Magic of the Everyday, Writing

On Hitting the Mysterious, Mayhem-inducing “75% Done and It All Sucks” Spot

Yes, it’s true. I’m 75% done with this novel. (cue the cheering and confetti.) It’s been slower going of late due to many “real life issues,” but I’m chugging along just as fast as I can when I can, and I’m seeing great progress, which I love so much! It’s heartening to see the end approaching, and that encourages me to write more–a good positive feedback loop, for once!

Buuuuut … (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there), on the other hand, I’m at the 75% point. Which is the time when I start to feel omg this is all trash, I don’t even know what I’m doing, or why I thought I could ever write, and yes it all suuuuuucks! Yes, the self-doubt goes into overdrive, and my brain only thinks bad stuff and is sure that the entire novel is flawed beyond repair. And this happens even while a part of me realizes what’s going on and knows that it’s just part of the process (and not just for me, but for many, if not most, writers; I’ve read about so many others who struggle with this! So if it’s you, too–you’re not alone.).

I think I’ve mentioned that this is the most-planned novel I’ve ever written, and that is helping me immensely. When I sit down to write, I always know what I’m writing toward, and where it’s going from there, on both the internal and external arcs, so I can write faster than ever–YAY!

Yet even so, I’ve deviated a bit from that intensive planning here and there, when, as I go along, I realize that no, this character wouldn’t think that, or I discover a better emotional response to a development, or whatever. Is there’s still the thrill of discovery going on in each day’s writing, too. Without that, I’d get bored. And if I’m bored with writing something, you’re sure gonna be bored reading it!

Anyway, all this is to say, “YAY GO ME! Write write write!” And also to encourage you, if you’re writing or doing whatever creative thing you’re doing, and at some point all the energy and positives seem to leak away. Just keep on going, and finish your project. It’s not the project actually being bad. It’s just your brain being overwhelmed at this stage. If you push on, you’ll see your brain was lying to you (man, I wish my brain would stop lying to me. It does it too well!). And then, when you finish, I’ll be cheering and sending virtual confetti to you, too!

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Today's Desk

Writer’s Desk, 6/14/22

Out the Window: hazy, hard-edged pale gray-blue skies with huge white puffs of tall-climbing cauliflower-clouds and super-high humidity. Meaning it’s going to rain this afternoon/evening. Again. It is the rainy season, after all. Yay?

On the Desktop: a small bowl of carrot bites. I’ve discovered that I like crunching things while I’m thinking my way through hard story bits, and carrots are the perfect thing! Also my water bottle, nearly empty. And a folder of pertinent novel notes and maps and such.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Today’s Work-in-Progess: I’m over halfway through my next novel, tentatively called “The Mastery Books.” It’s split alternating chapters of two POV characters, and I simply love them both so very much, although they’re also so different from one another.

This is the first time I’ve tried this new work process, and I have to admit that it seems to be working for me rather spectacularly (so far, fingers crossed!). I haven’t written a novel so fast and so painlessly ever before. We’ll see how it goes in edits, but I think this method I’ve stumbled on through trial and error (and error and error) may be the one I keep!

And Another Thing: We’re hip-deep in kitchen renovations! Which basically means I have no kitchen in the kitchen. It’s wallboard and cement, wiring, and right now, new tile floors being installed. Maybe tonight or tomorrow we can grout. (Grouting Day comes twice this year! My knees are complaining already.)

The fridge is in the living room, there’s a camp stove and the microwave out under cover in the lanai, and the dishwashing station is now the largest bathroom’s counter. It’s like camping, with dust and too many tools, inside your own house. (I highly recommend it to anyone who’s taking the conveniences of modern life for granted!) But when it’s functional again, and the pans, food, dishes, etc, are restored, the new kitchen will be wonderful and lovely. I just have to keep holding onto that dream until reality reaches it. (Hey, it’s kinda like writing, then, isn’t it! LOL)

Personal Life, Writing

Grouting Day: The Holiday You’ve Never Heard Of Before Now

Spousal Unit and I recently replaced our homes’ sad, unmatched, cracked, and crazy-looking patchwork of slippery tile and floating “wood” floor with a lovely, very “grabby” textured tile (rated for outdoor, around a pool use!!! hurray!). While the tear-out was happening, the poor dog went to the dogsitter (he adores being with them and their dog is one of his very good friends), and I got a week-long stay at a nearby AirBnB and wrote myself silly. (Okay, that’s a stretch. I’m already silly. I wrote myself sane(-r), perhaps, might be more the truth.)

