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?


Filling the Well Redux


For ten days, I unplugged from the electronic world. It is one of the best ways I know to “fill the well” — everyone gets depleted, and that includes creative types who love their work. Sometimes I just need to stop the normal routine and do something completely new. I came back with a fresh perspective and within hours accomplished more than I had the previous month. Yes! The book is going to galleys, finally:)

There I am on Puget Sound, 2000 miles from home, taking in the new and releasing the old. That was a week ago. Today I found the following post from 2003 (!) and thought it expressed just what I wanted to write about today. Circumstances have changed, but the idea remains the same:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is one of my favorite all-time writing books. I use her suggestions and ideas constantly in my own writing life. One of the most convenient is the notion of “filling the well.” Until I heard Cameron explain it, I never realized that creativity was something to be nurtured, something that needed care and cultivation. I simply assumed that there was a never ending supply and that when I started to feel uninspired and cranky it was because my muse was pissed off about something I’d written.

She was pissed all right, but not in the way I believed. In truth, she wanted a break. She needed to fill the well. Happily, my muse fills the well by doing the sort of fun things I like to do when I’m not writing. She likes going on vacation, getting away from the four walls of the writing room. She likes a shake up in the routine, which should always include wild dancing and fine wine. Also friends, lovers, artist dates, good food, many laughs.

All of which I am happy to oblige her with…

This weekend, I had a fabulous couple of days with two dear friends, Kris and Ann. Ann’s lovely sister lent us her cottage on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. Since it’s pre-season, the island was only pleasantly populated with boaters out for a good time instead of it’s high summer packed party people atmosphere. We brought plenty of wine and chocolate and ate our meals out. We talked until all hours as the candles flickered down. We slept late and read our novels over coffee in the morning. On Saturday, we danced the afternoon away to an awesome cover band called New Decade. All weekend we were wild and free and my muse was in alt.

It’s always good to get home, however. Rusty missed me and Al has vacation all this week. He’s got projects around the house and I’ve offered to help with painting the garage. In the meantime, we’ve been hanging out, listening to music, sleeping late, having our own fun. Yesterday I talked him into going out to lunch, and then for dinner we fired up the barbecue. The weather’s been so fine here in Michigan. My daffodils are in bloom. Life is so very good. All of this as a way of saying I won’t be doing much writing this week. I’ll be too busy accomodating my muse by filling the well.

In Stitches

I sliced some skin on my two favorite fingers the other day, requiring stitches and pain pills. Right hand, index and thumb. This morning I discovered that I need these exact digits to zip my jeans. Looks like yoga pants for the holidays. Not easy to type either, so keeping this short. I’ll be back when I heal. Meanwhile have yourselves a good holiday season.

Tricks of the Sentence Trade

There are teachers who write and writers who teach; we are separate species. I’m a writer who teaches, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about my day job. It means it’s a job, not my life’s passion. It’s an interesting job for a writer, too, since I’m helping college freshmen learn tricks of the sentence trade.

I would not advise any writer who must make her own living to become a teacher. I’ve had many jobs (retail, restaurant, secretary) and every single one of them offered more free time to write than teaching does. Despite June, July & August. When I taught full time (and to support yourself, you must teach full time, probably summer, too) I wrote a book every summer. When I took time off teaching just to write, I read my summer books with horrified eyes before throwing them away. They weren’t even worth revising.

I know of a few full time teachers who manage to write decent books in their spare time. Top notch mystery writer Amanda Cross is the pseudonym of a (now deceased) professor. Then there’s Eloise James, who’s still raising children while writing Regency romances and teaching Shakespeare. So it can be done, just not by me.

So why do it? Except for writing, teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I enjoy the challenge of it. But to do it well, I spend precious hours preparing lessons when I could be writing a novel. In fact, I didn’t write at all last week, the first week of classes. I am hoping things settle down and I’ll be able to work on an almost completed draft, but I’m not counting on it.

And that’s okay, because this winter I’ll  be writing instead of teaching. I am able to do this because my dean is very good to her adjunct faculty and because my husband has an excellent job. Also, both my kids are out of college and have really great jobs of their own.

If you’re a writer and you need a day job, I’d say choose anything but teaching. But if you’re a writer and you don’t have to foot all the bills yourself, becoming an adjunct at a college in your area is a nice option. And they are always hiring.