The Reluctant Writer- a cautionary tale

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“I’ll write that book someday,” she said after sharing her story with friends over coffee.

“You really should,” they agreed.

Years went by. Her work was busy. The kids had sports. The laundry basket was overflowing.

“You should write a book about that,” her husband said when she shared her story over a glass of wine.

“I know, but this week we’ve got to get ready for camping.” She started writing her checklist for their trip.

Years went by. The kids graduated from high school. She thought there would be more time to write. Her husband got sick, so she spent her days taking him back and forth to the doctor.

I’ll write that book someday, she thought. Maybe when I retire.

Years went by. Her husband got better. The kids had their own kids. Both she and her husband retired. She thought there would be more time to write but her kids needed someone to babysit the grandkids.

I’ll write that book someday, she thought. Now I have all the time in the world.

Years went by. The grandkids went to school. Her husband passed away. Her eyes grew weak, and her hands hurt. It was hard to type on her laptop.

I will write this book, she thought. And even when it was hard to focus beyond her pain, she wrote and wrote and wrote.

Years went by. When she finally held the finished novel in her trembling hands, she couldn’t even read the words on the pages.

But she was full of joy because she finally wrote the book.

Fall into more summer

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Pumpkin spice lattes are back. Halloween decorations dominate the craft stores. And in Southern California, it’s extended summer. Especially for teachers like me who jumped ship at the end of last school year. This is the first year I didn’t spend days setting up my classroom, organizing classroom supplies, and suffering through hours of staff meetings.

Next week, instead of sweating through triple-digit days sequestered inside with kids, my husband and I will be camping at the beach. We’ll walk our dogs, grill steaks, and watch the sunsets. I’m going to work on my latest book project until I run out of power on my laptop.

After 17 years of teaching (which in teacher years is 170), I’m writing a new chapter in my life. In my first years at college, I poured all my energy into being a visual artist. Then at graduation I was cast adrift in a world where creatives had few ways of earning a living. I went to work in retail buying, using my creativity to select season colors and magazine layouts.

After 9/11, I lost my job and became a substitute teacher. Then my husband died, and suddenly I was a single parent of three school age children. That led me back to college where I earned my teaching credential.

Writing children’s books was my new creative outlet. Seven years later, I found a husband that nourished my dreams. I joined writing groups and took classes. My obsession grew until I was up every morning at 5:00 am to squeeze in a few hours of writing before the day began.

Many years passed. My kids grew up and set out on their own journeys. Teaching kids taught me a lot. About hope for the future, and a passion for doing what you love. I gathered characters and stories like shells on a beach. Saving them for when I had time to write.

So here I am in my first year of retirement. Living life as a full time creative, writing instead of making art. My life is no longer fractured with conflicting responsibilities. I still get up early. Ideas flow in the quiet time before the day opens its eyes.

As I fall into more summer, more summer flows into me.

After the Fight is Over

Inspiration, Motivation, Life, Inspirational, Outdoors

 

It’s done. I wrote 50,000 words for #NaNoWriMo2019. Funny thing though. I still want to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write. Instead of creating a new book, I’m working on the HOG newsletter and typing this blog. After that, I need to work on revising my other book. At various points during November, I thought I’d run out of words, but my fears were unfounded. Of course, I need to begin revisions on the rough draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo, but that book needs to ferment for at least a month.

Rain beats on my roof, wearing away the rough edges of this difficult year. Too many funerals, not enough weddings. Negativity and violence every time I pick up my phone. Christmas is knocking at my door, and I long to feel its glow.

In an hour, I’ll bundle up, grab my umbrella, and go out into the world. Two and half more weeks of school before vacation. In the midst of the holiday rush, I smile.

I wrote a book in November. Rain can’t wash that away.