Yes, a glorious week by myself, in a town I already knew, with most of a novel before me. At first, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much. I settled into what I know is a good rhythm for me, writing in 2-4 small sessions throughout the day, punctuated by other things: walking, sightseeing, shopping, cooking, etc. Each small session wasn’t massively productive, and I never bothered adding up any one day’s output, so by the end of my stay, I was feeling a bit down.

Then I checked my writing history for the week. (Scrivener, the program I use for writing, has this function, which I love so very much!) To my amazement, every day I’d written well over 1,000 words, and most days, over 2,000 words! I went from feeling like I’d “wasted” my precious writing retreat to exhilaration, then wondering how I could’ve been so wrong before!

But honestly, underestimating the amount of work I’ve accomplished is, unfortunately, something I do often. Too often. I’m…working on that.

In better news, this retreat pushed my new novel, tentatively titled “The Mastery Books,” to the one third mark! Hurray! I love the characters, the plot, the location–all of it–so very much, and am eager to continue.

However, when the dog and I returned home, the tile was laid, but not grouted. The next day, I donned working clothes, gloves, and knee pads, and began grouting tile, alongside Spousal Unit. I posted a picture of myself thus garbed, before I began, titled “Grouting Day” to one of my writing Slacks, and one person commented that it sounded like an obscure British holiday. Then the members had fun coming up with a whole new holiday, complete with its founding, history, and certain memorable moments in its long history. It was, honestly, a riot, and so much fun, especially after a day of hard work. [Much more fun than the actual grouting (which took more than one day), I can assure you. And so can my knees, and back!]

Now I gaze at the lovely new tile floors, admiring their clean lines, the way a single flooring material ties the home together instead of the disjointed feeling the previous floors gave it, and I smile (I also admire the work that went into grouting and sealing the grout, and hope I never have to do this work again) as I pass through to my office, sit at the computer, and once more sink into the novel.

Magic of the Everyday, orchids, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 2/9/22

Out the window: Sunshine and blue skies, with blissful cool temps of about 60° F. After our recent bout of below freezing nights, the garden plants are soaking up yesterday’s slow rain and today’s warm sunshine like the balms they are. Cardinals song punctuates the air, and the muted notes floating into my office are a soundtrack to spring burgeoning all around.

On the desktop: Right now, just water. But yesterday I brewed up a batch of chai base–the tea, honey, and spices without the milk–that I’ll mix with milk and either reheat or serve over ice later today, once I’ve accomplished some things. Small rewards really work for me.

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  I have discovered the misery of query letters.

I’ve been working on this for over a week, tweaking, twisting, ripping out and replacing wholesale, or carefully excising with a scalpel–so many variations! And I still don’t think it’s “there” yet.

Yesterday I spent hours over on the Query Shark archive, and today I’ve been scouring the new site. Seriously, if you’re prepping to query agents to represent you and your novel, check these out. The information is there, clearly showing what to do and how to do it–and how not to!

Querying is its own thing, a very unique skillset of writing. Just like writing a good short story doesn’t mean you can write a good novel (or vice versa), having written a good novel does not mean you can easily write a good query. But queries are essential to getting agent representation, so…it’s time to roll up my sleeves and learn this skill.

And Another Thing: I’ve been running my orchids in and out of the house as the temps dip below 50°F then turn sunny and humid again for a day. As I moved one outside today, I felt something jump onto my hand and cling–and found an anole had been hiding in the orchid pot for 1.5 days inside my house! Fortunately, I was able to convince the poor thing that the grapefruit tree was a better perch than my hand (eventually).

And One More Thing: We just had a visit by Flat Stanley! He is a character from a children’s book that many teachers seem to love (it’s our second visit by a Stanley), and escorting Stanley around is a fun way to connect with where you live, and others around you. I had Stanley in my purse, and when the grocery store cashier saw him, she demanded I get a photo of Stanley with her in the store! That was so great. Even funnier was the look the bagger gave us, because she had no clue what was going on. I’m sure after I left the cashier filled her in–see, even more connections being made.

Thanks, Flat Stanley.

goals, Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Writing

Finished! And Starting a New Novel.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Great news: I finished the draft of the *&*%) Novel, and have sent it off to my beta readers/crit group. In five weeks, I’ll hear from them what they think. (Commence nail biting…)

In the meanwhile, I’m far from resting on my laurels. No indeed. While I’m now working on my agent submission schedule, and things like synopses and query letters (omg how awful these are!), I’m also doing something entirely more fun–starting on a new novel!

