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Another Thanksgiving, Another Memory – 11/22/2017

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’m just feeling sappy and nostalgic, or maybe I just have some free time on my hands because I don’t have to cook the dinner this year, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Thanksgivings past.

I have so many memories—good and bad—tied up in this holiday. Here are just a few:

  • Each year in elementary school, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we had a half-day, but we only had class until around 10:00. Then they brought us down to the cafeteria and showed us a movie—something appropriate for kids our age (and our time, the late 1970s/early 1980s), like Escape from Witch Mountain or That Darn Cat (the original). When the movie was over, they served us Burger King, brought in from the local fast-food joint, before sending us home for the holiday weekend. To this day, I can’t pass a Burger King without thinking fondly of those Thanksgiving Eve burgers.

 

  • In middle school, my favorite teacher made us write an essay describing our family’s Thanksgiving traditions. In composing mine, I unwittingly pissed off my mother by mentioning that she spent the predawn hours of the holiday not only prepping the turkey feast but buffing away any speck of dust from the furniture, in anticipation of the guests we invited each year (I’m not sure how that’s an insult, but she certainly took it as one!).

 

  • In high school, my on-again/off-again boyfriend dumped me after one of our standard (and spectacular) blowup fights right after the Thanksgiving Day football game. I had to walk home, crying and alone, in the cold holiday rain. Do I need to mention that we kissed and made up before nightfall, only to break up yet again the following weekend? Ah, young love.

 

  • In college, when I was finally (sort of) seen as a grownup, I was allowed not only to have wine with the official Thanksgiving dinner, but I also sat up with my mom and her best friend, our neighbor Joanie, the night before the holiday, talking and laughing and playing drinking games. Even now, all these years later, I often feel a hankering to play a round of Three-Man on the night before Thanksgiving …

 

  • And then there was the year my grandmother died on the day before Thanksgiving, and we all said it was because she just didn’t want to have to decide whose house to go to for dinner that year. Sometimes death really DOES seem easier than dealing with family.

So many memories—and you get to add a new one to the collection every year. I wonder if I’ll be looking back wistfully on tomorrow’s events in another couple of decades.

I hope so.

 

Downtime (Or, When Not to Fight the Laziness) – 11/18/2017

 

Some days? I just get lazy.

Take last Tuesday, for example.

I woke up at my usual time, around 4:00 a.m. (although I should say that the phrase “waking up” doesn’t really apply to me—I almost never sleep for more than an hour at a stretch, so there’s rarely any kind of “deep sleep” to “wake up” FROM . . .).

Anyway, I woke up, looked at the clock, and rolled over, knowing I had a decision to make.

Sleep or run? (Sometimes the choice is sleep or WRITE. . . .)

It’s the same choice I have to make every morning, and most days, the decision is simple: Drag my exhausted, sleep-deprived butt out of bed and get out there for my run.

It’s a simple choice because on the days when I run, when I do the “right” thing, when I don’t give in to the lazy streak that hides out there in the back of my mind, I feel better.

Even when I haven’t slept a wink (again), when I have a touch of the sniffles, when I’m overworked and underpaid, I feel good—great, even—when I force myself out there and act like the person I want to be. She may not be perfect, the person I want to be, but she’s a heck of a lot better than the person who curls back up in bed and pretends to be asleep.

But there are other days when the choice isn’t so easy to make. And even though I know I’ll never get back to sleep (and that making any attempt to do so is pure folly), even though I know I’ll feel like garbage all day long if I stay there in my warm and cozy bed for even a minute longer, I can’t make myself get up.

On those days, the laziness is like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger and knocking down every healthy option in its path.

Do one thing wrong—like skipping my morning run—and it’s nearly impossible to avoid other “bad” behavior, like eating a whole bag of Swedish fish or sugary granola bars or whatever nutrition-less piece of empty calories happens to catch my eye.

It’ll also be harder than usual to do the everyday things that are normally so easy—like, you know, my job (which is to write and to read).

All day long, I’ll fight the urge to stretch out on the couch and “rest my eyes” (or just abandon life entirely for the day and get back into bed, even if it means more tossing and turning, just like I do at night).

I’ll wander around in a foggy haze, wondering what happened to all that motivation I felt just—when? Yesterday? On lazy days, it feels like forever since I had any energy at all.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned to accept it, my laziness. In a weird way, I’ve come to see it almost as a friend.

