How do you get back to writing?

Joe’s Post #140

kris booksI know it’s going to be different for everyone. Like our group. We’re getting ready to have us a writing shin-dig. A bootcamp for getting back to writing. We’ve set aside 3 days, we’ll be taking over Paula’s house, and we’ll be putting our collective butts in chairs and writing.

For me, though, I got the not-writing bugbear off my back in early May.

How did I do it? Well, it was a bunch of factors.

  1. I had a very supportive spouse who made sure I had time each day to actually write. Without her, none of this would have been possible.
  2. I had a deadline. Deadlines work for me. TOR had an open call for a novella so I thought, what the hell. Three weeks later, I have 40,000 words, 200 pages and the rough draft of a story
  3. torI got out of my head a bit (not completely, mind you, but enough to put aside all the negativity and just write.
  4. I’d get up, get a Timmies. Sit down in my chair. Write. Day in, day out. It’s the only way that works for me. For writing. For exercise. For chores. Whatever. I need order in my chaotic world.
  5. I had a story I wanted to tell. It didn’t matter that the odds were stacked against me. It didn’t matter that I began without an outline or deep character backstories. I just wanted to get it out.

The truth is, though, all those factors existed before. Well, maybe not the TOR open call, but other open calls, other agents looking for writers, other contests opened to anyone.

So what was different this time?

Which one of those 5 made the difference?

For me, this time, it was all 5 coming into play at once. I’d done #4 and written about 50 pages. It was a struggle. #3 got in my way a lot. I’ve had #1 all along and deadlines, hell, we used to have a lot of them in the writers group.

But when all 5 come together, watch out. Especially if you can somehow work through #3. Get past all the rejection slips. All the people who tell you you can’t write or write about THAT. Get rid of that negative voice that says you can’t start a sentence with ‘the’ because you heard it in some workshop. Forget what you read in a book about books. Get past past failures.

The key to writing may be different for everyone, but for me it became a matter of all the right things falling into place at the right time. I hope that after our bootcamp, everyone else will catch fire as well.

Cheering on NaNoWriMo mojo

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Silk’s Post #108 – This year, I’m just an observer. Sitting in the bleachers with my binoculars, watching the ambitious competitors run the NaNoWriMo marathon. It’s awe inspiring. And terrifying.

For those of you who are not familiar with the phenomenon called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated – it is an annual mass writing event that takes place every November in which participants commit to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words per day. Every day. For a month.

It’s unthinkable. It’s audacious. It’s intimidating.

Why in god’s name would anyone sign up to do this? There must be a huge prize, some kind of write-it-on-my-tombstone glory involved. Big bucks! Medals! Guaranteed fame!

But no.

There is no podium. No gold, silver and bronze medals. Not even those awkward little bouquets that the victors don’t know what the hell to do with. Because this is not a hierarchical competition designed to deify the most elite of the elite after a brutal process of elimination, leaving the rest of the striving masses gasping and heartbroken on the field.

In the writing world, we leave that job to the agents and publishers.

To win NaNoWriMo, an entrant must do but one thing: make the word count. Fifty-thousand of them, or about 200 double-spaced pages of 12-point type. There is no limit to the number of NaNoWriMo winners in a given year. The entrants compete against the clock, against the calendar, against their own writer’s block, against procrastination and self-doubt, against the desire to eat and sleep and have a normal life during the month of November.

But not against each other.

And they cheer each other on along the way, tweeting encouragement, trading jokes only writers could possibly appreciate, blogging survival guides and pep talks and tactical hints.

30-days-in-the-wordminesDon’t you love it? I do. Think about it: a cooperative competition where everyone can be a winner if they put in the time and effort, and everyone supports everyone else. Writer, “Terrible Minds” blogger and irreverent icon Chuck Wendig even published 30 Days in the Word Mines, which he calls an Advent calendar for NaNoWriMo madness.

Does this not sound like the way the whole world should be run? Damn right.

I’ve been aware of NaNoWriMo for several years – vaguely aware. I’m not proud of the fact that my curiosity took so long to kick in, but it wasn’t until this year that I overcame my (mostly wrong) assumptions and educated myself about this crazy writers’ race with the laughable name.

