Wrapping Up – CoronaLife Day 117

Being that it’s now early July, a new month, “wrapping up” might seem a strange thing to be doing. However, that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

I am handing over my PTA Treasurer position to someone new tomorrow. So I have spent the last week and a half wrapping up all the loose ends. I finished the June books, plus the end-of-year numbers (our fiscal year is from June to July). I made a preliminary budget and all the spreadsheets for next year to help ease the transition, as the treasurer who handed off to me had done for me. I also filed the taxes and pulled together all the paperwork for the year-end audit.

Wrapping it all up.

My daughter’s remote learning adventure ended in late June, but I have still been wrapping up with that. We collected her school “stuff” the last week in June and left it to quarantine in our garage for a week. So now she has been able to get into that. I finally remembered to look at her report card, LOL. And we managed to figure out how to get her school online reading account connected with our home account.

Wrapping up.

I have just begun the 7th Harry Potter book as I re-read them. Why not? The last time I read them was back in 2007. I’ve been reading them aloud with my daughter (together we are on Book 4), so I’ve sort of read them twice in a row. But now I am nearing the end of my personal reading of the saga.

Wrapping up.

I wish I could say I am wrapping up the period of malaise and creative barrenness I have been in for a while, but I’m not seeing much signs of that. I’m not quite sure if I need to kick myself harder or stop beating myself up over it. I want to write, but find myself frittering away hours online instead. My focus has vanished, my drive has deserted me.

On my walks, I have begun listening to music. I have a collection of songs that has always been strongly tied to writing for me. That’s what I have been listening to. And it may be helping stir the Muse a bit. It’s too soon to tell. But I need something to shake me out of this, as I really am not happy where I am.

Where are you on your creative journey these days? Stay safe, everyone!

School’s Out! – CoronaLife Day 96

Since we are no longer under a stay-at-home order, I can’t call this series Lockdown Days anymore, so am switching to CoronaLife, since even with the state reopening, our lives are irrevocably changed and often still restricted by the coronavirus.

Biggest news this week is my daughter is finished with remote learning for this school year! Although I usually am sad when school ends, this year I am glad. I never wanted to be a teacher, and these last 3 months have cemented that.

This year summer does not include the summer camps by daughter has attended in the past. Some are simply not operating this year, others are operating with restrictions, and in any case, my daughter does not want to go to any of them. She is nervous about the virus, and I am not confident that proper social distancing can be maintained in any case. So we are staying home.

That’s not to say my daughter will be spending all her day staring at the computer screen watching YouTube and playing Minecraft. We will be continuing to take our daily exercise, of course. And we want to institute a 2 hour “creative time”, and a one-hour “together time.”

The 2-hour creative time will be time for her to work on non-computer-related creative pursuits like drawing, writing, composing, or even just playing an imaginative game. I will use that time to work on my creative writing, which has fallen woefully into the background. No blogs, no social media, just whatever creative writing project I want to work on.

The one-hour together time will be split in half. I will read to her from a book of my choice for half an hour (my daughter is notoriously scared to venture into new authors or series, this way she can make the leap with me), and the second half we will do what she wants—reading, drawing, etc.

I start off every summer with good intentions, but somehow my plans rarely work out. Hopefully this year will be different. My daughter is old enough to hold me accountable, so maybe that combined with having talked about it here, will make it happen.

We did get COVID tested on Thursday last week. An efficient if not entirely pleasant experience. But, hey, I had a baby via C-section, discomfort from a nasal swab barely registers on the pain scale. My daughter, of course, will tell you it was torture.

I got my results back (negative), but we are going on 7 days waiting for my daughter’s. It’s a frustrating wait, because we got tested so we could safely go see my parents, who we have not seen since February. So the waiting feels painfully long.

Any of you have summer plans? Stay safe, see you next week!

The Value of Looking Back

This past week I have had characters from the past haunting my thoughts. Way back in the day, in high school and college, my best friend and I cut our writing teeth on fan fiction. Miami Vice fanfic, to be precise. It was the characters we created for this series that kept pushing their way into my mind last week.

Finally, on Monday, I pulled out one of these old stories and read it all the way through. The world and the people leapt to life for me like they had all those years ago. And the thing is, it wasn’t bad. Sure, it had a glaring plot hole, and our POV did some head-hopping, but the bones were there. The plot and subplots worked together, and the characters were strong and real.

I don’t know why I felt so compelled to revisit these stories, these characters, but I am glad I did. I saw how much my writing has improved, for one thing. But it also reminded me of when writing was fun. No deadlines, no criticism, just me and my best friend spinning tales.

And maybe it was my best friend sending a message to me. She died in 2004, and I lost my writing collaborator as well as my best friend. Perhaps she was reminding me of who I really am. It is so easy as an adult to lose yourself in all the roles you play—wife, mother, daughter, volunteer positions, organizations you are involved in. If you’re not careful, you lose yourself in all the noise. I admit to feeling a bit unmoored lately, wandering in the wilderness of busyness and anxiety.

Looking back at old work has a great deal of value. First, you gain perspective on how far you have come craft-wise. Second, it grounds you in who you are. And third, it reminds you why you used to write in the first place—for joy and excitement.

Have you ever gone back and read your early work?

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.

Childhood Book Influences

I read an article this week about what childhood books influenced a writer. So that got me thinking about what books I read as a child and how they influenced me.

I voraciously read animal books, particularly horse books. I owned the entire Black Stallion series and read them over and over. I read almost all the Jim Kjelgaard books, as well as the Marguerite Henry books. A childhood dream came true for me when I lived in Chincoteague for 8 months and not only visited the Misty museum, but saw the famous Pony Swim.

