Tag Archives: Writer Unboxed

Sunday Discoveries

Found, in the freezer at our local grocery store:

Packer Country

Kemps Touchdown Sundae. Vanilla ice cream with a hint of fudge swirl and small treasures of chocolate footballs (complete with a caramel filling). It’s egg-free, nut-free, but not sugar-free, and it’s perfect for a rambunctious about-to-be-a-fourth-grader boy who’s trying to “beef up” for the school year.

Found, in my local library:

A Memoir after my own heart. Because reading food labels, on everything from ice cream to bread, is more about bypassing a trip to the ER than counting calories for me.

If you stand in the middle of the grocery aisle and study ingredients, or if the mention of a “pot luck dinner” makes you break out into a cold sweat, read this book. Sandra Beasley’s memoir touches on every aspect of food allergies, from the perspective of the allergic, those who care for someone with allergies, and even the research and science behind allergies.  I can’t say enough about how much I love, LOVE, this book. I have it on loan right now, but I want a copy for myself. I want to slip it onto my son’s nightstand in a few more years, when he’s too big for me to check his pockets for his Epi-Pen.

Found, in my schedule for fall:

Not enough time (27/365)Time. I was glad (ever-so-slightly) last Monday when my day job kicked in, and not just because my mornings and evenings became more predictable. As I considered my start and end times and my work schedule unfolded, my day planner revealed a secret: little pockets of time to myself each day. The impossibility of it all was matched with a dose of guilt, so I closed my calendar quick. Afraid to breathe. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but if you’re a mother and a writer, you know the value of any uninterrupted time (and the power in a second of guilt).

Free time is there, though. I’ve double checked.

Found, on Writer Unboxed:

Twitter Bird SketchTwo great posts by Nina Badzin on the Art and Science of Twitter, Part 1 and Part 2.

If you’re new to Twitter, and even if you’re not new, these posts are a must-read. Because when you suddenly discover a pocket of time, you don’t want to waste it on Social Networking. Nina Badzin explains how to make Twitter work for you, so that you can get back to work, doing what you love best.

What’s new in your kitchen, on your shelves, or in your reader?

Maybe If I Had Those Boots: A List, Linda Carter, and Letting Go

I am a listmaker, a planner, and a victim of my own high expectations. I began the summer by designing a hefty writing goal: finish the current draft of my novel by the end of June. Even now, as I type those words, the task seems like it should have plausible. Easy. But, after only two weeks into my summer vacation, I realized I wouldn’t reach that goal.

Couldn’t reach it.

Headaches ensued, followed by a case of the “poor me’s,” and soon those clouds in the sky that lingered well past their welcome meant more than just rain.

“It’s summer, for crying out loud,” I complained to a friend. “Life is good. Why do I feel so bad?”

My friend suggested I write another list, a different one, a list of every expectation I set for myself. Later, when I read it back to her, she pointed out an interesting theme, so that I understood the skewed vision I had, of me:

Linda Carter could kick a novel into submission in no time, and have dinner on the table by six o’clock. She could swim the deep ocean to rescue a sinking sub and then surface, lipstick and mascara (and sanity) in tact. But I’m not Linda Carter. My hair gives way two minutes into a workout, and those bullet-deflecting bracelets are useless against the snide remarks of that committee in my head.

Making that list of expectations was quite a revelation, from a personal point of view and a writer’s perspective. I can’t do everything I set out to do, and that’s okay. So now, I have two new goals: relax and just be –

Present.

Amanda Hoving talks about similar revelations in a recent post on her blog. Yes, time is ticking away, but that I don’t need to drive myself crazy or beat myself up.

Wise words came from a few other folks, too, words that help keep me grounded, lately:

1) Comments on a recent post of my own, which reiterate I am not alone in my struggle to complete a novel, and that perhaps I could consider that story as a shorter work (there’s that perspective bit again).

2) Passages from Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, a great book for writers with just an idea or with an unfinished draft in hand. Early on in her book, she says something that speaks directly to me, in how I work my draft and (apparently) in how I plan my days:

Don’t make lists…lists tie you down to having events happen in a certain order, and this is not the time for you to be deciding that.

Lists do help me get organized. But, like every asset, making lists quickly swings to a defect when that particular action takes me down into a feeling of failure. Morris knows this, and she offers several tasks for writers that help move a novel forward, without obsessing over the mantra, “I should be doing this, or that, by now.”

