Thursday, January 24, 2013

Staying Power

I was digging through my closet the other night, trying to find a file that I need for an upcoming project. To my delight, I came across some files that I hadn't looked at in years (though I never did find the one I actually need). One file was full of my early writing projects, and I quite literally had forgotten all about them.

I have been writing stories for a very long time. That's practically all I did in junior high and high school, and I loved being able to use the stories I wrote for school assignments. When I pulled out the following story, though, I started laughing:

I used to read a lot of romance novels during that time. When I say a lot, I mean that was practically all I read. In retrospect, this was not very good for a shy teenage girl to do since it gave me a rather distorted notion of what a real relationship is like - i.e. not every good man is going to be drop-dead gorgeous with bulging biceps and treat you like a queen - but at the time, I was in love with love.

I submitted this short story, Forever Yours, to my freshman English teacher. I got an A+. Do you recognize the picture? It 's from a television show called Paradise that used to be on CBS in the late 1980s. The main character was a gunfighter-turned-father who had to take care of his sister's orphaned children. His love interest was the local banker, a woman as feisty as she was smart. It was one of my favorite shows probably more for the rocky romance between these two than the gunslingers that used to wander through town.

My story was, naturally, a romance, and the hero was - you guessed it - a former gunslinger on the run, which is why this picture worked so perfectly. In my story, he rescues the damsel in distress, a woman taking a trip on her own to Nebraska to find her father, and the two fall in love.

Corny, yes. But oh, how I loved writing it.

God had a plan for me to find this the other night. Why? Because recently, the Self-Doubt Demon has been sticking its horns into me. I didn't think I could write fiction any more. I've been so focused on my non-fiction projects that downshifting to fiction is a challenge these days and I've been wondering ridiculous things. Do I still have what it takes? Why aren't the words flowing so well anymore? Should I stop? 

Yet fiction remains my passion. When I think about writing my stories, when I dream of my characters and their struggles and conflicts, my spirit lightens and I can't wait to dive back into that world again.

So when I found this treasure trove of memories - finished short stories, snippets of ideas for novels, research, etc. - I realized how I could never walk away from this writing gig. It's been a part of me for so long that I honestly do not know what I'd do or how I'd function without it.

Sure, it's hard sometimes. Sure, the Self-Doubt Demon needs slaying every once in awhile. But it's all worth it.

I actually think it's pretty darn awesome that I am still so in love with something I discovered in the sixth grade.

That's staying power.

That's passion.

And that's why I'll never give it up.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chaos and Creativity

For some of us, being creative means being messy. When I take on a project, whether big or small, I inevitably make a mess wherever I happen to be working. I thought having an office dedicated to my writing would help me keep the clutter to one room, but I don't always feel like working in my office. Sometimes, I'll write in bed. Other times, like this past week, I set up shop in my living room because it's just too cold in my office upstairs.

And the clutter has followed me.

Exhibit A:

Why I can work surrounded by all this clutter mystifies me. I don't even notice the mess.

Inevitably, though, I will notice and get tired of it. That's when the cleaning spree happens. I sort paperwork, put books back on the shelf, vacuum, etc., etc..

But the mess always returns despite my best efforts to keep it at bay.

I think I've made my peace with it because this poster says it all:

Thank goodness!

Can you work in clutter or are you just the opposite?

Friday, January 11, 2013

My New Writing Mentee

I now have the proud position of being a young writer's mentor. She specifically asked me to help her on her writing journey, and I simply couldn't resist the opportunity.


That young writer is my 12-year-old daughter.

I don't know if I can accurately describe the burst of happiness in my heart when she asked me to be her writing mentor. I was thrilled. Honored. And yes, even humbled.

Last weekend, we had two writing sessions. The first was in our living room. We lit the candles, turned off all the lights, and each took a couch. She typed away on her laptop, and I typed away on mine. She plugged in her music while I chose to write in silence. As I glanced her way, I saw how fast her fingers were flying while mine sort of meandered over the keyboard.

I thought, I remember when writing was that easy for me.

And it used to be. I didn't think much about plot or developing my characters or conflict or any of that. I just wrote the story and let it take me where it wanted to.
Busy weaving tales...
Our second writing session was in my office. I let her have my desk and comfy chair. She grabbed her pillow and blanket (my office is on the second floor and slightly chilly) and made herself comfortable. Again, she typed away and her word count far surpassed mine.

My daughter's novel is now over 120,000 words long. She's pretty proud of that fact, and she should be. When I read her writing, I try not to look at it as a mother, but as a writer, and I have no hesitation in saying that she is a better writer than I was at her age.

I see good things ahead for her and I also see an incredible opportunity to share the writing wisdom I've accumulated over the past 25 years. It's even better when I get to share it with my daughter.

We had our first mentoring session Wednesday night. I asked her what sorts of writing issues she wanted to address, and she said, "Description and dialogue."

We focused on description first and I had her do a fun exercise. "Look at how the light touches objects in the room. Describe what you see."

To my amazement, she didn't pick out the most obvious things. Some of her answers: "I see the radio reflected in the picture frame" and "There are shadows in the folds of the curtains." I then explained how she could use these descriptions to create a certain mood in a scene. We also discussed using the five senses in description and how it's not necessary to use all five in every scene. It was a terrific conversation.

In reading her writing and listening to her observations, I am beginning to realize how she sees the world. It's different than I see it, and that is a good thing. It helps us both to stretch and grow.

And maybe, just maybe, she can help me find my way back to those days when my fingers would fly and I would be so enraptured with the story that I didn't care about plot or character or any of the rest of it.(But I plan to reserve that wild abandon for the first draft only!).

I've been given a huge blessing to be able to share my passion with my daughter. I look forward to the journey!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Childhood Fear #487: Driving

While driving to work the other day, I realized how completely normal and mundane it is for me to drive a vehicle that weighs several hundred pounds and could potentially be a deadly weapon. I get behind the steering wheel, maneuver through traffic, and drive down the city streets with nary an effort.

It wasn't always this way.

Unlike other kids, I was terrified of my fourteenth birthday, the time when I could get a school permit and  drive the ten miles to school every day.

Why would a kid not want to drive?

It all started one day in our pasture about a mile from home. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, if I recall correctly, and our entire family - my parents and my two brothers - were out working cattle (for all you non-farmers, "working cattle" means you bring them in to get vaccinated, branded, or some other form of care).

When we finished, I jokingly told my dad, "I'll drive us home!"

He didn't flinch when he said, "Okay. Get in."

Panic filled my stomach. "No, I was just kidding. Really. I don't really want to drive home, Dad. Please."

"It's time you learned."

I pleaded. I begged. (My brothers undoubtedly laughed). But Dad didn't give in.

Now if you're a farm kid, learning to drive in fifth or sixth grade is not uncommon, and many learn much younger than that. But so far, I'd managed to avoid it.

There was only one problem: we had the pick-up, and it had a manual transmission.

I climbed in, my mom and two brothers got into the truck box, and my Dad was in the passenger seat. He instructed me on how to start the vehicle.

"Use your left foot to push in the clutch. Put your right foot on the brake. Then turn the key."

I managed to accomplish this fairly easily. Then Dad said, "Now slowly let out the clutch and put your foot on the gas."

Ahem. Apparently my version of "slowly" and his were different because my foot moved at the speed of frozen syrup. When I gave it some gas, the pick-up jerked forward so violently that my mom and two brothers were thrown against the truck box. (My mom still likes to tell me about the astronomically big bruise she suffered as a result of me "popping" the clutch).

I cried. I am pretty sure I pleaded with my Dad to let me try this whole driving thing later as I was only 11 years old and I didn't need to know how to drive yet. He refused.

After everyone sat back down, I tried again. And again. And again. Dad was unfailingly patient. And finally, finally, I got it into gear and we started making the trek home.

But I was still stuck on this "slow" part. I think I managed about five miles an hour or maybe even less. Whatever it was, we were crawling down the dirt road (thank goodness it was our own road and not on the highway!). I think that was the longest drive of my life. What should have taken five minutes took closer to forty.

By the time we finally made it home, I felt such intense relief that if I had been the fainting type, I would have expired right there on the front lawn. But I didn't. Dad and Mom told me I'd done a good job and my brothers made fun of me as only brothers can do.

In the years after that, I was terrified to get behind the wheel again. I resisted all efforts and never again volunteered to drive us all home.

When I finally did drive,  it was in a car with automatic transmission, and I learned how easy and enjoyable driving could be.

Still, I remained incredibly wary of manual transmissions. I would literally get sick to my stomach at the thought of driving one.

Want to know a secret?

I still get nauseated when I think of driving a stick-shift.

Oh, people have tried to teach me over the years, from my sister-in-law to my mom to my husband. I've practiced a few times and could probably drive one to save my life, but that's about it. Suffice to say that when I go car shopping, I have to buy a car with an automatic transmission, and there are some cars (like my Dad's 1966 Chevelle) that I can't drive because it's a manual transmission.

And you know what?

I'm okay with that.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Light Bulb!

In the children's movie, Despicable Me, the main character, Gru, who is a delicious paradox of villain and hero, will get a wonderful idea and say, "Light bulb!"  (Side note: if you've never seen this movie, get thee to NetFlix or Red Box or the Internet and watch it. You won't regret it.)

I had a light bulb idea last night with my novel. It wasn't just a dim light bulb idea, either, but an incredibly bright, story-changing-for-the-better idea.

Where do these light bulb ideas come from, anyway? I'm reading an interesting book right now called Thinking Write by Kelly L. Stone that delves into the different parts of our brain and how we can use our subconscious to be more creative.

I believe these "light bulb ideas" come from our subconscious. It is always working and trying to come up with ways to solve problems. I've come to the conclusion that if I just think about my novel for a bit and run through a few different scenarios to fix whatever problem I'm having, then stop thinking about it for awhile, my subconscious will work on it and eventually come up with the solution when I least expect it, thus producing a "light bulb" moment.

Stone shows how you can tap into the power of your subconscious to unleash your creativity. I think there's something to that. Our brains are very powerful, and I don't think we use even a fraction of their capability in our daily lives much less our writing.

Is there a way you work through your writing problems that result in a light bulb moment?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Winner of the 2012 Christmas Tree War

Back in early December, I blogged about the war between my cat and I over the Christmas tree. I couldn't keep water in the tree stand because he would drink it. I would find ornaments on the floor. The garland looked like it had been thrown on the tree by a two-year-old.

I flew the white flag of surrender, and today, I took down the tree.

After taking all the ornaments, lights, and garland off, this is what ended up on the ground:

An extremely dry Christmas tree
This tree was so dry. Luckily, I did not plug up my vacuum cleaner when I vacuumed them all up. Yes, I tried to keep water in the tree stand, but Slick always managed to drink it all. And it hasn't affected him in the least. In fact, I think he's crazier than usual.

So...I hereby declare Slick the winner of the 2012 Christmas Tree War. He looks quite proud of himself, doesn't he?

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance!