I Always Cry at THE END

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I took this photo a few years ago, but it seemed right for today…

This is one of those mixed up blog posts. I haven’t posted anything for a while, and yesterday I thought I should. I should blog, I said to myself. But I didn’t feel like it, I just didn’t. I dug around for a while (in my mind) to try and figure it out, and here’s what I came up with.

Winter. My next thought was about winter, of course. My next thought is always winter these days. The wind is howling outside. It’s cold and I’m really really grouchy about it. Right now, March 18, it’s 18F degrees. I’ve given up checking, searching the web, to see if we are having normal temperatures. I don’t care anymore. (I know we aren’t, I feel it in my bones.) I just want it to be warmer. I don’t want to wear a fleece jacket in the house anymore. I got an email from an (out of state, WARM state relative) who said he’d heard spring was coming to parts of the east (SOUTHeast, I told him). No. Not Maine. I was grouchy. We haven’t had a spring day since a year ago, last spring. We had snow showers yesterday and we’re getting more this weekend. And next week.

This blog is not about winter. (I think my last five are plenty.)

Reading drought. I love reading. I always love to curl up and read a good book. Sometimes I get so lost in reading that I need to lie on the couch and ignore everything else and finish in a rush. Last year I read a book that I loved so much I slowed it down. I couldn’t stand to read more than a few pages a day because I knew it would end soon. And it was a short book. When I finished reading, I cried. Cried and cried. It was a sad ending, a hard ending to read, but more than that, I loved that book, and it was over. Since then, I haven’t been able to read a book that I really fell in love with. And this year in particular I’ve barely read. I keep telling myself it’s because I’m so focused on writing (more about that later). I keep telling myself it’s the winter. I can’t stand to sit for so long. I’m antsy to get going. I tell myself it’s the books I’m reading. I’m picky. I need the right balance of good, unpredictable story with amazing writing. I like minimalist writing (usually) and sometimes books are overwritten for my taste. Anyway, I’m not sure why, but I can’t really stay engaged with any book. Most recently I’d been looking forward to reading a book (in a big way, I pre-ordered it), and I could barely finish it.

This blog is not about reading (but if you can recommend a book you love, please do!).

Experts. I’m a journalist by training. And one of the things that was drilled into my head when I was in college was the source. Find the right expert. Find the correct information. Be accurate. By training and by nature this is the kind of writer I am. I want to know. I want to know that I’m portraying something accurately. My current WIP (more about that in a minute) has a lot about horses in it. One of the horses gets injured (it’s integral to the story and the arc of the main character). Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’m being accurate. I have a good friend who is helping make sure all the general horse information (behavior, care, tack, riding, etc.) is accurate, but I need to talk to a veterinarian. I have another good friend who is a vet, but she’s a small animal vet and has recommended I talk to a large animal vet. I haven’t been able to find someone, and it’s frustrating me.

This blog is not about experts (but if you know a large animal vet who might be willing to talk to me, please tell me!).

THE END. Back to that WIP. I just finished a major revision of one of my WIPs—the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo in 2013. Yes, that’s not last year but the year before, so I’ve been living with this story for a long time. In some senses, I’ve been living with this story for even longer because it’s loosely based on a real-life thing that happened to me (you can read about that here), a sad thing. Anyway, I miss those characters. I know I have to move on, but in a way I don’t really want to. Kind of like that book I loved so much. I know I’ll write another story (I’ve started a few), but it’s going to take a little time. As I type the words THE END, I always cry, every WIP I write, but with this book I cry every single time I read and reread the end (and believe me I’ve read it a lot of times). I miss those characters as though they were real-life best friends.

This blog is about mourning. Mourning THE END. I cried. And I always do.

Writing friends, do you cry when you write THE END? Everyone, please recommend books you love, large animal vets I can talk to, and please, please, think spring!

Cheers,

Julia

Why I Love NaNo More Today than Yesterday

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Yesterday’s sky as I drove to the coffee shop to write

I learned something new about myself and my writing today—something I’m not sure I’d ever have learned if it weren’t for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Okay, I know there are split camps on NaNoWriMo. In fact, you might either love it or hate it. Think it’s a great thing or the dumbest idea on earth. Writing a novel in a month? Why would you (or I for that matter) want to do such a thing? By the way, that used to be my opinion…so hear me out.

Truth is that up until last year (when I finished a draft of a novel during NaNo) I thought it was (a) pretty stupid, (b) pointless, and (c) defeated the entire point of writing (writing well, that is). I used to think that something good—especially something creative—couldn’t be forced. That is, that it really had to be done in its own time, at its own pace—fast or slow.

But now I wonder. Here’s the thing. This morning I wrote a scene I never ever thought of for my novel in progress (I’m a plotter by nature, most of the time, with occasional smatterings of pantser). The scene came out fast and furious, and when I looked up I’d spent not quite an hour writing almost 2000 words. But that’s not what surprised me. I tend to write very quickly (for first drafts). It was the actual scene that was different: the writing style and certainly the content, much different than I’d ever written or considered writing (for this novel or any other fiction project).

After I finished, I remembered having this experience with a scene I wrote during last NaNoWriMo—last year. It was a scene about an LSD trip, a wild car race up into the California foothills in a semi-stolen car, a young afraid woman desperately trying to understand and make sense of a young man’s actions and feelings. It’s a scene in the novel I’m currently querying (that I wrote last year during NaNo). It’s a story that has gone through many revisions since the first draft—and will most likely go through additional revisions because it’s a story worth working on. (The novel was named a semi-finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition.)

The important takeaway for me is that the scene I wrote last year and the scene I wrote today taught me something important about myself and about NaNoWriMo. It’s not only that I can force myself to write. The first time out of the gate with NaNo, I figured out that I can force myself into the creative zone, the writing zone, pretty much any time I want to. I’m guessing that most writers who write fiction on a regular schedule know this, but here’s the new thing I learned today.

That sometimes I can actually write more creatively when I push myself. Even—and maybe especially—when I’m not “in the mood.” That sometimes, something very creative and very different comes out. A piece of writing that I love, a piece of writing that I’m proud of.

Just one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo a lot more today than yesterday.

Can you force yourself into the creative zone? Do you write differently—maybe even more creatively sometimes—when you aren’t in the mood?

 

Thank you, Julia

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This time I went with bacon… almost Quiche Lorraine

Not to get all Julie & Julia on you, but this post is about cooking…well, about cooking and writing. About cooking and writing and re-writing, to be precise. And the cooking part? Inspired by one of my favorite cooks—maybe you guessed?—Julia Child.

I used to make quiches all the time when my kids were home. It was kind of a Sunday morning tradition. But now, quiches are reserved for more special occasions. Like yesterday: my son’s girlfriend’s birthday brunch. Last time she was here (at Christmas time) we attempted a quiche together. The crust was gorgeous but the quiche itself? An unmitigated disaster. The problem was it never set. If you’re not a cook—or if you’ve never made a custard—you may not understand. It means that the quiche was a runny, watery mess. (In case you’re curious, I later found out through Internet searches that it was likely due to the asparagus I used in the filling… too much asparagus equaled too high a water content equaled the non-setting of the custard.)