My first reaction to the whole concept was … yeah, right! I’m gonna write a whole novel in November. And in December, I think I’ll take up rocket science and fly to Mars.

Contrary to my previous impressions, I now know that NaNoWriMo: a) is not a stunt, like some crazed reality show, b) is not just for unpublished and/or amateur writers, c) is not a quixotic quest, but is achievable with good planning and preparation, d) actually leads to some high quality, publishable novels.

In fact, once I started reading about it on the NaNoWriMo website, I couldn’t stop. Talk about a page-turner. I read the non-profit organization’s entire archived history, year by year, from its beginning in San Francisco in 1999 as a kind of 21-writer “noveling binge” to the 2013 competition, which drew 310,095 participants.

Impressive.

Then I read the list of published “Wrimos”, as they call the happily obsessed writers who complete the mission. “Since 2006, dozens of novels first drafted during NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published,” I read. “Countless more have been self-published.” I was shocked to note that I had read, and loved, two of the “featured Wrimos” just last year – Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, both bestsellers – and I recognized many of the other titles on the very long list of published works.

Mind blowing.

This year I was unprepared to enter the competition, since I didn’t really wake up to NaNoWriMo until I attended this year’s Surrey International Writer’s Conference in late October where I became infected with the buzz. But I met some of the players and, as a Twitter fledgling, am following the #NaNoWriMo community.

And that community has some kind of mojo. Rah Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah … Go Wrimos! 

I’m rooting for all of you crazy, creative people.

 

Graphics courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

A very private affair

 Helga’s Post # 33 – It’s hard to blog after the sad news of Jay Lake’s illness, as Joe did yesterday. That story should make us all put the foot on the brake and remember what’s important.

We all, writers, readers, friends, wish Jay well. And we will follow him on his journey by reading every word he writes and shares with us on his blog.

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My post today is short because I am struggling to finish as much of my novel as I can manage before the deadline. No socializing, no errands until next Wednesday. Nose to the grindstone. Four more days to showdown. In four days all will be revealed at our critique group meeting where we share our final submissions. Five manuscripts, five new novels brought into the world since last September.

So this is my last blog before our meeting. Next time I hope to report something more detailed. As I mentioned earlier, I am behind schedule. No excuses, other than life gets in the way, to use an utterly overused phrase.

But writing is personal. It’s possibly the most intimate activity (okay, minus one) in which Homo sapiens are able to engage. What can be more intimate than putting your innermost core into words to be shared with the world. It’s also one of the most daring and courageous undertakings we can commit to. It’s every bit as daring as stripping naked and walking through Times Square during rush hour (not that anyone would notice).

And for some of us writers, that comes easy (not the stripping, but what do I know). For others, the more private ones, it’s more of a struggle. I count myself in the last group. Maybe it goes far back, to age fourteen, when I found out my mother had snooped in my diary. And it wasn’t even an ordinary diary. It had a lock and key. A lock that, known to everybody but me, could be picked with a paper clip. Funny, how little things in life stick with you and shape you.

How does this relate to our critique group’s 5 months challenge?

Deadlines for finishing novels has its advantages, but it doesn’t work equally well for everybody. There are a multitude of variables why it does for some and not for others. Some people are outliners, some write organically. Some just get the story down, grammar and style be damned, while others enjoy quality writing as they create the story from the start. (And get to regret it later when they have to dump their darlings during the rewrite).

Writing is hugely personal. Because it’s so creative, it’s a challenge for many to write to a specific formula and deadline. The famous ‘square peg’ syndrome. Yet, it’s precisely that which gets writers motivated and cajoled into racing to the finish line.

It’s somewhat of an oxymoron: Creativity needs space to roam freely, without borders and fences so it can flourish, yet it might never reach its goal, or produce a finished manuscript without the discipline of deadlines and rules.

Aren’t we writers a persnickety species.

And for all you moms out there, and those who ever wanted to be one,

Happy Mothers Day!

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New beginnings

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Credit: Silk Questo photo

Silk’s Post #34 — As I sit at my writing desk, looking outside my window at another impossibly perfect, sunny, hot early May day, I can feel the tingle of my red face.

