50,000 words of leftover casserole

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^^This is why I only wrote one blog post in November.^^

NaNoWriMo was hard this year. There were a few days, lumped together, that I didn’t write anything. Playing catch-up really killed the creative juices.

During the last two days of the month, I had to write 10,000 words to reach my goal. To me, that’s five chapters. Five! Those last words I wrote are comparable to mashing all of the Thanksgiving leftovers into one big glob of chunky casserole.

Early on, I’d prepared a nice, detailed grocery list, recipes, and outline for my Thanksgiving feast of words. See my outline HERE. I prepared for my meal all month and lovingly sprinkled words here and there like seasoned salt and pumpkin pie spice. They were glorious and touched on all of my senses. “Writing is the best thing ever!” I thought over and over, when I was naive and visions of delicious words consumed my thoughts.

The deadline drew closer and I still flitted around the kitchen with a smile, writing words that were beautiful to behold.

But soon it got sweaty in the kitchen. I couldn’t cook up the words as quickly as I had. The flavors began to muddle together. But I kept at it. I cinched my apron tight and pulled up my sleeves. I was determined to create something edible. The timer dinged just after I put on the last of the edible embellishments.

Edible is relative. Everyone has different tastes. I shrugged my aching shoulders and sampled my feast of words.

It stinks. The turkey is dry. The mashed potatoes are blobs of goo. My delicious novel is finished, yes, but it is dripping with plot holes, spelling mistakes, and red ink. Even the crust of the pumpkin pie is burnt!

It stinks BIG time.

But unlike a ruined feast, I can go back and fix things. I can take out and add and make it delicious. I can deconstruct the stinky casserole! The words are at least there. The concept, outline, and rough draft are there. I can clear the air and put gravy on the dry turkey. Pumpkin pie is better loaded up with whip cream and without the crust anyway, right?

After NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a post on how to edit your novel. It is called “Whip it into shape.”  Here is the link.

I can fix this feast of a novel because I am determined to make it delicious!

Happy writing (and editing)

  • Tara

Ding! – a post to motivate me.

I realize I haven’t posted on my blog for over a month. It’s hard to find the time during the summer. It’s been a strange season with my writing. I’ve had my ups and downs the past few months when it comes to writing.

Ups (and down, I guess) – A local publisher wanted one of my novels, but had a whole list of major things they wanted me to change. They also wanted me to write another book with such and such concept and then they would publish that, too. I let those decisions steep for a few months. Because it was a small publisher, there was no advance. I’d spend all this time rewriting and creating something new and who knows if I’d even see any pay back. After many phone conversations and lunch appointments, I said “no.” I have a clear direction where I want my writing career to go and for right now, it didn’t include extreme book changes and writing a book that I wasn’t feeling.

Downs – Coupled on top of these decisions, I also had a few, okay many, rejections that made me want to crawl in a hole and give up. Fighting the very real battle of self-doubt. I even wrote a farewell (for now) blog post, but never hit the publish button. I’ve hardly written or worked on anything all summer and late spring. I was done. I hadn’t gone to critique or writing groups. I avoided talking about it. While training for a half marathon, I would debate with myself that being an author is too hard. It was torture. Running should clear the mind, but instead, it harbored demons. This old blog post came to mind and I was frustrated that I couldn’t be happy with where I am.

Instead of writing, I immersed myself with painting, decorating, planting, and my job. All creative outlets that make me happy, and I make money doing so. But the more time I spent away from my true passion of writing, the more I missed words and scenes floating around in my head.

I believe you can smother writing until it becomes silent and it’s like awakening the dead to bring it back to life.

Unless . . .

A spark. A Hidden Gem. A whole story idea evolved from one single text message.

It was a balmy Saturday night. I had run a race that morning, so my body was sore beneath ice packs and Advil.

Ding, text message. Ding, story idea.

All that night and the next morning, my mind reeled, spun wildly out of control. More than it ever had before. I skipped Sunday services and meetings because I could barely walk and because there was a lice outbreak. Gross! Nestled in my home, my fingers frantically tapped my keyboard. A symphony of words evolved, and fast. I didn’t sleep. Who needs sleep? I’m nocturnal anyway. (See post)

I wrote 12,000 words in one day. That is double my best day ever. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back or make anyone feel bad for writing a couple hundred words, or even two words together. I say this because I honestly, honestly was going to put writing on the back burner for an unknown amount of time.

The next day I took my kids to an amusement park. My mind was still so full of my story that I brought a sketchpad. I knew that I had to capture thoughts and scenes and new characters as they came to me. It’s kind of fun to be in a public place where you can people watch and create characters by what you see. When I didn’t want to sit in a barf bucket roller coaster ride, I plotted while watching humanity and their amusing quirks pass by.

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So now that my writing is back on track and I still fight against the very real voice that tells me “what’s the point,” I’ve decided something.

