We May Be Done with Winter…but Winter Is Not Done with Us

Yesterday after church, the Rev. and the boy and I watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again.

It seemed somehow appropriate to our current situation.

Stuck in what feels like an unending winter.

Encased in ice.

Under a flat gray sky.

We’re halfway through April, if you can believe it.

These poor quince buds have been waiting and waiting to bloom.

The trees have been waiting to sprout new growth.

Even the evergreens seem tired of it all.

We wait eagerly for the next season.

And comfort ourselves with what we hope is one last fire.

“So how’s the writing going?”

I don’t know about you (if you’re a writer) but I find that question rather difficult to answer sometimes. The people who ask it mean well, whether they are asking because they really care about the answer or they’re asking because it seems like the mannerly thing to do.

In anticipation of my August 3 workshop on beating writer’s block, I’m over on the Capital City Writers Association blog talking about why my feelings about the “how’s the writing going” question are so very bipolar. Join me there and find out why, sometimes, writers just don’t want to answer that seemingly innocuous and polite inquiry.

Creative Waiting

Waiting stinks. When we want to do something but it’s not happening on our timeline, we can get impatient and sullen and full of self pity.

Or, we can get creative.

Last summer a realtor called us inquiring about whether we or any of our neighbors were thinking of selling. Housing stock is low in the area and it’s a great time to sell.

Except when it’s not.

I had thought this spring we might make it work, but it’s just not the right time for a variety of reasons. Boo. I had been dreaming of gaining another room, maybe a bigger yard, hopefully less traffic noise and more tranquility. But mainly, more space. And I’m always excited about the possibility of just doing things a little differently.

So there’s a part of me that’s bummed. But there’s also a part of me that says, Okay, what can we do in the meantime to freshen up and make this house work just a bit longer?

The easiest way to freshen up is a new coat of paint. And the room I spend the most of my time in is the office, which is, in my son’s words, “An ugly green.”

I didn’t think so, of course, when I chose the color a decade ago. And I still don’t think it’s ugly. But maybe it is time to move on to something a little lighter and brighter. So I’m examining paint chips.

And the process of moving things out of the room in order to paint will facilitate some further decluttering and reorganizing. Why put it back the same way when there might be better options? Plus, while everything is away from the windows and baseboards, I’ll touch up the trim as well.

I don’t really have a timeline for doing this, but I’ll be sure to share the results when it’s done!

 

Revising Your Manuscript: The Importance of Patience

After my two-month drafting frenzy in January and February, I was deliriously happy. Now I could finally stop thinking about it. Two months may not seem too long to think about a novel you’re writing, but of course I didn’t start thinking about it when I started writing it. I’d been thinking and reading and researching and outlining for many months before that. And getting to the end of the first draft meant that I could finally, for the first time in perhaps a year, think about something else. I closed the file, backed it up in two places, and went on with life.

Two weeks later, I was ready to start thinking about revision, my favorite part of the writing process and the subject of several upcoming blog posts over the coming month or so.

There’s lots of advice out there on revising and editing. Lots of great books about same. Just earlier this week, Kristen Lamb mentioned the importance of writing a quick draft and not getting bogged down in edits (and accidentally throwing out something that might blossom into something beautiful) along the way. She’s spot on. And the patience doesn’t end with the words “The End.”

Have you ever tried to bake bread that you haven’t left to rise quite long enough? Or been in a hurry to eat your homemade pad thai and thus not allowed the rice noodles to soak long enough before adding them to the pan? (Am I the only one to whom this has happened?) Or tried to enjoy an avocado that just was not ripe enough? It’s always a disappointing experience. Certain foods need time to just sit before they’re ready for consumption or else you’re going to have a heck of a time chewing them.

Likewise, our drafts need to sit awhile before they’re ready for revision. When we’ve been working closely with our characters and setting and plot, we need a little distance, a little time apart, before we can honestly assess them, before we can chew on them. Giving a story time to ripen and soften, allowing time for all the different threads and characters and subplots and symbols to get friendly with each other, like leaven working its magic in a lump of dough, and, most importantly, allowing our own minds to move away from the story for a while into something else–like reining in the out-of-control laundry situation and paying the bills–can give us the kind of clarity we need to honestly assess our work. Even stepping away from the computer for a couple weeks can help.

After two weeks away, I reexperienced my story (with the help of my friendly cyborg voice, Crystal) and did a thorough edit, exchanging good words for the perfect words, clarifying characters’ intentions and emotional states, adding important symbols earlier in the story, making motivation clear, and lots more (which we’ll unpack in other posts). I rewrote the ending to be more satisfying for the reader. I removed some pointless descriptions and smoothed the rough surfaces.

During this first revision, I had some fantastic epiphanies that make the story even better. But if I’d immediately started editing after I finished the first draft, I don’t think my mind would have been clear enough to see the possibilities that lay beyond the book I’d already written. The distance was essential in that.

