Saturday, December 31, 2005


I was up, up, up yesterday, so predictably, I'm lower today. Not as dramatically low as has happened in the past, though. It's more of a see-saw low instead of the roller coaster low I wrote about weeks ago.

It's bizarre. Sometimes the writing comes so easily and other times it's like pushing a boulder up a gravely hill in bare feet: tough and painful and extremely slow-going. The really strange (but fortunate) thing is that later on, once the section is polished up, I can never remember whether or not the initial writing of it was effortless or difficult. I try to keep that in mind when I'm struggling: although it's no fun to struggle, in the long run, fighting to find the right words doesn't affect the quality of the work.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Early birds

I'm surrounded by early birds. If my kids wake up after six a.m., they've slept in. It's nothing new--they've always been this way. So if I want some alone time in the morning, I have to get up really early.

4:30-ish seems to work best. It gives me about an hour and fifteen minutes to write before I'm on mom duty. Any earlier and I have trouble focusing (even with help from my new best friend, coffee). But any later and I don't have enough time to get much accomplished.

So this morning I wake up at 4:25, make my breakfast and coffee, and sit down to write. Around fifteen minutes later, just as I'm getting thoroughly entrenched in the creative process, Kyle's door opens and he stumbles out all adorably tousled and bleary-eyed. Yup, he's awake and it's not even 5 yet. I lead him back to bed and get him tucked back in and hope he goes back to sleep. Not just for my own selfish reasons, but because he's only four and is a lot more pleasant to be around when he's well-rested. (Aren't we all!)

Nothing doing. 20 minutes later he comes out again and says he's full of energy and doesn't need to sleep anymore. So I get him settled on the couch, put a Rugrats tape in the VCR (bad mom, I know), clomp my earphones over my ears (itunes on my computer--it's just the coolest!), and manage to pound away at the keyboard for another half-hour before Kara wakes up.

Not my ideal early morning writing session, but not a total loss either. I just hope it was a fluke and not a trend for the future!

I'm excited, though. I'm getting closer and closer to the end of the story. And not only is it taking shape on the computer screen, but the parts I haven't written yet are coming together in my mind. Now I know how it's going to end! There are still a couple of plot points I need to figure out, but for the most part the story is finished. I can't express how thrilling it is to understand how it all gets resolved. I've been creating/discovering this story for going-on three years, and now I see how it all fits together. It's exhilarating!

The course to the finish line is laid out in front of me. All I have to do is follow it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

But what does she look like?

I'm still writing in the wee hours of the morning. Not only am I progressing with my novel, but I'm constantly coming to new realizations about the writing process. (At least my writing process. I don't want to speak for everyone!) There's just something about that dark, silent time of day that makes me philosophical.

My latest realization concerns physical description.

Physical descriptions of characters and settings don't come naturally to me. I just don't pay a lot of attention to how things look. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving along a street I've already driven down a million times, and all of a sudden I see some store or restaurant I never noticed before--something that's obviously been there for years. And when I'm reading, I often skim through extensive descriptions of the characters and their surroundings. I'm much more interested in how people feel, what they do, and why they do the things they do.

Still, physical descriptions are an important and necessary component to a good story. Great descriptions make stories richer and help the reader visualize what's happening. They also can reveal a lot about the plot or what's going on with a particular character. But I don't always "see" my characters very well, so physical descriptions are often difficult.

One amazing phenomenon that happens while writing fiction is the characters start taking on a life of their own. (Actually the whole story takes on a life of it's own, which I'll write about in a future blog entry.) You can have someone pegged in your mind as being a certain way, and then they'll do something you never would have expected, and you suddenly realize there's this whole new dimension to their personality you weren't aware of before.

Well, I'm finding the same can happen with physical appearance. One character, in particular, I could never visualize. I just didn't know how she looked. But I kept writing about her, and now I'm finding little aspects of her appearance popping up as the story progresses. Now I know she has a long, thick braid dangling down her back, and her mouth is usually set in a harsh line. These are qualities I couldn't "see" when I first wrote about her, but can now that I know her better.

Weird, huh? Most of the time the way someone looks is one of the first things you learn about them. But when writing about characters and places I can't see, I don't always know how they look right away. I need to get to know everything about them--including their appearance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Instructions for Life

I continue to get up early to write, and haven't missed a day in over a week! It's such a busy time of year (I still haven't finished my Christmas shopping), and I know I wouldn't be making much progress if I weren't writing first thing. I love starting the day by working on my novel. The house is completely quiet. I'm alone with the story. I can have uninterrupted thoughts! This morning's writing session wasn't the greatest, though. I had a hard time finding the right words; but amazingly I did not freak out about it. I just did what I could, knowing that next time it'll go better.

