Category Archives: Writing

Should I write it?

13494838_10208736082412111_1473795034649199179_nOur awesome summer nanny had today off, so I took PTO to hang out with the kids. Turns out, they like me more as a chauffeur than a playmate 🙂 While they ran and climbed at Chutes and Ladders this morning, and now during a program they’re doing at the library, I had enough time to finally re-outline my book. That one; the one I’ve written 18 million drafts of already, that I’ve called “almost done,” that even went out to beta readers (many of whom said publish it!)

This round, I’m making minor-yet-major changes to character circumstances. Updating technology and lifestyles (a lot has changed in the last six years). I’m at the point now where I should open a new file and start writing.

And yet.

Should I keep struggling with this one story? Is it worth the hard drive space on my computer and in my brain to keep going? Or should I do something else? Something new?

I want to do something new.

“Setting aside” this story, letting it “marinate,” is how I got both Ruby Slippers books written.

But this character has never left me.

I wrote a short story for one of my MFA classes about a character that had basically come alive for an author, physically haunting her. It’s not quite to that level (the protagonist in that story was probably diagnosable– she was having conversations with someone she made up) but character always seems to be there. For the past two years, every time I’ve tried to write something else (including daily journaling) my character has been there. It’s like she’s sitting in a corner, waiting.

I don’t know if it’s because I feel a need to finish (according to Gretchen Rubin, I am a finisher), or if it’s because this story really needs to be written and I’m the one to write it.

I guess, really, the reason doesn’t matter. Maybe this is one of those “the only way over is through” situations.

I thought it would get easier

Two years ago today, we had been back in Minneapolis for just exactly a month, and the Whole Foods Store I’d transferred here to help open was only, officially, four days old.

I already knew that I couldn’t stay at the store.

My job at Whole Foods in Franklin (the store on McEwan Drive, I still love them) had been a God-send. I was incredibly unhappy at my previous position, and WFM offered insurance, even for part-time employees. I was able to drop down, give Chris the freedom he needed to get his job done, help take care of the kids, and not be worried about the possibility of a medical bankruptcy if my cancer came back. And then it became so much more than I expected. I became a supervisor, I started looking into Whole Foods careers, it was awesome.

We got the opportunity to sell our house, something we’d been waiting years for, and I could transfer stores. I expected the amazingness of WFM to transfer with me.

The store here wasn’t bad, it was just different. I wasn’t used to the corporateness of the company, and I had a very hard time adjusting. Plus, Austin and Lily were not thriving in their new schools. When we got confirmation that we could buy health insurance through Obama Care (I could be a spokesperson for why Obama Care is really amazing) I put my notice in. I would be home more for the kids, and I would write. We pulled Austin out of the daycare that he didn’t like (and, quite honestly, I’m not sure how much they liked him) and switched Lily from a charter to our neighborhood school. I wrote a book, got accepted into the MFA program at Hamline, and, the next summer, wrote another book.

Tonight, I’m sitting in the cafe of a little restaurant, waiting to head over to hear the amazing Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity. I would have gone anyway, because I freaking love her, but I’m especially excited to hear her talk about this Big Magic. Because, quite honestly, right now, it doesn’t feel like magic.

I’ve taken a couple of freelance jobs (that I absolutely love) to help make ends meet, but they cut into my writing time. Today, I took the whole afternoon off as a type of extended “artist date.” My only goal was to do whatever I felt like doing.

All I wanted to do was write.

I’ve been writing, not counting this blog post, for about three hours.

I’ve written 2,000 words.

On a project I’ve been working on for 5 years.

I used to be able to do 2500 words an hour.

3 hours. 2,000 words.

I’m not trying to complain (although it is a little tempting.) Really, I’m just trying to put out there, before I go see Liz and she makes all right with the world– I’ve always thought creativity would get easier the longer I did it. That, eventually, the words would flow through my fingers, regardless of where I was or what I was doing. I would open the laptop and go.

This has not been my case. The book I’m working on now, the one I’ve been working on for SO LONG, feels SO IMPORTANT to me. I’ve read half a dozen books just to try to learn how to make this one right. This is like the twenty fourth draft, and, with it, I started over. It’s not from scratch, because I know these characters like they’re real people, but I started with a blank document. I have the outline I created from the last finished draft with the scenes that need to happen highlighted and the others crossed out. When I get really stuck, I look to see about where I am in the story and make sure I haven’t missed anything essential. But, in general, I’m writing this cold turkey.

