Day 11 of 30 Days of Writing: Write Yourself Alive!

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It’s a sad day.

I’m always a little stunned when I find myself so stunned at the loss of a celebrity. Obviously, I didn’t know him personally, but it felt like I did. Actors and comedians, especially of Robin William’s caliber, do that. They welcome you into the sphere of their being.

Watching Robin Williams do an interview was a spectacle in stream-of-consciousness let loose on the world. I’d sit there mesmerized, wondering what he would possibly say or do next.

His passion and energy radiated off the screen—whether TV or movie.

These days, with social media such an intricate part of our lives, we come together in our mourning. In our grief. Finding solace in photos and quotes shared, in heartfelt pieces written in the moment, proving again that stories unite us.

That we are indeed made of stories.

Robin Williams was a tapestry of stories that swirled around inside him, stories that he was generous enough to share with us.

It’s Day 11 of this writing challenge and while I haven’t posted here every day, I have managed to write something every damn day. I read the posts others are sharing and I am humbled and energized as I ride the wave the waves of words being created, being shared.

This challenge, our words, our stories?

This is how we fan our own little sparks of madness.

Day 6 of 30 Days of Writing: Write Yourself Alive!

Photo: NASA Goddard space Flight Center via Flickr

Photo: NASA Goddard space Flight Center via Flickr

Well, I did it. I managed to write every day, even while on vacation.

Yay!

I shared a bed with my daughter so I’d wake up before her, slide my two notebooks out of my bag and I’d write my morning pages for about 15 minutes. Then I set a timer for another 15 minutes, and wrote from the POV of one of the characters in my current WIP using a prompt from Judy Reeves‘ “A Writer’s Book of Days.” (I have both editions!) This morning I even sketched the floor plan of a character’ study.

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The good thing about these write-every-damn-day-no-matter-what challenges is that they give me some momentum. I often compare it to a rocket ship. It takes so much energy to launch a rocket into space but once it’s there, it’s there.

Showing up every day no matter what keeps my writing life orbiting—around and through me.

Day 3 of 30 Days of Writing: Write Yourself Alive!

Super short check-in today.

One of the things I am loving about this challenge is the sense of freedom I have when I wake up in the morning. I know exactly what I am going to do. I don’t have to decide if i should eat first or meditate or check my email or Facebook or write.

I don’t have to decide because the decision has been made: write. Writing comes first.

This morning I did my Morning Pages then I wrote for 15 minutes from a prompt that helped me gain some insight into one of my characters.

And I’m done. it’s not a lot but it is something. Showing up today to my writing, no matter the quality or quantity of the words, makes it easier to show up tomorrow and the next day, and the next…

Day 2 of 30 Days of Writing: Write Yourself Alive!

Day 2 success. No computer before I wrote (major accomplishment!)

Morning pages.

Wrote a scene for WIP.

Freewrite on this soul card.

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Her naked body, carved into soft curves of purple dust fro,m the stars and earth. Shadows and valleys revealing h strength and beauty. As she gazes up, her neck arched into a “V”, her face disappears then reappears off to the side. An amused smile softly spreads across her lips. Her eyes looking toward her body, her face surrounded by a fan of feathery inkblots. A headdress for a warrior who knows she is not her body. A warrior who knows that her body is a lush, beautiful creation, created and designed specifically for her. She occasionally needs a different perspective, to see her body from an unattached angle. Unattached to the usual feelings of disappointment and shame. Once there, she is amazed that she is ever anything but amazed at the beauty of her body. At the beauty of this place her soul calls Home. 

I’m going out of town for a few days so we’ll see how it goes. Probably no posting here but I hope to at least get in my morning pages and a 15-minute writing practice prompt each day.

Day 1 of 30 Days of Writing: Write Yourself Alive!

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I have mixed feelings about these kinds of challenges.

Mostly I love them.

I love the energy behind the intention.

I love being surrounded by like-minded and like-spirited people on similar journeys.

I love being challenged by a challenge.