3) Jan O’Hara’s recent post on Writer Unboxed, a poignant essay on letting go, relaxing, and embracing the kind of writing that feeds your spirit. She says:

I’ve noticed a tendency for writers to devalue their natural talents, perhaps because the writing can feel easier. (Not “easy”, because writing is seldom that.)  Sometimes I think we are so used to telling stories about struggle, we believe that’s the only way to exist. If it isn’t hard, it doesn’t count. If we aren’t wrung out by the process, it can’t contain much worth.

Go read Jan’s essay. Then, set out – or head back – to do what you love.

Speaking of, just for today, this is what I’m doing:

  • Using Morris’ book to push my story draft towards the finish (whether that be 80,000 words or 40,000), but not panicking if that happens at a much slower rate.
  • Writing and revising flash fiction (maybe even putting them into a collection), because that’s a genre I enjoy, and one in which I feel I can succeed.

Linda Carter can keep her boots.

What high expectations can you let go of today?

How a Middle School Track Meet Informed My Writing

In the seventh grade, I signed up for athletics. I lasted for one season (skinny, asthmatic kids are better suited for things like Drama), but I stayed long enough to experience a powerful moment.

After one look, and a few practices into the school year, the coaches figured out that I was C-team material. I was too short to spike a volleyball and couldn’t complete an overhand serve if my popularity depended on it (which it did). I was easily run over in basketball and was given an alternate uniform that screamed “sub.” During games, I took my seat at the bench. But during each practice, I did the drills and ran the laps. When track season rolled around, Coach Lewis looked at me and said “long distance runner.” He signed me up for the 400 meter race.

We didn’t practice with Coach Lewis often during track season, which made him all the more intimidating when he did show up on the field. He barked orders, shouted praise, laughed once in a while. On a particularly chilly Saturday morning at a track meet, he said the one sentence that has stuck with me ever since.

“Quit your coughin’, Craig!”

Cold weather aggravates asthma, and during the middle of the 400 meter event, I started wheezing, sputtering, slowing down. I jogged in the outside lane. Coach Lewis didn’t like that. He walked up to the chain link fence that surrounded the track, stuck his head out like a snapping turtle, and hollered.

“Quit your coughin’, Craig!”

I was shocked. Had he forgotten I had asthma? Where was the sympathy? Too scared to stop and ask him, I picked up the pace. I took the deepest breaths I could manage and the longest strides my chicken legs would take. I merged into the inside lane, rounded the last turn, and passed that tall girl with the mean eyes. I focused on the white lines that marked my lane and tuned into the sound of my shoes hitting the asphalt of the track. I pushed myself, into fourth place, earning a ribbon and a big boost of confidence.

“Quit your coughin’, Craig!”

Coach Lewis’ words flashed through my mind last week as I experienced the same shortness of breath and sluggish feeling. This time, it wasn’t my asthma slowing me down, though, it was fear. I had reached a familiar point in my novel draft, the place in the story where ideas  scatter and plot weakens, the moment where I stare at the blank screen and worry if what I write next will kill the energy in the work.

Barbara O’Neal calls that place “The Slough of Despond.” In her post on Writer Unboxed, O’Neal says:

This is the [place] on the old maps, the murky, muddy spot where quicksand sucks at the feet and demons overtake the heart.

I’ve been here before, with this same story. In the past, I’ve faltered and quit – full stop – and gone back to the beginning to rework chapter one. But, this time is different. I’ve got Coach Lewis breathing down my neck. And, I have a few other incentives to keep me moving forward.

1. The Radio. I recently read my story, “Red Velvet Sunday,” on WUWM’s Lake Effect program (click here to listen). Nothing makes you feel more like a writer than answering questions about the craft and having the honor of reading your work to a new audience. The experience was like a shot of adrenaline, and it was a reminder that good things do happen, usually at just the right time — like during a writing lull when you wonder if you’ve got it in you to succeed.

2. Jody Hedlund. In her post, “How to Beat the Fear of Being a One Book Wonder,” she talks about old self-doubts that resurfaced while writing her second novel. Her thoughts on how to move through those fears apply to writers at any phase.

3. Ira Glass. In his video on storytelling (part 1) (the link found via a post from Jane Friedman on Writer Unboxed), he talks about “the anecdote” as a sequence of actions that move a story forward one moment at a time. That’s how I can get through this next section so that, as Barbara O’Neal says, I’ll “eventually…have a finished draft. To rewrite. So goes the game.”

How about you? What memorable moments keep you from coughing and sputtering your way to “I quit?”

Coach Lewis

Me, bottom right corner, finisher.

A Baker’s Dozen of Links for Writers

It’s the season of sweets, gift giving, and toasting to a new year.

So, from me to you…

…A Baker’s Dozen of links to articles, interviews, and posts from this last year that have inspired me to write, reaffirmed my commitment to write, or changed my perspective when I write.

