THE LONG WALK!

Unknown-3It has been a long time since I lived in a city, although I lived in Boston for 12 years in the 80s. Then I came down to Connecticut in 1991 and I’ve been here ever since. However, last week I went for a trip to London and Dublin which gave me the chance to be in a big city again and what a pleasure it was.

Perhaps I should be more accurate: it was both a pleasure and also a bit of a struggle. When I lived in Boston years ago, I was in my 20s, in good physical condition and quite up to the heavy duty walking and standing that is part of traveling around a big city using public transportation. Now that I am in my 60s, however, getting around, i.e. walking up and down staircases, running across cobble stoned streets, and standing for lengthy periods of time holding onto subway straps has become somewhat of a challenge.

For over two decades now I’ve been experiencing travel and the world outside my home from the comfortable interior of an SUV. Thus, during my trip, while I enjoyed walking around the busy city streets full of people, at the same time I discovered a level of exhaustion I haven’t experienced in a long time. In fact, I found out about little bones in my ankle I’ve never known of before that, at the end of a long day going around the City of London and later of Dublin, became extremely painful. Don’t even begin to talk about my lower back and my shoulder blades. They both had additional, mostly disgruntled and complaining stories to tell. Still, I felt exhilarated by the opportunity to walk around, see people, and generally blend in with the city life while getting a really close up look at the architectural splendor surrounding me.

There was an additional benefit that I even lost a few pounds as a result of my activities going around these two cities and began to feel very much back in shape physically. As a result, as soon as I returned home to suburban Connecticut, I thought I’d give it a try continuing on with my vigorous activities. This meant that for a few days this week, I have actually walked to Barnes and Noble where I do my writing over the objection of my partner who clearly believes doing so puts me at risk of losing life and limb.  After today, though, who knows if I’ll continue!  Today’s trek went like this.

Bring your cell phone, said my partner as I made my way out the door, and if you feel you can’t go any further, I’ll run down in my car and pick you up.

Boy, what a way to weaken your resolve, telling you there is a back door out just as you embark on your challenging adventure.

I’m sure you are eager to know what it was like, this little walking excursion, say a mile or two down the road.

The first aspect I noticed about this adventure was that it was a completely isolating experience. In suburban Connecticut, no one, and I mean no one, walks anywhere. So if you walk to the store, walk to the post office, walk to Barnes and Noble, you will be completely by yourself. As I walked, the silence around me was deafening, and aside from the engine roar of the occasional vehicle that passed by me, the only sound I heard was the crunch of my sneakers on the gravel. I will admit to you, I felt really stupid. I imagined all the drivers of these cars looking at me going by saying to themselves, “Who is that stupid woman walking down the road?”

I felt even more silly because I adopted my Boston habit of putting all my belongings in a backpack and slinging it over my shoulders. Just why did I do that? Who in CT walks around with a backpack—like no one? In Boston, of course, everyone has a backpack, plus a good book to read along the way, but in CT—excuse me? What was I thinking!

So here I am, all alone, looking stupid, and what is worse, I am walking down a road heavy with the overhanging branches of the trees that line the road and I am thinking, OMG, ticks are going to drop on my head, slither through my hair, and take juicy bites out of me and I am going to come down with a seriously bad case of lyme disease. So now, not only am I an embarrassment, I am potentially putting my life in my hands. So immediately I started to think of escape.

Originally, when I started this trek I could have taken two ways to Barnes & Noble, but I’d chosen this one because driving by in my car repeated times I’d seen a path that provided a short cut to the Mall. So I’m looking, looking, looking—after all, my life is in danger from these vicious lyme disease laden ticks, so I am a bit desperate—however, it turns out that things that you might see from your nice, big, climate controlled car are not so readily visible when you are walking on foot. So I walk and I walk and I can’t find it.

That’s just about when I realize that I am only 1/3 way to my goal and it is seriously hot; I am sweating profusely and continuing to feel really stupid. You know that all the people who passed in their cars were probably my neighbors and their opinion of me was never that good anyway.

Now, the pollen is beginning to build up in my nostrils and I pinch both sides of my nose to hold back the inevitable sneeze, but am seriously unsuccessful. So I sneeze and this big blob of snot and pollen explodes from my nose and I am stuck in the middle of nowhere without a tissue. Of course, had I sensibly taken my SUV on this trek, the car would have had filtered air and I never would have sneezed, and if I had sneezed there was a lovely packet of tissues near the console of the car available for me to clean my face with.