A friend from college emailed this to me. I almost never forward things, so I thought I'd post it here. It addresses a lot of the issues I've been writing about in this blog. (Especially numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, and 14!) And then there's the pleasant surprise I'm going to get for passing the message on! I'll keep you posted on just what that is ;o)

Saturday, December 17, 2005


I managed to avoid it for 35 years, but no longer. I'm one of those people now. I'm a coffee drinker.

I never used to like the way it tasted. I always loved the smell of coffee. But the taste? Yuck! Also I'm a morning person. I wake up easily. I never needed it to get going in the am. So why bother?

But in my late 20s I started getting migraine headaches and I learned caffeine could help. So if I woke up with a migraine, I'd take some advil and choke down some coffee and a lot of the time that would do the trick. I drank coffee, but it was only for medicinal purposes. I still thought it tasted disgusting and I wasn't a habitual user.

Then I started exercising regularly, and found out that some athletes drink coffee before they workout to give themselves a boost of energy. So I thought, why not? If it helps me get fitter, I should give it a try. And I started drinking a cup of coffee in the morning on my cardio days. It did perk me up, and although I'm not convinced it helped all that much with my athletic performance, I kept at it. And you know what? It didn't taste so bad anymore.

But now I really have crossed the line. I'm drinking it every morning. And liking it! Why? What's turned me into an official coffee drinker?

Well, it's simple. Since Tuesday, I've been getting up every morning at 4:30 am to write. I eat some breakfast, drink some coffee, and work on my novel until 6 when Kyle wakes up.

I’m focused, I’m alert, I’m productive, I’m a believer! Now I understand why so many people are dependent on the stuff. It’s making a huge difference in what I can do. Praise coffee!

I'm in the middle of a tough section too. The narrator is describing a conversation between two people she can hear, but can't see. So it's tricky to give the scene depth. I'm limited to relaying the characters' emotions through their tones of voice, since I can’t describe their facial expressions or body language. And I also can't use the typical stage direction type of descriptions (He crossed his legs. She started thumbing through the book., etc.), unless the characters are doing something the narrator can hear and identify. It's taking a lot of concentration. But thanks to coffee, I can do it! Even at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am.

It's a miracle! I'm definitely going to include my new caffeine-laden friend in the acknowledgement section of my book.

It's making all the difference. ;o)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Fearless Creating

I'm better. I was in a funk all day Saturday, though. My thoughts are so wrapped up in the story right now. When it's not going well, I feel horrible.

Yesterday I picked up a book I've had for years. It's called Fearless Creating. Here's a link.

I bought this book maybe ten years ago. It caught my eye when I was browsing my way through the SFMOMA museum shop. Back then I wanted to write, but I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and do it. And the first third of this book is all about the very early stages of the creative process—going from the wishing stage to the doing stage. Ten years ago, I read that first part but I still couldn’t get past the wishing stage, and the book's been gathering dust on the shelf ever since.

Reading it again now has been SO helpful and empowering. First of all, it reminded me how much I've already accomplished. I've been working on this project for 2.5 years; I've written over 300 pages. I'm way, way, way past the wishing stage. I'm doing it. I've found a way to motivate myself to keep at it even though it can be really hard (see Saturday's post!) and I certainly don't have to write a novel. No one's forcing me. Ten years ago I couldn't do what I'm doing now. I didn't know how to motivate myself. I didn't have the strength to keep trying.

I do now.

And the middle of the book, the part I couldn’t get to before because it deals with actually creating something instead of just wishing to create, describes so many of the thoughts and fears I now experience regularly. Apparently all of these issues with confidence and self-doubt are typical for artists. I'm not a freak. I'm an artist hip-deep in the creative process and when you are creating something, it's normal to struggle and agonize about the quality of your work. I couldn't believe all of the margin quotes from really famous artists and writers relaying their difficulties with confidence. I keep thinking I should get to a point where it gets easy and I feel good about what I’m doing all the time. That’s not going to happen. When you are really trying and stretching yourself and risking failure, you’re going to have doubts. The trick is to keep going without letting them paralyze you.

I’ve managed to do that, but I’m still going to try some of the exercises from the book that help artists overcome their fears when those crippling doubts strike. It’d be nice to simply deal with the fears as they come and then get on with the writing instead of feeling like a complete failure and moping for hours.

Anyway, I ended up having a great writing session yesterday. Scott took the kids out on errands and I wrote for over three hours. I felt scared and unsure and had a hard time getting started at first, but eventually the story grabbed me and pulled me in and I forgot about trying to write well. I just wrote.

I’ll never get to the point where I’m “fearlessly creating”, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure and shouldn’t try to create something. On the contrary, it’s a normal part of the process, something that artists of all levels constantly experience and struggle to overcome.

I’m not a freak.

I’m normal...for an artist, anyway.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A low place

It’s 5:45 am. I woke up early to write, but it didn’t go so well. I’m in a low place—everything seems bad—the writing inane.

