend Lisa, and getting rid of the pounds accumulated since Thanksgiving by working Lisa’s plan and counting calories. I’m also focused on physical movement, yoga every day, and walking more, because we writers are not known to be a particularly active bunch.

So that’s my third intention and the actions I will take as this new moon comes into fullness tonight. To love myself, body and soul, and to treat this slightly tattered package with the care it deserves.

What about you? What will you do for your one vast and beautiful life in 2015? Whatever it is, do it now, with sacred intention, and you will see serious moonlight results.

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.

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