Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Back in the Game

     It was a tough day for my son on the ball field on Saturday.
     Playing right field, he couldn't get a handle on a couple of line-drive singles. He missed the cut-off man on another. Hitting-wise, the shortstop threw him out on two infield grounders. His coach took him out of the game after four innings.
     As we drove home, he was full of excuses.
     "It was hot."
     "The ball was hit too hard."
     "The sun was in my eyes."
     "I was bad, wasn't I?" he asked.
     His head wasn't in the game. I could tell by his slouchy posture, how he kicked at the grass, and watched a bird fly overhead while his teammates focused on the guy at the plate. I didn't say that, though. Instead I said, "Everyone has their 'off' days."
     "Maybe I shouldn't play next year."
     I shrugged. "That's your choice," I said.
     As a high school freshman next year, he'll have to make a choice between playing baseball or joining the track team since they share the same season. He threw discus in track this year and really enjoyed it. But for now, he's in junior high baseball. And he's discouraged.
     "Everyone's better than me," he said. He slumped down in the seat, pulling the cap over his eyes. "But I love baseball," he mumbled.
      I looked at him, and something dawned on me. He sounded like, He sounded like me on the days when I'm wishing that I could get an acceptance before I get another rejection. That my computer wasn't so slow. That I could write as lyrical and fresh as that shiny new author at Big Publishing House. Some days I'd rather complain than compose. It's all just so hard, I think. Why bother?
     On days like that, I just want to wallow in self-pity. And nothing and nobody is going to stop me, by golly. But I love writing, so I'll be back at the computer the next morning if I'm not there the night before. I can't imagine a time when I won't be writing. It's just not possible. It's who I am.
     So go ahead and allow yourself an 'off' day if you feel one coming on. Embrace it. Wallow with chocolate, Ben & Jerry's, or whatever your vice.
     Then dust yourself off and get back in the game. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Week of Firsts - the Friday Five (+ 1 More)

  1. I'm on the campaign trail this week, thanks to Rachael Harrie's Platform-Building Campaign. This is the first blog-related networking activity I've participated in, and I'm having a blast! I've met so many creative, inspiring people this week by visiting blogs. What a fantastic opportunity to network and make friends. Thank you, Rachael!
  2. The kids' first day of school was Tuesday. They left loaded down with binders, calculators, mechanical pencils and happy anticipation for seeing their friends again everyday. Back to uninterrupted writing time for me!
  3. Lost a few days worth of work on my cannibalizing flash drive. I know, I know, I shouldn't be working directly on it, but my laptop is on its last breath. I thought I was *safe*. Lesson learned. 
  4. I replaced the duct work to our dryer this week ALL BY MYSELF! Maybe I've missed my calling. Next up...replacing the bathroom faucet. Girl Power!!!
  5. What I'm loving at the moment? Freshly-baked blueberry coffee cake. Life is good.
     Oh, yeah...5 days left on my first-ever contest for Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter. It's one of my favorite writing books. Anyone who leaves a comment and/or follows me gets your name in the drawing. I'll announce the winner next Thursday. 
                                                             Have a great weekend, everyone!

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Lost in Smugville

         While breezing along with my WIP on Monday midday, it looked to be a productive week. The characters were behaving badly (as they should), the dialogue rang true, and the transitions were as smooth as butter. Everything I wrote sounded goooood. No editing needed. As a writer, you know this is not the norm. The process usually equals angst-ridden, hand-wringing days, when getting a paragraph down feels like you've had to use a quill pen between your teeth to write it. It's painful. But Monday was different.  My smugness swelled like a balloon.

         And then it popped.

         It popped when I plugged in the flash drive yesterday to continue working. I clicked on the WIP folder.


         click, click

         Still nothing.


         I thought the blank page, the Void of White Nothing, was teasing me for being so smug. I looked everywhere. Then I found that not only was Monday's work missing, but the flash drive seemed to have cannibalized several days of writing. In all, about 6,000 words.

          I've remembered bits and pieces of the good parts since yesterday (and saved them on a new flash drive). It will take me days to rewrite instead of jumping into the groove of three days ago. I'm back to feeling the angst and hand-wringing, to writing with a quill between my teeth.

         Smugness, thy name is not writer.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Discarding the Chaff

        The cage holding my three zebra finches stands an arm's length away from the computer desk. Their songs make my writing time anything but quiet, but its pleasant background noise and I easily tune them out.

        However, yesterday morning was an exception. All three scratched and bobbed in the plastic food dish, and seeds shot onto the floor. Suddenly they would stop, peck at the remaining food, then the manic routine would begin again.

         I watched this for five minutes, totally engrossed in this birdy behavior, their sloppy but necessary routine of discarding the chaff or seed casings from the food dish once they broke into the seed's 'meaty' center. It reminded me a little of the revision process. We chisel the bloated paragraphs and tedious sentences in our first drafts into crisp prose with each revision. I happen to love the process, but yeah, it can get pretty messy.



    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Friday Five

    1. I'm beta-reading a fantastic manuscript by author-friend G.P. Ching. If it's anything like her first novel, The Soulkeepers, her fans are in for another treat when this one is released!
    2. Also reading A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. I love this story for the richness of its characters.
    3. I can feel fall coming, especially since there's a crispness in the air at night. However, I am NOT liking how the fat-bodied orb weavers spin their webs around the house when the sun goes down and I have to duck-walk under them to take the dog out.
    4. Polishing the first ten pages of a manuscript to send in when I register for Prairie Writer's Day in two weeks. 
    5. A BIG thank you to Ruth at Out on a Limb, Shy Writer Goes Social for presenting Here's the Story with its first award! Here it is:
                                                                          Have a great weekend, everyone!

