Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Won't you take me to...Funkytowwwn?

Bored yet? Tired of my endless repetition? Well too bad!

I'm in another funk. I think it's because of my last two blog entries. My critical voice is nagging at me--telling me how presumptuous it is for me to think I have any business educating anyone about writing.

Sheesh! I know I'm being ridiculous, but I just can't stop these critical thoughts. So I'm going to use this blog for the purpose for which it was originally intended. (Man, talk about awkward phrasing!) To help me get over myself and write even when I'm stuck in Funkytown.

Two hours. Rest time and after the kids go to bed. Even if it's painful. Even if the words come slow as chilled honey.

I'm doing it!

Writing Resources

As I mentioned in my last entry, one of the things that helped me get started writing regularly was reading about writing. Aside from learning a lot, perusing writing books and web sites helped me think of myself as a writer.


You can't spend so much of your time reading and researching about writing that you don't ever sit down and write.

Butt in chair. Hands on the keyboard. (Or pen in notebook, if you're one of those odd, "write by hand" people.") It's the only way you are going to get anything written.

That being said there is an overwhelming amount of information out there for the aspiring writer. Here are some of the resources I've found particularly helpful.


Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing
A fantastic book! It focuses on how to make your writing clear, logical, and easy to understand. Plus it's really, really, REALLY funny.

On Writing
This is the most inspirational book about writing I've ever read, bar none. I don't know if I ever would have gotten started writing my novel, if I hadn't read this book.

The Outlandish Companion, by Diana Gabaldon
Okay, this isn't a book about writing--it mostly provides background information for the first four "Outlander" novels. But it is one of the things I read before I got started that prompted me to try to write my own novel. Diana Gabaldon is such a terrific writer and storyteller. She has a great web site with excellent writing tips (see below) and one of the sections in this book gives a fascinating look at her methodology for both research and writing. There's also a hilarious description of how she gets her work done in the midst of all the pulls of real life.

The Courage to Write
I picked this one up after I'd been writing for awhile. If you've read any of this blog, you can probably guess why I'd be drawn to a book like this!

Bird by Bird
This is a "must have". It's filled with truth about the writing process and the writing life. The SFD concept is described in this book. Need I say more?

Fearless Creating
Along with including lots of great information about dealing with creative anxiety, this is a workbook. It contains many helpful exercises to help artists of all kinds overcome their fears and get to work.

Web Sites

Writer’s Digest
This site is filled with information on all kinds of writing and every stage of the writing process.

I subscribed to this email group right after I started writing magazine articles. I don't belong to their list anymore, since I believe they now charge a small subscription fee. But I did learn a lot from them when I first got started.

The Compuserve Books & Writers Community
If I were to get involved with an online writing group, this would be it. There are SO many wonderful writers who participate here, from newbies just getting started, to bestselling authors (including Diana Gabaldon).

Diana Gabaldon's Web Site
Notice a trend here? I've included Diana Gabaldon on this list three times because she's one of my favorite authors and also because she is a natural teacher with lots of great information for aspiring writers. The "Writer's Corner" part of her web site is both helpful and interesting. Check it out!

The Writer’s Almanac
You can listen to the Writer's Almanac on National Public Radio (performed by Garrison Keillor). You can also sign up to receive the transcripts via email. Very inspiring!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Getting Started

Karenna was wondering how I got started on the novel. It's kind of a long story, so I thought I'd make an entry about it.

It was nothing I planned in advance. True, I had wanted to write, and thought up story ideas from time to time, but I'd never had the self-discipline to write on my own. I'd always been great at meeting deadlines and doing work as part of a school assignment or for a job, but I was never able to write just for myself.

I used to think of myself as a good writer. When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a story for school and entered it in a Young Writer's contest for Jack and Jill magazine. The story was called, "How the Skunk was Gifted, and What He Did with His Gift". It won first place and was printed in the magazine, making me a published author at the age of 10. I won another contest when I was sixteen (that story was called "Doris the Dot"), just a local young author's contest put on by the school district, and I don't know that it counts as publication, but my story was copied and bound and put in all the local libraries. I always did well in English classes, and earned good grades on essays and reports. Writing came easily and naturally. It wasn't hard. I wrote with confidence, knowing it was something I did well.

