Another Set of Eyes

I’ve spent quite a few months in inactivity. My creativity hasn’t dried up, it’s just taken a sabbatical. Hopefully, somewhere nice and warm, like the French Riviera.

As an artist and a creative person, when the well threatens drought conditions, you start to worry. The worry turns into a bigger monster, into self-doubt and self-loathing. You begin to second guess your choices, your methods of operation, your intelligence, and your stamina. All of that conspires to make the largest black hole of negativity that will swallow you whole if you allow it to.

If you allow it to.

If your writing life pitches to these historic lows, there’s only one thing you can do: Get another set of eyes. Meaning, find someone else to read your work, to offer honest commentary and critique, even to read and gush. Yes, these are times when even your mom or your sycophantic employee will do. When the stakes are that low, you need all the uplifting you can scrounge up.

It’s not going to be easy. You may have to beg someone. Not your mom, of course, she’s always going to love you, but that employee who claims to love your writing while rolling her eyes behind your back, yes, you might have to beg her. You may have to barter one skill for another. Find another writer and offer to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long term critique-partner commitment. What you need is short term. The idea of a set of different eyes works for everyone – we as writers ALL feel deficient at some point. Plus, I find it interesting to read the WIP of others.

In my case, I turned to my Editor for Life. I try not to bother him too much, as he has other clients, most of whom are NOT tied to him in a lifetime commitment. This time, the urge to cry for help was overwhelming.

We normally email, occasionally text, but this time he wanted to Skype. (I don’t really like Skype, but what the hey? At this point, I was willing to try anything.) Our first meeting was a blur. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. The next was the “light bulb” moment. I saw clearly what vision he had for my novel. It’s “okay”, it just needs a little je ne sais quoi. It was as if my writing block needed a tow truck to pull it out of the mud. I’m not on the highway yet, but I’m on my way.

So, thanks to another set of eyes, I’m on my way to (yet) another rewrite. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’ve found the spark that was missing in my writing. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’m back on my way.

Yes, writers are a solitary bunch. But if you don’t have that other set of eyes, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Because even if your ideas are fabulous and your technique is flawless, you don’t know everything.

The Excavation of Words

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I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.

 

Black Star

 

his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.

 

a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains –

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency

heyareyouallrightdownthere?crazybroad!

o-zoned again.

 

lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.

 

what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978

Finding Inspiration Everywhere

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

And Now a Few Words That Have Nothing to Do With Writing

I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

Moving to This Shiny New Web Site!

I’m moving to this shiny new web site!

I have asked WordPress to move my email subscribers over, but if you haven’t heard from me in a week, please feel free to drop over to the new pad and sign up for email notices.

Meanwhile, I’ll check back here occasionally to see if I can round up any stragglers.

Happy reading.

The Indie-Trad Argument, From My Perspective, or Yes, I’m Self-Publishing

cadence coverThe cover for my new book.

If you want to be thoroughly entertained and crave a shower of fireworks on the Internet, one might be better served to stay away from the political realm and follow authors and agents embroiled in the brouhaha over self vs. traditional publishing (or as Barry Eisler would say, as he did during the 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference, the indies vs. legacy options). It’s a virtual shit show of information and misinformation, competing opinions, mud slinging, happy and less-than-happy endings, spreadsheets produced with dreamy algorithms, and nightmarish anecdotes. Both factions are passionate. Both have valid points. Both are loud and proud.

Beats TV. With. A. Stick. Yes, even House of Cards.

Even with the path fraught with pitfalls of evil operators (including some small presses) who want to drain the unsuspecting writer of every dime they can scrape together, indie publishing is an option that the modern writer can’t take off the table.  “Eyes wide open,” I always say. It is why I have decided to self-publish my next book, Finding Cadence.

It’s not just the successfully indie-published authors like Eisler and Konrath or the Create Spaces and Author Houses who think this way. I’ve spoken to plenty of literary agents, some of whom encourage self-publishing, for various reasons.

My PRO reasons are many, including this brief Cliff Notes version:

1. I have a story to tell. In recent days, I’ve picked the brain of many an artist, including visual artists and musicians. My informal poll shows most artists want their work OUT THERE. Sure, they want gallery time and recording contracts, but reaching that level does not confirm (in their minds anyway) the fact that they are artists. Example: If you create a painting and it sits in your closet, or if you write a song and you never play it in public, is it art? Probably. But art is meant to be enjoyed. If it’s not being enjoyed by a wider public, is it worth the effort?

2. I have limited time with which to get my story out. I’ve read some very depressing stories of late of writers working for twenty years or more before they received a traditional book deal. Twenty years? In twenty years, I’ll be dead, no probablies about it. I’d just as soon begin the next WIP and worry about my next story than to spend that time wishing and hoping and praying for lightning to strike me.

3. The technology is there, why not use it? Back in the day, hell, only ten years ago, e-pubbing and self-publishing books weren’t even options, or they were limited in scope. Aspiring authors had to send out queries, and wait, and wait. And go to church and make offerings to the literary gods. It’s different now. Most people (even dinosaurs like me) are Internet savvy, and if they’re not, there are other people in the world who are. Even after paying for help, in the form of editing services, book cover design, and file conversions, you realize it’s not going to drain the bank.