I digress. Although the quiche filling was what failed last time, it’s the crust that I’ve always had more trouble mastering. But finally, through those years I was making quiche every Sunday, I could produce an amazing crust, as evidenced in my blog post on Writer Unboxed about the pie off (which clearly I won).

As I got out my well-worn, well-loved Julia Child French Chef Cookbook, here’s what I read as I loaded up the Cuisinart with ingredients (yes, that’s how I do it):

“Every serious cook should be able to produce a tender, crunchy, buttery pastry crust that is a delight to eat in tarts, quiches, turnovers, or quick hors d’oeuvre. The mastery of pastry dough is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling. Do a batch of pastry every day, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.”

I thought about the last quiche that M. and I made together, remembering that it wasn’t the crust that failed—it was near perfect, in fact (if I do say so myself). Although I hadn’t made a crust everyday, I had over the years become comfortable with making pastry crust, with the feel of it in the hands, as Julia said. It was then and there I decided to blog about yesterday’s effort, so I took some photos along the way.

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I did some patching…

But of course, wouldn’t you know it, as I rolled out the crust, it stuck to the mat and then it broke apart a bit. In years gone by, I might have gotten frustrated. In fact, ask MEH (My Engineer Husband), I have been known to throw pie dough across the kitchen a time or two. But this morning, partly because I’ve learned the way of the crust (and how to fix things) and partly because I was writing this post, I stuck with it. I finished rolling, put the crust in the pie plate, did some patching, and I crimped the edges.

It wasn’t totally perfect to look at, but it didn’t have to be. I knew that once I added the filling, it (probably) would be fine… although there is that danger point in the oven, when the crust could collapse.

Then I thought about something else. How much like my writing this is right now. I’m in revisions of my current work in progress. I started with a lump of dough and now I’m rolling it out. It’s unfinished and incomplete, but I’m patching it and crimping it and putting it in the pie plate everyday, sometimes over and over again each day. But I’m mastering it. And it’s looking (more) perfect. And that’s when I realized, that I’m writing the Julia Child way.

The mastery of pastry dough writing is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling revision and editing. Do a batch of pastry every day Put your butt in the chair everyday, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.

Thank you, Julia. For the pastry lessons and for the writing advice, too.

Cheers,

Julia

P.S. I’m also guest posting today on Jessica Null Vealitzek’s True Stories blog about the Great Ice Storm of ’98, in a post appropriately titled “The Great Ice Storm.” I’d love for you to visit me there, too!

Have you ever gotten writing advice in unexpected places? What’s your favorite thing to cook?

 

The Treasure in the Box

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This morning I had a bit of a breakthrough.

I’ve been grappling with an idea for a new story…trying to figure out how to tie things together, looking for a thread. The idea came to me on my trip across the country, when I was driving across the southwest, and it’s been in the back of my mind, just sitting there. This morning I read a blog post that made me think of another story I’d started a long time ago—in fact it was my very first attempt at long fiction—and I thought of something in that story that might help me connect the dots in my current idea.

I wondered if I kept that long-ago manuscript, and I knew if I had, it would be in “the box,” the one I keep under my desk, the one labeled Phase I (I wrote about it here in The Goodbye Box). That box holds all my early drafts and ideas from my early forays into fiction: from the time I was in college, studying journalism, all the way through to when I was writing middle grade fiction as a young mother.

In the stack of folders, at the very bottom, I found the folder labeled simply: BOOK. Inside, I found almost 200 pages held together with a rusty clip. I wrote this manuscript over twenty years ago, and during that time the paper and metal had fused together—perhaps in some inanimate agreement that no one should ever open and read the pages… because…

The manuscript isn’t just old, it’s also bad. Incredibly bad. But this is a good thing. It was, after all, my first attempt at fiction. I can clearly see I’ve improved. Not just in writing but also in story and in complexity of ideas. The entire story is sketched out in a multi-page outline, but it’s simple and pretty boring. Interestingly, an old journal is intrinsic to the story, and old journals are also key to the storylines in two of the three adult manuscripts I’ve written most recently! It also involves a mystery, an historic southwest train robbery (the key piece I was looking for when I opened the box), and a dog named Homer.

Here’s a brief excerpt involving Homer:

I was interrupted by Homer running triumphantly into the room carrying my dank, filthy jeans that I’d left on my bedroom floor. Before I could say anything, he started growling and shaking them as though they were a small rodent. I jumped out of the rocking chair and ran toward him. “Homer drop those right now,” I said, which had about as much effect as a flea biting an elephant. Matthew’s uproarious laughter filled the small apartment as I chased Homer around the room. Homer took one look at me and decided I was ready for a good game of chase, which I was not. But every time I got within an arm’s length of him, he dashed in another direction. It is a frustratingly idiotic dog game that felt even more idiotic played in front of an audience…

I told you… it’s bad. You don’t want to read more (me neither). Clearly the real prize isn’t the manuscript, but I’m glad I kept the folder with those early pages. Not only did I find the information I wanted that could provide the missing link I was looking for, but I found something much more important in those pages. The real treasure in the box is the tangible proof of my progress and growth as a writer—cringe-worthy though it may be—bonded together forever with the rusty clip.

Have you ever found old work of yours that makes you cringe and/or makes you realize how much you’ve grown as a writer? Do you, like I do, keep everything you’ve ever written?

Cheers,

Julia

The Thrill of the (Blank) Page


Do not attempt to adjust your screen… yes,
this photo is blurry. I told you I faced the
blank page with dread…my hand was shaking.

After the new year started, I knew I was getting close to that time again. The blank page. And I was nervous. I told MEH (My Engineer Husband) I had a sense of dread—what if I can’t do it?
Since last August I’ve been in editing mode. Desired to Death, a mystery I’ll be self publishing this spring, is now complete. While I’ve been editing, I’ve been planning my next WIP, the one I wrote about in Julia and the Purple Crayon.

You see, in that post I was trying to decide if I should put aside the editing of my finished manuscript and move ahead with my new idea. In the comments to that post, I received tons of support (I always do) and some wise advise. Something about one comment, from writing friend Shary Hover, really struck a chord:

“…if you think you’re captivated by this new story idea because you’re avoiding something in your current WIP, promise yourself that you’ll go back to it…”

It made me realize something. Although I wasn’t avoiding my then current (now complete) WIP, the new idea was so exciting, so new, so shiny, I wascaptivated. And I was afraid I was so smitten, that if I didn’t finish the edits of Desired, I might never go back. Those words of Shary’s: promise yourself, really struck me. I had an obligation to myself, to my work, to finish. So I stuck it out, editing all through the fall. And I finished. More importantly, I enjoyed the process and I’m very happy with my finished manuscript.

During that time, though, the new idea was in the back of my mind. I kept researching, and I even wrote a few tentative scenes. I fell for the idea even more.

Then, last week with the shiny new year matching my shiny new WIP, I sat down at the blank screen. I was scared, like I said, but I was still in love. And now I had a folder full of research and photos by my side to help me along the way. I still worried. What if I can’t actually write any words?It’s a new genre, after all—YA historical fantasy.

But as my fingers hit the keys, my mind started spinning. Before I knew it I slipped into the zone. When I looked up two hour had passed, and I’d written over 2000 words. I breathed a sigh of relief. The next day another 2000. The day after, I incorporated the scenes I’d “pre-written,” and that brought my word count to almost 6000. Yesterday another 300 words (hey, it was the weekend and MEH was home).

So, here I go. I’m on my way. And more than that, I know. I know I will be able to do this. It’s happening again. I’m in the zone. E&F lives and breathes in my head, demanding my attention all day, every day. I can’t wait to get to it every morning.

I’m remembering the thrill and embracing the blank page.

What about you? Do you worry when you face the blank page of a brand new WIP? How do you get back in the writing zone? How do you embrace the blank page?

Cheers,

Julia

A Change in Setting

Last week I was in Philadelphia helping my daughter move. A few days before I got there I finished the first draft of my current WIP, and I was at loose ends—between projects and figuring out what I want to write next.
Of course there’s still plenty to do with revisions so I have some time to think about it. But my writing mind was restless and searching, and the change in setting gave me the feeling of a fresh start, with lots of new ideas to think about.

I live in a small town with quiet tree-lined streets. My usual view is out a window toward a bird feeder, and my daily companions are birds and squirrels and chipmunks. My seat at the dining room table (where I write) is on the first floor of our house so I look out at the same level as these furry and feathered creatures.

My furry feathered friends.
In Philadelphia, I was on the sixth floor looking out over a cityscape view. I had a great view of the changing skies, parking lots below, many varied buildings, people walking by—even a party gathered under a tent in one of the parking lots. In short my setting was completely different than the one I was used to.

Inside, too, my activities were very different. At home I write and then I take a break to exercise, eat lunch, then I write some more. I lead a very solitary and quiet daytime life (of course in the evenings, MEH—My Engineer Husband—is home). But in Philadelphia, as we packed and cleaned (okay, to be honest my daughter did most of the packing and cleaning and I helped out as requested) we watched the Olympics, we talked and laughed, we listened to music, we went out to eat, and we moved the car to keep from getting tickets (okay to be honest, I moved the car, AND I got a ticket. I swear I didn’t see the fire hydrant I partially blocked…sigh…).

It was a good time to have a change in my venue and activities, having just finished the first draft and all. Not only because it helped me clear my mind, think about something other than what I had just finisheda step away before starting to revise and edit, but also because I came away with a lot of new ideas. 

Things I never would have thought of in my own little world. Ideas from my observations out that sixth floor window. Ideas from all the people watching—lots and lots of people. Ideas from riding up and down in an elevator and sharing a larger space with others—instead of simply walking in a door and being home. Ideas from a change in setting.
Are you, like me, restless and at loose ends after you finish a draft? What do you do to inspire new ideas and to move on to revisions? How does a change in setting inspire your writing ideas?

Cheers,

Julia

Step Away from the Wi-fi

Photo by Vasile Cotovanu (flickr CreativeCommons)
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about social networking addiction. You can see it here. At the end of the post I announced there would be a Part 2—more about social networking addiction. But then a funny thing happened. 
I got busy writing. I started writing more and turning off the Internet more. I made a personal decision that when my husband is home or when I’m away from the computer, I won’t check my phone (unless one of our kids calls or texts). Do you know the average person checks his or her cell phone for messages, emails, etc., every ten minutes?

To be honest, I wasn’t even going to write this follow up post (and I felt pretty guilty about it—I said I would write it, and I don’t like reneging on my word). Then something happened to prompt me to write this second part. I was at Target yesterday, and round about when I was in the shampoo aisle, I heard a voice that sounded like a TV show host or a how-to-show host. After a few minutes of hearing it I got curious, figuring it must be a new Target demo or something. But when I turned down the next aisle, all I saw was a little girl (about three years old) in a cart being pushed by her grandma.

And the voice? It was coming from an iPhone the little girl was holding—she was watching videos on youtube (I assumed), glued to the tube, while she was in Target spending time with her grandmother. And here’s what really bothered me. They weren’t interacting at all. Now, lest you think I am being too harsh, that the poor grandma was just distracting the little girl for a few seconds while she picked out a toothpaste. You would be wrong. I kept seeing the two in and out of the same aisles I was in for about fifteen minutes—and only once did I hear them interact—when the little girl said “Look at this, Grandma.” In her only defense, the grandma did look.

I know a little girl watching youtube videos instead of chatting with her grandma at Target is not exactly like a writer being addicted to social networking (nor is it the worst thing in the world, I realize that). But it reminded me once again that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. It reinforced my desire to disconnect more, to stop looking at my phone (or email or Twitter) every ten minutes, to focus on real life at least as much as I focus on online life.

But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature. We don’t all have our grandmas to chat with like that lucky little girl did. And so—even though I know my online “presence” sometimes does interfere with writing—I won’t give up on it completely.

Still, I had to do something. I considered all the great techniques other writers use—left in comments on my first post about social networking addiction, things like: scheduling tweets and posts ahead of time, tweeting and blogging less frequently, slowing down Facebook postings, increasing other non-writing creative endeavors, unplug from the Internet for certain times of day, work outside the house (like at a coffee shop), restrict Twitter to specific times of day and for limited amounts of time, “disappear” (for more prolonged periods) to get writing done, turn off the computer and get away from it, don’t get online after work hours or on the weekends, take a “digital sabbatical,” cut down on the impulse to “check social media nonstop,” step back while the kids are home for summer vacation, don’t get a smart phone.

So last week I started a new routine. When I’m working on my WIP, I turn off the wi-fi. At first I noticed I would still scroll down to check email—I was amazed at how often I tried to check (maybe every ten minutes, go figure)! But after a few days I stopped trying. I remembered that it was writing time. My word count shot up. I started writing at least double what I had been prior to the Internet chill.

Another interesting thing happened, too. It’s easier for me to manage my time in general. I don’t feel as pulled to do a million things at once. In short I’m more focused—which in turn allows me to get even more control over my writing life. And that hopefully will lead me even further down the path to my goal of being a published author.

What about you? Since you read my first post, have you done anything differently to manage your online time? Are you, like I am, trying to limit your iPhone/smart phone time?

Cheers,

Julia

The Case for Blogging


The box holds my just finished WIP;
the blue folder is my WIP mystery;
the slim notebook in front: WIP #3!
The tulips? A gift from MEH!

Yesterday WordCount Blogathon 2012 started, and I was tempted to join…because it brought back great memories. One year ago I participated in Blogathon 2011: pledging to blog daily for the month of May. In fact, for the first four months of my blog (February through May) I posted daily. Because I started out that way, it didn’t seem like any big deal—daily blogging was a way of life.
One of my original blogging goals was to kick start my fiction writing—and that happened. By June I was writing fiction every day and blogging about every other day. Then gradually it started to shift. In October I blogged twelve times, in November ten, in December seven, until finally last month I blogged four times—I am now consistently blogging once a week.

