Divide and Conquer

img_0337 I have come to understand how it is that editing a book takes longer than writing the actual book and I think the reason is this:  To edit a book is to rewrite it. It is writing the book all over again, only much more carefully this time around.

If getting the first draft down is creating the foundation, editing it is inspecting the foundation, and giving it walls, a roof, and doors to be unlocked by the reader; it is making sure there is something valuable to enter, a place to settle in to and not just a pile of material, no matter how gleaming the pile may be.

It’s got to work. The reader has to want to enter, and then to stay, to dwell in the place that is the story, with all its startling turns, secret crannies and brilliant color.  That is no small task for the writer, at least not for this writer. 

It is a sweet, scary feeling to be nearing the end of a project that feels like a lifetime of words, laid bare. But when the end is near and it is time to lay the carpet? Well, there’s no place like home.

Today I am reflecting on all of the tricks and plans and resources and time that I used to get myself to get it all down, to do the work, have the courage, to dig deep, and to build build build. Dig, build. Dig, build. Add. Subtract. Move. Change. Fix.

It has taken me far longer than I think it should have taken me.  No doubt that I could have worked faster, smarter, harder. I could have started the book so much sooner and wrapped it up more quickly. I could have spent more time on it, copious amounts of time these past few years, and gotten it done already.  

But here I am, with the end in sight anyhow, so close in view now that it feels right to change my strategy for wrapping things up. Up until now, I have thought in terms of time: spend time on it today, spend this minimal amount of time on it tomorrow. this week, this month. Move the book for forward by putting in the time.  Now I am thinking in terms of simple math and math has never felt so fun, so exhilarating. Never have I loved organizing and exacting and dividing so much as I do now.

It’s quite simple. To be finished editing by the end of this year, finally, I divided the number of days available to me by the number of pages that need editing. 

I am well aware at this point in the editing process, that a single page may be turned into two or three or five pages while editing. Or it can be deleted altogether. During the editing process, paragraphs are added; sometimes full scenes are too. Words eliminated, changed around, discarded. But my simple math says this:  If I edit five more pages per day, every  day (with a few exceptions for holidays) from now until December 31st, I will be done.

Here is my take on it:  When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is  time to do the math. Heck. maybe it is time to do this before you see the end in sight. Maybe some people work this way from the beginning, mapping  out a big project in order to calculate the precise steps, the daily requirement needed. to hold themselves to each day. But for me, it was starts and stops, ebbs and flows, feasts and famines for so much of this project.

But now that I am nearing the end, it is Divide and Conquer.

Sweet, sweet division without a remainder, lead me home. 

Writing Clutter

Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, Vimeo, and blogs.

Oh my.

The options for social media for writers (and others) is mind boggling. Dizzying. Overwhelming. businessman-clear-junk-his-head-31524952

Here is how it begins.

You write some articles for a few online and print sources. The editors of these sources expect you to promote these pieces on your own social media sites. That drives traffic to their website.

But who wants to read entire articles on Facebook? Or Twitter? But still, it’s expected that you share.

Speaking of Twitter, did you know that Twitter has an option called TweetDeck for organizing and managing twitter lists and connections? I like lists! I like organizing.

But for now, I am still trying to figure out what the hell I am doing on Twitter. I’m not ready for tools. It’d be like gathering the hammer and nails before I know what I am building.

How does anyone follow hundreds, if not thousands of people? How can anyone possibly read all those tweets? I know, I know, they don’t. But what do they do? The answers are available to me, but I am busy writing. Or trying to.

But I must divide my time. Update and manage Twitter every four days, or something like that. I really should get on that.

And there’s that LinkedIn account that I barely remember creating. It just sort of happened. Like an unwanted, neglected child, it is the accident whose care I am  half-assing. Oh the guilt.

And is it too soon to create a website? Perhaps that is best done after a book is published. And is the website necessary at all if you have a blog? Probably. Because the blog won’t have links to articles. Or will it? Should the blog be moved to the website?

So many questions. So many good answers. I need to get on that. All of it.

I read an article that had this message:  It is not your job to babysit your writing once you publish it.

