Professional Development

This weekend I went to training for my Board of Education position. It was intense. Classes from 6 PM – 10 PM Friday and 8:30 AM – 10 PM Saturday, then 9 AM – noon on Sunday.

I. Was. Fried.

Despite being tired (but not hungry—they fed us well!), I learned a lot. And there is so much more to learn. It will take years to become truly knowledgeable.

A writing career is no different–it takes years of continuous professional development to even approach mastery. You work on one craft element, then another, then another, constantly learning as each element intersects and influences the others. David King calls this the “web of writing” and it’s one of the trickiest parts of writing. No element exists in a vacuum.

So we learn about each element separately (because it’s the only way to stay sane), but then have to integrate it into the whole. Which can lead to your story feeling lopsided as you excel at some elements but not at others. Continuing professional development will eventually smooth it out as you bring all the elements up to par.

But even after mastering the basics, the learning never stops. Writing is a craft of infinite depth, and I am not sure there is an actual bottom. Creativity has no boundary, the horizon is ever just out of reach.

One time, a friend asked me why I continued to come to the same writer’s conference every year. I replied that I learned something new every year, because I was in a different place as a writer than last year. Things I could not grasp the year before, I could this year. Learning is a constant process of building on what you already know. It never ends.

And that is one reason I love writing so much.

A New Chapter

So last week was a lost and confusing week because my daughter was home sick for much of it. This week is shaping up to be a lost week because I am sick!

Yes, my generous daughter shared her cold with me. I am not as sick as she was, but still not up to par. A bit fuzzy-headed, and just tired. Drained.

I’ve been sleeping a lot, trying to knock this cold out quicker. Of all the medicines I have tried in my life, nothing works as well for me as simply sleeping. So I’ve been catching naps while my daughter is at school.

A major reason I want to get over this cold quickly is because I have a weekend long training for my Board of Education position starting on Friday. Not only do I want to be alert for the very intense schedule, but I don’t want to be that annoying person hacking their way through the workshops. My plan is to sit near a door and bring a pocket full of cough drops.

I look forward to this new chapter continuing to unfold. Even if this bit of it smells like menthol.

Sick Days February 2020

It’s funny how much we rely on routines to define time. Here it is Wednesday, and I feel like it’s the weekend. Why? Because my daughter is home sick from school for the third day in a row. She’s home, so my brain tells me it is still the weekend.

It’s hard to get work done when she’s home. Not so much because I am nursing her a lot—she’s old enough that she can take pretty good care of herself. But she needs little things, like water and food and sometimes just a cuddle because she feels awful. Things that individually do not take a long time, but add up. And the constant interruptions splinter the work flow and make it harder to complete a task efficiently.

I did still get some things done this week. This blog post, for one. And the weekly one I do over on The Author Chronicles. I also finished my last go-through of my YA sci-fi manuscript Veritas and sent it over to my editor. I went to a cyber-bullying presentation one evening at the school. I went food shopping. And I somehow managed to clean out the hall closet.

Still, it was hard with my daughter laying on the couch—especially when she was napping. I don’t know what it is, but when someone else is sleeping, I want to conk out. Maybe it’s a throwback to the old advice, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” She’s not a baby anymore, but she still exhausts me.

Of course, I am tired, too. She had rough nights the past two nights, which means so did I. Helping her get changed 3 times in one night because she fever was breaking and she would wake up drenched in sweat. Cuddling with her at 4:30 in the morning because she was too congested to sleep. She is sleeping as I write this, and I hope she sleeps all night.

I hope I do, too—so I am heading up to try.

How about you? Do you get completely lost when your routines are messed up?

3 Ways Writing is Like Swimming

My daughter likes to swim. She started swimming at age 3, was on her first swim team at 6. She has been on a swim team every summer for 4 years.

In order to compete in swimming, you need 3 skills: form, speed, and stamina.

Turns out, you need those same 3 skills if you want to compete in writing, too.

FORM

In swimming, getting your body to form the right patterns in the water is vital. If you perform the strokes correctly, if your body parts all work in perfect sync, you go faster with less effort.

Writing is similar. Our craft is our form, and the sooner we master the elements, the smoother our writing process becomes. As we get the myriad craft elements from structure to grammar to work in sync, the stories flow faster and with less effort.

SPEED

Efficiency of form helps you cut through the water faster, so you increase your speed. You can’t win if you are slow. However, swimming is not just about beating the other people.  It’s also about personal bests, competing with yourself and trying to lower your times every time you compete.