Are we there yet?(a NaNoWriMo tale)

Home Office, Workstation, Office

Only five more days remain for #NaNoWriMo2019. Not exactly sure where November went but I know a good chunk of it was spent writing. Up at 5 a.m., sitting at my computer with a big cup of coffee. My dogs hanging on me, begging for attention while I squeeze in an hour’s writing before work. Writing even when I’m not sure where the story will go. Of course, I’ll end up with a messy rough draft needing years of revision, but at least I have something to start with.

Like many of my writer friends, I have stories in my head that never see a page. Life is full of necessities and emergencies that get in the way. Don’t get me wrong. All these interruptions are important. But there comes a time when we need to sit down at our computers and type. When we do this, magical things happen. Ideas become words. Words become stories. Even if the book never gets published, now it has a title, chapters, and a life of its own. It can’t get untold.

NaNoWriMo won’t mean a completed project for all who began, but documents were saved and notebooks were filled. Magic happened because we sat down and wrote.

Midway Thoughts-NaNoWriMo 2019

People, Adult, Woman, Street, Outdoors, City, Dark, War

 

On the fifteenth of November, I had 25,000 words. Half way through the month, halfway to my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000. Yeah! (small victory dance)

How do I feel? Exhausted. At the beginning of November, I reread a favorite book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. In the book, he argues that the minute we commit to a major creative project, Resistance rises up to oppose us.

This week, I faced Resistance in the form of work, illness, and mental exhaustion. For years, I’ve done a decent job balancing my teaching job and my home life. However, this November’s been the toughest one I’ve ever faced. Too much to do with impossible deadlines, resulting in additional hours at work that could have been given to my writing. All I want to do when I drag myself home is collapse in a chair and read my Kindle.

Besides work, my husband’s chronic illness, suddenly after ten years, flares up. Should we change his treatment? What if he has to give up Harley riding, one of the loves of his life? What if I need to take over some of his responsibilities at home? Am I being selfish by writing at my computer when I could be spending time encouraging him? Most of these nights I don’t remember if I fall asleep before hitting the pillow.

This is war, so I’ve fought back by turning off my alarm at 5:15 a.m. and getting up to write before work. Sometimes it’s been hard to type, let alone come up with words. Maybe you think I’m crazy to get up that early, but it has its advantages. Writing still partially in a dream state generates fresh ideas unencumbered by critical thought. Before I start piling up the day’s baggage in my brain, I can find room for my story.

I’ll admit—it’s challenging to write 1700 words a day. My husband helps a lot. We talk about my character’s adventures over a glass of wine, and run through scenarios of what might happen next. (I did start with an outline for this book, but it soon grew too big to fit into it.) Another benefit of committing to NaNoWriMo is that you live in your story every day. Usually it takes me at least a year to complete the rough draft of a novel. Under a 30-day deadline, I get to know my characters well.

How am I doing? It’s not over yet. Every day is another chance to give up. Or to meet Resistance’s challenge. All I can say is that this morning I got up and wrote.

Are you a #NaNoWriMo2019 crazy person? Keep writing. It’s a war out there. Resistance wants to prevent the next best-selling novel from being written. Even if you don’t make your 50,000 word count, there’s got to be a story in it. Soldier on.

Twas the Night Before NaNoWriMo

Death ValleyJodi

 

I have to admit I’m a little nervous about participating in NaNoWriMo this year. If that sounds like gibberish to you, it’s the National Novel Writing Month. It’s a website and a bunch of people who want to break through barriers to write as much as they can in one month. Specifically, 50,000 words.

You may think that’s crazy, and you’re not wrong. But there’s great energy in joining with writers in your community and far, far, away to create new stories. My last book, Beach Witches, was birthed through NaNoWriMo. Granted, I generated 50,000 words, but it also took me two years of revisions to wrap up the book. Now it’s out on submissions, waiting for its place in the publishing world.

So tomorrow I start writing. It’s a new project titled The Overnighter, a YA fantasy novel about a girl who goes on a Harley Owners Group overnighter riding behind her mother. Here I go. About 2100 words a day if I want to take off Sundays and Thanksgiving.

