Happy Writing Holidays

Stephen King does it every single day, sometimes including Christmas day. So does Nora Roberts. What is “it”? Writing. Some of us can’t go even a day without pen and paper or a keyboard. Unless we get our writing fix, things just don’t feel right.

That’s true for me, too, but I am not wealthy and I don’t have assistants to help me get ready for the holidays. Al is working more hours than God, saving up for the big retirement…so I alone must clean and shop and wrap and cook. And also bake cookies with Ben!

Since my own retirement from teaching, I’ve started most days with morning pages, and if I can’t work on my novel, those tide me over, like a snack before dinner. Or photos of my grandchildren until the next visit. But yesterday I had the whole day and I used it. Tucking laundry duty into yoga stretch breaks, I read and revised my entire manuscript.

It took about ten hours. I cut about ten thousand more words and didn’t add nearly as many back. But this morning I noted in my morning pages the holes in the plot that I need to fill. I have already filled Ben’s stocking and wrapped all the gifts. I just got back from grocery shopping for cookie ingredients and Christmas dinner.

I’ve got some final organizing to do tomorrow. Like get the guest room ready! I’m not sure when I will write those last few scenes, but I’m not worried because I know where I need to go and I’m almost ready for Christmas. I keep checking my calendar…can it be true?

Will Al really be home forever in one week? We have waited a long time for this. Even though friends think we’re in for a bumpy ride, I cannot wait to begin the next part of our life together!

And to all my friends, I wish you a heart full of love this holiday season. ❤

Character Arc

In three weeks, Al, my husband, is retiring from his career of 40+ years in the same building, with the same company. We’ve been married 35 years, so as long as I’ve known him, he has gone to his job every day. In that time, I’ve changed jobs six times. What this means is that I am not good at working for others. I dislike anyone having authority over me. Al is the opposite. He thrives in his work community and the bosses love him.

How will this play out in real life for us when he is finally home and does not have a place to go to that makes him feel secure, special, important and needed? His job does all of that, because he’s made himself valuable to the company through the years. Now I’m going to have to help him find similar rewards in retirement. I know it’s really up to him, but what’s a spouse for if not support and love? I gotta be there for him.

Books demand the same thing. You gotta be there for the book every day for many days, many hours of every day. Unlike Al, I take a day off writing once or twice a week, but it’s kind of like eating sugar. If you eat sugar one day, the next day you’ll want it again. If I take a break from writing one day, the next day it’s easier to take another break. Then another. So for me, I need to write (almost) every day or I lose the flow of the novel.

I have only recently realized the full extent of what a big deal this is, for both of us. Before this realization, I assumed Al would be like me, happy to be away from the grind, better as the boss of his own life, a better life having fun (finally!) with me. And he still might surprise me. He has so many projects he’s put off over the years, begging for him to start. Being together as a couple is the biggest project of all. Al has more often than not worked six or seven days a week.

We are in for a major adjustment. Ironically, my main character is in the midst of an even bigger adjustment. Her husband died unexpectedly and she went off the rails a bit, retiring from a job she loved, selling her house, moving from Detroit to Florida. She’s really not dealing with any of it, because, well, there’s a murder she has to help solve.

I set my deadline to finish this book as December 31, 2019. That’s Al’s retirement date. Three weeks. And I just finished my final chapter. Should be perfect timing. Except. I just chopped 20K from my manuscript. Why? Because they were boring. They didn’t move the plot forward or build character arc. In fact, my character’s arc is flat. I have not yet gotten to the heart of my character’s inner story, which has a major effect on her outer world.

How can an arc be flat, you may wonder. Well, it’s called avoidance. My character has some difficult changes to adjust to, kinda like I do in my own life. Many of them involve dismantling her former idea of what her life had been. She got some things wrong and now she needs to fix them so that her life can go on, better than before. That’s character arc. For a book to be satisfying (at least to me) a character has to grow, change, and learn something about herself during the course of the novel.

I pretty much skipped those parts. I write crime novels and my focus has been on the murder and whodunnit. I’m not sure I’ll write another 20K words in three weeks. I’m not even sure my character’s arc plus the subplot around it (which I also gave short shrift) needs to be 20K. I won’t know until I write it. The book will be as long as it needs to be for me to get that satisfaction of my character gaining wisdom and being happier for it.

Maybe writing my character’s arc will help me with my own major life change. Wish me luck! And have a happy holiday season.

Home Not Home

A few days ago I returned to Michigan from Florida. This photo is of my writing room, the place I missed the most. My husband took a six week leave of absence to spend time with me in our Florida home. I called this time our “practice retirement” although he doesn’t like when I say that. I’m not sure what his problem is with my characterization of our time in Florida. He’s a mystery to me, one I was unable to solve in six short weeks.

I have been retired four blissful years. Al was supposed to retire a few years ago, when we bought a sweet little condo in St Pete, but decided not to at the last minute. Thus I spent two winters alone in St Pete, falling more and more in love with it. Al assures me he is ready to retire (for real this time) by the end of the year. One of the things we are trying to figure out as we go forward is where to live. Michigan, where we both grew up and have lived our entire lives? Where our dearest friends and much of our families live? Or Florida, where we love taking walks on the beach? I feel less anxious in Florida. Michigan winters are misery for me, with the bad weather and worse driving conditions.

