Hearing Myself Think

After a week of rain

I’ve had a lot of negative self talk lately.

A lot of negativity, period.

When I decided to eat gently

without a scolding diet,

and to move around gently

without punishing my form,

some things began to shift.

 

I remembered I no longer have a garden.

Sometimes I stay inside all day,

sitting in a chair

scrolling to no end

farther than a short term task list

getting something (and also nothing) done.

 

I heard myself tell myself,

“You’re too fat for food.” That

I don’t deserve to eat because

I’ve become so soft and round.

That conscious cruelty to me, by me–

I don’t remember hearing it so loud.

 

We’ve had a week of rain;

a terrible fight on our anniversary;

an awkward coupling and too much wine.

And then the sun came out;

it’s sixty-three degrees in June.

I came outside to listen and learn.

I think some things are boiling out.

  • Defensiveness
  • Labels
  • Incongruent Truths

Grace is like a slotted spoon,

Gentleness, a gear in my transmission,

slowing me down long enough

to hear.

After a week of rain

Jacksonville had a record breaking cool snap of dry air and lower temps, unheard of in June.

Why am I giving a short story as a gift?

Every day I milk a large, verbose cow.

There was a little song my kids learned when they were preschoolers: “What can I give to the king, what can I give to the one who has everything.”  It’s got a contagious earworm of a tune and a sentiment that gets under my skin anytime I’m like a preschooler: feeling small and overwhelmed that anything I could offer up would possibly be of any worth or value. Kings and God-metaphors aside, that little song hits to the center of every creative person’s wrestling mat. Is what we make any good? Is it gift worthy? Would anyone ever want it?

The song’s verse goes on to say we can offer, “a heart that is open wide, a life that has nothing to hide.”

Funny, that. One short poetic children’s lyric lays out the angst of anyone involved in the pursuit of an authentic, open, honest, humble, true life.

It’s not easy keeping a heart open wide. It’s not easy telling the truth about one’s life. And yet, that’s our greatest gift as creative human beings.

For me, that means living the mantra, the line that works equally well for meditation and whining toddlers alike: USE YOUR WORDS.

I can give words. I can use words. I can craft words. It’s how I was made and the older I get, the more I suspect its why I’m here.

Which brings me to last year, the ramp up to Christmas 2015. I wanted to offer something handmade as a gift and that brought me to words. A poem? An essay? Anne Lamott suggests in Bird by Bird that writers have many ways to share their writing beyond traditional publication. She says writers who feel compelled to write should simply do so.

I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.

But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.

And, after you milk the cow, what do you have?  A bucket full of milk. If you do it every day, you have enough milk to drink, to make cheese, soap, butter, chocolate…you start having things to give away.

So, I did last year, I gave away some words. It felt good. Some friends enjoyed my story. One said I didn’t go deeply enough into the psyche’s of my characters. That was helpful feedback for a character writer. I worked hard this year on craft. I finished the 2nd draft of my novel Work In Progress and then took a 2 month break to read. Another story spilled out.

What is this year’s holiday gift?

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

My 2016 annual holiday free short story gift.

This year’s short story gift is about Marjorie James, a woman in her late 70’s reorienting herself after sudden and unwanted change. When her new husband starts stealing her joy, Marjorie discovers her spine.

“A glimpse into an older generation– I think I know these characters!”  -D. Hesterman

My story is a free download, available via email. I hope readers will share it with their friends, will give it away, will pass it on. You can do so by signing up here, by sharing the link, or by sharing the email once you’ve received it.



How Long Should a Novel Be? (and other anxious doubts)

writing

This weekend marked an enormous milestone for me: I completed the first working draft of my novel.

I did not celebrate.

In fact, I cried.

Here’s why.

writing

Set up and digging in for a marathon weekend of writing my novel, “The Perfect Traveler”

I’ve been working on this story for a year now and finished the first structural draft last fall. It had a different working title then- “Where Do We Go From Here?” but a friend of mine has a happy musical number of that same name and it threw off the sound in my head. My story isn’t necessarily happy. It’s a psychological love story between two travelers and it spins off an idea I got from the recent Amazon Kindle ad campaign #haveKINDLEwillTRAVEL. It sometimes gets quite dark. So I changed the title. I also scrapped the back half of the draft last May.

My goal was to get a solid second draft of, “The Perfect Traveler” crafted by the end of September so that I could have a cleaned up third draft ready to show to a professional editor by the end of the year. I hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to try and pitch it to Amazon or not (because it’s fun throwing a pebble into a gianormous ocean to see the ripple effect, right?) or if I just want to self-publish and consider it measurable progress towards my lifetime goal of being a successful novelist.

I take goal setting seriously.

I also take my family, full-time employment, friends and a host of other projects (like #100runningdays and #storyswatch) seriously. The calendar was racing past. I ticked off the squares. I saw the holiday decor hit the stores. Someone threw out there were only 12 more Saturdays until Christmas. I broke into hives of anxiety. I was getting close to a full-on freak-out of failure. And then, miraculously, this weekend opened up.

My kids went to see their dad for the first visit in a long while. My husband went to visit his brothers for a football fest. Three whole days opened up. It was the parting of the Red Sea of Obligations for me to be home alone and write. This. Was. My. Chance.

