Writing is action, and my body feels it.

After several months of crazy making stress and poor sleep (thank you cancer!), I finally had a few hours to concentrate on writing. I had outlined this new project, but had zero time to concentrate and write actual scenes. But yesterday, I wrote for two and a half glorious, painful, difficult, wonderful hours. My hands cramped, my vision blurred, and my stomach knotted from all that coffee, but in the end, I had 750 lovely words.

Yes, 750 words in 2 and a half hours. Not exactly what you’d call productivity, but still… I wrote!

I wrote actual words on my lap top and filled in the rough draft of chapter one of a brand new project. My brain strained with the effort, shaking off apathy and searching for writing skills I’d allowed to atrophy. With each word I typed, I felt more myself. A writer.

But after 2 and a half hours my hands ached and I was forced to stop. That night I had pain in my arms and the following day pain in my shoulders. I’m not used to sitting still, concentrating hard, for that length of time. You might think writing is only a cerebral activity, but writing includes arm muscles, hand muscles, straining eyes and a numb butt. Just like any activity, you have to work up to the marathon hours.

I’m eager to lock myself away somewhere for several days and write. First, I need to work my body up to that much typing and writing. Today, i am in training. I’m writing the rough draft of my new novel. Painful, awful… even the writing is strained. In a few months, I’ll be ready to put in hours each day on the first draft. That is my favorite time. Writing hour after hour until I enter the zone. That’s what I call bliss.

Friday Night Writes

There’s a group on Twitter called Write Club (#writeclub), organized by Friday Night Writes (@FridayNightWrites). It’s helped me get a lot of writing done. There’s something about sitting at your computer writing in a room all alone while knowing that across the “Twitterverse” others are doing the exact same thing. It feels good, like your writing group is a thousand people and instead of critiquing each other’s work, you’re working together and cheering each other on. Write! Keep going! Get your word count up! You can do it! The writing sprints are 30 minutes long with a 10 minute break during which we “put down our pens” and report our word count. Of course it’s the honor system, because there’s no way to know if the guy reporting 800 words is telling the truth. He could be. I once did a writing sprint that produced over 700 words in 30 minutes. Not sure how many were actually any good, though. If your lounging in your PJ’s some Friday night with nothing to do but watch reruns of “Friends”, hop over to Twitter and get some writing in. A cocktail while you write is highly recommended. In fact, I wonder if it would be fun to take my laptop to the bar with WiFi on a Friday night and write while drinking a martini? Who wants to join me?

How do I start writing a memoir?

Recently I was asked if I had any pointers for starting a memoir. As a matter of fact I do. 

First, you need to know what your book is about. I’m not being snarky. It is vitally important that you know from page one what your book’s purpose is. The book shouldn’t just be about you. Your story needs to resonate with total strangers. Your story is about something bigger than you; you are simply the catalyst for the story. 

Think of your favorite memoirs. Why are they a favorite? Could you understand the writer’s struggle? Identify with it? Did you care about the writer and cheer for her? 

That’s what you want to happen with your own memoir; your story needs to capture the imagination of people you don’t know. How do you do that?

Write what your book is about. It might be easier to write a description in the third person instead of writing about yourself. Use several pages to write down all your ideas, then work toward narrowing it down to only a paragraph. When you understand what your book is really about, then you can imagine who your reader is and why that person will care about your story. Describe her needs and hopes. 

As you write your memoir you will re-read this exercise to help you stay on track. Your memoir is you personal story, but that story will have greater meaning for your readers. If you write something that doesn’t reflect what the book is about, cut. But don’t make things up! Readers want honesty. Vulnerability. Blood. 

Fiction is so much easier to write. 

If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission

This is an image and quote from Eddie Colla. For more information, go to his webiste

Eddie Colla’s image is on my laptop as a reminder. I spend so much time doubting myself. Making excuses. If only I had the time, resources, money… What do I know? I don’t even have an MFA.

Enough.

Time to accept the truth that I am hiding behind poor self esteem and the only way to gain confidence is to try. I have a lot of knowledge and experience in publishing, editing and writing and it is time to trust myself. And so, I am actively seeking more editing clients as well as people who need a book shepherd. Plus, I’m collaborating with two other writing professionals to create something exciting that should help struggling writers. I’m looking for more teaching and speaking engagements. And I’m finally publishing my book on creating a publishing company. How ridiculous to write a book on self-publishing and then not publish it!