What I don’t love is not following through on the challenge.

Then it becomes just another thing I failed at. Another thing I said I’d do and then don’t do.

But here we are at Day 1. So, how did it go?

Well, I started last night by downloading a trial version of Mac Freedom so I could block the internet because the habit of checking my email and Facebook first thing is so ingrained that I didn’t trust myself to just ignore it until I wrote for the day.

My plan was to set it the night before to block the internet until noon but the maximum amount of hours allowed is 8, so that didn’t work.

I woke up to my sleeping computer and pretty much avoided even glancing in its direction as I sat at my desk and wrote my Morning Pages. I could actually feel the computer behind me whining, “Hey, what about me?”

Then I had a yoga class and a feedback class to attend. I decided to skip the one in between and brought my notebook with me to the studio where I hunkered down on the couch for an hour or so to write. I wrote a scene for my WIP and started a new piece for elephant journal.

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Success!

Not gonna get all cocky here since it is only the first day. But I have to say that I really liked starting the day without the internet. I didn’t even go online until after noon. If nothing else comes of this challenge except I break that particular habit, it will be so worth it.

Books Read May-July

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“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” a novel by Maria Semple

The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, “What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.”

This is the first book I read on my Nook. At first, I had trouble sticking with it. I thought it was the structure of the novel—multiple forms of communication from emails to memos to emergency room bills among different different characters. But now I think it was more about getting used to reading on a screen for an extended amount of time instead of just scanning—my usual MO for anything on a screen.

The unique structure in the beginning gives the reader access not only to the various characters but their relationships as well. It also serves as a nice echo for later in the book.

Bee Branch is a smart 15-year-old who has been promised a trip to Alaska for good grades. She plans on collecting this gift in spite of her mother, Bernadette’s, agoraphobia and general odd behavior that could be seen as bordering on a breakdown. When Bernadette disappears, Bee refuses to believe the worst and sets out to piece together all the information and clues she can get her hands on to try and understand her terribly misunderstood mother, along the way uncovering a secret past her mother has been hiding.

This story tugged at my heart and also made me laugh out loud— a perfect combination that reveals the complexity of our familial relationships with a tender yet light touch, making it a perfect summer read.

What I learned: To not be afraid to play with structure and to be funny even in a “literary” movel.

“Ashes to Ashes” a YA novel by Melissa Walker

I wake up with a jerk, not certain what startled me.

Callie is your average teenager, in love with her boyfriend, lost her mom, lives with her fairly strict dad, has a best friend. She loses it all in an instant in a tragic accident. Instead of finding herself in some beautiful version of Heaven being greeted by her long lost mom, Callie finds herself in what is called the Prism. It’s kind of a stop gap before Heaven. A place where souls go to haunt their loved ones. But haunting doesn’t mean what Callie has always been taught. No ghosts rattling chains, scaring people on earth. At least, it’s not supposed to be that. It’s supposed to be a time of bringing peace to your loved ones, helping them to let you go. Once that happens, Callie is free to let go and move on as well. But when Callie falls in with the wrong crowd of ghosts, she is faced with some hard decisions that threaten the lives of her loved ones as well as her own existence.

What I learned: The details are crucial for creating a world whether it is realistic or fantasy.

“I Can’t Complain” (all too) personal essays by Elinor Lipman

I came late to the essay-writing genre, when various magazine and newspaper editors asked me to expound on a particular topic and I felt it was not only polite but also a good deadline discipline to say yes.

These charming essays offer readers of her fiction or new readers a delightful insight into Lipman’s life. Topics range from parents, children and marriage, sex ed to “Sex and the City”, to the writing life, life and death. They feel like she drew the curtain back so we could all take a peek at the life of a writer behind her fiction. It made me want to start writing my own collection of essays.

What I learned: That our own lives are a rich bounty of material waiting to be mined if only we look carefully.

“Stitches- A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair” by Anne Lamott

It can be too sad here.

indeed it can.