I also finished one of my WIPs, something I haven’t done since around 2001 when I finished a middle grade novel entitled Sciurus Maximus. This book—which was never accepted for publication—was finished when both my children were at home, and my life was much different. My days rose and fell by the school day, meals were arranged around sporting events and other extracurricular activities, and I had two built in beta readers anxiously interested in reading everything I wrote. I was a full-time, very happy mom. I should add that I was also a part-time, very happy writer…until something happened.

One very close and very good rejection from a big publishing house, a mere re-write short of a sure thing (as it turned out it was not so sure a thing). It took the wind out of my sails, that close call. And now, I have three middle grade manuscripts in a filing box under my desk—in the drawer so to speak. And it took me all those ten years to want to write fiction again. Sure I dabbled, but nothing very regularly—at all.
When I stopped writing fiction all that time ago, I had a partially written women’s fiction manuscript. I had it outlined and about one third written. Last year, after beginning to blog, and kick starting my writing, I pulled that manuscript out and I started writing again. My life was very different. Both my children out of the nest—one in college and one in medical school—now my days rise and fall by the call of the computer: to write. And last September I finished a draft, and two weeks ago I started to query agents with The Cottage on Quarry Island.

Now, I have two more WIPs. One I started a few years ago—a mystery starring Maggie and Joe, amateur detectives—it is fully outlined, and I’ll start to write next week. The other is women’s fiction—dark and suspenseful—that I’ve almost fully outlined. It came to me one night last month as I was lying on the couch, from a simple and very random comment from MEH (My Engineer Husband). It is developing into a full-blown, very deep and rich, very exciting story.

I know there are a lot of different opinions about whether blogging is a good or bad thing, necessary or not, to do as a fiction writer. If I hadn’t started blogging, I don’t know if I ever would have started writing again. It gave me the boost in confidence and the daily deadline I needed to get started. In fact, blogging kick started me so well that I wrote an estimated 200,000 words last year. It kick started me so well that I spend eight to ten to twelve hours every single day either writing or thinking about writing. My WIPs run through my mind as though they are movies, and I see my characters in the faces and actions of many people I cross paths with every single day. My ideas and energy for writing are seemingly endless.

So back to that question about whether blogging is a good or bad thing for fiction writers? I can’t speak to everyone, but for me? For this writer? I owe blogging and you, my blog readers, a huge debt of gratitude. Because I will take the opinion that blogging is good—no make that very very good—and for me I would even say a necessity. Blogging kick started my writing and is now my lifeline to continue to pursue that passion.

Writers, what do you think, is blogging good or bad for your fiction writing? And if you’re a reader—do you enjoy reading blogs by fiction writers whose books you love?

Cheers,

Julia

The Glamorous Writing Life

One of my blogging/Twitter writer friends, Natalia Sylvester, and I joke about the glamorous writing life—you know the one we all have in all our free time, lounging around and writing in our PJs…eating bonbons, that one. Sometimes I think about that life these days—when I’m deep in a project like I have been recently, because then….

The house goes down the tubes—as the expression goes—like it always does during one of my intense writing sprees. As I worked steadily at the dining room table, toward the final draft of my WIP, each and every one of the other surfaces in the house eventually got covered.

The kitchen table: by whatever came into the house (oh that was also MEH’s—My Engineer Husband’s chosen work at home spot, quite possibly because I’d consumed every other spot). The office “home desk” is covered with bills and incoming mail; my desk in the office is covered with various other writing and research projects. Yet another, a table we use for games, still has a half-finished and very dusty jigsaw puzzle left from my daughter’s last visit home.

This weekend, as I de-cluttered the dining room table and loaded up a file box with all my notes and research folders and everything else from the finished novel, I started cleaning up a little, too. Because when I stopped writing so intensely, I noticed the house was an abject mess. Let me just say, I could never be described as a neat freak…. but I also do not like an overly messy but especially not an overly dirty house. I hate that. Nonetheless, that’s what I have.

It’s one of the (very) few luxuries about having an empty nest: not worrying too much (if at all) about the house being remotely clean. (Don’t ask me about the other luxuries, I don’t write that kind of blog.) We don’t entertain a whole lot; if we see friends we usually meet them somewhere else. That means no one really comes in and out of the house except us. Used to be our kids’ friends’ parents would drop by to pick up their kids from play dates and gasp at the drifting dog hair. In truth this never actually happened at my house but once I picked up my daughter at a friend’s house and was truly shocked, truly, by the large quantities of dog hair drifting by—something I’ve thought of once or twice or every hour as I pondered the near-ankle-deep dog hair in my own dining room. When you have a black lab, like we do, especially in the spring these things happen, or that’s what I told myself…

On Saturday a Furminatorarrived in the mail. (If you don’t know what a Furminator is and you have a dog that sheds, especially a dark coloreddog, you should definitely check it out because “unbelievable results” does not begin to describe this dog brush.) Okay, this is pretty embarrassing…but here goes: we bought ours on rush order by direct instruction from our vet; last week she tested Abby for hypothyroidism because she (the dog, not the vet) had gained some weight and her fur looked “uneven and unkempt,” something that might indicate her thyroid is out of whack. It wasn’t—out of whack—it was because we didn’t have time to brush our dog (and were giving her too many peanut butter treats). The vet called to give me, as she said, the good and the bad news… “Her results are normal. Here’s what I want you to do. No more peanut butter treats and buy a Furminator.” We bought.

But it wasn’t just the dog hair. Laundry was piling up. A lot of it. In fact yesterday when I sorted it all out on the kitchen floor, there were ten loads in all. Don’t judge too harshly. Six of the ten loads were sheets and towels—the kids are coming home and we’re preparing. But it wasn’t even just the laundry.

Every spice I’d used in the last month or so (maybe even since the new year started) was out on the kitchen counter, and I use a lot of spices…. And even the sprinkles I used on MEH’s April Fool’s Day birthday cake had not been put away. To be fair to myself (and MEH, who pulls half the cleaning duties in the house), we did do the basics: washed dishes, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, took out the trash, washed and wore clean clothes (most days), fed and walked the dog, wiped up spills on the stove, occasionally (very) swept the dried up mud out of the mudroom. But beyond the basics? Not a lot.

And there was a lot to be done. So yesterday I did some cleaning—not all of it but I got a good start—and I’ll admit I feel a lot better: the spices and sprinkles are back in the cabinet, the counter’s cleared off, the jigsaw’s still there (and will be until my daughter is home next month…who knows, maybe she’ll still want to do it…yeah, that’s it) but the rest of the tables got cleared off. We vacuumed the drifts of dog hair in the dining room. Oh, and we “furminated” Abby.

Last night I literally gasped with pleasure as I slid between our clean sheets (nothing more about that! Remember? Not that kind of blog…). This morning I woke up and saw only three loads of laundry lingering on the kitchen floor. Another gasp. And then I knew it was true… I really do lead the glamorous writer’s life.

Today as I sit down to start anew, the fresh and shiny WIP awaiting me on the cleared-off kitchen table, I’ll happily watch the dog hair build around me, the spices congregate on the counter, and the tables fill one by one…. Because in truth, there is no other life I’d pick over this one, not one.

