Finding time to write

My life is all topsy turvy right now and I am finding it hard to carve out writing time. After six months of unemployment, I finally found a job. This is good news. However, it is the overnight shift, which is bad news for my writing schedule. I am more productive early in the morning, but now that I don’t get off of work until 7 a.m., writing is taking a back seat to much needed sleep.

Now I just scribble a bit here and there, trying to keep working on my novel in progress as well as short story ideas that come to me. I keep a small notebook in my lunchbox so that on my lunch hour, at 2 a.m., I can jot down ideas and even paragraphs for my novel. It’s also when I wrote this blog post, which, unfortunately, has become low on my list of priorities. One I aim to bump up to the top of the list and soon.

I know if you really want something, you will make time and effort for it. However, I am having a hard time adjusting to working at night and sleeping during the day so that anything I can do during my time off work is being pushed back to catch up on sleep.

I really thought that I would be adjusted to this new schedule by now, but after four and a half months, I’m still feeling the drain. But it is getting better, slowly but surely. Like I said, I am now writing on my lunch hour, and I am pretty productive on one of my two days off. The other day is spent catching up on sleep.

My goal now is to create a new writing schedule and stick with it. I keep a notebook and pen with me at all times: in my purse, by my bedside, in my lunchbox, on the end table by my chair. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to jot something down when it hits me. I am also trying to get in the habit of writing when I get home from work while my three dogs are eating their morning meal and getting their morning outdoor exercise.

My body may be exhausted when I get home, but I am trying to get it used to writing a little first thing in the morning. I am also trying to write when I wake up in the afternoons.

I’m finding it frustrating to go from writing for two or three solid hours, to only getting 10 or 15 minutes here and there, but I know that any little bit of writing gets me that much closer to finishing my story.

My goal has never been to publish a book, but to just finish the first draft. If I can just complete the first draft, I will feel like I finally accomplished one of my goals. A lot of obstacles have been thrown in my way and I feel that if I can just complete this first draft, I will have won my personal war.

I will worry about the next step after I complete this one. But right now, I need to get my writing life in sync with my working life so that the two can be harmonious and I can complete my goal of finishing this first draft.

This adventure is teaching me how to take negatives and turn them into positives, a life lesson I really need to learn. And I will keep on writing.

 

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Worry kills creativity

In these uncertain times, I find myself spending more time worrying about what is going on (or not going on) in my daily life and unable to focus on my creative life.

My creative world, which offers such a wonderful diversion to the tense, uncertain, and stressful goings-on in my real life, has been suffering quite a bit lately as I worry more about paying bills and wondering what the weather is going to do then how my antagonists will fair in their latest battles.

I’ve always been one of those people who, when they can’t find anything tangible and real to worry about, will invent something just to have something to worry about. Creative writing has always been my stress reliever, focusing my mind on something concrete (in a way) and keeping it off all the what if’s that might befall me real or not.

Like I said, writing used to calm my worried mind and take me away from my real world problems, even if only for a couple hours. But lately, real world worries seem to have rooted themselves in my mind, sapping all my creativity while feeding my fears.

I recently read on another blog about peace. It was a great read and boiled down to the key to having peace is living in the moment and not let future what if’s and what may be’s take away from your joy and peace of the here and now.

The live in the moment statement is something I’ve heard over and over again for years, yet I still haven’t figured out how to work it. I just can’t seem to get a handle on living in the moment because I have a terrible time turning my mind off. Once upon a time, I managed a way around this, helping me to put my worries away long enough to at least get some sleep. Now, however, even that coping mechanism is failing me.

When I was younger, I worried about everything, my grades, my parents dying, my friends not liking me. It ate at me day after day, killing what could have, no, should have been happy times. This went on for a while until I discovered this magnificent coping mechanism. Each night before going to bed, I would close my eyes and tell myself stories. I could envision my characters, the scenery, the locations, and the dialog as if I were watching a movie.

Yes, in the beginning, I would focus on books, movies, or television shows I’d seen or read, taking well-known scenes and expanding them until the real show or book was no longer in evidence. As I got older, I began to make up my own stuff, no longer needing to rely on a ready-made scene to get the ball rolling.

In this way, I’ve been able to create some wonderful ideas while keeping my fear and worry at bay. And it worked wonders. Until this year. It seems like real life grew bigger than what my mind could create to contain and downplay it. Now when I try to use my imagination to create, whether on paper or in my mind, real life fears filter in, causing basically what is my own real life horror story.

Yet I know that I was meant to write. Maybe not publish, but write. Be creative, work my ideas. Spin tales like spider webs. I get enough flashes of it to know it is what I am meant to do. A dream I’ve been following since fifth grade, and, I am sure, will be following until my dying days.

