Full moons are always about the fullness of life, when something or everything has reached a peak. This full moon is special because it is happening at Solstice, the longest day of the year. Native Americans called this particular moon the Strawberry Moon because it signaled that the fruit had ripened to its fullest flavor.
My life has been pretty full-to-bursting in the last few weeks. Feels like I’ve been on roller skates half the time. Let’s see, bought a house, finished edits on my Christmas novel, designed and ordered promotional material for my series, wrote out the lecture for my workshop coming mid-July, joined Sisters in Crime, signed up for a workshop in police procedure in Wisconsin, revised WIP chapter for critique, started summer walking program…I am replete with this summer moon energy.
Now, it’s time to relax. Now it’s time to release. To let go. To spend some time quietly gathering strength for the work to come. To refill the well. To make strawberry crumble and serve it with vanilla ice cream. Because as much as I want and need to replenish my inner self, I also need to replenish those pantry and fridge shelves with healthy food. Grocery shopping waits for no woman.
I realize I slipped “bought a house” in there … the deal is not yet complete. It’s an awesome step of a lifetime, I’ll say that. Al and I are happy and amazed, and you’ll be hearing a lot about this decision in the weeks and months to come, as the impact is going to change my life in considerable ways. But not for awhile.
Other changes are coming sooner. Smaller but significant ones, like the turn my writing life is taking toward the darker parts of the human heart. I have written six novels loosely classified as “women’s fiction.” I wanted to write about the light. About love. About home and family. It’s what I knew, it’s what I struggled to make real for the first half of my actual (as opposed to fictional) life.
I’ve had a bit of resistance to this turn in my fiction writing toward the darker aspects of the human heart, but only a little. I know I need to follow where my creativity wants to take me. I’m gathering my courage, and my research, for this new direction, this new work-in-progress. Yet another something that is too new, too unfinished, to talk much about. Just to say that when I took one of my characters out of Blue Lake and put her in Detroit I really had no idea what I was in for. But it’s fine.
Character and setting are so aligned in my mind that I soon realized I would not be able to write this book without being honest about Detroit and that means I need to talk about race. Also guns, drugs, and corruption, but race, that’s a scary thing. The thing I resisted writing about the most. Racism is so far from love.
And yet, I am going there. I’m taking my writing, and in fact my life, to places that will require courage. Also knowledge, which is why I’m doing the police academy seminar, but mostly the new things in my life, the things just coming now, will require courage. I have never thought of myself as a particularly courageous person, in fact quite the opposite. I like feeling safe. But to grow into fullness, in writing and in life, I must gather my courage. Also strawberries.
When I cut 140 pages of my most recent manuscript, I had a crisis that led to a startling revelation. I’d been revising for awhile and knew the problem with the manuscript was a really boring subplot. At first, unwilling to do the necessary radical surgery, I tried to fix it. Much cutting and pasting later, I realized I was mostly deleting those subplot scenes while layering in a new point of view character.
Excited about the new character and what she brought to the story, I decided to chuck the rest of the draft. It had been helpful to write, but trying to fix it was becoming tedious. I gathered up my courage and cut. I didn’t trash those pages, I just put them in their own document. I knew I couldn’t use them, but saving them felt less radical than sending them to hell where they belonged.
The next day I had a crisis of the writing soul. I wondered if maybe the whole book had been a mistake. If it was simply one of those manuscripts that didn’t quite come together and should thus be abandoned. The idea of abandoning a story I’d grown quite attached to made me miserable. I was scared. Unsure. Defeated? Not quite. I couldn’t give up. I had to try a little longer.
I had a deadline. It was a firm deadline if I wanted a book out in 2016, and I did. That I wanted it so much was a revelation. Writing has always been a vital part of my life, but why, now, did it feel so much bigger? Why did my life, in the day-to-day sense, seem like a huge blank without writing and publishing? That writing has taken on such importance is a scary thing to admit, but there it is. Writing and I had a nice friendship for a really long time. Now writing wants my soul. Without realizing, I already handed it over.
