The "to do" list.
That list is absolutely necessary for me to function, to remember, to prioritize, to be productive. But--
It is in so many ways an enemy to my "artist" inside. Yes, I'm sure that is my fault. I should be making time for my art. I've read the books, heard the calls to artist arms, and agreed completely.
Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining, --
I must break away from this barely started blog entry for a "case in point" moment. Not only does my "to do" list keep me from writing for pleasure because "more important 'dos' shove their way in front of others," but also the impromptu "to dos" pop up on a near-constant basis.
I typed the words above, "Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining," when it hit me mid-sentence that I had just put an egg in the pot to soft boil--which is a five minute venture--sat down to write and completely forgot about the egg.
No sooner had I settled down to start my blog entry then I was up and out of my seat (one minute behind, but with yolk still pleasantly runny:). Well, it was breakfast now--not time to write after all. I don't always do breakfast, but today is a day when I was finally able to add "write" to my morning schedule and so breakfast seemed like a wonderful indulgence too.
But, that was not all.
I was just finishing my breakfast when a friend came by to drop off books that we had lent her kids.
My kids had been asking about them but, well--you see--the "short on time" situation has been a problem for me.
My friend is in the same, creaky, late boat as I am
But, she amazingly squeezed the errand in.
I grab the books, hand her something and she's off to work. Now I will write.
Not yet. Enter: The Cat!
I love the book Olivia by Ian Falconer. Not only is it adorable, but I always loved it when part of Olivia's day required that she "move the cat" a few times. It's true. Any cat owners or dog owners know that just when you are about to stop rushing around and put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or perhaps do something quiet and contemplative--the cat shows up and wants something from you, but it's not always clear what it is they want.
So you reason with them for a bit: go out? hungry? a quick pat or scratch behind the ear? What!!??
And so, here I am about to get back to the blog I promised I'd write only to be negotiating with a feline who clearly has all the time in the world . . .
Front door? Back? -- then she sits.
Waiting for a cat to determine my schedule. Finally, I take a few photos because all this truly is comedy gold in my head. Of course instead of writing, I am negotiating with a cat.
So far a delicious egg, a good friend doing me a favor and an indecisive cat have elbowed their way into my "to do" list and that's the way it goes. It's those unwritten "to dos" that really do me in.
So, what is a writer "to do"?
Write about it.
And take some photos.
I know that when I started I was going to launch into the "to do" list and all its merits and evils and now--who knows what I was going to say. As you can see there is often no planning even to my day and the course it takes, let alone my writing. I consider it a win if I am able to write anything.
Fortunately I have kept up with this blog at least on a monthly level, which is much more than I can say about my newsletters. Those fell tragically off a cliff somewhere in the twilight between winter and early spring.
But--in keeping with the saying "perfect is the enemy of the good" I will slap together a newsletter and hope to draw you to this blog where you will see what I have been up to or thinking about even when it wasn't delivered to your inbox.
Yes, in that photo above you see little seedlings.
That, truth be told, is the other love that keeps me away: Gardening!
It is my passion in the spring-time and so when I am able to steal an hour or so I have been transforming my garden out front (actually, more than transforming, I have created a brand new one which is a large undertaking). I will post about that in the coming weeks or months, but for now you can imagine those seedlings are just the tiny tip of an iceberg.
You guessed it.
A deadline is a writer's best friend.
Writers need deadlines, even self-imposed ones. If you're like me and you still manage to slip by the guards, you may need to toss in a dash of public accountability. This is where my critique group has been key to progress. I write the words down, but I seriously doubt I'd have brought two novels into the world with one in the oven if the deadline of a monthly critique group didn't force me to write.
But, for a slacker and master procrastinator like me--it's still not enough. I don't want to painfully squeeze out a chapter here and a blog entry there under duress, the sharp curve of a swinging pendulum slowly descending upon me.
After all--I like writing.
I love it. It's the very air that I breathe.
So, why do I avoid it like a teenage crush: hiding behind my locker door, slipping into class and slumping in my seat, pretending to read to avoid unintentional eye contact?
I think I'm afraid.
There, I've said it. Perhaps this is the imposter syndrome I've heard about.
Whatever I've written up until the next moment I write that is at all entertaining, enjoyable or that somehow seems to be making sense as a cohesive story is clearly a fluke.