Wish me luck.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Why Rejection Makes You a Better Writer

Death ValleyJodi

After a few weeks querying agents for my YA book, I needed to take a break and consider my progress. One agent, who I met and worked with in a critique group, sent me a personal rejection the same day I emailed her. Another agent, who loved the book at a retreat, sent me back her regrets. In prior years, with prior books, I would get no rejection letter at all. Only silence. Compared to no response, my recent rejections have led me to be more optimistic.

So I decided to make a list of how agent (and magazine editor) rejections have improved my writing:

  1. Book rejections make you realize that you need feedback on your writing before you send it out to agents.

 When I began my writer’s journey, I finished my rough draft and thought I had a masterpiece. I read a little of it to my friends, but I was sure that it was finished. Now I enlist the aid of critique groups, professional editors (not as expensive as you would think), writing retreats, and college extension classes before I send anything out.

  1. Agents have their own agendas.

They actually have to sell your book to publishers, who are even more jaded than they are. Agents have categories of books that they represent. If they already have enough magic books, they won’t be interested in your fantasy project. The lesson here is keep querying. You just haven’t met your agent yet.

  1. Being rejected by agents can lead to personal growth in your writing.

After getting several rejections on a book, I looked at all the comments that accompanied the passes. Agents are busy people, and if they take the time to tell me what they didn’t like about my work, I need to pay attention. This has led me to take writing classes at UCLA Extension, which I highly recommend. I also began submitting short stories to magazines so I could beef up my publishing credits.

  1. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into the books I read.

I read all the acknowledgments at the back of the novels I read, and count the number of people the author thanks. Have I exposed my WIP to that many people? Also, I was encouraged by an writer that had the courage to admit she had 17 novels rejected before she was published. Therefore, I need to stop my whining.

  1. Rejection makes me recommit to writing.

As the years pass, it would be easy to turn off the laptop and do something else with tangible results, like knitting. Writing is easy, revision is hard, traditional publishing seems nearly impossible. However, I’ve overcome many impossibilities in my life, and I’m not ready to die to my dreams yet. Rejection shows me that I haven’t reached that mountain peak— I’m still in the foothills. I need to keep walking.

  1. Rejection initiates me into the writing community.

All writers experience rejection at some time, and they can be a great source of encouragement to other writers. Joining Twitter and following other writers allows me to share in their joy and pain along the publishing path. Thanks, guys.

 

As you can see, rejection is not as negative as the gut punch you feel at first when you open that agent’s email reply. You get mad, cry a little, eat chocolate, drink a large glass of wine, and get back to work. And hopefully, after a lot more work, someday we’ll be sitting by the pool reading each other’s novels instead of this blog.

Erosion

This story is another assignment from my UCLA class. We had to write a magical realism story that incorporated a scientific process to reveal a character. 

IMG_4631

 

It started as a trickle down my cheek. I was changing a tire on my sand rail in the third bay of our garage. I wiped away flesh-colored sand from my face. What was that? No time to worry about it. We were leaving for Glamis in the morning, and I still needed to load up Susan’s sand rail.

The weekend started well, as we joined our friends and drank by the campfire until the horizon brightened and the stars began to fade. Then we all stumbled into our trailers and slept it off. When I got up much later, there was coating of sand in my bunk.

That day I’ll never forget. Susan and the girls went out on their rails by themselves. Barely an hour passed when one solo sand rail came racing into camp. One of Susan’s friends took off her helmet, exposing a tear-streaked face.

“Jeff, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Marley said. “We went over this ridge, and there was a huge sink hole! I stopped in time, but the rest fell in. I helped them get out, but Susan didn’t make it.”

A large clod of dirt dropped off my back. For once, I was speechless.

After calling on my sat phone to transport Susan’s body, I packed up the trailer and remaining sand rail by myself. Our friends had just started the barbeque and were preparing to grill steaks. They barely looked as I pulled away, as I had become a major party killer.

The truck came out of nowhere as I entered the main highway. Clods of dirt fell from my arms as the air bag deployed and I woke up in a mist of white powder. When the fire fighters pulled me out, I looked at the twisted pile of metal that used to be my weekend getaway. Somehow, I felt lighter. Piles of sand and dirt surrounded me. The paramedic led me back to his rig, and I finally plucked up the courage to ask about the gathering piles of dirt.

“Probably erosion,” he said as he checked my vitals. “It happens. You’re lucky you made it out of this one alive. Do you have a wife?”

My throat closed up. “Until this weekend,” I managed to choke out. What was happening to my life? My wife was gone. My truck, trailer, and toys were gone. I felt the release of another chuck of dirt from my back as I lost myself, pebble by pebble.

When they finally released me, I called my neighbor, and he drove out to pick me up. His face was white. “Dude, you’re never going to believe this!”

Somehow I felt that I had gone beyond all reasonable belief. Sand burned in my eyes.

“Your house,” he said. “While you were out in the desert, a fire started! Your house, your beautiful house, burnt down, to the ground. The fire fighters were able to save mine and the other houses on the street, but not yours.”

My heart fell to the ground. My now deceased wife’s voice echoed in my mind, harping at me to renew the fire insurance. I remember telling her I was waiting for a cheaper quote from one of my buddies. The house had no insurance. More clods of dirt fell off and my clothes became so loose that I had to clutch my pants before I lost them.

On the way home, actually to my neighbor’s house, we barely spoke. If my neighbor noticed the deepening piles of sand on the seat, he didn’t say anything.  All the things that held my happiness—my wife and all my possessions—wiped away in a single weekend. Even though I wasn’t a religious man, I knew about Job, and I wished I could talk to him. What is leftover, after everything is gone?

When we got to my neighbor’s house, I looked at the smoldering pile of ash that used to be my luxurious home. My neighbor’s sister, Annie, came rushing out.

“David, I am so sorry,” she said, with watery eyes. “Poor Susan. And your house!” She hugged me, and more clods fell off. “What happened to you? You’ve lost a lot of weight.”

“It’s erosion,” I said.

Days passed and then weeks. I was busy with Susan’s funeral and taking care of the paperwork on all my lost things. When I looked in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. Dirt had stopped falling. Instead of the heavy-set, beer belly partyer I used to be, I was a pale, thin, balding man. My neighbor and his wife, Frank and Jan, took me with them to their church, and I never missed a Sunday. Suddenly eternal things mattered. My Glamis friends never called, and I was surprised that I didn’t care.

The process of erosion is slow. I worked hard, saved money, and bought myself a new house, in an older neighborhood because I couldn’t afford it on my own. On weekends, I worked in the garden, and invited over Frank, Jan, and Annie for burgers in the backyard. My garage didn’t house any flashy toys. They had washed away, but the core remained. I had my health, faith and real friends. That was enough.

How three writing workshops and NaNoWriMo saved me from a two month writing drought

Me beach

Sitting down with my hot eggnog, Christmas music playing in the background, I noticed on my webpage that this is the first blog I’ve written since the beginning of September. How did that happen?

After writing every day and producing a nine episode novella during the summer, I started the school year knowing that teaching would drain my creative time, but remained undaunted as I signed up for three writing workshops at the end of September. When I opened my front door every day after school, my brain was mush and I had nothing to write. My husband and I were even too busy to catch many HOG chapter Harley rides, so I did not even have any Harley ride tales to share. I was certain that hearing about successful writing would motivate me to press on.

The Inland Empire California Writers Club held their Fall Retreat in Idyllwild, a tiny mountain community, the perfect place to get away and write. One of the workshops focused on marketing. I didn’t realize that I needed to work on a press kit before my book was published. After the retreat, I had time to write in my cabin in front of the fireplace. It was fun to entertain fresh ideas and characters after spending years on College of the Crones. After writing, polishing, and submitting that three-year project, I needed to turn my attention elsewhere. Waiting for the next query rejection is a dismal way to spend your time.