Cheers,

Julia



Lucky 7 with a Twist


A huge thank you to Hallie Sawyer and Karen Wojcik Berner for tagging me in the Lucky 7 challenge! This challenge allows a glimpse of other writers’ WIPs or latest book. And the rules for this challenge are simple:

The Lucky Seven basic rules

1. Go to page 77 of your WIP or latest book.

2. Count down seven lines.

3. Copy the 7 sentences that follow and post them.

4. Tag 7 other authors.

The Twist

Nonetheless, I’ve decided to break the rules, twist them, and sometimes I think that’s okay, especially when it involves building suspense. My just-completed The Cottage on Quarry Island is women’s fiction with significant revelations, reversals, twists and turns, when main character Annie moves to a small island in Maine. Page 77 reveals a significant plot turn, a spoiler if you will, so, instead I’m using page 7.

Page 7, 7th line down, 7 sentences from The Cottage on Quarry Island

      And it was on these small items I staked my future: the letter, the photographs, the business card. I closed the door to my father’s house in Boston, I got in my car, and I drove to Maine. And then once I arrived in Bertie’s Cove and made my way down Main Street to the real estate office, several of my would-be neighbors smiled and greeted me, and I imagined myself as a new citizen in the most welcoming town in Maine.
After caring for my father for six months, nursing him through cancer—I desperately wanted respite. And the small picture on Deb’s business card of the harbor of Bertie’s Cove—with its tiny boats and houses, wispy clouds on bright blue water—looked ideal.
Buying the cottage? A sudden, precipitous decision based on a whim after a half-day kayak tour around Quarry Island.

My Lucky 7 authors

I think I’m a little late in the game to Lucky 7’s, so please forgive me if you’ve already been named… or if you don’t want to participate. (You won’t hurt my feelings one bit!) But if you do participate, please let me know when you post—I want to have a chance to read what you post, too!!

Cheers,

Julia




p.s. Today I’m also guest blogging about what it means to be a Third Culture Kid and how it impacts my writing. Check it out at the blog of my wonderful friend Emma Pass in my post: Word-by-Word, Scene-by-Scene, Chapter-by-Chapter.

The Nature of Words

One of the things I like about my current WIP is the integral connection of nature with the main character. “Annie” moves to an island in Maine, searching for refuge and gets caught up in a mystery.

Annie spends a lot of time on the beach, walking, searching, and finding answers. In the meantime, she observes the moon and the tides and the water. And she is also working outside in the elements.

While Annie has wandered the beaches, I’ve searched the Internet and in libraries—and I’ve done a ton of research for the book. In fact, I have an entire file box full of information and background, backstory.

I’ve learned about the tides: ebbtide, flood tide, ebb and flow, high tide, low tide, clam flats—and much more—about what each of these things means. And my proximity to the coast (five minutes from the type of beaches Annie would walk on) helps me fuel my research and imagination.

And I’ve researched the stars, planets, and the cycles of the moon—I have a calendar where I’ve sketched out when high tides and low tides are and how they interact with the phases of the moon, waxing and waning, sunrise and sunset times. These heavenly changes add to the richness of Annie’s story.

In addition to these terms, I also have researched gardening and house terms—what plants bloom when on the coast, what might be left of a garden from long ago, how to insulate a house, what kind of wood is used for building—intricate details, many of which will never make it into the actual novel, but are the backdrop of Annie’s (and now my) life.

I’ve also researched the history of Maine islands and houses, of bridges and ferries, and people who have lived on the coast for centuries.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because of my love of words (wordsxo loosely translates into word love)—and every piece of research leads me to new words. Just this morning, on a final read through of my manuscript, I was looking up the words “by in large,” an expression I’ve used many times. And when I did, I found out the actual expression is “by and large,” and much to my happy surprise it is nautical in origins—from World Wide Words:

“The phrase by and large in sailors’ parlance referred to all possible points of sailing, so it came to mean “in all possible circumstances.”

And while by and large does not play a large role in my novel—in fact just three words of over 80,000—it’s a well chosen word that I hope adds interest and authenticity to my work.

Further, every word and every piece of information I’ve gathered while writing—much like the shells and sea glass my characters collect on their walks—has shaped this novel, steeped in love of not just writing and research but also love of the beauty of nature along the coast of Maine.

Are you (like me) fascinated with the origin of words? How they’ve changed in meaning over the years? Can you share examples? Writers: How are your research and word choices entwined with your main character’s personality and journey? Have you collected information and done research for your WIP that enriches your life?

Cheers,

Julia 

My Mind’s Eye

My life these days consists of editing and little else. For about eight hours a day, I am seated at my dining room table. And although I can’t say I love the editing process (I enjoy writing more), I must admit I amenjoying it.
And here’s why. My WIP novel is really taking shape, the one I finished a first draft of in September. As I was writing, it gave me a little shiver; in short, I was in love with my book. Then I started editing, and for a while I didn’t really like anything about it. But now? I’m falling back in love.

The shiver is back.

The thing is, I can live in that world—the one where my main characters live. When I close my eyes, I see their faces, I see where they live. I see the paths they walk down, both literally and figuratively. It’s like watching a movie in my mind, and I’m the director. So now I’m tweaking the writing, moving some text, carefully choosing each word, so that when someone else reads what I’ve written, they can see what I see, live in that world.

And feel the shiver.

Do you enjoy the editing/revision process? When you write (and edit) your WIP do you see a movie in yourmind? Do you fall in and out of love with your writing like I do? Do you feel a shiver?

Cheers,

Julia

Putting Pen to Paper

It took a lot of soaking to get rid of the dried ink in the pen

Last weekend I was out Christmas shopping, and I went into a wonderful stationery store I’d never visited before. While I perused the beautiful papers and notebooks—any writer’s dream—my eye was constantly drawn to the fountain pen cases housing rows and rows of pens.

I’ve always loved fountain pens. I used to write with one when I regularly kept a journal. The first Christmas MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I were married, we gave each other identical fountain pens for Christmas. Lest you think I’m just a self-centered gift giver, let me assure you that MEH loves fountain pens as well.

Seeing those fountain pens brought back a lot of memories. Yes, the loveliness of that first Christmas with MEH. But more. The tactile feel of a fine writing instrument in my hand. Connecting, really physically connecting words with paper and feeling the fluid movement of the letters through the pen. Seeing those pens made me realize how much I missed that.

I’ve been spending a lot of time editing my current WIP (and I’m making great progress!). Right now it’s all about the computer: adding words, deleting words, moving chunks of text here and there. But soon I’ll be back to paper and pen, editing my second draft on paper.

As I looked at the colored ink, I wondered: would I want to edit my paper manuscript with a fountain pen? Could I? Would it be frustrating if it made splotches at the wrong places? What if the writing wasn’t always perfectly even? Would I need to stop and refill the ink plunger? Would I be able to write fast enough? I should say…I always, always (well, almost always) edit with red ink, a leftover from Journalism school. And the beautiful bottle of red ink called my name.

