FOR THE CLASS

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My husband whispers snarky comments to me all the time. This is our love language. Sometimes I disguise my guffaw with a lighthearted, church-appropriate chuckle (because Lord have mercy but that man is even more hilarious in the presence of God and these witnesses) and sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s just between us. Nothing to share with the class. That is how I’ve been feeling about this blog.  I have nothing to share! The truth is,  I have lots to share about my writing journey, but nothing, you know. Literary. Lofty. Legit.

Clearly, I had to rethink the purpose of my blog. The reason I have a blog is so that when I submit stuff to agents or meet a future colleague and they google me, it’s not a vast tundra of files not found. I don’t like teaching, but I like to encourage. I don’t like writing meta on books and media, but I like linking to those who do. I love pinning velvet chairs on my Pinterest page, and that’s some important stuff right there. So, I will stop writing as though I know what I’m talking about, which is what I thought you should do if you got yerself one of them thar blogs, and will write from a place of discovery and ambition.

Ambition! Remember in “Little Town On The Prairie” (or was it the next one, where she gets that horrible internship with the woman who wields butcher knives instead of post-partum depression meds…) Laura Ingalls had to write a last-minute essay on ambition and she copied the dictionary definition, scattered a couple of observations across the top, and got an A?  I’m like that. I don’t really know what ambition is. I would have to look it up, too. But I am writing every day to improve my craft and eventually be a published writer. That’s the goal of my heart.

Unfortunately, the road to publication is like infertility. Have I said this yet? Oh well, I’ll say it again. We told everyone we were going to start a family and everyone was like, woo hoo! You will make good parents! And then it DID NOT HAPPEN. Eventually, the “hey, are you pregnant/no, I am just fat” exchanges dwindled and died. Happy ending: it did happen! Woo hoo!  We are good parents! But we floated in a bizarre sense of timelessness, waiting for that dream to come true. It’s the same with this Writing Thing:  This is my vocation and I am working hard. It could happen next year, it could happen in ten years. I have no idea. I used to feel weird being so passionate about something that is garnering no goal-oriented results, but now I’m just enjoying being obedient to the call.

My goal for the blog is to share things that might help other writers, offer hope to those on the journey, and amuse readers. I will occasionally be funny. (I will occasionally think I am funny, realize I was only pretentious, and delete stuff.) I hope you like my new approach! This way, when IT HAPPENS and people flock to my blog like pigeons on spilled cheerios, I won’t have to suddenly become savvy and serene. I’ll already be there, carrying a watermelon.

Meg

p.s. today’s confident and positive blog post is brought to you by the feeling you get after you read Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.”

 

 

Ain’t Got Time For That

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Warning:  This blog post is meant to be a chat between girlfriends. Read at your own risk.

This Saturday is my annual retreat day! I will go to the beach and stare at the ocean until my brain is quiet and see what joy or wisdom seeps in. I mention this because it was one year ago on last year’s retreat where I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish/complete/experience, a list of key relationships and possible relationships, dreams, thoughts, school goals for the kids, areas of personal growth (aka stop that, just stop it, honestly!), quilt projects, writing goals, etc. I looked at the list and it was good. It was very good! Then I looked at the personal goals list and at the bottom, like a sludge, was the perennial “dumb and uglies.” Self-esteem issues. Whatever you call it.

I looked at the rest of the list, full of big ideas and nifty possibilities, and I crossed that last one off. There was just too much else going on and I did not have time to fret about the baby weight or what other people thought about the baby weight or the fashion or probable lack thereof, et cetera. I simply did not have time.  I decided to drop my fear of other people’s opinions. I decided to act outwardly how I feel inwardly, which is that I am pretty and fierce and badass and all kinds of other fabulous things. These personal opinions have been verified by my husband, whose reaction to “I can’t fit in self-esteem issues this year, is it okay if I just act like I’m awesome?” was, “You don’t have to pretend. You are all those things.”

(And I have a great rack, but he didn’t say that out loud. But we exchanged a knowing glance.)

I am pleased to report that this was the best year ever!  I will make my annual List Of Many Things again, and we’ll see if I have time for the dumb and uglies again, or if I can go another year without visiting that spiral. Giving myself permission to skip those internal lies gave me the faith to cast out all kinds of other lies and thought patterns and behaviors, too. Finally. Sheesh.

So this Saturday I will hie myself to the beach and sit on the rocks and scribble madly until I am hungry for lunch and then there will be lunch and then I’ll do some other stuff until it is time for dinner and then there will be dinner, probably at Street 360 because they have this awesome Thai salad (and yeah, fries with curry mayonnaise dip, I’m not gonna lie) and then I will wander around Portsmouth until I’m sure the kids are asleep and then I will go home. And love.  And love, and love, and love, until it’s time for my next annual review.

Just Refill The Glass

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“Who is better off? The one who writes to revel in the voluptuousness of the life that surrounds them? Or the one who writes to escape the tediousness of that which awaits them outside? Whose flame will last longer?”

Roman Payne

I wish I could say I am in the first category. Those paragons of joy sip chai spice lattes in underground cafes, swathed in elegant scarves. Their words become literature, and woodland creatures prance behind them in an eternal parade of celebration and blessing.

The second category (that’s me) hunker down in our caves, cursing the weather because it’s too cold for the ink in our pen. We would have brought a pencil along, but we couldn’t because someone ripped off all the erasers out of curiosity. Our words are the one sparkler in the box that would not light.

As always, the answer lies in the middle, because we are probably all both categories at one point or another. Maybe we swap back and forth, depending on the day, the weather, whose banana had the big black spot on the end and whose was perfect all the way through. But it’s the lifelong vision I feel this author refers to. I choose to believe that life is a gift and fall on the side of gratefulness as much as I can.

Therefore, it is folly to consider life a tediousness from which I must escape. Little bits of life may be tedious or odious or obnoxious, but in general, when I stop fretting about my woes, I am grateful.

In the same way, we shouldn’t despair if the life that surrounds us is not voluptuous in the least! It’s hardest when you maybe used to have a lush, vibrant life and you don’t anymore. Or if your first attempts at art really were inspired by a flight of desire, love, elation or triumph but maybe now you’re in a daily grind and feel like your efforts don’t count if you are not reveling? If you have a basecoat of gratefulness, though, you shouldn’t feel like a fraud if things aren’t like they used to be.

I think the one whose flame will last longer is the one who knows the source of fuel will never run dry. That we are filled and can yet experience a continual refilling. That when our cup is half full, we rejoice and when it is half empty, we finish the glass and get another one.

And if you cannot fill your cup, hold it out, and I will fill it for you, or I’ll find someone who will. So there.

THE DTR

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When I was in college, some older and wiser friends had a great phrase called “Defining the Relationship.” The short form was “DTR.”  As in, “Have you had a DTR with that boy yet?” (Um, no, because I know I shouldn’t be dating him and if we have a DTR I will say that out loud and that’s the end of that!!)

Ah, college.

I came across this great quote by Ben H. Winters: “Because as any writer will tell you, an IDEA for a book is like falling in love, it’s all wild emotion and headlong rush, but the ACTUAL ACT of writing a book is like building a relationship: it is joyous, slow, fragile, frustrating, exhilarating, painstaking, exhausting, worth it.

This is so true!  I have ideas for books all the time.  ALL THE TIME. I write them down in notebooks, on receipts, typed into my computer, and one time, scribbled on the cover of a pastry box. When I get time, I flesh out the idea longhand into my art sketchbook. Then I daydream about the book. Daydreaming involves casting actors into the roles, Pinteresting settings and fretting over the villain. I love to hate my villains. It also includes fantasies about how ridiculously entertaining this book will be. (I’m an optimist. Don’t hate.) I fill in all the character worksheets, answer the character motivation questions in Jeff Gerke’s excellent book “Plot Vs. Character,” and sketch an outline. I’m a plotter.

Then, I start writing, and all the lovely ideas become tiresome. The settings don’t look like the brochure. The characters want to stay in and watch a movie instead of go to battle. The villains’ agenda makes more sense to me than the hero’s journey. It’s time for a DTR.  Defining the relationship with a whole novel is rewarding because eventually, the novel starts agreeing with you.

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Sometimes, all I have to do is go back to my notes. I’ve forgotten a plot point or a character flaw or forgot to have A happen BEFORE B.  Other times, I have to change the entire direction of the book.  That’s totally fine, I just wish the book had mentioned that up front. But if I keep plugging away, the story starts to come together in a way that is much deeper than a great idea scrawled on the back of a piece of junk mail.

I just had a long DTR with my current novel. 150 pages in, I had to go back and rewrite the first five chapters. Now, I don’t usually edit a first draft until it’s complete, but because such major character changes had to be made before I could move forward, a backwards look was in order.  It was messy! I had to be brutally honest about some real things. I mean, I didn’t cry, but the book certainly did.  And we’re both the better for it!

It’s tempting to get discouraged about anything we undertake once the bloom is off the rose, the honeymoon is over, the gloves are off, or whatever metaphor you prefer. However, it is in the hard work that the truth is revealed, whether that is about a real relationship or a story being written. Sometimes, those are the same.

ANOTHER!

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You know that scene in Thor when he’s so enamored of the coffee that he smashes the mug on the floor and excitedly demands another cup?  That is how I feel right now about sending out my novel to literary agencies.