Embarrassment at being late with my post?

Fervor to get back to the far-from-complete draft of my book?

No. It’s sunburn. First of the season, and it feels good. Sunscreen be damned, I’ll live with another wrinkle.

Yes, I’m late with my usual Monday post. The reason is illustrated above. That’s us, in the line-up to sail past and salute the Commodore of our little sailing club at a traditional maritime occasion known as Opening Day. This being Saltspring Island, a picturesque haven for hedonists, arty types and iconoclasts, our ceremony is more casual than at uppity yacht clubs, but we do go in for a parade up the docks behind a Scottish piper. It’s the sort of club where you’d have seen more people in pirate costume and French sailor shirts yesterday than in blue blazers.

Opening Day is the ceremonial start of the sailing season (although here in the Pacific Northwest, the hardy sail year round). But it’s probably no coincidence that such Opening Days fall as close as possible to May first, the ancient day of Spring Festivals in cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

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Credit: Public Domain image, Netherlands, 1934

May Day begins the sunny half of the year, the time when the earth warms, seeds are planted, everything grows and blooms and eventually is harvested to sustain life. What could be more joyful and inspiring? The glorious period of sun, fecundity and long days is extinguished six months later by the cold rains and long nights of dark November. Back when the Northern Hemisphere was dominated by agrarian cultures, these seasons really mattered in the kind of life-and-death way that we can barely appreciate today in our electrified, hermetically sealed, fast food world.

Yet, buried somewhere in our DNA is the memory of May Day as a new beginning in that basic life cycle of renewal and decay.

While the essentially pagan nature of May Day observances like the Celtic Beltane festival and the Germanic Walpurgis Night has been overwritten (not entirely successfully) by churchy holidays and communistic celebrations of the working class, the ancient life cycle that begins with May hasn’t changed. And it never will, until our blue marble ceases to revolve around the sun, or life itself ceases to exist here.

I’m not going all apocolyptic here, but just putting the enduring character of this cycle into perspective. It’s something we can absolutely rely on – and how many things can you say that about? There’s always a new beginning. And that is something really worth celebrating. No wonder May Day, in all its costumes and guises, is a festival to lift hearts and renew spirits.

For a writer, new beginnings are life blood.

We are always seeking them, making them, surging ahead on them like surfers catching a wave. The cycles of both creativity and productivity – inspiration and perspiration – are, by nature, of limited duration. We aren’t machines that can be programmed and coaxed to chug away indefinitely, spewing out words like sausages at a steady rate of efficiency.

We’re alive, and like all living things, we have our cycles. New beginnings to our stories is just one aspect of this. We also experience new beginnings – over and over again – to our emotional, intellectual, creative and energy cycles. At least, that’s how it is for me.

In our 5 writers challenge, it’s no secret that I’ve been struggling to make headway on my first draft, and I’ve been more or less constantly beating myself up about it. Do I actually have the drive and discipline to be a “real” writer? Is this really my calling, or have I been kidding myself about that for most of my life? Why can’t I just get into a writing routine and click off my 1,000 words a day like the pros? Is this some kind of weird, self-defeating behaviour, or am I just lazy?

Confession time: I’ve always been a procrastinator, an eleventh-hour, rabbit-out-of-the-hat kind of person. I’ve gotten away with it all my life. By and large, I’ve made a success of everything I’ve truly put my mind to. Though I admit I’ve probably missed some important opportunities because of my on-the-edge workstyle, I can be incredibly productive over a period of intensive, all-consuming, energizing effort. And then I need a break to re-charge.

That’s my cycle. I work in inspired bursts. A wind sprinter, not a marathoner. Trying to train myself to put on the harness and maintain the steady workaday gait of 1,000 words a day has been a spectacular failure for me.

I’ve read all the advice about The Writing Life. I marvel at writers who can get up every morning at 4:00 am and hit their daily word count target before they hop on a bus and go to work, or run their four children to school. I so admire writers who can tune out the world and be productive during “stolen hours” in coffee shops, on airplanes, in waiting rooms. I stand in awe of writers who sit down at the computer every day at their sacrosanct appointed time and, just like a regular job, keep working productively for a set number of hours or words before they push back their chair and go for a run, or a beer, or a well-deserved nap.