Do I treat my writing like a hobby or like a profession?

Do I want my writing to be a hobby or a profession?

I can say I’ve been both and I don’t think one is bad and the other, good. It’s about timing and dedication. I know I’m still in the toddler stage of my writing career and it’s very frustrating. I want to run when I’m still learning how to walk. I see other kids at the playground and I want to be there.

I can also say that I am happier when I treat my writing as a hobby. But learning to run is not a hobby. Professionals don’t base decisions on if they are feeling a novel or not. They just work. They pull themselves up and start again, no matter the self-doubt or the lost muse. We all feel those things at every single stage, even those (especially those) that look like they are having so much fun on the slides and swings.

Not enough of a metaphor to motivate?? Okay, here is another one:   I’m a runner, so I should know that “writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’ve heard that quote so many times that I want to punch whoever came up with those crazy words. But it’s true. It takes so much time and training to be able to run long distance. Through rain, heat, and pain . . . you continue. If you want to be able to run another race, you never stop training. Never—because you lose those hard earned muscles.

One of my running partners mother passed away the day before our race. She ran anyway. One of my other running partners had blisters so bad that she taped her entire feet. She ran anyway. She lost toenails and ran another race the week after. I get teary eyed thinking about their dedication. These are the amazing people that I surround myself and train with. These are the people that I want to have even just a tiny bit of their work and determination rub off on me.

Writing is just like that. It takes work and determination. You can do it alone, train alone, but it is so much easier and fun to surround yourself with people who motivate and uplift. I realize the first thing I shouldn’t have done is distance myself from the craft and from people who I thought didn’t understand. Writing is a muscle. It either strengthens or weakens.

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I know many writers are in the same rut. My social media feeds are full of frustrated, unmotivated authors.

Here is a great article from a fabulous writer and friend on the subject. I like her thoughts on writing just 15 minutes a day if you happen to be in a place where writing is hard. The comment section is great as well.

I would love your comments on the subject. Are you in the same boat? What exercises do you do to keep your writing muscles strong?

  • Tara

Hidden Gems

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This is a photo of me driving up to the mountains looking for hidden gems. It was by sheer accident, as my son snapped a photo of the waterfall, that the reflection on the car glass made my face appear to be part of the cliff. My hair weaves with the crags and crevices. My shoulders and body are clothed with trees and dirt.

There have been no alterations to this photo. I like to think that this reflects how much the mountains, and their plentiful hidden gems, are a part of me. 🙂

* A couple weeks ago I went to a low key concert in a neighbor’s home. The hosts had graciously brought in the talented singer/songwriter, J. Wagner. As usual, I sat, enamored to the songwriting.

Before one of the final songs, the musician talked about the dry spells that writers go through. He talked about a particularly long personal drought and how he wandered and wondered along the streets aimlessly, frustrated about his lost muse. People scuffed past, birds sang above, but still… nothing.

Out of the crowd, a gaggle of women past him. An elderly woman’s voice rang out and found his uninspired ears.

“Honey, I left my laughter buried beneath the river years ago.”

Golden, brilliant gem of words!

He said, that like a flash of lightening, a song came to him and he wrote it down in a notebook that he always kept in his pocket. It soon became this song…

Writers need to open our eyes and ears. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave the house without a notebook.

So, I just finished up my taxes for the first year as a published author. As I was flipping through my receipts, I thought about all the things I should or could write off. Lunches with friends. Dinners with husband. Mileage up to the canyon. The sack lunch that I took hiking up to hidden hot pots. Writing is woven into every part of my life. Nuggets of inspiration fly through the night sky, or appear in a movie, or are in the way my kids react to one another.

A few years ago I heard a keynote from the amazing author Anne Perry. She spoke about the details in our lives that prick our hearts and make us stand in awe. Her hidden gem is “light dancing on water.” My mother’s is “clouds.” A friend of mine is “owls.” I thought to myself, “mine are the mountains.” If I am ever stuck in my writing, I take to the mountains. I always have, and I always will.

When I was in junior high I had a friend who said he wanted to marry me because he didn’t know any girl who loved nature and the mountains more than I. My husband said the same words. I said yes to him because I knew he was sincere and I loved the way he loved me… and the way he loved the mountains. 

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But what if our dry spell happens for no reason? What if we move to the desert, far away from mountains? Or we live in a city where there is pollution and not clouds? Or what if we are surrounded by all the things that should give us moments of brilliancy and reflection, but our minds are too polluted within the daily dredges that inspiration never gets filtered through?

Look smaller. Sometimes pearls of wisdom and diamonds of dialogue hit us on a crowded street when we are walking around aimlessly.

I find Hidden Gems everywhere. 

Because I look for them.

What is your hidden gem? Do you have a detail in life that inspires you?

Happy writing-

Tara