Then I went to college and took a required Humanities class where my writing was ripped to shreds on a regular basis. Whereas before I was able to express myself fluidly without worrying about whether or not I was doing it "right", now I doubted every word. I didn't understand what they wanted, and it knocked the confidence right out of me. I've never regained that certainty, that clarity I used to have when I was young, where I trusted myself and the words came so easily. And I haven't thought of myself a "good" writer since.

I never lost the interest in writing, however, or lost the desire to write. It wasn't lack of confidence that held me back but rather that I couldn't muster up the self-discipline to write on my own. But in the back of my mind I hoped I'd be able to give it a try someday.

Fast forward many years to me as a new mom with a baby and a toddler. One day I was thumbing through a regional parenting magazine and I came across a blurb that the magazine was looking for freelance writers to do articles with a local slant. For some reason, on a whim almost, I went to the computer and dashed off a short email to the editor of the magazine with a couple article ideas I thought up off the top of my head. A half an hour later she called and offered me an assignment. I was stunned, but very excited. That first article led to several more (14 altogether, I think). I also wrote a few articles for our local paper.

For the most part, I enjoyed doing the articles, but never gave up on the idea of writing fiction. If you want to be a fiction writer, however, you have to do it on your own. No one is going to give you an assignment and a deadline. You have to be completely self-motivated. And I still didn't have that in me.

What finally prompted me to get started? How was I able to get myself to write regularly? I don't know completely. I think part of it was writing the articles. I hadn't written much since I left my job to stay home with Kara, and the articles got me back in habit of putting words together logically and concisely. I also read a couple of writing books--again nothing I thought about doing ahead of time--I just picked them up because they looked interesting. The most inspiring was Stephen King's On Writing. It's part memoir, part description of the way he writes, and it's completely fascinating. Even if you're not a fan of his work, I highly recommend reading it. Stephen King doesn't outline, he doesn't plan out his stories in advance, he just gets a kernel of an idea (for example: recovering alcoholic and family snowbound in a creepy hotel all winter) and goes from there. He writes without knowing exactly where the story is going, and according to him, the story then takes on a life of it's own.

I was so intrigued by this idea. I've been a voracious reader all my life and I love getting completely immersed in a good story. I wanted to get immersed in my own story. I wondered what would happen if I took my own idea and wrote. Would my story take on a life of it's own?

One day I was washing the dishes during my kids' rest/nap time and feeling pretty stressed and unfulfilled, when a voice spoke in my head and said, "You're a writer. Write." I went to my computer, switched it on and wrote until my little boy woke up. I'd had a kernel of an idea percolating in my head for awhile, and I just went with it. From that point on, I wrote at every rest time. I didn't call it a novel back then, I thought of it as writing for fun, letting the story sweep me along. Still, it wasn't easy (I had to freeze the words "Shitty First Draft" at the top of my screen, so I wouldn't stress as much about the quality of the writing) but it was incredibly rewarding. I felt a hundred times better about life in general. I think that feeling is what kept me at it. Plus I loved the watching the story unfold. It truly was amazing seeing the story develop through the process of writing it. Really interesting characters would pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, and I wanted to see what they would do next.

As the months went on and the story grew, I became more confident. I admitted to myself that I was writing a novel. I told my friends and family about it. I realized I am a writer. I don't have to put "SFD" at the top of my screen anymore. Obviously, I still struggle with confidence, but I don't have a problem with self-discipline. I want to write this novel. And that desire is stronger than my fears or innate laziness. I feel better about myself and life in general when I'm working on it and I don't want to lose that feeling.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Keep 'em short!

I thought of a new metaphor for my writing mood/confidence swings. A sine wave! I oscillate up and down, up and down, on and on, over and over.