In the end, I decided to be practical. It’s Christmas—not the time to spend money on myself. Still, after I left the store I kept thinking about my idea. I found my old fountain pen in the desk drawer, and I felt the weight of it in my hand, opened it and tried to use it but the blue ink was all dried up from years of disuse. But holding it made me realize how much I wanted to write with my long lost friend. And last night I went back to Papier Gourmet in Portland (Maine), and I bought a bottle of red ink. When I got home I cleaned and filled my pen.

 

And I have to admit, when I wrote with that red ink for the first time, it was fantastic!

So, today I’ll be back hard at work at the computer—with just about six chapters left to edit until I reach that second draft. Then, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, I’ll sit at my dining room table with my printed manuscript in front of me. My fountain pen in hand. And I’ll edit like a medieval scribe.


Are there specific writing tools that make your job more fun? Have you ever used a fountain pen? What color is YOUR editing ink?

Cheers,
Julia

From Sandbar with Love

(Sunday, December 4, 2011, 11:06 a.m. EST, 45 degrees F)

Last week, after the weekly video showing the astronomical high tide, one of the commenters said this (after two weeks running of high-tide videos): “Dear Sandbar, I miss you. Love, Sara.” Thank you Sara Grambusch for that comment that made me smile! Sara’s a favorite blogger of mine, and you can read her posts here at her blog.

But first,watch the video—I don’t think you’ll be disappointed because even though it’s the beginning of December, at 45 degrees it’s still warm enough to enjoy a walk on the beach. And there are three people and a dog doing just that. And thanks to Sara I made a point of going to the beach overlook at lower tide!

I really enjoyed going out to the island this morning—connected to the mainland via bridge, the one we stand on to make the video. Not only was it beautiful as always, but it was wonderful to get out of the house. I’ve been working long hours editing at the dining room table, and the fresh air and sunshine felt really good.

But more than that, my WIP that I’m in the process of editing, takes place on an island in Maine. Getting out to a spot that is very similar to the one I’m describing in my book is just what I needed. I’m really happy with the progress I’m making, and the story is in the forefront of my mind all the time. That mini-working-vacation on the bridge is just what I needed to keep me on track and give me some writing inspiration.

Hope your writing is going well too—where do you go for inspiration?

Cheers,

Julia

How Far Would You Go?

“Harold, I’m sorry. You have to die…It’s her masterpiece, possibly her most important work in her already stunning career. I’ve been over it again and again, and it’s absolutely no good unless you die at the end….it’s the nature of all tragedies that the hero dies but the story goes on forever.”  – Dr. Jules Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman), Stranger Than Fiction

The other night I watched Stranger than Fiction—one of my favorite movies about writing. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it for its entertainment value alone. Harold Crick (played by Will Farrell) is a hapless IRS agent who, it turns out, is also the main character in a novel being written by author Kay Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson). It’s not entirely clear if Eiffel invented Harold or if somehow she is writing things that begin to happen to him. It is clear—however—that Harold Crick must die.

I don’t want to give away the whole movie, but to figure out what’s going on—why someone is narrating his life—Harold goes to see a professor of literature. The series of visits and literary analysis that the two go through are hilarious…as Dr. Hilbert devises a series of questions to figure out whether Harold’s story is a comedy or a tragedy. Sadly, ultimately Dr. Hilbert confirms that Harold’s story is a tragedy so he must die to ensure the success of Eiffel’s novel.

It made me consider. And admittedly, this is an outrageous question. How far would I go to ensure I had a masterpiece? Or for that matter, to have a book published? Would I care if my main character—who turned out to be a real person, albeit that I didn’t know, could die as a result of me finishing the book?

To me, this extreme allegory could be the expression of what we all go through as writers. How do we get the words on the page, get the job done. Make our characters come to life? What games must we play in our minds? How do we convince ourselves that the story is worthy of telling?

Do we need to imagine a real person at the other end of what we’re writing? I’ve been thinking about this a lot while I’ve been revising the draft of my WIP. Primarily because I have pictures in my mind of most of my characters—but two (my main character and her new love interest) have been hazy in my mind’s eye.

Then about two weeks ago I went into Starbucks, and a group of women was seated at a table a few feet from where I stood at the cash register. When I glanced over, one woman seemed familiar, almost as though I knew her (I didn’t), and I realized in a flash that it was how I pictured “Annie,” my main character. A strange sensation passed over me as I surreptitiously glanced over at her several times, memorizing details that I could write later.

And yesterday, at Trader Joe’s, when MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went to buy some wine, we were approached by a Trader Joe’s employee. The second I saw him I knew: he was “Annie’s Will,” her new love interest. I briefly considered using my iPhone to snap his picture—but decided that was going too far, and anyway he might have noticed.

After he answered our questions about Proseco, “Annie’s Will” walked away, and as he did, MEH—who knew I was in search of a face to fit the character in my mind—turned to me and said: “Let me guess: Will?” He had seen my writer’s face.  


As I consider my main characters—these two individuals who have come to personify them, yet with whom I have no relationship beyond my imagination—I wonder. Could I like Kay Eiffel write a scene that I knew would affect them? What if it was a good thing—that as a result of what I wrote, “my Annie” and “my Will,” selected seemingly at random, would really meet and fall in love? 

Could I cause one of them harm? (In truth I can’t even write the words in this blog “to die” in relation to anyone, so I think I know my answer to that one.) But a broken arm? A minor accident? A cold? To ensure a bestseller, a masterpiece, or simply a published novel?

How far would I go?

How far would you go? How do you put faces to your characters? 
Cheers, 

Julia

Picture Perfect (Video) Day on the Coast of Maine

(Sunday, November 6, 2011, 11:30 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F)


Incredible. To have this weather in November is spectacular. The view from the overlook was phenomenal today. And it was a little surreal to watch the two Great Danes on the beach. (I truly thought they were ponies as we pulled into the parking lot!) An absolutely stunning day that words cannot do justice.


Meanwhile in the garden… we are clearing up the garden beds, going through a rushed fall clean up following last weekend’s surprise snowstorm. Almost every trace of the snow is gone now so today we’re tidying up: raking beds and some leaves, planting some daffodils, putting up a new mailbox (our old one was rusted through), mowing down the mint, pulling carrots, and putting away trellises, bean poles, etc., etc. Later today I’ll make a big pot of chili that we can eat for several meals this week, and then I’ll get some editing done on the WIP while MEH (My Engineer Husband) writes code to display graph overlays on a scientific instrument.

Here’s what the perennial bed looked like in July, what seems like yesterday!
This is how the perennial flower bed looked after we finished cleaning it up.
(That really WAS yesterday!) Later today we’ll plant Daffodil bulbs in this flower bed!

The More You Know…

A view out my main character’s window

These days I’m focused on my Work in Progress (WIP)—the one I finished a first draft of last month. I’m all set up on the dining room table with everything I need. Almost everything.

While I reorganize, edit, rework, I’m also doing research. I want to make sure I get it right. It’s a work of fiction, that’s true, but it’s reality-based. It takes place in a fictitious town, on a fictitious island in Maine, but there are still things that need to come across as real.

So as I go through the draft, I have a notebook in hand, and I’ve been making notes of everything I need to check. Questions about things like tides, how water flows, boats, land density, how houses looked during certain times in history, cultural and societal details, renovation and construction of houses, fishing and lobstering, and even treatment of mental health.