But there’s something about this draft that feels different. Yes, it’s taking F.O.R.E.V.E.R., and I’m breaking every rule of “writing fast” and IT IS HARD EVERY SINGLE DAY, but I think, I hope, I pray, that what I’m creating is what I’ve been writing around for the last five years. That rather than skirting the perimeter, this time, I’m going to go straight through the middle.

Only time, a lot of it, apparently, will tell.

Writing is hard

Photo by Ouadio

Photo by Ouadio

It really is. Not the actual act of sitting down and typing or scribbling words onto the page/screen. But the confidence that what I’m doing matters, at all, in the grand scheme of things. Taking the few hours in the morning to try to craft a story that won’t leave me alone (I dream about this thing) but also won’t come out in any cohesive way is hard.

I’m procrastinating writing right now, in fact, by writing this blog post about how hard it is to write.

I woke up in the middle of the night and realized what my problem was. I have three stories going at the same time right now, two in editing and one in drafting. I’m trying my darnedest to work on all three, but I end up not really getting much of anything done. I’ve been reading a lot of books about story structure, and I want to make sure I really get it right in these stories. One of them is the book that I really feel like is going to be the “best thing” I’ve ever written. I am in love with the story and the characters and I want to make sure my limitations don’t prevent it from serving the readers in the same way its served me. So I paused it. I’m doing a lot of reading and taking notes. Another, I’ve had “done” for a while, but knew it was missing something. I’ve spent the last two hours revamping the overall story structure, ripping my scenes apart, moving them around, and marking them to be rewritten. I’m at the three-quarter mark in the new outline and am terrified I still don’t have it right.

I haven’t gotten nearly as much writing done as I wanted to this summer. Part of it was that I gave myself a pass to spending more time with the kids. But the bigger part of it is: Writing is Hard. It’s harder than my day-job (which deals with people a lot of the time and is certainly no cake-walk). It’s harder, a lot of the time, than dealing with my kids, who are finally at the age that they’re entertaining themselves and each other without me. It’s harder, obviously, than writing this blog post. It’s just plain hard.

I’m not stopping, not by any means. But I just wanted to put this out there, in case anyone else is going through something similar. It’s easy to feel like we’re alone in this struggling-to-make-art thing because we rarely do it with or around other people. So I just want to publicly declare: This is hard.

But I’m going to keep doing it.

An unexamined life…

You may have deduced, from lack of posting, that I’ve kinda sorta lost control of my time again. Working two contract jobs, plus having kids and pets and husband and my own businesses is hard. At the beginning of the year, I created a planner for myself that I thought would help me keep everything organized. It did, until it didn’t.

The original planner is here. I really liked having the week-at-a-glance and each day having it’s own page, plus having a place to track what I was reading, and my art projects.

But when I took on the other jobs, I had a different to-do list for each of them, and doing my daily check-in was cumbersome as I tried to keep everything separate. I went from loving my reflection time to actively avoiding it.

This week a dear friend stayed with us for a few days, and her planner was very similar to the Passion Planner. The thing I didn’t like about it is that the to-do lists are for the whole week, rather than broken down by day. I want to make a dedicated effort to put goals to each day. But seeing hers, I saw how it could work, so I decided to revamp mine.

You can download the new version here.
Week LeftWeek Right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basically, I took everything I liked from my planner and combined it with Mendy and Passion Planner’s. It feels less overwhelming already, I’ll let you know next week if it works for me.

Feel free to grab it and try it out yourself, tell me what you think. What parts of planners do you love, what do you always want changed?

What do you mean it’s spring?

Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t take this picture (as you can see by the caption.) But I could have. Snow is melting like crazy here. Last month marked the official first day of spring, and with it we had actual warm weather for a few days, then a small snowstorm, some rain, and, this last weekend, weather so warm (60!) that we didn’t wear jackets and opened every window in our house.

It’s been a long hard winter in Minnesota. There were stretches for days where we tried to avoid going outside for anything non-essential because of the dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills. We also got a ton of snow. Our pipes froze, and our furnace went out. It was a great first winter back.

With the winter also came some huge changes in my life. I started the MFA program at Hamline University in January. It has been an incredible experience thus far and I am so thankful to be a part of such an awesome writing community.