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But I’m a square peg in that round hole.

And after eight months of our 5 writers experiment, I’ve learned something important (yes, I know I’m a slow learner).

I’ve learned that I seem to need a lot more new beginnings than some other people. To sustain my kind of momentum, I need to work with my own oddball cycle of inspiration and perspiration. More stroke and glide. More incremental goals (and rewards). More project-like stages. I need bursts of intensive, leave-me-alone time with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. An hour or two at the keyboard doesn’t even get me started. Even a day is too short. My ideal burst is probably 3-4 days without any other tasks or duties or distractions or interruptions. After that, I have to get the hell away from my desk because I’m starting to write gibberish.

And then … after I’ve re-entered the real world for as long as it takes to catch up on the bill-paying, and hug the people I love, and tidy up the house, and drink a little too much wine, and get some exercise and recreation – all enjoyed absolutely guilt-free even though I’m not writing a word … then I’m ready for another new beginning.

So I’ve decided to stop beating myself up, stop doubting my calling, stop feeling that constant, nagging guilt of failing to get into a sensible, disciplined writing routine. Now that I think I have a handle on my own cycles, I’m going to run with it and see what happens. I’m going to try to create a series of eleventh hour deadlines, each one a virtual project that requires a new beginning, and see how many rabbits I can pull out of the hat.

As for our 5 writers challenge, this won’t be nearly enough to catch me up. No surprise there. It’s an eleventh hour solution to an eight-month problem.

But it’s a new beginning, and it feels like the sun coming out. A celebration of life renewed. I’m inspired again.

What happens next…

Pencils

Paula’s Post #30 – Officially, our 5writers challenge ended on February 5th, 2013 when we all hit the ‘send’ button and rocketed our manuscripts into cyberspace, whether complete or incomplete.

Unofficially, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, most of us just kept on writing (or rewriting) at least in fits and spurts, readying our manuscripts for ‘Phase Two’ of our challenge, the ‘Critique Retreat’ set to commence June 15th, 2013.

Kind of a catchy name, don’t you think? Critique Retreat.

Though our Critique Retreat is not set to happen for at least another two months, here in 5writersville, anticipation and angst are mounting at an alarming rate as we start to contemplate the enormity of the task at hand: reading and critiquing four, full length manuscripts, one for each of the other members of our group.

A task that must be completed between now and June 15th.

Four books by June 15th!

Oh, but did I mention that, other than poster boy Joe, most of us are still polishing our drafts until the deadline of all deadlines, May 15th?

So, in reality five weeks to read and critique Joe’s novel, another month after that to read and critique three more novels.

Sorry Joe, you win the prize for being at the head of the class. You get to read and critique all four of your sister-writers’ novels between May 15th and June 15th.

Easy Peasy. right?

The sheer physical task, though daunting, is not the most frightening aspect of the next phase of our challenge. By now, we’ve got a lot invested in this game. Maybe more than any of us envisioned at the outset. Over the years we’ve been together as a group, we’ve developed more than just professional respect for one another, we’ve developed genuine friendships.

Will our friendships, so important to all of us, endure and survive the Critique Retreat?

Is there some enveloping cocoon we can wrap ourselves in to ensure that little damage is done to fragile egos and delicate psyches?

What should the ground rules be?

I’m not going to try to give you all the answers, nor break the sanctity of the 5writers circle to share all that we’ve been discussing, but I can tell you that we’re worried.

We have some ideas for ways to make sure this process is helpful, not harmful. The last thing we want is to inflict irreparable harm or damage someone’s love of writing.

I suspect that many of our readers are or have been in a writing or critique group, or something similar. If so, maybe you have some ideas you’d like to share with us, beyond the obvious: take away shoelaces and belts, no knives or scissors, group hugs after every session, no matter what. Have any tips?

Help us out here!

Oh, and guess what?

I’ve started to read!

So exciting!