Meanwhile, I have been forced to clear off my nose with my fingers which are now smeared with the snot and pollen mixture, and I’m like this is so disgusting. Not sure what to do, I continue to walk, measuring the leaves of various plants considering whether I should wipe my fingers on them. Then I remember that there is a small pond further down the road, so when I arrive at the crossroads at the bottom of the hill, I turn left heading for the pond. However, after several minutes of walking and reaching a dead end, I realize that I’d taken the wrong turn.

Of course, if I’d done this in my car, it would be no big deal, but as I turn around exhaustedly with slick sweat covering every surface of my body, I realize my mistake is going to cost me. I then walk back in the opposite direction and arrive at the entrance to the pond area after a bit of a hike. What I hadn’t noticed about this little path, however, from the great heights of my SUV is that there is a sign that says “Private Property, Do not Enter”. But was I going to pay any attention to a stupid sign at this point as I stand there with my right hand held stiffly away from my body and covered with snot?

No.

So I continue walking until I am able to get to a point where it is easy to get access to the pond and wash my hand in the brackish water and dry it on my pants. Again, as I say, no one was around to stop me and so I got away with using private water to clean up.

You know, I was feeling a tad superior to car drivers when I started off today. But now I can see the point of the majority who drive around in cars. Drivers are actually really sociable people. When they drive around on the roads they follow and are followed by other people they have to pay attention to. When they drive past one another if they recognize each other, they can wave. If there are any complications on the road, they can communicate with sign language and exaggerated facial expressions. Me on my solitary trek to the mall with my silly backpack, I wasn’t talking to anybody!

Ok, I will admit, one bicyclist rode by and we gave each other a mutual nod, but that’s hardly worth talking about.

Eventually, I made it to Barnes & Noble, and by then a whole bunch of my muscles were shrieking, and my speech patterns were completely incoherent when I ordered myself a nice cold tea as a reward for my endeavors. Will I do this again? Thinking about how my knees cracked when I leaned down to clean my hand in the pond, I’m not so sure.  I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m walking like a stork.  It’s tough getting old!

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AFTER CAMP NANOWRIMO, WHAT COMES NEXT?

Camp-2017-Winner-Profile-PhotoCamp Nanowrimo is finished and I will admit to being rather stunned. What? I don’t have to keep on with this schedule of writing 3 hours a day any longer? How amazing!

I am also really impressed with myself because I was three days ahead of myself on my goals and so I was able to doodle away the last few days of Camp.

In fact, I think at this point I am free to say that having completed a second not so bad version of my book “In Limbo” I am feeling slightly better about myself as a writer. It really was a very disciplined practice for me to write up 2000 words per day in order to write another version of my novel.   It now adds up to 339 pages!

I just printed out the entire manuscript yesterday, and I can tell you, even though it is not publishable material yet, it still is mighty impressive.

As a next step, since I realize I haven’t achieved the kind of quality work that I am looking for up to this point, I have gone on a major shopping spree looking for “how to write” books. I’m hoping that if I read these books, somehow the techniques will filter into my consciousness by osmosis and I will step across that line from still junk, to maybe something I can work with to the point where it becomes publishable.

For those who are interested, below is the list of the books that I have either consulted or intend to consult in order to improve my writing. I am sharing this information with you because I realize that there are so many books out there it is very hard to decide which ones to choose.

In fact, let’s dig a little deeper here.  I have noticed that along with writers out there, we have a homegrown crop of advisors to writers who tell writers what to do, despite most of the time, not really actually being writers themselves! Advisors to writers set up MFA programs, establish conferences, write books, and generally get money from writers by convincing them how much they still need to learn and do before they actually make it in the world of publishing!

Right now I am going to buy this line because I’m still in apprentice mode, but sooner or later, just letting folks know, I will not be spending my money on any of this stuff. This is only for now while I still have questions.

