When the Empty Nest is Full Again

Today is my firstborn son’s 29th birthday. We were stationed in Germany when he was born. It was an overcast, muggy day. The minute the midwife handed him to me, I recognized his face.

Yesterday, I noticed his hair was graying at the temples. My baby.

It was when I became a mother that my dream of writing really took a back seat.  I was working full time and trying to be a good wife and mother–the whole “supermom” thing, which we all know is a crock.  No mother feels super about dropping her child at daycare to be nurtured by strangers.

So much has happened over the years. He’s been my problem child, the one who never listens. Our relationship has been a rocky one, but we’ve never doubted our love for one another. There were times when weeks would go by without hearing from him. I know he was using, but I don’t know what. Those are the times you pray desperate, sometimes wordless, prayers. When it snows, you wonder if he’s sleeping in his car. When you sit down to dinner, you wonder if he’s hungry.

A brief stint in jail a few years back seemed to jolt him to consciousness. He was working and on his own.

Last year, my husband and I thought both our sons had left the nest for good. More time for each other. More time to write. The empty nest held no dread for us.

Not so fast. As our younger son was moving his stuff out, our older son was moving his back in.  Literally. It was like some bizarre ballet.  He’d had a nasty break-up with the girl I warned him about. At least I know where he is and that he’s eating.  Financial circumstances may soon send our younger son winging his way home. More laundry. More dishes to wash. More food to prepare.

Less time to write? Maybe. But I’m actually hoping the writing time I do have will be more productive. Less to worry about. Consolidated bills. Time for the boys to find better jobs. They can help with the dishes and the laundry. There may even be times when the four of us sit down to dinner together.

Circumstances are shifting. I’m a tough broad. I’ll shift with them. And I’ll write.

What is WRONG with you people?!

desk

Every so often, someone writes a post that includes a picture of a nice tidy notebook filled with nice tidy handwriting with a few minor proofreading notes–obviously a story in progress.

Are you all insane?!

This is what a work in progress looks like in my world. I use legal pads so I can tear the pages off and stick them in a folder. I have notes and revisions and questions scribbled everywhere. This is the brainstorming part of my writing. This is what comes before the actual first draft. The pre-draft. It’s rough and awful and most of it will be tossed. I’ll eventually go through all the pages, move what I don’t want over to the left side of the folder and keep the workable stuff on the right side. The actual first draft won’t look any prettier once the rewrite starts. I look at my creative process and wonder how in the world anyone can possibly write in a notebook in which the pages are permanently bound and you can’t move ideas around.

Now, lest you overachievers think I’m disorganized, let me assure you I know where everything is. I am not suffering from a disease of the mind, regardless of what this photo may suggest. This seemingly incoherent jumble of mush will find its way onto clean paper, neatly typed and double spaced. I give you my word that a first draft will emerge from this apparent chaos, and the process will begin again. 

So, be honest. What does your work in progress really looks like? No fibbing. The BS Detector will find you out.

I Knew It!

Vindication!

A few posts back, I wrote about how a high school English lit teacher turned me off Hemingway by going on and on about the symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea.  In the post, I questioned whether or not Papa had any idea his stories were so complicated.

Answer:  THEY AREN’T!

I’m reading Ernest Hemingway on Writing edited by Larry W. Phillips.  He quotes Hemingway from a letter written to Bernard Berenson in 1952:

“Then there is the other secret. There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is the old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit.”

Having learned a little bit about the man, I’m now ready to give his stories another chance. Next payday, I’m going to the bookstore to buy that nice hardcover collection of Hemingway’s best-known stories, including—you guessed it—The Old Man and the Sea.

Writing Process Blog Tour–Tag, I’m It!

Writing Process Blog Tour—Tag, I’m It!

Many thanks to K.A. Doore (http://kadoore.wordpress.com) for inviting me to participate in my first blog tour.  K.A. is a novelist who is currently working on a story that involves “…camels, lesbian romance, a city in the sky, sand demons, and vast amounts of the undead.”  Be sure to check out her blog.

What am I currently working on?

I write for children and usually have more than one story going at a time.  I’ve just finished a story about a pint-sized Philip Marlowe who solves mysteries at his elementary school.  I’ve written the main character, Winthrop, as a boy who is small for his age but not lacking in self-confidence.  I wanted to create a character kids could look up to, not just identify with.  I’m in the tortuous beginning phases of a story about an old lady whose habit of collecting things is about to be her undoing.  An alligator is scheduled to make an appearance, but I haven’t squeezed him into the story yet.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Here’s where I’m sure to get myself into trouble with potential publishers and agents.  There is always a moral to my stories, though I try not to clobber anyone over the head with it.  Morals seem to be out of fashion.  I often use rhyme and talking animals, both of which will send my manuscripts to the circular file at a lot of publishing houses, if their submission guidelines are to be believed.  I would invite them to introduce themselves to a five-year-old child sometime.  I also insist that my stories have a plot, regardless of how simple the plot is.  I feel a picture book should carry a child through an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, and not just be a series of cutesy scenes involving one character (usually based on a TV show).  My stories are nothing like those written by the latest celebrity-who-woke-up-one-day-and-decided-to-be-a-writer in that I actually write the stories myself.  That all sounds a little harsh.  Sorry.  Rough week.