Writing efficiency will help you compete in the publishing trenches, because you can put more work out more quickly. This does not mean you need to be a speed demon in writing. I am not, and other successful writers are not. Some are. But you can’t focus on other people’s speed. All you can do is hone your process so you can write efficiently without losing quality in your work. You are always looking for a personal best.

STAMINA

Competitive swimming requires endurance. When my daughter started swimming, her first races were more a matter if she would make it the full 25 meters without having to stop. Now, at age 10, the freestyle is 50 meters and the other strokes are still 25. But next year they all go up to 50 meters. That will require building stamina (and mastering how to turn).

A writing career is a long-haul career. Success usually does not come early or quickly. And if you write novel-length books, each project can be a marathon in itself. We need to cultivate creative and emotional stamina to get us through. There are many paths to success, so we need to master turning when one route is blocked. Sometimes our muscles hurt and we can barely catch our breath, but if we persevere we will eventually touch the wall.

Whether we write for fun or for profit, all writers share the joy and passion for writing. But for those who do want to publish, we also need to develop form, speed, and stamina.

Once we do, we can swim with the best of them.

The Persistence of Pain

As I mentioned before, I have done a major revision to my YA scifi Veritas, and am now in the middle of a final read through before handing it off to my editor, the wonderful Kathryn Craft.

One thing I definitely need to address in my manuscript is the persistence of pain. When a character gets physically injured and then seems unfazed by it in the very next scene. The pain needs to carry through. It’s something I would immediately notice in other people’s writing, yet I missed it in my own until this reading.

My character breaks his wrist and is knocked unconscious in one scene. He feels the effects properly at the beginning of the next scene, but then the effects fade away. I mention in passing that his wrist was later set and splinted, but by the next day he is running around the forest with no ill effects.

Come on, Kerry, you know better than that.

I have never had either a concussion or a broken bone. My brother has had a concussion, so I know the effects can last for days. And I understand from research how painful a dislocated bone break can be. From my own experience, my C-section scar gave me pain for about a year, and even now, 10 years later, it can feel sore if too much pressure is applied.

Pain is persistent, and I need to carry that through the necessary scenes.

Perhaps my noting this in the present read through means I have fixed the larger issues with the manuscript. I guess I will find out after Kathryn gets through with it!

Holding Pattern

At certain times of my life, I have felt like something was just around the corner. Like a big change was coming. Sort of like the atmosphere just before a thunderstorm breaks, when things are calm but there’s an electricity in the air.

I feel a bit like that now, except that I shouldn’t. I have, in fact, already had changes in my life recently, the largest being the loss of my aunt and my taking on my position on the Board of Education. Yet I still feel this sense of waiting.

Perhaps what I am waiting for is a feeling within myself that something profound has happened. For it all to sink in, as it were. There is a line from Glenn Frey’s song You Belong to the City that I always liked, “So much has happened, but nothing has changed.”

Because isn’t that how it often is? The minutia of life continues without heeding your internal changes, or the changes in your external life. When my best friend died, I so clearly remember feeling detached from everything, looking around me wondering how people could be going about their lives like nothing had happened. Marveling that the deepest shift in my life to that date left most of the world completely unmarked.

Now it’s the opposite. I am the one moving through my life as if nothing is different, yet things have changed. I suppose it is part of the process, of finding a new balance. I imagine I will look back in 6 months and see the changes clearly. But for now the changes are incremental, so I don’t see them. Like how you don’t notice how tall your kid has gotten until someone else says it, because you see them every day.

So even though I feel like I am in a holding pattern, things are shifting. It will be interesting to see where the changing course takes me.

Mental Shutdown

Ever have one of those days (or a few) where your brain just doesn’t seem to want to work? Where your focus goes on vacation?

Yeah, that was me today.

That doesn’t mean I got nothing done. I did the things I had to. Put out the fires. Spent way too much time on Facebook. But it all got done with as little brainpower as possible.

I suppose I understand my brain’s checking out this week. It’s been a long, taxing month. Traveling over the holiday. Being sick as well. Starting my new position on the local Board of Education. My aunt dying. Traveling to her funeral. Coming home to the news a friend is very ill. The tenants in our rental house broke a water pipe.

It’s been a stressful month.

But I know how this works. The fuzziness of grief and shock will pass. The exhaustion of stress and illness will fade. And I will be able to think clearly again, work efficiently and find my creativity.

I will need to, because I have to turn in my YA manuscript rewrite to my editor in February.

Hmm, maybe this next month won’t be as stress-free as I thought!

What stress-busters do you use to get your brain back on track?

RIP, Aunt Dolores

My Aunt Dolores passed away this week. While she had been in declining health for a few months, the end came rather abruptly. She leaves behind 6 children, 11 grandchildren, and 6 great-grands and counting. Also, she leaves behind my mother, her last remaining sibling.