Because in truth? It’s NOT laziness.

It’s my body telling me I need just a little bit of downtime.

You can’t keep going the way I do—working out, reading and writing and editing for long hours, driving yourself to do more, day after day after day—without eventually breaking down.

Last winter, I ignored my laziness, tried to fight it, and ended up with a knee injury that kept me from working out (or doing much else) for over a month.

So now, I’ve learned to listen to my body, which (to my surprise) is a LOT smarter than my brain.

My body—and my laziness—tell me when I need to rest. And they also get me back out there—better, stronger, faster—the very first thing tomorrow morning.

 

Making Art (Or, How NaNoWriMo Is Going So Far) – 11/15/2017

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deep in the midst of National Novel Writing Month, working hard to crank out 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. I’m well on my way—and I noticed that my protagonist (a writer like me) had something kind of interesting to say (which, I realized, was just ME talking to, and about … well, ME).

Here’s an excerpt:

I think people picture writers sitting in a room alone, searching their brains (and maybe the thesaurus) for the perfect word before writing so much as a line. But it’s not like that, at least not for me.

Well, okay, the alone part is dead-on. Ba-dum-bump.

But I don’t spend a lot of time (any, really) trying to pick the exact right word. I don’t try to make “art.” I just try to put the story that’s playing kind of like a movie in my head down on paper so other people can see it, too. It doesn’t matter if the words are just right—only that the essence of the story is there, for me and for anybody who comes by and reads it.

There are two schools of thought (maybe more) among writers: 1) those who make “art” and need to be inspired, and 2) those who write garbage-y first drafts but tell good stories. I like to think (or hope) I fall into the second category.

I “just write” and I don’t care if it’s “just right.” I scribble, I curse, I ignore the conventions of grammar and maybe even human decency (because you can clean that stuff up later).

I do NOT make art.

The art? Is IN the making. The art is DOING it, creating something that nobody else bothered to make. And to me, that’s more artistic than even the most beautifully rendered sentence in history.

 

Feeling Like a Writer, or: My Journey to Little House on the Prairie – 11/7/2017

It’s Election Day and while everybody else is ranting about politics and violence and the terrible state of affairs here in America, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about something completely different, something innocent and simple: the first time I felt like a writer.

I was in elementary school. I’m not sure what grade—maybe third? Hard to say, now that I’m getting old and those early memories seem to be getting fuzzy around the edges sometimes.

I’d already written plenty of times before. I mean, I liked to write and make up stories from the time I could hold a pen, and I dreamed that someday one of my books would be there on the shelves of the library for everyone to see (wonder when THAT’s going to happen…).

In first grade, I wrote a (painfully cheesy) story about a baby deer and its parents (cleverly titled “Baby and His Parents”—titles have never been my strong suit, and frankly, they still aren’t!). The story was published as part of an anthology of creative writing by local kids. It wasn’t exactly the New York Times Bestseller List, but for a seven-year-old, it was pretty cool.

But even so, it didn’t make me feel like a writer (whatever that meant). That feeling came later, with another story that I wrote for a school assignment.

I remember the worksheet our teacher gave us to introduce the project. Those were the days (the early 1980s) of handouts mimeographed (not photocopied or printed out or read on iPads) on damp yellow paper with indigo blue ink that left smudges on your fingers.

The handout had a paragraph on top describing the task—to write a story about time travel—and maybe 10 blank lines at the bottom, where the student was expected to write the story.

Everybody else in the class eked out the bare minimum (writing as largely as possible to fill up those sad 10 lines). But I was longwinded as usual. When I was done, my story came to nearly 50 pages—typed (thanks, Mom, for humoring me and serving as my typist as if I were, in fact, a REAL writer and not just a pretentious grade-schooler).

Unlike everybody else, I not only wrote way too much, but I also wrote about the past.

My classmates all wanted to use the project, their very own time-travel opportunity, to go to the future. They dreamed of living like the Jetsons. But me? I wanted to travel back in time and spend a few days with Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie.

For me, it was mostly about the clothes. Back then, I assumed that by the year 2017, we’d all be wearing ugly silver jumpsuits and speeding around space. Not exactly my cup of tea. And frankly, I’ll take a calico prairie dress over a Star Trek–style coverall outfit any day!