I love my family and friends. But my current situation is this: my family are, for the most part, unavailable in real time. My kids live across the country and my husband works every day, even weekends. I see him maybe two or three hours a day. I see my kids maybe two or three times a year. Maybe once or twice a week, I have lunch with friends. I volunteer a bit. I cook dinner and do the homemaker thing. Lunch and shopping and cooking and cleaning and being a Good Wife take maybe half my time. The other half, now that I don’t teach, is invested in writing.
Once I realized and accepted that writing is the joy that takes the biggest chunk of my time, I felt a bigger responsibility toward it. Like, I can not let it down. I cannot let the opportunity to publish this book this year pass. Even if it doesn’t happen, I need to know I did my part to make it so.
The crisis was not about giving up, but more wondering if I had it in me to pull off this particular book this particular time. And the only way to know was to try. So I did. I took it bird by bird and rewrote that long section of the book. I finished a few days ago. Yesterday I read the completed manuscript. It was good. I will meet my deadline. Crisis averted.
PS After four months of intense work, I’m due for a break. Happy to say my husband agrees and we’re leaving snowy Michigan for a nice, long vacation in sunny Florida. I’ll even being seeing my son, who will be there for work! Will post a new entry (maybe I’ll hear from my editor) when I return.
I’ve been dreaming up ideas for my new position as Program Director with Detroit Working Writers. One of the things our President asked me to do was facilitate some workshops myself. Once a teacher, always a teacher, so this was an easy YES.
In addition to planning events, hiring speakers, and scouting locations for the next 18 months or so, I’m also figuring out what kind of workshops I want to teach. I’ve got two lined up, one in July and one in October. The great thing is these workshops are not just for DWW members, but for the entire local writing community. Anyone can sign up. Including you.
I’m designing a new web page that will include a registration form (with some tech help) and that should all be in place in a week or so. But you can look at what I’ve got so far on the Events & Workshops page. I did that myself, with easy-peasy Word Press. I think it looks pretty good.
Big ideas for 2016 don’t stop with teaching workshops. The other idea is something a bit more outside my comfort zone, but I’ve decided to do it, because it will be good for me and for my books. I’m taking my Blue Lake series on a long dreamed about tour of Lake Huron bookstores this spring/summer.
What stirred this idea up again was a phone call. The folks running the Alpena Book Festival (Alpena is a little town on Lake Huron that has a passing resemblance my fictional town of Blue Lake) emailed asking me to participate in the festival this fall. And I thought, wow, I should get my books in stores around there.
So I ran the idea by my road manager, ah, my husband Al, and he said sure, let’s do it.
When your publisher doesn’t have brick and mortar distribution, you can still get your books into stores. Simply order from your publisher and distribute the books yourself. Author friends of mine have done this two ways: one is to set a price and sell stock outright to the bookstores. The other is to take a commission when the books are sold.
Not sure what method I’ll try yet, just sure that I’m going to do something about getting my Blue Lake series in stores this spring.
Am in the middle of revising and things are chaotic. Actually had to buy a monitor because of all the cut and paste and rearranging going on. The little laptop screen was just not getting the job done.
This is normal for a novel drafted in a month with daily word counts. I shall not panic. I will, as Jennifer Cruise says, protect the work. Jenny is my go-to guide for revision, both the process and how to fit it into life when things feel a bit frayed. I’m at the point just now where I feel like one tug and the fabric might become a mess of threads that don’t make whole cloth.
Tortured metaphors aside, I have a few things I do in times like this (besides the unwise decision to buy new electronics during Mercury retrograde, but that’s another story). I cut back my schedule to bare bones. Make a commitment to show up at my desk every day. I don’t give up, take days off, or skip away to social media. Or if I do…I come right back.
I protect the work. I make it primary. I also outline, create a calendar, and micro-manage my plot. This time the plot was lopsided. My original goal was not big enough to sustain my interest for the entire novel (and if it can’t sustain my interest it will not click with the critique group or those distant readers in the future) so late in the story I added a layer to the plot. This new layer greatly improved things but it made the structure wobble.
Paper clips and turning points (Jenny on turning points) are my friends as I read the entire manuscript, outline the way the scenes need to be realigned, consult my story calendar to keep sequence of events straight. I spread the entire book (in paper-clipped scene-sized chunks) all over the floor. Then I stack them up front to back. Every day I take the next paper-clipped scene and move it to its new position within the document. I’m not so much concerned with the loose threads that need to be edited to smooth things out at the end–I can catch those in the next read through, after the book is re-ordered in some semblance of how it appears in my head.