Anne Lamott began writing these little gems of wisdom and comfort in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. As always, her raw, vulnerable, honest, gracious perspective brings comfort to me as she questions how we stay connected and balance when so much evil and such catastrophes befall our world.

What I learned: No matter where I am at in my life, there are the words of Anne Lamott to guide and comfort me.

“Drunk Mom” a memoir by Jowita Bydlowska

One evening I find a baggie of cocaine.

And that is one of the more benign things that happen in this riveting and disturbing memoir.

After three years of sobriety, Jowita Bydlowska finds herself enjoying champagne- lots and lots of champagne. Suddenly, her sobriety is out the window and she is immersed in the downward spiral of addiction with the lies to others and herself and skewed logic that it comes with. Reading this was harrowing. She was young mother of a young son and even that couldn’t make her stop drinking. Her bad choice after bad choice just made me cringe. But her raw honesty as she exposes the dark underbelly of addiction was inspiring.

What I learned: That you just never ever know what anyone else is truly going through.

“Life Drawing” a novel by Robin Black

In the days leading up to my husband Owen’s death, he visited Alison’s house every afternoon.

Confession: Robin Black is my latest writer crush. You know, that writer you want to write like, the one that you’ll read anything they write—even a grocery list. I first discovered her through her short story collection “If I Loved You I would Tell You This.” I was so very bummed when I learned that was her only book and have been waiting for her next one. I had the pub date for “Life Drawing” written on my calendar and bought it that day.

It tells the story of a long marriage between Gus and Owen, a painter and writer. She reveal the complexities of marriage with such compassionate precision that it left me breathless at times.

My favorite lines:

There are often two conversations going on in a marriage. The one that you’re having and the one you’re not. Sometimes you don’t even know when the second, silent one has begun.

I loved the intimate, behind-the scenes look at a marriage after betrayal as well as the dynamics between two artists living, working, creating (perhaps competing?) together.

It was one of those books that I wanted to race to the end to see what happens but also I wanted to slow down and savor every scene and sentence, never wanting it to end.

What I learned: To observe and write from that place of compassionate precision.

 

Writing Process Blog Hop

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I love musing about, writing on and discussing the creative process—mine and others. My favorite writing books focus more on process than craft since we all come at it from different perspectives in order to arrive at the same place— getting our words onto the page and out into the world.

So when I was asked by the lovely Deborah Brasket to participate in this Writing Process Blog Hop, I was thrilled. Deborah lives on the central California coast where she writes fiction, poetry and writing inspired by the natural world. Visit her blog, Living on the Edge of the Wild where she explores “the borderlands that lay between the human and the more-than-human worlds, and the ways they overlap and mirror each other.”

Now, I am supposed to tag 3 more writers to participate. After asking my entire Twitter and Facebook communities, plus reaching out to many writers personally, I have not found anyone able to participate.

So… consider this a shout-out tag. Anyone who has not participated yet and wants to, please leave me a comment. I will do another post highlighting you along with a link to your contribution to the Blog Hop. Seriously. Let me know. Let’s keep this going. We all benefit from sharing our writing and creatives process.

Here are the questions:

What are you working on?

I like having several projects going at once, just as I always read several books at once—different genres of different lengths to fit my current mood and time frame. Having several writing projects allows me to take a break from one, letting it simmer and percolate while not allowing my writing momentum to stagnate.

1. I just finished a revision of a novel-in-stories, “Learning Curve.” I am in the process of writing an agent query letter and getting it ready to submit. The stories follow the life of Martha Jane Fiske from age 10 through adulthood who, after her parents’ divorce, is left in the unfamiliar and awkward care of a father who has been somewhat on the periphery of her life and is now at the center. Marty (a new name to match the new identity she tries on like it’s an accessory) finds herself slowly yet intently gravitating away from that center, as she looks to fill the gaping hole her mother’s departure left with anything and anyone who makes her feel like she is enough. The novel explores identity and the complexities of motherhood and marriage and the ways we struggle to define ourselves in the midst of living complicated, unpredictable lives.