As you can see in the photo above, I was well fortified. Twizzlers, a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a meatball pizza from my favorite brick oven place, Sour Patch Kids, and coffee. I cleaned the house first (can’t write with a dirty sink) and I shut off all the social media. I hid my phone. As they say, I decided to, “put my butt in the chair and write” until that draft was complete, story told, ready to print and mark up.

6 hours on Friday, 14 on Saturday, 10 on Sunday. I could feel the momentum build. Then, my butt went numb. The deeper I got into the story, the more I was loving it. This is meaningful to me because a few years ago I abandoned a manuscript at the 75% mark after coming to loathe it. This one has good juju. I love my characters. I love seeing the progress I’ve made in cutting unnecessary words. My husband came home as I was finishing the second-to-the-last chapter and I hollered, “Baby! You’d better be ready to celebrate because I’m going to make this deadline!”

Context clue: I get frothy about celebrating milestones. I make them up and I make a big deal out of achieving them. My birthday lasts a full month, my projects all get hashtags, and I rejoice over baby steps.

And then, there it was: the final word at the end of chapter 22. I’d told the story from start to finish. Can we say I’d looked forward to that moment for my entire cognizant life? Yes, we can. It was after dark on Sunday night, the pizza and wine were gone, and I’d hid the rest of the Twizzlers from the kids. Everyone came home. Out of time, I told Scrivener to compile and took a look at the word count.

25,000 words.

Nanowrimo lathers writers into 50,000 word drafts in a month. Standard novels have a suggested length of 80,000. There are notable exceptions like Harry Potter’s bloated lengths and Hemingway’s brevity for Old Man and the Sea. But, for average Jo March’s like me, we have to follow the standard rules of publishing.

I’m really short on words. It’s probably the first time in my life I can say that.

Cue the tears and self-doubt. I wrote harder than I’ve ever written in my life this weekend on something I want more than almost any other life accomplishment. Writing comes right after my kids. Maybe I just don’t have the chops to tell a story well at that length. I have other stories that are long; Nano-drafts that sit near 100k of pure crap. But this time I was sparse on purpose, trying to write clean. An editor will still need room to chop. Doubling my word count is essentially re-doing the entire previous year. It’s like telling the marathon runner, “now turn around and run back.” Most would probably walk away.

Today I’ve worked on processing. My daughter sagely suggested that rather than try to overwrite scenes I worked hard to tell sparsely but completely, I should simply try to add in 25 more scenes. My good friends suggested I take note on the devastation I’m feeling and remember that it’s useful. They threw out titles that are beautifully told in fewer words. A few suggested its a novella. Another said maybe Amazon would even prefer a novella so it can be pitched as a quick travel read on the plane. (One can hope.)

I sent it to print. I’ll be taking Stephen King’s advice later today. My draft, which I still feel so proud and protective of, that I love so very much, will be put into a drawer and set aside for a few weeks. I’m going to read, ruminate, work, keep up my projects, and let some insight steep.

I want my story to be whatever length it needs to be.

Facebook Freewrites

As a way of “killing two birds” I often use my Facebook status as a freewrite prompt. This is usually observation or character mini-study; I also post film reviews in this style. It’s been a good opportunity for casual feedback and I feel better about piddling away time on social media for having been productive.

“Friday, Dear” is a short stanza of status prose. I wrote it after a long week spent inside dealing with dramas I was ready to put behind me for the weekend. I needed some quiet, introverted, restorative time, though the right companion would not have been rejected. As it happened, this was also sort of a prayer and a wish and, it came true.

Friday, Dear, written and posted March 19, 2015

Friday dear, I’d like
a walk in the after-rain air,
in spring time woods,
near trees of many years,
with a friend who is fine being quiet.

 

Incidentally, I have my freewrites set to public and use the hashtags #5minutewritingpractice and #fbfreewrite. I invite participation in elevating the medium into a place to practice.

 

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

Seasons of Change

The featured image is my curled parsley, a mammoth plant next to a few others that actually took off and grew this winter. There are a few herbs I’ve never grown well in Florida and lo, and behold, all they seem to have needed is the right season.

Three varieties of Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Dill, and Oregano….all stunted, bolted, and dry in the spring, summer, and fall, found their glory in the winter. Who knew?

Probably a bunch of real gardeners, that’s who.

I’m going through some changes too. I’m working full time outside of the house for the first time in 20 years, launching 2 of my kids- one as expected and one too abruptly for comfort- and closed my freelance business. I’m re-positioning my time, attitudes, resources, and energies into the way life has changed this year, the way I expect it to need to be for the next several, and the way I want it to be when the next page turns.

I’m giving myself some stuff too.

  • I’m making my writing dream the recipient of the web-business knowledge I’ve accrued over the years.
  • To the start of every business day, I give to my writing practice my first energy, my first hour.
  • In order to devote time to craft, I’m giving my commute: an hour or two spent each day in the car.
  • Under, “if you build it, they will come”, I’m giving my business website to my name, to my hopes that one day I’ll have books in print and platform to promote them.
  • I made my movie and food reviews public, as well as my more writerly status updates, because its time to be brave and put my writing out there again.

I’m investing in my dream by taking action steps. Like the parsley planted  in a different season that took of when the elements were right, I hope my words do the same.