How Was That Done Again?

I think I’m forgetting how we used to do things. I feel like the little girl who is staring at her grandmother and asking, “How did you wash clothes again? Outside on a – what?!?” And, “You didn’t have a refrigerator? Seriously? How in the world did you keep your food cold?”

How is it possible that I have accepted our world of technology so thoroughly that I have totally forgotten how we used to do things?

Like checking books out of the library.

A couple of days ago I was in my local library. These days I don’t even need to talk to anyone – I check my own books out on their machines and I can even pay fines right there at the counter (not that I am ever late or anything). The day I was in there trying to check out my books and pay my fines and their computer system crashed and no one could check out books without having a librarian assisting through some back-up system that didn’t print out a handy-dandy reminder slip of when the books are due.

I tried to remember how in the world we checked out books before computers? Stop laughing, I’m serious. How did the library keep track of who checked out the books? I mean, I remember the little slips inside the books they would stamp with the due date before handing back the book but how did they keep track that it was me checking out that book? Honest to gawd, I don’t remember.

Then, the following day we took the kids bowling and the computer screens did all the work keeping track of our scores, strikes, and showing us how many pins we had knocked down with pretty little graphics. I sat back and asked my husband, “How did we keep score before?” He looked at me as if I had just been swallowed up by aliens and when I said I truly don’t remember he said, “We wrote everything down on a score sheet.”

The little girl came out again as if my grandmother was standing at my side, “We had to manually keep track of every strike, spare, and pins knocked down? Seriously?” (Ugh, how bothersome and time consuming!)

I can picture my grandkids one day inspecting a key and asking, “What in the world were these things used for?” Hopefully I’ll remember.

The Simple Things

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make me feel better. To lift a (bad/sad) mood. To bring a little smile and sunshine to a normally grey, cold, snowy January. Although, these simple things make me happy even when it isn’t a dreary winter day.

1.   Bird Feeder(s). Honestly, I would have bird feeders all over my yard scattered about in an obsessive manner similar to a cat woman with her dozen felines, cup of tea, and needlepoint pillows – if I could convince my husband that feeding the birds is not such a money-sucking-feeding-little-piggies endeavor. My current bird feeder (and one suet feeder hanging from a tree) sits right outside my kitchen window and watching them flock and fight and nibble an entire feeder in less than ten hours just makes me happy. I often stand there and just watch, losing all track of time. I love the birds.

2.   When The Dog Wants To Get Warm. Or, in other words, when she lays with me on the couch curled up so close to my leg that I think I should be burning calories since keeping my leg taut against her girth weight takes serious workout skill. Especially lovely on these cold wintery days when I am sitting there with a book, a blanket, and a cold dog looking for me to provide her warmth. Even better when she rests her cute little head on my leg. I have been known to drink cold coffee and hold off going to the bathroom until a laugh or cough jeopardizes the integrity of my girly-bits – to keep the dog from moving from her spot on top of me next to me.

3.   Scentsy. I am not a consultant nor a shareholder but Scentsy in one word: heavenly. I have about five burners throughout the house that I use on a regular basis. There is something about these scents that make me happy and if I am looking for some simple joy on a blah-feeling isn’t-it-spring-yet day I put a new scent in and light ‘er up and I walk around smiling – or as my husband would say, “whatever makes you happy.” Exactly. Now, go feed the birds, dear.

Critique Writers

For years I have dabbled about with fellow writers. I spent years in college among fellow fiction-writer hopefuls. I’ve been to a few writer’s workshops and I have had my share partaking in a writer’s group or two. 

When I was in one of my writer’s group I stumbled onto a woman who seemed to edit the critiques line by line. After a few chapters of trying to do the same in return I just became overwhelmed and felt it sucked entirely too many hours of my time. When I sat around a table of fellow writers the critiques were a bit of a hit or miss and only occasionally helpful. Maybe it was the fact that 99% of the writer’s in the group at the time were all science fiction writers and I was probably as lost among them as they were in the middle of my manuscripts. In the end, it simply wasn’t a good fit. 

Then I spent several NANO months in April and July in what they called “cabins” among fellow writers. For two of the sessions I suggested being partnered with people my own age. This last time I thought maybe I should go with people who write in my same genre (historical fiction) and found it to be a more enjoyable experience.

At the end of July a few of us had bonded and we shared our Facebook and Twitter pages and I stumbled onto one of my fellow cabin mates Facebook page. A post she had prompted me to private message her and ask her a question. That led to a back and forth discussion and a spark about critiquing each other’s manuscripts. 

An idea was hatched. 

We instantly hit it off via emails and attaching chapter after chapter. Her critiques are always spot on. The exact parts I struggled with editing she nails as a part that needs tweaking or adjusting. She makes suggestions that I never would have thought of and yet make perfect sense to meld my story better. She makes me want to keep plugging along with this manuscript that is almost as part of me as one of my fingers. Sometimes it feels like I will never have this thing completely edited and rewritten – and yet I see light at the end of the very long tunnel at last. And I have my writing partner to thank. 

She has been blunt where I have struggled and patient as I stumbled about like a third grader trying to form readable sentences. She has lifted me up to the point that when I am finished reading her emails I am instantly motivated to tackle that chapter I just can’t seem to get right…or a POV problem I simply can’t rewrite another minute more.  

She lives in the south and I am in the pacific northwest and I have never spoken to her nor seen her in real life and yet as I am editing and rewriting I swear I can hear her voice in my head telling me to keep my POV in one person. 

I feel incredibly lucky and thankful to have found this gem of a fellow writer friend who is willing to tackle my 150k+ manuscript one chapter at a time and offer an honest and uplifting critique to the point that it gives me the one thing writer’s always seem to struggle with, at least I do: and that’s HOPE. She gives me so much hope I want to jump up and down every time I get an email critique back from her.