In February I finally bit the bullet and published Your Pilates Life. I’ve been sitting on this book for a very long time (for reasons outlined in the Author’s note at the beginning) and I really wanted to get it into the hands of readers. It’s available for free on Noisetrade and the response has been incredible. In the last week alone more than 100 people have downloaded it! Please check it out and tell me what you think!

I’ve also been working diligently on Stealing the Ruby Slippers and am excited to announce that it will be out in May in both print and digital formats! I’m working with an amazing editor, and I got to see a first look at the cover this week.

I promise I’m going to start posting more regularly. I don’t know what that means yet, because, lets be honest, life is crazy. But…I think I can safely say I’ll be here for sure once a week. I hope to see you too.

What I’m writing: honesty

I’m not going to share an excerpt with you today. Instead, I just want to talk about what I’m working on.

My book, Home, started out of a conversation I had with a good friend about how sometimes I just want to stay home all the time. I got to thinking about how easy that would be to do these days– especially if you don’t have a family and work from home. And Ashley (the main character) was born.

The story progressed and I wrote the entire first draft in just a few months. By far the longest and most complete first draft I had ever done.

Then I started to revise.

Now, the story has changed. Ashley no longer has a sister, she has a brother. Her boss, who in the first incantation was a one-time love interest but otherwise a very minor character, is a felon, and Ashley may be implicated in his crimes simply for being so close to him.

All of these middle details have changed, but (as of right now) I still feel like the end of the book is essentially written. Which means I have to completely change the story to get from point A to point C.

I started out trying to take the material that I already had and make minor changes/additions. I realized this week that isn’t working for me. I am going to need to essentially throw away the middle of my story and re-write it.

I’m going to be honest here: this really sucks.

I wrote some good stuff.

Yesterday, I spent much of the swinging back and forth on the decision pendulum on whether I should keep the original story structure and just work on strengthening it as it is, rather than starting from scratch. It would be so much easier. It would take so much less time. It would mean the book would be done soon.

Then I remembered what I had read somewhere, I can’t remember where, or the exact quote, but the gist of it is: To get to your best writing, you’re going to have to trash a lot of really good writing.

So I’m going to trust the process (even if I don’t trust my self) and start over. I sat down this afternoon and already mind-mapped the majority of the new story, so it’s up to me to write it.

What I’m writing: Revision

I don’t love revision. In fact, because I outlined this book (Home), something I’ve never done before, I thought revision would be a breeze. Not so much. During my reading of the first draft, I realized I needed a big change in my characters, so I’m changing the  gender of one of the main characters. While revising, I’m also trying to keep an eye out for parts of the book that I can excerpt and submit to short story competions. I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out the best way to go about it with not much luck. Then, in my blog reading last night, I found this article from Storyfix:  Hunger Games 6 — The Stealth Power of Sequencing. It’s exactly what I needed, both for the excerpting process and to help me with my revision. I have a hard time grasping these concepts sometimes, but the post does a fantastic job of using The Hunger Games, one of my recent favorites, as an example. If you feel like I do about revising, that is, similar to how you feel about getting cavities filled, this might help.

If you’re just beginning a book and you’d like help outlining, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success is the book I used. It’s fantastic and a super quick read.

What I’m Writing: Clouded #8 RecOps Assignment

(Just joining us? Click here for the complete series)

I’m trying really hard not to zone out in my class.  I just want to sleep.  My head is propped on my right hand. I’m not taking notes, and I know I should be. My left hand periodically lifts the can of diet coke to my lips, and my eyes follow Oliver Cunningham, Professor of the Recording Arts, as he paces back and forth between his podium, where his notes are resting, and the soundboard that he has set up in the corner of the room.  His straight brown hair, cut in a pageboy style, and his jeans and polo shirt make him look much younger than his resume would suggest.  He has explained to us gains, EQ, filters, and faders with such enthusiasm you would think he was showing us a car he built from the ground up.  I’m never going to use this information, and as hard as I try, I can’t seem to absorb anything he’s saying.  The soundboard still looks as foreign to me as a space shuttle cockpit.

“We’ll have a quiz on the basics next week. Also, your studio observations are due by the end of the month.”

“Studio observations?” Sarah-Joe asks, half raising her hand but not waiting to be called on.

“Details are in the syllabus,” Professor Cunningham says.  He’s annoyed, he doesn’t like Sarah-Joe and he doesn’t try to hide it.  She asks too many questions too often.  She interrupts his flow, and causes him to lose his train of thought.  She is generally annoying, but, in this class, I’m thankful for her questions.  It means I don’t have to ask them.

“Sorry, Professor,” Sarah-Joe says again, half standing this time as the rest of the class collects their books.  “The instructions aren’t very clear.  Do we need to go to a student recording session here at school?  Are we interviewing the producer or engineer?  Or just observing?”

“You can observe whoever will let you.  If you go to the studios here, they don’t have the option to tell you to leave.” Several of the musicians in class chuckle.  They’re all probably thinking about wanting to kick Sarah Joe out if she comes to one of the sessions they are working on in the school’s studios. “I would suggest,” Professor Cunningham adds, locking eyes with Sarah-Joe, “that you do not speak to anyone during the session unless they speak to you first.  They are working.  Consider how you would feel if someone came to your job and started asking all kinds of questions that kept you from getting your job done.”

Ouch.  A few others in the class suppress giggles.  That’s a bit harsh.  Luckily, Sarah-Joe is completely oblivious to any type of subtle criticism. She also has never had a job, so she doesn’t understand what that would be like.

“Recording schedules are posted online, make sure you sign up before you show up.  They only have to allow three observers, so don’t wait until the week before the paper is due, or you won’t get into a session.

“And how long should the paper be?” Sarah-Joe asks, sitting again.  She’s scribbling notes.

“Two pages.”

“Single or double spaced?”

Professor Cunningham sighs.  “Yes.  Single or double-spaced.  I don’t care.  But if you double space it because you don’t have anything to say, I’m only going to give you half the credit.” His eyes scan the class, resting on me for a moment longer than I am comfortable with. “This isn’t a hard assignment people.  Just do it.” His eyes are on me again, and I lift my head off my hand.  “Addison, can I see you a moment please?  The rest of you are free to go.”

As the class files out of the room I stay seated at my desk.  When they’re gone, Professor Cunningham comes and leans on the desk next to mine.

“Addison.  Is everything okay?”

I nod my head.

“Are you sick?”

“No,” I hear myself answer.  The inflection in my voice sounds more like I’m asking a question than answering one.

“You seem to be struggling to stay awake.  I know that you’re not on the technology track, but this information is just as necessary for you as it is for everyone else in this class. I’d appreciate it if you’d make a little more effort to be engaged.  And not to fall asleep.”

I think for a minute.  I’m sure I stayed awake through the whole class today.  I consider arguing with him, but decide that I’m too tired.  “I’m sorry.  I work third shift twice a week.  I had to work last night.” I hate the way the excuse sounds as it comes out of my mouth.   The dog ate my homework.  I swear I did it.  I wait for the lecture that I’ve heard so many times.  School is most important.  Tell your boss you can’t work third shift anymore.  Find another job.

“That sucks,” Professor Cunningham is back at the podium, shuffling his papers.  “Any chance you can make sure those days are on the weekends?”

This was not the reaction I was expecting.  “I’ve asked, but they still schedule me during the week sometimes.  I’m sorry, I promise to do a better job of staying awake.”

“I’d appreciate that. Thanks.” He zips his portfolio shut and heads to the door.  “See you Thursday.”

What I’m Writing: Clouded #7: More responsibility

(Just joining us? Click here for the complete series)

From her office in the back of the building, Laura sees me walking out of Josh’s office and yells,  “Addie!  Can you come in here?”

I feel my face get red, embarrassed by her summons.  Her shout was heard by all of the interns and anyone with a door open on the first floor.  A quick glance at the balcony tells me that it was heard by most of the staff on the second floor too. I wish she would just send me an instant message.

“Here are the keys for the post office,” she says, handing me a ring as I walk through her door.  “You can be in charge of all of the PO boxes from now on.” She looks proud and nervous, like a parent giving their sixteen year old the keys for the first time.

I wonder if I’m allowed to question her.  I don’t have time to go to the post office while I’m here.  Besides, wouldn’t it be better if the mail was picked up every day? I decide I’ll talk to Jonathan about it later, and take the key ring out of her hand. I need to talk to him about the accounting anyway.  As he pushes off more and more work, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed.  I’m hoping that the grocery shopping is just the beginning of the work I’ll be doing with Revolver, and I want to make sure I have enough time to pick up any more little projects that might come available.

“The mail is normally in the box by 12:00.  Since you’ll only be getting it every-other day, you need to make sure you’re there while they’re putting it out so you can get back here, do whatever it is you need to do, then get to the bank before 1:00 with any deposits.”

