Sunday, August 29, 2010

How do the leaves know when to fall?

I was sweeping the sidewalk today, and I noticed some unnerving evidence of fall coming. There were leaves on the ground. I'd been hearing the acorns hit the roof for some time, but leaves are a lot sneakier. They don't announce their fall with a loud rap you can hear from below. They just...flutter.

Thinking of the end of summer with a pang reminded me about endings in general, especially since I've been struggling with one on a picture book. A good ending is like the leaves falling from the trees. Even though you may not want the story to end, it feels right to end it at that point.

What are your favorite book endings? Do you find that it's a bittersweet time that you want to go on, but know that it's over? Do you ever feel cheated at the end, like the author missed her timing somehow and ended in the wrong place?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The hare, the tortoise, and the roadkill

I have to make a confession. Since we also had an out of town wedding last weekend, I didn't give writing a lot of thought in the hustle of packing, traveling, doing weddingish stuff, and finally heading home to celebrate the weekend by doing mounds of laundry. I brought my computer, but I admit we only used it to mapquest for directions and to watch SG-1 episodes in the hotel room after the festivities were over.

But here we are in the second week of school, and things have calmed down a bit. The wedding is a memory, the kids and I have our printed schedules, and I'm taking a deep breath and remembering that even I can extract small amounts of spare time if I'm careful with my schedule. It's not a lot, but it's something.

You see, some writers are hares. They turn out a lot of copy daily. That's the best, of course. I'm not a hare, but I admire their ability to kick it out. Some writers are tortoises. This is the usual me. A tortoise turns out a little copy daily, but consistently. It's better than nothing, especially if you have very little extra time. I also try to use time fragments by carrying a notebook around with me. Hares are okay, and tortoises are okay. When it comes down to it, there's only one thing you must avoid becoming if you're a writer.


Roadkill is the writer who gets run over by life, meaning she didn't keep on writing. This past two weeks, I was in danger of becoming roadkill as I was overwhelmed by school preparation in combination with a trip. Let's contemplate what it means to become roadkill.

1. Roadkill doesn't move

Well, not unless you pick it up and throw it. It has lost the ability to move itself. As a writer, you might as well face the truth now. If you let yourself get run down by life, you have to be the one who cares, because no one else will. You have to keep yourself moving, word by word, draft by draft.

2. Roadkill stinks

The unfortunate truth is that first drafts always stink, even when you write all the time. But at least they can be fixed if you work on them. Happily, everything can be fixed. However, if you stop writing entirely, or are very sporadic, you will definitely stink, because you'll stop growing and learning as a writer.

3. Roadkill doesn't get a headstone or an epitaph

No one remembers the writers who never got around to writing down those great novels they had ideas for. Whenever I read about the number of rejections writers like Madeleine L'Engle got, I get a little gaspy. What if she had given up? We would have missed out on so many great books. I also find myself annoyed by early deaths of favorite writers like Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. Who knows what awesome ideas these ladies had, but didn't have time to explore on paper? Alas, we just have to be content with the treasures they left us.

So let's recap.

• Being a hare is okay. You get a lot done over time. I'm not one at this time of my life, but my hat's off to you if you're a hare.

• Being a tortoise is okay. You are consistent and you don't quit. Someday, if you work hard, I believe you will succeed.

• Being roadkill is not okay. The turkey buzzards are watching for you from telephone poles and drooling. Don't give them the satisfaction of seeing you get run down. Keep moving.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Creativity and Heaven

Yesterday I saw a man walking from the train who distinctly stood out from the crowd. He wore a broad-brimmed straw hat, a white hat and a knotted green neckerchief. He had a small bit of white/gray beard and walked with a jaunty step. His appearance delighted my heart.

I love that God gave each one of us such creativity. Each one of us human beings has the ability to express our personality in an almost infinite number of ways. It occurred to me that once again, this delightful ability is just one more way of seeing God's infinity. The creative ability inside each person comes directly from the source of creation.

In heaven, when all the impurities have been left behind, I believe we will know and see each other as the children of God that we are - with His divine nature as expressed in and through us in endlessly creative ways. Won't that be wonderful?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why does life have an accelerator but no brakes?

At least, that's the way it seems. Yes, I knew that we were starting school this week. Yes, I did my fair share of procrastinating this summer, although some of it was for exceptionally good personal reasons that I cannot detail for you. Yes, I knew it would be trickier than ever before since we were coming off a big family wedding weekend, and I would have to corral and moralize the troops to begin Monday morning. But I can pretty much say without compare, that the difficulty of starting school on August 16th this year absolutely defied my wildest dreams. For once, I do not feel ready.

Not that readiness is everything. There was the year that I was perfectly ready and nervously started school on time, every pencil sharpened, every paper in place, only to be blasted out of the water as my kids rush into the house in tears because some creature had traumatically chomped one of their chickens. So much for a smooth morning. No one could concentrate worth beans, and I think something of the sort happened the next year, too. I began to wonder if a chicken must always die the first day of school. This year, one of their pets expired on Saturday, two days too early. Frankly, I do not mourn her early passing.

So tomorrow we begin, whether I feel ready or not. It will be a good year. I'd like to step a little further from the traditional this year (I'm a terribly traditional learner and teacher, in many cases) and have a little more fun with our learning techniques in school. I hope to learn a lot this year myself, while I continue to write. I hope we'll not only survive, but flourish.

I think the best thing, though, is that, no matter what, we'll be in it together.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Framed by the inner editor

I don't entirely believe in writer's block. I know you hear about it all the time, and to be honest, I've been stuck on chapter seven for a couple of weeks now, but I still don't believe in writer's block.

What I do believe in is inner editor block. Perhaps a better term for it would be creative constipation. I figured it out late last night as I finally got past the problem I was having with chapter seven.

The writer in me was knocking out the story in a pages document. She was excited because she had finally gotten past awful chapter seven and was in the zone, happy and oblivious. Then she heard a knock at the door. Not knowing better—the writer never seems to learn—she innocently opened the door with a smile on her face.

Standing before her was the inner editor in disguise, wearing one of those fake Groucho Marx glasses-nose-and-mustache numbers to hide her true identity. The writer recognized her anyway. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun like it always is, and she had twelve yellow number two pencils sticking out of it like an academic porcupine. She peered over the reading glasses sitting on the tip of her nose and tapped a carefully manicured fire-engine red finger nail on her cold curving smile.

"I can't believe you wrote this," she said with an unpleasant snicker.

The writer looked confused. She had to pull herself out of the story-world she had been in and back to reality. "What do you mean?"

The inner editor sashayed over to the computer and pointed a long accusing finger. "This! I mean, apart from the obvious grammatical mistakes, it just doesn't flow. What were you thinking?"

The writer shriveled under the inner editor's mesmerizing gaze and harsh words. The inner editor pressed her advantage.

"There's no way you can go any further until you get this thing fixed. Furthermore, as penance, you're going to have to go back and rewrite every chapter so far at least ten times until I'm satisfied." She leaned against the desk, shaking her head sorrowfully. "Don't think you can get any substandard writing past me. I saw the notes you made about chapters eight and nine. The plot is implausible, the characters shallow, and the dialogue ridiculous. I doubt it's worth putting it down on paper. I'm thinking we need to junk this whole project and start over from scratch."

The writer's eyes glazed over. She was almost completely paralyzed, caught in the evil clutches of the inner editor.

"And don't think you can blame me for any of this drivel. It's all your fault. You're the writer, after all." The inner editor smirked.

The writer shook herself, a spark appearing in her eyes. "Hey," she said. "That's right. I am the writer."

The inner editor flinched. Maybe she had gone a tad too far. "Now, now. I didn't mean you were in charge, or anything like that. You need me or you wouldn't ever produce a polished manuscript." She edged toward the door, but she wasn't quick enough. The writer grabbed her by the collar and gave her a quick shove into the hallway. The editor stumbled away, trying to regain her footing. "Hey! That is no way to treat an editor!"

"Too late." The writer was back in control. "When human resources sends you to Acapulco because you're a pest, you need to stay there until I ask for your help during rewrites." The writer began to shut the door, but paused for a moment. "Oh, and by the way. No one is going to pin writer's block on me when you're really the culprit. Scram!"

The inner editor scurried down the hallway, picking up number two pencils that had worked loose from her bun. The writer shut the door firmly. She dusted her hands and took a deep breath. It felt good to be free of the inner editor once again. She sat down at the keyboard, fingers poised for only a moment before they began to tap the keys.

"As I shook water droplets off my arms, I ran into Mom, who had stopped in front of me. She gave a strangled cry..."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

One word at a time

This week has been a rough one, for different reasons. For the first time in a long time, I didn't post on Monday. Well, I did post, but then I erased it because I didn't like it. (Blame the inner editor, but the outer one was in agreement.) I've been working through The Writer's Portable Mentor and following Kristi Holl's advice to actually do the assignments. That's perhaps why I'm still stuck on chapter one. It's much easier to zip through a book on writing and not do the actual assignments, but as Kristi pointed out on her blog, that doesn't produce the results that you want as a writer. So I'm bound and determined not to venture past chapter one until I'm done with the assignments that go with it.

Also, while I was knocking out Examiner articles for the past ten days (and no, I didn't win the ipad that went with the incentive), I let the other writing in my life go. Unfortunately, that means that I didn't make much progress on my novel and lost a lot of momentum. I have had to re-evaluate this week, and kick back into a regular word quota. Even though I feel intimidated by writing a novel (as opposed to a picture book), I just need to stick to it and get it done the same way I do any other kind of writing: one word at a time.

So hopefully you've all been more productive than I have lately, but condemning yourself doesn't do any good. You just have to learn from the past, sit down, and get back to writing. One word at a time.