Finally, something to let go of!

And in theory, I agree. Once you hit publish, forget about it! Move on to your next writing project. Some people will like it and some won’t, every single time, and it’s not really your business to care.

Write. Publish. Promote. Ignore the rest.

But but but…if I hadn’t checked on an essay I shared on Facebook, I would’ve missed the thoughtful comment left by an old friend that I worked with twenty-five years ago, thus missing the opportunity to respond. That would’ve been a tiny bit sad.

Some of the “babysitting” of our work is just being a human.

I love writing.

And since I typically believe in my writing, I don’t really mind promoting it.

But we live in a time that encourages much more social media promotion than face to face promotion. It is more efficient. It’s economical.

Don’t get me wrong, I like sitting behind my laptop. Writing is a solo activity. I can barely tolerate  the radio being on when I am creating. Too many voices.

But I sort of prefer promoting (if we must call it that)  in person; reading my writing aloud, or just speaking it aloud to a live audience who is there to hear some stories. You know, like the way writers used to do it.

Fortunately though, some of it can still happen that way, if we want it to. We may have to create our own opportunities to do so, but what’s a writer without an entrepreneurial spirit?

I was at a writer’s event recently, and when the topic of social media came up, the man next to me, who was also middle-aged, looked pained.

“Do you have a Facebook or Twitter account?” he asked, hoping I’d say no.

“Yes, I do. But…
I wanted to convince him that it did not have to be painful, not really. That you can pick and choose your sites, and how often you use them, and..

“I hate all that”,  he replied. “Maybe I should just quit now.”

And I am pretty sure I saw him give up his writing dreams, right before my eyes.

I don’t think J.K. Rowling was promoting writing all over social media before she published the Harry Potter series. I have the impression that she just quietly wrote her literary sensation and then later, perhaps, her staff put up a twitter account while she got to work on her next best seller.  Why can’t we all be like J.K. Rowling?
Sometimes I think social media is just one way the universe is conspiring to take me away from writing, because writing is an unnecessary, frivolous endeavor that begs to be interrupted.

But other times, I think writing is the air that I breathe and a means of connecting us all, and that I will never stop, as long as I am able.

I am going to another writing conference next month. This one will be led by a senior literary agent from Writer’s Digest, and one other expert, a best-selling author.

Day two of the weekend-long event will be dedicated to “positioning your book for success in today’s difficult publishing climate”.

Part of that will include helping us to navigate this maze that is social media, and to organize and prioritize our writer’s brand. And they  will do it in person. In the flesh. Preferably while holding our hands.

After the workshop, I will put my media ducks in a row, and lift my head to the surface, the place of starting to have it all figured out. From there I will continue writing. Or breathing. It’s all the same to me.

Snowed In

My favorite things to do while snowed in:   write, cook, and organize.

 

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Something so satisfying about seeing and touching all the chapters.

 

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Trail mix, nuts, chia seeds, quinoa and lentils. I like my food in plain sight.

 

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My favorite yogurt maker..easy and delicious!

 

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Quick & healthy sauce to serve over gluten free pasta: diced tomatoes, spices, mushrooms and spinach. Simmer and serve!

 

 

 

Simplifying = getting sh*t done

20151130_124530Simplifying is not for nothing, folks.

Simplifying means getting sh*t done.

It means you have more time and space and freedom to spend on what is important to you.

Whether you simplify your diet, your routine, your home or your schedule, you will reap the rewards.

And here is my favorite reward:

Creative projects coming to fruition! 

I am in the process of editing my book. I love this part. It is a lot of work, but I get to apply my love for organizing to the whole process.  I printed out a hard copy because I find it easier to edit this way. I can spread chapters out across my table, move things around, write notes in red ink and feel the weight of my project, literally. All the pages I see represent not only what I’ve gotten done, but all the things I chose to let go of in order to focus on this.

I’ve made the decision that I will get this book ready for publication, no matter what it takes. That is a good feeling. Not having it out in the world is simply not an option for me. I will spend any amount of time and effort that is required. End of story.

