Monthly Archives: February 2012

Close Call


Well, I had the closest call I would like to have regarding a house fire. I actually had a house fire in 1978, electrical, in the walls. It was frightening, but because it happened in the walls and there weren’t flames, it was almost a virtual fire.

At least not as real as what happened yesterday.

I was writing in my new office, and my husband brought up the space heater to help heat the small room. He lit it and went back downstairs. I was typing away, working on Chapter Seven of the new book when I noticed dust motes in the air. I didn’t think too much about it until they got heavier. I turned around in my chair to see huge flames leaping out of the top of the space heater.

I jumped up and stepped on the shut-off switch, nothing happened.

I ran to the top of the stair, where we have a fire extinguisher and called down to my husband. As I yelled for him, I turned back to the office door. Huge billows of black smoke was pouring out of the top of the heater, like a chimney from hell. In the next few seconds, he ran upstairs and we got it out. Then I was scared. The house was full of smoke, there was soot all over the walls in the rooms that were open. I had to wash curtains and bedding and wipe down everything.

And, while cleaning up, I realized what could have happened. I could have been in the bathroom, or gone downstairs for a cup of tea just at the wrong time. Scary!!

Interruptions


Hello, my name is …. and I am a recovering interruptee.

I can be distracted by a book, a trip to the store, a call from one of my kids. And those are just the fun distractions. I can also be pulled off course by bills, sick family, and too much on my plate – all requiring my attention now.

There are three different kinds of reactions to being interrupted repeatedly in your writing day.

The Hell or High Water Reaction

This is the kind of reaction in which you keep on writing because you set your timer to write for an hour, and dammit, that’s exactly what you are going to do. Your boss can call, your mother can call, your kids can be building a rocket ship out of cardboard boxes in the dining room, but you are going to finish your chapter/essay/paragraph before you respond. You might stop if you smell smoke.

The Fine, If That’s How You Want It Reaction

This is the kind of reaction in which you quit writing whenever it gets too frustrating to continue. Your mother calls again, for the third time today, with a funny story about Aunt Minnie. Your kids are circling your writing chair with a high-pitched chant of “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” Or your boss thinks that since you are sitting at your desk over lunch, you really do want to discuss the 2:00 PM meeting with the project team. After enough of these kinds of interruptions over a long enough period of time, you will put the writing away for longer and longer, until one day you realize you used to write.

The Rejigging Reaction

Better than the other two extremes, this requires a light touch. You have to remember, in the midst of your frustration, that you are in control. You can alter the terms of your writing journey and the arrangements you’ve made to get where you want to go.

If you need to stop writing to handle an interruption, you really can write later. If you have to get up at five o’clock and write with a sleepy baby in your lap, you can do it. If the kids absolutely won’t give you any peace, enlist their cooperation. I’ve sat mine up at their own writing desks, and had them make their own books. If the boss always stops by your desk at lunch, then you need to work somewhere else. The point is, if you always keep your general destination in mind, you can steer for it, and make a series of small changes and rejig your plan to make it fit your overall goal. Every person’s solution will be different, but you can fiddle with your solution until it fits.

Organizing your writing effort – Part Two


I wrote yesterday about a global organization setup, a format to keep track of the writing work as a whole.

Today, I want to show you the setup for the daily writing sessions.

I keep track of just five things,

  1. The date (pretty obvious)
  2. The daily word count – I keep track of the exact number of words, some people just do the 250 words per page rough count
  3. The average word count – I like to see this because the days can fluctuate a lot. The sample shows the formula for average word count.
  4. the monthly average word count – Each month is averaged separately.
  5. Notes – As much as the numbers can tell you, the notes remind you of why that day was great or so-so. And, if the day ever came that you needed to prove your work was your own, these notes would add weight to your assertion.

Here is the sample spreadsheet.

Sample Spreadsheet 2

You can see the formulas I’ve used, to average the daily word out in the way that works for me. I try to work every day, but that’s not for everyone. I wouldn’t record the days you have not scheduled yourself to work. If I take a day off in advance (see the comments on B:8 and B:28) I take them out of the formula so I don’t penalize myself. BUT if I have a rotten day (See January 11th and 31st on the spreadsheet) I record what I got done and why it was so bad. For me, it’s important to be accountable.

