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Because there is unanimous consensus out there in the writing world that the only antidote for the waiting game surrounding all things publishing is writing and more writing, I am slowly but surely beginning another book. I have a loose sense of the story arc, and of three of the main characters, and some unformed “scenes” bouncing around in my head. I am planning on trying to be more of a “plotter” rather than a “pantser” this go-around, but we’ll see if I can pull that off. Back in August I downloaded Scrivener onto my laptop with some birthday money, so maybe that will help with the “plotter” end of things. I always start a book with a sense of where I want it to go — the book in its entirety hovers in my head, all shadowy and unformed, and it’s always so gratifying to watch it take on shape as I write. But I know there are parts of my craft that could use some work, and one of these areas is to be more deliberate about how I plan out the novel at the start, rather than just plunging in.

I’d also like to take more risks.

When I was in graduate school for my MA in creative writing, the wise poet Ruth Stone** told me after a workshop one day not to be afraid to let the edges show in my writing. I think she meant that everything doesn’t have to be neatly wrapped up; that a dose of the raw, and a glimpse of the ragged edges of life, of experience, and people, can be powerful things in writing. I have tried to take her words to heart, because I know that I like the ends to connect in my own life.

So as I prepare to immerse myself in another writing project, I am giving myself pep talks: take risks, expose rawness, be fearless.

** I’ve been thinking a lot about Ruth lately, I think probably because she really made me see myself as a writer, when I was a much younger, more insecure, more tentative, version of myself. I so admired her — her tenacity, her refusal to let the darker parts of life get hold of her or, if they did, her ability to confront them and spin them into words. This poem has always been one of my favorites:

Another Feeling

BY RUTH STONE

Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
Without thinking,
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.

I turned my revisions into my agent yesterday. Once I had attached the MS and hit send, I felt about a second or two of utter panic, and then it was all good. I actually felt lightened, relieved, unburdened. Not that working on the revisions had been a burden, but I worked so hard on them, and have been carrying the MS around in my head for weeks. Every day since my marathon Fall Break writing sessions, I’ve opened up the document and worked on it. I’ve re-worked scenes in my head while running, or while in the shower, while waiting in the carpool line. I’ve had moments of panic and moments of euphoria. So it’s nice to get a small break from all that, even if a part of me is, of course, still anxious about what she will think about my revisions. Will she love them? Just like them? Hate them? Will she think: Why the heck did I offer her representation in the first place?

This fall will definitely go down as one to be remembered — in very, very, most excellent ways. But I’ve also been insanely busy — juggling teaching 6 classes, revising and writing, working through some major editorial and publication changes at Literary Mama, meeting deadlines on freelance editing work, all while still being a mama, and a wife, and the chief supplier of tasty (or not-so-tasty as in the case of an experiment with a vegan mushroom stroganoff dish gone horribly wrong) meals to my family. My husband has stepped up and helped quite a bit, and the kids have been very supportive. I am so thankful that all this is happening when they are older and I am in such awe of writer mamas who are juggling it all AND tending to very small children and their very large needs.

My 1/2 marathon is also a smidgeon over two weeks away, and now I feel I’ve freed up a little mental space to think about that. I am feeling good about my training, despite the sloggy ten mile run last weekend. On Saturday I plan on getting up early and setting out to run 11-12 miles. That will be my last distance run until the 1/2,  because we will be in Maryland the weekend before the race. While I think I can pull off a ten miler that weekend, I may not be able to do 11 or 12 miles. I’m so looking forward to the race! I love the City of Oaks race, because it’s such a treat to run through the empty, downtown streets, and such a fun event in general. Do I have a goal for this year’s 1/2? Only to enjoy the race and to try and pace myself better so I can shave a couple of minutes off of last year’s time.

On Friday I picked the kids up from school, and we raced home to get last minute packing done before heading to the Shakori Hills music festival. My husband left on Thursday with a good friend (the husband of one of my close friends — we camp at Shakori together twice a year), and they took all the camping gear so the site would be all set up for us once we arrived. I couldn’t get out of work fast enough on Friday. I was very ready for a weekend of being unplugged. I was pretty exhausted by the time we pulled into the grassy parking lot at the farm, but one veggie burger and cold beer later, all was right with the world.

My kids love the freedom of camping at Shakori. There are several families who go together each year and we camp at the same spot. The kids roam around day and night in packs, while the adults cart folding chairs and wheeled coolers around to the different stages, where we set up shop and listen to the music. The dynamic has changed a bit now that most of the kids are teens or tweens (they probably think it’s changed for the better), but they still have a great time. We grown-up people try not to think too hard about what trouble they might be getting up to, but they are all good kids, so I don’t think we have to worry. When we do make it back to the campsite for bed it’s not unusual to see them all up still at midnight, sitting under the “food tent” and swapping war stories from the middle school or high school trenches. I love seeing these kids — who don’t get together like this but twice a year — come together as old friends. I know I would have loved the Shakori Hills experience when I was their age. It’s pretty awesome for the grown-ups, too.

We didn’t get back until Sunday at 2:00 (another rainy, mud-drenched exit from the farm — blech) and then I had to eat some lunch and turn around and try and get a long run in. That was the worst. I couldn’t skip the long run, though, because that would have undone all the weeks of work I’ve been training for, and the 1/2 marathon is only a few weeks away. So I left at 3:00 and somehow slogged through 10 miles (I was supposed to hit 12). Things I learned: a) running on a Sunday when my body is used to a Saturday long run is BAD and b) a bowl of lentil soup 45 minutes before a long distance run does not make for  a happy tummy. My body was so mad at me for putting it through that and it just about fell apart when I got home. I spent the rest of the afternoon checked out from life in my PJs and fuzzy socks. I’m looking forward to getting my rhythm back for Saturday’s long run.