 

Touchstones

 stones-323807__180 legalA touchstone is a smooth, dark stone but metaphorically, it is a point of reference, leading us along a path. When I get stuck or stalled, unsure of the next action, I wait for my next touchstone, that clear signal, the green light in the form of an idea, a success, the right person or opportunity that shows up to say This is next.  Now this. You’re on the right track. 

Lately, my touchstones have been showing up a lot and pushing me forward.  I’m not special. Everyone has touchstones.  In fact, maybe I’ve taken longer than most to follow mine. But they are appearing, solid and shining.

There were the questions, the curiosities. The desire for the next right action.

What if I tell the story that scares me? Follow it.

My story won! Follow that.

Get it published. Another touchstone. Keep going.

An invitation from another, bigger magazine to write for them. Keep going. 

What if send my story, an excerpt from my memoir, to the most respected person in the field related to my theme. The child advocate, the one whose work I admire more than any other because it is in an area near and dear to my heart, and to my own writing? The worst that can happen is he ignores it. Or his staff ignores it. But what if this story is about much more than just me? What if it helps others? 

My heart says go. Just do it.  

His response is more generous and encouraging than I could have imagined. And he puts my story on his blog the next day. I am honored, happy, grateful. Touchstone.

His colleague requests a Skype interview.  Keep going. I say yes.

Emails from others. An invitation to speak. Touchstones. They keep appearing. 

I am busy, I am breathless, scared, and absolutely certain I on the right path.

I think that touchstones shine more brightly with an uncluttered background. I think that I had to simplify, clear out the half hearted yeses and the fear in order to see what was waiting for me.

It all feels overwhelming but exactly right. It feels like of course this is it.  I knew it all along. I just had to remember, to find the clues and to follow them. 

What if…?
What’s next…?

Touchstones were once used for testing alloys of gold.  Is this real? Is this valuable?

I think that we recognize our touchstones when we see them. We just have to ask from the heart.  We have to ask like we mean it.

And when they appear, telling us yes this is real,  this is valuable, we cannot say no.

The Stories We Tell

20150421_193254I have so many things I want to write about, including spring cleaning. I am stubbornly waiting until the weather actually turns spring-like so that I can open the windows and actually call it spring cleaning. Today we are due to get some hail, (yes, hail!)so I continue to walk across my sticky kitchen floor and watch the dust balls grow.

I also want to write about the time I wrote an article on assignment for a magazine. It was about a vision quest in suburbia. Talk about an oxymoron. I remembered the assignment while driving home from writing group last week, after discussing freelance writing. Oh, and there was that, I thought. I’d forgotten about it. And now I want to write about it because it was so bizarre that I have to dust it off and churn the experience into a new story.

And I want to write about writer’s block and how Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way, rescues many writers from this misery. She reminds us, when words become as elusive as water in the dessert, to not call it laziness. Call it fear.

Thank you, Julia Cameron, for reminding us of this when we are blocked. We are not losers! she is telling us.  We are cowards. Believe it or not, this really does help.

I want to write about these things and more, and I will, but I am currently preoccupied with the Moth open mic story telling. I first wrote about my Moth Story Slam adventure in an earlier post here:  https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/the-moth-story-slam-live-storytelling/

Happily, I sold my winning Moth story to an online magazine and am now working on lengthening it a bit, at the editor’s request. They will own exclusive rights for six months, and after that  I can do what I want with it-submit to other publications, blog, etc.

I am still waiting on the date for the Moth Grand Slam where I will compete with ten other story tellers. I think it will be over the summer and I can hardly wait!

In the meantime, I plan to perform again this week at another story slam just for practice, so I am preparing for that, right down to picking out my mothfit

A mothfit is what I now call the outfit I wear to these things.  A small detail, I know, but I reason that it requires at least a little thought.  It should be authentic, and not pretentious. Comfortable, but not frumpy.  Chic, but not shabby.

So after this week, with the story revisions and the Moth Story Slam behind me , I will be free to focus on other writing again.

And it would be great if this coincided with spring making her grand entrance.  Because for me, bogged down by winter’s layers- of clothing, cold, and grime- are dichotomous with writing freely and moving forward, lightly.