I keep identifying problems that are blocking my creativity. Now I need to identify solutions so that my creativity will pour out again. I need to focus less on all the worrying and more on the writing. I can do this, I know I can.

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Finding my writing self in 2014

I can honestly say that 2013 was not my year. In fact, it can be described as one of the top 5 bad years. And even though 2014 is not starting out strong, it still has the shiny new packaging of a year with promise and potential.

There have been a few good moments in 2013, though looking back they are hard to see. I managed to do more personal writing in 2013 then I’ve done in a long time. Though that has taken a back seat at the moment as a new job is making my hours crazy. But I intend to get back to it. I am making it a personal goal to carve out writing time for 2014. Even if I have to forcefully schedule it in every day instead of the winging it write as you think of something style I’ve had in the past.

I have a few other personal goals I want to meet this year, but writing is my main focus. It still shocks me that I don’t write as much as I need to since I am always generating new ideas, paragraphs of writing, and introspective thoughts that may lead somewhere. I realize now that I am not making writing a priority in my life. I am lazy and haphazard when it comes to my writing life and if I am going to get anything completed I need to step it up a notch.

I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how lackadaisical I am with my writing. I remember a time when I would stay up late to finish a story or poem then wake up early to start the next one. I’d blame it on the realities of life, but let’s be honest, other writers have to balance their writing with the rest of their life and they manage to do it without complaining. So yeah, it’s me and my attitude toward life right now. And that is what needs to change.

I need to take control. Take some of these ideas churning through my brain and turn them into something. I need to put my stuff out there and start getting some feedback on my writing so that I can improve. I need to challenge myself, push myself forward, and become the writer I think I am in my head. And I need to learn to do it while juggling all the other aspects of my life and not let it slide by the wayside when something else gets a bit complicated. If I am ever going to be the writer I want to be, I need to start writing, period. Beginning today.

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Great ideas in the middle of the night

super moon by teresa tIt seems that I get some of my best ideas in the middle of the night. On one hand, it’s wonderful that my mind keeps churning out ideas even when I’ve given up for the day. On the other hand, it’s frustrating that they come in the middle of the night.

By the time I wake up enough to reach over and grab my notebook and pen from the nightstand and write, the idea is fading and I am only able to capture a couple of sentences or words.

And they always seem like great ideas too. That could just be the sleep talking, but it seems like everything just falls together perfectly including dialog. Then I wake up and it all begins to dissolve, breaking apart like morning clouds as the sun strengthens.

Sometimes I am able to hold on to enough of the idea to get it on paper and some good writing ensues. But mostly, it completely fades too quickly to use. But like I said, I think it’s wonderful that my mind is churning out ideas, wonderful ideas that I may use in the future or may never use. Ideas that may come to fruition or may peter out as I set them to paper. But after months of uncertainty, I am glad that the idea machine is still up and running.

And now with the 2013 NaNoWriMo in full swing, I am glad the ideas are still churning around. I am doing some wonderful writing right now. It may not be my best work, but I feel it is my best work to this date. I know that the more I write the better I will become. That is the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn so far. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up on a story, on an idea, on myself. But I have finally found enough faith in myself to keep going no matter how bad I think the writing is going. Because I now know that sometimes the best writing can come out disguised as my worst writing and setting it aside for a day or two can bring it all into proper focus.

And that brings me back to those dream time ideas. I believe that on my worst writing days, I have my best idea dreams. It feels like my subconscious mind is telling me don’t give up, keep writing, those good ideas are still there even if I have a bad writing day.

