Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Posts tagged ‘writing’

The Toilet Test

My gym buddies and I have a way of determining whether a workout has been effective. We call it The Toilet Test. The more difficult and painful it is to get yourself up and off the toilet seat, the better the workout.

I recently signed up for the O2X Couch to Summit Challenge (http://o2x.com/summit-challenge/).   Nine weeks of grueling workouts of cardio and strength training followed by a race up Loon Mountain. Nine weeks of sore muscles.

According to Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “the muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.” (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#1)

Stronger and better.  

Rejection letters are the sore muscles of publishing.  

Getting that “thanks, but no thanks” letter is as painful as aching arms and legs. And both offer the same thing: proof you are getting better.  You are working hard toward your goal.

In her blogpost on Literary Hub, Kim Liao recommends collecting rejection letters: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. “If you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances,too.”

I’m on Week 3 of the training and so far I’ve received two rejection letters – only 98 more to go.

But first, I have to (ouch) get myself (double ouch) off the toilet…

A Series of Unlikely Events

9497589-bad-luck-road-sign-unlucky-bad-day-or-bad-fortune-misfortune-arrow--Stock-PhotoI haven’t been feeling so fortunate lately. This past month,

  • I injured my back at the gym. The slightest movement was quite painful, so I as unable to attend our annual family party. It will be another year before I’ll see some of the people that did get to go.
  • I ended up in the Emergency Room with jaw pain, dizziness and heart palpitations. Cause, still unknown despite the many tests. (If you are a woman and experiencing this, it may be a heart attack. Go to the ER immediately.)
  • I broke my computer (though I must admit that was due to bad temper more than bad luck).
  • And after committing to finish the fourth revision on what I thought was my unique and original MG novel (Dream Sweepers), I found out that another author is releasing a similar book (Dreambenders) this spring. Too similar.

I am the Unluckiest Girl in the World.

Except I’m not.

My bad luck has revealed how truly lucky I am.

  • I am part of an incredible group of writers who will not only help me reach my goals, but keep me smiling with their encouragement and bottles of wine. One of them even lent me her old laptop.
  • I didn’t have a heart attack and my back injury allowed me to shorten that pile of books I’ve wanted to read.
  • Upon hearing my medical frustrations, a friend suggested the book Medical Medium by Anthony William. I am hopeful that I may no longer have to suffer with the dizziness, mental fog, joint pains, heart palpitations and depression that I have been experiencing for far too long.
  • And while I am still going to finish my original and unique story, I’ve decided to focus on another novel that has a better chance of getting published – a story about a girl who thinks Fate hates her when she has to go live with her eccentric great aunt.

It’s new title: The Unluckiest Girl in the World

When the Universe Speaks

I’ve been meaning to take a day off from work to try and finish my forever-in-progress novel, but haven’t managed to get around to actually doing that.

Then…

…our dog developed started itching and scratching himself to the point where his hair was falling out. I thought, well, maybe I’ll take Friday off and take him to the vet and send the rest of the day writing. But it was spreading quickly. So I took him to the vet on Thursday night. $294 later, he’s is on antibiotics and steroids for a possible allergic reaction to either a particular food or something environmental and I went to work on Friday. Not a lot of writing done.

Then…

…Sunday evening, not even an hour after my husband left for work n Pennsylvania, water started gushing out of the ground by our septic tank. I called the septic company. He asked me if I thought it was an emergency. Well, no. We didn’t need to wash clothes, dishes, ourselves that night. Then he offered to try and fit me in on Monday instead. Only he wasn’t sure what time he could come. I’d have to take the day off and wait around for him to show up and pump out our septic tank. Oh, and it would cost $220.

phone_redRing…Ring…

Hello?

It’s the Universe calling. Quit complaining and listen. Take the day off. Write.

So I did.

I sat. Butt in chair. I wrote. I Iistened.

I finished it! (well, almost)

And I know I must listen to the Universe whenever it speaks.

I just hope next time it isn’t such an expensive call.

