Just Beachy! 2019

This week I have no writing post ready–although I have managed to get through editing about 7,500 words this week. And the reason I have no writing post is because I am on vacation.

 

 

 

 

Beautiful sunsets. Waves on the beach. Barefoot walks in the sand. Ahh.

So me and my gal and my extended family are having some down time, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. I am not a big beach person, but I do love being near the water. I find it relaxing and therapeutic.

 

 

 

 

 

Where do you go to take a break from the crazy world we live in?

Summer Schedule Begins…Now!

Today is the day many parent-writers dread: the last day of school. Now, if you are a writer who works outside the home as well, then your writing schedule might not change much. You are likely already squeezing writing in between day job and ferrying kids to evening activity. But if you work/write from home, like me, the dreaded summer schedule is now upon us.

Calling it a schedule is a bit optimistic, at least in my house. Try as she might, my daughter can only leave me alone for relatively short periods of time. Much of my writing time will be shorter bursts caught when I can. This is not the way my brain works best (I hate multi-tasking), but you work with what you have.

I am a person who likes schedules, so the unpredictability makes me a bit crazy. On the other hand, one of the joys of summer is that free feeling, that lazy pace of not much to do and little pressure. So I am going to have to find a balance between being lazy and being productive.

Library runs are always good, because afterwards my daughter will hole up for a few hours reading. However, my daughter has decided she wants to be a writer, too, so who knows? Maybe we can try writing sessions together.  She may surprise me. Or she may drive me nuts wanting me to read every sentence as soon as she writes it.

Good luck to all the other parent-writers out there as your summer schedule kicks in. Do you have any tips and tricks to share with us?

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2019: My Biggest Takeaway

This past weekend was the Philadelphia Writers Conference. I consider it my “home” conference, and I have been going for about 10 years.

Every year I think about what my biggest takeaway is from the conference. I learn so much every year, it’s hard to pick. This year, one thing echoed in almost every workshop: there is no one right way to write.

There are so many ways to write a book. Plotting vs. Pantsing. Linear vs. The Jigsaw Puzzle. Scientific vs. Intuition. Efficient vs. Meandering. And you know what? They are all valid. As long as you end up with a finished, polished product, it’s all good.

The thing I have found about the writing process is that it changes over time. It changes as your skills mature, and according to the needs of your book. For example, my multiple-POV, multiple-subplot YA scifi required more planning than my middle grade single-POV quest story.

Young authors often think there is only one correct way to write a book, and that the professional teaching the workshop is the holder of that Holy Grail. This is certainly not the case, and I was heartened to hear so many of the workshop leaders espouse the uniqueness of each person’s process.

A great thing about a multi-day conference is that we get to concentrate on the writing. We can dim or even turn out the lights of the outside world and immerse ourselves in the writing world. At the beginning of one of my classes, a bird got into the room. It flew around, disoriented, banging into the mirror, until one person got the smart idea to open the doors and turn out the lights in the room. As soon as we turned out the lights, the bird raced to the open doors and flew through to freedom.

Go into the light, my friends—and write your own way.

Filling the Writing Tank

Sometimes a writer’s life ends up with very little writing in it. This past week has been one of those weeks for me.

Saturday my family attended the first annual Color Fun Run. Lots of colored powder, lots of laughs, and no rain! Then I stayed for another couple of hours to help clean up. 10,400 steps by 11:30 AM. Whew!

Sunday I dragged my stiff-muscled self out if bed and the family headed to a local farm for their Strawberry Festival. More sun, a hayride, animals, and, of course, strawberries.

Most of Monday was eaten up catching up on PTA Treasurer work, which leaked into Tuesday. Tuesday also found me frantically reading and assembling my weekly post Top Picks Thursday, which isn’t due until Wednesday night, but…

On Wednesday my daughter’s class trekked to the Academy of Natural Sciences for their field trip. The kids had fun, no one got injured or lost, and only one instance of tears. I rule the day a success!

And so here we are, Thursday, and I have no deep and meaningful insights into writing to share, as I have been doing everything but writing this week. Still, they say you can’t write if you don’t live, so I suppose this week was about filling the writing tank.

On Friday I head out to the Philadelphia Writers Conference, so I will get the tank further filled by hanging out with fellow authors. Look for nightly updates on the Conference over on the Author Chronicles blog.

How do you fill your writing tank? However you do it, go and fill it up—and then get writing!

Devon Horse Show 2019: Lessons from the Ring

Over the weekend, my family made our annual pilgrimage to the Devon Horse Show. We usually go to the closing weekend, rather than the opening weekend, but our schedules didn’t line up for that this year. So my mom, my 9-year-old daughter, and I had our girls’ day out this weekend instead.

