Fall into more summer

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

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.

A Pandemic, Distance Learning, Natural Disasters, and Stories

storm bird

 

If you’re a writer and having a hard time focusing on your story, it’s not surprising. As hard as I try to impose order on my daily life, personal plot twists keep popping up to thwart my efforts. But don’t worry—this is not one of those “doom and gloom” posts that no one wants to read. Instead, this is about how stories emerge despite the chaos around us.

Stories want to live, too. Even if our minds are swirling like hurricanes (hopefully not as we’re boarding up our windows), we can’t help creating a narrative. As we go about our normal lives, which now includes teaching to a screen several hours a day, a story begins impose itself over our concerns. A character emerges, braver than us, who faces our same problems but in space. Or in a world of magic. Or sometime long ago before Google Meets.

Soon other characters rise up to aid our main character’s quest to save their world and right its wrongs. Quirky friends that illuminate the main character’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe even a potential romance, although our hero really doesn’t have time for that right now.

Just like us in the real world, our main character, who now calls herself Raylene, tries lots of different strategies to solve her problems, only to be stopped at every turn. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to deal with lagging internet connections. It’s the antagonist who has shown up, just to make things more difficult. The villain is product of our nightmares, armed with complete knowledge of her fears. We’re not sure how to help our hero because her paralyzing fears belong to us.

We could remain stuck like that forever, but Raylene has her own Samwise Gamgee, reminding her of who she is and why she is risking everything. They go on together, and suddenly a thought pops up that we should call that friend we haven’t hung out with for months because of the pandemic.

When our hero and her sidekick fail, unforeseen help comes their way, and suddenly the battle is back on. At the same time, we, the writers, are in the middle of our own battles, standing in line at the medical center, waiting to get your temperature taken, or grabbing the last bottle of Lysol off the shelf at the grocery store before an old lady with a cane beats you to it.

Finally, the fighting ends, the day settles into night and your mind calms. Raylene limps back down her mountain with her hair all askew and rejoins her friends. We reach the end of our day and realize that despite overwhelming odds, we made some progress. When we lay down on our pillows, we hope the melatonin we took will really help us sleep. Because we need our rest before the battles tomorrow.

When the story comes back.

 

 

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.

Almost there

Mountain Climber, Sky, Landscape, Climber, Mountain

I had been doing so well. Cranking out 1,500 words a day for #NaNoWriMo2019 like I knew what I was doing, when suddenly I ran out of story.

Just like a car, a writer can run out of fuel, in this case words. At the beginning of November, I’d started with an outline and 17,000 words for a new project. No problem. The outline ran out after the second week. A slight problem. I started talking up new scenes for the book at dinner and writing them in the morning. Worked great right up to the last two days.

My book was finished, and I still had 2,400 words to go. Now I had to take back out my amended outline and find places to fit more scenes. A big problem if you have a deadline. But I sit at my computer and type, dragging my dead brain up the mountain, wishing I had a Samwise.

But it’s too late to turn back now. I’m already walking on the burnt ground of Mordor. If you’re with me, if your word count hasn’t turned to balloons and confetti yet, don’t despair.

There’s still two days left.

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.

The Art of Waiting

Calves, Legs, Human, Standing On, Stand In Line, Wait

 

That inheritance finally goes through, and you have enough money to take the family to Disneyland. You and hubby take the day off, buy the tickets online, load up the kids in the SUV and head down to Anaheim. The long line for parking makes you growl because you’re all amped up to see Galaxy’s Edge.

When you and the family finally walk in, you hope you remember which Disney character is the level where you parked, since you went around in circles so many times you forgot to count. There’s a buzz of excitement as the crowd presses down Main Street. Then you hit the wall. Lines. Lines for everything. Rides, food, restrooms. Despite all your planning, you must wait.

Another day, you have to go to the DMV to renew your license because you lost the letter. The line wraps around the front door at 7:00 a.m. You were hoping to get this done before work, but that looks less likely by the minute.

At the grocery store, there are long lines at the checkout stands because only two of them are open. You look at your phone. You’re going to be late to pick up your son from practice. Again.

After a relaxing day at the beach, you pack up the family and head back on the 91 freeway. Three hours later, you finally get home from a one-hour drive after waiting in crawling traffic.

Instead of going to a sit-down restaurant where you have to wait to get your food, you opt for a fast food drive through. The line trails half a block down the street.

Why is this so maddening? Why do we hate to wait? In the old days (post dinosaurs, pre internet), people used to sit around and talk to each other. They used to visit neighbors, bake homemade cakes, and sit on their front porches. There was no rush.

Now we don’t have time for anything like that. Our time is eaten up with commuting to work, kids sports, necessary errands, watching T.V. In an age where any convenience is an app on our phones, we have less time to breathe.

That’s how we’ve forgotten how to wait. We can’t wait for football season, cooler weather, Christmas presents, graduation.

Waiting is an art. Those who master it live stress-free lives as they enjoy the pause. They meet new friends as they wait at the grocery store. They talk with their kids as they wait in traffic. They smile and give grace to those around them.

Next time you have to wait, look around. Spot one of the waiting masters and ask them to make you their apprentice. Don’t wait. It could change your life.

Today She Needs to Write

Homework, Girl, Education, Studying, Student, School

 

A short story about a short story.

When I announced to my third grade class that one of my Harley stories was going to be included in an anthology coming out next month, a serious-looking girl in the second row shot up her hand.

“Did you have a question?” I asked.

“How long did it take you to write the story?”

Hmm. I knew this student loved to write in her journal, and her quick write responses often filled the entire page. Adults who share my writing addiction know that years can pass before a story or book is exposed to the light of publication. Would my answer cause her to close her journal and pursue another dream?

How long did it take?

Last fall I went on the Harley overnighter that became the subject of my story. When I returned, it was back to my normal life as a teacher. (Often I have compared my life to Indiana Jones, especially the part where he has to go back to his job as a college history professor after outrunning the Nazis.) A few months passed before I found time to sit down and think about that adventure.

Actually writing it didn’t take more than an hour. I read through it, adding and deleting for another half hour. After I thought it was finished, I sent it out with my other submissions, the dark hole where you rarely find out your story’s fate. Meanwhile, some of my other short stories were accepted into online magazines. Nothing for that story. I took UCLA extension classes and worked on my YA novel.

Early in the summer, I heard that my California Writers Club branch was going to publish their first anthology. I took back out that Harley story, edited it again, and submitted.

That story was accepted into the book. The editor wanted some minor revisions. Five months later, the book is almost ready to come out.

So how did I answer? My smile reflected in her eager eyes, I replied, “Only about an hour.”

She’ll find out about the rest someday, but today she needs to write.

 

 

 

 

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.