Writing in the Dark

Writers often complain about finding more writing time in their day. As a retired teacher, I thought I would have endless hours to type on my laptop, scribble outlines into notebooks, or muse about new story ideas. Instead, my schedule filled up quickly. I have heard it said, and now understand: “I am busier now than when I was working full-time.”

So I returned to my old writing time. It’s hard to turn off the alarm at 5:00 am and jump out of my warm bed. I’m not working. Why would I get up so early? I’ll admit sometimes I’ve hit the snooze button and gone back to sleep. But when I got up and grabbed my coffee, I’ve never regretted it.

Early morning. The perfect time to write. It’s so quiet I can hear my brain work. My husband and dogs are asleep. No daylight beckons me to go outside. Too early to do laundry or mop the floor.

My mind is a blank slate, not yet overloaded with the day’s problems and responsibilities.

Ideas flow. Possibilities seem endless.

Getting up that early may not work for you. You may prefer the dark hours of the evening. But the idea is the same.

Find the quiet hours in your day and use them for writing. You will find there is great reward gained by writing in the dark.  

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

Rain has been pounding on my roof all night. And most of yesterday. Today it’s going to be the same. I’m stuck inside my house, longing to stretch my legs and feel sunshine on my face.  

Storm after storm after storm. No chance to catch my breath.

I’m not the only one who’s gone through storms over this holiday season. Each person has their own storms to face. To someone else, my problems would only be annoyances. For me, as each problem piles on top of the next, it becomes mind-numbing.

Incessant rain. Grey, swollen skies that hold the day captive.

My creativity is held captive with the California sunshine. My hands hover over my laptop keyboard yet nothing is typed on my screen. Maybe the query rejections were right. Maybe writing a novel is too hard.

Maybe my story is not important.

My responsibilities come tumbling out like junk out of a woman’s purse. Days fill up with important tasks. People I care about need me. When things break, it takes time and money to fix them.

Cars drive by my house, splashing up water from the gutters.

An email arrives. A short story I wrote last year was shortlisted for a fiction contest.

Silence catches my attention. The rain has stopped.

Maybe I can write a story that is important.

My hands fly over the keyboard. Characters, storylines, wonderful places flood my mind. When my stolen moments pass, the story takes hold in my mind and rests there, waiting for my next writing time.

Out comes the sun and dries up all the rain.

And the itsy-bitsy spider climbs up the spout again.

The dark season of waiting

It has been a great year for my writing. Four of my short stories were chosen for anthologies, both digital and printed forms. I now have an Amazon author page. Even though it was modest, I received my first advance paid for my writing. You would think this would create a happy bubble of encouragement.

But it’s also been a year of rejection for my novels.

For an author seeking traditional publishing, the first fortified gate I must scale is finding a literary agent. The querying process is a torturous process that offers little feedback except “you’re not what we’re looking for.”

I could self-publish, but it can be an expensive and grueling process for a mere peasant like myself. Some small publishers take queries from unagented authors, but again I find myself in the dungeon of waiting. As time passes like dripping water down the stone walls, the lack of answer becomes the answer.

There is a bright spot in the dark and damp. My critique groups. While there are readers eager to embrace your character’s struggle, authors will keep on writing.

Even in the dark, even when all seems lost.

Authors create stories and readers give them life.

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.

NaNoWriMo Check In-the pregnant pause

Girl, Sadness, Loneliness, Sad, Depression, Alone

 

The first three days of NaNoWriMo have been hard on my diet. My scale reflects my lack of exercise while sitting at my computer. My jeans are tight, I feel grumpy. Reminds me of when I was pregnant. Uncomfortable, moody, my priorities shifting… Yet here I sit waiting as a new book is in the process of creation. Day by day, page by page. When I was pregnant, I had to keep in mind the goal—a blessing, a child, a family. I had to be patient even through painful long days. Now with this writing, I need to remember the goal—a new book, a chance to share my story with an audience.

When it emerges complete with future revisions, it will be worth it. I will hold it in my hands with pride for it was born through sacrifice.

Write on, my friends, for your creation desires to be born.

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.

Another perspective on “Blue Horses”

I’m taking a short story course at UCLA Extension with author/instructor Michael Buckley. One of our assignments was to write in the style of Franklin’s “Blue Horses.” I decided to write from Evelyn’s point of view and add some plot twists:

coffee

His coffee cup was still dripping water on its hook when Evelyn stumbled into the kitchen. She sighed and poured herself a cup, as black as a moonless night, and twice as bitter. Looking out the window, she knew that Earl’s truck would already be gone. Two fools on a fool’s errand.

