Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Confession of a Busy Mommy/Writer


I have to confess, every Tuesday morning, sometime between the first cup of coffee and actually stepping into a productive day, I come to a horrible realization: I have to write a post for this blog.

I wish I could say I write the first draft of these things Tuesday night, just hours after the previous week’s entry was posted. That I polish it all week, then spit-shine it one last time. But I don’t. Usually, I get that oh shit feeling that comes with remembrance, shove my kid in front of the Disney Channel and glue my butt to the office chair. I crank out whatever comes into my brain during the last fifteen minutes of Bunny Town.

I do let my post age on the hard drive while I check to make Julia’s still conscious and hasn’t, say, fingerpainted the cats. But beyond the aging, all I really do is tinker a bit. My last thought after clicking the POST button is inevitably thank God THAT’S done for the week. It’s hard enough trying to juggle mommyhood, writing short fiction, editing two novels, researching markets and finding time to submit, and then following up on my submissions. Once I send a post to cyberspace, I don’t have time to give it another thought.

Any writing teacher worth his or her salt would caution against my slapdash method of posting. They'd remind me that this blog is a showcase and should contain my best work. And my training and instincts as a writer agree. But there’s something to be said for off-the-cuff posting. I like the immediacy, honesty and freshness of a work that hasn’t been edited to the nth degree. Maybe it’s like those confessions you get from drunk coworkers at the company picnic. Once the internal editor’s off, anything can creep out. And what you get is usually ripe and intriguing.

So this is where I ask myself: if I had more time, would I do it differently? My answer: probably not. The honesty is like a drug and I can’t get enough. Some people have nightmares about being caught naked in public. I’m more likely to dread being caught in a lie. So I write what comes out and hope you’ll forgive my mad-dash ramblings. I don’t have time to change anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stories in the Night


I don’t know about you, but my best time to come up with story ideas is between 2 and 5 am.

I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night and, after a quick pee, realized I’d figured out an entire storyline while I was sleeping. I used to tell myself I’d remember it when I woke up, so I’d lay back down and fall back to sleep.

Somehow, I always forgot.

For awhile, I’d lay awake long enough to work out more details, try a few mnemonic devices. Then I’d go back to sleep. And immediately forget everything.

Eventually, I got smarter. I put a notepad and pen in my nightstand drawer and, as soon as the ideas came to me, I’d scribble away in the dark. I’m sure my husband dreamed we had mice in the house, with all my scritch-scritch-scritching. A lot of times what I write is illegible to even me, but there are always enough clues for me to piece together what I was thinking and turn it into something worth writing.

All this nocturnal creativity begs the question: why? This writing in the night is so inconvenient. I’ve woken up too many mornings after a particularly productive night of brainstorming with a splitting headache and bleary eyes, feeling completely unfit to do anything other than crawl back in bed. Parenting? Forget it! I long for the days of my office job, where I could sit in my cubicle and stare at my monitor, occasionally pecking out words of wisdom like Press ENTER to add the record.

I believe therein lies the answer: my days are so busy that those silent hours between 2 and 5 am are the only times quiet enough for my imagination to fly free.

I woke up last night with a solution to a writing problem. I’ve been working on something for an upcoming contest. Yesterday, I came up with a character and a setting, but I had no hint of a storyline, even after scratching out a scene. I’d tried to think my way through the story, during my walk with Julia, while cooking supper, between commercials during Dancing With the Stars. Zip. But in the middle of the night, I remembered something I’d written the day before, a line of dialogue offered tongue in cheek: All God’s creatures just want to be free.


At 3:30 this morning, it suddenly came to me. The idea of being free was the key to my story. Now I need to figure out how to show that through scenes, but that’s cakewalk once I have the key. I drifted back to sleep, pleased and content. Problem solved by my nighttime muse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the Edge


Well, I’ve done it again.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I have a knack for being edgy. But I think I really outdid myself yesterday while working on my Writer’s Digest Your Story entry. The prompt: A man enters a bar. But it isn’t a bar.

In my mind, this begs the question: well, what is it? After examining the myriad possibilities, I decided to approach the bar as a metaphor. Yes, it’s a bar, but to my viewpoint character, Kurt, it’s so much more.

So where does the edge come in, you ask. My answer: with Kurt himself.

Kurt is a hard-bitten sort, the type of alcoholic with a giant chip on his shoulder, who like Don Quixote, wants to fight the world. And because Kurt is tough, so is his language. He’s angry at the world, at his past, at himself, at God. He expresses it through his language and his fists. Unfortunately, I know where that language will land me: in the pile of Your Story rejects.

Just for kicks, I did a naughty word count. Fifteen. But that’s fifteen out of 750, which means a rather large proportion of what comes out of Kurt’s mouth will raise a reader’s eyebrows. And, yes, I thought about softening the language. But that wouldn’t fit Kurt. Kurt’s in your face. He’s confrontational. He wouldn’t back away from saying something because it might offend someone, so I shouldn’t back down when I put words in his mouth. If anything, he looks for ways to be offensive.

I have another idea for the prompt, a much gentler story, more in keeping with what WD usually leans toward. Since I know poor Kurt doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance, I’ll take that one out for a whirl, see what kind of magic comes out on the page. But I suspect my heart will remain with Kurt. Kurt bleeds on the page and doesn’t apologize for it. He has a burning hole where his heart should be. I feel his pain.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sweet Satisfaction

It’s been a spectacular week so far.

After a several week long dry spell, I finally got an acceptance yesterday. My 750 word flash, “The Burning Black,” was accepted by Every Day Fiction.

I have Writer’s Digest to thank for this little piece. “Burning Black” was my submission for their last Your Story contest. I wasn’t sure what to write about when I first read the prompt—a character finds something on the kitchen table that shouldn’t be there. But then I remembered my much longer story, “The Walnut Tree” (which has been floundering under the editorial consideration of Ep;phany for over 6 months now.) I liked “Walnut Tree” and felt there was more to explore with Peter and his dysfunctional, manipulative family. And talk about the ultimate challenge! Who’d ever think of cramming a 4500 short into the 750 word limit dictated by Writer’s Digest? Yep, yours truly.

I was happy with the results. I didn’t make the Your Story finals, but I liked the story enough to shop it around. And first time out, it fell into the hands of some sympathetic editors.

As of now, I don’t know exactly when “Burning Black” will be published. But, this marks an important milestone in my career. This will be the first time I’m getting paid to write something besides software manuals. It isn’t much, just a few dollars really, but it’s the start of a new phase for me—paid, professional writer. (Wow. Just typing those words makes me pause and shake my head.) It feels good to tick that goal off my 2008 list. Until the next rejection comes, I wallow in sweet satisfaction.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nope. Nothing.

Question: what does a writer write when she has nothing to say?

Best answer: nothing.

I could share another entry about how my flu came back last week and made me lose all hope for ever completing EdMo. But I’m sick of whining about EdMo, sick of being sick. I just want to move on and forget it.

The fact is, I don’t have a damn thing to say this week. And that’s an uncomfortable feeling for a writer. No writer wants to open his mouth and hear…nothing. We want wisdom. We want beauty. We want truth. We want art.

This week, I’m fresh out of all that. And I’m learning to be okay with it. It’s okay if there are pauses between the sentences. Silence can mean something, sometimes something significant.

This reminds me of a paper I wrote for my college American Lit class, a light little bit of academy about what Whitman didn’t say in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.” The premise: how powerful a presence could be by its very absence. It’s an idea that’s always intrigued me.

So I pause in my absence of ideas, feel my hollowness around where my thoughts should be.

Still nothing. I’m okay with that. See you next week.