With all that said, below, in no particular order, are the books I have picked to learn more about creating a solid, publishable piece of writing:

“Creating Characters: The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction” by Writer’s Digest Editors and Steven James
Two book set “Outlining Your Novel” by K.M. Weiland
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure ” by K.M. Weiland
“Author in Progress; A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Takes to Get Published”
Edited by Therese Walsh and the Writer Unboxed Community
“The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master” by Martha Alderson
“Confict and Suspense” by James Scott Bell
“Mastering Suspense Structure & Plot: How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers on the Edge of their Seats” by Jane K. Cleland and Hallie Ephron

“Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel” by Hallie Ephron

So here is what I’m going to do.  I am going to read and take notes on all of these books during the months of May and June.  During that time, I am going to write up a whole new outline for a third version of my book and I am going to join the July 2017 session of Camp Nanowrimo to execute my plans.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

NOW I JUST SEMI-HATE THE BOOK I JUST WROTE!

Camp-2017-Participant-Profile-Photo“So I hate the book I just wrote!” I said on a prior blog.

That was just after I finished work on the first version of my current novel “In Limbo” . This is a book about a little girl whose father is accused of sexually abusing her, and the corrupt family court system has trouble doing anything to address the complaint.

At the core of the novel is the question of whether the father is innocent or guilty. My reaction to my first draft of this novel was the insight that what I’d written was just too dang bad! The plot lurched all over the place, the main character was fairly unpleasant, and the whole piece of work just rambled all over the pace.

Luckily, I stopped work on this novel at around 50,000 words. I can’t imagine what damage I might have done to myself had I continued on for another 50,000. Luckily, I knew when was the best time to give up!

So bottom line, what was the lesson learned?

Who knew that it was so difficult to write a book!

At this point, I’d like to report that I have made considerably more progress on this project, largely through the intervention of Camp Nanowrimo. Currently, for those who are interested, I am halfway through my first Camp Nanowrimo experience, probably the most advanced in age of all my fellow campers who appear to be primarily in their 20s and 30s.

To be honest, however, it isn’t quite right to say my first experience.

The fact is that last fall, without being aware of Camp Nanowrimo, I wrote my first version of my novel in the month of October, rather than November, using exactly the technique they recommend. That’s when I came up with the first draft of my book, which I immediately announced that I hated!

For those who are unaware of what I am talking about, let me clarify. There is Nanowrimo (short for National Novel Writing Month) which takes place every November and consists of participants spending the entire month in a marathon race to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month.  In contrast, Camp Nanowrimo, which takes place in April and July, is considerably more flexible. There you can literally choose any project that you wish, and also choose any goal that you wish using any form of measurement you wish.

For instance, I have been using hours, but others have been using minutes, pages, words, etc. etc. Further, you can be flexible about those goals; so if it looks as though you might not be a winner because you set your sights to high, you can just change your goals halfway through to ensure that you are a winner.

Camp Nanowrimo also has the advantage of online cabins where you can discuss your project with several other writers who are going through the same process. Plus, there are additional perks such as virtual write ins, word sprints on twitter, and daily messages of encouragement from more experienced, published writers. If that isn’t enough to motivate you, I don’t know what will!

Of course, at my age, what I consider an experienced writer, is probably different from what other people might think.  I also want to mention that if you go onto Youtube there are hundreds of videos by Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo participants guiding you on the details of undergoing the experience.  So the flood of tips, cautions, suggestions, hints, and guidance is a never-ending stream. No way are you going to get lost in the process with this kind of assistance.

At this point, I want to address myself to an issue that I’ve heard about repeatedly when I go to writer’s conferences, and of course, it came up again as I approached the second draft of my book at Camp Nanowrimo.   To be specific, if you go to a conference, it is inevitable that some writer will be called upon to weigh in on the question of whether he or she is a planner or a pantser.

From my angle as a newly minted novelist, there could not be a more stupid question.

Any writer who says that they write without planning in advance, or by engaging a plan immediately afterwards is an absolute liar.

I used to be fairly respectful of these conversations prior to writing my own book, but now that I’ve done it once, I want to tell you categorically that if you do not plan your book, or if you do not impose structure pretty quickly after each writing session, you will be listed on the long list of failed writers.

I don’t want to discourage any one of you, but facts are facts.

Any book that you have read that has in the least appealed to you, I can also assure you, has carefully undergone a very strict planning process. That is what is called craft. Without craft, you have nothing. Trust me.

Why do you think writers and industry insiders deceive you on this point?