4. The process is quick. Instead of taking two years from agent deal to finished product on the bookshelves, the indie author can complete the job in two months.

The CONS? There are a few:

1. The stigma of “vanity.” Yes, we’ve all heard the term. Self-publishing equals “vanity” publishing. Vanity publishing calls to mind anyone with a pen (or word processing program) who hastily writes a book and puts it out there for the world to see. Vanity publishing was often full of grammatical errors and/or sported horrific covers. However, the new breed of indie author is different. They’re excellent writers with great stories, and they realize that the finished product reflects on them and the sales of now and future work.

2. It’s nice to have an agent on your side. Yes, having an agent working for you is great validation, and I hope to be on the agented bus soon. Scoring a literary agent is just the first step; next comes selling to a major house. And even though you might have landed an agent, that doesn’t leave you, the writer, to sip scotch while you’re pounding out the next novel. You’re expected to market your work as well. (And remember, days of BIG advances are long gone.)

3. The expenditures of time and money, or “you should get paid for your work, not the other way around.” Yes, it costs a little to self publish. Yes, you’ll be pulling the hair out of your head trying to imagine marketing ploys that won’t leave you looking like a common shill. Yes, writing checks or begging people to buy your book is less than pleasant. I know agented authors who sell 100 books and think this is a good thing. (Yes, it is.) They don’t make enough from writing to quit their day jobs.

4. If you self-publish, you’re just adding your drop to an ocean filled with books, and no one will see your work. Yes, and if you don’t self-publish, no one will have a chance to see your work, EVER. (BTW, the traditionally published authors suffer that same predicament now, competing with a tsunami of books, some of which are interesting and just as entertaining as those traditionally published.)

This is my take: I’ve been writing online for nearly ten years. I’ve gotten paid for some of it, and I’ve not been paid for the rest. If you look at PRO reason #1 above, you’ll see that I’m not writing because I’m thinking I’ll make a windfall from my words. I write because it’s my art of choice.

Does this mean I’m going to stay an indie publisher?

Hell, the no! I’m going to always write, and I’m still going to query what I’ve finished writing. In fact, my dream agent would be Donald Maass and my dream publishing house would be Simon and Schuster. In the meantime, I’ll choose a parallel path and keep to my goal. As long as there are viable options, I might as well explore all of them.

Hunting and Bagging the Elusive ‘Write’ Time

It’s Monday, and my Real Life plate runneth over. Our office survived four days of painters, which is no easy task.  (Think trying to paint around an explosion, and you’ll know what the painters had to deal with.) Today’s enrollments are way up (must be between sport seasons, or the fact that the snow is finally melting – now everyone wants to drive). It’s a payroll week. Last Thursday, we got our curriculum approved by the state (finally), so I’ve spent the last three days making manuals – through the obstacle course that was my office full of painters. The house hasn’t seen a thorough cleaning in I don’t know how long, which caused my husband to dust my bookshelves yesterday. It was either that, or the spider building a high-rise cobweb condo was going to make his digs permanent.

When I tell people I write, they wonder how I can squeeze it into my day. I can firmly attest that it’s not easy. Making time to write is like going on a safari. There’s only so much time to get things done.

Writers write. Dreamers talk about it. ~Jerry B. Jenkins

As a writer, you have to do more than WANT to write. That part is easy. The hard part is sitting your butt into a chair and making it happen.

You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job. ~Nora Roberts

The thing I’ve learned since beginning to write again: Writing is a commitment. It’s a flower you have to water, it’s a pet you have to feed. That means daily, people. I find if I skip a day, I feel terrible, like I forgot to breathe.

If you don’t write the book, the book ain’t gonna get written. ~Tom Clancy

Unless you are fabulously wealthy and have gobs of money to live on while you write, you’ll have to work. This means there must be a conscious effort to carve out a niche for your “write” time. For example, I’m doing it right now. I’m taking a half hour break from the disaster that is my life to write this blog post.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~Richard Bach

Your “write” time doesn’t have to be hours. You can find it in shorter segments. Right now, I’m doing the Writer Mama 21 Moments, because right now, 250 to 400 words a day is all I can spare. I find myself looking forward to the prompts each day. The upside is that my little moments are shaping up to be the basis of my new novel.

Technique alone is not enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. ~Raymond Chandler

It’s true that the more you write, the more you write. I’ve spent the last year in a massive edit. There was an urgency to finalize my work. At first, it was hard to commit to an hour or so (or more) a day in order to see to the end of my goal. With practice, exercising your mind on a regular schedule is much like exercising your body. It gets easier. You get an adrenaline rush.

Writing is hard work; it’s also the best job I’ve ever had. ~Raymond E. Feist

The best thing that a writer, like any other artist, can do is to fill your time with creativity. I’ve given up on most TV. I don’t have time for it. I’d rather fill my head with my own creations, or the creative works of others. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll keep your eye on the prize. Use whatever precious moments you might have to hone your craft. And if you need a word of encouragement, reach out to other writers. Yes, even me!

You’ll find putting yourself on a schedule will be time well spent.

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