Routine and rhythm are not only important for good writing days, but for good running days, too.

 

I’ve spent the last two weeks elbow-deep in the edits my agent sent me and I’ve had a blast doing them! I’ve discovered that I really like the revision process. It helps that the bulk of the revisions involve character development, which is super fun to do. I spent the first two days after I received her notes processing the edits and the direction they would go. I read a ton about the revision process, and let that information percolate. There is so much great advice out there, and so many writers have different strategies to share — my advice would be to take what you feel will work. I felt overwhelmed at first by the advice , and worried that because I wasn’t doing x, y, or z that I was not revising correctly, but then I had to let go of that worry so I could move forward. There is no ONE revision strategy. After I had processed her suggestions, I took her edit letter and marked off which chunks of test I would tackle first. I numbered them 1-4, marked deadlines on my calendar, and set to work.

The timing was perfect because Fall Break fell on this past Friday and on Monday, so I had two days of some solid, uninterrupted writing time. I accomplished a tremendous amount on Friday, then Saturday had a so-so day. I should know better than to try and write while kids are pulling me (mentally and physically) in different directions. There’s nothing more frustrating then trying to work through the creative process while being constantly interrupted. I also did an 11-mile training run in the morning and that kind of kicked my butt. I think I needed to eat more during the week, because while I did manage to run the whole 11 miles, I felt pretty beat up after. I was happy to see how quickly I rebounded physically, though.  Last year, when I was training for the same 1/2 marathon, a run that distance would’ve left me sore for at least two days. Lately, I am sore the day of, but feel better the next day. I ran on Monday and Tuesday, too, and felt good.

I also did a ton of research on Saturday about a popular social networking site out there that has contributed to horrific cyber bullying. I signed up for an account about a week ago, and it was depressing to scroll through pages belonging to kids and see all the hideousness that is out there. Yuck. I had to sort all of that out in my mind before I could sit down and weave it coherently into the story.

On Sunday I had a crisis of confidence about my revisions so far. What if they’re all crap? What if I send the MS to my agent and she emails me saying, “oh, this has all been a huge mistake. I can’t sell this for you!”? 

Sunday night I reworked the intro pages several times and none of it felt right AT ALL. Finally, before bed, some light in my head clicked on (unusual for me for that time of the day, I’ll tell you), and I saw how the intro pages needed to go. Hooray!

On Monday I felt better again, and in love with everything I’ve done so far.

Ditto Tuesday– thank goodness. I spent a fun hour doing a search and replace for the word ‘”just” — a word which apparently I JUST couldn’t stop using. Ugh.

Today I’m taking a break from the MS (stopping on a high note is the way to go!) because I have too much class prep (reading up on the Anna Johnson surrogacy case from 1990 for Gender Studies) and student meetings. My husband is printing out a hard copy of the MS for me today, so I will begin reading it tomorrow. I’ve read the whole thing through several times on my Kindle app, but I want to look at the actual, pages-in-the-hand version.

I am probably more excited than I should be for the chance tomorrow (and Monday!) to have the day off work thanks to Fall Break, and spend as much of it as I can writing in my home office. I am looking forward to comfy pants (it’s all about the small pleasures!), a pot of green tea, and just me and my MacBook Air (and all our furry critters who like to hang out with me when I’m home).

I have done an insane amount of grading this week and an insane amount of meeting with desperate students. On Tuesday I got into work at 7:30 and worked until 3:30. Then I changed into my running clothes and pounded out three miles until it was time to pick up my daughter from her after school activity. I needed to put some serious distance between me and all those student exams. My goal had been to get close to all the grading done so I could steal some writing time Wednesday morning and Thursday, in preparation for Friday’s marathon work session at home. I try and always follow that sound writing advice I came across somewhere that you should always stop for the day when you are on a roll, because then it will be easier to pick up where you left off. If you stop when you are blocked, you will waste so much time the next writing session trying to work through that impasse. So I wrote until I could stick a mental bookmark in the spot, and then when I ran today I sorted out some things in my head. I think I’ll be ready tomorrow to dive back into it. I can write at work, but it never feels completely comfortable to me. I’m looking forward to having my own space around me tomorrow.

I was telling a good friend who called me today that I think running has made me a more disciplined writer. Running has taught me about pushing through walls (and pain), about the importance of training, and about making goals for myself. I love what Susan Dennard has to say about the importance of routine when it comes to writing, and training for a race involves that same focus on routine. I do my long weekly runs on Saturday morning, and my body is used to that. On the occasions that I’ve had to switch a long run to a Sunday, for example, my body always takes a little more time to warm up to that change. Writing a book is pretty similar to running a long race, except in a race you might get a medal, and when you write you get to weave a story, and end up with this wonderful collection of characters at the end of it.

When I run, all the loose ends and problems I couldn’t solve during a writing session often get worked out in my head. It’s like I have a giant Connect Four game in my head and the ideas and characters are colored tokens. Running helps them slide into the right slots, so everything gets sorted out. For me, a huge part of writing is having the time in my head to work things out.

Today I ran the greenway near my daughter’s school and crossed a road to run past another elementary school. On my way back I heard kids calling to me from the fence at the top of a small hill. The hill was covered in ivy and brambles, but someone had thrown a football over the fence and they wanted it back. There was a row of kids standing on the other side of the fence — about five boys, and two girls. When I retrieved the ball I held it up but of course they all wanted it. I made a conscious decision to throw it to the girl closest to me. Her eyes lit up when she caught the ball and she took off like lightning with the ball tucked under her arm. Girl power!