I’m never going to get over my insecurities and shyness, so I might as well accept that fact and go for it. I feel… no… I know I have the ability to help others.

So, what’s stopping you? What are you afraid of? Why are you hiding your own, unique and wonderful voice? Like I said, the fear doesn’t go away, but it gets easier to ignore.

Disneyland is for Writers

My daughter is a Disney fanatic. We go every year, and tomorrow we’re going again. It is the one place on Earth my daughter is truly, 100%, over-the-top happy. It is also the perfect place for a person with disabilities. The staff are attentive and supportive and make her feel like she is part of the Disney World. I would take her every month if I could just so she could keep that wonderful smile on her face. And I would gather even more material for my books.

I am not a Disney fanatic. I enjoy it there, mostly because my daughter is so happy. But if she hadn’t fallen in love with Disney Princesses at age 6 I would never have gone. In fact, I was opposed to Disney and it’s money making machine of animation and theme parks. What kind of role model was Cinderella for my daughter? But Cinderella is who my child adored and so Cinderella we would find. At Disneyland.

We have been back every year.

I love the decorations, the characters, the scenery, and the shows. And I love people watching. If you need examples of every pure emotional state known to humans, go to Disneyland. You will see joy, romantic love, anger, frustration, fear and misery. Six year olds fall to the ground in utter despair while their overwhelmed parents plead, beg and finally yell. Adults squeal in delight when Mickey Mouse shakes their hand. Couples clutch each other in terror on the rides.

There is enough melodrama at Disneyland to fill five volumes of Bronte inspired literature.

When you pack for your trip to Disneyland, bring a note book and several pens. You’re going to need them to write down all the fantastic scenes a trip to Disneyland will inspire. Take note of how people physically behave when excited. How do adults behave when exhausted? What does a person look like when their expectations have been destroyed?

While your family is busy chasing Princess dreams, you can chase characters for your next book.

One breath at a time? Of course, but first I need to study, clean, investigate and doubt myself.

Why is it so impossible for me to sit still? Is there such a thing as creative ADHD? I think I managed to focus on breathing for two days before my brain went back to habitual overthinking. So many questions to solve. Should I get a PHD? How can I help Medusa’s Muse grow? Do I keep publishing books, or stop? How can I find more editing clients? Do I need neck surgery? What is the name of the yellow moth in my front yard? On and on my brain goes, adding to a list of possibilities and defeats. If I’m not tackling a problem or creating something, I feel itchy.

That is why I forced myself to stop. For two weeks, I made myself climb out of my head and only do things that required moving my body. No writing. At first I felt guilty. Then, I felt relief.

Hyper-creative people forget the importance of rest. Driven by the need to express our inner selves, we burn bright and fast. And then we drop. Once we’ve used up all our energy, depression sets in because our thoughts are still rushing while our body is not. Or we try in vain to capture the right word to make the scene perfect, only to discover we don’t have the energy to type.

This is what I learned while forcing myself to stop: I will never run out of creative energy. In fact, if I rest my body, my creativity burns brighter.

Try it. Set down that pen, close the journal, shut down the lap top and go outside. Spend 7 full days doing nothing that requires you to be creatively productive. Instead of writing, make a collage. Work in your garden. Go for a long walk and absorb the sites, sounds and smells of your community. Cook. Read a book. But do not write. When you finish your seven days, you will discover your clarity and creativity has improved.

Right now is the perfect time to try it. NanoWrimo is next month.

Summer, bored kid, publishing, and no time to write

My fingers feel tight as I stretch my hands outward, forcing the muscles to loosen. There is a large spot of something sticky on my computer screen; is it a mocha splash from last Spring? I blow dust off my keyboard and sneeze. How long has it been since I’ve written anything?

Every summer is the same: my daughter is out of school and bored. She and I try to find things to do in this small town. Because of her disability, going outside in 95 degree weather is impossible. While other kids swim, hike, go to camp, or ride bikes, my daughter hides from the heat and counts down the days until school starts. We do our best to have fun by doing crafts and escaping to the city as often as possible. At least in the city there’s an air conditioned shopping mall, aka Mecca for teenage girls.

At last, school started. My daughter is happier, and I can write again.

