Careful What You Wish For

Friends gave me lots of advice before Al’s retirement. The thing I heard most often was the need for two television sets. That makes sense because I dislike sports and Al can’t conquer the English accent. He likes fast action stories and I prefer PBS style romance. But we often read at night instead of watching television, except when the “big game” is on. There’s always a big game. So we bought a second television. Done.

Many women chuckled and offered variations on “It’s an adjustment.” My more frank friends said “You will wish you had more time alone.” It’s only been 20 days, and while it’s been an adjustment, it’s not been difficult. We figured out how to divide chores the first week. In a very tangible way, this is my retirement, too. Cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping…he’s doing half of everything. And without and fuss. Or, not much.

As for fun and relaxing activities, Al is not one to sit around and…write books. He says he’s going to read some of my books, though. I won’t hold him to it. He is a non-fiction guy. That’s okay. He goes to the gym three times a week, golfs regularly and even played shuffleboard this week. He says it’s like pool. I didn’t inquire further.

I have never liked team sports: watching them or playing them. I prefer to read, and it’s true I have not had as much time to read since Al retired, but that’s fine. I enjoy doing things with Al like walking on the beach or just having a coffee together in the morning. We have been grocery shopping together and that’s more fun than you’d think. I had so many chores and rote routines, mixing it up energizes my chi.

I like line dancing though it’s not actually a sport. Well, I guess it can be, but I do it for fun. I love to dance. And I like yoga, too. It’s true I have not yet found the time to actually go to line dancing or yoga class since Al retired, but I plan to do both this week. The one thing I’ve done on my own consistently is go to the writer’s group. No surprise there. Writers are my tribe.

Most of my married life, I’ve not had a companion. Now I do. It’s what I always wished for and my dream has come true at last. It’s lovely. Sure, we’re still in our honeymoon phase of retirement. We have some tough decisions and hard work ahead, but I’m certain we’ll manage it all. Together.

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. ❤

Author Mission Statement

I wrote my author mission statement awhile ago, as suggested by Colleen Story. It’s good to know what you really want from writing because it saves time and trouble. Your journey as a writer in the world will become less about the shiny next thing and more about what will serve the unique writer you are and want to become.

“I am motivated by creative fulfillment. The tougher the work, the more diligently I seek transcendence. I’ve gained emotional resilience by traveling into the world, observing all I see and distilling the essence into story. My writing features strong women tested by tough circumstances.”

Since writing out this statement, I’ve looked at it often, and it always centers me and settles me back into what is most important, in writing and in life. Every writer will have a different mission statement. It feels like I always intuitively knew this about my writing self, but I couldn’t quite put it into words until now.

Thanks, Colleen!

Renewing Writing Practices

Reading and journaling these past weeks with Colleen Story’s game changing Writer Get Noticed, so many of my writing plans have come into sharper focus, including how best to adjust my writing practices. Specifically, I’m looking at changing writing routines when my husband retires at the end of the year.

When I finish Jane in St Pete in December, I have no plans for a next novel. Al’s retirement is not the only reason it feels right to take a break from writing novels. Since I’ve been publishing books, I’ve steadily released at least one a year. I noticed a slow down with Lily White in Detroit, my tenth novel.

At first I attributed my decreased output to the added research that comes with writing crime novels, but after studying Colleen’s writer’s self-help guide, I realized I’ve come to a natural stopping point, at least for now, at least as far as writing novels.

As I worked through the illuminating exercises Colleen lays out in a genius step process, I learned that while adjusting to a new life passage that involves fun, travel and moving out of my home state, I still want to keep some portable writing practices. Writing a novel takes a big chunk of time, a room of my own and steady commitment, day after day, month after month.

My life is not going to have those long stretches of time in a writing room, at least not for a year or maybe even longer. Although…I start every day with morning pages, and have done for many years. I won’t give up my journal and gel pen. And I don’t want to give up my fiction writing groups and friends, either.

Short stories helped me fill the gap after Lily White and gave me something to bring to my critique groups. Stories kept my craft skills sharp. And eventually, they led to Jane in St. Pete. Like many writers, I started writing fiction with short stories. I published a few of them, but mostly they were a way to begin to figure out my voice and how to write a narrative.

Things can get stale for me if I keep doing them over and over without hitting refresh, and that happened recently with morning pages. I’d write a half page and sit there with nothing to say. Julia Cameron, who introduced me to morning pages, recommends three pages every morning. That’s still what I shoot for. Answering the questions Colleen poses became a way for me to write not just three pages every morning, but four, five, even six pages. All while discovering what to do next.

I was on fire as I got deeper into the heart of what I really want out of my writing life now. More flexibility. Less sustained attention. Writing I can finish in a couple of hours or days. Long before I began the daily discipline needed for writing novels, I was a blogger. I also published book reviews, personal essays, poetry and short stories. All things I enjoyed and could do around my teaching job.

With the help of Colleen’s therapeutic method of writerly inquiry, I was able to figure out how to keep the writing I love close while figuring out how this new adventurous phase of married life will look in retirement. I have so many new goals. I’m looking forward to finishing Jane and going through the editing process with my publisher’s guidance. I can’t wait to gear up for the marketing aspect of a new release–Colleen also helped me clarify how to do publicity my way.

I’ve learned what does and does not work for me as a writer. I love morning pages, social media, my blog. I especially enjoy giving my website a fresh design, which will happen in 2020 along with that novel I’ve been working on for a while now. 🙂 I’ve still got a ways to go with the novel, but the revision is coming together even as I decide what to pack and what to leave behind on this next great adventure.

Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!