You Are Amazing

Don’t let the day slip by,

Slip through the cracks of,

Yesterday, today and tomorrow,

Without catching,

The breath in your lungs,

Feeling the pounding of

your heart flowing blood,

Knowing,

The synapses carrying a thought,

Pausing and reflecting,

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

10 Ways to Stay on Track with Writing Goals – Part 2

Points 6-10

6. Have some cheerleaders. Find a writer’s group. There is likely one in your town or at least your state/province. It’s especially easy to be a part of a group now when most are meeting remotely. Having like-minded people that you can share your progress (and setbacks) with can be key to staying on track and keeping your motivation high. I’m starting a newsletter this winter (one of my more ambitious 2021 goals) and it will feature the opportunity for writers to share their goals and brag on progress reports – a shameless segue into point seven…

7. Set-up progress check points. Making a note on a calendar or agenda book is one way. Or programming an Event in Google calendar or scheduling emails to show up in your in-box with a reminder of where you intended to be at first quarter, second quarter, by the end of summer, this time next year! It’s like sending a message in a bottle to yourself. It’s also rewarding to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and even what changed and why. Don’t forget point two…no guilt, no worries.

8. Have fun. I know when you’re trying to get published or trying to stay published (no famous authors following this blog but if you’re incognito, please leave a hint!) it is not a hobby. For me it’s a pursuit of passion that won’t let go and I’ve been working on it forever though never more focused than now. Even so, it’s important to make sure that, as much as I take my goals seriously, I need it to be fun, something I look forward to.

9. Stay balanced. Goals are healthy; stretch goals even better to promote growth. I’ve learned this especially when it comes to fitness. (See post “Running the Writer Race” November 10, 2020). But there comes a point where writing and writing goals can become obsessive. That’s when something good starts nibbling away at other good things in your life. I dare say there are times when I’m in the middle of creating and I don’t care about a single person around me. I feel as though I don’t need them at all, that they are infringing on my self-expression. If I’m not careful, feelings of resentment can creep in and find cracks to fill and sever relationships. Writing for me has all the signs of an addiction. I find myself willing to manipulate, to throw off responsibilities, to squander a beautiful day outside to stay typing away in my closet, all things that are not indicative of a balanced mental state. I pay attention to the snippets of advice I hear or read about how addicts overcome the tyranny of drugs. Truth be told, addictions lie. They overshadow and diminish what is healthy and good in life and become the task master that they accuse everything else in our lives to be. The give and take of relationships, the joy of giving the best to the job and the humility of serving God on His terms, never abuses us. Point being, don’t let the goals, the writing, become too big in your life.

10. Write down your goals. Wait, no, that was point one. As point ten, this is different. After the year is over, reflect back on your goals and where you are at. Make a list. Learn from it so the coming year’s goals can keep points two through nine and end strong the following year.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me on this adventure in the blogging world; official followers and those that send “Likes” to my in-box. You are all much appreciated mostly because I see your blogs and your quest to communicate and it makes me happy to be part of this community.

Happy New Year, Happy writing!

Storm Weaver Part 3

Read Part 1 & 2 at links below:

https://claregraith.com/2020/10/24/storm-weaver/

https://claregraith.com/2020/12/04/storm-weaver-part-two-100-word-story/

He left behind the pouch and the five smooth stones inside.
A pink one,
A grey one,
A white one,
A green and a brown one.
I poured them out in my hand.
As I rolled the pink one,
My face warmed from the sun,
The grey caused a breeze, moist with rain.
The white, chill.
The green the smell of herbs,
And the brown caused the ground to shake,
Or it was just my imagination.
Where did the old man go?
Why did he leave these stones?
Why me? What next?
These questions weighed upon me,
I started home.