Here in New England, we are going to appreciate spring like a blocked writer appreciates fresh words.

When that time comes, I will throw open my windows. I will wipe away any dirt and excess, and clear the way for the sunshine and the muse to come through, light and warming. Because this simplifying thing, it really does work.

Some February highlights

We have so much snow in Massachusetts right now-many feet of snow and more on the way.

I was happy my husband was not traveling for the last couple snow falls; though I now know that I can snow blow my way out of the driveway, I don’t particularly want to make a habit of it-or like my father-in-law used to be fond of saying, “I don’t want to make a career of it”. Plus my husband shovels our little dog a pathway to the woods and he shovels the front walkway and even clears off the grill in case we want to run out onto the deck and throw some food on there for dinner (I don’t, but he might).

But the other day, just before my husband was able to get the dog’s pathway cleared for the third time that day, I decided to let him out into the driveway which was already clear (or as clear as it could be when it is still snowing like crazy). I had my indoor clogs on and didn’t bother putting boots on because my plan was to stand in the garage while the dog ran into the driveway to do his business.

But he got a little more adventurous than usual and trotted right out of our driveway and into the street. It was getting dark out. I was terrified a plow would run him over (plows were coming through our neighborhood at an impressive frequency). I ran back into the house to grab his leash and throw my boots on so that I could go retrieve him.

As I was running full speed across the kitchen tile floor, I slipped and went down with a force that took my breath away. At the sound of my loud crash, my husband came running to find me lying on the tile floor holding my knee (which turned out only to be badly bruised). Still very panicked that our dog was loose and in danger, I urged my husband to find him asap.

Once I convinced him that I was not in need of immediate medical attention, despite still being on the floor with no immediate plans of getting up, he was on his way to save Max from the plow. When he got to the garage door, our dog was standing there, covered in snow and wagging his stub of a tail, as much as a stub wags. There’s no place like home.

Note to self: Put boots on before bringing dog out with leash even when it looks as though an eighteen inch tall dog can’t possibly venture out into three feet of snow.

Despite the snow and the frigid temperatures (which has greatly impacted Boston), we went into the city to the Moth Story Slam this week.  This is an open mic format, sponsored by WBUR. I love the combination of literature and the human condition that is storytelling.

We had a little walk between where we parked our car and where we ate and then another walk to the story slam and back to the car afterwards. To say it was cold is an understatement, but it was worth it because it was great fun.

I entered a story and it went very well and I can hardly wait to do it again. My husband, ever my biggest supporter, told me that he thought just getting up there and doing it without fainting would be impressive (it’s not as if I do this sort of thing every day). And then we lowered the bar even more and decided that even if I faint, he could simply come get me off the stage and he’d still be impressed that I tried.

But alas, it went much better than that and so I was thrilled. Plus I was left knowing what I wanted to do to make it better for next time.  The winners from each slam get to compete against each other at the grand slam later in the year. I’m not typically a competitive person, but I really want to win one of the story slams. Just sayin’.

And I really love the in-and-out of this; the quiet, reflective writing time, contrasted with the time of bringing it out into the world through voice.

Another February highlight that I look forward to is my youngest daughter’s birthday; it happens to fall over the long weekend when she will be home from college. I’ve planned a surprise outing that I’m excited about and both of her sisters will be able to partake. I can’t write what it is in case she finds time, in the midst of her busy social and academic schedule, to read her mother’s blog. One never knows.

20150127_161044I refuse to count the days until spring, because last year there really was no spring to speak of. We had winter, winter, and more winter. Then summer. So March 20th is really just an arbitrary date; we could have snow! We could have cold temperatures! And sure, we could have spring. But I’m just not going to count on it. It’s sort of like a pregnancy due date. We can estimate, but it happens when it happens.

Instead, I will trudge through the snow and the slush and the freezing temperatures when I have to, to get where I am going, and be thankful that I can do this, bruised knee and all.

What we focus on..