Evelyn gently sat on the cracked vinyl chair and forced herself to down the entire lukewarm coffee in an effort to clear her fog. Something crackled in her pocket, and she pulled out a folded up, yellowed paper. A truck rumbled by, and she stuffed it back into its hiding place. Looking around at the overflowing piles of dishes in the sink and faded green metal cabinets, she wondered how she managed to stay married to that loser for fifteen years. How did she end up back at Earl’s place when she had sworn to never return? She replayed the previous night’s conversation in her mind.

“Why, Evelyn! Don’t you look purdy tonight? Sumthin special going on at the church?” Earl wobbled at the screen door when she arrived, already a few beers into the evening.

“Don’t have to be anythin special for me to stop by my old place,” she purred. She looked past her ex-husband, into the dark room lit only by the blue T.V. light. It had to be here. She knew him as well as she knew her face in the mirror, and a paper that important he would hide in the house.

“Well, come on in,” Earl said with a sweeping gesture that nearly toppled him over. “I got some of that elderberry wine you used to like. Member, you left it here, last time.”

“That sounds good, hunny,” she said as she swept past him into the house. He followed her like a faithful hound, picking up the newspapers and empty bottles to reveal a relatively clean spot on the couch. Evelyn sat down primly, and crossed her legs, showing her new stockings. Since she had left a year ago, she had found work at the new mill office, and had money for silk stockings. If she’d still been with him, it would have all gone for his beer.

After the clunking and slamming went on for some time back in the kitchen, Earl returned with a cut crystal glass filled with a blood-red liquid which he managed to deliver to her without spilling more than a few drops on the carpet. Evelyn took a sip, hoping it would give her the courage she needed to pull this off.

They chit chatted for a while about nothing, all the while he moved closer to her on the couch. Finally he planted one on her, which wasn’t so bad even after all that time, and they ended up in the bedroom like old times. She knew it would be short ride, and then she’d be able to search for that letter. Sure enough, he soon was fast asleep, and she pulled on his shredded bathrobe and escaped to the living room.

As she searched every drawer, and sifted every pile, she discovered scattered remnants of their life together. Movie tickets, photographs, Valentine cards, and stacks of past due bill statements. She didn’t give up, because she hadn’t come all this way and let him sweep her off her feet just to go home empty-handed. Maybe it was in the kitchen.

Opening the junk drawer by the phone, she found it. A folded paper tucked in the back of the drawer, behind the duct tape, batteries, rubber bands, and assorted screws. She opened it with shaking hands, the words on the page dancing in her head. “Deed and Title to property at Rural Route 2, Blue Mountain Lake.” It was in her name, a wedding present from Great Uncle Tommy. Its faded yellow pages promised freedom from the run-down carnival ride she’d been on all her life.

 

Weekend Time Travel

Dickenstimetravel1

 

After nibbling on madeleine cookies with Edgar Allen Poe, I flagged down Jules Vernes to continue our debate on the dangers of time travel. It was nearly time for Queen Victoria’s parade, so I would have to forgo another trip to the tearoom. I thanked him for his time, and headed toward the courthouse steps, dodging ladies in tall hats covered with welding goggles, tightly cinched corsets and ruffled long skirts worn with cowboy boots.

Just another Saturday at the Riverside, California Dickens Festival. The California Writer’s Club had a booth next to the Author’s Corner, so we had a front row seat to a steady stream of Victorian era authors, played by actors, who engaged audiences in discussions about their work. Everyone who attended dressed in regular or steam punk Victorian costumes, making this the ComicCon of classical literature.

Being a more proper Victorian lady, I wore a puff sleeve black widow’s dress, which out of this context could pass for a witch or Mary Poppins costume. My character was a time traveler’s wife, so I also had a tall hat decorated with gears, netting, feathers, and brass gears. The bodice was form-fitted, especially since I had to alter it to fit my ungirdled shape. There are some things I will do for the sake of a costume, but a real corset is not one of them. I had also decided, with good common sense, against pointed toe boots and instead wore my round toe lace-up Harley riding boots.

Festivalgoers wandered by our booth, and looked at our selection of gently used books by Victorian authors. Their curiosity created opportunities to tell them about the California Writers Club and encourage them to come to a meeting at one of our branches across the state. I met some young writers, including a filmmaker who showed his work on YouTube and several sci-fi bloggers.

More cups of tea and hours later, it was time for me to return to the twenty-first century. Although I was grateful to take off the heavy layers of clothing, I was sad to leave behind my famous authors and the elegance of the Victoria era. Next year, perhaps I’ll get a chance to talk about monsters over tea with Mary Shelley.

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