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Friday Five - A Day Late

    1. It's been a week full of Mondays, hence the late Friday Five post.
    2. My son and I took part in a Humane Society outreach event last night. We brought Lucky, a five-year-old lab mix to the local minor league ballpark for some face time with potential adoptive families. She especially touched my heart since she was brought in with her brother, Jack, and he was recently adopted. I hope she finds her own home soon.
    3. A tornado touched down outside of town this past Monday. I missed it as I was 20 miles away at the time, and got home as the sun pushed through some ominous-looking clouds still hanging around. I've always wanted to see a funnel cloud. From a great distance, that is.
    4. I've put on 250+ miles this week driving my two boys to and from practices for three teams. 
    5. My co-network representative and I finalized plans for a hands-on workshop in October with Paula Morrow, editor, author, book reviewer and instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature. She'll be leading attendees with polished manuscripts through the submission process. Excited!
                                                                                                             Happy writing!

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Home from the Conference - Now What?

     I'm not the jealous type.

    Really, I'm not.

    But after a weekend full of blog updates, Facebook posts, photos and Tweets emanating from the West coast, I'm feeling every-shade-of-green envious of the folks that were able to attend SCBWI's 40th anniversary celebration at the conference in Los Angeles.
    I went to the LA conference in 2008, and as much as it was a magical, transformational experience, I remember my first SCBWI conference with a little more clarity. The conference was hosted by SCBWI's Iowa chapter in Iowa City, and it was an inspirational and energetic weekend. I couldn't sleep at all the first night. My head buzzed from the amount of information I'd soaked up that day.

    Being in the company of so many writers for the first time, people who wrote in the same niche as me, was heady stuff. I came home feeling validated, ready to work, and with an armload of notes, handouts, sample copies, and contact information. You're probably feeling like that now, whether this was your first or fifteenth conference.

    But once you're home and (mostly) unpacked from your conference, what should you do with all the stuff. How can you best make use of the time and energy you spent collecting information to further your writing career?

    Here are five ways to organize and help plan your next moves:
    1.  Read over your handwritten notes. Type them up, possibly organizing them by similar topics. All information on plot strategies can be grouped together, advice for the agent search can be on another page, etc. This can be tedious but at the same time exciting because you get to revisit the conference all over again. Make sure to attribute who said what in case you decide to write a topical article or blog entry, and need a reference.
    2. Send thank you notes. Did you get a conference critique from an agent, author, or editor? Let them know that you appreciate their advice. They'll remember you when you get around to submitting that manuscript.
    3. Follow-up on other conference contacts. Visit the blogs of people you met, friend them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Maybe you met someone with whom you'd like to exchange manuscripts, or you talked with an author who blogs and had great tips for starting your own. These connections could lead to great opportunities. 
    4. Go over the guidelines of publishing houses and agencies. Read and reread these before sending your manuscripts out there. Pay attention to the submission time lines and how many pages/chapters they'd like to see. You don't want to waste an opportunity because you missed the fine print.
    5. Finally, write, write, write! You're full of creative energy now that you're back home. Take advantage of it to start a new project or dive back into your WIP. 
    What other strategies do you use post-conference?

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Friday Five

    1. My family and I visited LeClaire, Iowa last weekend, home to History Channel's American Pickers. Their store, Antique Archeology, is tucked away inside an old two-story fabrication shop. You'll miss it if you're not expecting to find it in the alley of a hillside residential neighborhood.  We saw a TON of cool things! My son begged for the klaxton horn (ah-WOOO-ga!). I was partial to the 12-foot tall fiberglass cowboy boot. This place was full of story ideas!
    2. I'm continuing the contest for Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter book. It's one of my favorite writing books. To get your name in the giveaway, just leave a comment or follow me. I'll announce the winner at the end of this month.  
    3. The WIP is moving forward thanks to early morning baseball practice. My son's team meets six days a week now that the season is underway. It's too far away to drop him off and go back home for only two hours, so I bring the laptop to the nearest cafe and write away.
    4. I've counted THREE peaches on the tree I planted two years ago. They're almost ready! This is even more exciting than the two blueberries I harvested in June. Do three peaches equal even half a pie?
    5. More back-and-forth regarding Traditional Books vs. E-versions. Here's an article from the Chicago Tribune this week, urging traditional publishers to 'fight back' with their own advertising gimmicks, similar to the commercials promoting Kindle. Personally, I'm tired of hearing that paper books are on their way out. There's room for both formats, and stories will continue to reach readers. Isn't that the whole idea?

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Writing Places

    When I was a kid, my grandpa built me a tree house in the silver-leaf poplar in the backyard. A bench big enough for my sister and me sat against the back wall, and a curtain hung over the door. There wasn't a roof, so I could stand and see over the wall. He had also fastened a tire swing to the largest tree limb with heavy-duty chain link. When I didn't feel like climbing down the ladder, I'd opt instead to shimmy across that limb and monkey down the rusty chain, turning my hands orange in the process.

    The tree house was my earliest writing place. I'd bring my spiral notebook up there and my special pen with  its four interchangeable colors. I could press a button and click!  Red. click! Blue. click! Green. click click! Back to red, my favorite. I'd stay up there for hours, writing, doodling, and dreaming until my sister found me. Later, my grandma typed my tree house tales on her manual typewriter while I dictated. I still have most of my stories, thanks to my sister for hanging onto them.
    My tree house wasn't quite like this one!
    It looked more like this.

    Sometimes I wish I still had a tree house for writing. Where is your ideal place to write?
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