This one is going to be contemporary fantasy (instead of secondary world, like the first). And set in a really cool place, too (sorry, mum’s the word for now. I don’t like sharing too much until I’m much more firmly in place with my writing, and planning.) I’ve just now finished the full plot outline, and man is this one going to be fun to write! I love the characters so much, and even the bad guys are interesting. At one point, I texted a writer-friend and whined, “How do I let the protagonists win when I’ve so fully stacked the deck against them?!? Ahhhhhh, I don’t know!”

But now, with some helpful prodding by said friend, I’ve figured it out. As always, some bits were serendipitous, little things that just fell into place because of what I’d determined before, but seemed so well planned. (Thank you, subconscious brain!) Other bits, like the ending, were so harrrrd to wrestle into place.

It’s not entirely done. I still have plenty of brackets in the outline, like this:

“They then do [some cool things], but things don’t go entirely as planned [how? What fails?].”

So I’m not ready to start drafting just yet. But I’m getting close! And it’s just such a palate-cleanser from the last novel. Something new and juicy and not yet slogged through four times in a row. With luck, this means that when I get feedback on Novel the First, I’ll be able to look at it with refreshed eyes, and in a mood to rip right on into the work and send it out! (Heh, cross your fingers on that, okay?)

In other news, I have moved so much mulch! It has to be done before 10 am, when the temps and humidity and sunlight combine to make life utterly miserable for the rest of summer. Yesterday, for example, hit a high of 101F, and the humidity made it seem like my lungs were working double and my muscles were wilting on the afternoon (VERY short) dog walk. But the gardens are looking great!

Not so great is the front yard, where a mole has taken up residence and keeps lifting up tunnels that I, daily, sometimes 2 or 3 times daily, smash back down. We play frisbee with Dasher there, and if he steps on one and falls through, he could easily break a leg. Even if he doesn’t, jolting his limbs like that really hurts, since his arthritis is so bad. But he is not about to give up his 15 minutes of frisbee–not for heat, not for moles, not for anything. So here I go, smashing down mole tunnels.

That’s it for now. The afternoon storm has arrived in force. Lightning cracks and whitens the outside as rain sheets against the window, and the lawn outside. Time for a cup of tea, and a good book…

orchids, the dog, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 05/19/21

Out the window: Strong breezes clatter through the palm and bird of paradise leaves right outside, and rattle the hummingbird feeder’s metal covering against the stake. It rings like an irregular chime, and my new office door (!!!) clunks and shimmies in its pocket. Clouds are thickening in the sky, but it isn’t supposed to rain: we’ll see if Mother Nature read the forecast or not soon enough, I guess.

On the desktop: A cup of Stash Earl Gray tea in a blue, white, and gold dragon cup, giving me that mid-afternoon caffeinated pick-up. A slew of notes, both old and new, as I go through this draft, editing and reminding myself of details for later. My volunteer times for the Nebula Awards Conference

Wait, you know about those, right? And you are going, right? Here’s the info on the conference, which is held online again this year, as it was last year. It was a total BLAST! The dates are June 4-6, and by registering, you get access to the recorded panels and presentations ALL YEAR LONG. In addition, there are other fun things scheduled throughout the year, like co-writing dates with some of your favorite authors. Honestly, you should check it out.

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  The F$&#*^& Novel edits, of course.

Er-hrmmm, I mean, yes, novel edits. They’re going well, actually. After I finished the draft, I took 2 weeks off to distance myself, then started at the front again–and was shocked to see how much my protagonist had changed over the course of the novel! This is good! Eight chapters in, and I’ve fallen in love with the work once again. YAY!

And now, since I’ve finished working on edits for the day, I’m diving into pre-planning for the next novel. Nothing like steaming ahead at full speed, right? Another fantasy, but very, very different. Modern-day instead of secondary-world. With magic, instead of without. It’s giving me some headaches trying to work out the details here and there, but overall? This one is sliding into place nicely. 🙂

And I’m working this part by hand, using fountain pens and notebooks and pretty inks, too. As if writing isn’t reward enough, this is like icing on a delectable cake!

And Another Thing: The dog has been very unwell. It’s eaten my time and my sleep, but he’s recovering nicely now, it seems. I’m so relieved, but I’m still jumping at his every “odd” behavior, and he’s still being more clingy than normal–totally expected after the way he must’ve been feeling. We’re still not sure exactly what caused this, but I’m just happy he’s getting better instead of worse. No looking this gift horse in the mouth!

And One More Thing: One of my orchids just bloomed for the very first time, and I’m so very excited! I bought it smaller than blooming sized from a big box hardware store, just hoping that the picture on the cardboard was something like it would eventually look. I’m happy to say that the real bloom is even better than I’d hoped! Take a look:

Cattleya bowringiana “Coerulea”
Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Writing

Finally, It’s Fall

This morning I woke to a thick blanket of fog rolling up from the low spaces. It hung heavy over the earth, dampening sound as well as grasses and shrubs. As the sun rose, it shrouded the sky higher up, making distant trees indistinct and grainy, and obscured the yellow ball of the sun until just recently. Even the crows respected the fog, remaining quieter, longer.

A sure sign of transitional weather, this is the first fog I’ve seen this season. It means cooler weather to come, and a quick check of the weather proves this to be true. I’m ready for fall–real fall, that sticks around instead of fleeing at the first sign of Summer’s pushback, letting temps climb back into the upper 80s and above. I’m ready for long sleeves, and long pants, and maybe a roast or stew for dinner. Change: it’s good, and it’s time.

I’ve been writing on the novel, but my written words aren’t as prolific as they were at my residency. This makes me feel like I’m slacking, or shirking, while in reality, it’s just life slowly gobbling away my time and attention. I’m trying not to let it get me down, but (like with so much in this world, and this life), it’s hard.

To counter the sense of getting nowhere fast, I’ve re-started a daily word count spreadsheet that some of the people I went to Taos Toolbox with use. We keep it on a Google Docs spreadsheet, available to all of us, so there is a small public accountability built in. And I’ve got to admit, seeing the “smaller” daily word count building up is helping me see that I am making real progress after all.

I’m also taking one day a week to work on editing short stories that I’ve written which have been languishing, unsubmitted, unedited–sometimes only half-written–in favor of the novel. This, too, feels good. The “instant gratification” of a short story, or a short story submission, is a shot of endorphins straight to the brain. “Look, see–I am a writer! I do have submissions out!” Brains, they’re such silly, manipulatable things, amiright?

Things to look forward to:

  • I’m approaching the mid-point of the novel! Things really pick up pace after that.
  • Thanksgiving! (and Thanksgiving leftovers!) Yum.
  • Hearing the return of the sandhill cranes as they wing overhead.
  • Watching Dasher get frisky, and run and play longer in the newly cool weather.
  • Anniversary travel in early December. Even though our wedding was in September, our big trip is planned for December. You’ll see why, once I post some photos. 🙂

Well, the crows have ceased their calling, so it’s time for me to start the writing day. Enjoy fall, in whatever form it takes for you (or spring, if you’re in the southern hemisphere!). Linger in the moment, make it a good memory. Something you can see and feel and smell again, over and over, when you need it. Yes, there’s definitely magic in that.

Magic of the Everyday, Writing

A Very Successful Residency, with Sunset Pics

My two-week residency is, alas, over. I am home again, and fully immersed once more in my “real life.” Which isn’t bad–I missed my husband, and my dog, and I’m glad to see my neighbors and friends again, and to be back in my house. But I have to admit that the time I spent at the Key West Literary Seminar apartment was magical. It was so quiet there at the end of the lane! I greeted every dawn from my tiny balcony, watching the sky turn from white to pink to blue while roosters crowed their dominance to the world, and temperatures rose from moist-and-blissful to daytime sweaty-hot. Which meant it was time to retreat inside and write.

My workspace at the residency: spacious and inviting.

And write I did! In just 2 weeks, I managed over 27,000 words on the novel alone! I also edited four separate short stories, and sent one out on submission for the first time. On one particular day, I wrote 2800 words on the novel, then came back later to edit a short story–and I didn’t feel burned out or destroyed! With no other responsibilities on my plate, all my energy went into my writing. I felt (and still feel!) like during this time I was transformed into Super-Writer.

I broke my writing into three, sometimes four, separate sessions, and them divided with time spent walking or biking across the island, taking in sights, or doing activities. I snorkeled at the beach, watched many sunsets, visited the KW Garden Club’s awesome location, rode through various neighborhoods taking in the sights, ate ice cream, cruised Duval Street, toured both Hemingway House and the Oldest House, played pinball, walked the waterfront often, and took a sunset cruise. I caught up on my sleep, read a lot, and felt like I was living in a slightly-fuzzy dream.

Then I look at my novel, at the word count tracker and the number of plot points I’ve already written and realize it was no mere dream. It was real.

A series of sunrise photos:

Thank you again to the KWLS and the people that make this happen. The dream is real; you can apply.

Sunset from Ft Zachary Taylor State Park