The bonus for working daily and consistently on a story this way is that you’ll get little hints and helps. Last night I came up with a solution to a motivation problem. Why should my protagonist care about goal A when goal B is now compelling her action? The answer was elegant and simple and will be easy to incorporate at this point in revision.
When I show up for my work this way, the universe conspires in happy and surprising ways. If you’ve got a mess of a manuscript on your hands, it may help you, too.
I have never written this way before. Following a crooked unfamiliar path feels exciting. I’m infused with fresh energy. This experience of writing two books at once is unlike anything that came in my ten published works before this. Yes, two books at the same time. Not unheard of in the writing world, but certainly new for linear me.
Despite each having their own cast of characters and totally different settings, I at first wondered if they were the same book. I wanted them to be the same book because then it would make sense to me, it would be more the way I usually work. But no, as it turns out, I’m writing two books. I should have seen it coming when I finished Love and Death in Blue Lake.
Without spoiling the end of that book, I can say that two of the characters went their separate way, immediately demanding their own stories. Before I started either book, I was torn about which to write. I finally began one, then I put it down when I hit a wall that felt a lot like writer’s block but was really just running out of plot ideas. For a scary minute, I thought I wouldn’t write again.
Then I decided I could work on something light and frothy. Maybe a Christmas novel! So I wrote every day for a month and got the book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It wasn’t quite as light and fluffy as I had envisioned, but no matter. I finished a draft.
Mistletoe plays a pivotal role in my Christmas story
In all previous books, this is the point at where I would revise. But for some reason the other half finished book started knocking loudly on the writing door. Which is when I wondered if the two books were supposed to be one. But after getting underway again, all plot dilemmas neatly and mysteriously solved while I was writing something else, I finally had to admit it. I’m writing two books at once.
It’s not as confusing as I imagined.
At some point I will have to revise them, and with any luck it will be one at a time.
While writing away on my happy Christmas story, the novel I decided to write when the one I’d been working on got too bloody and I needed a break from the gore so I went to humor and seasonal cheer…
Somebody got killed.
I didn’t see it coming but after it happened I realized how I’d set it up, how it was inevitable, and how there was no turning back. I could not erase it.
I blame Charlaine Harris. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year (46K out of the required 50K as of today!) and they have famous writers come and give us pep talks every so often. Because we really need them.
This week Charlaine wrote about the middle of the book, where things can get messy. Beginnings and endings of stories are pretty safe bets. You’re setting up your story and characters or you’re wrapping things up. But the middle can be tricky, tedious, swampy, even. So Ms. Harris wrote about how she handles the middle. She kills somebody. I’m apparently quite suggestible. Not a day later and I do the same thing.
But wait. My last three novels have all had murder in them. The first of the murder books, Love and Death in Blue Lake, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and in print through my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. It makes me wonder if I’m transitioning from my contemporary women’s fiction type story into something more along the lines of domestic thrillers. I do like reading those psychological thriller type stories. I’m a fan of aberrant behavior, at least as far as reading fiction goes. So maybe this is finally settling into my writing self as well.
Reading is like the gateway drug for writing. And guess I’ll just accept that writing domestic novels are the gateway to writing domestic thrillers, at least for me.
Life is like a novel: full of unexpected twists and irony. For example, several years ago, I wrote a series of posts on writer’s block. Through 45 years of writing, I’d never had writer’s block, so Ten Fixes For Writer’s Block could have been arrogant nonsense. But as a creative writing teacher, I had come across so many kinds of writer’s block in my students that I felt compelled to write about ways to fix it. After all, it was my job to help young writers.
Little did I know when I was writing those fixes that one day I would need my own advice. A surprise: my younger self knew things my older self forgot. Because, yes, I have been struggling with writer’s block for a few months now. I’m not completely blocked. Obviously, writing this post proves that. Which is a relief because I really don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t write, having no other hobbies except binge watching Longmire on Netflix.