I haven’t finished my own edits yet. My book isn’t done-done, I haven’t completed all my revisions, but who cares? I picked up Joe’s manuscript on Saturday. I’m 200 pages in already and….

Well, I can’t tell you about it, not yet. But you might have noticed that this is the shortest post I’ve ever written!

I’ve got to get back to Joe’s book.

I need to find out what happens next!

Tricks of the trade

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Helga’s Post # 24 — One month after the 5 writers 5 novels 5 months deadline. Time for a reality check.

I am pleased to say I haven’t been this productive in my writing career ever, as during the 5 month challenge ended on February 5. Although I have yet to write ‘The End’ and, I confess, more than that, I have a solid novel in the making. All of it in just over three months, which is the time I started writing my ‘new’ novel (having abandoned my previous one because nobody liked the topic: Organ theft. No, not the musical instrument installed in churches and concert halls, but kidneys, livers, eyeballs, you name it. Yikes). Mind you, my new topic, a suspense story with a slight (ever so slight) angle of sci-fi and a huge angle on conspiracy, may not have a universal following either. But based on preliminary feedback, I hope it will have a wider audience. That is, if I find an agent willing to take a chance on an unpublished ‘Late Bloomer’ (see Silk’s post on the subject).

The trick was, and continues to be, to believe in myself. To believe I can write. That is ‘Trick Number One’ for all writers. Pure and simple. If you don’t get beyond that, you don’t need to look at all the other tricks that follow (and they are legion). You can go back to telling yourself all the usual excuses: Life’s too short to waste on something I probably never get paid for. I don’t have time for anything else, like putting up my feet and watch TV, or just relax. I’m too tired to torture my brain on a plot that keeps running into dead ends.

Sure, you could keep on writing, bumbling along, show your writing to family, friends, or ideally, your critique group. The feedback received, while polite, is lukewarm, a subtext implied. You start doubting your ability. Chances are, without confidence in your own writing, you won’t ever be good at it. May as well switch to a different vocation.

But let’s assume that we have passed Trick Number One. We believe in our talent. What else can we do to help us along the merry road to writing and finishing our superb piece of fiction?

Deadlines. Yes, deadlines and discipline. That’s why I’ve gotten as far as I did, and only due to that. If we have unlimited time, we squander it. Hence we need deadlines.

I remember a writer I met at the Surrey Conference six years ago. She was then working on a novel about gang-rape, if I recall correctly. Sounded promising. The next year, she was still writing the same book, and the two years after that. I have lost track if she has moved on. Now I’m not sure if this was due to not having set a deadline. But it could. My guess it has more to do with Trick Number One. If the book doesn’t come together in a certain period of time, let it go. It’s not meant to be written. And to be read. Start something else.

To help with deadlines, to keep you on the straight and narrow, use whatever tools you can find. I came across a cute one, called http://e.ggtimer.com/. Yes, it’s that time-honored egg timer, and it’s online. You can set it to any length you want. It’s helpful if you need a certain discipline, like no matter what, you will write for whatever number of hours that you predetermine. Without picking up the phone to call friends, or playing games, even checking emails, whatever. All those things you can do after, or before if you wish, but keep your promise of uninterrupted, focused writing time. Even if it’s only one or two hours. The trick is on ‘focus’ and dedicated time.

Then there is Trick Number Three, after deadlines: Trust.

It’s a biggie.

Yes, it hurts. It can bring tears to your eyes, (see Paula’s post) shed in front of your critics (not so good), or in the privacy of your bathroom, sitting on the toilet (better option), later, after it all sinks in: My writing needs tweaking, they said. Tons of handwritten margin notes on my pages that I have sweated over, to get done by the deadline. I conclude, they meant it sucks big time. Those lovely chapters with that witty dialogue exchange among wonderful characters,  their clever inner dialogue (which I am told inevitably is way too long), all of that which I was so proud of, just missed the target with my audience. Never mind bull’s eye. It landed way outside the circle.

What to do.

After discounting Hara-kiri as an option, after looking at the feedback just received in the cold light of reality, when ego has been swept under the rug, and logic sets in. Rational thinking. Survival instinct. What if these critics have a point? Who are they anyway? Do they even know what good writing is?