But really, the reason I wrote so much was because, for the first time, I realized that I could be anywhere, anyone, in any time—just by writing about it. It was more than a free vacation. It was a whole new life.

Creating a different world for yourself, making things YOUR way—that’s what it meant to be a REAL writer. I had discovered the key to the clubhouse.

And sure, I’ll admit the obvious truth: Writing has never been so easy since then, but it IS still just as rewarding. It has to be. No person who’s even reasonably sane would keep doing it otherwise.

 

My Book Launch – 11/1/2017

My novel is being published today, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that.

It’s not my first book. I actually counted all the books I’ve ever written the other day while I was having a bit of an OCD moment and I realized I’ve written 18. I’m pretty sure I know people who have never READ 18 books, much less written them, so I guess I should feel pretty good about the accomplishment.

Of course, that’s just the writing part, not the publishing. Of the 18 books I’ve managed to finish writing—to reach that victory line where you get to type “The End” (only to have your editor delete it because it’s old-fashioned and a little cheesy)—only a handful have actually been published.

Seven of the published ones were young adult nonfiction books—the kind of thing you’d take out of the library if you had to write a report in seventh grade, back in the olden days before kids just plagiarized Wikipedia instead of actually, you know, LEARNING anything.

But one of the published books was my first novel—Eye of Horace. I was so proud of it, so thrilled to finally have something published that meant more to me than another paltry freelance writing paycheck.

And basically, nobody read it.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t be whining.

Most writers would just be happy to have a real book with their name on it and leave it at that. They wouldn’t care so much about whether anybody actually READ the stupid thing.

But still. It would’ve been nice.

For me—for most writers, I think (I hope)—the truth is that being a writer isn’t about the readers or finding a publisher or any of the end-goal stuff. It’s about the writing.

We HAVE to write, just like we have to read. Words are as essential to our survival as water and oxygen. So we keep up with it, all the words and the writing and the typing, even if we don’t really seem to be getting anywhere.

People always say life is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination. And for a writer (at least, for me), that’s very true.

You do it because you just can’t do anything else and you don’t care (or you pretend not to care) about book sales and reviews and all those accolades that OTHER writers seem to be getting.

You just keep writing.

But when you get the chance, you DO still beg people to read your book. So here’s my plug: My new novel, The Birds of Brookside Manor, is now available on Amazon, bn.com, Kobo, and “where good books are sold.”

Plus, there’s a launch party (a virtual one, which, for a shy person like me is the best kind because it means I don’t have to leave home!) this week, on Saturday, 11/4, on Facebook. Sign up to “attend” and you can win some cool free stuff!

 

NaNoWriMo, Here I Come! – 10/31/2017

I may have mentioned before that I’m doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year.

In case you’re one of the few readers/writers left out there who hasn’t heard of it, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word (or more) novel between November 1 and November 30.

I first discovered this amazing (free, nonprofit) program (https://nanowrimo.org/) back in 2005. I’d just started freelancing again, and I found myself with all those hours on my hands that I used to waste sitting in Philadelphia commuter traffic five days a week.

I know, I know. Most people would just get some extra sleep, not try to write an “extra” 50,000 words for no good reason.

But I quickly found out that there IS a good reason.

The reason is: You get stuff written. And really, isn’t that every writer’s goal?

Believe it or not, completing the NaNoWriMo challenge is a lot easier than you might think.

Fifty thousand words may seem like an ocean—deep and unfathomable—to a nonwriter, but anybody who’s been at this dreadful, wonderful job for more than a few hours knows perfectly well that 50,000 words are chump change.

You can crank them out in 30 days without any problem, even while showing up faithfully to your regular job and still seeing your family (if you really want to!). You just need to set aside a little time every day and, even more important, be willing to write absolute crap.

Here’s the thing: I used to be one of those writers who labored over every syllable, carefully weighing the merits of “a” versus “the.” And I never finished writing a single damn book.

With NaNoWriMo, you have no time to agonize over the “right” word. ANY word will do—at least for the first draft. And as an editor, I can tell you frankly that even the best first draft is still a total piece of garbage, so why torture yourself? Just write.

To me, NaNoWriMo represents freedom. It murders your Inner Critic and lets you JUST DO IT (to use an awful Nike cliché—something that is perfectly acceptable in a first draft, after all).