1-5. Stocking Stuffer posts by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (at The Bookshelf Muse) on:

Each post offers five simple tips that will help you tighten up your writing and/or strengthen your story.

6. Lynn Capehart’s article in The Writer on inclusionary writing. I won’t ever look at character descriptions the same again.

7. Lydia Sharp’s post on the Difference between inciting incident and catalyst. This post, along with a great first chapter critique I won over at Becky Levine’s blog, helped me reshape the first chapter of my novel and set my story on track again.

8-11. Author interviews I’ve had the honor to conduct, in which authors share the story behind the story, offer insights into the challenges of historical fiction and research, or talk about the passion behind their characters:

I’m looking forward to several more author interviews this year from Cathryn Grant (whose debut novel, The Demise of the Soccer Moms, will be published as an e-book in January), from Danielle Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, a wonderful collection of short stories), and from Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters, due to be released April 12, 2011).

12. Kristen Lamb’s post on the Writer Reality Check. “Takes guts to be a writer,” Kristen says, and she lists some realistic expectations for those of us who want to make writing more than just a fun little hobby.

13. A call to action from Writer Unboxed for all Writers to Pay It Forward. “Paying it forward is something we can all do because no matter where we are in our writing careers, there’s always someone just one step behind, hungry to learn.” Much of the time, I’m the one a few steps behind. I could not grow without the encouragement, support, and wisdom from writers who are further along than me, and I can’t fully embrace those lessons until I pass them on to someone else.

There you are! Happy New Year, my friends!

May your days be full of writing and your muse be close at hand.

Writing is Looking Back and Moving Forward

Goodbye summer.

This week, I return to my day job after a summer-long hiatus. I don’t like change, so even a slight shake-up of routine sent me straight to my journal the other day.

As I scribbled down all my anxieties, I realized that the entry I wrote was all too similar to the one I wrote in May – when my day job ended and my summer promised two kids at home – all day – and absolutely no routine. The list from May to August differed in a few details, but the big question remained the same: When will I find time to write?

One thing’s for sure, I’m a consistent worrier.

It’s the endless plight of any writer with a day job or a mother writer with kids. What I’ve found though – in looking back on the last few months – is that as much as I worry about not having time to write, I still end up with a stack of essays and stories in the end. Too bad those essays or stories have little to do with the “big one.” I’ve tucked my novel draft and notes under my arm and carried them from room to room with me all summer. They even traveled with me on vacations. But, I’ve pushed through only a few more pages of that draft.

Still, I’ve been writing, even when time was tight. And, that’s better than not writing at all.

In considering my slow-moving novel, I thought of Jan O’Hara’s recent post on Writer Unboxed where she mentioned wise words from Donald Maass, heard at the RWA Nationals:

If possible, resist the push to rapid production. A good story well told means an audience willing to wait. Reward their loyalty with quality.

Maass’s words do little to ease my worries that I will oversleep tomorrow and show up late (or worse – unshowered) for first day back at work. But, his advice reminds me that writing is simply moving forward — inch by inch, page by page.

Looking back from May to August, I see small steps in progress and moments of synchronicity, when little burning bushes signaled that I can be (and am) a writer. In spite of tight schedules, posts were written, stories were submitted, and connections with other writers were made.

I can view my day job as a  burden that takes me away from writing (though that paycheck and health insurance lightens the load). Or, I can see it as an opportunity: new routines force me to schedule more succinct writing times.

I did it once; I can do it again.

What inspiration have you found in looking back on your writing?

Drumroll, Please….

Therese Walsh

Last Friday, I posted a Q&A interview with author, Therese Walsh on her novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, and on her writing process. She offered great insight on setting, research, and three keys to succeeding as a writer. If you missed the interview, you can still read it here.

Thank you to everyone who left comments. I hope, if you didn’t know of Walsh’s work already, you discovered another great author to watch. You can keep up to date with Therese Walsh by bookmarking her website and following her on Twitter. You’ll also find more great articles from her on Writer Unboxed.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for….

I asked my son this morning to help me choose a winner. He shuffled the pieces of paper with the names of all who wanted to be included in the contest, closed his eyes, and pulled from the pile: rr smythe.

Congratulations! You are the lucky recipient of a hardcover copy of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, a finalist in the RWA’s 2010 RITA Award for Best First Book. I hope you love the story as much as I did. An email requesting your address is headed your way. If you don’t hear from me within 24 hours, you can track me down at writeunderpressure(at)gmail(dot)com.

And, a special thanks to Therese Walsh for your generosity, kindness, and willingness to share your wisdom. We all look forward to your next novel!