That Pesky Elf

My kids were already too old by the time this whole Elf on a Shelf phenomenon began. I’m not gonna lie: I’m glad this kooky trend came to be when my kids were already in at least middle school. 

My newsfeed on Facebook is inundated with the antics of this little stuffed Elf who apparently does everything else BUT sit on a shelf.

Maybe I don’t get it. What is the point of the elf again? Is he there to keep watch of the young kids and report back to Santa whether they’ve been good or bad? And the one rule is you can’t touch the elf?

For starters, the elves I’ve seen have been mighty naughty themselves. Who is reporting back to Santa on THEIR awful behavior? Leaving peppermint poop in the toilet and getting into the flour and making a fucking mess? I wonder if there is some hair-pulling-talking-back ten year-old out there who is lying in bed one night thinking, “Wait a minute….”

And why can’t kids touch the elf? Oh no, there is nothing frightening about THAT.

Is it just me or does this seem like a future psychiatrist’s dream in about twenty years? (You see doctor, my parents had this elf visit from the North Pole…)Hello little children, welcome to CrazyTown where stuffed Elves get into trouble and then sit in judgment night after night watching YOU!

I can’t even imagine keeping up with this silly elf for the entire month of December. Oh dear gawd, someone hold me. I had a hell of a time remembering to play Tooth Fairy once in a while. If I had to do this every single night I would have either a) strangled the stupid dim-witted elf a few days into December; b) failed terribly causing me to come up with some excuse why the silly elf is still knee deep in toilet papering the house or spelling out words with mini-marshmallows to find more chaos to create (or the always handy ‘the elf/tooth fairy doesn’t work on the weekends’ which was my go to); c) thrown the elf against a wall until the stuffing came out of his arse. (Mother of the Year, that’s me.)

Why do parents (moms) put themselves through MORE craziness during the holidays and the month of December? Isn’t shopping, cooking, baking, crafting, school plays, holiday photos, sending Christmas cards (after you’ve taken the perfect, everyone matches photo), entertaining relatives, wrapping, decorating the house, going to holiday parties, and visiting Santa at the mall – ENOUGH to do?

National Novel Writing Month Is Now Over…

My novel ended up being 56,244 words, much less than I had originally hoped for, but I succeeded at meeting the required 50,000 words with about two days to spare. My goal for these writing month marathons is always to finish the complete first draft of my novels in addition to the word count goal.

The novel I worked on in November, “Before I go” turned out to be 41 chapters (I took one out towards the end that seemed to be a pointless chapter once I got to it) and was inspired by a photo I spotted on Facebook that looked like a family member that died many years ago…coupled with a handful of old family folklore stories I have heard repeated many, many times.

This novel, not unlike my other first drafts, is in line with being just as awful. I saw some glimmers of hope peppered throughout but I am now ready to bench the manuscript for a little while and pick back up where I left off with my queries and (older) novel rewrites.

This is also the first December that I am still plugging forward. Normally I am exhausted (you can’t see me but I am putting the back of my hand up to my forehead and am ready to faint) after writing a complete first draft during November plus being knee deep in the holiday season – my writing has always taken a backseat during December. The problem with that, I have discovered over the years, is that by the time I get myself into full swing come January it is the end of February. So I’ve lost a good three months “recovering” from the oh-so-difficult writing of a first draft. Oh, the horrors. Poor me.

I have decided this year I don’t have the luxury of not writing for several months (not to mention how cold and out of shape it makes me) and while the first couple of days of December is hopefully not an indication of what is to come…especially with the goals I have set for an exciting and hopefully VERY productive 2015.

Here is my opening line from “Before I Go”:

The casket was sealed without embalming the man that died suddenly on his anniversary.

And there are 56,230 words left that are equally horrible…(for now.)

Paying it Forward

Maybe not a new trend but I seem to hear about it more and more lately. You stand in line for coffee and find out the dark haired lady in front of you paid for your coffee. So, you in turn pay for the nineteen year-old behind you who is waiting patiently while staring intently at his phone. And then he pays for the man in the suit behind him…and so on and so on and so on.

Until one person says, “um, thank you very much” and takes his/her free double mocha latte and walks out with their free cup of coffee, smiling all the way to work or school.

Meanwhile, everyone is staring at the person as if he/she walked in with a pro-Hitler t-shirt.

Okay, so let me first say this has never happened to me in line for coffee, probably because I am seldom in line for coffee, and to be honest I have never been the first to start the ball rolling.

But I seem to have a bit of a problem with this whole Paying it Forward thing.

Wait. Hear me out before you slam your laptop shut.

You find out your coffee or hamburger or pizza was paid for and then you are somewhat guilted into doing the same for the people behind you. But to what benefit is it, really, that you were given a free coffeeburgerpizza and then you still pay for the person behind you? Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I don’t see the graciousness here at all. The only person who really benefits from that free coffeeburgerpizza is the last person who walks out amidst stares and glares and most likely achieves the complete opposite since the person will most likely not feel happy and smiley but instead feel like the biggest piece of shit. And certainly this was not the intention of the first person who started the ball rolling in the first place…

I’m not saying let’s all be self-centered assholes (there are plenty of those already) but I think it would be better to truly, un-lazily, pay it forward. Okay, so let’s say you were in line for coffee and the woman in front of you paid for it. Thank you very, very much. You smile all day. You are still happy and feeling the spirit of paying it forward when you go to the dry cleaners and decide to pay for the people behind you. Or when you are in line for your pizza dinner and you buy a pie for the family behind you. Or if you must continue down this unhealthy fast food eating (hey, it’s your life) why not buy the car behind you a bag of burgers?

That seems a better way to pay it forward.

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.