For so long, I was absolutely sure that I would write until I died. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would not wake up in the morning with my current novel perking in my neocortex. That is just the way it has been for so long, I thought it would always be true. Especially when I retired from teaching. I couldn’t wait to write full time. How productive I would be! How prolific! Instead, I struggled to write and I struggled to understand why I was having to struggle. Finally I remembered a series of posts I compiled way back when I thought I’d never have a serious problem with writer’s block. Maybe I should look that up, I thought. I might learn something from myself.
Today, I checked over the list. It seems I have ALL of the ten reasons I listed. Maybe what I missed when I was busy being prolific is that writer’s block is complex and involves many moving parts, not just one thing you can tick off and be done with. I also read my advice on how to “fix” these problems and it’s solid. I should take my own advice, but first I am trying an additional experiment given to me by my awesome therapist, Dr. B.
Last session, I brought up my growing worry that I was done writing novels. In the past couple of months I had started and stopped two novels. I lacked the passion, the intrinsic motivation, the drive. It just dried up on me and I wasn’t sure why. Dr B suggested an experiment: go two weeks without working on a novel. She said something so wise “If you find yourself missing it, that will tell you something. If you find you don’t miss it, that will tell you something, too. Either way, you have more information.”
Isn’t she a genius? Because I have come to believe that there may be a time when I stop writing novels. I’m not sure when, but I can see now that day might come. That’s what the next two weeks will tell me. In the three days since Dr. B gave me this advice, I have learned one thing: I am not ready to stop writing books yet. I want to finish those two novels I started. I want to write more novels after those, too. The question remains: do I want it enough?
Here’s the irony: I found my younger self’s answer to that question embedded in the original post. I called it a “Reality Check” and went on to say “People can become blocked because they dread the time and effort involved to really make their writing shine. In that case, your writer’s block is telling you something important. You might have a bit of talent for writing, but you don’t have the passion it takes to bring that talent to the next level. And that’s okay. It’s good to know exactly why you’re blocked, what your options are, and whether you might be happier doing something else with your creative energy.”
I felt this bit of advice like a slap in the face. One thing age teaches you is that vital chemicals (hormones) deplete as you grow older. This is why older folks suffer from insomnia: their melatonin levels are low. Women in menopause lack powerful hormones that impact many areas of joyful living. Men lose testosterone. And bones become brittle because the calcium is not there anymore. What if passion is also finite? What if mine is gone forever?
I don’t really believe this. Passion is a feeling, not a hormone or a vitamin. There are ways to restore passion for writing, and I’ve found a few. There’s Dr. B’s advice, which I think could work for anyone. Julia Cameron suggests Artist Dates. Writing prompts can be can be useful. Deadlines too. NaNoWriMo is coming up in November. That’s always inspiring. Lists help. For example, I got the idea for writing this post from Molly Greene’s terrific list of 101 Fabulous Blog Topic Ideas.
I have not given up hope. I plan to rekindle my passion, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Meanwhile, if you are now going through a dry spell, or if you’ve had writer’s block in the past and broke through it, I’d love to hear your story.
A year ago, after a lifetime of being an advocate for gun control, a switch flipped inside my head. I decided I needed to learn how to shoot and own a gun. I discussed it with my husband who agreed to take lessons with me and to purchase a pair of handguns. As an older American, I felt vulnerable. A gun (or two) could protect us. This thinking was such a huge departure for me. I ruminated over it long and hard, talked it over with plenty of friends and family. I was surprised to learn how many already had guns and knew how to shoot them.
At the same time, my writing also took a darker tone. As often is the case, a character I loved acted out things I had been thinking, like taking shooting lessons and buying guns for self-protection. She also felt vulnerable. The title of my upcoming novel reflects this blacker mood in my world view. I finished that book, which I am proud of despite its darker themes. That’s the way it works with writers, or with me anyway. Whatever is on my mind finds its way into my current work. The books, in my view, are always stronger for it.
Still in the pro-gun frame of mind, I began another novel with my same beloved character. I wanted her to find a way out of her darkness. I thought it could be a psychological thriller with a victorious turnaround for my damaged character who had suffered so much. There were two shootings in the first chapter. Of course my character is on the side of the righteous and wants to find the shooter and see justice done. It was my job to help her do that.
