Work

P1050035I am floundering. For the last few days I have been writing — in longhand — five new pages each day.  I have had a lot going on this week, including an overnight visit to see Mom, in Chehalis. But I did my five pages, no matter what. Today was day four. I managed, but barely, filling in the gaps with questions.

  • What purpose does this scene serve?
  • What does Peter look like?
  • Is there just a house on this old property? Shouldn’t there be ruined outbuildings, a broken fence?
  • Did they have a well?

This morning I have taken numerous breaks. I had breakfast. I brushed my teeth. I changed my clothes. Bruce has been out here three times. Pearl just dropped in to ask if her outfit looked stupid. (It didn’t.)

I thought about posting a big sign on the door: WRITER AT WORK. STAY OUT. YES! THIS MEANS YOU!

But what did they interrupt? Me, checking my email? (Again.) Me, playing yet another game of Spider Solitaire. Me, visiting other blogs and hoping for inspiration.

I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike.

I remembered, eventually, something I once read about learning how to start. If you’ve ever meditated, then you know this. If your thoughts wander, it is counterproductive to berate yourself, or your wandery brain. Just gently nudge yourself back to the meditation. Return again and again, as often as necessary.

True with writing, too. Learn how to fall into your work easily, effortlessly. Do this 20 times each morning, or 50, however many times it’s necessary.

I looked up the etymology of work for you. This was my favorite, because it includes the word “fornication.”

work (n.) Look up work at Dictionary.comOld English weorc, worc “something done, deed, action, proceeding, business, military fortification,” from Proto-Germanic *werkan (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE root *werg- “to work” (see urge (v.)). In Old English, the noun also had the sense of “fornication.”

And now I think I am going to go in the house and do some laundry.

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Reading and Eating Local

I’ve been meaning to share this novel with you. I met Seattle author Deb Caletti at PNWA. Because I’ve watched her interviews at authormagazine.org (click on the link to watch her 2012 interview), I wasn’t surprised to like her. Her first novel-for-grownups, He’s Gone, is now out in paperback, and I’m happy to recommend it.

As an aside, while doing some sustainability research with my daughter Annie for her summer class, I visited The Essential Baking Company in Wallingford. We were sipping fancy coffees and teas and eating scrumptious desserts (I ordered a strawberry-rhubarb tart), when I remembered something I had read the night before in He’s Gone. I pulled the novel from my bag (yes, I always have two or three books with me), and thumbed through the pages. There was our heroine meeting her husband’s business partner at the very same location. I read the passage aloud to Annie and Pearl, and we told our barista, too. (He was suitably impressed.)

Literature collides with life. Nice!

While researching for this post, I went to Deb Caletti’s website and want to recommend it, as well.

How Old Will You Be?

If you are a regular follower of my blog then you know that I have been working on a novel rewrite for months…and years. When I wrote the shitty first draft of this novel (thank you, Anne Lamott), my daughter Emma was two years old. Now she is fourteen. True, I have not worked on it continuously. I’ve taken years off! I’ve done other things (teaching, raising kids, writing poems). But this novel has never let me go.

Today I came across the story of another writer’s journey and once again was reminded that I’m not alone. I don’t have permission to share the excerpt, which is from the class I’m taking, but in a nutshell, she spent 16 years getting her first novel published. (You can read more about Laura Drake at her blog. I’m reading her romance, The Sweet Spot, because it’s been so highly recommended by Margie Lawson.)

Sixteen years? Laura Drake says it’s been worth it. I remember something my sister Kathy (who used to read about one romance novel per day) told me many, many years ago when I wanted to go to college. “It will take four years to get a degree,” I told her. “I’ll be thirty years old before I get it!”

We were talking on the phone, one of those ancient landlines with the big buttons and the twisty, long cord. There was a pause. And then Kathy said, “How old will you be in four years if you don’t get the degree?”

It’s Postcard Month

treesAugust is poetry postcard month, and though I’ve resisted the temptation for a few years, this year I’m back at it, thanks to timely pressure from my friend Carla.  Here are my excuses.

1. I’m teaching a class this summer.
2. I’m busy with my daughters in the summer and any semblance of a routine is blown.
3. I’m rewriting my novel … still.
4. I’m TAKING a class (which sounds like madness, but more about this in a later post).

Carla didn’t argue, she just kept sending me little email reminders until, in a weak moment, I sent my name and address into the organizing forces. And I got about 300 names and addresses back! (I have to send to only the 31 below my name.) I went through my office and pulled together postcards from trips and a bunch of special photographs (with a large index card taped to the back, photographs make great postcards). I put a couple of poetry books and a bunch of 33 cent stamps in a folder. Pens. Etc. And I was ready to travel.

