Making Time to Write

I have to make time because this is what I do. Or at least what I tell my husband I do all day. But let’s just say the laundry doesn’t fold themselves.

Right now I am knee deep in National Novel Writing Month (NANO) – writing about three thousand words a day, on average (I did have one stellar day when I wrote six chapters and over 7k words before breakfast). So far, I’m just over 40k words with less than 10k to go before November 30th. I’m confident I’ll succeed at the NANO challenge – the first draft, on the other hand, is a special sauce kind of awful. But that’s okay too. I am actually beginning to love rewriting because then I get to see rainbows and an occasional unicorn flying overhead instead of choppy, awkward dialogue and cheesy narrative so common with a first draft.

But my novel for NANO isn’t the only thing I’m working on. I have two rewrites/edits happening on two novels, one contemporary and one historical. I have my weekly goal of sending out at least five queries so that means there are articles to write as well when I get a green light. Then I have a handful of other projects. Like, a children’s book. And a cookbook. And a couple of non-fiction books (but to be fair, I am just gathering research and information and shoving it all in the file folders until I have enough information to actually form a substantial book). I have many books in line to be rewritten/edited. I have short little pieces with pesky little deadlines that require my time. And of course there is all the research and reading that piles up fast.

A friend asked me, “Why do you have so much on your plate? Wouldn’t it better to just work on one thing?”

I think the answer to that is, “Because I’m crazy and definitely!” it would definitely be easier if I had only one thing on my plate. But here’s the thing. I thrive on the variety of projects. I look forward to touching different projects each week or day or month. I tried, believe me, to do the one project at a time technique and I struggled. After awhile I stopped working on the project altogether because it began to bore me. I just need the variety. It’s all about the spice of life, folks.

But I’m not gonna lie. There are plenty of distractions in my day. Like when my son calls me to tell me he left his ID at home and he won’t be able to get to his off campus class without it. Or when I walk by the laundry room and the laundry shoot door is so full it won’t close. Then there is morning television, or as I call it, The Kiss Of Death. Luckily, I TiVo whatever I want to watch but occasionally I’ll flip on the news to catch the weather or something and then I’m stuck listening to clever gift ideas for your friends for Christmas and a hundred ways to cook a turkey. And before I realize it, I’ve sat engrossed for forty minutes. I also have a crazy Beagle who occasionally needs to go out so much I think she is hooking up with a cute Golden Retriever near the fence and sharing a stolen bag of treats.

Sometimes I’m surprised at how much I can get done in a day despite the distractions.

Here’s what works for me.

I have a list of all my ongoing projects with detailed steps of what needs to be done before it is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher. Some projects have thirteen or more steps – anything from writing an outline, conducting interviews, editing, researching, and filing. I just break down every little step so the chance of getting overwhelmed by the enormity of a project is reduced.

Then, all projects get what I like to call a “soft deadline”. I don’t know about you but deadlines, even soft ones, seem to work for motivating me and keeping me on track and slightly less scattered. I need to see that there is something pressing. The only projects I don’t use a deadline for would be my article work. I query and if I get the green light, then I add an actual deadline (no longer soft) to my calendar.

By now all projects have a home. A nice, comfortable, warm place to put their heads at night. Be it a file folder, color coded, or a three-ring binder – or both. Sometimes I keep first drafts and my outline notes in a file folder and the research in the three-ring binder. All the projects deserve to have a home to live in – and it makes for a neater desk, easier organizing, better filing, and an overall feeling of joy and peace and goodwill towards all.

It’s important to know how many hours in a day you have to work. I’d love to say I have somewhere close to ten. I’d love to even have eight but that isn’t always the case. So, I fit in the projects in the time frame I have during the day – and use a timer when I feel pressured to finish a lot in a short amount of time. There is something about a timer that helps me stay focused.

Then, I set about working on those projects that have deadlines within this calendar year and the next. I use a weekly goal plan that I fill out every Sunday night and it helps to keep me reined in and not flopping all over my office opening one file folder after another and lost in the land of color-coded labels. It can happen, believe me.