Giving Thanks

Me, age 6

Me, age 6

Most (sane) people go to college, start a career, get married, buy a house, then have kids, etc..  Me, not so sane. You might say I’ve taken more of a circuitous path, not only in life, but in writing as well.

Hence my official Acknowledgements page prior to the actual published book.

Why wait?

There are too many people I need to thank for just getting me to the place where I am at now:

  • Friends who have believed in me far longer than I have believed in myself and encouraged me to follow my heart: Billy Fallon, Peter Reeves, Dana Berenson, and Laurinda Hawkins (still have that engraved pen to sign my first  contract.)
  • Teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms to test-drive first chapters and talk about writing:  Mrs. Van Camp, Mrs. Monarca, Mrs. Govoni, Mrs. Sudol, and librarian, Mrs Phillips.
  • Those students who stopped me in the hallways of Hebron Elementary to ask me again and again “are you finished yet?” and then told me how much they liked it after they finally got to read it.  Many, many thanks to Meredith B., Brian H., Ben M., Zach S., Katelyn J., Sam B.,  I would never have finished the first draft if you hadn’t have kept asking.
  • Friends and family who graciously read the first draft and didn’t puke – Joe, Dylan, Elena, Mom, Tony, Andy, Natalie, Aunt Chele, Uncle Mike, Kathy, Tim, Julie, Scott, Esther, Sarah, Sierra, Angela, Olivia, the Oullette family, and Amy (the slow reader who I know will get it to one of these days).
  • My fellow SCBWI writers who continually offer gentle, yet honest criticism and support along with plenty of wine, chocolate and laughter: Nancy Tandon, Holly Howley, Jill Dailey, Jessica Loupos, Kristina O’Leary, Paula Wilson, Betsy Wittemann, Carol and Kelly.  I truly believe we will be popping champagne corks one day soon.  And thank you, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, for being so generous with your advice, and encouragement.
  • The very talented and supportive writers and poets of the Whispering River Writing Group – Merle and Arielle Potchinsky, Willa Correnti, Alice Kuzel and Kelly Parlin.
  • The lovely ladies of the Blue Crayon critique group – Heather Montgomery, Sharon Pegram and Linda Anderson.  Our monthly deadline has kept me moving forward many times.
  • Most especially, I must thank Carol and John Merrifield for not only opening up their home to five writers who desperately needed that quiet, uninterrupted time to create, but for raising the kindest, most thoughtful and talented daughter, Nancy Tandon, who suggested our (hopefully annual) Fireside Retreat.  And a special thank you, Mom, for being “on-call” that weekend, just in case Joe had to work and couldn’t take care of the kids and the dog.
  • And finally, I thank the Twitter/blog followers whom I am not related to, nor have ever actually met  –  thank you for that tiny thrill of knowing I’ve touched another life, giving me reason to keep writing.

I could not have come this far without you all.

I thank you all and invite you to my future book launch (date and location TBD, hopefully in this century).

Cheers –

The Art of Raising a Writer

Uba 9wksA puppy touches something very deep in us, and when we first hold one in our arms it is easy to be swept away with blind enthusiasm. Who would suspect the challenge that awaits us? – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Meet Uba, a recent addition to our family. Having never raised a puppy before, I was not quite prepared for the challenge. While extremely frustrating and stressful at times, the experience has also been enlightening and rewarding.

Much like writing a novel.

Both require patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement.

Patience is a key virtue in nurturing a relationship, to keep us relaxed and moving forward step-by-step. With patience, we can stay in touch with the bigger picture…  – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Writing a novel, training a puppy takes time and patience. Neither can be rushed. Some days will be better than others. Some days Uba will pee on the rug, without ever indicating he needs to go. Some days I can only manage to write only one sentence. Other days, Uba will sit when told, come when called, and defecate where he should. And I am able to crank out 1000 words without crying. The only way to get it done is step-by-step, day-by-day, word-by-word.

Bad habits develop quickly… Whatever your specific desire, obviously they won’t transpire by magic but will require consistent and conscientious work to make them a reality. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

It’s easy to let Uba sometimes lead the way or run into the house without my permission to enter. It’s hard to ignore an excited puppy, jumping on me because he hasn’t seen me for awhile. It’s easy to slack off, hit that snooze button a couple more times, convince myself that I’ll work on it later that night instead.

The consequences?

One unruly puppy. One unfinished novel. One stressed-out, discouraged, possibly deranged writer.

…motivating and rewarding particular behavior is an essential part of good training. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

He sits. Give him a treat. He comes. Give him a treat. He stays. Give him a treat.

Write a paragraph. Get a treat. Write a scene. Get a treat. Finish a chapter. Get a treat.

Uba likes dog treats. I prefer chocolate.

Dog training actually goes beyond the elementary instruction of basic obedience commands; it must encompass a whole new attitude and lifestyle with your dog. – The Art of Raising a Puppy

Writing goes beyond the simple act of putting words on paper. It’s the attempt to use your memories, thoughts, knowledge, experiences, etc. to create worlds that readers will want to visit over and over again.

Neither is easy.

Both can be rewarding.

And now, as a writer with a dog, I know there are two things I must always carry: a notebook and a plastic bag. I never know when an “idea” will suddenly drop.

Call it serendipity

Call it serendipity. Coincidence. Divine intervention. Author Sharon Creech calls it the great unexpected.

But I thought about all the things that had to have spun into place in order for us to be alive and for us to be right there, right then. I thought about the few things we thought we knew and the billions of things we couldn’t know, all spinning, whirling out there somewhere. – Naomi, The Great Unexpected

In her latest novel, The Great Unexpected (2013, HarperCollins), Sharon Creech explores how unexpected things can be wonderful and how connected people are to each other, even if they are strangers, living oceans apart. I was fortunate to be “right there, right then” at the recent NE-SCBWI annual conference to hear Sharon Creech discuss the relevance of connections in her writing.

In an engaging manner, she explained how two poems, written by different authors and discovered at different times in her life, collided together at the right moment to provide the inspiration for her novel, Love That Dog (2001, Harper Collins). And how she found the message of her Newbery award-winning novel, Walk Two Moons (1994, Scholastic), in a most unexpected place – a fortune cookie.

I’ve had my own great unexpecteds: a visit to an Impressionists exhibit in Glasgow, a mix- up of the words to Gary Wright’s song Dream Weaver, and an introduction to the Velvet Revolution in the book The Wall (2007, Macmillan) by Peter Sis. Random occurrences that have all somehow connected to inspire and influence my own MG novel.

We may not immediately see the underlying web of interconnecting threads linking together, but they are most certainly there. And we need only to allow ourselves to be open to let them connect.

How about you? Have you had any connections, any great unexpecteds?

Writers of the Rivers

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

The Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes used to call the area, Namattakeesett, place of much fish, because of the annual springtime run of herring in the rivers.  Although overfishing, pollution and the destruction of spawning grounds have reduced the abundance of fish, re-stocking and careful management help this springtime event continue.

Yesterday, my family and I were fortunate to witness the first day of this year’s herring run in Pembroke, MA.  We watched a couple of dozen of the river herrings try to make their way up stream toward their spawning grounds.  We saw their obvious struggle to go against the current.

At times, it appeared they were stuck, their wiggling bodies just moving to stay right where they were.  Some even flipped around, only to lose ground.  You wonder how did they make it this far.  Will they get to where they need to go?

Yet, inch by painstaking inch, the herring advance.

They are the writers are the rivers.

We writers continually struggle to find the right words to tell the story.  At times we flip-flop over what we’ve written, make changes, even go back to our original words or ideas.  And sometimes we get stuck.

Sometimes the herring appear to be going nowhere, but they aren’t really stuck.  Instead they are gathering their strength, focusing, getting themselves ready for the next push forward.

It is in the herring’s nature to make this journey, as difficult as it is.  Just as it is for writers.

Inch by inch.   Word by word.  The story gets written.

When we saw one of the fish successfully shimmy forward past a difficult rock step, we clapped and cheered (much to the surprise of the other visitors in the parking lot).

And while the herring may not need our encouragement to get to where they need to go, we writers do.

And I am so very grateful for every cheer I receive from friends and family along my way.

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