Meanwhile, in real life, I never did push for those shooting lessons. I started to think maybe we didn’t need guns in the house after all. And I noticed I was reluctant to continue with the draft of this more violent novel. I thought I was being silly, and, ignoring my inner voice, forced myself to continue writing, telling myself It’s fiction! It’s not real! It’s a challenge. The pages accumulated and I had a solid start on a new and different novel in a fresh voice. My critique group thought it was great.
Then yesterday: the mass shooting in Oregon. After much reflection and the familiar unwillingness to sit down with my manuscript, I finally admitted to myself that I may not be up to this particular writing challenge. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Not now. Maybe not ever. Sure it’s just a book, but after yesterday it hit home: I don’t need or want to add any more to the world’s darkness, or my own, not even a little bit.
Isn’t this cover photo lovely? What a gorgeous veil. Like a crown. And gorgeous like Alice Hoffman’s writing. She writes like velvet. See, I write that sentence and it lays there. She would write. “Her words are pinned like bright stars on a deep blue velvet sky.”
Why can’t I write like that? Oh, wait. I can. I just don’t bother. Until I read someone like Hoffman who is a master on the sentence level, on the word level, on the vowel level. Honestly. Read her. The new one is The Marriage of Opposites and the story is just as captivating as the prose.
It’s so important for writers to read really good writing. No matter your genre, reach for the greats. I love my thrillers and my rom coms but sometimes you just have to go deep to reach high. Hoffman will inspire you to do that.
Meanwhile I really did lose my crown. Luckily it is only temporary and even more fortuitously my dentist is seeing me as an emergency at 10 am in the morning. Meanwhile I am eating a banana on one side of my mouth and sipping a coconut rum drink from a straw. This is all Hoffman’s influence. Her story takes place on the island of rum and bananas and coconuts…St Thomas in the nineteenth century.
My husband is away for the weekend and this whole tooth thing just has me feeling reckless drinking rum in the late afternoon all alone reading a really good book. Life could be worse, even minus the crown.
I’m talking about a novel but this could be advice for starting anything, from a diet to an exercise program to a new career. I’ve been working on a book for awhile now. Various things got in the way, mostly myself. I was ill, I was tired, the room wasn’t the right color.
Maybe not the worst excuses but nevertheless there comes a time when you have to say “today I begin.” And then you do. And if you’re like me maybe you dither and take days off and lose the plot and just don’t get that groove. The book, the diet, the whatever has not had a chance to dig in and become a habit.
That takes a month or two. Of every day (or every week or whatever your commitment is) to happen. It’s those first 60 days–at least for me, for you it could be 30 or even less–that I need under my belt to cement the habit and begin to crave it. There is one way that this stubborn woman (me) who never does anything on a schedule has been able to get a schedule and here it is. Ready?
Write it down. On a calendar. Make a special chart if you’re doing a diet with certain foods or an exercise program with several components. Nothing feels better than checking a line on a list. Nothing. I didn’t think this would work for me, but it did. Another thing that works is DO IT FIRST. Or at least first thing after coffee.
I do not know why I only know it works. The third part, for me, for the book, is a page limit. Mine is three. Write three pages. It is easy. It is doable. It doesn’t have to be good. I just have to fill those pages. So there you go. Write it down. Do it first. Limit yourself to something easily accomplished.
That might sound counter-intuitive but if you write three pages consistently, pretty soon you’ll write more. If you walk 20 minutes, soon it will be 30. If you eat one bowl of kale, well, never mind, if you eat one bowl of kale you are a rock star, okay?
It’s just starting. And these three things are the easy on ramp to start. For me, personally, I like to think of life as art. Always refining, revising, reinventing. I find housework a drag unless I also rearrange the furniture, you know? And for all the mundane, I use the breath and the now. I take in the space around me in present moment time and I breath, I follow my breath and what is happening. It is endlessly changing and fascinating. No, honest!
My talent (everyone has a talent, find yours!) is writing and I like to always have a novel going. And it has to be totally different than the one before. I’ve been called a romance writer, but I’ve written really only one pure romance novel out of the ten books I’ve published. The new one is a thriller, I think. For the thrill of the new, of course. I’m researching not just this new genre and structure but also things like guns and opera. It is so fun. And that’s the real ticket to starting anything new and keeping it going: make it fun.