Why do I write what I write?

I grew up in an apartment in Brooklyn—eight people stuffed into a two-bedroom apartment that overlooked the back alleys.  It was a bit of a pressure cooker.  I used to sit in a corner for hours with a stack of books and try to disappear.  I felt safe inside a book.  Growing up in a busy city where a trip to the park couldn’t be made without an adult, I learned to make do and stretch my imagination where I was.  Picture books helped me do that and I’ve loved them ever since.  As an adult, I found that crazy ideas would just pop into my head, so I figured I should either be a writer or run for office.

How does my writing process work?

I’m something of a weekend warrior when it comes to writing.  I’ve never been the type who could write in 15-minute pockets of time during the day.  I really need to sit and ruminate when I write, so I’m limited to one day a week right now because of the day job.  Of course, that doesn’t stop my brain from working on a story at other times; but those aren’t sit-down writing sessions.

I usually start out with a general idea for a story (a word or phrase that has popped into my head), come up with a main character, and do a light outline of the plot.  I give the character a name and a few personality traits.  I do the same for minor characters.  With picture books and early readers, you have to keep the plot simple; but if you cheat, a kid will pick up on it in a New York minute. The words have to be carefully selected because a young child’s vocabulary is very limited, but I don’t hesitate to use “bigger” words if the context of the story helps them figure out what they mean.  In other words, I don’t dumb things down.  If I’m using rhyme, I generally only use it for the dialogue.  If I could be said to have a style, I guess that would be it.  I write the rhyming dialogue first, and then flesh out the story from there.  I’ve only written one story that was completely in rhyme (I Don’t Like the Monster Under My Bed–see my “stories” category).  Examples of my rhyming dialogue stories are When the Poor Man Danced and Wombat Wings.  In other stories, like The Cow Tipping Kangaroo of Kangaroo Valley, there is no rhyme at all, just a pissed off kangaroo and a clueless rancher.  Once I think a story is finished, I put it away in a folder for a while and give it a fresh look weeks later.  I need that distance to get perspective on what’s really good and what needs the red pen treatment.  I think I actually enjoy the rewrites more than the first draft.  I don’t yet have an agent or a publisher, but I’m hopeful.

Tag!

Next up is Dawne Webber.  Dawne (http://dawnewebber.wordpress.com) is a novelist and homeschooling mom extraordinaire! 

Whiskey, You’re the Devil

My husband left this morning for his family reunion.  He’ll be gone all week.  We went out for dinner and drinks last night for a little bon voyage party.  To be honest, I’m a little hung over.

Which brings me to a quote by my new friend, Ernest Hemingway.  He is reported to have suggested that one write drunk and edit sober.  I’m not in the habit of getting drunk and have never tried to write in that condition; but since the inevitable result of getting drunk is a hangover, I’ll have to opt out.

There are so many tragic stories in the literary world of writers who died young from substance abuse, brilliant writers who gave us classics.  How did they do it?  Would their work have been even more brilliant if they had written while sober, or would they have been unable to write at all?

How did they keep track of plots and characters after downing whiskey or sipping absinthe?

Maybe they wrote pure shit when they were drunk.  Maybe they spent their sober moments editing whatever found its way to the page the night before.  Maybe they did write drunk and edit sober.  If that’s the case, they wasted a lot of time and probably fried valuable brain cells.

I read that Hemingway, shortly before his suicide, began to have problems with his mind.  For a writer, that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.  Maybe that’s why he killed himself.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that years of drinking and drugs will eventually take a vicious toll on the mind.  It’s a drunkenness from which there is no sobering up.  The pure shit put on the page will stay pure shit.

Think I’ll stick with water today.

What’s Wrong With My Brain?

OK, time to break down and admit it. If I could quit the day job and write full time, I’d never write again.

I had a three-day weekend. I had plans to spend it writing. My intentions were good. I had a plan.

I failed.

Each time I sat down with a piece of paper in front of me, my brain locked up. If I put the paper away and just let myself think about the story, my mind wandered.

As a kid in school, I never freaked out about writing a report. But I never actually put pen to paper until a day or two before it was due. I spent time thinking about what I wanted to say and the ideas were almost fully formed by the time I sat down to write.

It’s not that I lack discipline. I homeschooled two children and I work from home. That takes a lot of self-discipline. I have to have my butt in the chair by a certain time and stick with it for the entire day. I ignore phone calls from friends. I don’t answer the door. I’m very good at sticking with the task at hand.

But give me a couple of days of free time to do nothing but write, and I just can’t do it.

If I limit myself to a certain amount of time on certain days, I’m much more creative. And oddly enough, I often find myself working out a story problem while I’m working the day job!

What is wrong with my brain?

The Badpiper Shows Us the Way

This is the Badpiper.  He’s an Australian musician I saw on Facebook last week(https://www.facebook.com/Badpiper).  He’s taken a traditional musical instrument (the bagpipes) and used it to create a completely unexpected musical form. I’m hooked.  Check out the video of him playing the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck”.  You can find more on YouTube.

I bring the Badpiper to your attention this week because I think he’s done what we as writers are always trying to do–think outside the borders of our own little world and dip our toes into something unknown and untried.

Who would have thought bagpipes could rock like that?