2. I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMO several years ago. I still love the characters and feel drawn to their stories. While I have a draft, I feel I am rewriting it more than revising. It is still untitled which tells me I haven’t unearthed the heart of the story yet. I am still struggling with the structure as it is told form the POV of several different characters after the unexpected death of their husband and father.

3. I’ve jotted notes and scenes for a YA Fantasy I am kind of in love with but am not ready to discuss at any length. All I can say is that it involves guardian angels.

4. I have many short stories in various stages of completion. I love the compactness of a story. I love that it can be written and shared in a relatively short amount of time.

5. I am a columnist for elephant journal where I write at least one post a week. I have also volunteered to edit several pieces a week for them as I learn so much from editing others’ writing.

6. Then there is my own blog, which I have been trying to give more consistent love and attention.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

For the most part, I write literary fiction, which Ron Carlson defines as “a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live.” So, I try to enter the complicated hearts of my characters and their stories with that kind of honest tolerance. I don’t believe in neat, tidy, tied-up-in-a-bow kind of endings. I try to follow my characters instead of my ego, letting them show me the way.

Why do you write what you do?

I don’t set out to write on any particular theme though I do see certain themes emerge in many of my stories: motherhood, marriage, identity, faith. I write what needs to be written, what bubbles up from inside of me. Characters and scenes often emerge when I am playing with writing prompts. I sit down without any agenda, just to play and see what happens. I trust that the stories I need to tell will reveal themselves at the right time.

How does your writing process work?

Calling it a “process” is a very flattering term for I what I actually experience. I feel like it’s a much more intuitive, fly-by-the-seat of my pants kind of space where I honor the ebb and flow of my particular creative process.

I write most everything in longhand first. I feel more connected to my writing that way. Often, I start with prompts that then turn into characters, conversations, scenes. Once I have a collection of these, I sit down and type them up, seeing where I’m at. Is it a story? A novel? A novel-in-stories? I make notes of what I like, what is missing, what questions I have and use those as little assignments for myself. I try to keep on top of typing all these bits and pieces up because typing is not my favorite thing. Once I have a draft, I let it sit—could be for days, weeks or even months. I need enough time to pass so that I can look at it and almost forget that I wrote it.

Then the same process starts all over again. Read it with pen in hand, making notes to myself as if I am workshopping a piece from somebody in my writing group. Once that draft is done, I’ll show it to my group to get their input—incorporating what resonates with me, trusting my instinct as to what that may be.

As far as when and how much I write on any given day…well, I don’t stick to any rigid, consistent schedule. Or if I do, it’s for a set amount of time. When I was revising my novel-in-stores for a contest, I worked almost daily, usually at the bookstore (away from dishes, TV, laundry) and I would work for 45 minutes, break for 15. I’d do up to 5 sets of these. It worked at the time, but I haven’t really used that since. Not to say that I won’t again.

Another part of my process involves keeping a notebook for each WIP. I’ll write from prompts in there, focused on specific characters. I’ll brainstorm names or plot possibilities. I’ll ask questions, track my progress for the day, write new scenes coded with a letter and a page number so I know where in the ms to insert it.

Daily yoga and meditation nurture my writing process, allowing my mind to stay focused and all my energy to flow.

The most important part of my process involves showing up. I wrote these intentions at the beginning the year instead of resolutions and I find they have been a beacon for my writing:

1. I write daily with courage, an open heart and compassion for the ebb and flow of the creative process.

2. I devote myself to my writing time with focus, clarity, passion and joy.

3. I connect with other writers in person and on-line for encouragement and support.

4. I commit to sharing my words by sending them out into the world again and surrender the outcome to the Universe.

5. I continue a daily meditation and yoga practice that allows my writing life to flourish.

So, that’s it. That’s what my writing process looks like today. It could be totally different next year, next month or even next week.

How about you? Interested in sharing your process? Please leave a link in the comments. We’d all love to hear what works for you.