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 received this daily meditation booklet back in November. It has three months of one-page writings to contemplate. Today's passage felt too fitting to keep to myself so I thought I'd share. It feels like something for our country to consider at this pivotal moment in time. This is taken from Our Daily Bread Ministries booklet publication (Dec/Jan/Feb). The painting that serves as a backdrop to the small, but powerful, page was done by my small, but powerful, daughter Madeline:)
Just when a person thinks she has, perhaps, created something--invented a thing--one internet search proves that she is not so original after all. But, ignoring the fact that the "word," Prosetry, already exists and that there are some scattered definitions of what it is supposed to mean or represent, I present to you my intention of the word.
PrOsETRY: a genre that mixes the use of Prose and Poetry for the length of the novel.
Recently I finished my latest whole-manuscript revision of my Young Adult Contemporary Coming-of-age novel complete at approximately 63,000 words. It is a milestone for me having written the first draft at the beginning of 2018, revised that draft aloud, sent it through my critique group, queried, received feedback, decided to change the point of view of the narrative from 3rd person to 1st person, made that change and then embarked on this latest pass through which took several months. This latest revision was a word-by-word, read through out loud in my basement (my husband is working from home still, but luckily my kids are in school part of the day). It involved major rewording and of course the disbelief that I thought it was good enough to send out previously.
So--now for the part where prosetry is invented!
In a one-on-one critique I was fortunate to participate in through NESCBWI's 2020 conference, agent Alex Slater's last piece of advice on his critique form was: "-Think about the power of the 'white space.'" So, though at first I was busy with homeschooling during a pandemic and other such things leaving little time to "think," when I made it to September I finally had time to focus and think. That's when the long task of reading my manuscript out loud and making serious revisions began. This time, though, I thought about the power of the white space which gave birth to PrOsETRY: a mix of Prose and Poetry. After all, this novel has poetry running through its veins. It makes perfect sense in this case!
Considering the appeal of Graphic Novels, which is simply a long form of a comic book that combines narrative and illustration, there's no reason why a book has to be all prose (standard fiction) or all poetry (novel in verse). Why can't we blend both and create another hybrid--something like a graphic novel? Instead of visual illustrations to pair with the narration, poetic form is sprinkled along the length of the novel in a way that illuminates (perhaps illustrates) the narrative prose.
So, that is the genre of my YA novel: prosetry. It is not all straight prose in paragraph format, nor is it a full-length novel in verse only. It is a novel where prose and poetry dance together the entire time and allow the white space to exert its power where the reader would benefit from slowing down, soaking in what is being said or seeing a scene more visually--like an illustration would invite a reader to do.
So, I don't care what the internet claims already has been invented. This feels like is a fresh new genre format that is something writers and readers will embrace--celebrate even! It feels like the writer's answer to graphic novel form and I have to say--as someone who has just written a whole novel in the form--it feels so liberating to dance along the page as I see fit.
Prosetry is the perfect rhythm for a young adult novel to dance to.
Confusion: Dark, orange cloud of chaos.
Confusion: Invisible, deadly cloud of coronavirus.
One powerful man, plus one powerful virus, equals
Life, liberty, love--
Destruction, disease, depression--
Only tears to make stone soup,
The stone sits and sinks—stews
waiting . . .
but nothing is added
doors remain locked, neighbors silent.
The bell’s toll proclaims profound need.
Ingredients hoarded, people hide behind the invisible cape of their keyboards,
flying and fighting.
Heroes of the ether—online, in their own minds.
Alone (in disguise) in reality.
But—reality is a memory,
Folklore, near-forgotten fable.
Confusion has replaced community.
Confusion has erased common sense.
Confusion is a blinding light
—manifestation of evil allowed to slither up and around—engulfing.
to speak or act or care—out loud and in person.
Surrendering to be swallowed, spit out . . . swallowed again.
Shuffling from one display of drama
to the next,
fearing the silence more than anything.
Resisting the feelings we ignore
denying reality at all costs—at every opportunity, after each tragedy.
We let the mind work its magic:
Hard edges soften.
Lessons dissolve unlearned, unintentional, unimportant.
Leaving the cycle to start again: same bed prepared, toxic seeds sown, take root and grow--
into more monsters, more mayhem, more of--
That menacing character continues to reinvent and take control,
while we revert to our time-honored history of hypocrisy and
our beloved bevy of distractions (they salivate and wait patiently).