My streak is sure to run out and I fear that the next time I sit down to write I just won't do the rest of the piece justice. Perhaps that's why revision can sometimes seem more attractive as a task because I've already figured out the full story, the characters and most details. I simply need to polish them up, perhaps shift them around--or maybe rewrite whole passages entirely.
But, this ends now. (I hope:)
With the new year standing right outside my door, I am going to rely on a writer's second best friend: a closed door to a quiet space. Eureka! Only days ago (two to be exact:) did I discover that my husband, who had been occupying the "office" space in our house for the better part of the last two years--while I took up residence in the equivalent of a busy hotel lobby in our living room--is now in the "real" office three days a week. The room that had been "his" can be adopted and adapted as "ours." What a discovery.
It only took me two full months to realize it.
So, I go into the new year with new hope that I can ignore my fears, pay more attention to deadlines and more consciously enter a room where writing happens--not laundry or phone calls or dishes or a cat being adorable.
Here's to finding some space for passion in the new year.
I gave myself twenty minutes to write this:)
It may not be perfect, but it's done.
Have you ever found yourself moving right along at a gallop and then all of a sudden you look down and there's no horse beneath you and kerplunk--you land with a thud? Well, that is exactly what happened to me towards the end of October and the start of November. Life as (un)usual seems to have picked up.
Additionally, anybody who is a parent, grandparent or who helps care for kids may have experienced a bit of whiplash with the increase in social and extracurricular activities for youth that suddenly increased this fall, especially juxtaposed with last year's halt (or virtual equivalent) of nearly everything.
And, it wasn't just my kids who had more things on the calendar. Theatres opened up, concert venues welcomed musicians back, festivals were held, book clubs returned and the nonprofit that I direct came out of hibernation. The Room to Write participated in the Festival by the Lake--the first event for the nonprofit in over a year--at the beginning of October. It was great, but it sure was busy.
A cup that had been three-quarters full already had suddenly started running over. I was completely overwhelmed with so many different needs in so many completely different directions. My self-managed writing projects (manuscript content and revisions, blog entries, newsletters, poetry) went back on the shelf not long after I had hoped to make them a priority. Kids back in school seemed like a big window was opening, but it filled almost instantly with things I decided were more important. Sometimes they were. Sometimes they weren't.
The internet can be a wonderful thing and yet it is a procrastinator's dream. I love to garden and find myself looking up plants and information on gardening when I feel overwhelmed by too many needs pressing in around me. With an endless variety of plants, dreaming up gardens is an easy way to fall down the black hole of time.
Bringing kids here, there and everywhere--another frequent time warp tunnel for me. Answering emails, coordinating meetings or events, and "looking" at things for others who ask me to edit a document are other ways that time is quickly siphoned off of my days.
So, where do I go from here? I'm not sure. I need to make a schedule, but more importantly I need to try to follow a schedule. I've discovered I'm a terrible self-manager. If somebody asks me to do something, consider it done! But, without a deadline or someone on the other end waiting for my writing--it gets pushed aside. Once again, this highlights the importance of a critique group and reminds me why I am so thankful for mine. We meet monthly and I facilitate the meetings, so it forces me to make progress on my manuscript even if only in bite-sized portions. It helps that I coordinate and run the meetings because then I make them a priority. Others are counting on me.
Yesterday I met with two writers. What a boost! It felt so good to talk about writing and new ways to bring writing into the community, encourage others to tell stories, and to write them down. Tomorrow I meet with another writer I haven't connected with in over a year and I am really looking forward to it. I feel like there's an exchange of energy when I meet with other writers--it's a give and a take for both of us. It's something that I haven't found a consistent pace with, but would like to incorporate into my life more often. These meetings used to happen more regularly pre-pandemic when workshops, conferences and other events took place. But we are not quite beyond the pandemic and so we creatives need to coordinate our own one-off collaborations and meetups.
Hopefully I can find the balance that keeps my cup full but not running over.
What's your self-management secret? :)
I am all in on the cozy factor of fall. About a million years ago my grandmother taught me how to make a crochet chain and then in high school (or college) a friend showed me and a few other friends a crochet stitch that could be used to make an entire blanket.