When I share my writing with my sample readers, which in my case is my critique group, I bare my soul. I trust them. Still trust them, after years of togetherness in the pursuit of good writing. They are my friends and as such, keep me honest even if inflicting a bit (or sometimes a lot) of pain discomfort. I know they want me to succeed as a writer. Nothing would make them happier than seeing my work published, equally to seeing their own work published. Maybe more so. That is something I can count on. As solid as the Rock of Gibraltar (as I hear my 4 buddies cry out in unison: ‘Cliché alert!) It is the greatest gift that I, as a writer, and a person, could wish for. Just as Joe said yesterday. To trust other writers.

There are many more tricks, of course, and they work differently for every writer. For example, as Karalee’s recent blog talks about, What’s in a Name. I agree that much effort should go into choosing the right one, as names do have an emotional association. I know that, even writing the first draft, I want my names to sound right. Because as I write about these characters their names form an intimate connection. This is where ‘just get the story down’ is not particularly helpful for me. Even writing that first draft, I need that association that enables me to get into their heads (and they into mine) and write about them with passion and credibility. I take my time to find the right names. It’s fun. It’s part of my research. Choosing great names that fit my characters from the start is a neat writing tool.

And those are the tricks that are most helpful for me. Believing in myself, discipline for staying focused and keeping deadlines, trusting feedback from my critique group, and practical tools like choosing good names. Each one of them has sub-tricks. Like Trick Number One, and Three, self-confidence and trust: AUD0709_SA12Grow a thick skin. Thicker than an elephant or a rhinoceros, or an armadillo. Nobody needs it more than a writer.

And just in case you are doubting yourself during the wee hours of a sleepless night, take heart. Here are some folks who never gave up believing in themselves:

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Break’s over

Silk’s post #22 — It’s been six days since our 5 writers deadline. Six not-altogether-relaxing days of catching up with the rest of my life.

Doing things like finally unpacking those last remnants of never-needed stuff left in the zip pockets of the suitcases I took to Maui. (Why did I take all this junk, anyway? No wonder I could hardly lift my bag).

Things like paying my bills (hey, if you’re reading this and I owe you money, the cheque’s in the mail – really).

Things like doing 10 loads of laundry, cooking some normal meals, making up for lost strokes with my two narcissistic Maine coon cats (what cats aren’t?), and re-learning how to have conversations with my husband where I’m not constantly interrupting with “sorry, can you say that again?” because my mind has drifted back to my book while he’s talking.

But now, I’ll let a few excerpted lines from Sting’s classic “Saint Augustine In Hell” outline what’s next:

If somebody up there likes me, somebody up there cares
Deliver me from evil, save me from these wicked snares
Not into temptation, not to cliffs to fall
On to revelation, and lesson for us all …

Relax, have a cigar, make yourself at home. Hell is full of high court
judges, failed saints. We’ve got Cardinals, Archbishops, barristers
certified accountants, music critics, they’re all here. You’re not alone.
You’re never alone, not here you’re not.

Okay break’s over. 

Although this song about love and lust is probably more familiar by its chorus line (“The minute I saw her face, the second I caught her eye”) – and the only thing it has in common with writing is that the pursuit of any passion can certainly lead to hell – that line “Okay break’s over” has always stuck in my head, with it’s gleeful promise of more pain, followed by Sting’s maniacal laughter.

What better theme song for the Tortoise’s ongoing journey?

In word count, I was only about 20 percent of the way to my destination when time ran out. Of course, the research, plotting, character development and all the other work that goes into a first draft are a big part of the job, so if you look at it in terms of overall travel time, I’m probably more like a third of the way there.

But that still leaves me something like 80,000 words short. Or 410,000 letters, if you use the commonly accepted count of 5.1 as the average number of letters per word in the English language. Just half a million or so taps on the keyboard, each one a minuscule step towards redemption.

It reminds me of one of my favourite Gary Larson cartoons, the famous 1984 panel titled “Aerobics in Hell”, in which a gleeful, cloven-hooved beelzebub is conducting an exercise class for several overweight and clearly unhappy residents, who are shown standing on one foot with arms akimbo.

