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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This is the July entry for The Insecure Writer's Support Group Blog Hop.

The hop takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.  All are welcome to sign up and participate, and visit the blogs of the other participants.

This month's co-hosts are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan. Go visit their blogs, and join in!

The question for July 5 is:

What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

That one is easy, though I find I have to cut my way through various good lessons I have learned in my writing path.  You know: setting the scene correctly, keeping your characters straight, avoid cliches, allow for development, let the plot unfold skilfully...  Lots of good lessons that will help you to write better, keep your stories unfolding properly, clarify characters...

A few of my notebooks
But the valuable lesson that underlies all of that, without which I, for one, can't write, is easy and embarrassingly basic.

Write it down.  

To expand: if you get an idea, preserve it in a form that you can retrieve.  

Have access to something that will help you capture the ideas.   Carry a pen and a notebook.  

Wax tablets and stylus: the past never leaves us
Wax tablets and a stylus are rather  cumbersome, but they have served over the millennia.  And if you are writing about the distant past, you can get a feel for how they worked. (Some stores actually still sell them, like this one...)

Enable the dictation feature on your iPhone (if you have one).   Or call yourself and leave yourself a message.  (But do tell your family not to delete such messages until you have had a chance to listen to them.)
The important thing is to capture your thoughts.  I have had too many times where I had a brainstorm - a plot twist, the answer to something that had been puzzling me - and thought 'Oh, yeah.  That is perfect!  I'll write it down when I get home.'

A few of my notebooks
The thing is that I often get busy and forget to write that scene when I get home.  In fact, I find myself trying to recall what scene it was, what story line, and what characters.  

We all have a lot going on, whether or not we are writers.  Things that snag our attention, and we're all to willing to succumb to a lovely distraction.  Or a disgusting one.  Sometimes we get tired.  And sometimes life really gets in the way and we lose our focus while dealing with concerns like death, unemployment, friends' celebrations and scooping litter pans.

I started carrying a notebook around with me and jotting down whatever I thought.  Over the years I developed a system with notebooks that were dedicated to whatever I was working on at the moment.  I would date the note, jot whatever it was that I thought and then, once I got around to transcribing it, making a line across the entry.  But what if you are working on, say, a story involving the Cat Show world and you have an idea for something a French veteran of the Napoleonic wars might say?  Write it down as you can.   Or...  Get a notebook with different sections and jot it in there.  It doesn't matter, so long as the idea is captured.

Paper towels work, too...
I worked for a clothing store, part time, a few years back.  I had long stretches where I had to monitor the store's dressing room.  I was working on one of my Egyptian stories at that time, and ideas were coming thick and fast.  I had no way to carry in a notebook, and I needed to capture the ideas/ clarifications/ brainstorms as they occurred...  So I used paper towels.  I wrote a post about it a few years back.  Here's a photo of the notes.  Some are crumpled from being shoved into my pocket.  

Sometimes, if I am at loose ends with a story, I will leaf through my notebooks.   For me, it helps to rekindle the ideas, the sense of adventure.

That is one of the most important practical lessons I learned when I started writing.  Other lessons?  There were plenty.

I'm off to read everyone else's insights.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I Quit! (Or do I?)

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which is the date that the Insecure Writer's Support Group holds its monthly blog hop.

If you haven't heard of the IWSG, you need to look into it:

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.  It's a good place to go to for advice, reassurance and a lot of enjoyment.

Today's question is:

Did you ever say “I quit”? 
If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

This month's co-hosts are:
JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner  

Go visit their pages!

So...  Have I ever decided to quit writing?  

No, I can't say that I  have.  I  have been discouraged, I have wanted to burn whatever story I was working on, and call various people idiots for various reasons, but I haven't decided to quit.  How can I?  I'm a writer.

...But I have trickled to a near-halt.  Inertia.  I wrote about it, obliquely, here and here.  I've been in dry spots, as you see.  Sometimes they seem to stretch on forever, and you wonder if they will ever stop.

I am in one right now. I haven't published anything new in three years.  I have followers, people have read my work, but I haven't put anything out.  Sales are falling off.  

I have a number of works in progress.  The second book in my Orphan's Tale series is nearly complete.  It was delayed, in part, by a plot revelation that required an internal rewrite. But it is nearly finished...and I haven't touched it in a year.  I have a fable, a 'short' (say, 45,000 words) that is nearly done. Nearly.  There are several stories in my Memphis Cycle that were coming along.

So what happened?

Life.  Eldercare issues.  Work issues.  Money issues.  (It costs me nothing to write, thank goodness).  And I have been very tired.  Very tired.  It's hard.

A friend told me of a time that she was discouraged.  She was at a show, and was talking with the man who had been mentoring her.  She recounted children problems, worries about her husband's job, illness, disappointment.  It was all so hard, she said.  Her mentor, who had been busy jotting notes about the things that were going on at the show, said without looking up, "Quitting is easy." 

My friend stopped speaking.  Quitting is easy.  But it was not an option those ten years ago.  She moved past that point and is doing well.

As for me, quitting is easy, I suppose.  Except that I can't quit.  I am a writer.  I write stories.  I have stories to write.  I can't go back.  I don't want to.  And I have been through this before and may well go through it again, all things being equal.  I'll survive.

So...  What can I do to get out of this particular situation?

I can wake up.  My job issues are behind me, along with that job.  I will set my timer for, say, half an hour.  And during that half hour I will write.  At my desk.  On my laptop.  No internet.  Just write.

Sales are down?  I'll finish the various books, half an hour at a time, and get them out there.  

Writing doesn't need to be lonely: I have begun to participate in writing activities.  Joined groups (including rejoining IWSG).  Maybe go on a retreat.

And I will get more sleep.  That's more important than I realized.

The blog hop is here.  Check it out!