Tag Archives: writing

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.

 

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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:)

Feisty Fifties

59.Cindy.IMG_0913At 59, I’m almost done with the decade Gail Sheehy calls “feisty” and I wonder what took me so long. To get feisty, I mean. Really, I spent my 50s publishing novels and teaching writing. Not what I’d call feisty  activities. But then something happened this year, well, a lot of somethings happened, and I snapped into feisty so fast it made my head spin.

As an example of my new-found adventuress spirit (it’s not new, it just went away for awhile and now it’s baaaack) I’m going away alone today on a special sort of date with myself. I’m even spending the night. I’m not really clear on why I’m doing this except something inside says “you must.”

With Mac and my camera, I’m hoping to get some writing done and maybe start dabbling with a new video project. But then, maybe I’ll just write a few pages and then read. (I want to learn about this next stage Sheehy talks about, the “Selective Sixties” which are right around the corner for me.) I’m going to be spontaneous. I’m going to look out at the water. I’m going to order a really good dinner and eat alone in the restaurant attached to the hotel. I’m considering dressing up. Which for me means not jeans. Just going to see how I feel when I get there.

I first heard about writing alone in hotels from the ever-feisty Anne Stuart. There’s something about being alone in a room with a book project on deadline that fires up a creative spark. It works in a way being at home does not. Stuart has often drafted entire books over a long weekend this way. My friend Laura Zera also swears by writing outside the house. She has a little office she goes to every day where she is not distracted by domestic duties. Natalie Goldberg prefers coffee shops as does Jennifer Weiner.

Me, I like writing early in the morning, in my blessedly empty house, in my pajamas. But just lately I’ve been stalled on my current fiction project and the mere thought of this mini-getaway sparked some plot ideas. Really, I can hardly wait. Check in is at 3. Better start packing:)

Words on Fire

candleOnly four dry days in June 1977, the year my basement flooded. Elvis hadn’t died yet, but another, more personal loss happened under my feet as I slept. My basement filled halfway up the stairs with water. The chaos involved in that was nothing to a big drama in three small boxes that seemed no big deal to my husband.

I’d been writing diaries and filling notebooks with poems since I was 11 or 12. I saw right away that all three of the boxes were soaked, my stuff ruined. I grabbed the top notebook anyway. It was wet, but the ink had only smeared, not completely disappeared.

“My poems! Mike! What should I do?”

He looked down at me. “Throw them away,” he said. And then he left for work.

Alone with the ruins of a necessary part of me I barely understood, I wondered if I’d come to a sweet resting place where my head no longer filled up with words on fire until I had to write them down or burst into flames.

I kneeled over the boxes, not caring that I was wearing my favorite pair of bells. The jeans would survive; they were made of tough material. My writing, on the other hand, was disintegrating before my eyes. I pulled the top spiral bound books, which seemed semi-okay, out of the boxes. My oldest stuff–the white diary with gold lock and key, a picture of Mickey Dolenz, my favorite Monkee, hundreds of sheets of loose notebook paper—all of that was unsalvageable soup.

I came upstairs, my arms full of notebooks. I set them in the kitchen sink and went back down to clean the mess, a jug of Lysol in one hand, old towels in the other. Hours later, I wrung out the rags and hung them on the laundry line that spanned the basement ceiling.

I looked at my notebooks in the kitchen sink, noticed how the light from outside shone down on them. For the first time in ten days, the sun had made it through the clouds. I opened all the windows before getting into the shower.

“What are these doing in here?” Mike said, coming home from work to a sink full of poems instead of dinner on the table.

“Oh, I, ah, maybe I can save them.” I combed out my long wet hair and avoided his eyes after I noticed that he was looking at me like I was a sad and deluded little girl.

While we waited for the pizza delivery, Mike watched the news and I hung my poems up to dry with the damp rags on the line downstairs.

The next day, I set up a card table in one of the empty bedrooms. Then I called my mother and asked to borrow her typewriter. I went to the mall, but instead of shopping for shoes or another pair of velvet hot pants, I bought typing paper, a new ribbon, and a bottle of White Out.

Fifty-six poems survived the great flood. And surprising stuff happened when I typed them out on fresh paper. Hours flew by like minutes. I discovered the value in revision. And I learned how to woo inspiration. The old seductress had come again, and since that day, she has never left.

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