My aunt was something of a grandmother figure to me. My Nana—her and my mother’s mom—died when I was only 4 years old. So I really have no memories of her. My aunt was 19 years older than my mother, almost a full generation, so the parallel worked out.

I remember spending time at her house in Norristown when I was young. I stayed there when my brother was born. It was there that I learned to love Skippy peanut butter, causing many a spat with my Jif-brand loving mother. My aunt’s house was large, given that she had 6 kids, and I loved exploring what to me seemed a huge, rambling building. It was full of interesting knick-knacks and objects, a few of which made their way back to my house (with her permission) and I still have today.

We did Thanksgiving there as well, so I have the memories of boisterous family feasts (which have only gotten larger and more boisterous as the years passed). As an introverted child with only one sibling, the energy of a large family was somewhat overwhelming, but the love and welcome and warmth could not be missed. My cousins inherited my aunt’s generous spirit, and they go out of their way to help and support each other and to contribute to the wider community. I want to be like them when I grow up.

I’ll be honest, my aunt kinda scared me when I was little. She seemed so stern and strict, but I guess when you’re raising 6 kids and your husband travels a great deal for work, you have to lay down the law or go crazy. As I got older and got to know her better, I learned of her wit, wisdom, and humor, and met the real woman behind the stern aunt.

My aunt could talk. And talk. And talk. You could be on the phone with her for 2 hours and only manage to say 5 words. For an introvert like me, she was a godsend. If you stood near her at a family gathering, you never had to say a word. I believe she inherited this superpower from my Nana, although I obviously do not know from personal experience.

All that talking, though, brought to the forefront another amazing ability: her memory. I have never known anyone who had such tremendous recall of people and events from decades ago. Granted, this often meant she talked to me about people I had no idea who they were, but I still found the stories of her life fascinating. And as I grew more interested in family history, her memory was often the key to figuring out people and events in the past. My mother was so much younger than my aunt that Aunt Dolores knew ancestors better and more personally, so she was often a valuable source of information.

My Aunt Dolores was a loquacious, vivacious, generous woman to whom family was everything. She faced her not always easy life with grace and strength, and nurtured a family I am proud to be a part of and who I see as an example of what a family should be. She was a woman of strong opinion, of courage, and of faith, and she will be missed by many.

My mother is now the last of her generation, and I cannot imagine how lonely that must feel. My aunt was a fixture in my life, my godmother as well, and I still have not processed that she is no longer sitting in her living room on Long Island, watching her late night TV shows and opining on the state of the world today. My aunt was 91, and she was content to go, but that does not make her loss any easier for those left behind.

We miss you and love you, Aunt Dolores.

New Year 2020

Happy New Year to everyone out there! I sincerely hope that 2020 brings you all good things.

My own year is shaping up to be interesting. I was elected in November to the local school board, and I take office next week. I know I have much to learn, but I look forward to learning and helping our school thrive.

I also have some challenges on the writing front. This year I want to get my illustrated version of The Witch of Zal out. I also want to find homes for some of my other works. I have the first draft of The Witch of Zal’s sequel written, so I want to get to polishing that up, too.

I prefer to call them goals rather than resolutions. Psychological semantics, maybe, but I tend not to accomplish resolutions and usually accomplish my goals. Perhaps because when I think of them as goals I am more realistic and tend to choose goals that are mostly within my control. Resolutions I choose things I’m never going to achieve, even though I would like to—and I know this because my resolutions seemed to always be the same, which means I never actually accomplished them! So instead of setting myself up for failure, I am aiming for actual achievable targets.

I wish you success in 2020. I hope you find health, happiness, and satisfaction in this New Year.

The Goose’s Quill Top 10 Posts of 2019

I always like to see what my readers responded to in the past year. I found a mixed bag this year, from writing-related posts, to personal celebrations, to the on-going drama of my daughter’s fish tank. In case you missed any, here are the 10 most popular posts of 2019:

10. A Successful, Grateful Book Launch for The Witch of Zal

9. A Muddy Revision Slog

8. Three Benefits of Reading to Older Children

7. Revision Difficulty? Maybe It’s Your Theme

6. The Fish Saga Continues: RIP Gem

5. Celebrating 50 Years!

4. Considering a Social Media Break

3. On Being a Low-Energy Person in a High-Energy World

2. Book Fair Magic: Casting a Reading Spell

And my number one post of 2019:

1. Speak Up: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

I hope you all enjoyed this look back at 2019! May your holiday season be happy and safe, and I will see you all back here in 2020!

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