Forgot your high school trigonometry? Here's a link from Wikipedia: What is a sine wave?

I wonder how many times in history a sine wave has been used as a metaphor for one's mood? Maybe I'm the first one to do it? Probably not, but it's something to ponder...

Anyway, I'm up right now. I just finished another section and figured out more details on how the book ends. My moods can definitely be traced to the point I've reached in the scene I'm writing. When I start a scene I'm usually terrified, but that quickly changes to excitement as I bang out the scene's skeleton--the bare bones of what happens. After this stage I feel pretty good, since in I've finished the first draft of the scene and have moved the story ahead. That positive state of mind lasts until my next writing session where I read over the crap I've written and have to start reworking it.

Have you heard of the "Shitty First Draft" concept? I first learned of the SFD from a Martha Beck article on perfectionism in the Oprah magazine. Recently, I read an even more detailed description of it in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (a terrific book on writing, by the way).

The basic idea behind the SFD is accepting that the vast majority of the time, your first stab at a story, article, or scene is going to be pretty bad. And that's okay. You can improve it during the re-write/polish stage. But if you don't let yourself be bad at first, you might freeze up trying to be perfect right from the start and not write at all. This is a very helpful realization to perfectionists like me. It's better to get down something--anything--rather than agonize over every word.

Still, the result of the SFD is pretty dreadful writing. And it's reading over the SFDs of each scene that make my spirits sink so low. Because they are so bad, and require so much reworking, and the polish/re-write stage can last forever. I spend days polishing up a scene. And that makes me feel like my progress has come to a standstill, since while I'm polishing/re-writing, I'm not moving the story forward. Re-write/polish days are the ones where I practically have to tie myself to the chair to keep at it.

But eventually, I get it the way I want it and that's a terrific, wonderful, fabulous, feeling! Then the scene truly is done and I get to add it to all the other scenes I've already written. This is where I am right now. I just finished a 10-page scene that took me forever to get in good shape. Now it's done, though. Yay!

So I know all this about myself and the reasons behind my sine wave-like oscillations in mood. But understanding why my mood fluctuates, doesn't change the fact that it fluctuates. So I'm going to try break up my scenes more and write shorter SFDs so I can complete the whole cycle quicker. 10 pages are too many to agonize over. If I keep my sections to 5 pages or less, I won't have as many days in the excruciating re-write/polish stage. Not as many days in a row, at least.

Eh, who knows if it will help, but it's a thought. Keep 'em short. Cycle through the mood swings quicker.

I'm going to give it a try, anyway.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Today I have the luxury of several hours free.

I'm going to write, write, write!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Art and Life

I've been getting up early for over a month now. I think it's starting to take its toll. Yesterday I realized I had been walking around all morning--taking Kara to school, running errands, grocery shopping--in mismatched shoes! True they were both running shoes, but obviously different running shoes. Different brands, even!

Oh well. It's not exactly like I'm known for my style and fashion sense.

This morning Kara woke up at 5:30 and Kyle woke up at 5:40. Granted, it was only a half-hour earlier than they usually get up, but I force myself out of bed at 4:30 so I'll have an hour and a half of quiet and I don't want it cut short, even by a few minutes.

Actually, that's only true most of the time. I don't mind terribly if they wake up early when the writing's going badly. When I'm struggling, bring on the distractions and interruptions! Give me any excuse to stop! This morning, however, I was clipping along pretty well and therefore kind of annoyed not to get the full 90 minutes.

But, you know what? That's life when you've got kids. And it's okay. I want to write, to be sure, but I also love being a mom and I adore my children. I'm a mother first, and a writer second.

I started writing this novel almost three years ago. From day one, it's been a balancing act: a supreme effort to juggle the demands of motherhood with the focus and determination I've needed in order to write regularly. Sometimes I've gotten really frustrated that I couldn't dive into the story and write for hours at a time. I've longed for the freedom to write as much as I want, whenever I want.