Some days I just sit here. I am distracted by social media and finding a bread pudding recipe to use up a huge panettone I have sitting in my pantry. Sometimes I have errands to run or the car needs to go in for an oil change. Sometimes the only thoughts coming out of my head are a hodge-podge of words that form absolutely zero sentences. I get scattered more days than I prefer to admit, thankyouverymuch.

But I cannot imagine doing anything else. I miss being in the vortex of words when I’m not writing. I love being creative. I love the business part of writing too. I love it all.

18 Million Dollars

I read a post on Facebook today that asked people, “What would you do if someone handed you a check for 18 million dollars?”

The responses were ALL the same.

Give.”

“Faint, then donate.”

“Contribute to non-profits…”

“Help those that don’t have anything.”

“I would give my church 10%.”

“Tithe and live a life of charity.”

Okay, this is why I will not suddenly be handed a check for 18 million dollars without some kind of work attached to it.

It is also the reason I will not be one of those people who finds a suitcase in the bathroom with thirty thousand dollars inside and turn the suitcase in so the owner could be found.

Because, turning a suitcase I found with thirty thousand dollars inside would be hard to hand over…

So shoot me. I’m a terrible person.

But if I was given 18 million dollars the first thing I would probably do: pay off my mortgage and my kid’s student loan debt. Maybe get a second car to replace our current second car that actually has a heater that works. I would probably travel a bit too – see the world. Maybe I would hire a gardener and a housekeeper who would actually clean inside my oven and my five hundred windows. Hire a trainer that will come to my house every morning and force me to workout. Yes, yes I would donate money to charity too. I’m not totally a heartless, selfish person after all.

My point is that I find it funny that everyone on social media…with everyone watching and reading the comments and if they type it on Facebook then surely god will see they are good and honest folk…would hate to look bad and god forbid, selfish. If I went on there and posted about paying off my mortgage, traveling the world, and hiring a trainer I would be taken out to the nearest oak and slapped with a verbal whip so common on Facebook. But I bet there isn’t one person hiding sitting behind their laptops counting the thousands of ways they would spend that much money, if handed to them out of the blue, right down to a new big house, weekends in Paris, and a new Coach handbag for every season. Vainglory at its best.

To the people who claim all they would do with their money would be to give and donate to charities: I call bullshit.

There is a First Time for Everything

I thought it might be interesting to share with you the first chapter of the first book I ever wrote. It was a young adult book that takes place in the White House about the daughter of a president – a girl named Summer. The title: “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

I wrote this book for a class assignment way back in 1992 (and the dot-matrix printing is still attached, accordion style).

I am not editing it at all (although it pains me not to) and I’m typing it from the actual document. I realized something today…besides the one-dimensional detail and grammar issues…I don’t think I have read through this manuscript since I turned it in over twenty years ago.

Here goes. Chapter one:

             Summer knew that in five days her life would change forever.
            “Carrot and beet juice? For breakfast?” Summer’s mother said with disgust knowing that her only daughter hated both carrots and beets.
            “Yes mom,” Summer said as she sat down in the lavish dining room of their new home. It was going to take Summer a long time to get used to living in such an old and historical house.
            The maid walked slowly into the kitchen to retrieve the requested juice brining the concoction to Summer in a cut-crystal goblet.
            “Isn’t dad going to have breakfast with us anymore?” Summer asked as she got up from the table pushing her straight auburn hair away from her eyes.
            “Probably not. He’s already in the oval office.”
            That afternoon Summer and Ben returned home from school in a white stretch Cadillac limousine followed by two secret service men, Tony Harrison and Peter Montgomery.
            Summer sat down at her white wicker desk in her newly decorated purple room which overlooks the rose garden and pulled out her new book on angels. The book was a gift from Summer’s best friend Amanda on the day before Summer left California for Washington, DC a few months ago.
            “This just has to work.” Summer thought to herself as she flipped through the book until she landed on chapter thirteen, “how to summon your very own angel.”
            Summer is certain that an angel can help her get good grades like her older brother, Ben. She wants her parents to be proud of her like they are proud of Ben.
            “Yuk! Only four more mornings of drinking carrot and beet juice by 8am. That night, at exactly midnight, Summer needs to stand in the light of the moon for five minutes for five evenings.
            Summer stared at her bulletin board which contained tacked pictures of Amanda and her at the carnival last summer, a picture of them in Amanda’s backyard in the swimming pool, a postcard of a beautiful angel and a signed autograph of Michael Bolton that her father just recently got for her when he sang in the White House.
            At 11:50pm Summer got out of bed and walked out of her bedroom, quietly shutting the door behind her. Under her foot a floor board creaked and Summer stopped and stood still for a few seconds. She couldn’t risk anyone waking up and wondering what she was doing at this hour.
            She walked slowly to her brother’s bedroom down the hall passing portraits of past presidents, McKenna, Washington, and Adams.
            Summer turned the knob of her brother’s bedroom and walked into the large bedroom with the adjacent balcony.
            She passed his queen sized bed with a dark blue bedspread thrown on the floor and a chair that had a stack of folded clothes on it.
            The French doors linking his room to the balcony were slightly ajar. Ben liked to be cold, Summer thought. She passed his pine dresser and a glass-top executive desk they had shipped from California and tripped over a trigonometry book lying on the tan carpet.
            Ben rolled over with his face facing Summer as she stood still waiting for him to settle back to sleep before proceeding through the French doors. Once outside, she glanced at her watch which showed both hands straight up. Midnight.
           After five minutes she went back to her bedroom to wait. 