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Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween! Today is a day when spirits roam the earth in the form of little witches, ghosts and goblins running along sidewalks shouting trick or treat at every door.
I have fond memories of Halloween. The memories are so dear that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I thought, in honor of    the day, I would share a snippet of a story I am currently working on that entwines my memories of past Halloweens with my imagination. I hope you enjoy it!
The crisp October wind blew swirls of leaves through the gutters and in-between cars as children in gaily decorated costumes roamed the neighborhood. The acrid smell of crushed leaves and tantalizing scent of popcorn danced on the breeze, enticing people to partake of the festivities of the holiday.
Walking along the concrete path, dodging small ghosts and goblins, I remembered when Dawn and I used to be part of the spookies haunting the houses for candy.
Part kids and part teenagers, we were just getting to the age when it looked suspicious for us big kids to be out. This would be the last year we could get away with it and we worked it for all we could.
So much had changed in the old neighborhood. People who lived there back then no longer live there; houses looked old and worn from the harsh North Eastern winters and humid summers. Yet, on this night, with the jack o lanterns glowing bright and the autumn colored leaves falling from the large oak, maple and hickory trees that lined the old streets, the place didn’t look so bad. Flipping strands of long brown hair from my face, I smiled as I watched two young girls race up a stone path to an old gray house. I could almost picture Dawn, dressed as a cowboy, and me as a ghost, flying up the old gray steps to see what goodies we could get. Candy was always the best treat, but sometimes, pennies and dimes would be given. The dreaded treat was always the toothbrush. What were those people thinking?
As the girls came back down, talking excitedly and showing each other the contents of their treat bags, I knew they were discussing some unexpected treat they received.
The ghost girls of my friend and I ran ahead of me as I continued my way down the road. I could almost see the old Dodge that Dawn’s Aunt Norma used to drive, slowly following behind us, waiting for us to get tired of this street and moving on to the next one.
I walked the end of the block, reaching my own car, and drove to the Dairy Queen. The building was dark and boarded up. The outside lights had been smashed by rocks and glass covered a good deal of the parking lot. Carefully picking a spot, I pulled in the parking lot and turned off the motor. In my mind, the building was bright with florescent lighting. Employees in the old red and brown plaid uniforms with the funny little hats gave small ice cream cones to all the little ghouls that came in. Buckets and bags draped across arms, Halloween candy was temporarily forgotten as the cold, sticky dessert was quickly consumed. Painted faces sported ice cream mustaches and white drips down the chin. I could see us sitting in a booth with Norma, trying to contain the dripping cone as we told her all the fabulous things we saw and received.
After the flood of memories washed over me, I started the car, adjusting the heater as I drove away. Amazingly, I made it to a well maintained neighborhood that I had visited on occasion, but not really enough to be sure I knew how to get to. Parking across the street from the one story ranch home with the green trim, I remembered that our Halloween adventures always ended here.
The place was owned by Norma’s boyfriend, always known as Big Walt. He was a kind, gentle man with large glasses and an ugly station wagon. Norma and he would take us to dinner on occasion as well as trips to Massachusetts and his house for barbecues and other fun. His back yard was huge and sprawling, nothing like the yards of the houses in the neighborhood I lived in.
Every Halloween, like clockwork, after getting our candy and other goodies, Norma drove us to Big Walt’s house. After canvassing his neighborhood for those last few pieces of candy, we would settle in front of his console TV with a bowl of fruit and the bowl of candy he had been giving out. We would spend the rest of the evening sprawled on the living room floor with candy wrappers, fruit peels and soda cans stacked around us, watching reruns of badly acted horror movies until it was time to go home.
I could see through the big picture window into the house. Three young children, still in costume, gathered around a big screen TV, were playing video games while eating popcorn and drinking sodas. It was different but still the same.
Finally, I drove back to the old neighborhood and parked in front of my old house. It was a two-story house with peeling gray paint on the wood siding. The place looked abandoned; so did several other houses on this side of the street. The stairs to old number 32 were warped. The glass to the front door was missing and a piece of wood covered one of the three windows that belonged to what used to be my bedroom. I sat there for a few minutes, wondering if it would be safe to go in. Surely the man who owned the house was long gone, he was quite old when we lived there thirty years ago. Deciding to chance it, I carefully walked up the rickety steps and tried to look in through the grimy windows.
Memories of that night, thirty years ago, flooded my head as I stared into my old bedroom. The wonderful memories I had relived just a moment ago continued as I stared in at my old room. I remembered coming home that night, my stomach full of fruit, candy and cola. The sheet of my ghost costume was dirty from walking on it all night and the paint on my face was streaked and running. We ran into the house, chirping away about all the exciting sights we saw. And luck was with us, as Dawn’s grandmother and legal guardian agreed to allow her to spend the night, something that did not happen often.
My parents sat in the living room watching old Bewitched reruns. My mom sat in her small brown recliner, feet tucked beneath her and a light quilted throw over her knees. My dad, sprawled back in his large, dark brown recliner, snored like a buzz saw. After spending a few minutes talking to my mom and showing her some of our choicest goodies, we ran to my room, eager to shut the door, turn on the radio, and devour some of our newly gotten sweets. We poured our pillowcase sacks out onto the floor in two huge piles and began sorting our treats and swapping our not so favorites for our favorites. The music played softly so we wouldn’t get a parental warning, but we still danced and sang to our favorite pop songs.
We settled down to play card games when my mom knocked on the door and said she was going to bed and it was time for us to settle down and think of getting some sleep as well. Still hopped up on sugar and all the excitement, we changed into our pajamas, but decided to keep playing cards. It was a quiet activity, we told ourselves.
We kept the overhead light off and only had the small lamp on my bedside table on for light. It gave it a cozy feel in the room and with the music on even lower; it felt like we were the only two people in the world. Though well after midnight, we could still hear people laughing and talking as they walked up and down the street. We figured they were stragglers from parties, adults or older teens allowed to stay out way later than a couple of kids were. Or we figured they were older kids who were up to the regular Halloween pranks, toilet papering, trees, egging houses, and leaving bags of shaving cream on front door steps. Whatever they were doing, it didn’t concern us for we already had our night of fun.

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Getting ready for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2013 starts in just five days and I am ready. Last year, I went into this endeavor without fully understanding the importance of having a game plan. I naively thought I could pump out the 1667 words a day with no problem. I mean, I am a writer, right? I had no clue how tough it would be.

Between a full time job and family obligations, it was difficult to carve out time solely for writing. Well, for writing that much at a time. I try to carve out a bit of time every day for writing, whether it is working on my latest writing project, writing in my journal, or penning a poem. Sometimes it is only a few minutes and sometimes it is an hour or two. But I must confess I am not consistent.

And that brings me to the problem I had during last year’s NaNoWriMo. I did not realize how difficult it would be to write so many words a day on story idea I just pulled out of my hat with no thought to topic or characters. In fact, I bombed miserably last year, only making it to 15,000 words. Here it is almost a year later and I am still working on that story. I also discovered that I have a hard time turning off my inner editor. It seems that I sabotage my best efforts by wanting to go back and edit what I have written, causing myself to lose focus of the story and its completion. I bog myself down in second guessing what I already wrote and trying to change it instead of powering through to the end and then going back and editing it.

I love the idea of last year’s story and I think if I can just get it done it would work out. There are some lovely bits in it, but the whole thing just ran away from me. I introduced characters that I am still unsure about and I think my plot twisted in a way that I may not be able to recover from. But I will continue to try. At this moment, I have 25,000 words invested in this story and my goal is to get it to an ending, any ending.  And see if I can’t wrangle a good story out of it in revisions.

But in the meantime, I’ve found an idea I love for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve developed the three top characters so I know who they are and why they act as they do. And I will spend the next five days developing the secondary characters as well. I have developed an outline for how I would like the story to progress and worked out my setting so that I can move comfortably in this story. I know that as I write, things may and will change, but I feel like I am in a good frame of mind for this year’s challenge.

Having attempted this challenge last year, I now know what it takes to get the minimum word count done each day and still progress my story to a finishing point.

I feel confident that I will get to the 50,000 word goal this year. That is the real challenge to me this year, to reach the goal. But more importantly, to have a story I will be proud of.

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Doubt

I have days, even weeks, where I doubt myself. When the words just won’t come no matter how focused I am, I feel that the last thing I am supposed to be is a writer. I doubt my ability, my commitment, and my desire to write.

When I doubt my writing ability, it leads to doubting other things in life. My self-esteem comes under attack at these moments. I begin to feel that all the steps I’ve ever taken to pursue writing have been a grave mistake. And I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken a different fork in the road somewhere that would have led me to another career, another passion. To something where I am not filled with so much doubt.

I start to wonder what if. I’m really good at that game. What if I majored in something else in college besides English, where would I be today? What if my fifth grade English teacher never encouraged me to enter that region wide grade school writing competition? What if the sky turned green one day? What if?

There are days when the doubts plague me worse than others. I look at what I wrote for the day and see only the flaws. Never dwelling on the gems that do shine through even in the rough draft. I can lose myself in the doubts, believing the doubts are absolute fact and not the creations of my own mind where fear lives.

I have a good friend, a kind, caring, loving friend (who is also brutally honest, which is the best way to be) that tells me all the time that people suffer doubts all the time. Everyone, she says, has doubts. You just have to acknowledge your doubt and press on anyway. I find it strange to think she has doubts as she always seems so self-assured.

But I have learned she is right. Even the most self-assured people suffer from doubts now and then. The only difference between them and me is they continue on anyway, barely giving pause to their doubts before picking up their shield of self-confidence and carrying on with the fight while I struggle with my doubt, as if it is quicksand. There is a way out, I just panic and don’t see it quick enough.

And yet, I can’t see myself as anything but a writer. Even if the only place I have been published is in the local newspaper during my 12 year stint as a reporter, I still feel like a writer. Every day I face the screen of my computer, my incomplete novel staring me in the face. 2,000 words complete, 10,000 words complete, 15,000 words complete, 21,000 words complete. Each day I add to my word count, I grow stronger in my desire to be a writer. 

And as my desire grows, so does my conviction that I am meant to be a writer. And with that strength, I am able to battle the doubt.

 

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