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Posts from the ‘Writers Life’ Category

4 years of writing, publishing…and life!

path of the thunderbird

4 years, 2 months, and 25 days! That’s how long it’s been since I’ve posted. Bet you thought I’d given up on writing. There were several times when I thought I’d given up on it, too. And then there were the times that I put my nose down and just did the work. So much life has happened. No apologies. No excuses. Just life…and writing…and not writing…and more writing…and publishing…and more writing!

Here are the highlights. In that last four years, I…

  • turned 40 years old!
  • moved to a new house;
  • took six months off from writing to throw myself into volunteering at my sons’ school;
  • stopped writing my freelance column for the newspaper because…
  • signed a book contract for a Middle Grade book;
  • co-wrote that book—Path of the Thunderbird (more on that in a minute);
  • became a published fiction writer;
  • went back to work full-ish time for 18 months, and then cut back to part time because…
  • spent a year touring elementary schools teaching students about writing and about Grand Canyon National Park;
  • was the keynote speaker at a writing conference for students in grades K-5;
  • was a finalist in the Juvenile category of the Colorado Book Award;
  • went into a second printing on the book;
  • earned out my advance!
  • and, dove back into writing—tentatively at first and then with renewed enthusiasm.

That’s the short version of the last four years. About a week ago, I felt this overwhelming urge to start blogging again. No promises on how often, but I missed having this space to write about writing—mine and other people’s. So, here I am!

I’ll publish a longer post about the adventure of writing Path of the Thunderbird from idea to publication and all the steps and missteps along the way. For now, I’ll say two things about it:

  • It was a dream come true for me, and I consider myself even luckier because my co-writer was my mom, Pat Toole. Pat is a tireless researcher, an unmatched plotter, and a prolific writer in her own right. It was the chance of a lifetime to share the experience with her.
  • If you like Middle Grade adventures, love the National Park Service, or both, please consider purchasing a copy of the book. Here’s a link. Lord knows the NPS can use all of our support right now. The publisher of Thunderbird was Grand Canyon Conservancy, the official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park. GCC raises private funds, operates retail shops within the park, and provides premier guided educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. GCC supporters fund projects including trails and historic building preservation, educational programs for the public, and the protection of wildlife and their natural habitat. A portion of the sales of Path of the Thunderbird directly support GCC and Grand Canyon National Park.

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow when I launch a writing prompt series I’ve been cooking up. As I’ve jumped back into writing regularly, I look for things to get my synapses firing. After searching for prompts that work for me, I decided to create my own. Then I thought, “Why not share these with other writers.” Happy writing!!

A mental map of a writer’s mind

I have been to all of these places and will return to each a thousand times more.  I am currently headed to the Glade of Hopeful Aspirations after a bout in Crippling Insecurity-ville.  How about you?  Where have you been hanging out lately?
mapofawritersmind
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May Round Up – On My/In My

It’s always fun to take a glimpse into the minds (and lives) of others.  So here are the things that were On My… and In My… for the month of May.  I found this idea over at In the Warm Hold of Your Loving Mind.

On the Nightstand:

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

where-things-come-back

and

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder

On the Shelf:

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (The book I was supposed to read for my May book club meeting.  I didn’t read it because I’ve been busy with editing 100 pages for submittal to an agent.  See more below.)

lookme

and

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert (The book I’m supposed to read for my June book club meeting.  I’m hopeful I can carve out some time for it.)

molokai

At the Theater (or from the couch):  I watched this from my couch.  I’m a sucker for fairy tale remakes.  This one had some visually stunning scenes.  Overall, I can’t say that I was blown away by the characterization or story.  I did love the filmmaker’s take on the seven dwarves.