Ebook cover 978-0-9797152-2-8

Besides being a full time, busy mom all summer, I also launched a new book through my press, Medusa’s Muse. Publishing takes as much concentration and energy as writing, and this book seemed to take even more. All summer, I struggled with printing problems, last minute manuscript issues, legal questions, and budget constraints. Shannon Drury and I worked hard marketing her book, and then just when the book launched and all seemed smooth sailing, Shannon broke her wrist. Not a fun way celebrate the launch of a first book. But the book is alive and slowly gaining readers. I am so proud of Shannon’s book and my part in creating it. It was my most challenging book so far and I learned a lot, but I am so excited about this book I would do it all over again.

My daughter left for school on the bus this morning. I pour myself more coffee and return to this long ignored blog. Now, what shall I write about…?

The Writing Process – a blog tour

Thank you so much Natasha Yim for inviting me to the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s fascinating to learn about each writer’s creative process. Click the link to Natasha’s blog and learn more about her process. Then follow the links backward for some great insights on writing.

But first, read my responses to the writing process questions.

1) What Are You Working On?

Currently I’m writing a middle grade fantasy chapter book for Goosebottom Press, but I’m sworn to secrecy on the exact subject. Let’s just say it’s about a really feisty girl with the power to change the universe. I’m also writing another play, this time set in the 1980’s. This new play is more dramatic than my previous two plays, but will still have plenty of comedy.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Writing for middle grade readers is a new adventure for me, one I’m really enjoying. After reading several middle grade books to familiarize myself with the language and nuances of the genre, I’ve learned that middle grade readers are more savvy and sophisticated than I realized. Your average 11 year old loves a scary scene. Maybe we can thank Harry Potter for that. I can’t really say how different my work is, because I’m still learning. All I know is that I love writing for this age group and hope to write more books.

Now, if you want to ask me about my plays, the number one thing that makes my work different is that I typically write more parts for women actors than men. It is a common complaint in the theater that plays seem to be written for and about men. Unfortunately there are far more actresses looking for parts than actors, so competition for good parts is horrible. I decided to do something about that. Plus, having a background in drama helps me create plays that provide theater companies what they need: parts for women and simple sets. Most of my plays take place in one setting, which means a theater company can save money on scenery design, or go full out on one set.

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was a child, Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author. I devoured her books! When I grew up and started writing, I longed to write for that age group (middle grade) and explore some of those darker subjects. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

I started writing plays because I’m lazy. Writing description is hard for me, but dialogue is easy, so I followed my strengths and discovered I can create great stories with just people talking. And it helps me finally use my BA in drama.

4) How does your writing process work?

Typically, I start with a situation. I’ll get an idea about people in a setting and one of them wants something from the other. But at first, I don’t know who the people are. So I’ll start writing the scene, just letting the language lead the way. Suddenly, one of the characters will take center stage and her desires will become clearer. I’ll hear her voice in my head and once I have that, the plot develops. Now the real writing can start. Occasionally I might discover that the character I’m following isn’t actually the main character. A different character will take charge and the story might go a direction I didn’t imagine. How do I keep any control over this chaos of my imagination? By focusing on my original idea, that one scene that started it all. If I write too far from that original point then I know I have a new story and I have to decide to pursue it, or go back. But generally, the first image is so strong it guides me.

I don’t like too much of an outline at first; I like to follow the characters. Once I have a very clear idea of who all these people are and what they want,  I’ll plot the scenes. Ultimately, there has to be a story, not just characters interacting.

Before I even brush my teeth, I write in the morning for an hour. If I start doing anything else before I write, I won’t write at all that day. I’m also a mom and a publisher, so those two jobs take a lot of my time. If I say, “I’ll just start the laundry before I write,” I will start doing other things “for a minute before I write.” Then my writing time is gone. Let the laundry wait. Write!

The blog tour continues on June 9th with writers Shannon Drury and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Follow the links in their bios to visit their websites and next week you can read their answers to the Writing Process questions too. 

SHANNON DRURY is a writer, at-home parent, and feminist activist. She writes a regular column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and served six years as the president of Minnesota NOW. Her book, The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, will be published by Medusa’s Muse Press August, 2014. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI writes horror, erotica and sci-fi/fantasy. She is the author of the novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo” (Del Rey/Random House), “Private Pleasures” (Renaissance), and “Rhapsody in Snakeskin” (Renaissance), a collection of poetry/short fiction. She is the co-founder of the horror/spec fic literary venture “Body Parts Magazine.” Her experimental prose/poetry piece, “mice,” will be published in the spring 2014 issue of Canada’s “Existere Journal.” In May 2014, she participated in a 10-day artists’ residency and festival in Romania, where she dined with the mayor of Borsec and read her locally-inspired poem “The Truth about Decay in Transilvania” in English and Romanian. She’s recently completed a poetry chapbook “The Atmospheric Mysteries of a Steaming Corpse” and is the recipient of the Anitoch Los Angeles Library Research Prize for her critical paper “Redefining Utopia: How Feminist Utopian Literature Can Serve as a Model for Creating Workable Futures.” Originally from Denver, CO, she lives in Southern California with her children and her partner. Visit her at www.IceSong.com and www.facebook.com/kirstenimanikasai.