10 Ways to Stay On Track with Your Writing Goals – Part 1

Points 1- 5

  1. Write down your goals. No, that’s a lie. I’m never that formal about my plans for writing. Your goals need to be in your mind, not on a paper or in a document in the Cloud. It does help to state what your goals are, and that is the first step. Have a plan. My goals this past year were to finish a second draft of a novel, submit some query letters, go to at least one conference, enter at least one contest with a short story, start a blog, and revise an old WIP in a highly marketable genre that I wasn’t that interested in. I accomplished all those goals except that last one. I changed my mind and instead wrote a new novel during NaNoWriMo. Which brings me to point two.
  2. Be flexible. You don’t know what life will throw at you. No one knew last January what would be happening in 2020. The pandemic didn’t thwart my creativity, writing was a refuge. But at the height of global shut down, I lost some traction on my revising as thoughts turned toward if the supply chain for basic necessities would shut down or if someone I love would contract the virus. Goals are good but they shouldn’t be dictators, and changing or not meeting them should not leave a residue of failure.
  3. Make up your mind. Either you want to write a novel or memoir or the secrets of pickle ball guide or you don’t. This is not the opposite of point two. What do you really want? Because if it’s important to you, you’ll be ready to commit to a plan and head in a direction instead of pointing up the road and saying, “I’d really like to go there some day.”
  4. Set yourself up for success. How do you do this? Figure out what are significant road blocks for you to write. Once you know these think about how to make a path around them. For example, a major road block to creativity is responsibilities to family. I’ve struggled forever with taking time away from kids, spouse, house , education, you name it, to sit with a laptop and work on what many people will tell you is a pipe dream. How do you sit and make up stuff about imaginary people when the laundry is piling up? If Saturday morning when everyone else is sleeping in is the best time for you to write, then state that to be your writing time and give yourself permission to do it. Writing is a craft. Like any craft it takes honing and apprenticing, to become a master.
  5. Similar to four, get the support of those around you. This is kind of funny. Whenever I ask my husband to give his opinion about something I wrote, he groans. It’s like pulling teeth, even for just a paragraph. He’s not a reader, which translates to ‘he is an alien creature’ because I can’t imagine not reading. Some how he makes it through life in this condition but he does not make a good writing partner. However, before NaNoWriMo started, I explained to him what it was all about, how I had a goal and would need to write 1600 words or so a day. I showed him the web-site. I wrote “NaNoWriMo” across the calendar in the kitchen. He knew something big was happening and when I said right after dinner, “I have to write”, there were no questions or silent complaints (those are the worst). It was like we were both in it and he wanted to see me succeed, even if he didn’t want to hear two sentences about the story.

Stay tuned for part two – points 6- 10 of 10 Ways to Stick to Writing Goals

Nostalgic for Normal?

Not in a Novel

Routines are good. I mean they’re good for something. I don’t like to live in routines. It drives me a little batty. However, there’s a nostalgia about what boring normal used to be. The hum drum I took for granted. I feel it mostly in connection with work. Normal was racing from one conference room to the next, dodging my boss if possible because that would mean at least a twenty minute delay of the prerequisite chit chat before receiving a new task. Save that for one on one meetings, got to get to the restroom before I’m locked in another meeting around a table with people who are so passive aggressive that they say, “I’m just thinking about what’s in the best interest of everyone” and then make dissenters look like devils.If not that then being in a conversation that sounds like a loop in the Matrix. Didn’t we just figure out world peace? Are we really back to why you can’t help but it’s a great idea?
Normal was a cafeteria with so many options cooked by a chef who whipped up restaurant quality dishes even vegetarian that couldn’t be passed up. Let’s not even get started on the pastries, cakes and cookies. I’m telling the truth I did not often take advantage of the deserts but just knowing if I was overcome by the need for decadence, it was right there and I could have it with the swipe of my card.
I look back on that time and can hardly believe it existed. Along with all the other things, like trying to get on the road before the school bus traffic, battling the line up of cars at the light with a turn signal too brief to allow more than three of the eight cars in line to go through, and that only if every driver paid attention, which invariably I was for sure, the only one with foot poised on the gas, ready for forward motion at the first nanosecond of green.
I did not enjoy most of the old normal. It was tiring and relentless but my whole being was tuned into it. Auto-pilot worked at least until three in the afternoon when a booster shot of caffeine could take me to the end of the day.
Now that I’m at the end of this reflection of the old, I’m not feeling so nostalgic for what it was. It’s strange though to look through that window back in time. It’s all changed and even when the pendulum swings back to the middle again, it won’t rest in the same spot. That spot is gone, like the spot before 911. That was then, this is now.
Quick tie into writing. Only in the beginning of a novel and possibly even a non-fiction work, can normal exist in the narrative. The happy or sad hum drum of life is presented in the beginning and then very quickly must be shot to pieces. If you fall in love with your characters you may find yourself tempted to put them in normal life situations just to have them play. If you do, be ready to slash it right out again. Everything after the intro of normal has to be upheaval of one kind or another. That’s just the dynamic of a story that keeps the reader engaged. Writing ‘normal’ otherwise is just about the writer keeping himself or herself engaged. That’s not all bad except if you want to be published.

Nailing Description

Margaret Laurence – A Way With Words

I’ve been slowly making my way through books that I bought at a flea market. They were in a dusty, dirty old cardboard box, a treasure trove, if perfect condition is not a requirement for good reading. I talked about one of these books in a previous post (Practice Makes Perfect). I just started reading another, “The Fire-Dwellers” by Margaret Laurence. I didn’t know anything about the author. I just read the first page, found the style (no quotes; stream of consciousness-like dialogue) intriguing.