Snow White and the Huntsman

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On the Small Screen:

Shameless – More on this in its own post.  All I can say is I love this show.  I just finished watching the first and second seasons on Showtime.  The show is crass and tough and has gratuitous sex and nudity, if you ask me.  But I still love it.  The characters are three dimensional and the situations are hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time.  This isn’t typically my type of show, but something keeps me coming back.  I think the writing is brilliant and I love William H. Macy’s acting in the show.  I can’t wait until January, 2014 for season three.

shameless

In My Ears:

“Hands Held High” by Linkin Park.  This song came on during my run the other day.  It’s been stuck in my head ever since:


Around the House:

Building a dog fence.  We adopted a puppy from an animal rescue.  Monty, our 10-week old mutt joins our 15-year old Brittany Spaniel, Bailey.  Bailey isn’t sure what hit her with this new puppy begging for her attention.  In order to adopt from the animal rescue organization, we needed to build a fence.  It was a new adventure pitting my 5’3″ frame against a post-hole digger.  Thank goodness it was a team effort with my husband or that sucker would have bounced me all over the yard.

Monty

In the Kitchen:

Smoked Salmon – I bought my husband an electric smoker last Father’s Day, and we’ve been making this killer salmon recipe at least once a week.

This is more like a brine recipe, meaning you will keep your salmon marinating in the mixture overnight.

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup veg. oil

Mix above ingredients all together in a bowl.  Place the salmon skin side up in bowl and refrigerate overnight.  If you have a large slice of salmon, you may need to cut it in half.  Both pieces of salmon should fit on your grill when smoking (use the top grill when smoking this).  When you are ready to smoke the fish the next morning, pull it out of the fridge and let it sit on the smoker rack over your sink, to drip dry, about 10- 15 minutes.  When the salmon appears to be drying off, lightly sprinkle the salmon with lemon pepper and garlic powder.  Place the fish top rack of your smoker and cook for 1-1/2 hours. (Cooking times may vary depending on your smoker.)  We use a mix of apple and hickory chips.  Yum!

In My Closet:

Nothing new here except a mess and ridiculous amounts of laundry to which I need to tend.

In My Mailbox:

Three prints from Spain.  I ordered these from this Etsy.com shop.  They have a Buy 2-Get 1 Free deal right now.  The print quality is excellent and they arrived without a rip or bend in the package.  Can’t wait to frame them for my office.

balloonlines copy

In My Cart:

My friend invented these Benbini watches.  They were originally designed for new mothers, but with kids aged 8 and 5, I’m definitely not a new mother, and I love my Benbinis.  I have the white and the melon colors.  I’ve had the Grey/Raspberry one in my cart for a month now.  I’m sure I’ll break down and add it to my collection soon enough.

Benbini watch
On My Heart:

Thoughts of the victims of all of the Oklahoma tornadoes.  Every time I pull up Google News it seems like I’m reading about another weather-related incident: wildfires in California, tornadoes in Oklahoma, flooding in Central Europe.  I’m thankful that Colorado had some decent rain and snowfall in May and hopeful that we continue to get the much needed moisture to delay our own wildfire season.

On the Calendar:

Sending two sets of requested pages to a literary agent.  This request was the result of a pitch session at this year’s Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  More on this once the edits are finished and I’ve hit the “Send” key.

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Graze vs. Devour – What’s Your Writing Style?

Grazing

Over at Writer Unboxed, Carleen Brice wrote a post today about grazing.  Here is an excerpt:

I too am back at work full-time and find that I don’t have large blocks of time (when I’m not exhausted) to write or exercise or garden or read. However, I am figuring out I do have many small bits of time that I can use. As I written here before I lost weight over a year ago and in my efforts to keep it off, I am packing my lunch and grazing on it over a few hours rather than eating it all at once. It’s working.

I usually bus in and get off a few stops early so I can get in a 10-minute walk before work. Then I take a 10- or 20-minute walk (or yoga break) at lunch and a 10- or 20-minute walk on the way home and voila! Exercise is done.

Just this week, I started doing the same with writing. I’ve always been someone who thought I needed several hours at once to get any writing done, but now I’m finding that I can apply the same grazing philosophy (10 or 20 minutes in the morning and at lunch, etc.) and I can slowly but surely get some work done.

After reading this, I was jealous and frustrated.  In my head, I’m not a grazer.  I long for those large blocks of time during which I can delve into a project and really concentrate.  But I rarely get them, and then I find myself having produced nothing because my number one writer’s excuse is, “I don’t have time to write. I need languorous afternoons filled with undisturbed time.”  My husband is always telling me, “You are rarely going to have hours to yourself to write.  Why not use those 20 minutes here and there to work?”

There have never been truer words.  Next year, my youngest goes to first grade.  In theory, I will have seven hours every weekday while both kids are in school.  In reality, these hours will be filled with meetings, other work related tasks, errands, and life. In an effort to be prepared and hit the ground running in August, I’ve been analyzing my calendar.  It appears that dear husband is right. I will rarely have large blocks of time.

Efficiency experts tell you it’s about working smarter, not harder.  Working smarter for me means having a grasp on which tasks are grazing tasks and which tasks require devouring.  Here’s what I’ve found:

Grazing Tasks—For which I tap into my inner sheep and chomp away little by little

  • If I’m halfway through a scene and I’m loving it, (For a first draft “loving” is a relative term.  It might mean that I have one or two lines I think are decent and the action is moving in the right direction.) I can usually graze through the middle section.  I know the characters, I know the voice, I know the plan for the scene.  I can write the remainder in small chunks of 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there.
  • If I’m writing non-fiction, I can graze through the middle of a short article.  Openings and conclusions are too brain-intensive to be grazing tasks.
  • Outlining, research, planning are all grazing tasks.
  • Editing is a great grazing task.  Especially line editing for punctuation, grammar and spelling.  Word-by-word editing also fits the bill.  It’s exhausting to spend extended periods of time re-working sentence after sentence for stronger verbs and more precise description.  I usually take a few sentences for the road and mull them over while driving or exercising.

Devouring TasksFor which I tap into my inner wolf and sit down to devour a full carcass at once

  • Beginnings and endings.  Whether it is the beginning of an entire novel, the first sentence of a new scene or the opening paragraph of an article, openings and closings require more dedicated brain power. I find that I often have to ramble my way into an opening.  The first 3-4 paragraphs of new work (fiction or non-fiction) are usually thick and muddled (and end up in the outtakes file) but serve as a bridge to get me to the “true” opening.
  • Action scenes.  Drafting an action scene requires undivided attention for me.  I’m a wordy writer and an even wordier drafter.  Skimming the fat to produce a tight action scene is challenging for me.  For this reason, these scenes need devouring time – no grazing allowed.
  • Fleshing out a scene which stems from one great line.  I often have lines (particularly of dialogue) and images that come to me at inopportune times.  Doing dishes is a prime time for this.  I jot them in my notebook, transfer them to my “Must Have Lines” page in Microsoft OneNote, and let them simmer.  These lines are usually something around which I can build a scene.  But then I get performance anxiety.  I love the line or the dialogue exchange.  I don’t want to write a crappy scene that doesn’t do justice to the dishwashing gem.  This is when I need long blocks of time to dig and devour the scene instead of grazing through filler.

I will still always dream of a cabin in the woods with an endless supply of coffee, firewood and peaceful time to write.  But I’m a mom, a wife, and a writernot a hermit. The list above certainly isn’t going to solve the not-enough-hours-in-the-day dilemma, but it might help me use those hours more effectively.  And who knows, maybe I’m really a sheep in wolf’s clothing and can successfully graze my way through a manuscript after all.

What about you?  Are you a successful grazer?  What tasks work the best for you as grazing tasks?  Or do you need space to devour your writing?

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Inspiration for Writers – Neil Gaiman Commencement Address

Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Anansi Boys (among many others), delivered a commencement address last year at the The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  The speech was directed at writers, visual artists, and anyone who creates wonderful art from scratch.  It is thought provoking and encouraging. I urge you to carve out 20 minutes from your day to be inspired.

The advice that resonated with me was:

…it’s true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money, either.  The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.

For those of you that can’t view the video, I’ve included the transcript below.  It is taken from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia website.

134th Commencement
May 17, 2012

I never really expected to find myself giving advice to people graduating from an establishment of higher education.  I never graduated from any such establishment. I never even started at one. I escaped from school as soon as I could, when the prospect of four more years of enforced learning before I’d become the writer I wanted to be was stifling.

I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along, they just read what I wrote and they paid for it, or they didn’t, and often they commissioned me to write something else for them.

Which has left me with a healthy respect and fondness for higher education that those of my friends and family, who attended Universities, were cured of long ago.

Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.

So I thought I’d tell you everything I wish I’d known starting out, and a few things that, looking back on it, I suppose that I did know. And that I would also give you the best piece of advice I’d ever got, which I completely failed to follow.

First of all: When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.

This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.

If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.

Secondly, If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

And that’s much harder than it sounds and, sometimes in the end, so much easier than you might imagine. Because normally, there are things you have to do before you can get to the place you want to be. I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically,  crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

Thirdly, When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.

The problems of failure are problems of discouragement, of hopelessness, of hunger. You want everything to happen and you want it now, and things go wrong. My first book – a piece of journalism I had done for the money, and which had already bought me an electric typewriter  from the advance – should have been a bestseller. It should have paid me a lot of money. If the publisher hadn’t gone into involuntary liquidation between the first print run selling out and the second printing, and before any royalties could be paid, it would have done.

And I shrugged, and I still had my electric typewriter and enough money to pay the rent for a couple of months, and I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.

Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money, either.  The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.

The problems of failure are hard.

The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.

The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck you’ll experience them. The point where you stop saying yes to everything, because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and have to learn to say no.

I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me and watch how miserable some of them were: I’d listen to them telling me that they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do any more, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do; and that seemed as a big a tragedy as any problem of failure.

And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby.  I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline looks like a real name…”

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.

And Fifthly, while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about  until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.

I still don’t. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?

And sometimes the things I did really didn’t work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted. Some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.

Sixthly. I will pass on some secret freelancer knowledge. Secret knowledge is always good. And it is useful for anyone who ever plans to create art for other people, to enter a freelance world of any kind. I learned it in comics, but it applies to other fields too. And it’s this:

People get hired because, somehow, they get hired. In my case I did something which these days would be easy to check, and would get me into trouble, and when I started out, in those pre-internet days, seemed like a sensible career strategy: when I was asked by editors who I’d worked for, I lied. I listed a handful of magazines that sounded likely, and I sounded confident, and I got jobs. I then made it a point of honour to have written something for each of the magazines I’d listed to get that first job, so that I hadn’t actually lied, I’d just been chronologically challenged… You get work however you get work.

People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

When I agreed to give this address, I started trying to think what the best advice I’d been given over the years was.

And it came from Stephen King twenty years ago, at the height of the success of Sandman. I was writing a comic that people loved and were taking seriously. King had liked Sandman and my novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and he saw the madness, the long signing lines, all that, and his advice was this:

This is really great. You should enjoy it.

And I didn’t. Best advice I got that I ignored.Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on.

That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.

And here, on this platform, today, is one of those places. (I am enjoying myself immensely.)

To all today’s graduates: I wish you luck. Luck is useful. Often you will discover that the harder you work, and the more wisely you work, the luckier you get. But there is luck, and it helps.

We’re in a transitional world right now, if you’re in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I’ve talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.

Which is, on the one hand, intimidating, and on the other, immensely liberating. The rules, the assumptions, the now-we’re supposed to’s of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

So make up your own rules.

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped.

So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

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Words of wisdom

This is a week of blank pages – either metaphoric or literal. Make the most of both.

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Happy 2013

Happy New Year to everyone! Make 2013 your most productive year yet. How?

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Writer’s Notebook: An Idea Gold Mine

Take any writing class or read any writing book, and the first thing you will learn is, “Keep a writer’s notebook.”  It sounds elementary, but so many writers today don’t keep that notebook tucked away for capturing random thoughts before they are lost.

I started keeping a diary at the age of nine or ten.  At the time, I was obsessed with unicorns, so receiving this diary was a dream for me:

Unfortunately, this isn’t the original diary. (I found the picture on Ebay.)  I haven’t seen mine in years, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in my parents’ garage along with that popcorn tin that holds all of my carefully folded, hand-written notes from middle school.  Back then the idea of a diary was romantic.  I had very little real drama in my life, but it was fun to pretend that my boy crushes and straight-versus-curly haired days were traumatic and secretive.  I went in phases during which I wrote every day and other times where six months passed between entries.  But writing in that diary was always like coming back to an old friend.  Turning the wheel on the combination lock never lost its appeal because I knew that my secret thoughts waited inside.