Another odd thing I do, is if I am primarily doing editing, it goes much faster. On heavy edit days, I might get through 9000 words. I decided to divide that by 3 – and give myself a “word count” of 3000. On light edits, skimming at a high level, I divided by 10.

You can make whatever rules you want, just make your rules and STICK TO THEM!

Next time, I’ll talk about tips to focus….

Organizing your writing effort – Part One


I’ve been extremely productive in the last three months, writing approximately 2600 words per day and busily editing my first book, Devil’s Daughter.

My second in the series, Sorrow’s Son, is about 70% done. I was reflecting this morning on how I have been able to get so much done, and over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts.

Today, I want to talk about organization.

My right brain loves to write. It can flit and flutter over any random occurrence, wondering “what if” and “how about” to it’s hearts content. But my right brain is a ditz. It will pick and pour over anything that strikes it’s fancy at that given moment and then go on to something else.

My left brain thinks my right brain should be locked up. My left brain wants to know how many, how fast, when? And it thinks there should be a concrete beginning, middle and end.

They are both right. When I started writing again, seriously, I thought I would create a spreadsheet to track how much I was accomplishing. I thought I’d throw my analytical brain a bone. “You sit over here, counting, and my creative side and I will have fun. Go away and be quiet.”

But, lo and behold, my left brain has important work in the creative process. It provides the safety net. If you are anything like me, and you have had difficulty keeping “on task”, try a spreadsheet. Think about what is important to you while designing it.

Sample Spreadsheet

I open this every day before I begin writing, and I close it when I am done for the day. If my right brain wants to work on something else, I can create another line for that book. I can also add sheets for short stories, or novellas, or keep them right on this page. With some simple formulas, you can see not only where you are and where you’ve been, but where you are going. I find it easier to relax when I have some boundaries, relax and write. The boundaries keep me safe while I’m picking flowers from the air.

I have a completely different spreadsheet sheet for daily word counts (your mileage may vary on this, I’m anal and like to keep a really tight rein). I’ll show you that one tomorrow!

Bread


I baked bread today. I bake it for practical reasons, home-baked bread is about a quarter of the cost of store-bought.But I also bake it because it is a tangible way to say “I love you” and it is an art to make it better and better each time. Creating, crafting, feels good.

I usually bake bread every other day, or every third day. With my husband being gone to Arizona for a while, I haven’t needed to bake in over a week. So, the warm bread out of the oven was especially tasty today.

Something that surprised me is how ingrained the recipe has become. I can measure out the milk, butter, honey & other ingredients almost as if I’m on autopilot. And as I’m mixing in the flour, I can easily see how much I’m going to need, based on the humidity of today. I don’t even have the recipe written down any longer.

It’s like writing.

warm from the oven

If you write every day, eventually it becomes less like a event and more like a practiced exercise. And you can begin to stop worrying about the ingredients, and start thinking about what the particular piece needs.  And like bread, it can be art, creation, and practicality rolled into one!

Begin as you mean to go on…


Years and years ago, my grandmother had sayings. Some were silly, some were profound, but they all echo around in my head. “Begin as you mean to go on” was one of them. To me, it embodies the philosophy of figuring out what you want to do, do it right from the first, and keep going on with it.

In other words:

  1. Think before acting
  2. Act without fear
  3. Don’t quit

Now I’m a grandmother, not as adept as I would like, but a grandmother nonetheless. And as I have gotten older, I have gone from acting without thinking… to overthinking every action… to here. I try to have something worthwhile to say before opening my mouth, and to say what I do with kindness. Step One.

I spent (and probably wasted) a lot of my life wondering how I would be received. Can I say what I really think in this situation? Should I just be quiet? Who wants to hear what I have to say, anyway? I misjudged the game. We are here to participate in Life. We can do it a thousand different ways, as extroverts or hermits, but we are here, playing. What is there to be afraid of? Step Two.

Step Three is the toughest. We live in a throwaway society, from our paper plates to our lovers to our own goals. I’m as guilty and clueless as anyone. But I mean to go on.