That one stitch has served me well and I have made a blanket for each of my children and some other family members. Walking into a store last week I saw a gigantic ball of yarn and had to have it, partly because looking at it just made me smile--it was the biggest ball of yarn I've ever seen in some of my favorite shades of rose.
It's nice to have something simple to do on a chilly day, to pick up and put down and that will give the mind a rest and eventually be something--whole. So, I purchased "Cozy Rosy," as I now refer to her, and she is a good companion along with my family when we watch a little baseball or a show that I don't have to follow closely.
Cozy Rosy is also a good reminder that a novel starts with one word, one sentence, one page and one chapter. Slowly but surely--little bits of writing or small works of art can amount to something to spread out, look at and enjoy!
Hope you are cozy and rosy this fall.:)
Autumn--my favorite season for sure!
I'm ignoring the season that follows and trying to savor this season before us with its colors and cooler temperatures. Don't get me wrong, I've learned to completely embrace my beach bum alter ego the last several summers, but then the humidity and the heat start to wear out their welcome and I long for a good excuse to stay indoors--to write, to read, to use the oven again, to use the fireplace and put slippers on. I like to get my cozy on.
Yet, everything has started up. Though we're allegedly "slowly" getting back to school and work and all those extra activities we somehow fit in before Covid came knocking at our door, nothing feels slow about it. We're knee-deep in October and I've already put lots of things on the calendar for November and even got someone inquiring about a date in December this morning. What!?
The weird thing is that I seem to get more done, focus better, feel better about my days when they are filled to the brim. When I look at a day and wonder how it will all happen, it usually does--one "to do" at a time. But, I long for quiet, calm moments where I can do nothing, read for pleasure or watch British Baking Show (it's back for another season--is it crazy that the news of it filled me with a sort of comforting joy?).
Yesterday I made it through the first full-pass revision of my entire Middle Grade novel, Eleanor with the Weeping Eye. I am so excited about this book! I'm eager to get it out there and hear a response from Beta Readers, the first will hopefully take a crack at it next week once I have made a few more adjustments to scenes, print it out, spiral bind it and send it off in the mail to her. Like every writer, I hope it's as good as it feels like it is when I read through it from beginning to end. On this last pass, I tweaked and fixed and totally reworked some chapters because tense and perspective got all mixed up in parts.
If you like Middle Grade and want to serve as a Beta Reader for my Eleanor book--send me an email. See the description here.
I did it. It's done. Well, any writer who has ever written anything, especially a novel-sized anything, knows that "done" is a relative term. Nothing is ever done--at least not the first time around. But, I have reached The End and as backward as this may sound I am relieved to be at the point where I stop and start all over again--at the beginning, ready for the first complete revision.
Above is a photo of the home stretch. With such nice weather I have taken my laptop out onto the sunporch for a change of scenery and more open space to glance around, breath it in and wrap it up.
So, that's it. That's all I wanted to share. Eleanor with the Weeping Eye (which may get retitled to Eleanor with the Violet Eyes) has by some miracle gotten untangled like the clump of necklaces photographed somewhere down below in an earlier posting. Once one strand got loose, I found the path of another and another and it feels good to sit back satisfied that most of the strands made it out in one piece.
Looking forward to sharing it with you all one day. Until the next revision, it ends: "That’s how I came to know Eleanor with the violet eyes and, in turn—myself."
I've reached the point in my Middle Grade novel where I need to start to rein in the characters. They were given a bit of freedom to explore, but now I need to bring them to the wrap party and it needs to make sense. To tell you the truth--I've been dreading this a bit. I know where I want them to end up for the most part, but now I have to figure out how they will get there. I write by the seat of my pants and that adds an element of suspense--for ME.
This challenge presents itself to me like four necklaces that have been tangled up into what feels like an endless mound of knots. The tendency is to just chuck the whole thing in a drawer (or the trash) and leave it regardless of the lost value or the likelihood that it will never be dealt with if it is not dealt with now. Another inkling might be to break at least one chain to make it easier to untangle. Maybe just untangle one--my favorite one or perhaps the easiest one to untangle. After all, no reader knows how I wanted it to end in my imagination.
My characters can be tweaked as needed unbeknownst to anyone.
So few would look at a knotted clot of chains and be excited to patiently, slowly, mind-bendingly and methodically follow each strand to its first knot. Work to untie it. Then the next and the next until each is free from its metalic captivity--able to be useful again, to be admired for its own individual attributes instead of one tangled mass of metal.
