The Not-So-Dry Spell

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I haven’t worked on a novel in almost a year. This was a pretty shocking revelation to me as a writer, but one I’m glad I realized. Novel writers are an interesting breed in that they believe every waking moment should be devoted to doing something on one work in progress or another. I lived this belief for five years as I cranked out not one, but two novels.

When the last line is written and the last page has been revised for the fourth time. The novel is done, leaving nothing else but the “what now,” moment. Suddenly, the novel writer has minimally eight extra hours a day that is not filled with word count goals or a blinking cursor. Some writers immediately start on a new project to keep the mojo going, but others revel in the down time. I’d always been the former, a literal Energizer Bunny that never, ever stopped. That is until, I had a little epiphany.

After completing my first novel, I jumped right into brainstorming ideas for the next one. I was on a roll and I didn’t want to break the cycle. However, after completing my second novel, I found I was a little reluctant to start the process of writing a third novel. At first, I was a little worried that my muse had finally run out of juice, but then I realized I was desperately in need of a break. I loved my characters and the worlds I created for them, but I found I was missing the real people in my life and the real world. It was time to look away from the screen and jump back into the world that had inspired me in the first place.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss working on my novels. I do. A copy of The Muse is on my Kindle and on my computer desktop.  A partial outline for The Muse: Lineage sits on my writing desk, while a stack of CDs is waiting for me to peruse them for songs to go on a playlist for Lineage. Despite a long hiatus from butt on chair, fingers on keyboard work, my novels are never far from my mind. Still, I think my characters understand that I needed a little space to gather my thoughts and consider my next steps.

Some would call this a dry spell, but I call it a writer’s reboot. My time away from novel writing hasn’t been wasted by any means. Between agent hunting, experimenting with poetic forms, free writes and rediscovering my love of writing short stories, it’s been a productive chunk of time. The initial feeling of guilt for not constantly working on a novel has all but disappeared and I am enjoying the freedom of being able to truly follow my muse.

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c.b.w. 2014

A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Writer

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It’s probably a good thing that I’m an insomniac or my dream of becoming a (real) writer might just kill me. Just for kicks, I decided to keep a log of what a typical day is like for me as I juggle a full-time teaching job and a rather chatty muse.

5:10 a.m.
Wake up (providing I went to sleep in the first place).

5:11 a.m.
Move the notebooks out of the way so I don’t trip on them when I get out of bed.

5:15 a.m.
Finish reading through what I call my Midnight Notes. Then, I’ll pat myself on the back for coming up with the ideas that are worth exploring and scratch my head for the ones where I wonder what the heck I was thinking.

5:20 – 5:45 a.m.
While I’m getting dressed and combing my hair, my muse and I discuss character and story developments.  We will probably disagree instantly and this will be the first of many arguments during the day.

6:05 a.m.
Start walking to work (Yes, I walk even though I have a car and a valid driver’s license. Really.) and listen to one of many story playlists. Usually, I pick a song that relates to a plot point or character quirk I’m trying to figure out.

6:30 a.m.
Pour my morning cup of coffee and get online to make sure any scheduled blog posts have gone through.  Add necessary links to Facebook page. Answer comments, e-mails, and jot down any ideas that arose during the walk to work.

6:45 – 7:30 a.m.
Start actual day job work.

8:23 – 8:30 a.m.
Check blog stats, answer comments.  Add story ideas to notebook.

9:23 – 9:30 a.m.
Check blog stats, answer comments.  Add story ideas to notebook.

*Note: These seven minute intervals are the passing periods between the classes I teach and they will appear a few more times.

9:35 – 10:23 a.m.
Prep hour filled with grading papers, copying, and preparing for the second phase of the day.  In between tasks I check stats, answer comments, check e-mail, and add story ideas to notebook.  On days where my to-do list is clear, I will read blog subscriptions or research publishing outlets.

11:30 – 12:00 p.m.
While eating lunch, I read through subscription blogs and comment.

12:00 – 12:07 p.m.
Check stats, answer comments.

1:00 – 1:07 p.m.
Talk to the student that always arrives to class super early.

2:00 p.m.
Assess real job to-do list and stay until it gets done so I can focus solely on writing when I get home.

3:00ish – 5:00ish p.m.
Repeat morning walk routine in reverse.  My muse and I will continue our morning argument as if the span of eight hours never happened.

Write down any ideas that arose from the walk home.

Grab an afternoon snack and power nap, complete daily crossword, and watch Judge Judy (it’s a guilty pleasure and there are always really great characters)

Spend time with my husband.

6:00 p.m.
Wrap up online tasks (check stats, answer comments, read subscription blogs, update Twitter and Facebook, if needed).

