Keeping It Real…Small

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Today I am preparing to drive to Chehalis to take Mom to the doctor. I had other plans, but that’s how life works, and (in fact) I’m really really grateful that I can drop everything and take Mom to the doctor.

Yesterday I typed for a couple of hours and discovered that I have waaaayyyy more words than I thought. Around 25,000 in fact and maybe slightly more. My original, math-challenged goal was to write 30,000 words in May (math-challenged because I thought I would do this by writing 500 words per day). It’s astonishing (to me) to see that I almost made it.

Today my brain was all over the place. I wrote my 5 pages — handwritten, scrawled — of 500 words and thought, sadly, that I probably shouldn’t bother typing these up. That bad. Some days, it’s like that.

Yesterday, however, I read this quote from Maya Angelou, and it gives me heart:

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”

When I let my goals get huge and grand, I get discouraged. Keeping my goals small, oddly enough, allows them to expand. If you keep writing, the muse will show up. Just write. If you don’t have lots of time, write a little. Write a very, very little if that’s all you can do. But pick up your pen and see what happens.

Do what you love to do. Even if you have to keep it small (for now).

One Day at a Time

Between doctor appointments (mine and a daughter’s), a visit to my mom, and two quick trips to Bellingham, I am still writing. I now have about 16,000 words (14,000 of them typed). Yesterday I wrote my 500 words in my parked car, late in the afternoon while (ostensibly) running an errand. At Lauren Sapala’s blog, she calls this having faith in the process. Just 500 words, that isn’t so much. What’s the big deal if I miss a day? I’ll write 1000 tomorrow–I promise!

But it is a big deal, because writing every day (this would be true even if it were one, 17-syllable long sentence) is what creates the foundation for writing every day.

I’m reminded of my creative writing student Nathalie who used to come into class and shout, “I have 40 days!” “I have 41 days!” She was a recovering addict, and when she disappeared around mid-quarter, for about a week, I worried. When she came back, slinking in and sitting down as though she wished she were invisible, we couldn’t help but look at her, and wait. She raised her chin, looked back at us, and said, “I have one day.” By the end of the quarter, though, she had 17 days. One day generates the momentum for the next.

My daughters are on their way to the Lady Gaga concert at Key Arena this evening. And you think I’m obsessed with working every day on your art? 

Know Thy Own Process

horse2Last week I read someone’s advice to write a first draft without rereading. I tried to stick to that for…one day. Then I remembered Joan Didion’s Paris Review interview, in which she explains her process of rereading (and rewriting) from the beginning every day. That has always been my process, too. Aha, I thought, as if I’d been given permission, and I immediately returned to what works for me.

500 words a day (which isn’t even hard) and rereading every morning…at least until I have too much to reread.

As I reread I flesh out scenes and tweak dialogue. I write myself notes such as “Where are the birds?” or “Smells?” (I have a bad habit of leaving out smells.) Like Margie Lawson, while rereading I sometimes notice that none of my characters are wearing clothes.

Of course this is all personal, isn’t it? It’s almost a question of genre. (I notice how characters in Romance novels wear lots of clothes, but crime fiction characters wear almost none, unless stained with blood.) I find that my characters don’t need a lot of clothes. An occasional mention of bib overalls or an Easter bonnet poked full of real flowers, and I’m good.

The point is, KNOW THY OWN PROCESS. I’m reminded of child rearing. The books can be helpful, if they build your confidence and don’t dismantle it. Friends are helpful. But, finally, that’s your kid. You know her better than anyone else knows her. You’re the mom, and you have to (get to) decide what’s best.

Same with your writing process. By all means, push it a little farther (that could be part of your process). But it’s yours. Embrace it.

It doesn’t have to be good…

greenchairAfter several days of sailing along and writing (it seemed) like a genius, churning out 500-1000 words a day, I’ve been slogging these last two days. It feels as though I am writing just to be writing, writing snippets and scenes that I’m not even sure I’ll keep. It’s frustrating.

There are different schools of thought about bouts such as this. I believe it’s Robert Olen Butler who says one should just sit on a bench and practice not writing, at least on occasion. My friend Thom Lee, a potter, makes his students swear not to clutter the world with bad pots.

I have a different theory. “To write well, write a lot,” an early mentor advised me. And I’m not convinced that–at least not every day–I’m the best judge of the quality of what I write. Sometimes, too,  toward the end of my five pages I gin out a jewel that makes it all worthwhile, a jewel that often sparks the next writing session.

Sometimes, when I’m well and truly stymied, I write notes to myself. The notes help. It’s as if they are a secret way for one part of my brain to communicate with another. (Though other people would say for it’s a way of communicating with God, or one’s soul, or the spirit of creativity–and they may be right.) I write civilized little notes, or prayers (Dear God, this is your servant Bethany, the writer…), or I write curse words in big capital letters. You could try drawing, or writing with your off hand. Whatever happens, this process usually results in an idea. Think of free-writing exercises when your teacher instructed you to keep writing, no matter what, even if you had to write, “I don’t know what else to write! This teacher is an idiot! I hate this!” It’s as if your brain gets quickly bored by that and says, Fine, here’s a scene you can write. Anyway, it’s one of the strategies that, for me, results in more writing.

My goal for this project is 500 words per day. When I hesitate at the beginning of a writing session and don’t know what to write, I tell myself, “It doesn’t have to be good.”

As of today, I’ve typed 12,630 words on my new manuscript. Some of them are good.

Keep writing!

Opening an old notebook…

bluebell…I found this quote, written down when I was in New York at my retreat:

“If you treat people the way they are, you make them worse. If you treat them the way they ought to be, you make them capable of becoming what they ought to be.” –Goethe

I know who I was no doubt thinking of when I jotted this down. But what if we treated OURSELVES as the people we ought to be, the people we know we are capable of becoming? Today I’m going to treat myself as the happy genius of my household, the famously productive writer, Bethany Reid.


Thank you and goodbye…to the boot

Since breaking my ankle on March 9, I have been wearing an orthopedic boot. Today, I was allowed to take the damn thing off — for good! The break in the fibula is healed. The injury to the talus (or talar dome) is healing and doesn’t need the boot any longer. I’m supposed to take it easy, put my foot up when I can, take Ibuprofen and use ice at the end of the day…oh, and go slow in getting back at the gym. Thank you, boot, for the help, but I will no longer be requiring your services.

On the novel, as of this morning, 6,619 words.  (Thank you, broken ankle, for slowing me down and helping me to finish PEARL’S ALCHEMY and start something new. But I will no longer be requiring your services.)

Progress on all fronts.