After six weeks, I know what I want: to live in Florida in a larger place. One with a writing room. Al is not so sure. And that is the heart of our biggest problem as a married couple. We can’t agree on this. The plan I see rolling out so perfectly appears not to suit him. We don’t have easy agreement. This bothers him less than it does me. He seems willing to take every day as it comes. He throws out suggestions that strike terror into my heart, like the one from last night. Why not sell the Florida place and keep our Michigan home?

We’ve been married 34 years but have not spent any significant time together in at least a decade, maybe more. Al has been working every day, including weekends, and I’ve been writing books. We are each happy in our own way. Yet we both yearn for something more. I want to travel more, to see my grandchildren (and their parents!) more. I want to spend lots more time with the man I married. If we could just agree on where to spend this time.

In Florida, I missed working on my novel and he missed having a sense of purpose. He wants to find something rewarding to do with the rest of his life. I understand that, because I derive great satisfaction from writing. Still, I assured Al I was ready to stop writing novels when he retired if our new life, whatever it turns out to be, makes it difficult. I will always write. But maybe not novels. I enjoy handwriting my morning pages with my favorite pen and notebook. I still love blogging after 17 years right here. I did those things in Florida. What I found was it wasn’t enough. In six short weeks, I learned giving up writing novels will not be so easy. I missed writing my book.

One of the methods I employ when writing a novel is to not worry about what happens next. In my first draft, I don’t plot or outline. Every day, when I am in the rhythm of writing, I know what I need to write that day. By the time I’m done for the day, I have an idea of what comes next. This is how I write books; it’s much more difficult to apply this to living a life. There are no rewrites in life. No revisions. No delete key.

Maybe that’s why Al dislikes my idea of “practice retirement” ~ these past six weeks brought up more questions than answers. The future is hard to plan. Maybe it’s like writing a book. You just take it one day at a time and edit as needed.

Going It Alone

img_3598While becoming a little annoyed by Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, I have to admit the course has brought big changes and been a good companion on what has been an amazing and mostly solo journey. Julia’s been nagging me to take a walk, but I’ve been too busy dancing.  And very week there’s a new artist date to plan; these dates are to be taken alone so nothing I do with friends counts.

This week I got the bright idea to combine a date and a walk and take myself on a beach walk. I’ve been five minutes from multiple beaches for a couple of months, but not once have I ventured to a beach alone. Not sure why. I love walking on the beach. The mellow sound of the waves rushing to shore. The gritty sand under my feet. The way each new wave washes my toes clean. The glitter of sunshine reflecting off water.

I guess it’s just always been something Al and I do together. If there’s any prevailing theme of this winter in Florida, it is Going It Alone. It’s been fine, but, honestly, I didn’t get married so I could be alone. I was terrified much of last year leading up to this time, worried about how I would handle things on my own. Al calmed my concerns by pointing out that it would only be for this one year–he planned to retire in December of 2017. That plan has changed, and it looks like I may be here on my own again next year, and possibly the year after that.

img_3502I don’t have to be here. I can stay with him in Michigan and we could rent this place out for the season. But I have a choice and I know I don’t want to live through another Michigan winter ever again. This has stirred up a bunch of uncomfortable feelings. I feel selfish. I feel tricked. I never planned to have a long distance marriage, even for a season, so I’m attempting to overturn an image, burnished over a lifetime, of what I thought a good marriage should look like.

Honestly, I’m a little upset with my husband for deciding not to retire quite yet even as I understand that he’s his own person and he should pursue his career the way he sees fit. He has always allowed me that same freedom. So yeah I’m a little pissed off at Julia and Al but I also know that each of them, in their own way, is helping me go mine.

 

Night Life

img_3533Been dancing my fool head off  in Florida. I love to dance, so this has been kind of a life saving surprise. I live in the Long Bayou condos, and they have quite the social schedule. There were two dances in February! Not to mention their line dancing and ballroom dancing classes. All of this happens at night, and when I first got here I was firmly in Michigan mode, meaning I didn’t go out after dinner. Ever. 7 pm saw me with a glass of wine and a book.

Then I got a peek at the social schedule for this place. They actually put a calendar out every month and it is jam packed with excursions and classes and activities. I saw that there was going to be a Valentine’s Dance, and I decided to take line dance lessons every Tuesday night so I wouldn’t look too much a fool. The Valentine’s Dance was so fun that I went to the dance they had the next week. And this weekend I went out dancing with some people I met here. Imagine a bar full of 60-somethings. I didn’t think such a thing was possible but it happens here in Florida.

img_3550-2The place was right on the Gulf and there were two bands, one outside on the deck and the other inside after dark. We danced until the sun went down, and then we went inside and danced some more. It was so much fun. I’m starting to make some good friends and I’m thankful for them. I could have never predicted that I’d be dancing so much. Apart from the perpetually warm sunny days, it’s been the best thing about my new life in Florida.

Have to admit: it’s not all dancing in the moonlight. I really miss Al. And  not just as a dance partner. I miss every single thing about living with him. All the things we take for granted from that first cup of coffee in the morning, through dinner together, to curling up in bed next to each other at night. But I’m hanging in there. I have placed framed photos of him around the house, we phone each other every day, we text. And we have an end date to this long distance marriage. He’ll be back in Florida in three weeks and I am counting the days. When he gets here, I’m taking him dancing.