I tend toward incomplete sentences (anyone notice?) and found it validating to read text that feels right to me even if it’s somewhat cryptic at times. However, that is not what led me to look up who this author is. By the quality of her writing, I knew she must be someone well known if not to me, then to others.

Her writing is rich with voice, with descriptions that nail it perfectly. She describes traffic as “two shoals of great metallic fish, frantic to get back to the spawning grounds…”1 Can’t you just see the vehicles pushing forward, cutting each other off, all on an urgent mission that disregards the next?

Read how she described a beat-up cheap motel: “…the rooms are scantily clad in imitation furniture, the table covered with burn scars and wet beer bottle circles, the floor buckling linoleum…”1

Wow! That’s what I say. I can see this room and feel the atmosphere, even smell it without one word said about odor.

In another place she describes white seagulls circling at a waterfront along the city: “They aren’t prophets, though. They only look it, angelic presences and voices like gravel out of a grave.” 1  

According to Wikipedia, Margaret Laurence was a major figure in Canadian literature. Judging by the little I’ve read, I feel like it should say she is a major figure in literature who happens to be Canadian.

Reading the work of an author of a different style, a different era, challenges me to try harder. Yes, it does take effort. I believe I have it in me to write with as much pointed description as Margaret Laurence has. But I’m not going to see that maturity in my writing if I don’t work at it, don’t stop at good enough but push deeper until I dig out, clean off and reveal the gem.

Who inspires you to go to the next level? If no one has lately, you might want to hunt in a box of old books, see what you find.

Happy Writing!

1 Margaret Laurence “The Fire-Dwellers” Published 1969 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Thanks to the Heroes of 2020

Everyone wants to be a hero, the one person who makes a difference. The person no one wonders why they were put on the earth. It’s a goal even if to attain this status means sacrifice, loss of self, even pain.
Novels are chock full of heroes, both obvious and those quietly saving the day.
I have this longing but being that person eludes me. Recently at work, some of those on my team were in key positions of skill that they were called upon to continue through the night even after a full day’s work. So while I slept (somewhat fitfully)they solved problems and got the critical job done. My only contribution was to make sure they were clear on what needed to happen. I had no power to do it myself. If I stayed up to keep them company, show solidarity, I would not be able to carry on this morning and that is what I can do.
How hard it is to step back, let others shine, let them rise up and earn deserving appreciation, the honor for heroism. I’m struggling with being on the sidelines knowing that I was not called upon because I’m not the right person which is so easily translated in my brain as not a good person, not a capable person, somehow guilty of a crime.
I’m going to put these thoughts behind me, because I’m up at the plate now but it does bring to my mind the importance of lesser characters in a story. There’s no doubt that the protagonist is going to be a hero of sorts, but to get into the head of those around that person is key to a full story. This was pointed out to me more than once in critiques of different WIPs. I forget to fully develop the supporting cast.

Many of us in life are not the hero, at least not in a big way. How do you feel when you’re on the sidelines in the presence of a great person? What struggles do you have not being even remotely in the limelight but you’ve pushed yourself well past what is easy but it’s just not as much as the next person can handle? Channel those feelings, and experiences into the minor characters in your novel.

Everyone knows, a hero really isn’t a single person. There is always a network of support that allows the unique, superior qualities of the hero to be expressed, those that make it possible for the other to succeed. It’s not an equal share in the work, but it could be the simple plugging of one hole in the boat that keeps it afloat long enough for the strength of the the rower to get everyone to the shore safely. My deepest gratitude to those who are giving their all to help others. Those called upon during this pandemic year to give because they’re skilled to do so and don’t call it a job requirement but act from a deep well of compassion. May you find those lesser characters around you giving you the word, the smile, the speedy delivery of a meal, the taking care of children, the listening ear to your tears, always there, always ready to help you.