I have an apparent liking to the adverb ‘slowly’ (sorry, Stephen King) because I use it a lot, still do, and have to change it all the time (I mean, really, how often can people do things ‘slowly’?). Also, I realize there is no president by the name of McKenna. I believe, if I remember correctly, I wanted to use McKinley but my instructor advised me against it stating that the family of President McKinley may not appreciate nor like me using him in my story. And since the story takes place in the fictional White House in present times you can only guess where the story goes…

The Historical Novel

So I have this big ole honkin’ novel that I wrote alongside another novel back in November/December 2012. I was overwhelmed and benched it for a long time. Well, I guess I benched it for a year. I just couldn’t bring myself to go over the many holes in the plot, the undeveloped characters, and the ending that was only a few paragraphs because I was so anxious to finish the thing.

Then at the beginning of this year I decided it was time to tackle it. I went painstakingly through each and every chapter…combining chapters, adding characters, tightening plot, fixing holes, adding character depth, correcting choppy or corny dialogue, adding a completely new subplot with another character to the mix, and using up an entire dark green ink pen in the process. It took me two full weeks of doing nothing else.

I basically just finished the rewriting of the novel that started out somewhere around sixty thousand words and ended up at 153,000 words and 44 chapters.

This has been the first book that has officially made it out of first draft status.

And as I continued to rewrite the last few chapters I have been sending the first chapters to a fellow writer for critique and edits and so now I will embark on (more) editing and tightening…and getting it published.

A part of me is sort of sad that I am *almost* finished with these characters, their story, their hometown. It has been a story inside me for as long as I can remember taking place in Los Angeles in the 1940s in a town that doesn’t exist anymore. A town that my mother grew up in and had wonderful memories that she shared with me.

My goal was to finish the rewrite by the end of the year and I made it by barely a month to spare. Whew. Now, my goal is to get some book proposals out in the world by the end of the year as I continue now to edit chapter by chapter. And while my instinct is to hold on forever correcting a missed comma or an adjective that could have been better I will remind myself of a quote I heard  a writer say recently on a podcast: “Perfection is the enemy of done.” Not to say I won’t do my due diligence in making sure it is as good as I can make it but I can’t hold onto this baby forever, keeping it a toddler when it should be going off to college.

I gotta let it go.

And hopefully by letting it go it will be published and transformed from plain ole white paper to a pretty book with thick covers and a binding.

Meanwhile, I am about twelve thousand words into my NANO novel I started a few days ago and starting on Monday I will attack another rewrite of another novel.

‘Tis The Season

It’s that time of year again.

When everyone on Facebook (and other social media) begin to have mini meltdowns and tantrums over the holidays.

It all started about a month ago with ALL the complainers over the decorations that are ALREADY up for ALL the fall/winter holidays when we are barely out of summer. (Note: I bet you can’t use the word ‘all’ three times in one sentence.)

The entire month of October (ENTIRE. MONTH.) people bitched and complained about Christmas trees and ornaments that were already out and can’t we all just celebrate one holiday at a time?

Okay. Here’s the thing.

If you don’t want to buy Christmas decorations yet or you don’t want to do any Christmas shopping until black Friday or if you want to only focus on Halloween for the month of October, well, um, then just do your thing.

Why do you care?

My house has a bunch of Halloween decorations up. Last weekend I not only went hunting for my daughter’s Halloween costume and bought candy for tonight, but I also happened to go into a store that had a few rows of fall holidays and fifty rows of Christmas trees, decorations, and ornaments. I actually went in there, in October, to pick up a little Christmas gift/project I needed to get so I can finish it before my mom arrives in three weeks.

Does looking at the Christmas stuff bug me? No. I do not care one iota. I mean, why does it bother people? Again, who cares, really? Just walk past and move the hell on.

And then there are the complainers about this whole Thanksgiving is About Families and let’s all stand tall and refuse to shop on that day. It is a family day, after all.

Okie dokie.

If it bothers you that much, stay with your family on Thanksgiving and let other people do their thing. If YOU choose to NOT go out on Thanksgiving and support StoreXYZ and instead relax with your family over football and pumpkin pie, FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC. Do that. If people want to get out of the house on Thanksgiving and do a little shopping will it really, truly, honestly affect me? No. I won’t even notice, to be honest. I’ll be too busy with the whole pumpkin pie thing.

But let’s say that some people are alone on Thanksgiving. Maybe their grown kids don’t live nearby. Maybe their kids are away at school. Maybe their kids are at their in-laws. Maybe, just maybe there is no big family hoopla and getting out for a few hours to walk around and work off the mashed potatoes isn’t so awful.

Am I going to do it? Oh hell no, I hate shopping on normal days. But either way it shouldn’t change the importance of family and the spirit of the holiday for my family if you choose to go to Target and knock out half your Christmas list. I’ll wake up the next day and feel exactly the same and as long as there is coffee, I don’t give a damn what you decide to do on Thanksgiving.

There is nothing wrong with counting your blessings on your way to the mall. Hey, I’m here to offer ideas.

I agree that our society has some mixed up, fucked up, ass-backwards morals at times and are one Charlie Sheen moment away from needing serious counseling. I get it. Our faces are in our phones. Kids don’t play enough outside. We need to eat more kale. Duly noted. But instead of getting all pissy why not just celebrate the way you want to celebrate and stop the tantrums on social media? You see the irony just a teeny tiny bit, don’t you?

The minute the kids go back to school and our suntan lotion is put away for the season and I get an email from our association that our pools in our subdivision have closed for the season, I am already in the mode of holidays.

All three lumped together.

So what if you have to walk by a row of Christmas trees for sale during the middle of October? Move on and do your thing.

Soon, another rant and more tantrums will make their way into Facebook land. The people who get their panties all in a wad over what employees around town who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

Do people really think (I mean, really?!) that by saying “Happy Holidays” it somehow diminishes the meaning of Christmas? Does it make you a heathen? Does it just prove how far our society has fallen from, um, where? Happy Holidays is a lovely way to encompass ALL the winter holidays, not just one. So what’s wrong with that? (The theme of this post: the word ‘All’.)

Let’s assume you are all religious and stuff. Wonderful. Are you worried how you will look in the eyes of your lord if you say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas?” Does that somehow belittle the importance of the birth of Jesus? I mean, if you are so worried and concerned then write those words all over your damn house. Put banners in every room. Print off a colorful green and red banner for your garage door. Put Merry Christmas on your front door. But let me ask those people with their panties all wadded up over the Happy Holiday debate: do you buy a bunch of gifts for your kids and grandkids? Do you run around like a chicken with its head cut off preparing for the holidays? Are you frazzled by all the work and social parties? Do you participate in gimmicks like Elf on the Shelf or layaway options? Do you wear a Santa hat to work on casual Friday? Do you wait in line with your little child/grandchild to sit on Santa’s lap? Do you use your credit cards during the holidays? Do you schedule family portraits and send out pre-printed Christmas cards?