I’d guess they want to have an extra filtering method to separate the truly invested writers from those who are dilettantes. It is literally impossible to write a good book without careful planning, bottom line. So anyone who says, “Well, I just wrote this book by the seat of my pants!” that person is trying to crack a joke on you, trust me.  I’ve said trust me twice, so seriously, seriously pay attention to what I am saying, please.

At every point in writing the second draft of my book, I have had to sketch out the chapters in advance, or return and impose structure in order to get it right. How many ways can I say that!

At this point, I am much further along than when I did my first draft of this book. My lesson learned is that even though I’ve been a long time reader from childhood, this experience has led me to understand writing elements such as point of view, character development, story arc, and momentum in an entirely new light. All of a sudden they have become living challenges to me in a way they weren’t before.

I still have a long way to go until I arrive at the end of the month and the completion of this second draft of my novel. But I am already planning on what is going to be involved in creating the third draft. Perhaps this will be the one I like or dare I say–love!

THE THINGS I LOST IN THE FIRE!

unknown-20I believe it was the French author, editor, and flower aficionado of the 19th century, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Perhaps this is true of very superficial items. For example, I still wear the same clothing I wore 30 years ago, though a lot of it is very worn and often stained. My name is still the same, my features are still the same, though more weathered and old. You will still find that I live in CT.

However, there are profound ways in which I am not the same person that I was many years ago, and not only that, I am not even the same person I was a year ago or even last month. Yet, isn’t it somewhat annoying to find that in the minds and memories of the people who have known you, your image and your personality remain fixed in time as if since the last time you saw them time had stood still?  It is most particularly annoying if the way they remember you isn’t that good. Continue reading “THE THINGS I LOST IN THE FIRE!”

SO I HATE THE BOOK I WROTE, SO WHAT!

unknown-19The last time I blogged about the subject of writing a book, I talked about one I’d just written where I hated the final product. For a while, I just sat on that emotion and didn’t do anything about it. I asked myself: did it make any sense to continue trying, or should I just give up and resign myself to the fact that I’m just a shitty fiction writer.  

Alternatively, I thought, perhaps I should just forget about it and move on with a different writing project. As time went by, I carried on struggling with the issue, but recently as the holidays approached and I caught the season’s optimism bug, I decided that it was time to get back on the horse and try again. As a result, for Christmas I purchased a copy of the Scrivener program to see if it would help me regain my confidence.

While I don’t think Scrivener is much beyond a glorified word processing program, I hoped it would give me a boost and encourage me to try again. I’d also heard from other people who said that they found Scrivener particularly helpful. At $40.00 for the program, it seemed to me that a purchase was even better than therapy on why I couldn’t write well. At the same time, I did take myself to the side and gave myself a lecture on not taking this process of learning how to write books personally. It isn’t about my ego; it’s about acquiring certain skills and techniques, the same way that I have had to learn other such abilities. Continue reading “SO I HATE THE BOOK I WROTE, SO WHAT!”

NASTY, VICIOUS, SCUMBAG INTERNET TROLLS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM!

unknown-9While many people have heard of children being cyberbullied online, many are not aware that there is a serious problem online with adults cyberbullying other adults. There are ugly trolls stalking the internet looking for victims all the time.

For instance, I recall when I first became involved with the protective mothers movement, the leader of my organization contacted me with a list of people I was not supposed to associate with. Wouldn’t you know it, within weeks of her doing so, a group of these banned individuals hacked into my Facebook page and started to attack me. Every time I tried to block them, they would find another way to get back in.

I’m also a part of a mental health rights movement and have had internet trolls from those kinds of organizations attack me online as well.

When it comes to social justice work, fending off personal attacks from nasty scumbag, internet trolls seems to be part of the experience. Continue reading “NASTY, VICIOUS, SCUMBAG INTERNET TROLLS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM!”

YES, BUT I HATE THE BOOK I JUST WROTE!

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I have always been a self-hater when it comes to writing.  I have crumpled up and thrown away more work than anyone else I know.  Not only that, I also have a broad collection of work that I will never, ever look at again. 

Why? 

Because I hate, absolutely hate my own writing. 