Yet, I do not write animal books. You will see horses appear in most of my books, and the occasional dog, but they are not my focus.

I also read–and reread—The Chronicles of Narnia, which definitely seeded my love of fantasy.  I was fascinated by the idea of magic portals, of the interconnection of everything seen and unseen. Many of my books deal with magic and the ripple effects each of our actions cause.

But perhaps the biggest influence on my writing was Madeleine L’Engle. I read her Time Trilogy until the covers got tattered. Although most people know the first book in the series, A Wrinkle In Time, my favorite was the third, A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

It stars my favorite character, Charles Wallace, who had to find and reverse the one event that would change history to prevent nuclear war, and it has a time-traveling unicorn. How could I not love it?

I see a lot of the themes in L’Engle’s writing coming through in my own. The intersection of magic and mystery with everyday. The connection of everything, everywhere. The understanding that love gives you more strength than hate. That being true to yourself and what you believe in is the most powerful magic of all.

Those are some of the influences on me. Who are some of your childhood favorites that shaped your writing and your worldview?

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2018: My Biggest Takeaway

Complexity and Connection at the PWCThis year’s Philadelphia Writers’ Conference filled my head with new and exciting information, leaving me both exhausted and exhilarated. Now that I have had a few days to let all the swirling ideas settle, one of the main things that stuck with me is the complexity of our craft.

I’m not talking about plot complexity. Even the simplest story is complex in the way I mean. What I mean is how every element of your story impacts the others. In our character workshops, we also crossed into plot. In our plot workshop we also delved into character. Every word choice and point of view feeds into the elusive element of voice. Everything interconnects, playing off each other and driving the story in different ways.

That same complex interconnection often makes revision a mind-bending project. Change one thing about a character, that can change the plot. Change POV, and your voice skews. Change the language and that might suggest a change in structure. Every change, no matter how minor, flows downstream all the way to the end of the novel. Riding those rapids can exhaust you.

This complexity of story comes from the fact that stories reflect the complexity of life. This helps stories translate across different media. The same story can be told orally, in print, in graphic novels, or on a screen large or small. Although the formats differ, the story fabric can be cut and tailored to each one to convey the same meaning and soul as the original story. The interwoven complexity of story gives it both strength and malleability.

Given the complex nature of writing and all its elements, is it any wonder that the craft of writing is so hard? The work of weaving a tale can take an emotional, psychological, and even physical toll on writers. To combat this, we need connectivity of our own—a network of friends and supporters who understand and can help lift us over the obstacles we encounter. This is one of the values of conferences like the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. There we meet and connect with other writers and form bonds that last.

Thank you, PWC, for 70 years of helping writers connect so we can weave our stories together.

Working Vacation

Writing for a living is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you can do it anywhere. At swim practice, sitting in a waiting room, in a traffic jam. You can relocate anywhere and still write. But writing is a curse because you can do it anywhere. Even on vacation.

So while I am up here on the Long Island Sound, my blogs are still due and my book revisions still call and what minimal marketing I can do awaits. Still, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to write.

 

 

 

 

Like many writers, I rarely take a vacation from writing. My brain is always churning, the characters hovering at the edges of my mind. In truth, I often get MORE work done when I’m on vacation, because there are other people around to keep my daughter occupied. When it’s just us at home, she always wants my attention. But when she has grandparents, cousins, or Daddy, Mommy gets ignored. And that’s okay by me.

So I am soaking up the sun, sand, water, and serene scenery to recharge myself…even if it is a working vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

How about you? Do you ever have vacations where you put the writing completely aside?

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Is Frozen Imagination a Thing?

I’ve been suffering lately with a condition called frozen shoulder. Basically, it’s when your shoulder muscles become paralyzed and super tight due to not using your arm properly. Mine started back in December with an injury, and the subsequent non-use of my arm led to the frozen shoulder. Contemplating frozen shoulder wandered into thinking about frozen imagination (because my mind wanders the roads less taken).

We often compare our brains to muscles, saying that if we don’t use it, we lose it. Our imaginative muscle is no different—you don’t use it, it gets all atrophied and useless. As a young writer, I had so many ideas, I couldn’t keep up with all of them. They poured out of my brain like Niagara Falls. Now, not so much.

I think I can trace it back to my daughter’s birth. Once I knew I was pregnant, I pushed the stories I had in progress to get the first draft finished before she was born. Then we had the whole infant-daze period, and then I got into editing and revising those drafts. Today, seven years later, I am still revising most of those stories, and have not embarked on a from-scratch novel. I derived my current work in progress from an idea I had many years ago, so even though the novel’s current form is completely new, the ideas and characters are not.

Truth is, I am not feeling very imaginative when it comes to story ideas. New ideas don’t crop up with the frequency they used to, and I find that my thinking within the stories is not as flexible as when I was younger. Finding fresh ways to approach topics and characters is harder for me. Maybe I am simply getting old and set in my ways—or maybe I have not exercised my imagination for so long that it’s flabby and weak.

My frozen shoulder needs physical therapy to get back to working order. It’s hard, and it hurts like heck as I stretch those muscles again. But that’s the only way to get it back—to push the limits and ask the shoulder to work again. Perhaps my frozen imagination needs some sort of therapy as well. I need to ask it to work again, and push past the comfort zones.

Maybe then my frozen imagination will thaw and my brain will feel more nimble.

So how about it, fellow writers? Any good tips for exercising my imagination muscle?

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