“If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence.” ~ George Eliot, Middlemarch
I just finished drafting the bulk of my work-for-hire project and am feeling a bit like Emma looks: noodly-tired and in need of a nap. But mostly, I’m thrilled to have reached this point in the project! Definitely something to be thankful for on this Thursday.
Here’s hoping you’ve also experienced some good stuff today!
She fearlessly wielded language, never backing down from truth. I’m grateful she graced the planet for 88 years, creating books that will keep her fierce genius alive forever.
Rest in power.
Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it.
Late this afternoon I finished reading John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation (later re-released as Invictus) and then took a walk around the neighborhood with Zippy and Emma. As we walked past the home with the enormous pickup truck parked in front, the enormous truck with a TRUMP / PENCE sticker in the window, I fought my daily urge to throw a brick through that window.
And then I remembered the magic Nelson Mandela wrought in South Africa. After being unjustly locked away in prison for twenty-seven years, Mandela’s heart and mind were still open wide. He paved the way for blacks and whites to reconcile their anger and their guilt so they could become one. One Team, One Country. He helped blacks and whites unite around the Springbok rugby team as it went on to win the World Cup in 1995. Over and over, Mandela’s instincts and generosity of spirit helped everyone, black and white, become their better selves. It’s an extraordinary story and book, and I highly recommend reading it.
It’s hard to admit that within minutes of finishing Playing the Enemy, I wanted to inflict my red-hot anger on the person who keeps that sticker on his truck. Instead, I’d like to keep in mind what Desmond Tutu’s friend said about the day South Africa united around the Springbok victory: “The great thing about everything good that has happened is that it can happen again.”
Time to cultivate my better self.
Here are two books I read and greatly enjoyed this week:
Sheila Turnage’s THREE TIMES LUCKY is a fun romp filled with twists and turns. Cece Bell’s EL DEAFO is a funny and heartfelt graphic novel about the author’s elementary school years wearing the hearing aid that gave her superpowers.
I highly recommend these gems published in 2012 and 2014. (Yes, I’m woefully behind in my reading. You know what they say: so many books, so little time.)
Today as I do research for the work-for-hire book assignment I’ve accepted, I’m trying to keep this quote in mind:
Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.
~ Rafael Sabatini
I hope ol’ Rafael was right, because I’m currently experiencing some hefty regret over taking this assignment. There’s a slight comfort in thinking the alternative may have resulted in an even worse hell.
Today I’m grateful for Mary Oliver who created accessible poems that were simultaneously simple and profound. Here’s one of my favorites from American Primitive.
Like large dark
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
resurrection. No one
knows how many
they are who daily
minister so to the grassy
miles, no one
counts how many bodies
and descend to, demonstrating
each time the earth’s
appetite, the unending
waterfalls of change.
wants to ponder it,
how it will be
to feel the blood cool,
the blaze of our own bodies
we watch them
wheeling and drifting, we
honor them and we
however wise the doctrine,
however magnificent the cycles,
however ultimately sweet
the huddle of death to fuel
those powerful wings.
Rest in beauty, Mary.
For the past twelve days I read a whole bunch (The Hazel Wood; The Secret Life of Anna Blanc; Storyworthy; The Truth About Twinkie Pie; Boys and Girls Together; The Infinite Pieces of Us;), did some de-cluttering, scrapbooked photos, watched college basketball and Netflix, exercised, and did ZERO writing.
The no-writing started out easy because I was pretty worn out from my NaNoWriMo draft and in serious need of a break from that kind of thinking. Then I began to notice an increase in grumpy feelings and overall anxiety, and realized it was probably writing withdrawal. But I still wasn’t ready to get back to it. I had a gut feeling I’d view any new writing as crap and any older project as crap, and sure enough, I read 20 pages of a YA I’d set aside in June and thought “This is irredeemable garbage.” So I went back to reading other people’s words and cleaning out drawers.
Last night I realized I was ready to write again. Somehow, I knew it was safe to go back to the pages and I’m pleased to report I was absolutely correct. I just finished reading the entirety of the aforementioned YA. I took copious notes and am excited about the project that is NOT irredeemable garbage. It’s a manuscript in need of revision and I just happen to love me some revision.
