Wednesday Wonders: When to Call the Book Done

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The other day my son said, “You know you’ve got a LOT of books on writing on your bookshelf. Have you read all of those?”

Mostly, I told him. (He wasn’t particularly impressed — just astounded that I could stay focused for that long on reading books about putting words on paper.)

And he doesn’t even know about the courses I’ve taken and the blogs I’ve read.

Writing takes a lot of reading.

And, of course, it takes a lot of writing words.

In my online reading, Randy Ingermanson once explained to me that the average writer puts over a million words down before she or he becomes a published author.

The million words could be several different books or it could be the same book rewritten over and over again.

I don’t know how many words I’ve written. It’s hard to keep track.

My very first novel is at the back of my file drawer where it will stay. I think I drafted 50,000 words or so. My second short historical fiction set on Whidbey Island is now around 30,000 words. Here is where it gets tough to track, though. It was 50,000 then I cut it down to 40,000. Then I added some. Then I cut it to the bone at 20,000. I added again to 32,000.

I have a third historical fiction set in Tacoma with a word count around that size, too, including the cuts and additions and whatnots.

Those are the larger pieces that are easier to keep track of. I’ve written scads of shorter pieces, some published, many more not, and some even on this blog. I’ve grown fond of mathematics but not fond enough to actually add up all the single words I’ve written to see if I’ve gotten to a million words. I know publishing isn’t anything like that straight forward anyway.

(You wrote the millionth word! Now you are published! Not exactly.)

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I declared my my second short novel finished last week. Over the last five years I drafted and revised, took classes with it, had my critique group read and re-read it through and then section by section. I’ve had beta readers take a look at it and acted on all of the feedback I’ve received in one way or another.

I’m ready to stop cutting and adding. I’m ready to turn my attention to other things and let the million words add up on some other project.

At first I decided to consign it to the bottom of a drawer, tucked into a file next to the first one about the fairies and the the other worlds full of trees and magic.

Then I read this by Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor, one of the those books my son saw on the shelf:

“Work never sent out is very likely never completed. The author never has to stand by it, for better or for worse. It is never exposed to a stranger’s eye. It is never received with love, hate, indifference, or with interest. It has no audience, no public. As a result, the writer is never obliged to see it through a reader’s eye.”

Well, then.

I guess I’ll send those several thousand words out, roll with rejections, and get down word counts in revising my third novel.

I suppose I knew that all along from my music and drawing. Unless I share what I am doing, the art wilts in a corner. More often than not, I never make it at all if I know no one will ever see it.

May you know the joy of calling things finished even if that means you have to take a risk to get there-

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Wednesday Wonders: Cross Pollinating Your Art With New Forms

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It’s an absolutely crazy idea but one of my colleagues and I are going to start an art club at work.

It’s crazy because who has that kind of time?

It’s crazy because I should focus more on my writing.

It’s crazy because we so often want to flee the building at the end of the day. This will mean staying a bit longer after most have left.

It’s crazy because making art is just crazy all by itself.

But the idea won’t leave us alone. Kelsey showed me photos of her huge canvas paintings and I showed her my sketches. We both oohed and ahed over each other’s cell phone screens and shared what we love about visual art.

I have discovered that the craziest ideas are sometimes the best. And when they are not, those wild adventures are still pure fun.

Every time I stretch myself creatively, I meet amazing people like Kelsey who give life a little more sparkle when I need it most.

Best of all, my writing always gets better for the other art forms I practice as long as I protect my time with words. Something about playing and relaxing with new expressions helps me to let go of the tension I sometimes bring to the art form I feel the most compelled to create.

Maybe what she will make will look like this:

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And maybe what I draw will look like this:

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If that happens, I know I will get a good laugh out of it at the very least. I love the way I can relax with drawing and painting because I am not trying to impress. And, every so often, I can move that over to my words and let go of my unreasonable longing to be the next great writer. It’s a gift that music and visual arts gives to the take-it-too-seriously writer side of me.

I am so grateful.

The art begins next month. I’ll let you know how it goes.

May you find pure crazy creative fun,

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P.S. Deadline for the novel is tomorrow. I am on track in spite of the fun you just saw here. Or maybe it was because of the fun. Anyway…hooray!

Wednesday Wonders: Penguin Writing Magic

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A short while back, I listened to a T.V. screenwriter explain his process while making the series Colony.

Carlton Cuse described a large room filled with writers throwing ideas around the room that bounced off of one another and grew bigger, taking shape and then forming storylines. The creator of the series Lost told the interviewer he could not say who came up with the idea to have the occupying sympathizers drive black SUVs. It was group think at its most creative.

My writing is not often like that. I sit alone at a desk with stacks of papers and only my herd of cats climbing over a labrador to give me any feedback most of the time.

But this week I watched my family come up with some new ideas that gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to work in an idea-bouncing environment.

I have three cats, in case you managed to avoid my onslaught of kitty pics last year.

Two are black medium-haired males and the third is a calico about half the size of the other two. Their official names are Ash, Jack, and Sissy.

One day, my husband and I sat on the couch watching the two boys wrestle , biting and flipping over one another, laying their ears back and then pouncing.

“Where’s Private?” my husband asked, as if the calico resembled the smallest cutest penguin in the Madagascar series.

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Who are you calling Private?

I laughed at the idea of comparing cats to the penguin pseudo-military group but it did fit.

Later I told my teenager and we began to riff on how the other two might belong to the Madagascar escapee organization.

“Well,” Kieran said. “Ash is like a cross between Kowalski and Skipper.”

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Plotting. Always plotting this one.

We agreed he is the most brilliant of the lot and most like a leader of the group at the same time.

And Jack. Jack the thirteen pound moose-cat is most like Rico. No question.

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‘Rico’ playing chase with the boys.

I can see why Cuse likes the back and forth of writing because I loved this cat-penguin analogy game with my family. The energy was loose and free and nothing but fun. If a connection didn’t work, we tossed it and moved on.

Sometimes I feel a similar sort of creative fire in my writing critique groups when we are at our best. After we have read each other’s stories for long enough, we begin to feel connected to the work in a way that is a little deeper than someone who only gives the story a one time read through. Everyone relaxes (even the writer having her ideas knocked around) and the creativity goes up a notch.

As I come skidding into my latest deadline, I hope to work a little more like I did in the penguin-cat games. (And I am finally skidding along! Hurray!)

May you find friends and family to stir up ideas-

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Wresting cats fighting over a fabric fish

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: A CT Scan to Diagnose and Treat Stuck

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I am stuck. I have a deadline of May 19th to finish revising my novel and it won’t let me move forward.

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten side tracked with writing for the band I play with.

Maybe it’s because the day job has been especially demanding lately.

Maybe it’s because the cottonwood covering the air and earth with it’s gorgeous white balls of fluff causes my throat to close up and my voice to turn husky. (The husband likes the sound of it, but now it’s veering toward a whisper which I don’t think is all that cute.)

Maybe it’s because I got a rejection. (Good grief, I say to myself, one rejection should not stop you!)

One of my wise friends tells me to set the novel aside and come back to it later. I can’t even seem to do that.

So instead I am trying a technique I heard from Elizabeth Gilbert, that guru of creativity and giver of artistic permission slips.

I am running a reverse CT scan on myself. To do this, I slowly scan my consciousness to see if some glimmer of curiosity for my book still exists in the tomography of my creativity. (It’s a reverse scan because I am searching for goodness instead of the disease that the medical world tries to find.)

If you ask, I will let you know if I find any sparkles. I may not. It may be time to let this novel go and move forward.

I’ve got until the 19th to finish scanning.

In the meantime, here are the sparkles of wonder I found while keeping my eyes open in the everyday.

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A great day out with the boys at our favorite after-the-beach dinner spot The Spar. A restaurant with Duplos and chess sets can’t be beat. 

 

Of course, the flowers in my yard and on my walks sparkle. Even though spring is biting me in the nose, I adore it as much as ever.

 

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A clarinetist I am sorry I never got to meet. Dr. Michael Lovezzola’s daughter sent me this to go with the piece I wrote recently. I can feel how much she misses him in her photos.

May you find your sparkles,

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And one more…

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The long legs of my five-year-old when he tries to sit on my lap. His are the bruised legs on top. Mine are underneath with the mismatched socks. I think I’ve got two years before he outgrows me.