In middle school and high school, I spent many years diary free, but I did write poetry.  Some were tormented poems about the boy who was in love with my best friend.  (They ended up getting married.  So I guess it wasn’t meant to be between us.)  Others were more esoteric poems about imagination, the industrial revolution or gargoyles in Paris. I just found a box of these in my own garage last weekend.  They are a treasure trove of embarrassment and a time capsule of my life.  I love the way these poems instantly transport me back to the 80s and 90s.  I can often picture the exact place I wrote the words.

In college, I continued with my writing, but it was more class-driven. Somewhere on that Brother word processor, which I so proudly carried to my freshman dorm room, live files filled with comparative literary papers and poems about Mott the Hoople, sunflower seeds and a sunset from a mosquito-filled dock.  These images became a diary of my life at a college in the middle of rural Indiana.

But many of these words and images are locked away in the bowels of technology.  Yes, I did refer to my antiquated Brother word processor and box filled with floppy disks as the bowels of technology.  And my thoughts are trapped in these bowels. Sure I can fire up the Brother, but I can’t open a dusty box, pull out a stack of notebooks and immediately connect with my most treasured images.

Today, it’s even easier for our fleeting thoughts to get lost in “the cloud.”  I’ll admit, I’m a technology junkie.  I record my thoughts in Evernote, Pinterest, Scrivener, Word documents, and the Notes app on my iPhone.  In spite of the convenience of technology, there are times when we need to simplify these recording mechanisms.  That’s why a few years ago, I finally wised up and decided to go old-school again.

The notebook!

This little gem is a Moleskine knock-off I found at Target.  At 5.5″ x 3.75″ it slides right into my purse and goes everywhere with me.  And at $5.99, you can’t beat the price.  This notebook is my savior.

When I was young and had few responsibilities, I could afford to linger for hours on a mosquito-filled dock and wax philosophical about beautiful images and life.  But as a writer, mom, wife and chronic over-committer, I rarely get to linger over anything.  Consequently, inspiration strikes at the most inopportune times.  Usually when I’m washing dishes or driving in the car.  Enter: The Notebook.

This little baby is filled with thoughts and images.  Here are some examples from a randomly-selected page.

  • A quote from an interview I heard with Anthony Hopkins: “As a child I wrote to escape the desert of my mental emptiness.”
  • A description of the woman accepting my donations at Goodwill. She appeared to have been badly burned at some point.  The smooth texture of the scar tissue on the side of her head was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time.
  • Notes about the tattoo a friend’s brother just got – an Illinois license plate.  Why would someone want “the Land of Lincoln” tattooed on their arm?  Fascinating!
  • A quote from an interview on NPR about the new Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again.  “You can take parts away, but Chitty is still Chitty.”  Something about the gestalt-ness of Chitty (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) makes me love this childhood icon even more.  AND…
  • An entire conversation between my MC and her love interest about fish scales which came to me all at once while I was elbow-high in dishwashing suds.

Many of these images will never leave this notebook.  I’ll page through it now and then and find myself transported to a stuffy backroom at Goodwill, but that kind woman accepting my donations may never make it into the pages of a novel.  However, this notebook is my gold mine.  It is the place I go when I’m stuck.

Just yesterday, I discovered a note about the song “Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well” by A Silent Film.  This song wafted through my car while I was waiting in line to drop my kids off at school.  I’m not sure why I wrote down a snippet of lyrics, but at the time the words struck a chord with me (no pun intended!) Reading over this note yesterday, it suddenly dawned on me how a climactic scene between my MC and her love interest can work.  That’s the magic of the writer’s notebook.  Disparate thoughts have a chance to stew together.  In the end that stew of thoughts becomes the Stone Soup of your writing.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you keep a writer’s notebook?  Scan the pages for a minute and tell me your favorite (or most random) snippet from the past week.

Here’s a great post on the pocket notebooks from 20 famous writers including Hemingway, Twain and Beethoven.

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Embrace the Nonsense

Laboring on Labor Day Weekend with Dr. Seuss

Hopefully you’re taking a break to enjoy a few slow-paced days this holiday weekend.  Whether you’re lounging or laboring this Labor Day weekend, enjoy a few words of wisdom from Dr. Seuss.

Number 23 seems especially appropriate for a long weekend.  Get outside and enjoy the “opener” air!

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