Did you ever see the Johnny Depp movie Secret Window? It's not that great of a movie, but I love the setting. He's a writer who lives alone in an isolated mountain cabin. He wanders around the house in his bathrobe, takes naps in the middle of the day, writes whenever the spirit moves him--the stereotypical eccentric artist. He doesn't have to change diapers, make snacks, do laundry, drag the Little People play sets up from the garage, all the while desperately hoping his toddler will take a nap that day so he can have an hour to himself: a good description of my life at the time I decided to write a novel, and about as far from Johnny Depp's Secret Window life as you could possibly imagine.

But remember that Stephen King quote?

"Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

When I started my novel, I felt so stretched and tired. Stretched because almost every waking moment was spent taking care of small people. Small adorable people to be sure, and people I loved tremendously, but demanding, sometimes unreasonable people, nonetheless. I loved being a mom, but I was also really tired and wished there was some way to escape mommy mode for just a little while every day.

Writing brings me that escape. It gives me something for myself--a way to create and feel productive and use my brain. What's more it helps me become more relaxed in my role as a mom; I have so much more patience when I've been writing regularly.

So I try not to get frustrated and annoyed when my real life interferes with my creative life.

Art supports life. It makes it richer and fuller and better, but it's not more important.

I wouldn't want to be locked away out in the boonies, wearing my bathrobe all day, completely alone. As frustrated as I can get about trying to balance writing with motherhood, there's no other way I'd want my life to be.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cool Word Tool

I love to play with words. Part of the reason I'm such a slow-poke, snail of a writer is that it often takes me a lot of time to find just the right word to convey whatever it is I'm trying to convey.

This helps. Plus it's just a lot of fun.

Virtual Thesaurus

Check it out!

Oh and my friend wyo, the wonderful, prolific writer I described in an earlier entry, has graciously given me permission to post a link to her blog. Here it is: Temporary Digression of the Spotted Kind

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gaining momentum

I got up early to write yesterday, I wrote while my little boy was at preschool, and I wrote for an hour in the afternoon while the kids were resting.

I woke up at 4:30 again this morning, and I'm going to write for several hours today while Kyle is with his grandma.

It feels SO good!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Picking up the pace

I'm a snail when it comes to writing. It takes me forever to write the shortest thing. I have a friend who is a wonderful writer and doesn't seem to have that trouble. You should see her blog! (I'll post a link, if she says it's okay. I'm sure she knows who she is!) I check back with it every few days and each time there are scores of new, thoughtful, well-written entries. I can't even keep up to comment!

So I'm slow, slow, slow, and I've accepted that. It's one of the reasons I don't post a lot of lengthy blog entries myself. They take too long.

And while I'm moving forward with my novel, I'm crawling along so slowly, I'm never going to finish in the next few months unless I start putting in more time.

Getting up early can only be part of it. I'm going to start trying to write for an hour in the afternoons too.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A quote from "On Writing", by Stephen King

"Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

I think it relates well to my last post. Sometimes there are more important things in life that one's goals.

I'm writing again, and happy about that, but I don't regret or feel guilty about taking last week off to support my family. They needed me.

More on this soon...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Two months ago...

...I started this blog to motivate myself to finish my novel. And now there are only four more months until my self-imposed deadline of May 9.

Can I do it?

I'm still see-sawing/roller-coasting along.

Right now I'm down--out of my routine for a variety of reasons. The kids and I were away last week visiting friends and family and I didn't write very much while we were gone. We're home now, but Kyle is sick with the flu. And, sadly, a wonderful family friend passed away on Tuesday. It all has made it difficult for me to focus on the novel.

The truth is, I have to be in a selfish frame of mind to be productive. I have to be self-centered and focused almost to the point of obsession if I'm going to write regularly. I couldn't be selfish last week and I didn't want to be selfish. The people I love are more important than my novel. But I don't want to give up on my goal. And now that things have settled down a little, I want to get started writing regularly again.

I just need to get back into that single-minded, borderline obsessive writing mode.

I will. Early tomorrow morning it'll be me, coffee, a dark, quiet house, and my story.

I'm ready to focus again.