These details are what will make my story real to a reader, I know that. But right now—more importantly—they are bringing my story and characters to life for me. Maybe it’s partially my journalist roots, but one of my favorite parts of writing is the research: making lists of questions then figuring out how to get the answers.

I’ve done both primary and secondary research.

I’ve looked at documents, many many old (and new) photographs, deeds, land plots, architects’ drawings, maps of Casco Bay, mental illness case studies.

My dining room work station
I read books, search the web (of course), but I’ve also visited a few libraries, local historical societies, the Town Assessor’s office, the Town Engineer’s office, the County Registry of Deeds. I look at the documents they have, talk to the people who work there.

Because one of my favorite parts of the research process is sitting down with a person or talking to someone on the phone, a list of questions in front of me. Asking questions. Listening. Understanding. People who grew up on islands, people who summer on islands, people with deep roots in Maine but also not so deep. Fishermen and lobstermen, historians, and anthropologists. Contractors, mental health providers, engineers.

And I’ve been going on field trips (which I’m sure sounds like absolute torture…): islands, beaches, out on the water in lobster boats and ferries, old houses, local construction projects, walking trails in local wooded areas, gardens, even coffee shops and cafes. This is one of the reasons I started making the weekly Sunday videos from the beach overlook. Most field trips are planned but some have been impromptu. I’m driving someplace else and I see something I want my main character to see or someone she should talk to. I stop and do some research on the fly.

As I talk to people and visit various offices and experts, I take tools with me: always my reporter’s notebook (and pen), my iPhone (for photos and audio recording), often my SLR camera. Photos have been indispensible in reminding me what I see and even how I’m feeling when I see something: a sunset or sunrise, the starry sky, a moonrise, a boat or a house, a natural landmark or object, and—yes—I’ve even taken some photos of people (some without them even knowing, it’s true).

As I edit and write, I keep photos handy. In particular, a photo of a house—the one I imagine my main character lives in. I also have a photo of the views my main character sees out her window. My notebooks are also by my side, and I read through them frequently—if an interview is particularly important, I’ll type it out. The physical act of transcription helps me remember. If I make an audio recording, I transcribe it as soon as possible.

But that’s where the information stops: in a notebook, on a typed sheet of paper, in a photograph or photocopy, and in my mind’s eye. Most of the research will never see the printed page in my WIP—not in a form anyone but I will recognize. But these details I’ve collected help me shape the story: my character, her history, the things around her, what she sees and feels. And ultimately they will bring my story to life not just for me but for you too.

How do you make your stories come to life for you and your readers? What kind of research do you do for your stories? Are you like me—you enjoy the research process?


Cheers,
Julia

Do You Enter the Zone?


This week I’m knee deep in editing the first draft I finished a couple of weeks ago.
And I’m in “the zone.” I actually did a google search to figure out what was going on—was I the only one? I started by searching for “writer becomes character.” Because a weird thing is happening: almost every time I sit down to work on this book, I start “seeing” my main character’s world, feeling her feelings—entering “the zone.”

After a few minutes of searching, I finally stumbled upon an older post called “Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises.” (This post also has some great exercises for helping you get in the zone.)

“Many artists and creative people talk about entering “the zone.” This is a state of mind in which you’re running on automatic pilot. Your right (creative) brain is fully engaged and your left (logical) brain is snoozing with one eye open. It is in this state that people often get lost in an activity, lose track of time, and produce some of their best creative work.”

When I am in the zone, I am quiet, more focused. I’m watching and hearing things in my mind: a conversation, a vignette, a scene. I can see places and people. I visualize walking into my main character’s kitchen and from the kitchen to the left, past a peninsula to the main room, a bank of windows straight ahead overlooks the water—to my right a staircase leads upstairs.

Sometimes, if I’ve been working intensely for several hours and I need to run an errand, go out of the house, I am silent and anti-social. I don’t want to leave the world I’ve created in my mind and now on paper. MEH (My Engineer Husband) says he can tell when I’ve entered the zone because I have the same look on my face I get when we’re in a restaurant and I’m listening to others diners’ conversations, like in this post. If I talk about someone—he feels he needs to ask: “Is this a real person or someone in the book?”

Getting into the zone is not always easy. These days it usually happens right when I sit down to work. I’m there. But sometimes I need to go somewhere to trigger the feelings. When this happens, I’ll go and sit in the spot I imagine is the view my character sees from her window. I sit on the rocks and I wait. I think about that place in my mind, that other place in another world, and my view shifts away from what’s in front of me—and into the world in my mind.
When you’re deeply involved in your stories, your characters, are you overwhelmed by their presence like I am? 

Do you enter “the zone”? 

Cheers,

Julia

What’s Rain Got to Do with It?

“…Into each life a little rain must fall…”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It’s raining this morning. And I’m glad. It’s not only that I love the rain—honestly I love a rainy day almost more than a sunny one.

But more importantly, it reminded me: I forgot to have any rainfall in my recently-completed first draft WIP (Work In Progress), that I blogged about here. Maybe it shouldn’t matter—I mean does every single novel need to mention the weather? Not according to Mark Twain, who reportedly received complaints from some readers about not including enough weather in his books (others complained there was too much mention of weather!).

I didn’t realize this about Mark Twain until I talked to MEH (My Engineer Husband) about my rain omission. He said it reminded him of the forward Mark Twain had in one of his books, The American Claimant. Consider this excerpt from a section called THE WEATHER IN THIS BOOK:

“No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood….”

Unlike Mark Twain, I’m not in the mood to exclude the weather. In fact, I am particularly surprised about my weather omission because my main character spends a lot of time outside in the natural world. Further, a house is being built. And both these things are affected by the weather, especially in a place where there are seasons.

Fortunately I am editing and rewriting my draft and can easily work in the rain and how it affects, motivates, and propels my main character—and my story.

But, more, today’s rain served as a reminder to me that I need to pay close attention to the details, and that these very details will help me create a more realistic, believable, and captivating story.

As Mark Twain said: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Do you talk about the weather in your writing? Is it pertinent to your story or irrelevant?

Cheers,

Julia

Cracking the WIP

Last Friday I typed “The End.”

As a recap… I had two WIPs, lying virtually untouched all the time. Both were about one-third done, and both were good stories. I’ve been blogging for seven months yet writing almost no fiction.

But then a funny thing happened after I wrote my last blog post of August (the one lamenting the fact that I couldn’t focus to write my WIPs): I started writing. A lot.

I joined a small group on Twitter that planned to write 10,000 words over Labor Day weekend (#LaborDay10K). I’ve done these kinds of challenges before and been disappointed. But this time? This time—from Friday to Monday—I wrote over 10,000 words.

And I kept writing. I really got into the story and realized how much I like it; in short, I fell in love with my story all over again. This story, in my head for about 7 years had grown and shifted and developed layers I didn’t think of before. Subsequent to this I’d written Chapters 1-7 and three other pieces that I knew would fit somewhere, including “the ending” (but as it turns out, that became the next to the last chapter).

And I kept writing, encouraged by MEH (My Engineer Husband) who actually wrote a blog post for me during my crunch time.

Honestly, I wrote almost all the time—for 8 solid days. The day before I finished, I wrote for 10 straight hours, so long that I ached.  The story came so fast I couldn’t type fast enough. I had to take notes on a pad next to me to make sure I didn’t forget what else I wanted to write. So distracted by writing that I ate cereal for lunch—and after taking the first bite I found a (live) earwig in the bowl. So consumed with the writing that I didn’t read blogs or go on Twitter for more than a few minutes—and then I just wanted to get off. And I never went outside except for the walks in the morning and evening with the dog and MEH.

And my WIP grew into a full-grown novel: 26 chapters.

And I can honestly say I have no idea why…why was I able to do this after all these years? I don’t honestly know. But…

The blogging really helped. (Which is great, it was one of the main reasons I initially began to blog!) In the past seven months I wrote over 90,000 words for my blog. From February through the end of May I posted every single day. It was a powerful habit to get into. In June when I stopped posting daily, I kept writing everyday and submitting work to various places: essays, short stories, guest blogs.

Which brings me to the second reason I think I suddenly wrote so much: I got some rejections. I know, paradoxical, right? But not right. One of the rejections was from a really good literary magazine. I got a personal note from an editor, and here’s the thing: she liked my story and my voice. She encouragedme to send her another story next month, thismonth.

And, also paradoxically—although we writers (including me) worry about social networking—during all that blogging and tweeting, I made some good writer friends—friends who checked in with me on how my writing was going, friends who I checked in with on how their writing was going. (I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my good writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry; she not only gave me support and encouragement during the 8 days, but she also gave me some much-needed pointers on how to approach some difficult scenes I had to write.)

Oh, and it didn’t hurt that while I wrote, I fell in love with my book and all its characters. The day before I finished, I wrote a list of the scenes I still had to write. After I wrote the list, I looked at it and got really really sad. It’s almost over, I thought to myself. When I finish, all these people will be out of my head—and someday maybe other people will know them. At that moment I didn’t like that very much.

The next day, the 10-hour-writing-day, I was jubilant, happy beyond belief: I was almost done with the first draft. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. After the day was over, and I was walking the dog with MEH, I had an epiphany about the ending of the book.

And the next morning, last Friday, I finished the last two chapters…including that new ending. It wasn’t a sad ending (although not necessarily happy), but it was important. My Main Character had a moment of self-realization and so had I. 

I got pretty emotional: to be honest, I shed a tear. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end. I felt sad that I would never really know how my MC would end up—for the last 8 days I lived and breathed this woman’s life. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

But, more, I felt sad that my 8 days of intense writing were over.

Is the first draft perfect? Far from it. But I have captured the story. Today another kind of work is just beginning—I have layers and layers of edits I need to make, I still have some research I need to do, sources to talk to, gaps to fill, probably even re-writing of the early chapters. And I can’t wait.

Because now I know: I can get to “The End.” 


What breakthrough moments have you had with your writing? Do you, like me, have times you’re not sure why you are able to write more freely than others? How do you feel when you finish important milestones in your writing? Can you relate to my feelings of sadness?

Cheers,
Julia


P.S. You only have a few more days to enter The Great Giveaway! Just leave a comment on the post and you will be entered! Maybe that little house is what did the trick, who knows?? Contest ends September 15!

WIP Dream Critique: What Would You Do?


Tour Eiffel (Paris, 2007)

If you could pick just one great writer….

Last night I saw Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris. (If you haven’t seen this movie yet but you plan to, you might want to stop reading now. Although this is not a movie review, I may reveal more about the movie than you want to know.)
The basics of the movie are that a writer (Gil, played by Owen Wilson) goes to Paris and ends up being transported back in time. He meets many writers and artists from the 1920s—what he considers the Golden Age—including Hemingway and Picasso. When Gil meets Hemingway, he asks him if he’ll read his Work in Progress. Hemingway refuses, telling Gil that writers are a competitive bunch…. Hemingway knows he’ll hate the book: if it’s well written he’ll envy Gil; if it’s badly written he’ll hate it for its writing. Instead, Hemingway points Gil to his good friend Gertrude Stein.

Gil is overjoyed at the prospect of Gertrude Stein critiquing his WIP, but he’s not at all intimidated! I’m not sure I could be so casual as he in letting a great writer read my work. Would I have the confidence? If I did, and I had a choice, who would I pick? Gertrude Stein? Woody Allen? Shakespeare? Hemingway?

Right now, because my primary WIP is a mystery, I’d probably pick Agatha Christie or maybe Daphne du Maurier. But if Hemingway or Gertrude Stein wanted to read my WIP, how could I possibly say no?

If you could pick one great writer to read your WIP, who would it be? And why? Would you be intimidated or just excited to have the opportunity? 


Cheers,
Julia

p.s. Interesting aside: Gil never once mentions writers’ social networking! So although we never see him on Twitter or blogging, we do see him hanging out in bars and cafes with writers….which arguably could be the social networking of writers in 1920s Paris!

Do You Need a Time-Turner?

I can’t stand another year like this one. That Time-Turner, it was driving me mad. I’ve handed it in.”            – Hermione Granger

Are you like me: a writer who works on multiple Works in Progress at the same time? If so, you can probably understand why sometimes I wish I had a “Time-Turner” like Hermione Granger had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—the one she used to go back in time so she could take additional wizardry courses.
With this nifty device, I would be able to work on one WIP, then use the Time-Turner, to go back in time to work on one of my other WIPs. Because—wait for it—I am currently working on not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 WIPs.

Wait! Before you tell me I’m already mad—even without the Time-Turner—hear me out. 

If you’re a nonfiction, business, academic, or freelance writer, then you certainly already juggle multiple shorter projects and maybe even longer ones. 

But book-length fiction? I know some writers who feel strongly about this. Some think you should never, ever work on more than one book at a time. Others think it’s perfectly fine (or even preferable) to juggle multiple WIPs.

Here’s my current line up:

WIP#1 is an adult mystery novel

WIP#2 is women’s contemporary fiction

WIP#3 is a middle-grade fiction (in revision)

WIP#4 is a non-fiction reference-type book (in research stage)

I know for some of you, I’ve already crossed a line—that is, a genre line—and some writers have strong feelings about this, too. My blogging friend Cynthia Robertson has an excellent post about that here.

Although juggling these four projects is a challenge, one of the reasons I do it is exactly because I do enjoy the variety of the different styles and genres. I like the challenge of stretching myself and learning new things. I also like to work like this because if I’m bored or stagnating on one project, I can switch to another.

I think one of the reasons it works for me is because the non-fiction book is in the information gathering stage and the middle-grade fiction is in revision. The other two I’m writing concurrently, working on each of them every day.

Still, if I had a Time-Turner it might be a whole lot easier. (Or maybe I’d be like Hermione and it would end up driving me mad.)

My question for you: How do you feel about multiple WIPs? Do you work on multiple projects? Or do you work on just one project at a time? If you had a Time-Turner, what would you use it for?

Cheers,

Julia