So much for a lunch break. That’s okay, most days I eat at my desk anyway.  Now I’ll eat in the car. I am worried about the quick turn-around to get checks to the bank though.  After opening the mail, I sort checks into piles for each company, log them all in QuickBooks, then fill out the bank’s deposit paperwork.  I do each company one at a time so I don’t get anything confused, and the process usually takes me a few hours each day.  “I’m not sure I can get the deposits processed that fast,” I say to Laura.  “I don’t want to make any mistakes.”

“You’ll have to figure it out.  Seth wants the money to get to the bank the same day it comes in.”

“What about Tuesday and Thursday?”

She shrugs.  She’s obviously happy not to have to worry about this anymore.  “You’ll have to work it out.”

I try to give myself a pep talk on the way back to my desk.  Between this and the Revolver project, this could be my chance to finally make an impression on Seth.

WIW: Clouded, part 5

The first few weeks at Clouded go great.  Jonathan teaches me how to use Quickbooks to enter and pay bills, and create invoices.  Learning how to determine which of the nine companies each bill or invoice should be attached to is the hardest part of the job.  Jonathan doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on it either, I get the feeling that if he doesn’t know for sure, he guesses.

Laura’s official title is Office Manager, but she is really Seth’s personal assistant. She was the first employee he hired when Sylvie started to taste huge success and has been working with him for nearly ten years. She’s short, shorter than me even, so she can’t be more than about five feet tall.  She’s got flawless skin and beautiful  long, thick black hair that hangs down to the middle of her back, for which she credits her Korean heritage.  I’ve been jealous of her hair since the first time I met her when I interviewed for my internship.  She comes in with it wet most mornings.  It dries stick straight, shiny and beautiful looking, regardless of how humid it is outside. She tells me my first day that whoever is the first one in each morning has to start the coffee.  Most of the time, that will be me.

“I don’t drink coffee,” I tell her.  I’ve tried, but never developed a taste for it.  I often think that if I did drink coffee I’d have an easier time keeping up with my schedule.

“It doesn’t matter whether you drink it or not.  The person who turns off the alarm starts the coffee.” The look on her face tells me that this isn’t open for discussion, so I pay close attention as she shows me how Seth likes it made.

Jonathan is twenty two, just six months older than me.  He and Seth never talk about how they met, or how Jonathan came to work at Clouded, but Laura once hinted that Seth offered the job as a favor to Jonathan’s father. She never said why. Jonathan’s baby face, short brown hair that sticks up in the back no matter how many times he tries to smooth it down with his hand, and the button down shirts tucked into chinos that he wears everyday make him look like a little boy dressed up for church.  He married his high school sweet heart two weeks after they graduated and has a three-year-old son who looks exactly like him.  Jonathan was hired as the in-house accountant for all of the Clouded companies but he had started doing some of the day-to-day artist management almost immediately.

Eventually he took over management of TheBrass, a band from California that makes marching band music sound cool. There are thirteen guys between the ages of 18 and 27.  They have a full brass section that compliments the typical drums/bass/guitar/piano lineup of most rock bands.  The key to their success is their drum line.  In the middle of their concerts the music stops, they each strap on a drum, and perform some of the most amazing sequences I have ever heard. TheBrass has been one of my favorite bands for the last three years.  As an intern I had hoped I would get to meet at least one of the members, but they are stationed in California and rarely visit Nashville.

He also helps out with the last three singer-songwriters leftover from the Sylvie days.  Working with young songwriters was her forte, and Seth let most of them go when he re-incorportated and began to focus on bands like Revolver and TheBrass.  Those left: Peter Jones, Ashley Johnson, and a rapper called, Blue Jay, have all had success as songwriters, but none are content. They want to be performers themselves.  Seth keeps them on because they have potential and they don’t require a huge amount of attention. Josh and Jonathan each pitch in whenever there is work to be done that can’t be delegated to an intern.

I don’t see Seth very much.  He spends most of his days in meetings with record labels and booking agents. Usually he’s in the office only an hour or so, barking orders at Laura and periodically asking other employees for updates.  He spends most of his in-office time with Jonathan.  I assume they’re talking about Shreds.

I end up sitting at the reception desk.  Nicole, who had been the receptionist, had been let go right after Christmas, but no on will say why.  When I try to ask about it, I get vague answers and the subject is quickly changed.