“Three more, two more, one more, okay! Five-million leg lifts, right leg first! Ready, set … ” says the devil.

In other words …

Break’s over!

Time to hold my feet to the fire and write like hell.

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You got that right, Virginia and Arthur

Helga’s Post # 20 — Virginia Woolf was right on when she wrote about women writers needing their own space. A Room of One’s Own holds as true today as when she wrote it in 1929.

I could relate, especially during those last frantic days of writing before our group’s deadline. I was so far behind in my target to finish my novel – my new novel – that I really needed my space. All of the time. Which meant I had to apply some tough measures. No phone, no Skype, no shopping, no cooking, no cleaning.

Still, challenges, other than a cruel deadline, had to be mastered. One such happened last weekend. Felt tired of writing scenes about chromosomes, DNA and so forth – way too complex for a neophyte biochemist. Slow going and lots of research and checking facts.

I needed something to motivate me to stay focused and passionate about my story. I read somewhere when things get tough, write a sex scene. I did.  Between my female protagonist and someone she shouldn’t have sex with. She should have known better, but didn’t. Though I warned her.my-wicked-earl-02-large1

Outlines can never predict when a protagonist gets the urge (sex being spontaneous much of the time), so this scene sort of landed in my brain out of nowhere. It started to take shape on the screen and it changed my plot (to the better, I think). So here I was, two pages into it, right in the middle, right at the steamy point. I focused on all those minute details and finding the right voice, the right sounds, to make it really erotic without sounding cheesy and have readers bursting out laughing. In other words, deep concentration was required.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Because there was noise all around me. Lots of it. Annoying, high-pitched noise. I finally blew it and yelled.

“How can I write a sex scene when you’re running that friggin’ vacuum cleaner around my feet?”

It wasn’t fair. I regretted the words as soon as they were out (we made up later). Because my husband, the most lovable man on the planet (for me), had offered to put his shoulder to the wheel and support me in the sanity of the final stretch of this challenge. With shopping, washing dishes, replacing toilet paper, providing soothing background music, and cleaning house. And cleaning he did. Efficiently. Noisily. Endlessly. With the noisiest vacuum cleaner in the neighborhood.

Have you ever tried to write a sex scene without a room of your own?

Ah, the challenges of writing fiction. The intricacy of getting non-writers understand that you gotta be in the scene. Arthur Miller understood.

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Done, Done and Done. Sort of.

Joe’s Post #21

More tomorrow, my regular posting day, but for today, a quick update.

Deadline was midnight Feb 5th, 2013.

Feb 5th, 2013, 5:38pm, I finished my second draft.

dec 2012 035So what does second draft mean? It means the first 30 pages are good enough to be sent out. It means I can start querying if I want. It means I can send out the whole book to readers for feedback.

It means met my goal.

Next step – Reader feedback. Then I’ll put it aside for a couple of months so when I do my final draft, I can look at it with fresh eyes. Like I did with Desert Rains. Maybe go to Vegas again. Or Mexico. Or Paris.

All in all, the story should be pretty engaging, I LOVE my characters, and love some of the scenes I’ve crafted, but I went with an unconventional structure and that may sink me (or not.) Either way, at some point, a writer just doesn’t know if something works or not, but hey, that’s what readers are for.

Pages written: 419

Word count by the old 250 words/page: 104,750

Word Count by Word: 76,249 (Wow, I mean, WOW, that’s a HUGE difference!!!)

Suggested YA Word Count: 80,000

Stay tuned.

Writing in the sun

IMG_0324

Paula’s Post #18 – Okay, I admit it. Since this challenge started on September 5th, I’ve been dancing a macabre pas de deux with a certain unnamed member of the 5writers. Inevitably, we seem to end up with our train of thought running down parallel tracks.

Can you guess who? Hint, hint. Why not check out the title of yesterday’s post?

Yesterday, Silk reminded us of the virtues of ‘Writin’ in the Rain’. I love that post. I also admit I love Gene Kelly and the movie, Singing in the Rain. If you haven’t seen the film, time to hit Netflix.  But just because i like the movie doesn’t mean I’m going to dance through the rain and stomp through puddles like Gene Kelly anytime soon.