Next came a one-day workshop up in Hesperia called “The 90 Day Novel” with Alan Watt, from the L.A. Writers Lab. Alan became my characters’ psychologist, as he helped each of us to draw out the backstories and motivations that would make my story ring true. Although it was an intense day with a small group of writers, I came home with a greater sense of who my characters were and how they would react in different situations.

The last writing conference, held the first Saturday in October, was The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Meet the Editors Day at Cal State Fullerton. Editors and agents talked about the publishing industry. I had the opportunity to have lunch with one of our speakers, a writer from Redlands. We talked about the importance of revisions, critique groups, and a finding an editor.

After all that input, you might think that I would rush back to my laptop and start writing. I certainly thought that on the way home. Unfortunately, school and Harley riding and my social life conspired to eat up October until I found myself with no word count, or blog at Halloween. Scary, right?

So what does a girl do? Join NaNoWriMo of course! That stands for the National Novel Writing Month. On their website, you pledge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I took my story ideas from Idyllwild, my characters and scene outline from the Alan Watt workshop, and my dreams about publishing from the Meet the Editors Day and plunged into the deep end of my new novel. The first chapters flowed, and when I posted my daily word counts, my numbers matched the trajectory on the graph I needed to get to my goal.

Then came the three day Harley ride with my husband and our HOG chapter up to San Simeon over Veterans Day weekend. No room for my laptop on the bike. And don’t forget Thanksgiving, which stole away a few more days of writing.  I found myself in the last week of November with 15,000 more words to write.

Hard words, too. After my initial flurry through my outline, I reached the end of my story, but still too brief to be classified a real novel. I rewrote my outline, based on what I had actually written, and looked for places that needed more structural support.  Should Star go on two dates with Frank before breaking up with him instead of one? Would her friends call a meeting to confront her about hanging out with their evil magician friend?

Bit by bit I gained on my word count, 1800 to 3000 words a day. The last day of November, I still had 1500 words left. Bleary-eyed, I shooed away my husband and my Pomeranian, and pounded away on the keys.

At 9:38 p.m., I made it! A brand new rough draft of a novel, done in thirty days. Redemption for my wasted autumn.

Of course, the book, titled The Spellwriters Book Club, is not finished. Months of revisions, critique groups, and editing stretch before me.

But my writing drought is over, thanks to three writing workshops and NaNoWriMo.

Changes Fall

Autumn

 

Today when the piano alarm on my phone crescendoed until I obediently rolled out of bed, something felt different. Through my slitted eyes, dawn’s light through our open windows remained black. Birds chirping outside startled me, and I realized my husband had turned off our room air conditioner sometime during the night. A strange impulse coursed through my body, traveling through me like a crowd doing the wave at a baseball stadium. My throat scratched when I asked my husband if he wanted a banana packed in his lunch, so I took a drink from the water bottle on my night stand. The water was still cold!

Then I realized the source of strangeness—the air inside my room was cool. For the first time in three months, I wanted to put on a sweater. Usually I would wake up soaked with sweat, barely rested due to constant demand for cold water during the night. My body had no idea how to adjust to more moderate temperatures. In dim light, I searched through my closet, digging deep before feeling the zipper of my hoodie. Gratefully, I pulled it on and zipped it up to my neck. My shaking ceased.

The aroma of coffee dripping into the pot in the kitchen combined with crisp coolness and whispered promises. The summer sluggishness I had strained beneath disappeared, and my steps became light. Ambition kindled in the cool morning. Suddenly hope swelled in my chest, and I began to believe again that my life would change. That my fourth graders this year would love to write. That my book might be picked up by an agent. That I would find the perfect writing critique group. That I would lose those last five pounds.

Officially fall begins on September 22nd, but in my bedroom, on this day, the changes of fall began.