Monday, August 19, 2013

Level 6: TGFMS (Thank G-d for Magic Spreadsheet!)

So, I've written about the Magic Spreadsheet before.  It's a simple concept.  You commit to a minimum daily word count (level one is 250 words) and record your words in a spreadsheet where other writers do the same.

After taking four years to complete a first draft of a novel, I was becoming desperate to find a way to write more.  I have plenty of obstacles and challenges to that goal, starting with two children and a teaching career.  But I wasn't willing to let writing be that someday thing anymore.

So, in March, I found a mention of the Magic Spreadsheet somewhere in my Google+ feed.  I was curious and looked it up. They had a group on Facebook.  I joined.  I started tapping out my 250 words every day.  It was a revolution.

First, I noticed the difference in what I could do with a brief writing session. Since I was writing every day, I no longer needed thirty minutes or more to "get back up to speed" by reading what I had previously written and shuffling through notes.  I was already in the flow.  Between writing daily and taking a piece of advice from James Maxey to stop writing each session before the well runs dry (where you have a good starting place for the next day), I was flying.

It didn't take long to level up. Now I was shooting for 300 words a day, then 350, then 400, then 450. And now, ta-da!, 500 words a day.

Over summer, I could get my daily words pretty easily.  My days were mine to structure. I often wrote 2000 words a day.  I know that may change now that I have to add teaching back into my life-work balance sheet, but even if I can't keep up 500 words a day, I know I'm an addict now. I'll keep writing every day.

Because you know what? I finished the rewrite of my first novel.  Then, I finished the first draft of my second novel.  Now, I'm working on the rewrite of that second novel.  I have three new ideas for novels percolating that I'm making notes for.  I'm more productive in my writing than I have ever been in my life, even when I was twenty-two, mortgageless and childless. 

My ideas are making it to fruition.  One day a time, a few hundred words in a chunk. It adds up fast. And equals one girl who isn't going to write someday anymore. I'm writing now.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Restful, But Joyful

I don't remember my first trip to the beach. I know that my parents took me to Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach sometime in my later childhood. I've seen the pictures. If we went before that, when I was little, I don't remember it.

About one of those trips, all I really remember is being grossed out because there were millions of grasshoppers everywhere and you had to negotiate among them to get to the sea. Then I was grossed out by jellyfish and seaweed. I think my sister got stung by a man'o'war and I got sunburnt.  I didn't like sand in my shoes, nor the feel of my feet on hot sand or shards of seashells. Of course, I was of the age of not liking things. I wonder if I had any fun. 

But, as an adult, I've grown to love the sea in my own quiet way. I don't surf. I don't even really like to swim.  I don't like crowds or heat or too much sun. In many ways, I seem ill suited to time on the beach.

But I could sit and look and listen to the sea for hours. I could walk for miles along the shore without noticing the distance. 

I love the beach in the morning, when it's quiet and crowds are not yet around, when all you see are a few local people who just nod your direction and leave you be.

I love the beach in the evening, when the heat and crowds are gone, but the sunlight still sparkles in the surf.

I love the beach at night, when it is just a sound in the darkness and the boundaries of earth and sea and sky blend into one encompassing feeling.

I spent the first ten years or so of my adult life living by the sea in Kodiak, then Nome, Alaska.  I would go to the shore to think. It was easy to find space to think because Kodiak and Nome are not huge tourist destinations. I remember pulling up to a favorite spot and finding two other people there, so getting back into my truck and driving a few miles further down for a spot I could have to myself.

The white noise and motion of the waves soothes me at a basic, maybe even cellular level.  I leave feeling clean and fresh, like my troubles and shortcomings have been washed away. It's hard to hold onto stress or anger or anxiety in the face of so much open water. The ocean is a place for quiet contemplation for me. For solitude.

So, when my sister proposed a beach trip for all of us (her family, mine, and the grandparents), I both wanted and didn't want to go. It's a very different thing, being at the seashore with kids and family in tow. It can be more wearing than restful. In the end, though, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I'm so glad I went along!

My six year old daughter couldn't remember the beach. We live about three hours inland. She's been a few times, maybe three or four, in her life, but since that last trip was two years ago, she didn't remember it. After all, two years is a third of her life. If you asked her about the beach, she'd talk about wanting to go to the beach house where we had Captain Crunch. Apparently, being allowed to eat sugary cereal was what remained etched on her psyche from that trip.

My six year old is also a bundle of energy. I didn't see my potential beach time with her as restful. I was worried I wasn't up to it. And I was right. It wasn't restful. What it was though, was joyful.

One of the joys of spending time in the company of children is the infectiousness of their enthusiasm. What they feel, they feel wholeheartedly and express without reservation. When N saw the ocean for the first time, I saw the wonder of it in her face and looked at it with new wonder myself.  Even M, my teenager, who is at a more difficult to impress age, was drawn in. We all ran laughing straight to the shoreline anxious to feel the water on our feet.

