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.

Twitter Inspiration

Found out about National Romance Novel Writing Month, aka NaRoNoWriMo, a little late but decided to jump in anyway. Need all the inspiration I can get for Luke and Chloe, the star-crossed lovers in my WIP. Plus, they’re on Twitter @naronowrimo so I can check in. Got 300 more hard-won words today, and that’s all good. I revised 45 pages as well.

Traditionally, NaNoWriMo is “all new words” but that’s not what I need and I don’t think NaRoNoWriMo cares that I’m in revision mode. For me, that means going through, page by page, and adding to the story, upping the conflict and hotness factor. When I say hotness factor, I’m not talking 50 Shades of anything–I’m talking about the initial attraction between two people who are perfect for each other.

That’s priority one for me. I want the romance to shoot the moon. And when I wrote the first draft, I didn’t take it far enough. (Thank you to my critique group: Vernie Dale, Tom Phillips, and Bob Baker!) The other thing I need to do is flesh out a skimpy subplot that absolutely plays into the main theme of the story and is tightly entwined. In the first draft, that got very short shrift. My writing pals sat in my dining room a week or two ago and helped me brainstorm where the book needed filling out.

Because for me, it’s always about filling in the parts I skip over. Every writer has her weak spot, and that’s mine. What that means in practical terms is the first draft will be short, lots of it will be internal monologue (telling where it should be showing) instead of action, dialogue and conflict. So I need to use what I have but carefully cut the “sitting and thinking” and fill in the right stuff. The best stuff: Action. Dialogue. Conflict.

Revising, I also look at language and try to add color and humor. Cut those cliches right out of my book! One way to do that is to switch the cliche up with a new edge. Thank you Twitter for leading me yet again into inspiration! If you’d like to follow me, I’m @CynthiaHarriso1. I always follow back real people who are not scary:)

The Book That Wrote Itself

This is the easiest book I have ever written. I thought I’d at least have trouble with the boys, because I usually don’t put young children in my stories, but once I got their names, everything else followed: their voices and personalities.

I haven’t written much about my experiences as a single mom of two little guys, but those years still stand out sharply in my mind, and while I’m writing I can vividly recall how it felt.

So this book seems to be writing itself, even the middle, which usually gives me endless grief. I just wake up every day and know what needs to happen next.

I used to think Hemingway was crazy becasuse he always left off his writing knowing his next scene, what would happen next. For me, I needed to get it all down, so I used to write until I was written out. Now I realize that what that did was burn me out, so that sometimes I didn’t feel like writing at all the next day. 

Another thing that resulted from writing myself out is that I’d skip all kinds of things. I never lingered to fill in the details. I just wanted to get the plot down. I was always in a hurry to finish.

And what’s funny is I’m limiting myself to a thousand or so words a day (sometimes I write more, but not more than two thousand) and I’m writing faster and building a better book. I’ve got less than ten thousand words left to hit my target of 55,000, and it feels like that’s about where I am in the story, pretty close to the black moment, pretty close to place where everything feels hopeless for the couple and you have to wonder how in the world they are ever going to get their happily ever after.

I can’t believe August (and school) are right around the corner, but I can believe that I’ll have this book wrapped up in ten days or less…

Subtle Influences

I’ve been studying astrology this summer, learning how to read my birth chart, which I had drawn up  a few years ago at one of those computerized sites. The site spit out a reading along with the chart, but I’ve heard those can be impersonal and not exactly on target. The best person to read a birth chart is the person who was born at the moment those stars were in place.

So I’ve been memorizing glyphs and discovering my planets and houses and aspects and now, finally, I am writing out a full report on what the stars say about me. I’m synthesizing all the information (there is a ton of it) into a big picture. You would not believe how accurately the stars spell out the major events of my life. 

But this is a little bit beside the point I want to make. Which is, why am I doing this? What do I have to gain from it? How will it help my writing project? And before today I had to admit that this little hobby would not influence or help my writing in any way. At least not this story. Maybe in the future I’ll have a character who is an astrologer, but nobody like that is knocking on the door of my imagination right now.

Then, while writing my morning’s 1000 words, I found myself using the language of astrology in a long passage. I usually have trouble with love scenes, but these fresh metaphors allowed the scene to practically write itself. Must be Venus in my fifth house, which, for those of you not into astrology, is the house of joy in creating.