My daughter is not as horse-crazy as my mom and I are, but she loves the rides on the Midway and claims that Devon pizza is the best pizza ever, so she is happy to come out with us. My mom and I enjoy watching the horses do their thing. The beauty and power of the horses leave us breathless.

We got rained on twice, but not too badly. Got a little wet the first time, but happened to be having lunch under a tent the second time, so it was all good. It’s all part of the adventure—I recall having to hide in the bathroom tunnel at other times when thunder and lightning rolled through. The rain kept the heat from becoming too intense, which was a relief.

 

 

 

As is my tradition, I bought a Breyer horse at the Devon Shop, and my daughter found herself a book and a couple of small toy horses. We stowed them in the car, got our also-traditional ice cream, and made our way to our seats for the big evening showcase event.

Usually we time our visit to the Gold Cup show jumping competition on the last Saturday. Because we came a different day this year, we saw a different style of jumping—eventing, also called cross-country. This consisted of 26 obstacles spread between two rings, testing for both jumping ability and endurance. Eventing had different jumps than we were used to—a few of the “normal” barred jumps, but also hedges and wooden objects, which tested the versatility of horse and rider.

The class was large, and the final jump-off didn’t end until about 9:30 PM, but there were no falls or injuries and it was exciting. My daughter was happy because the horse she rooted for came in 4th and so still got a ribbon. As the eventing went on, my daughter asked why the riders kept going once they knew they couldn’t win. And so a metaphor dropped into my lap.

They don’t give up, I said, because in life it’s not always about winning. Every one of these horses and riders are learning something new about their job and about themselves, and that is more valuable than winning. They are getting better at what they do, even if they are making mistakes now. It’s how you improve yourself. Life is about keeping going even when it’s hard, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable—and even if you knock one down.

There is nothing more vivid when trying to explain the value of persistence than watching a horse refuse a jump (sometimes violently so) and then the rider bring him around and go at that same jump again and clear it beautifully.

That obstacle that seemed too hard the first time might be overcome the next time.

Don’t give up.

Comparing Yourself to Others…and Your Past Self

This week Jami Gold had a blog post that reminded all of us that we cannot judge our own progress by that of other writers. I am terrible about doing this. One writer I know has 4 young children and another on the way, yet she writes about 100,000 words a months.

Talk about demoralizing. I’m here with my one kid who is getting old enough to take more care of herself, and I’m struggling to get 100,000 words a year.

I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with me.

So Jami’s advice is good for me to hear. But it’s not just me comparing myself to other people that’s the problem. It’s also me comparing myself to a younger me—and in some ways that’s worse.

I used to be a writing machine. Words would pour out of me and my word count was astronomical. Now it’s…not. I’ve improved a bit over the past couple of months, but I really miss the writer I used to be.

So I think I have to work on accepting that I am not the writer I used to be, not for lack of talent or desire, but just because life is different. There are things taking up time and energy now that were not there before. More things to navigate and juggle, but also stressors that impede creativity and make it difficult to access creativity when I do have time.

I’m working on fixing some of these things, but mostly I’m working on being kinder to myself and accepting that this is my “now”. In a year or two, I will have a different “now”, and who knows what that will look like, writing-wise?

Are you your own worst critic? How do you deal with accepting the limitations you have on your writing life?

Mirror, Mirror: Valjean & Javert in Les Misérables

**Spoilers if you have not yet seen Les Misérables or know the story.**

Les Misérables has been one of my favorite musicals since I first saw it in Philadelphia while in college. One of the main drivers of this play is the conflict between escaped but reformed criminal Valjean and pursuing police officer Javert. These two characters aren’t just antagonists, but mirror each other.

We see this clearly in the song “The Confrontation“, where their different trajectories are laid out. Valjean, a decent man trying to live right but driven to break the law by desperate circumstances, and Javert, born in a prison and rising to become a true believer in the law he upholds. Their views of the world are opposite but related: Javert’s is unquestioning black and white, while Valjean sees shades of gray. They both feel people should do the right thing, but they differ on the role of mercy in dispensing justice.

A brilliant mirror effect in Les Misérables is the mirroring of “Valjean’s Soliloquy” and “Javert’s Suicide” (see here for lyrics and comparison). These songs are the same melody,  but different words–belying the very words Javert sings “there is nothing on Earth that we share: it is either Valjean or Javert.”

Each character experiences the same event: an act of mercy that saves his life and gives him freedom. The same act, but with two very different reactions.