Hmmm. Perhaps a better definition of why we celebrate is in order. And news flash: you aren’t going to get a better seat in heaven if you rant and rave on Facebook about the awfulness and wrongness of saying Happy Holidays when that just diminishes the word Christmas. Oh, the horrors. Pass the popcorn.

If you are one who is fearful that saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas damages society and ruins the spirit of the season (or the “reason for the season”) then celebrate in your own world, happily, and all wrapped up in Christmas goodness. Why do you really care that much what the teller at the bank says? (Bigger question, why are you going to a teller? This is 2014.)

So, Happy Hallthankmas. Now pull your pants up.

Are My Characters Real?

I gave a prologue recently to a friend to read. I normally NEVER do that. For starters, they never know what to say exactly so normally they will gush about it (or if you are a relative of mine you will point out every missed comma or random typo, gah). Also, their feedback – don’t get me wrong here – is hardly useful. They will say things like, “Oh this is great.” Or, “You have a typo on that last paragraph.” Or, “Shouldn’t there be a period after that sentence?” Or, “Wow, you really are a writer!” Or, “This was such a great read.”

Basically: useless.

Even my husband, in all his support and attempts at being helpful, is hardly any better. “Yeah, this is really good, honey”…“I like this a lot”…“Very good.” It all sounds the same between reading a chapter of mine and helping our daughter with algebra.

Also, if they are not normally readers of my books genre, their input will hardly be on point anyway. I have a friend who only reads romance so giving her a historical novel to read will bore her endlessly. I was in a writer’s group about a year ago that had mainly science fiction writers. It was a mess. They were clueless about historical fiction (and bored) and I was totally lost and confused in their outer space worlds and strange animals.

Anyway.

I gave a friend my prologue on one of my books. (For the record, she gushed and said, “Oh this is great” which was exactly the sort of thing I figured she would say.)

I should also point out that just because someone says, “Oh this is great!” doesn’t inflate my head or pump up my ego – I know it is them not knowing what else to say. I mean, are they really going to say something like, “Um, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and the plot appeared to be going nowhere. I almost fell asleep before I reached page three.” No. Are they going to say, “Sorry to tell you this but this SUCKED!” No. They are going to do everything to spare my feelings and so they will just be overly nice.

Anyway. I digress.

Again. (So shoot me.)

After reading the prologue my friend asked me, “Is the Sophia character your mom? Because I totally thought that as I was reading it.”

Hold me.

Okay, look.

Are characters somewhat derived and ever so loosely based on real people? The answer is yes. They are. I mean, it is hard to live a life and encounter hundreds of people in your lifetime so far and not have a few lingering…personality traits, body images, language quirks, bad habits, horrible spouses, interesting talents, or fascinating childhoods…of real people you know in real life.

However, that’s where it all basically ends.

My characters MAY have a personality trait or a little quirk or a bad habit of someone I know. I may even get inspiration based on real people (that happens A LOT) but the characters themselves take on a life of their own usually (hopefully) right from the beginning.

And for fear of sounding mentally unstable – the characters begin to come alive in front of me as I outline. They also start talking to me too.

No, really.

As I develop characters and give them voice, features, quirks, traits, habits, what they love to wear, what they hate to eat, where their favorite vacation was when they were ten, even what their name is…they seem to start standing in front of me as I write (hands on hips, staring me down if I get something wrong, those pesky pain-in-the-ass characters. And no, I’m not on any special meds.)

I can definitely start to see and hear them the more I write about their story. (If they can see me is a totally different thing. I’m kidding. You know that, right? I’m almost a hundred percent positive they can’t see me. But to be honest, I’ve never asked them.) As the story develops suddenly their voice gets louder – and when I type dialogue sometimes I feel as though I am only the fingers typing on the computer – they are the ones doing all the talking and telling me what to say and how to say it.

In one of my novels, a contemporary book set in San Diego and features a host of characters, I had outlined the chapter one way and my character completely said something different and totally off what I expected him to say…I typed it and decided to leave it – even though it changed the course of the story a bit.