I just don’t get it.  When the writing bug comes over me—like now—I am so excited and happy to have something to say.  There is nothing better than elaborating on an idea and putting your thoughts out there.  Some of my happiest moments in my entire life involve the times when I’ve been writing.  So what is it about my attitude towards my work that leads me to the point where I want to kill my own literary children? 

I’d feel pretty weird about this if I didn’t know that at least one other famous writer felt the same way.  For instance, Franz Kafka, author of “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.”  Apparently, Franz Kafka burned 90% of his work, and then, according to a blog by Jory MacKay, after his death in 1924, his friend and literary executor, Max Brod, found a note in Kafka’s  desk asking him to burn the rest.  Luckily, he didn’t do that.

Stephen King famously crumpled up and dumped into the wastebasket the first three pages his first novel “Carrie” in a bout of self disgust and his wife had to rescue them and urge him to continue.   And, of course, this was the book that made his career!

In addition to these stories of great writing that ended up being rescued, there are the stories of bad writing by good writers which was thankfully dumped in the garbage can and luckily left there.  For instance, in 1983 Margaret Atwood was writing a novel about Mayan eccentric flints which she luckily disposed of before continuing on with “The Handmaid’s Tale” . 

I’m sure there are many more stories like this which both well known and unknown writers could talk about. 

So what’s my particular problem? 

To be honest, I’m not sure how I ever became a writer because, as I said, my earliest memories are of ripping my writing up and throwing it away. I absolutely hated it.  My writing was a complete and utter embarrassment to me. I only ended up in the position of writing as extensively as I have now because eventually I had a burning desire to communicate information that I felt was desperately important to convey.  I was outraged by my observations of profound social injustices in the mental health system and the family court system and, gosh darn it, I was not going to let it stand.  I chose to speak out against it in the only way I could think of, which was through my writing.  

Thus, my Initial attempts at writing were letters to the editor, and finally, after a lengthy period of time I became the inveterate blogger and memoirist that I am today.  What made me write what the fact that I was just so angry about the issues I spoke about, I could not be silent.  In the end, I stopped caring about the quality of my work because the task of sharing my convictions became considerably more important to me. 

So what is my problem now?  Why am I getting into this problem again? 

At this point, the turning wheels in my writing existence have gotten to the point that even without the kind of intense motivation I had earlier in my career, I keep on producing because I’ve gotten accustomed to spending my time this way.  Ultimately, this writing business has become so much a part of my life that I recently wrote a novel of something like 200 pages.  My question is, at this point, what should I do with it? 

Of course, I am immediately having my old standby reaction to my writing, which is, I think it is horrible and believe I should immediately throw it in the nearest garbage can, throw gasoline on it, and toss in a match.  Each  time I review the opening chapters of the book, I wince with dislike at every word.  So, should I pay attention to myself and toss the book? 

I have no idea! 

How is any author supposed to be able to assess his or her own work for quality.  I suppose I could solicit a few readers to take a look and share their response, but no, that would be much too painful—expose my deep and unutterable shame regarding my horrible writing to others.  No, I could never do that!!! 

Maybe I should just put the book aside and come back to it at a later date when I am feeling fresh.  Unfortunately, if I do, that might lead to a worse problem.  I wrote this book over an extended time period in between a host of other activities.  This means that I have quite forgotten some of what I did in this book even though I worked with an ongoing plot guide that I filled in as I progressed.  Seriously, how do people keep track of what they have and have not said as they write a novel, unless they have an editor to remind them, and I sure don’t have one.  This means that if I take time off from the book, I may have totally forgotten the book when I return to it, given my spotty memory.   That means coming to grips with the book will be considerably more difficult.

Bottom line is, I never expected that writing a novel would be like this.  I thought I would have more control, more of a capacity to structure the novel as I wished, and that hasn’t turned out to be true.  Sometimes plotlines and characters just take off and you can’t do anything about it.  I certainly have much greater respect for what novelists do as a result of writing this first novel. 

Will I destroy what I’ve got?  Will I ever try again?  I have no idea.  It’s going to take me a while to stop rolling around in the mud of writer self hate before I answer those questions.  One thing I do know, I am not the first or the last writer who will ever have to walk through the dark night of the writer soul.  But as I learned through my experience with non-fiction, if I can make it through, I may find that things aren’t as bad as I fear.  This means that for now, I will leave my manuscript burning plans for another time.