This morning I told my son to put on a pair of socks--it's too cold not to--to which he replied he couldn't find any socks. For an article of clothing so small, it sure does cause a lot of trouble around here. Much time is devoted to picking up, matching, looking for, and putting on socks. So, in an effort to find humor (and socks)--somewhere, anywhere--one of my dauthers helped put together a poster for our precious, missing socks!:)
Happy New Year!
Is there a doctor in the house?
I must say I was perfectly content with the absence of any sort of traditional, enthusiastic celebration of the arrival of the new year at the stroke of 12 o’clock midnight. Staying in my sweats and sitting with my family while we tried (and mostly failed) to find something festive to watch on tv, instead of launching our usual family dance party, was a fitting way to greet 2021. (Actually, I turned in at 10:30 pm:)
Brushing my hair, putting on makeup or wearing anything shiny would have felt phony and forced not to mention a completely false representation of the year as whole. It’s certainly no way to greet a doctor at the door, which is how I see the role of 2021.
Sure, sure—I realize that some who were celebrating were embracing the new year and any hope it may offer—not celebrating the past year—but welcoming 2021 feels less like opening the door to a surprise birthday party and more like the ushering in of a doctor on house call who has just arrived by horse and buggy in the dark to examine the situation and try to save a patient who has deteriorated rapidly.
There’s whispered, hushed relief at the arrival of our only hope and a collective, anticipatory glance in the direction of the ailing patient as we usher the doctor forward unsure if it’s too late or if by some miracle there is something—anything—that can still be done.
Cut back to the kitchen scene set with praying, some pacing, tears of fear and hope silently collecting, but held back. The waiting, listening, clenching.
That’s what I felt and of course I am picturing Doc Baker from Little House on the Prairie showing up to Ma and Pa Ingalls’s cabin or Dr. Clarkson from Downton Abbey as he ascends that grand abbey staircase bound for one of its bedrooms.
Hopefully this new year has some medical background or at least a stethoscope around its neck to put me—even superficially—at ease.
As for my part, I am just going to stand back and let the good Dr. New Year work and hope that health and sanity can be restored, then look forward to whoopin’ it up next December 31st.
I know it’s considered cool to wake up early these days, but I can’t deny my love for sleep. The first part of Christmas vacation has been dedicated to getting as much sleep and doing as little as possible. I woke up just after eight o’clock in the morning the Tuesday after Christmas. Feet met floor at 8:15am. That’s a record so far—with the exception being Christmas morning for obvious, exciting and nonnegotiable reasons.
Crusty cookie platters and crumpled wrapping paper still linger, intentionally ignored while I attempt to recover from this past year—or, at least the week leading up to Christmas. The whole year will undoubtedly take a bit longer to recover from.
Restoring my body and mind can be a bit of a battle. I have no interest in cleaning, but I know it must be done eventually. I wait. I rationalize that eating a few cookies is a form of clearing away some clutter. Furthermore, I’m doing my 2021 self a favor by eliminating them as a future option.
That’s when the perfect metaphor seizes hold of me. Gardening!
Gardens grow so many life lessons.
During my inner battle of Recovery vs Productivity I have argued (with myself, of course:) that allowing myself the luxury of doing nothing for a while will eventually lead to the old clockwork clicking in and causing me to actually want to do some cleaning.
But—trying to force myself to clean without allowing my body and mind to simply sit dormant for a bit will only lead to an unhappy, very unproductive and prolonged mess. I insist that if I allow some quiet* to settle in long enough, any resulting effort—fueled by the genuine motivation I am confident will eventually bubble to the surface—will be much more productive.
These thoughts leave me to ponder the planting of a tree—a fruit tree, in particular.
People have a tendency to want to plant the biggest tree they can afford (myself included) wanting to fill up the space fast and get fruit sooner, in the case of a fruit tree. However, orchard owners and gardeners in the know assure us that a small, young tree—planted with care—will surpass the size and long-term health of an initially larger tree in just a few years.
Gardens are always about the long game. We should look at our lives through the same lens.
When we plant a tree—particularly a fruit tree that needs to put out a lot of energy later on in order to produce fruit—we are better off planting a small, young tree.
After you plant your tree (aka: whip) depending on the type, you usually prune it heavily which leads to the “stick” resemblance. No branches. No leaves. Definitely no apples. Why?
There are two reasons:
I have planted several fruit trees in the past: peach, apple and pear and have had to endure the befuddled looks of friends and family as they glance at the glorified sticks in the ground, then to me, then back to the sticks.
“Ok” they chuckle, “looks like you stuck sticks in the dirt.” They don’t share my excited anticipation.
They cannot see what I have faith will appear—eventually.
Truth be told, I had to hide my own doubting eyes upon introducing those first apple “trees” I planted.
I had bought and read a book. Ordered said “trees.” Followed the book’s instructions, no matter how wide my eyes grew in disbelief. I had to trust people with experience beyond my own.
I had to have faith and—as they say—the waiting is the hardest part.
It was a long wait.
The gift of growing older is that you have gathered some of your own experiences to guide you—hopefully. You can feel more confident that what others may not understand now will bear fruit later.
So, not only does this garden lesson tell me that as I sit quietly I am putting out new roots and strengthening what already exists below the surface, which is instrumental to any future efforts, but it also tells me that a stronger root system can benefit from a healthy pruning—a thinning out.
When it comes to the end-of-year cleanout, I need to give each room a healthy prune and clear away what is lifeless and broken. Then, I need to be more intentional with anything new. If something is blocking out sunlight, growing in the wrong direction or the angle is too narrow—cut it out, straighten it out or stretch to open the angle. If not, it may be difficult to support fruit production in the future.
With fruit trees as my guide—I’ll look to the new year knowing that healthy fruit can’t be produced with a poor root system or untended branches. What’s below the surface needs to be tended to even if it means friends and family might look at you with questioning eyes—not fulling understanding or, even worse, thinking you're doing nothin'.
Lying dormant, getting enough oxygen and making room for sunlight are necessities.
Have faith. Keep a good book by your side to guide the way.
And, above all—remember your roots below the surface.
They matter more than anything.
Tend to them.
*I use the word “quiet” loosely knowing I still have four kids, one husband and a cat under the one roof I am attempting to sit, sleep or stand quietly under.
New Year’s Resolution: To write a blog entry under 500 words and more of them, more often. I think I'll try to think of it more like a scrap book of ideas, thoughts, things I like, etc. We shall see . . .
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.
Here’s the truth: I write almost every day in my personal journal (aka: diary) but when it comes to writing for this more public, shared Dear Diary or my author newsletter, I find myself procrastinating. Why can I write so much unpublished and then clam up when it comes time to share my thoughts with the outside world?
The fear to share is a problem these days for many.
I am in a state of analysis paralysis. A feeling many refer to as anxiety. I, personally, don’t like to use that word because it is everywhere these days. I suppose I don’t want to add to the pile.
Back to my original thought. I digress. I ramble so easily off to the side thoughts. Focus!
That’s the problem I seem to have a lot.
I ask myself, “What should I focus on?”
Then I wonder, “What do readers want me to focus on?”
And, once I start to wander away from myself and looking to others to determine what I should do, what I should say—well, I have lost focus. Lost and wandering, digressing . . . often gravitating to the internet to look up garden ideas.
This is why some people loathe to write. The writer fears if that first sentence, those first few words aren’t good enough, interesting enough, provocative—the reader will turn away. So, I suppose I should give to myself the same advice I’ve given to so many students and fellow writers: JUST WRITE!
Why must I assume I’m wandering away when I digress? Perhaps it is simply my feet finding their footing and traveling toward something worthwhile. I love the line from Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” We, as humans, have so little faith in ourselves at times that we assume our default setting is all fault even when the past directly contradicts this.
Today I found myself focusing on all the things that were nibbling away at my time. They seemed to serve as perfect excuses for why I got no writing done despite having written somewhere in ink that I would get writing done during the allotted time. Altogether the excuses began to resemble one big “dog ate my homework.” Producing anything felt impossible because it wasn’t “anything” I had told myself to create. I had set the high expectations that I would create “everything.” I would complete something—completely.
When I look at things as a whole, I can easily become overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate. I forget that there are several smaller pieces that are eventually bound together to form the whole.
So, I decided to look at things a bit inside-out today. Just as easily as I can allow bite-sized pieces of time to be taken away by the many people and responsibilities I have in my life—along with my own fallible human habit of allowing distractions into my day—I can choose to focus on bite-sized pieces of writing, get them onto paper, and feel confident that those pieces will join together to create a whole piece of writing eventually. I have to admit, I do not like creating a piece of writing as a mosaic comprised of a stolen piece here and a hijacked piece there. Here a piece, there a piece, everywhere a piece-piece. (Sorry, my imagination frequently breaks into song quite often:)
I need to just write. I need to begin. I need to be honest and, above all else, I need to be myself. What do readers want? All sorts of things—a myriad—a rainbow—a unicorn. I cannot be all of those things, but I can be one bright hue in a rainbow. I don’t have to be everything. However, I must insist I be something instead of a puddle of indecision.
Whatever that may be, I hope to always be human. Our shared humanity is truly the only thing any of us has in common. I must shape my humanity, ship it out and then move on. I have to ignore any “unsubscribes” or absolute silence. The human heart and our fragile self-esteem are just no match for all the analytics and quantifitics* available to us through technology. As if we don’t doubt ourselves enough, we’re able to actually quantify how many people do, don’t or did-but-now-don’t “like” what we’re doing, saying or sharing.
Ignore and continue. That was my philosophy through much of parenting as kids protested (sometimes very loudly and with flailing arms and a body that seemed boneless) what I knew was best like vegetables, bedtime, brushing teeth and not playing in the street. I must now ignore my own fear of rejection or judgement and continue to write, to create and connect with other humans in a way that feels authentic to me.
The Brits have “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
I introduce to you “Ignore and Continue.”
Wait, so? Did I just write that? I finished. I did it. It’s done.
Ok. So I just need to do that again.
* quantifitics is a word I made up. It appears it does not exist, but it felt like the right word, so I'm keeping it in anyway. If Dr. Seuss did it, why can't I? Sure, I'm not a doctor--but surely could play on on television if I had to.
I have to admit this to somebody before I burst: I love paper! Sometimes it’s all I can think about and at other times I find myself wanting to talk only about paper even when other paper—I mean, people—want to switch the subject. I’m going to try to get it out of my system here and now.
So, what is it about paper that I love so much? I can’t imagine I’m alone in loving the whisper thin, dependably lined, sometimes hole-punched, consistently 8” x 11” crisp, white, previously pulpy material that can be blown across the room or down the street with the gentlest of breezes.
What a weakling, you might say. Paper, so defenseless and an absolute bore at parties. Easily crumpled and tossed in the trash. The next sheet sits patiently to absorb and reflect whatever thoughts, ideas or utter nonsense passes through a person’s mind. I’m not sure even dogs are that patient with we humans.
Can I propose a new slogan? Paper, man and woman’s best friend:)
I should warn any deeply devoted dog lovers to skip to the next paragraph now. I had a dog when I was younger and he was cute, but there was a boat load of droll (our generation’s all-natural version of slime:), poop coming out the wazoo (literally!) and loud gagging with subsequent throwing up of all sorts of things (and I mean all sorts—often inedible objects that apparently looked delicious through the eyes of a dog). Don’t even get me started on the early morning wake-up calls, periodic car rides with door opened coaxing the dog to drive home after eluding backyard security, and tumbleweeds of hair and hair and—did I mention? Hair! (not to be confused with here, hear, or hare)
Back to paper. Quiet, potty-trained, never-needing-nails trimmed, hairless paper. Sure, paper can’t curl up next to you or clean up the floor after dinner, but dang—it listens like you wouldn’t believe. And, that’s all anybody really wants in this world isn’t it—to be heard? Lord knows it’s harder than ever to be heard these days and so may I suggest: Paper.
It's cheap. It will not judge or suggest you spelled something incorrectly. You won’t find yourself caught in a tug of war with paper when a letter you decided to make lowercase is forced to be uppercase. It’s like forcing lefties to be righties. It’s just wrong!
Paper may run out of room but will never lose power or force you to stop writing because of an all-of-a-sudden-necessary software update. Paper is slow to anger and rich in—oh wait, sorry, that’s something else.
And, while it may be a bit more difficult to find in stores, back in my 20th century days there were whole stores that celebrated paper. Kinkos was one of my favorite places as a young whippersnapper in college with a whole wall devoted to different styles (not just different colors) of paper. Kinkos was like the prequel to FedEx Stores and it had paper for every occasion and any mood.
Daily journal writing may just be the first step toward world peace: imagine everybody, heads down, writing silently in their journals. It doesn’t get more peaceful than that! With that, I’ll leave you with two last ideas.