The characters begin to transform from a one-dimensional name on a piece of paper into real, thinking, and breathing human beings.

In the case of this prologue my friend read: it is a story that features (more or less) my mom’s childhood home. And it is a story that features a small grocery business…which my uncle also ran. And there are kids that went to boarding school like my cousins did. Other than that, it is just a fictional story because the story is not about my mom or my uncle or my cousins.

In fact, my mom is eager to read the story (even though it isn’t totally edited to my liking yet) and I had to warn her: some of the details may sound familiar to you but this is NOT a story of YOU and YOUR FAMILY and your childhood living in Los Angeles in the 1940s. This is a totally fictional story with fictional people and events.

There is something that I remember reading about writers that I love. If you are around writers be careful what you say (or do) because it just might end up in their book.

Many phrases or scenes that have actually happened…I have turned them into sentences in the book. For instance, there is a scene about women at the church cooking in the kitchen for a big feast the following day. I can’t tell you how many of my afternoons as a child was spent with my mom and grandmother at the church watching these Italian women cook, laugh, and play cards with their 7up and biscotti after preparing for a feast. I have used these memories…and more…throughout the book. I also interviewed my brother (a baseball historian) a few times regarding facts and details that were unclear to me regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers and a few phrases and a few of his memories have become part of my characters voice and memory…like how my brother lost his collection of baseball cards, for example.

So, I told my friend: “No, Sophia is not my mom. She is not anyone but a character in my book.”

(Sophia is standing here in front of me with her floral apron on, hands on her hips, shaking her head at me. She hates when I refer to her as a character.)

ANOTHER NOVEL WRITING MONTH IS UPON US

There is something about entering into the month of November that now makes me a little nervous. No, it isn’t the fear of leftover turkey sandwiches or fighting the crowds on Black Friday (I hate shopping and never go out on that day). It’s that every late-October I have one thought: Will I Be Able to Write another Novel?

This November I will be embarking on writing my ninth novel.

When I wrote that very first (young adult) novel a couple of decades ago, I was in school, knee-deep in writing everything from speeches to marketing pitches to press releases (hello, communications degree, howyadoin’?) so I didn’t give this little young adult novel much room to allow fear to enter. It was technically just a school assignment.

However, the span of almost twenty years exists between that first novel and the second novel. I ended up writing a non-fiction book in between because I was now too afraid and uncertain of my abilities to write another novel…and felt the non-fiction piece was less threatening.

And while I count the first young adult book in my completed pieces of fiction – it is hardly much. I want to say it teeters around the 30k-word mark but to be honest, I am unsure. It is printed on a dot-matrix so that will tell you chances were good my 1990-something computer did not have the capability to offer a word count.

Then I discovered National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. I went back and forth wondering if I should participate. Could I write a novel in thirty days? What if I can’t? I took the leap and never looked back. That “second” novel came in around 52k words after thirty days and I stood back and thought, “Holy shit, maybe I CAN do this.”

Every October I begin to feel the same way again. Can I write ANOTHER book? Will I freeze up on page twenty and not know how to continue? What if I don’t finish? (I never worry, however, whether or not the manuscript will be a piece of shit because all the first drafts are horrible with a side of awful and a sprinkling of ‘you call yourself a writer?’ seasoning.)

This November I am tackling a contemporary book that spans a few decades but isn’t necessarily historical fiction. It was an idea that came to me one day and never left me – even though I have dozens of works in progress I could have pulled from. Sometimes with novel writing you have to work on the projects that seem to call your name and won’t leave you alone! This was that book.

I finished my chapter-by-chapter outline (42 chapters strong) about a week ago along with all the background and character information I could come up with at this stage of the process. My information is in a 3-ring binder which I will read over again next week before the first day rolls around – and the chapter-by-chapter outline is in another folder, all ready to go. (Can’t wait! Excited about this story!)

At 42 chapters it means I need to do more than one chapter every single day in order to finish by the end of November. I know the book will be more than fifty thousand words (the requirement to “win” the National Novel Writing Month challenge) and so I should have no problem reaching that by the end of November – but I like to have the novel completely finished by the end of the month as well.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month?