6:30 p.m.
Choose writing project based on the day’s inspiration (i.e. playlist, musings, idea notebook).

Write.

On days where my muse and I can’t communicate, I’ll use my allotted writing time to research literary magazines where I can submit my work, comb through agent listings, and research query letter/synopsis formats.

7:15ish p.m.
Briefly debate cleaning up my writing desk.  Within minutes I will realize it’s just a procrastination attack.

8:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Break for dinner.

10:30 p.m.
Rub temples to soothe wordsmithing cramps.

Take a shower and discuss course of story with muse.  More arguments will ensue.

11:00 p.m.
Jot down any shower ideas and call it a day.

11:10 – 11:30ish p.m.
Read

11:30ish p.m. and beyond
Try really hard to sleep.

This is my basic day, but there are slight variations on different days of the week.

Tuesdays are basically the same except from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. I attend a writer’s group and from 4:30 p.m. until around 7:00 p.m. I write with my mother.

Thursday is appointment TV night and craft night, but lately I’ve been writing at 9:00 p.m. for at least an hour.

Friday night I head to the bookstore at around 6:30 p.m. and read for an hour before heading out to visit with family. At around 10:00 p.m. to midnight I’ll sit down to read or write, depending on my mood.

Weekends are an entirely different story.  Saturday I clean the house and start the laundry before I head to the bookstore to write for a three to five hour block.  On Sundays, I spend the morning finishing up any leftover chores before heading to the bookstore to write for another three or four hours, or until I have to head home for Sunday dinner with the in-laws.  Sunday evenings are typically kept open to relax, unless my muse says otherwise.

It’s amazing I’m still sane, (sort of). Thank goodness for little pearls of wisdom like this:


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c.b. 2012

Can You See Your Dreams?

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It’s easy to have  dreams, but its entirely something else to actively go after those dreams. Sometimes you need a little motivation to push through all the obstacles.  In my writer’s group we have a tradition of making something called a dream board, which helps everyone connect to their dreams using the basic principle of “seeing is believing.”  This is a powerful philosophy that keeps us motivated to not only write, but to live the life we’ve always imagined.

I keep my dream board tacked to a bulletin board above my writing desk where I am sure to see it every day.  Aside from being a highly visible dream monument, it’s also one of my favorite craft projects.  I made it using a standard piece of 8½ x 11 card stock, various magazines, rubber stamps, stickers, pages from an old book (I rescued it from a trash pile at work and found it was already missing a number of pages, so I recycled it to my craft closet), leftovers from my scrapbook drawers, and little glue.  The result is this collage of dreams, (click on the image for a full-size view):

In the center is a reminder to abide in my philosophy of optimism with the saying “My glass is half full.”  I cut the glass out of an advertisement in a magazine, which was also used to cut out all the letters and words.  Even though it has a “ransom” look to it, the message is still there!

On the left side is a reference to my love of books to remind me to read as much as I possibly can.  Reading isn’t just a hobby, but also an important part of the writing process.  Writers feed off one another, published and unpublished alike. Reading is how I learn what makes a novel tick and how I figure out what defines my point of view.  Under the books is a string of words that I clipped from a bunch of magazines.  They can be linked together in a number of different ways and have multiple meanings.  Much of the poetry I write is inspired by this portion of my dream board.

Scattered throughout the board are a number of other phrases that serve as motivators to be bold, creative, and aware.  I can be a little timid at times, so I need a little push to act with the same fervor that fires up my imagination.  The presence of these words has had an amazing effect.  I can honestly say that I feel stronger and truly believe in what I’m doing.

On the right, there’s a reminder that writing is a daily process.  I used a TV Guide to create a complete week and then assigned a verb to each day.  If I dream, imagine, listen, inspire, create, hope and believe  . . . I can do anything. Even write a novel!

Below the days of the week, are references to long-term dreams of traveling and living in London for at least a year at some point in my life.  I found a little plane in one of my travel magazines and a London “button” in my scrapbooking supplies.  This year I toyed with the latter dream by going on a three week sojourn to London, which has only intensified my goal of staying there for a full year.

To keep my focus I put the word “writer” in large foam sticker letters, along with the phrase “I am.”  Sometimes I need to remember I’ve always been a writer and its not up for negotiation.  You can’t shake something that’s part of your soul, but its all too easy to let a dream go dormant.  My dream board stares me in the face every morning when I wake up and it watches me as I go to sleep.  I have little choice, but to let my dreams flourish.

What would you put on your dream board?

c.b. 2011

Ivan Klima: The Best Writer You’ve Never Read

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A few years ago I discovered a remarkable writer while visiting Prague and have yet to find his equal.  Ivan Klima is a renowned writer in the Czech Republic, but relatively unknown in the U.S. as he is often overshadowed by another Czech writer, Milan Kundera.  While Kundera is brilliant in his own right, I find him a bit too cynical.  Klima tends to be a little more optimistic in his exploration of humanity and his prose flows with an unparalleled elegance.  He manages to transform the lives of ordinary people into powerful emotional experiences that often challenge readers to consider a different perspective.  To this day, I cannot fathom why Ivan Klima is not more widely read.

Here is a partial list of Klima’s works along with summaries and some of my favorite quotes:

 No Saints or Angels

A jaded older woman falls for a younger man who renews her faith in love and herself.  At the same time, her teenage daughter lost in the vast fields of growing up learns that love must extend beyond herself.  These two stories intertwine amidst the communist regime of Czechoslovakia wherein Klima creates the bold metaphor that a mundane existence can be just stifling as an oppressive government.

Favorite Quote:

  • What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions?  They stop thinking, most likely.

My Golden Trades

A collection of short stories where each story centers around a different job.  Everyday life is explored through various characters including a book smuggler, an archeologist and a land surveyor.  Each trade offers a not only a unique perspective on the human condition, but also explores city and country life in Czechoslovakia.  While wholly fiction, Klima infuses his own experiences into each story as he worked most of the featured jobs himself at one time or another.  This creates a unique social record of Czech life that is often forgotten or ignored in the Western world.  Furthermore, Klima again brings to light the danger of oppression and the damage it does to the human spirit.  Each trade represents the important of freedom and self-expression no matter the outlet.

Favorite Quotes:

  • People miss opportunities every day.  One can only try not to miss them through laziness or fear.
  • When compassion and the commandment that life should be lived in dignity have been lost, there are no stories, only cries of horror.

My Merry Mornings

Another collection of stories, but they are a slight departure in that they are more cynical and rough around the edges.  Usually, Klima exudes undying hope for humanity to break free no matter the trap, but in this collection it seems as though pessimism is nipping at his heels.  The darker, more poverty stricken aspect of society is explored through a narrator that is never clearly defined.  There is much debate over whether it is one character or several.  There is a story for each morning of the week that showcases life as it exists on the docks, the marketplace, and in other dark corners Prague.  The grittier approach gives Klima the perfect avenue to offer a poignant reminder that life is a short journey that ends much too quickly. 

The Ultimate Intimacy

Often considered one of Klima’s best works, The Ultimate Intimacy follows the story of a pastor who preaches about the importance of love, yet can’t truthfully say he knows the fullest extent of love.  Daniel Vedra’s marriage is one of convenience held together by the need for comfort and the shared responsibility of children.  Part of him does love his wife, but its out of respect more than anything else. While he would never admit it, he craves something deeper.

Daniel is a master of commitment when it comes to faith, the church, and his family.  His world is firmly entrenched in a predictable routine until a new woman begins attending his services.  She is married as well, but is lonely and frightened of her husband. Yet, she will not leave because she is bound to him by her commitment. She is drawn to the pastor because of his genuine belief in love and he to her because she stirs something in him he didn’t know existed: the ability to be intimate with someone on an emotional level. When the two meet, fate pulls them into a realm neither expected. Thus begins an affair that tears at the fabric of faith, loyalty, and truth.

Both characters evolve in surprising and heartbreaking ways. A woman discovers she capable of more love than she ever thought. She finds she has the strength to hold on, even when the rope is very short. She starts to believe in something bigger than herself, and even starts to have faith that her life is worth living. The pastor, so ardent in his faith, finds he has been hiding something from himself for far too long. His doubtless faith in God in which he built his entire life around is really just a security blanket he clung to as a means to experience unconditional love. In fact, he has always doubted the questions that couldn’t be answered by anything but faith. While he gains the exhilarating and intimate feeling of true love, he loses an entire life of faith.

Klima brilliantly leaves it up to the reader to decide if the trade-off was worth it.   He challenges readers to define what love means in every context even when rules are broken or norms defied.

Favorite Quotes:

  • Money, like power, deflects one from the essence of life.  People who think about money tend to forget about the soul.
  • . . . the moment you stop making up your own mind you risk being taken advantage of.
  • The only thing we have to bind another to us is love and understanding.  All other bonds can be broken or feel like shackles.
  • Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future, they explore neither truth nor lies, they gaze at the television.
  • Something is happening to people: they are turning outwards instead of inwards.
  • Whenever the conscious mind is absent, anything can gain a foothold, and mostly it is something bad, not something good.


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While Klima is not easily found in most mainstream bookstores,  his work sometimes shows up in used bookstores and is often readily available on amazon.com. If you can find him, Ivan Klima’s work is well worth the read.

c.b. 2011