Just get the words down and worry about whether they’re any good later. That’s what editing is for anyway (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a better editor than I am a writer, so why not use my skills to their best advantage?).

In the years since I first tried National Novel Writing Month, I’ve successfully completed the 50,000-word challenge eight times (and written several additional books in the “off-season”). This year’s NaNoWriMo, which begins in a few short hours, will be my lucky number nine (barring any unforeseen tragedies, of course).

It’s time to stretch my typing fingers and shake the cobwebs out of my imagination. I have another shitty novel to write.

 

Where Has All the Talent Gone? – 10/28/2017

 

For a much as I read, you’d think the words would—I don’t know—TOUCH me more often than they do.

 

It’s the end of October and my Goodreads Reading Challenge counter tells me I’ve read 100 books so far this year.

 

And in all that reading, how many books have made me laugh out loud (I mean REALLY laugh, not a generic LOL)? How many made me cry? How many—to put it frankly—made me feel anything at all?

 

Precious few.

 

Every now and then, there IS a book that makes me sit up and take notice and say to myself, “Wow. I wish I could write like that.” But it doesn’t happen often.

 

Like so many people these days (I hope!), I find myself starved for any glimmer of talent, constantly wishing I could spot some accomplishment that seems extraordinary, larger than life—not just in writing, but in ANY aspect of human existence.

 

So much today seems mundane, boring, not even worth of notice.

 

Most of the books I read are exactly the same: barely worth the paper (or screen) they’re printed on. They’re loaded with grammatical errors and typos (even those produced by the big publishing houses—shame on you, Big Five!), and the stories are trite and pointless. And because I read so much, I can’t help but wonder if I’m wasting all that time.

 

Here’s the thing: I work my butt off: with my writing, with my editing, with pretty much everything I do. Yet I fully recognize that I will never be one of those rare geniuses I’m searching for—which, really, makes it all the more depressing that I can’t seem to find anything out there that’s . . . well . . . genius.

 

And sure, there are books and authors I love, such as my fellow Blydyn Square Books author Everett De Morier, for instance; or novelist Chris Bohjalian, whose books often make me gasp out loud (would that be GOL?) at some unexpected plot twist; or Jen Lancaster, who never fails to make me pee my pants just a little because I laugh so hard.

 

But, as seems to be the case in all facets of life nowadays, these glimpses, these moments of awe and wonder at someone else’s pure talent, are much too few and far between.

 

But I’m keeping my eyes open.

 

 

Words Words Words – 10/21/2017

 

My head is spinning. It’s all words, words, words these days.

 

I know that’s probably true for any writer, but I’m an editor, too, so sometimes it’s hard to figure out where my words stop and somebody else’s begin.

 

And, as if I don’t have enough words in my life already, Blydyn Square Books (my publisher) wants me to blog. God, that’s such a goofy word, blog, and if feels SO 2005. Plus, there’s the whole who-cares-what-I’m-up-to aspect of the thing…

 

But here goes.

 

Just to give you a hint of all the words in my life right now, here’s a sampling of what I’ve done so far today (bear in mind it’s only 1 p.m. as I write this):

 

  • Got up at to run at 4:30 a.m. (while listening to Stendhal’s The Red and the Black as part of my 2017 New Year’s Resolution to read all those classics I somehow managed to miss along the way, which I can do while I run—thank you, Librivox!)

 

  • Edited a couple of chapters of someone else’s novel, which was actually very good (a rarity!), but it filled my head with beautiful words that seem to be haunting me (a good sign for the author, who is clearly talented, but not so good for my poor, exhausted brain)

 

  • Edited several chapters of a painfully dull, awkwardly stilted nonfiction educational book (unfortunately, THOSE are the kind of words that pay most of the bills around here)

 

And now it’s time for my own words, and I have to decide what to do first:

 

Research the book I’m planning to write for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, coming up in November?

 

Struggle to eke out a few coherent paragraphs on my tortured work in progress?

 

Read a little (because what writer doesn’t like to pretend that time spent curled up with a good book counts as “research”)?

 

Or maybe just pop a few aspirin and lie down with a cool cloth over my eyes to nurse the migraine all these words have given me.

 

Bring on the Bayer.

 

 

 

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