The distance also allowed my mind to start wandering toward what I’ll write next. The day after I came to the end of the first draft, a plot for a new novel began to coalesce in my mind, and now I’m off and running on that one, doing the background reading I’ll need to do in order to plot it out. I had to get out of that earlier story world so I could start thinking about the next one. I’ve found a writing rhythm that seems to be working. I’m excited about the year ahead. A year that will be filled with waiting for readers, then editing, then waiting some more, then editing, then querying. And while I’m busy with that part of the journey for one novel, a little baby idea will be slowly gestating, ready to be birthed into a new first draft, perhaps round about the same time of year this last one was.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to be patient when it comes to revising your work? Does your eagerness to get everything perfect as you go keep you from finishing? Join the conversation below.

Winter is here, so why not enjoy it already?

After an extremely snowy weekend, today dawned clear and cold. Oh, who am I kidding? I didn’t actually get up before dawn. But it has been a sunny morning and all the world is covered in a soft blanket of white snow. My Samoyed/German Shepherd mix, Sasha, loves it.

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From inside my home office with the space heater at my feet and an unending supply of great coffee, I can enjoy days like this in ways that daily commuters may not be able to. So many of my friends, coworkers, and acquaintances despise Michigan in the winter. Perhaps, when they look out at the snow, they only see this:

Yes, the roads are a bit slick out there, but there are some simple lessons to be learned from winter. Start early, take it slow, steer into the skid, and maybe get yourself some new tires once in a while.

Seems like there might be some writing advice in there too…

Winter isn’t interested in bustling about. It isn’t concerned with appointments or ladder climbing or making a mark on the world, beyond footprints in the snow or an occasional snow angel.

Winter is about waiting, regrouping, hibernating, anticipating. Winter waits for Christmas. Winter waits for spring. Winter sits still for a while and enjoys itself.

Winter says, “Make a fire. Eat rich food. Sip some cocoa. Listen to some music.”

Winter says, “Just as the grass is there waiting beneath the snow, life will still be there tomorrow. It will wait. For now, enjoy yourself.”

Winter says, “I won’t last forever. So rest while you can.”

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Measuring My Life in Woodpiles and Cucumbers

Despite the fact that our Midwestern home is kept warm in the cold months with a furnace that runs on natural gas, we are the happy beneficiaries of the many lovely aspects of a wood-burning fireplace. In the winter months, we often have a fire roaring and crackling away, with the whole family (animal members included) lolling around in the living room, basking in its warm glow. By the time spring came around this year, we’d burned through our woodpile and were on to the odious task of buying wood from grocery and hardware stores–wood that was never quite dry enough and since we burned it, it really did fell as though we were burning money.

This year, however, our fireplace fuel needs have been taken care of thanks to an enormous dead sugar maple that we finally decided to dispose of before it crushed our house during a windstorm. It’s a good thing we acted when we did, as the modern-day lumberjack who took it down informed us that about half the trunk was hollow (including the root system).

NovFirst2The guys cut the big branches down to fireplace log size and stacked them up on the driveway along the fence. And, as I requested, they left an enormous pile of smaller branches for me to break down into kindling, which is what has occupied a fair bit of my weekend already.

There is something so ancient-Anglo-Saxon-peasant about breaking up sticks and bunching them together in containers. Not that my Germanic and British ancestors would have used plastic flowerpots to store their kindling, but…you get the idea. As I cracked and hacked and sawed and snipped each branch into size and created my bouquets of branches, I felt I was doing good work. Work that had a practical application in life. Necessary work.

I took a break for a while to collect ripe tomatoes and cucumbers from the vegetable garden and thought about chopping them up along with some onion to make a cucumber salad, another act of breaking something down into useful parts.

I think about the apricot/plum and blueberry jam I just made, about the impending autumn chores of raking and cutting back the perennials, of the winter chores of shoveling snow and scraping the car. And I find myself very much looking forward to spending the cold months in my cozy house as we somehow cope with the fact that my son is now in kindergarten and we wait to see the tangible results of much time spent writing and editing.

Life marches inexorably on without our permission in some ways and cannot move fast enough to please us in others. So we practice contentment in all things and carry on with the tasks at hand.

Time to get back to my woodpile.

You Have Been Chosen

On Sunday we had my son’s fifth birthday party with his crazy little friends at Impression 5 Children’s Museum. Calvin wanted a Toy Story theme, and so I made these little cupcakes for dessert.

Oooooooooooo!

For the uninitiated, these are my best effort at making a bunch of Pizza Planet aliens from the claw machine. Observe…

As the writer seeking publication or even representation, it’s easy to feel like one of those little alien squeaky toys, waiting in a sea of other aliens–er, writers–for some mystical outside force to pluck us from obscurity. We long to be “chosen.” Some, like Woody, will search out another, more indie avenue. Others, like Buzz, will be chosen without even having waited at all (those lucky-ducky writers who are at just the right place at the right time and know the right people).

But most of us are aliens. Waiting and hoping.

But while you’re busy waiting, be busy writing more, revising again, making everything you create as creative and as strong as possible. So that when The Claw closes around you and draws you up above the crowded masses, you will be ready to take full advantage of that “better place” to which you are going.

And here’s hoping your agent or publisher is nothing like Sid.