Tag Archives: Jan O’Hara

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?

Curiosity, Minus the Cat

Writers, by nature, are curious people.

We are always searching for the who and the where and the what, digging up answers from our psyche – or the psyche of an imagined character – to create story after story.

We question other writers, too, asking How do you do it? How do you survive the absence of your muse? What do you say to someone who doesn’t write, who rolls their eyes to find you hiding in the basement – again – huddled over your laptop?

How do you spend your days? We want to know. To answer this very question, Cynthia Newberry Martin hosts a guest author once a month. Every bit of detail I read in those posts either inspires me or connects with me in such a way that I find the confidence I need (yet again) to call myself a Writer.

So, it should be no surprise that writers get tagged now and then with three questions or twenty-five or (this time) eight. Suzanne Conboy-Hill and Ann M. Lynn both tagged me, and it’s taken me way too long to respond. I can whip out a flash fiction story in half a day. But, ask me something about myself, something I should be able to answer easy enough, and the first response you’ll hear are crickets.

“Me?” *nervous laughter*

SO, here are eight tidbits of information about me, along with links to three other writers whom you might want to check out for yourself. No formal tagging here – I took too long, game’s over I’m sure – just simple recognition.

And, thanks Suzanne and Ann, for the questions!

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have?

Telepathy. There, I said it.

I won’t lie. I obsess about every submission I send out. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know the second an agent or an editor picks up my submission with their very own hands?

Yes or No. Yes or No. One flash of a thought in their minds, and I’m on my way – to strangle my muse or to celebrate. No wait times, no checking and re-checking the inbox, no more stalking the postman.

2. Who is your style icon?

If we’re talking wardrobes, then I’m in trouble.

For fashion guidance, I depend on the goodness of my friends. Friends with money and with taste. I accept hand-me-downs without hesitation, because – left to my own devices – I am a fashion disaster. So, if you see me wearing something sassy and in style, you can assume I got it from a friend.

3. What is your favorite quote?

It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite quote. There are so many great ones that I love about life and about writing. I latch on to one quote that strikes me on a particular day, but the same quote might not mean as much to me the next day. So, here’s one I’m holding onto this week from Mary McNamara’s recent article in the Los Angeles Times:

…[I]f you’re a writer, you don’t write for money or fame or a chance to dish with Oprah Winfrey. Basically, you write because when you’re not writing, you’re even more cranky than when you are writing.

Yep.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

“Ever?” I have a terrible memory. That’s one reason why I write — because I forget the things I insist on remembering. Recently, though, my favorite compliment came from my daughter who’s almost four.

“You look beautiful,” she said. Her eyes traced my outfit from head to toe.

She ignored the three blemishes on my face that might suggest I’m fifteen and not forty. Then, she stopped at my feet and gave me the eye.

“Except for your shoes,” she said.

She’s anti-Birkenstocks, and her comment reinforces my answer to number two above. Left to my own devices….

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

Every year, Fall throws me into a melancholy mood. One of the ways I survive that mood is to play lilting music that rises and falls and lifts and carries. Ingrid Michaelson has been on my mind a lot. But the other day, this song struck my fancy:

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

A night owl. Late night hours are the most quiet times at my house. Plus, I’m just lazy before the sun comes up.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

To this I say Achoo!” and “Pass the Claritin.” I love them both — from a distance.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I am forever running out of time. When I decided I wanted to pursue my writing for real, I knew I would have to do it during those moments in between — moments that are fleeting as soon as they start some days. And, I like hard and fast deadlines.

There you have it, more than you wanted to know. Now, along with Suzanne and Ann, here are three more writers whose blogs I read and tweets I follow — for inspiration, for lessons in the craft, and/or for a good laugh:

I’m off now, to practice my telepathy.

I’m sending you messages right now to leave a comment and retweet this post (stack those stats).

Just kidding.

(Sort of.)
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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?
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