Ugh.

I’m done with that. The truth is, this 5writer has seen enough rain to last a lifetime. So you’re safe Silk, I’m not going to revisit the topic of “Writin’ in the Rain. No, I’ve another take on that topic. The difficulty of ‘Writing in the Sun’.

I’m half-kidding of course, a feeble attempt to poke a little fun at Silk with my catchy, evocative, ever-so-slightly familiar title. But this post isn’t really about the weather. This post is about a somewhat more serious topic:

Depression.

The truth is, like me, many people who live in the Pacific Northwest and other cold grey climates suffer from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder or a milder variant known as the “Winter Blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a particular type of depression marked by lethargy, withdrawal, irritability, carbohydrate cravings, excessive sleep, fatigue, a drop in energy levels and difficulty concentrating and retaining information.

Sound familiar?

I’ve struggled for years with SAD and can honestly say I hate the cold grey days of winter and rain in particular. The further north one goes, the more prevalent SAD is yet within thirty degrees of the equator, the incidence is exceedingly rare.

Historically depression, whether a variant of Seasonal Affective Disorder or the good old fashioned, garden variety kind, was often referred to as “melancholia” a quaint, old-fashioned word evocative of the Victorian era.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from it and so, famously, did Winston Churchill who called it his “Black Dog”.

According to The Guardian UK, perhaps not surprisingly, we writers are at a greater risk of depression than those in other professions: isolation, financial uncertainty and self-doubt all contributing factors, with men noted to be at higher risk, though SAD is one exception, where an astounding 75% of those so afflicted are women.

Just look back, I’m sure a few names will come to mind: Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, William F Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Malcolm Lowry, Joseph Conrad,  C.S. Lewis and Virginia Woolf to name just a few and I haven’t even started on the poets.

Maybe that’s one of the reason I’ve always shied away from even attempting anything remotely literary. Maybe I’m afraid to dwell too deeply on the dark side, to probe bleak thoughts and morbid desires and subject them to the writers’ magnifying glass.

Sorry, not me. I’ll take a nice, plot driven cozy or a galloping thriller thank you very much. Much more my style. And this year, just to make sure I keep the Winter Blues at bay, I’ve fled to the sunny climes of Southern California.

But writing in the sun presents problems, too. To start with, it’s, well… sunny. Pretty much all the time. Maybe that’s fine if you’ve lived in California all your life. Maybe you can cope with the fact that the sun is shining and just go about your business and get things done and continue to function like a normal human being.

But I’m Canadian  for God’s sake. And not just Canadian, a Vancouverite. If the sun is out, I’m supposed to be outdoors doing something like golf or tennis or bike riding. Sun is not to be squandered. Ever.

So, of course I’m now faced with an interesting dilemma. While most of my 5writers’ colleagues with the exception of Hawaii-bound Silk will be ‘singing in the rain’ metaphorically speaking, pounding out words under a cold, bleak winter sky, I’m faced with a dilemma: how am I ever going to finish this epic 5writers challenge, with an unremitting stretch of sunny days ahead.

Sure, today, I caught a break. Today, it was so cold in the desert, it almost counted as a rainy day.

Almost.

While my fellow snowbird’s grumbled about their golf tee times having been pushed back or how the wind was too strong for their tennis match, I seized the opportunity to just hunker down and write.

The weatherman says it’s going to be cold tomorrow, too. My big chance to pile up some pages before it warms up this weekend.

For me, like Silk, weather is definitely an issue. I don’t know if ultimately I’m going to be able to type ‘The End’ on February 5th, 2013. But I do know one thing:

I won’t be SAD.

Sun

Pie’s eaten this week – Hmm… I forgot the rule… do we count cake, or not? What about cookies?

Airplanes rides this week – 0

Airports visited this week – 0

Golf balls lost this week – 3

Target Word Count:    100,000

Progress to Date:          62,643

Words short of Target:  37,357

Pages Written to Date:  225

Target Page Count:       400

Pages short of Target.   175