Some years ago, of course, this practice fit smoothly into my “one bad poem” practice. This year, with a new book out, I’ve been more or less resting on my laurels and not writing new poems. (I’ve been busy, okay?) The first few postcards I sent out were pretty lame. But I’ve gathered momentum as the month rolls along. As I’ve learned and relearned throughout my writing life, doing a little relevant reading, and sitting and staring at a blank page with a pen in my hand turns — eventually — into writing.

Here’s the poem I drafted yesterday. I make no claims for it, but I like it. This version was too long to fit on the postcard, by the way.

Imagine the trees are knowing,
not in the conjugal sense,
but sentient, beings as aware of pain,
of love, of longing as you
or me. When I was a horse-crazy girl
I was told that horses don’t feel pain
the way humans do. Then, a mother
of infants, I was told not to worry,
The baby doesn’t feel it the way we do.
I never believed such tripe,
perpetuated by people numb
in their own ignorance. Place your hand
against the trunk of a maple,
or run your finger down the map
of a big cedar. I’m not asking you
to become a tree-hugger like me,
just your hand. Just stand there.
Of course the tree feels.
Believe that the sap is equal to —
greater than — your own tears.
Ask yourself, What am I feeling?

 

Think a New Thought

“Your first task as a creative person is to ‘mind your mind’ and think thoughts that serve you. Doesn’t it make sense to speak to yourself in ways that help you create more deeply and more regularly, that allow you to detach more effectively from the everyday chaos of ordinary life, that decrease your anxiety and negativity, and that remind you that you are in charge of showing up and making an effort?” -Eric Maisel (to read the entire article, an excerpt from his book Making your Creative Mark, follow this link:  http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/2013_07_maisel.html)

Several years ago I moved my introductory literature classes on-line. As on-ground classes they had often been under-enrolled, but on-line they fill to capacity and then some. I feared that I would have mostly Running Start (high school) students, but that hasn’t been the case. Some Running Start students, some students with families and full-time jobs. And every now and then, a student earning a BA from a university — slumming, I guess — drops in. The mix makes for fascinating discussions.

Every quarter there are a few students who fail to show up, which is a shame. My classes are not hard. Every quarter, there is one student, maybe two, who appear to “show up,” but clearly aren’t reading anything and are trying to fake their way through it.  They make me think of something I was told when I first took on-line training:

You don’t learn “on line.” You learn in your head.

Well, in your head and in your life. Here’s the definition of “learning,” courtesy of my Psychology colleague, Don Smith: Learning = change. You may have memorized it, but if you can’t do it, if it didn’t change your behavior, then you didn’t learn it.

Reading the entire authormagazine.org article by Eric Maisel made me reflect on my students’ project last spring, the one in which they had to change something. Back then I blogged about how habits are made, and I used one of our cats as an example of “one-event” learning. (Demonstrating that one doesn’t have to do something 21 or 28 days in a row in order to form a habit. Sometimes once is enough to get us hooked.) We have always kept our cats indoors, but one morning one of the youngsters scooted out between my legs as I went out to my cabin to write. He was waiting for me the next morning. After a few days, both of our younger cats wanted out (not Annie Cat, shown below in her preferred pose.) I let this go on for some time. I didn’t think they should go outside — it’s bad for birds, and I worry about them wandering off — but my thought was, believe it or not, “They love to go out. I’m depriving them if I don’t let them go out.” A thought that made me anxious!

Last week, the most adventurous of the pair brought an infestation of fleas home with him. All three cats had to be bathed and treated. And I was asked to please, please stop letting them out.

So here’s how my thought changed. As they met me at the back door and tangled around my legs the next morning, I had a sudden image of a lion tamer attempting to leave a cage. He’s swinging his whip around and shouting, “Back, Simba!”

It was that easy. I stopped feeling sorry for the young lions. Of course they want to leave the cage! Of course they can’t!

Einstein said that imagination trumps knowledge. Eric Maisel would agree. And so do I. Try a new thought. And show up and make an effort, please. You deserve that much.

annie cat2

Billy Wilder’s Ten Rules of Good Filmmaking

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My friend Beverly sent me this list, with a note, “Works for novels, too.”

Billy Wilder’s ten rules of good filmmaking:

1: The audience is fickle.

2: Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.

3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.

4: Know where you’re going.

5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.

6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.

7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.

8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re

seeing.

9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.

10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it.

Don’t hang around.