Usually, I'm not one to play. I love to do things with my children, but have short patience for "let's pretend." I'm also sedentary by nature. I have to fight to make myself do physical things. But N had all of us running and jumping in the waves, calling out to the birds, stomping on sea foam left behind. For her, it was physical joy.  She ran. She jumped. She splashed. She squealed. She danced. She spun.

And I played along.

No it wasn't restful, but it was definitely restorative. It can be good for a quiet soul to remember how to make a joyful noise. I'm fortunate to have my girls to remind me of that.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why I Became a Writer

 PW-you-are-a-writer-writing-contest Look at this little girl behind the typewriter. Isn't she adorable? She's the invitation to a writing contest I've decided to participate in on Positive Writer. It's an interesting topic. How did I become a writer? Here are my thoughts:


My first inklings (ha!) that I might be a writer came very early. 

First grade. I had this teacher (so many great stories start that way, don't they?): Mrs. Asdorf or maybe Alsdorf.  I remember thinking she had a weird name. To my memory, she was very short. She had to be because she didn't seem tall to me, and I was in first grade!  I also thought she was very old.  I have no idea if she actually was or not. This is a kid's eye view after all. When I try to picture her, her face is all mixed up with my great-grandmother's face, in the way that many childhood memories are mixed up and distorted. She might have been all of thirty. She might have been eighty. I don't know.

Mrs. Asdorf loved poetry. We had this project where we copied poems neatly (we were still learning the mechanics of writing after all), and made illustrations for them, then collected them in a folder made out of wallpaper scraps.  My first blank book.

I loved this project.  I'd always been drawn to poetry. Before I even went to school, I memorized my Mother Goose book and, thanks to my mother and all our hours in the library, had a love for Amelia Bedelia and Dr. Suess, children's books in love with the sounds of words. I loved writing. I liked the feel of the pen or pencil on paper. I'd get this urge I thought of as "itchy fingers" and have to draw or copy something. (It still happens, though now, mostly I type).

At some point, Mrs. Asdorf came by to check my work. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I walked away with the realization that I could write poems myself, that it was okay to make up your own! So, I did.  I wrote a little set of rhymed couplets about Beauty (capital B Beauty; very high-concept). Here are the ones I remember:

Beauty is in the great, tall trees
Bending over in the breeze
Beauty is in each butterfly
That just happens to flutter by

It ended with one about "smile" and "while" that I can't remember fully anymore.  It was very well received and I began my first career as an occasional poet.   I wrote poems for birthdays, holidays, seasons, thank yous.  They were published in little school newsletters and once or twice in the teeny tiny local newspaper. I read them over the announcements for the school to hear.

After that I always wrote. I kept journals. I wrote poems and stories. After reading Little Women, I thought I could be Jo March and earn money to help my family with my stories. Of course, no one pays children for their stories, but I did get lots of positive attention. In high school, I even wrote most of a novel about a tennis team romance.

By college though, I had been doused with enough realism to know that I needed to do something else for a living. So, I trained to become a teacher.  English of course. And Spanish.  I still wrote. I just didn't think that writing was something I could do for a living. Especially not since my form of choice was poetry. I figured I could still be a writer, on the side.

Then I was off into the world, making my way as a teacher, learning what it meant to be an adult, finding new people, places and things to love. 

As many women do, I hit a lull in my public writing when I became a mother.  My first daughter was absorbing and most of the writing I did at that time was about her.  Teaching and mothering were my top priorities, so writing took a decided backseat, though I still managed to create a few essays and poems and even see them published. Life went on, as it does. I divorced, moved, lost people I loved, moved, remarried, moved, became a mother again, moved. 

I wrote my way through all of it.   The writing was all very personal.  It was how I worked my way through whatever I was working my way through.  How I made decisions. How I cherished things. How I grieved and how I celebrated. It was how I found out what I was feeling and thinking. The thoughts and feelings just whirled around unformed until I recorded them, sorting them out, pinning them down and analyzing them.

Then, after the birth of my second child, with the encouragement of my husband, I joined a group of writers.  All of them were writing novels, so I decided to give it a try.  It was hard, writing something so long.  In fact, it took me four years (not counting the abandoned first novel) to write the first draft of my first novel, another year after that to shape it into something readable, a few months after that to make it good.

It's not published, though I'm hoping it will be someday. It's out there in submission limbo. But regardless of whether anyone ever publishes it, I have written it.  I'm writing another one now, and already have ideas for the two or three after that. I am writing every day, with the intent to publish and be read, to possibly earn my living from my words.

I am a woman who writes every day, who sees the world through the filter of her art, who doesn't know what she thinks until she processes it in words. So, paid or not, I am a writer.

“I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer.” - See more at:
I“I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer.” - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at:
I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: You Are A Writer’ held by Positive Writer - See more at: