It’s About Life

_DSC0010Long-awaited spring finally came to Maine…finally. Then we went back to winter briefly, followed immediately by a fast-forward to summer. Last week we hit the record books with one of the warmest days on that date in history: 84F degrees. The warmest day in 222 days. I was sweltering and I almost complained. (I didn’t.)

This post isn’t about the weather. It’s about spring. It’s about life.

Renewal and new life is everywhere. Daffodils in the garden. Tulips. That burst of heat brought the leaves into full bud (last week there were none). And the weeds are growing, too. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I have been starting a spring cleanup in advance of a summer garden—there’s a lot to clean up after our long winter. A sweet House Finch couple is nesting in our porch eaves, and this morning I listened to the male singing happily while sitting on the string of Christmas lights we never took down (because of the enormous piles of snow)…now we’ll likely keep them up so we don’t disturb the nest.

Yesterday, for Mother’s Day, I had the happy and (these days) only approximately twice-yearly occasion of having both “my kids” home along with my son’s wonderful girlfriend. Bliss is not too strong a word. We had a lovely breakfast together then we went to a nearby goat farm to visit the baby goats. My daughter and I have been planning it for months, but I think my son was a bit skeptical. I’d been to the Sunflower Farm Creamery once before to “hold baby goats,” and I thought it was just the thing we all needed after a long winter of bad weather, of being indoors too much, of work, and of stresses…we’re all together because next weekend we’ll be celebrating the very exciting occasion of my son’s graduation from medical school. If you’ve read my blog for long, you may remember when he started medical school—it was the year I started this blog—four years ago. Those years have flown by (for me). For him it’s been a lot of work.

We needed those baby goats.

Did I mention that my daughter is preparing to apply to medical school? (Which in itself is a major ordeal.) She’s home—on vacation—but she’s working the whole time. Like I said we really needed those baby goats.

There were only about four families at the goat farm when we arrived, and almost every person—man, woman, and child—had a cat-sized baby goat in their arms. The goats were resting peacefully in their arms, and the people were quiet and peaceful, too. As we entered the pasture, we were immediately surrounded by bleating goats. I watched them scampering; watched the other families interact with the goats around us; watched the baby goats nibble at people, chase down their mothers for reassurance; watched even very small children quietly and gently stroking sleeping goats in their laps. It really was magical.

“Holding those baby goats really was therapeutic,” my son texted me after we parted ways: he and his girlfriend rushing to the next busy thing in their lives as they prepare to move a thousand miles away to where he’ll start his medical residency and she’ll start law school.

“I miss the goats,” my daughter said, as she settled back in front of the computer. “I wonder if I can find a medical school with a goat farm.” She put in her ear buds and turned her eyes to the screen. Next week she’ll head back to the west coast to start a new job—having her at the dining room table working for the whole week is this mother’s dream come true.

Later this month, the baby goats will head to their new homes, the woman who owns the goat farm told me. At eight weeks the baby goats go in pairs. She’s very particular about where (and to whom) they go. She has a long waiting list. My daughter and I would love to own a goat farm someday; we talked about it in the car on the way home. Someday.

Next week we’ll gather for my son’s graduation: my aunt, my father, and my son’s girlfriends’ parents will join us. It will be a celebration of life. As my son graduates, I know I’ll wonder. Where did those four years—where did my babies—go?

Then, we’ll scamper. To new homes, to new jobs, to new projects. We’ll all begin anew.

What’s new with you this spring?

Cheers,

Julia 

Do You Believe in Magic?

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Back to the coffee shop… more magic!

It’s all coming back to me. Two days into NaNoWriMo and the drama has begun. And it’s not all about the writing. I’m beginning to think NaNo (or birthing a first draft of a novel) is a bit like birthing a baby. You forget all the bad parts—the physical pain, the fears and the feelings it can’t be done, the fear that something will go wrong, the sleepless nights, the anguish of worry—or maybe you’d never be willing to do it again.

Last year I “won” NaNo. That is, I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November: National Novel Writing Month. Actually, to be technically accurate, I wrote more than 50,000 words. And I finished the first draft of a novel.

Last year I also wrote four blogs about my NaNo drama. In one, I detailed how I decided (somewhat spur of the moment) to commit to NaNo. In one I recounted my injury that I was afraid might sideline me from finishing (I shut my hand in the car door)—well actually MEH (My Engineer Husband) typed that one for me. In one I recounted certain NaNo truths (and lies). And in a final one, I talked about how I won.

Today I reread those four blogs. Believe it or not, I’d forgotten all about them—except the one that talked about winning! I forgot I slammed my hand in the car door. I forgot it was a last minute decision. I even forgot how much fun it was. It kind of went by in a whirlwind to be honest.

Yesterday after my first writing session (I wrote only 782 words—and I knew that to finish the 50K I’d need to average about 1600 a day), I was discouraged. I felt pretty sure that my idea wasn’t a very good one. Then this morning I got up early. I made a pot of coffee and started writing. Before I knew it I’d written a thousand words. Then two thousand. The idea still didn’t feel like the best one I’d ever had, but I was inhabiting the world, I was seeing the scenes in my mind. I’d even identified a song that was emblematic of the story. (It wasn’t  one of the ones from my last post. It’s “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. It’s now on endless loop while I write. Yesterday I heard it on the radio in the car and I had to turn it off—I started to feel my eyes drift closed, started to feel a writing trance coming on…no, really.)

And there’s more. That drama. It’s all falling into place. Like magic.

Drama.

I forgot when I got up that it was Daylight Savings. In fact, last night I accidentally set my clock ahead instead of back. So did I wake up two hours early?

I made coffee.

I wrote my words (2695 this morning).

I went into the kitchen and a spaghetti squash fell off the counter onto my little toe (as MEH said, “a squash squashed your toe.”

The first snow of the season started to fall.

After I posted a snowy pic on Instagram, I started thinking more about the novel I’m calling TYAAD.

More pieces fell into place, and I fell a little more in love.

Magic.

What are you doing for the month of November? Do you believe in magic? I do.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. if you’re doing NaNo, too, let’s be buddies! I’m Julia.M.Martin!!

5 Ways Getting Rid of TV Makes Life Better

Two months ago we got rid of TV.

It’s not that I watched too much (unless you consider four hours of the Today show every morning too much) or that it was interfering with my life (how could it, we had a DVR so I could record anything I wanted to watch for later). The plain and simple truth is we couldn’t afford it after MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job.

At first it was really hard, and very strange, to not tune out in front of the TV whenever I wanted to. But now, I’ve discovered that in many ways I am actually enjoying not having TV. Here are 5 ways my life is better.

1. I get more done: more writing, more reading, and recently someone commented on how much cleaner my house looks. According to A.C. Nielsen, the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (that’s 28 hours a week, and I’m afraid I might have been much higher…). That means that just since we’ve gotten rid of TV, I’ve had almost 200 extra hours to do other things! (Like blogging—I started my blog after we got rid of TV!)

2. We save $100 a month! I can hardly believe we paid $1200 a year for cable TV! Don’t worry, Time Warner is doing okay without our money, we still pay over $75 a month to them for phone and Internet service. (And, in all fairness to Time Warner, they were willing to let us keep “basic cable” for $15.95 a month. No deal: we go big or go home.)

3. We have real conversations without the humming numbing television in the background.

4. I feel happier and less sad. 53 percent of news stories are about crime, disaster, and war; and 79 percent of Americans believe TV violence helps contribute to real-life violence. Further, a study of young men by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed a connection between higher levels of TV viewing and greater levels of depression. Watching beautiful people with perfect homes living unrealistic lives or being bombarded with endless advertisements of things that no one can afford to live without—what’s not to be depressed about?

5. I have come to appreciate the silence and peace of just being. A lot of the time, the TV would be on in the background for no reason. Studies have shown that television viewing prolongs dominance of right brain functions, and thus causes a trance-like state of mind. And while I admit there are times I’d really like to zone out in front of the TV, I’m trying to do more constructive and healthier things with that time—like reading or coming up with new things to write about or taking a walk.

Even though we gave up TV purely for financial reasons, it has brought many positive side benefits. So many, that we are seriously considering giving it up more permanently. Still, sometimes I’m not so sure…there are things I miss, too, and at times I think we should bring TV back into our lives, and I just need to develop more self control over when and how much I watch.

What are your experiences with TV? Does it interfere with getting things done or are you able to tame your viewing enough that it’s not a problem? Are there positive benefits of TV, in regard to writing, that I haven’t thought of? (No, this is not just looking for an excuse to get TV back in my life!) I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

Cheers,

Julia

Dear Blog Readers, I Need Your Help!


Dear Blog Readers,


I need your help! Are you like me? Are you a creature of habit? If so, then please read further and help me out!


Here’s the thing. I am a slave to schedule. Which can be a blessing and a curse. When things are well defined and humming along, like: wake up, make breakfast for the family, take the kids to school, go to the gym, sit down and write until lunch, have lunch. Next, write until the first after school event. Then it works out well.


But what if something new is thrown into the schedule? Especially if that something new is fairly undefined with a mind of it’s own, like a new puppy or starting a new blog? Then what?


Unfortunately I did not get a new puppy. (No more new puppies for this household—that’s a whole different blog.) But I did adopt a new blog. And it’s wreaking havoc with my schedule! Here are the new things I am trying to fit in and figure out:


1. Writing the blog. (On the surface this should not be a big deal, because I was already writing anyway, but it IS a big deal because I sweat and stress. I know “hit the publish button,” like one blog I read said. And I do, by my self-imposed deadline of noon. One day I finished by 6:45 a.m. And it was like, WOOOOHOOOO! But, still, that’s time I would’ve and should’ve been writing fiction or editing for clients or….)


2. Reading other bloggers’ blogs. This is crucial for me. For one thing, there is fascinating stuff out there! Do you have any idea how much fun it is to read about how other people (you!) write or figure out why they decide what they write. (I have my favorites, but that’s not what this blog is about either.)


3. Researching the things I want to write my blogs about. Again, crucial. My scientific/technical background requires me to be nothing if not accurate. I even researched the spot observation information I included about my mother in yesterday’s blog. Good grief. Also, I enjoy research (yes, another blog).


4. Tweeting. This is perhaps the area that I understand the least. Especially about making connections. It’s been very helpful to read Twitter Kiss and Tell and Twitter Tips: Part Two on Nina Badzin’s blog. But clearly I need to devote an entire day (at least) to really absorbing the information. (I strongly doubt this will be the topic of a future blog because Nina Badzin already covered everything….although, on the other hand, you might get a good laugh at my expense…) So, how much? How often? When, and what? I need some Tweeps!


5. Knowing when to stop. There’s just too much.


So, gentle readers (and I do want you to be gentle), what’s a writer to do? How do you fit it all in? Does it get easier, over time, to juggle the blogging with the fiction with the paying clients? What are your tricks and/or suggestions?


Thanks (in advance) for your help.


Best regards,


Julia Munroe Martin

Blogger-in-training


p.s. 7:26 a.m. EST and I’m done. Wooohooo!

Today’s Word is Pressure, Believe You Me



(noun) the burden of physical or mental stress (as defined by Merriam Webster online)


One of the new realities of my life is sitting down every day to write a blog. No one asked me to do this. No one clamored at my door. I write a blog because I want to. As a quote-unquote-newbie, this is pressure enough. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So it takes time and thinking and more time.


Thinking. A common pitfall of mine. And, as such, in the what-was-I-thinking category, last week I proclaimed “Wednesday is Word(le) Day.” And it worked! So far, the most popular post on my blog is that one. Go figure. (Of course, I haven’t yet been named a Top Ten Blog for Writers, but who’s competing?) I’m guessing it was the quirky blog title that pulled readers in, but who knows.


It caused me a lot of pressure this week. What word will I pick? How will I decide? I went to site after site, finally deciding to write about the most common word in the English language. Kind of like starting at A. This led me to www.wordcount.org, a very cool website that presents “an interactive presentation of the 86800 most common words in the English language.” Here’s the thing. Every word is numbered! So, I could start with #1, find the most common word in the English language, and bingo, problem solved. Unfortunately the #1 word turned out to be the. Predictable. But not exactly what I’d been hoping for.


But, EUREKA! I had yet another random idea: what if I went to a random number generating site, generated a random number between 1 and 86800, and then used that number to go back and get a word from the numbered word list!? Perfect plan. Except this: my random number was 41,632. And when I typed that number into the word site, up popped cholecystokinin.


“a hormone secreted especially by the duodenal mucosa that regulates the emptying of the gallbladder and secretion of enzymes by the pancreas and that has been found in the brain.”


And since everything I ever wanted to learn about gallbladders was in the emergency room during a gallstone attack, I decided to move on and spare us all.


Back to the drawing board. Next, as I moved beyond Sunday, and realized it was Valentine’s Day, my week-long love theme jelled. Of love I know. But what word would I choose? Again, putting pressure on myself, I wrote in my blog on Monday, that my Wednesday Word would have something to do with love.


But the love words are all so common and well known. And everyone was blogging about them! Again the pressure, but by happenstance, I was reminded of anagrams on Twitter, a blog, a website about words, or somewhere else on another one of the zillions of blogs I’ve visited this week.


For love, there is only one anagram: vole. Which is very cool because the prairie vole is one of the only monogamous animals (besides—often—humans). I briefly considered writing about voles, but I think I just wrote everything I could that hasn’t already been written on wikipedia…so I crossed it off my list.


Ok. So. Wednesday Eve. My Engineer Husband (MEH) and I are watching the fourth movie in as many days. Again with the love theme. Last night Sideways. The night before Love Actually. But nothing really kept my attention because in the back of my mind was the pressure pressure pressure, pecking away at my mind. It was Wednesday Eve, for goodness sake, and I didn’t have a WORD.


After the movie, and way too late, MEH and I revisited my list of candidates:

Candidates 1a and 1b. #34,229 wilcoxon; #35,662 freebie. Number and word generating again. REJECTED. Although I actually liked both words, if I was going to use this proscribed method for choosing, I wanted a word on the first try. Otherwise I would be compelled to admit I used the second or third try and make up some elaborate story of why.


Candidate 2. Back again to the love theme: duprass. This is the “karass of two” from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. REJECTED. a) it’s a made up word from a made up language, and b) I never read the book (MEH did), but I may feel compelled to lie that I did.


Candidate 3. To demonstrate how really down on the whole word thing I was feeling, I turned to anti-love, and perhaps what could arguably be called the antithesis of love: unrequited. Like Cyrano’s great love of Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac and Pip’s of Estella in Great Expectations. REJECTED. I actually started writing about this one, but it just didn’t go anywhere.


I went to bed, unrequited. And woke up way too early. I usually do, but this time it was with the pressure in my mind. It’s Wednesday MORNING and I DON’T HAVE A WORD. Not quite the same pressure as not having a present to give on an anniversary or a birthday, but it felt bad.


And then it hit me. PRESSURE! And that, dear readers, is a small glimpse inside the mind of Julia Munroe Martin. Tomorrow, if you dare, please join me again as I return to the by now dreaded love theme and I blog about “Making up with Mr. (Re)Write.”


My question to you: what causes pressure in your writing life? Or life? Any ideas for words you’d like to see on Word Day? Please?


Cheers,

Julia

Lessons from an Artist

Last night I went to an art show at a small library in a nearby town. One of my friends had two paintings in the show, and although I primarily went to see her paintings, I also went to support her creative goals. I knew it had not been an easy decision for her to put herself out there.

It struck me this morning that me blogging is exactly like my friend displaying paintings in the show. Writing is a peculiar profession; we write things that may never be read by anyone. Or, if you’re a writer for hire like I am, you may work anonymously or even have another person’s name attached to your work.

The writing for hire part is still fine with me—so far it’s how my bread stays buttered. But for some reason, I am no longer okay thinking that no one will ever see any of the fiction or creative non-fiction I write. Which brings me to my goals for blogging.

1. Get my writing out there! Specifically, blog at least five times a week, preferably every day.

2. Help me to reinforce my goal of writing every day.

3. Promote my writing. Specifically, figure out how what still feels like a giant swarm of craziness (blogging and Twitter and Facebook and all other online social networking) works together to support my writing goals.

4. Meet more writers/creators and build relationships and readership.

5. Encourage writers of all kinds in their writing endeavors, whatever those might be.

Closely tied to these blogging goals, are my personal writing goals (I wasn’t blogging first thing in 2011, so I missed having a new year’s resolution blog):

1. Finish the rough draft of one novel-in-progress.

2. To help meet Goal #1, write at least 900 words a day (this does not count the blogging or writer-for-hire words I write).

3. Submit at least two queries in the year.

4. Build writing/editing clients (for writing for hire).

I’m interested to know…. has blogging helped you achieve your writing goals? What, if anything, would you do differently? What advice do you have as I’m starting out?

Cheers, Julia

Wednesday is Word(le) Day

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gleaned off the zillions of blogs and websites I’ve consulted about blogging is this: Develop a following of readers through consistency of theme.

I’ve thought a lot about this business of theme and what the theme of this blog is. In a nutshell, it is:

I love words, words are used to write, and if you write (no matter the style or purpose) you’re a writer, and this blog celebrates all writers of all writing.

I know, it sounds pretty broad, but right now it’s working. And to address this theme, today’s blog focuses on words—specifically my decision, as of 7:42 this morning, to name Wednesday “Word Day.” Here are some FAQs about Word Day, devised only in my mind of course, because (a) I have yet to get any questions, let alone frequently asked ones, and (b) this is my first Word Day blog, so how could I have had any questions specifically about Word Day yet?

Q: First, the obvious question: Why Wednesday?
A: The obvious answer: simple, word and Wednesday, they both start with W, so it will be easy to remember. This is a basic word association rule I learned on Sesame Street.

Q: Why are you even having a Word Day?
A: Aside from letters, words are the most elemental building blocks of writing. I love words, and learning about their origins and meanings. I also like word puzzles, challenges, and games, and Word Day will sometimes have those, too.

Q: Why should I read YOUR Word Day blogs, as compared to the other zillion blogs or websites that talk about words?
A: First, I hope you keep reading those other blogs and websites (I certainly will; see the list of my current favorites at the end of this blog), but I also hope you read mine. I can promise you (a) interesting words and personal commentary, (b) thoroughly researched information, and (c) well-written blogs. In addition, I will blog with a sense of humor, striving to amuse.

Q: Why is today Word(le) day? What’s with the (le)?
A: Have you seen the cool website called Wordle? It creates graphical representations, “word clouds,” of any text you provide. (The picture with this blog is a Wordle created with the text of this blog.)

Q: Do you really think anyone cares if you have a Word Day? Or, for that matter, a blog?
A: Ah, that is a very good question that I will address in a future blog tentatively entitled: “Who Cares if I’m Blogging?”

Q: Are there any constraints on the words you will use for Word Day?
A: Probably only one. I can almost assure you that words will never be obscene or pornographic (as defined by me). Sometimes they will be groups of words, defined by a specific activity like cooking or science or another passion in my life. Sometimes they will be based on other blogs or #WOTD on Twitter. Sometimes they may be based on websites or dictionaries. Luckily for me, there is no shortage of words for inspiration.

Q: Are there any personal benefits you get from Word Day?
A: Yes! (And thank you for asking!) I love to read about and research words, and this gives me an excuse to do that. Also, at least one day a week I have a built-in subject to blog about. (I think this actually may be behind some of the advice that other bloggers give—do bloggers invent these days of the week topics or challenges or …. fill in the blank…. because it’s not so easy to come up with information to blog day after day after day after day after day….?)

Thank you so much for those excellent questions! Finally, as promised, I want to give a nod to all the great websites and blogs that I enjoy so much. Some of my current favorites are wordnik, wordsmith, Oxford Dictionary, oedonline, and Cambridge Dictionaries Online. I also just discovered the Times Word Nerd test for Twitter users. (I’m sad to say I got the lowest grade possible; I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t been tweeting very long.)

On Twitter, I follow tweeters who post a #WOTD each day, for instance: @wordnik, @awad, @oedonline, @cambridgewords. Just for fun, I try to tweet a sentence-story based on each tweeted #WOTD @wordsxo.

Oh, and in case I wasn’t clear at the beginning of the blog: today’s word is Wordle, a website where you can create “word clouds.”

I’d love to answer some real-life readers’ questions about words or why I chose to write about them. Do you have any word questions? Do you write about words, too? If so, please let me know so I can check out your blog or website or tweets. Is there a favorite word or type of word you’d like me to write about?

Thanks for checking in!

Cheers, Julia

Commitment

It’s the first warm-ish sunny day in a while, and I’m inside at the computer. If you live in the Northeast, like I do, you know these days have been few and far between this winter. Lots of snow, ice, rain, even lightning, you name it. If you don’t live in the Northeast, trust me: it’s been miserable.

A friend I met for coffee this morning was on her way to go cross-country skiing. I haven’t skied for years, and then only once, but it sounded really fun. “You can walk next to me,” she offered. I imagined myself running down an ice-packed trail in my clunky L. L. Bean boots. I declined.

The truth is I was anxious to get home. I started blogging this week, and I am serious about the commitment. It sounds silly even to me. No one is counting on me but me; maybe no one has even read my first blog from yesterday, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. I am blogging to get myself writing, and so it’s words I must write!

After coffee, as my friend headed toward the sunny side of town, I headed the other way. I drove home, and I booted up my laptop. It took all morning, and six pages of starts, but I did it. I wrote my second blog. And that’s good enough for today.

Alike

(adj) Having close resemblance; similar.

Under construction: these placeholder words sat on my blog for nearly a week before I could bring myself to post anything.

I’ve read—it seems—hundreds of blogs, articles, and tweets. I’ve consulted a zillion websites, received countless en-(and dis-) couraging emails, and talked my husband’s ear off about blogging and tweeting. As a “lurker,” if that word is still used, I am afraid, very afraid, to put my toe in the proverbial water. What could I possibly add?

The truth is, just like me, my blog is under construction, so are my words and my writing. So is my house, an old Maine antique with water leaking through the walls from ice dams; so is my life, as a perpetual searcher.

As a long-time technical writer, by training and profession, I’ve often been told “you’re not a real writer.” I remember the first time someone said that to me, I’d just finished writing a 400-page technical manual. Let me tell you, I certainly felt like a writer. Still, even as I branch out to business, creative non-fiction, fiction, those words ring in my ears.

But, when I really think about it, I come back to this: words are words, writers are writers. As a cross-over writer, going back and forth from technical and business to fiction and creative nonfiction—I’m blurring the lines. This blog examines those writing lines and the people and pieces that blur them. Writers are writers, regardless of genre or specialty, we’re all putting words together. As Maya Angelou wrote: “We are more alike, my friends,/ than we are unalike.”

So here I go, diving in. And I’m hoping that maybe (if you’ll pardon the paint) this blog will entertain and inform you along the way. I hope you’ll let me know!