The last round of rejections were deserved, but I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Every rejection had some specific thing I could fix.  I went to a conference.  I finished writing another novel.  The first fifteen pages won a contest and some of the judges said very nice things about it.  Now I am submitting the book again, but this time, I am not afraid of the response.

What if I get another round of rejections, instead of a nice full mug of yes?  BRING IT ON.  Obviously, my goal is to become a published fiction writer.  However, my last round of rejections were constructive and I worked hard to improve on the suggestions.  Perhaps this next round will open up new avenues for improvement!  That’s part of the long haul, the journey, the work-in-progress.

You know what else I like about submitting things?  It makes writing feel real.  In a professional way, not in an “I accidentally sent someone the whole novel instead of just the first three chapters” kind of way. That happened to me this fall, but luckily it was to a friend, not an agency.  I thought I was sending the first three, nice, polished chapters. The rest were still feeling first-drafty and I’d lopped off the original ending.  Imagine my surprise at the email, time-stamped midnight, where my friend informed me she’d been up for hours and still wasn’t finished——I’d accidentally sent the whole shebang!

She really liked it, though, warts and all.  Hopefully, the real world will like it, too!

SHOW VERSUS TELL

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This is one of the most elusive writing concepts to grab and squeeze onto the page.  Assuming nothing, let us talk about what it is not:

It is not Show AND Tell.  Show and Tell is when you bring a smooth, dark gray beach rock to class because it has a white band that goes all the way around, but someone else brings a mouse in a clear plastic container and no one cares about your rock.  Then years later, you purchase five mice and try to train them to run a maze for the Science Fair, but on Exhibition Night you have twenty-three mice whose priorities are…not running the maze.  Because of the fascinating horror of your exhibit, the school makes a rule that science fair projects can no longer involve live animals.  Your friend Abby wins the Fair for her exhibit featuring double-glazed windows, but you are not jealous because she was doing Actual Science and it turned out that you were doing Show and Tell.

Show VERSUS Tell is this:

“Ricky was not afraid of spiders.”  That is you, telling the reader something about your character.  It is maddening because you WANT the reader to know that Ricky is not afraid of spiders, so why can’t you just point that out?

Telling:  Ricky was not afraid of spiders.

Showing:  When his mom wasn’t looking, Ricky scooped the spider into a Dixie cup and relocated her to the bathroom, where she might catch a silverfish.

See what I did there?  The same information is conveyed, but the second version is a little more interesting.  You know Ricky has a mom.  You know that Ricky is skilled with arachnid capture and release.  You know he knows what a silverfish is and that his spider is female.  In your mind’s eye he might even have his shirt half untucked and dirt under his fingernails and maybe he brings spiders to the kitchen, too, and lets them duke it out with the earwigs.

So once you hunt down and fix all the instances of “telling” in your novel, along comes a rejection letter that encourages you to really work on your “show versus tell” problem.

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(image from worldstart.com)

See what I mean?  Elusive, and also a little smug.

Then I came across this article by Chuck Palahnuik, who wrote “Fight Club.”  It applied the “show versus tell” issue not just to information, but to inner monologue.

Go read The Article and come back…I’ll wait.

Well, that was informative and specific and funny and how could I possibly not know that?!  It is easy to spot Show Versus Tell issues in someone else’s writing, but it’s hard to do it in my own.  Chuck’s article helped me see that even a character’s personal thoughts can be drawn out, and not simply “told” and then masked with body language or setting or some other literary device. Possibly your own writing has already lassoed this issue into the corral.  Hooray!  I am still trying to untangle the rope.  Let’s spread the word about Chuck’s Advice to people who are similarly mystified by Show Versus Tell.

In my next post I will address Show Versus Tell’s flashy and sometimes inappropriately-dressed-for-church cousin, Overwritten.

I Know How To Tape My Hem

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When I was a kid, if your hem unraveled during school you would quickly and discreetly scotch tape or staple that bad larry.  If you left that thin, ragged edge to unfold on its own during Social Studies, WOE TO YOU AND YOUR HOUSE.  Sometimes you didn’t notice you had a Hem Malfunction until someone pointed it out, but as soon as you saw it, you would take care of business.

That is how I feel about writing in this blog.  I intend to write little snippets here, link to helpful writing tips there, and generally record my writing process as it unfolds.  I am old enough to remember life before the internet, but this is my very first blog and I might say the wrong thing or post something I thought was really neat that turns out is the opposite of neat and now no one is my friend anymore, like Harriet The Spy, that first-rate horror novel. 

So if my hem is unraveling in any way, as it were, please feel free to contact me and I will try to fix the mistakes.