A confession: I am the designated detanglee in my family. So, it's not neccessarily a task I loathe or have never done. It's a challenge. Something I know I need to sit, relax and work on. A puzzle.
And so, that's where I am in this project--untangling, identifying each individual strand. The part where I need to focus and figure out. Hopefully I am able to do it because I believe there are some really valuable jewels in the pile and I'd love to showcase their dazzling merit for readers. Admittedly, it feels so good when something is transformed--like a clump of metal--from trash to treasure.
There is a relief and a sense of accomplishment. There is the fulfillment of investing time in what could otherwise just remain a useless cluster of words and transform it into an intricate and powerful story that sparkles and demonstrates how materials found in nature can become art in the right hands. Here's hoping that my hands are the right ones.
The hardest part is that I won't know until I have put the hours of untangling in. I could be left with nothing more than aluminum out of a gumball machine or I could be left with a solid gold, gem encrusted family heirloom. The challenge is the not knowing, but needing to have faith and persevering anyway.
That's the mystery of any artform, right? Any mission or passion--any initiative. Persistance. Blind faith. So often it is endurance, not raw talent, that determines success and satisfaction. Skill without the will to try and try again won't get a person very far.
Tuck in and find that first knot.
Forgive (yourself) and forget (your efforts)--early and often.
Pick up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and start going knot by knot.
I'll get there. So will you:)
I have to admit I am writing this entry—not because I feel the winds of creativity calling or sweeping over me during this pandemic. I am not writing because of any heightened artistic energy arriving with the first signs of community spread.
I have heard of so much bread and art being made and I truly am happy for those who have produced more of either—or both! Kudos and air kisses to you my friend. I want that to be me. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I’m a total slacker that any extra pockets of time have not been spent “producing” more of [insert something delicious or artistic here].
For me, it has been quite the opposite. For my metaphor I rely on television—I’m visual. For those familiar with Stranger Things, I am Seven (or Eleven?—it’s Eleven) after she has made something move with her mind. Instead of my nose bleeding and eating every waffle in sight, I write in my journal. I went through a whole journal in three months recently. Every day. Writing, but only for myself and those unconditionally loving blank pages.
So, why am I compelled to write in this here public diary today, of all the days of November?
Yes, you guessed it. Or maybe you didn’t.
You know—a writer’s best friend. A deadline. The last day of November.
In the absence of real people in person, real deadlines and such—I must cling to those deadlines that come due no matter what is swirling around in the world. Time. Calendars. And they continue to tick on.
I am in disbelief, actually. In fact, I was just telling my journal—the off-line, paper, lined version that I write in with pen (not a special pen, but anything I can find with ink flowing out of it)—how when this pandemic first started the “slowing down” never quite seemed to reach the buzzing within our home. Perhaps it’s the four kids or the penchant for volunteering for so many things, but it seemed that the show still insisted on going on. This new show was a real pain in the patootie, though. Instead of the usual in-person requirements there were several more steps and usually a screen of some sort.
Every time I looked up I was standing in or approaching Friday. Another week gone by. How did that happen? But, who would complain about time flying during a pandemic. This isn’t exactly a moment in history I want to dwell in or let soak too deeply into my skin, so I’ve gone with it.
And, so went the time.
Today, I can truthfully attest to the fact that I am astounded! Absolutely flummoxed. Could it be that just as I was getting used to the fact that November had crossed over my threshold, it is already walking out the front door as I wave goodbye with a bewildered look on my face, whispering to whoever is standing beside me, “Didn’t November just get here—like, yesterday? Was it something I said?”
For those of you familiar with cassette tapes, there’s no doubt I’ve wanted to fast-forward through 2020 for nearly all of 2020, but I didn’t expect it to actually happen. Well, it’s happening.
Let’s hope I am able to sit down with December for tea or some cookies before it’s the last day and I’m squeaking out a Dear Diary entry under duress. And, if you are one of the lucky ones who have been able to bake bread and paint walls during this pandemic—I salute you! As for me, I will be patient knowing that for every ebb there must eventually be a flow. At some point I'll be in the flow.
Until then, stay safe and eat waffles whenever the opportunity presents itself.