It is day five of no sugar and so far the abstinence thing is working as planned.   If thoughts of sugar come to mind, I release them. I just don’t focus on it, because the option of having any is off the table, so it consumes exactly none of my energy. I did dream about desserts though, as in a vivid- feature- movie of decadent options, but when daylight came, it was steel cut oatmeal for this girl. And I have plenty of delicious and healthy options to be giddy about that don’t involve sweets (cacao flavored green smoothies! caprese salads!  Thai food!)

Focusing on what I do want in my life, rather than what I don’t want, always works best.

I know the whole “what you focus on expands” can sound so new-agey and like a modern day tagline, but really it is quantum physics and ancient wisdom and it just works this way whether we care that it does or not. So it behooves us to care.

Except when it comes to the most impersonal things such as weather. I don’t particularly want snow, but I know it’ll keep coming, like it does each winter, like it or not. So I’ve decided this year I just won’t focus on how much I don’t like the cold. I’ll dress for it and I’ll notice how the sun turns the tree branches into glistening silver beams after a snowfall. I won’t exactly embrace it, but I’ll surrender to it. My aim is to  accept it without fuss. After all, I choose to live in New England, so put up or get out, right?

indexI was home alone during the last snowfall, and although my husband had arranged to have someone come do the snow blowing for me, but I simply decided I was no longer afraid of the damn contraption and cleared the driveway myself. And this time I did not shred the buried newspaper into five billion tiny pieces, expelling them across the yard and out into street, causing a news storm. This time was better. The snow blower, for me, was emblematic of making peace with winter. I believed the task was very doable, and so it was.

Which is why, as I am pouring so much time and energy into completing my book, which is a slower and more difficult process than I ever imagined, I cannot, will not,  give too much focus to the thought   Please don’t let me write a book that sucks.

Instead I invite the thought : I am willing to put in all the time and effort required to make this as good as it can be.

Better yet, I just write.

I perplex myself with how I can get so happy over such small things as coconut oil and amazon prime, and yet still want such big things  like a best seller of course. But okay, I will settle for just a reasonably successful book that resonates with enough readers as to consider it worthwhile.

Ah well, all of life is both risky and harmless, so why should this be any different? It feels big and at the same time  just a blip in the big scheme of the universe, so carry on.

And while busy churning thoughts into words that people may or may not ever read, I give little thought to politics these days, or even news for that matter, shredded paper aside. I have never been overly focused on politics and I take in only as much news as I need in order to know what’s going on in the world, and to form an opinion. Lately, though, I am even sick of my own opinion. Focusing on it only leaves me frustrated or dissatisfied. I’d  rather create something I can add to the world, however meagerly, than spin all the stuff that I have no control over around in my head until I end up right back where I started.

Simplifying has brought me clarity.  Sugar was probably the last junk I needed to clear out of my life. Actually, no, I’m sure something else will reveal itself in time, likely a habit or mindset or something else that I awaken to that leaves me wondering how could I have thought that? Or why do I do that?

In the meantime, rather than focusing on what I don’t like or want, I try to keep asking the right questions. What do I want? What would work best? Then I put my focus there, my energy there, and watch it grow.

Clear the way for fear

Most of my fears can be avoided. Fear of falling, of roller coasters, of walking down dark alleyways alone at night. Fear of death by alligators.

I also prefer to avoid fear caused by reckless choices, icky fear.  I probably didn’t do drugs as a youngster due to fear it would kill me. Or my parents would kill me. Either way, fear is what stopped me, not maturity or better things to do or anything else more enlightened. It was just plain fear that kept me alive.

I simply don’t ride the roller coaster, walk the alleyway, jump into the swamp.

But there’s another kind of fear that I try to embrace, or at least face. It’s the fear that you  feel when facing a hard truth or a new challenge. It may be the fear of grief or difficult change or even the sparkling, terrifying, exciting idea that awaits you when all else falls away.

It’s the fear that is at the bottom of the excess, there when you peel off, throw out, clean up, or clear away.  The fear that you may work hard to keep at bay, but that could launch you forward if you just allow it to surface.

All this simplifying has made space for creativity, for my writing which feels like air and joy and spirit.  It has inched me forward as planned and left me to walk through the fear of writing, because writer’s have fear, you know.