Back in the saddle again, baby.
So I’ve decided to do NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and am spending my time before November 1st figuring out characters and outline. It’s intimidating to think about 50k words in 30 days and I’m fully aware my success depends on the very best road map I can create.
I had a cold shock the other day with the realization that my outline was a series of “and then” scenes (one event following another, without an increase in tension). As written, my outline was worthless. I’m not gonna have the luxury of taking breaks to noodle on how to increase conflict in the NaNo draft. I must have built-in conflict before I begin which means I need to link my scenes with “but” and “therefore.” Note: there are many links out there regarding Trey Parker’s explanation regarding “but, therefore”).
Last night I couldn’t sleep and spent hours in the dark thinking about my protagonist and what he’ll be up against in my new book. Tons of ideas bounced around my head (none of which I wrote down) and then I remembered what I’d read in Damn Fine Story (written by Chuck Wendig, profane and big-hearted gift to the writing world). To paraphrase: it doesn’t work to cram a plot onto a character; the characters drive the story.
This morning I reread Damn Fine Story’s chapter two: “Soylent Story: It’s Made Out of People.” And guess what? I’m feeling much better about my upcoming NaNo experience.
Thank you, Chuck!
I’ve used the writing software Scrivener in the past, but haven’t touched it in quite a while which means I’ve forgotten how to navigate it. I was never a pro user and only utilized a small percentage of its capabilities, but even those basic skills have vanished in the mists. So today I’m using Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez to reacquaint myself with the program. (I find the Scrivener manual to be more of a rabbit hole of confusion than a help). This Dummies book isn’t perfect, but I am finding my way and making progress outlining my work-in-progress.
My favorite aspect of Scrivener is the corkboard because I do so much better when I can take in the whole of something. Plus, I can label and color code my index cards! Despite the learning curve that’s always involved when Tracy Meets Software, I’m pretty sure I’m having more fun than Bartelby the Scrivener ever experienced.
I just got home from a run in which my right hip got SO tight, I was forced to stop running. The pain was close to excruciating. It was definitely in the oh-my-effing-goddess category, and if I hadn’t known about the mind-body connection, I might’ve panicked and thought I’d suffered some horrible injury.
But I knew better.
So I stood there in the street and talked out loud to my brain. I said, “Brain, I get it. You know that I’m under a great deal of stress lately. You know I was just now thinking about how slow I’m running, how tired I’m feeling, how hard life seems to be these days. I was feeling sad-angry-depressed. And then BOOM, my hip locked up. But guess what? This bogus pain, that is NOT rooted in any kind of physical reality, will only get in the way of me being active and coping with those emotions. Running is what I need to do to live my life. Your job is to make sure I don’t trip on anything. Your job is to process info from my eyes so that I can enjoy the signs of spring and process the bird songs I hear, so I can identify those feathered friends. Your job is to work with my body that absolutely requires movement in order to handle stress. I must be active. Let’s work as a team.”
And then I started running again. I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel great. My hip was still tight, still painful, still annoying as hell. But as I ran, I talked some more. I pointed out to my brain that I was running, that the bogus pain hadn’t achieved the desired effect of making me focus on the pain so that I’d “forget” about the hard stuff in my life. Instead, I was going to continue running so that I could cope with the many challenges that wouldn’t just magically disappear because my hip was locked in muscle-spasm-hell. By the time I finished my run, my hip had loosened. It’s sore after spasming, but there’s no lasting damage.
My brain is being very tricky lately. Last week, I suffered tightness and pain in my neck unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (Zippy could hear the vertebrae click when I tilted my head forward). I have to admit, I got caught up in that one and didn’t immediately recognize it as mind-body stuff for a couple days. But as soon as I started talking to my brain, it loosened up. It’s still not 100% better, but I am being active and living my life. I have not given in to a bogus “injury” that isn’t rooted in any kind of reality.
If anyone’s still reading and is interested, there are forums in which people discuss all sorts of physical conditions that they’ve been able to treat as mind-body conditions. Our brains are very crafty and will go to great lengths to manufacture pain to distract us from life’s stresses, difficulties, and anger-inducing situations. Sometimes we gotta be smarter than our brains.