Question: am I wasting my time? Is it admirable to work so hard on something when it’s not very good? Great books have great stories of how they were written and the sacrifices that their authors made to complete them. But isn’t it ridiculous and delusional to try so hard, when what I’m doing sucks? I could be sleeping. I could be warm in my bed oblivious to all this anxiety.

Focus on the process, right? Let go of the end result. All good and well when the process is enjoyable. But when it’s torture and only makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s difficult to appreciate the value of the process.

It’s the language that I struggle with the most. It’s so insanely hard to get the words to flow smoothly without any awkward phrasing. Most of the time, anyway. Every now and then, they come easily. But most of the time I spew something crappy, then go over it and over it, manipulating the vocabulary and word order, adding description, revising again and again, until I think it works. Right now it all looks terrible no matter what I do. Even sections that I thought were in pretty good shape read like complete drivel.


Like I said. I’m in a low place.

I’ll try again later today.

Friday, December 09, 2005

One month gone already?!

Ack! Today is December 9. One month since I set my goal to finish in six. I have certainly made progress, but there's still a lot to do. May 9 seems a long time away, but it'll be here before long.

I've got to keep at it!

Anyway, I did my UBWO yesterday and I wrote. Success! Kyle "exercised" with me using some red, vinyl-covered 4-lb. dumbbells. He took it very seriously and was really cute about it. I also did a 20-minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) on the treadmill this morning. So, I think I'm getting back in the exercise groove too. I don't know why I have such a hard time getting motivated to exercise once I've gotten out of the habit. I always feel so much better afterward.

I wrote at the library yesterday while Kyle was in preschool. I love to write at the library. It's quiet and far from the interruptions and distractions of home, and I get so inspired sitting in a carol with my computer, typing away in the midst of all those books. The only negative associated with library-writing, is that they don't want you to bring in drinks. Normally, I like to sip some sort of caffeinated beverage, or at least water, while I'm writing. It helps keep me awake. But I chugged a Lipton Diet Green Tea (tasty!) right before I went in yesterday, and managed to stay alert the whole time.

I have not yet started the 1-3 am plan since I've been fighting off a cold and don't want to make it worse. I might try it tonight (or should I say tomorrow?). I bought a new alarm clock and everything. Also, miraculously, both kids slept until almost 7 this morning. If that trend continues, I might start getting up before them to write like I did last winter.

Five more months to go. Can I do it? I honestly don't know, but I'm getting much more done now than I was before I started this blog.

Focus on the positive, Renée!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Writing? Yes! Exercising?

I'm on a writing spree! Over four hours today. (Wednesdays are typically high-volume days.) The confidence issues aren't bothering me too much. I think writing regularly has a lot to do with it. I continue to be very excited about how it's all going. I still don't know if I can get it done by May 9, but I'm certainly making better progress than I was a month ago.

Unfortunately, I haven't been exercising. I'm eating well, and seem to be losing the fat I gained while on vacation, but I haven't gotten back in the exercise habit. Tomorrow I will though. I commit to it here! I will do my upper body workout tomorrow morning after dropping my daughter off at school.

Speaking of vacation, here are a couple of pictures.

This is where we ate breakfast every morning! Not the best quality picture, but you get the idea.

And here's a pic of me and the kids out on the hobie cat.

(Huge sigh)

It was a great trip!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Finding Writing Time

I wrote for an hour and a half on Thursday, but didn't get any in yesterday. The day was swallowed up with other things. I don't know when I'll write today. It's another busy one. I'm itching to get to it, though. I want to put more time in, and that's good because a couple of weeks ago I found any excuse I could not to write.

Earlier this year I was getting up at four in the morning every day. That worked pretty well--I made great progress and in a masochistic way, it was lovely being up at that hour, writing in the dark, all alone. The problem with doing that now is that my kids are currently waking up at 5 or earlier. So if they saw me up too, they'd want to get up and I wouldn't get that serene, quiet, solitary writing time I'm trying to find. I'm actually thinking of trying in the middle of the night, from 1-3am, say. I know it sounds nutty, but it's really the only time I can count on being undisturbed.

On the exercise front, I did lunges for the first time on Thursday and now I'm so sore I can't walk normally! It's weird because they didn't seem that tough while I was doing them, but I guess they worked some muscles I don't usually use because I'm the sorest I've been since I started lifting weights back in February! Yeouch!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Four hours!

I wrote for four hours yesterday while Kyle was with his grandma, and Kara was at school. Our heater isn't working and it was cold and foggy outside (45 degrees F, which is positively frigid to a Californian), so I lit a fire in the wood stove, brewed some hot tea, grabbed my laptop, and parked myself in the recliner with my feet up. Talk about ideal writing conditions!

Today, Kyle has preschool so I should get in an hour-and-a-half, minimum. And I'll try for another hour at rest time.

I'm chugging right along and it feels great!