In Valjean’s case, a man of God breaks the law to give Valjean a chance at redemption. In Javert’s case, Valjean refuses to kill Javert when he is outed as a spy. Instead, he frees Javert and forgives him for his relentless pursuit over the years.

For Valjean, the priest’s act of mercy is life-changing. “What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?” For Javert, Valjean’s mercy is life-shattering. “And must I now begin to doubt, who never doubted all these years?”

Valjean sees the act as a gift: “Yet why did I allow this man to touch my soul and teach me love?”. Javert sees the freely-given mercy as a power play: “How can I now allow this man to hold dominion over me?”

Ultimately, their different world views lead to opposite outcomes when this same act of mercy challenges their current belief system. Valjean accepts the mercy as a chance for redemption: “Jean Valjean is nothing now; another story must begin.” Javert, however,  cannot let go of his unyielding belief that the law must not be questioned. “There is nowhere I can turn; there is no way to go on.”

This intricate play of similarities in protagonist and antagonist should be a lesson for all writers. When the characters have certain beliefs in common, it makes both accessible to the reader. The mirror differences in the characters explores an issue confronting the human condition. When characters have similar base beliefs, it creates tension by opening the door for EITHER the villain’s redemption OR the hero’s fall. This dual possibility will help keep your readers engaged to the very end.

What other stories have great mirrored characters? Do you use mirroring in your work?

Goodbye, Uncle Dennis: Lessons Learned from a Life Well Lived

Two Sundays ago, my husband’s Uncle Dennis passed away. The death came suddenly, unannounced by any previous illness or medical condition. A shock.

The 3rd of 10 children, and the eldest boy, Dennis was the first to pass on. That is a different sort of shock, when your own generation starts to die. The remaining siblings look at each other and think, “Who’s next?”

Dennis was a man who never complained at hard work, and who would show up on the doorstep of anyone who needed help. When I heard the phrase “salt of the earth” I thought of him.

He wasn’t a perfect man, as he would readily admit, but strove to be better every day. Religion was his strength. Farming was his passion. Family was his life. His death has left a huge hole in many people’s lives, but left all of us with essential lessons:

Live your truth. Own your mistakes. Make amends as best you can. Work hard. And most of all, in word and deed, love the people you call family.

Because you never know when this time will be the last time.

Celebrating the Small Victories

Face it, we live in a world where society only celebrates the big victories. But many of us don’t have huge victories to crow about, and therefore feel like we’re not enough. I’ve got good news for you, though–even small victories are victories.

Small victories are earned, just like the large ones. In fact, most often the large victories can’t even happen without the small ones happening first. Can’t publish a book if you don’t write it first. Can’t write it except one chapter at a a time. Can’t write a chapter without sentences.

So it ALL COUNTS.

Words on the page. Forward progress. Baby steps. It all adds up, and it all becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts. A lot of us have family obligations, day jobs, other must-do things on the To Do List. So just showing up to do the work is a victory.

Why am I thinking of small victories today? Because in April, I racked up almost 16,400 words for the month. Which is more than twice as much as the previous best month of 2019. Even more exciting to me is that 10,500 of those words were revision of my YA novel Veritas.

April's small victories

I have not worked on Veritas in any word-countable way since September of 2018. Half a year ago.

I was working on it, in fits and starts, but not in the computer. I revised longhand, working from a printed copy. The revision is still far from finished, but I’ve made substantial progress–enough to put my revisions to date into the computer and print a new version to move ahead with.

It’s gratifying to see the longhand-work translate into word count. A small victory, slow in coming, but I am happy with it.

Maybe next month I will break 20,000 words.

Small victories. What victories are you celebrating today?

Spring Break Road Trip!

There is a saying among writers, “I don’t like writing, I like having written.” I feel much the same way about traveling.

I don’t like traveling. But I like having traveled.

Being at the destination is always fun. The people, the new experiences, the change of scenery is always welcome. But getting there…ugh.

I hate the hours in the car, or the plane. They feel endless and they wear me out. They grind on me like sandpaper. I am exhausted by the time I get there, and I don’t even do the driving.

I am a person who likes my routine. Anxiety disorders are often best managed with routine and predictability where you can get it. So driving long distances, with the unpredictability of traffic and the lack of schedule for meals and stops grates on me. And I am also food-anxious, so the looming specter of “will I find something I like to eat?” and “will I be able to eat when we stop?” is always hiding in the background.

I won’t mention some of the bathroom facilities we have stopped at along the way. Because some things are better not thought about too much.

As wearing as traveling is to me, the end result is always worth it. Time with family, time to think, time to drink in different life experiences.

I hope anyone on Spring Break this week is enjoying some time to relax and regroup before heading back into the work-a-day world.

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