Apparently, today is #WinnieThePoohDay. I just pulled my Winnie-the-Pooh collection off the shelf in search of a passage to quote. After getting lost in the pages/memories, I chose the following:
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose,
I don’t much care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! for a Bear!
Sing Ho! for a Pooh!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!
(from In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole)
I can’t help but feel a kinship with Winnie-the-Pooh. He finds great happiness in composing silly little songs, and the next smackeral is always on his radar.
Thank you, A. A. Milne for all the smiles and fun-to-sing songs.
Happy Birthday to you.
There’s no limit to how complicated things can get,
on account of one thing always leading to another.
~ E. B. White
I don’t know the context for this quotation, but it speaks to me today as I struggle to revise my once tightly-plotted novel. The changes I’m making are needed and will strengthen the manuscript. I know this. But that knowledge doesn’t make the process any easier or less painful.
Every single tug on a story thread results in a temporary snarl that must be untangled in order for the revisions to flow. Today it feels as if I’m falling behind on the untangling process.
I’m hoping E.B. White was wrong and that there is actually a limit on how complicated things can get.
I’m in the process of drafting a middle-grade novel, a story I started six years ago and then set aside after writing 50 pages. Those pages burst out of me with voice and vitality, from who knows where, and while it’s great fun to be reunited with those characters, my process for writing the brand new pages is very different. This time around, I’m using a synopsis as my guide.
I’ve never written a synopsis before completing a first draft. Ever.
Last spring, when I’d let my agent know about the project, she asked if I had a synopsis to send along with the newly revised 50 pages. Um, no. However, I decided to give the loathed document a whirl, with the caveat that I wouldn’t shoot for any specific length, rather, I’d include EVERYTHING. A week later, I sent her the pages plus a 10-page synopsis. And today, I did the unimaginable: I thanked her for suggesting a synopsis. I told her that it was helping me keep on track, which was, in turn, helping me keep writing.
Which is why I decided to devote today’s blog post to my newfound appreciation for knowing-what-in-the-hell-comes-next. So, I pulled THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: CRAFT AND THE WRITING LIFE FROM THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP off the shelf in hopes of finding a passage to reinforce my synopsis love.
Except, the part of his essay “Not Knowing” that spoke to me was this:
One night in Iowa City, I sat and listened to our instructor recount his day of writing, how he followed a character down to the basement, where he heard a strange rustling, and the character turned and drew out his gun and shot in the dumbwaiter a rat. “And,” the instructor grinned, “I didn’t even know it was there.”
And I thought, “So you don’t have to know.”
Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!
I admit to feeling momentary panic about that blasted 10-page synopsis. But then I calmed the f*^% down. Just because I’ve charted a path for the story I’m writing does not in any way mean that I am beholden to that chart. It’s a general guide, nothing more. If a rat or gun or dumbwaiter shows up in the story, I’ll allow them time to lobby for their inclusion. I won’t automatically toss out anything that shows up to the party.
And when that panic and angst over being too structured returns, (because I know for a fact those emotions will return), I’m gonna come back to this right here. After all, I set out to write one kind of post, and quite happily ended up with another.
Today I finished reading MY CROSS TO BEAR by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light). I was very sad when he died, and put a library hold on his autobiography. I’m currently listening to Brothers and Sisters, the first full album the group recorded after guitarist-extraordinaire Duane Allman died of injuries from a motorcycle wreck, and am listening to the music in a whole new way.
I’m feeling chock-full of Allman Brothers Band lore, but the anecdote that really gives me the chills is the one about how they chose the name for the band. I always assumed it was because Duane and Gregg put the group together, so Allman got top billing.
Once they (finally) found their perfect musical combination of two lead guitarists, two drummers, one bass player and one organist, Duane called for a vote on the group’s name. The six members each wrote down the band name he wanted. Gregg chose Beelzebub (the right-hand man of the devil) and Duane, a huge Tolkien fan, chose something from Lord of the Rings. The other four guys? They each wrote Allman Brothers Band.
For some reason, that story really makes me smile.