And for fun, write your own responses and post them here as a comment, or on your own blog. I’d love to learn more about your writing. 

Research counts as writing, right?

For the past three months, I’ve been immersed in research for a new writing project. I’ve spent many happy hours exploring the culture, history, mythology, language, terrain and daily life of a society I knew very little about, until now. I can’t tell you what  the subject of all this research is about because I’m sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you that the subject thrills me to my creative core.

Unfortunately, my love of research has led to an absolute abandonment of writing; even my blog has suffered. I eat, breath, dream, and drink the world of my newest book project. I hear the language in my dreams. The civilization died thousands of years ago, but they are as alive to me as my own neighbors.

I can spend every day for months in a library surrounded by dusty books on a single subject and not lose my mind. Or maybe I do? Do other people love research as much as I? In grad school, I loved my thick text books and all the knowledge they contained. I read chapters I didn’t have to, just because I was curious to find out what they were about.

Imagine me, a pale, too thin woman wearing thick glasses and an oversized sweater huddled over a book with such fragile pages I have to read them wearing cotton gloves. The room is dark, except for the brilliant light from the lamp on my table. My tea is cold and my leg has fallen asleep, but I can’t stop reading. I can’t stop learning.

Others might find it a nightmare. Why would anyone want to spend their whole life in a library? But to me, that sounds like heaven. There are a million stories in the library, and a million more waiting to be written.

I missed my calling; I should have been a research librarian.

But it’s time to set my books aside and write down what I’ve learned. It’s time to craft a story out of all these fragments of facts. Have I learned enough to make my characters breath again? We’ll see.

Permission to Rest

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to rest? I mean lie on the couch with a good book kind of rest. Or take a leisurely walk with no particular destination in mind, without the dog, kind of rest. If you’re a parent, the “slow days of summer” is a myth, one you wish you had the time and money to live in. But now the kids are back in school, the days are still hot, the sun still bright, and the garden is bursting with produce. Before you roll up your sleeves to vacuum the last of the sand out of the mini-van, think about what rest means to you.

For me, rest is stopping all outgoing energy, including creative energy. Trying to care for my daughter while writing two books and editing another, running Medusa’s Muse, and marketing books, all while injured, was crazy making. I resented my daughter at home all the time, resented the heat that kept us in the house most of the time, resented the hours spent trying to manage the everyday chaos of home and family. My lap top sat idle, my stress load increased, and my sense of claustrophobia got so bad I started throwing out every book and knick-knack in my bedroom (throwing out books? unheard of!).

While grabbing one precious hour of writing time at the cafe, I opened my lap top and heard a loud “crack”. The hinge on my computer had snapped. Carefully I tried propping the screen up, but it kept slipping backwards. I wanted to cry. My husband, a computer tech, examined it and pronounced it unfixable. My most important tool and toy had just died.

Without money to buy a new laptop, I was forced to stop working. No more editing or blogging or revisions for me. But a funny thing happened while I was being depressed, I also felt a surprising sense of relief. Writing was impossible for several weeks, so during that time I found art projects to do with my daughter, read one of the books I’d been longing to start but had “no time,” and nurtured my pumpkin patch. My heart rate slowed and the tension in my neck relaxed. All of my self-imposed deadlines fell away.

Once I had the cash, I bought a new laptop. My daughter started the 12th grade. My days were still busy, but I had the ability to concentrate on writing again. Claustrophobia was replaced with an opened mind filled with fresh ideas.

We artists spend all of our energy on our art; even when we’re taking care of our children or working at our jobs, more than half of our brain power is spent imagining new ways to create. Rest for me is not simply about relaxing my body, I also need to relax my mind and let go of the need to keep writing. The world will not end if I’m unable to write a new play by Christmas. At least I hope not.

And I gotta say, I am madly in love with my new MacBook Air.