Code Breaking Down a Rabbit Hole

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Another note on NaNoWriMo writing. I know it’s starting to sound like my favorite topic. It’s the turbo writing part of the NaNo month that has me hooked. At the start of NaNo I took advantage of some of the tips and tricks that were offered to newbies. One of those tips was to keep the flow going by using “Insert here” whenever the text demands a detail that to research would derail the forward motion of free writing.
I employed “insert here” many times during NaNo for things like meals that characters ate, best country of origin for coffee, name of a landmark near where action was taking place. I also found “check this” handy to mark places where I wasn’t sure if I had the right name, or couldn’t remember the name of a minor character, also for if my facts were consistent (Ex. how much money did each kill word blog bring in?)
But this post is not about placeholder phrases. It’s about after the first draft is done and it’s time to do the less creative work of filling in the gaps and verifying the information. I made a list of all the items needing entries as I read through my draft. When I was done I had about twenty things to look up. Twenty random things that did not appear to have any connection.
So what happened when I started googling the most fashionable casual shoes for young men followed by searching the name of a football team in Ohio, to Italian restaurants in New York City’s Time Square district? My You-tube and Facebook ads are all over the place. I can trace back all the apps that are connected to which search engines by what ads come up.
The algorithms used to figure out what category I fit in are debunked and confused. I broke the code!
I can’t help but mention that doing research for the small details of this novel I have learned some unexpected things like for instance, the most expensive coffee, Kopi luwak is harvested from the p@@p of a raccoon like animal called a civet. No joke. The droppings are picked up and half digested coffee beans are removed, cleaned (so glad to know) and then roasted. How expensive is expensive? Try $500 a kilogram. I also learned that there’s an Italian restaurant called Rao’s that has been in business since 1896 in the same location in NYC. But no one can get a reservation that hasn’t had one in the family for generations. Rarely, someone outside the official clientele will get an invite. Ask me if I want to know how good that food is! I also learned that one of the first gas pipelines was installed from fields in Indiana to provide natural gas to Chicago street lamps.

How did I come across these interesting random facts? I needed to know the best, most expensive coffee so when Maisey has coffee with one of the men in charge of the crime organization, he can brag about serving only the best. I needed to know a good authentic Italian restaurant for a similar reason. I couldn’t use the famous, Rao because even the wealthy criminal wasn’t likely to buy his way into that place. The gas line fact I stumbled on while researching when street lights were actually lit by a person. It was supposed to be a thought Maisey had when she looks at the fancy street lights in her neighborhood and thinks about how they are modeled after something that meant some poor soul had the job of lighting lamps in all kinds of weather. Be wary researching writers. It’s super easy to go down rabbit holes. I’ve got a list of twenty facts to complete. I can’t afford to get lost in google earth traveling the streets of NYC. Need another NaNo to make me focus just on the novel!

10 Things I Can do Without in my Life

a personal survey

  1. Lipstick – it’s a ‘special occasion’ thing for me. I wouldn’t miss it.
  2. Statistics- Like out of 5000 submissions less than 50 are requested for more in a query to an agent.
  3. Boss- in the traditional work sense. Otherwise, we all know there is always an authority somewhere in our lives and I’ve come to know that is not a bad thing. Work bosses though are not always easy to deal with and if they have a few ‘issues’ it’s tiresome to be the subject of their whims.
  4. Hand sanitizer- well, actually, I’ve been a hand sanitizer junkie long before the pandemic so let’s change that to stinky, cheap, questionable sources of ingredients, hand sanitizer ; something only known to mankind since 2020. And for good measure throw in face masks, definitely could do without the need for these.
  5. Doubt, uncertainty, not enough time to write- I want to include each of these but truly I need these in order to push myself forward, just like a story needs conflict and trouble to keep it moving. So change that to ‘wasted’ doubt, uncertainty or time.
  6. People- okay so what I mean is people not in my family, aka neighbors, in close proximity. This is a love / hate relationship. I simultaneously enjoy my neighbors kids running through all our yards, laughing, screaming , playing, enjoying life with abandon while wishing I couldn’t overhear their family barbecue conversations, arguments and even having them stand on their patio gazing into my yard as their dog does his business, thankfully on their green grass. If I had to choose between living in a densely populated place or alone in a remote place, I’d choose squirrels as my companions. Why not? I always have books to connect me to humanity.
  7. Prejudice/ Hate/ Discrimination – don’t want to give it a moment in myself; don’t want it to push my family to choose not to go places, not to do things because these human blemishes lurk, ready to strike, ready to ruin the day, and as much as it appalls me and makes me ashamed of the human race to say, ready to kill.
  8. TV news- it’s designed to hook me by conjuring up fear from the slightest of possibilities. It pretends to be helpful, needed, informative (ha!) but the amount of value it brings is far outweighed by the psychological, mental stress that it stirs up in order to encourage me to watch more which ultimately means more commercials which at the root is the evil of the love of money. My apologies to anyone who is in the business, don’t take it personally.
  9. Anger- it has its place but I’ve found for me it takes me down paths and then abandons me to spent emotions, destroyed self control and defeat.
  10. Complacency- this one scares me. How much is this embedded in my life? I am passionate about certain things, at least I can talk about them with energy and zeal but are they just my trophies sitting on the shelf of what I call my character, who I am? Say it ain’t so that I’m a hearer only and not a doer.

Take a “Ten Things” survey of your life. It’s an interesting activity. Makes me want to pay attention, make changes. Also a good exercise to do with characters at the start of a novel idea. I did this days prior to NaNoWriMo this year and even though I didn’t know my characters well, it made a huge difference in getting the story right with much less tangents that I had to snip out of the first draft.

Happy writing! Happy living!