I sent something out into the world;  I was testing the waters of what’s to come, of my biggest writing project ever.  Okay, I sent it anonymously and it was only a piece of it, so I’m really not that brave yet, but it sort of exploded. In a good way. In a scary way.   In a 1000- people- reading- it- on -day- one, then 2,000, in fifteen different countries and then all of it multiplying again and again and yikes! kind of way.

Not a huge deal to some in this day of internet-reaches-everyone, but a big deal to me, for sure.  This is what I wanted and I’m doing it and here I go… I mean this is largely what I cleared my life for.  This and all the other beautiful, magical moments that come with freed up space- with freedom from the stuff that buries the fear.

The way I see it, there are two choices. Allow the fear or recoil and stay comfortable. And if you don’t recoil then you actually, really get to live and expand, scared but sure- footed. Sure-footed because you are damn sure you aren’t turning back, because to do so would feel like self-betrayal.   The fear may subside or may sit beside you, breathing fire down your neck, but it doesn’t have to stop you.

Here’s my scary-fun idea:  feel the fear, whatever that is for you, if you have any. Doesn’t everyone?  Invite it in. Clear the way. It won’t stay long. Or maybe it will, but it definitely won’t kill you. And it may even launch you forward into something new and wonderful. And scary.

So go ahead, simplify and then see what shows up. What are you afraid of?

Clearing space for National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.  Beginning on November 1st, some 30,000 participants from all over the world come together, if not physically then in spirit, each one to produce 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th. Writing groups and libraries open their doors days and evenings and sometimes even all night long, in support of NaNoWriMo.

Anticipation and excitement is the air right about now, amongst new and experienced writers alike.  Having a national event gives participants added structure – focused writing times, organized groups, a goal of 1600+ words per day on average to “win”. It also gives us permission- you’ve got to drop some other stuff in order to do this-it’s part of the plan! The go big or go home mentality keeps many writers tapping away at their keyboards for these thirty days.

Many writers prepare by creating a detailed outline of their intended novel. The idea is that by the end of the month, you will have completed a first draft. Having the outline ready allows you to jump right in to writing the book on November 1st. Rules are flexible though, since writing really is an individual activity. Several writers that I know of, myself included, are using the month to continue- and hopefully finish- the first draft of a work already in progress. I’m still writing the book I was writing last November, a literary memoir. I’ve been tapping out the words, day by day, but nothing tethers my attention to it like NaNoWriMo.

My preparations include simplifying everything I can in order to ensure the most productive month of writing that I can. The fact that I have an idea for my next book tugging at me is a reminder that I need to bring my current project to completion. Instead of completely suppressing my new book idea, I started a file of notes to refer to later. I refuse to give this much attention though, until my current project is complete. By nature I am not a multitasker and therefore focusing on two big projects at once is counterproductive.

So it is with a sense of urgency that I will be caught up on all pesky chores, and my surroundings will be organized. For me, the days leading up to NaNoWriMo mean cleaning out a closet, dusting my writing table, doing every last stitch of laundry; phone calls are returned and emails are answered. Shopping is done, plants are watered, and rugs are vacuumed. I’ve mentally scheduled in yoga classes and walking my dog. Habits that free up my creativity will be as important as food and water.

Because approaching National Novel Writing Month requires more than a book idea. What it asks of writers is to clear up space, both physically and psychologically. It demands that our creativity take center stage in our lives, if only for thirty days. I am always amazed and impressed with people who successfully tackle this month on top of a very busy schedule. They inspire me to be a more disciplined writer, which is a stretch for someone who requires so much space that I can get writer’s block just from the sound of someone else chewing.

Here’s to November. I look forward to the inspiration, the camaraderie and hopefully, finally, the finished draft. I am excited to complete this project I’ve birthed, and launch it out into the world, however difficult that particular launching road may be. Like an adult child who hasn’t left home, my current book needs a little push and National Novel Writing Month can do just that. So I’m returning my library books, sweeping my floor and generally getting things in order. Like so many others who will begin investing extra time in their writing on the first of November, I’ve invited in the muse and the spirit of the month to come through all open doors and empty spaces. Bring it on, November. The writers are ready.