Keep things in perspective

You know how it is.
Some days seem overwhelming.   You misunderstood your editor’s instructions and botched a job.   An assignment fell through. Your book is going OP.   The computer ate your draft.
One day last week, my editor, Susan, must have detected a note of frantic in my voice.  She sent me the following quote:
“All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
It sounded familiar, so I went on a hunt.  It is a reference to Julian of Norwich, who said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”   She wrote this after she had a vision that God was holding the world, the size of a hazelnut, in His hand.
Right now, it is easy to worry.  The economy may be rebounding for someone somewhere, but I haven’t noticed.   Swine flu has the media on a rampage and people in fear.    I’ve spoken to a lot of people this week who are on the edge.   Who knows what else is around the corner?
Repeat after me.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Focus outward.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Memory Triggers

"I've got this song stuck in my head!"

Whenever you read about using memory triggers in your writing, the author mentions smell and taste.  There’s no doubt about it.  Whenever I smell rose cologne I take a deep breath and relax.  That’s what my grandmother always wore.  Bread baking makes me smile.  My mother made homemade rolls for special occasions.

But music and songs really stick in our heads.  This weekend, my husband and I spent half an hour singing jingles for our son.  Oscar Meyer.  Armor hot dogs.  Alka Seltzer.  Chiquita Banana.  Almond Joy.  Klondike Bar.  We watch very little tv, and what we watch we tape to avoid the commercials, so I know these are OLD jingles.  Old.  But we remember them.

And have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head?  Maybe not even any of the words but just the melody.  My son sat in the hall while I was in choir rehearsal Sunday.  Later in the day, he walked by humming a few bars from Sunday’s anthem.  “I think we sang it in choir last year,” he said, referring to his school choir.  Nope.  He’d only heard it a few times that day, but it stuck.

All of this said, I’m not sure how to use music in my work.  Sure, I get a few bars here and there stuck in my head.  I can even remember songs that I learned in Girl Scouts 30 years ago.  But I can’t write the melody into a story.

So far, its just something to hum, and noodle over, as I go through my day.


Working from Home

There is no doubt about it.  I am blessed in that I get to work from home.

No office attire.  No office politics.  No wondering who ate my lunch, took my liquid paper or ran up the long distance calls on my extension.

But there are also costs to working from home.  Sick kids, snow days and spouses recovering from surgery.  No one else is going to take the day off when you’re already there.

You also have to be prepared to say NO or be everyone’s emergency baby sitter and listening ear when they just want to chatter non-stop. You are simply way too easy to find.

But you will also find some surprises.  With my husband here this week, I was surprised to realize that my productivity has not dropped noticeably, not even Monday when we watched an episode of Smallville after lunch.

How can this be?  I know he’s not sneaking around doing my work.  I am doing a bit less housework although just what will go unnamed in case no one else has noticed.  And I haven’t had to do any interviews for my various articles-in-progress this week.  These interviews are very time-consuming.  I think that part of the reason that my productivity has not dropped is that when I work, I am working harder.  I have things to get done and I also want to spend time with my husband in addition to helping him with the various things he can’t do on his own.

Obviously, next week I might want to pay a bit more attention to how I spend my day.  It may yield some interesting, and productive, results.


No No NaNo

As a writer who blogs, I felt like I was breaking a sacred covenant by keeping silent while the writing world gears up for NaNoWriMo.  Why write about it?  I’m not doing it this year.

I tried it last year so I do know what I’m missing.  That’s not the problem. NaNoWriMo works really well for some people.  I know writers who swear by it.  Not me, I swear at it.

I am an immensely goal oriented person.  If I set a goal, I will do my utmost to meet it.  So if I commit to NaNoWriMo, I’ll work at it really hard.  But I already have a ton of writing to do including taking some projects I already started to final.

Hmm.  Rough out yet another one or take something to final?  For me, the answer seems pretty obvious.

If somewhere deep inside, you know NaNoWriMo is just not the path you need to take, then don’t.  Write what you need to write. Write what will move your craft forward.  It really is that simple.


Goals — Some Weeks the Universe Just Laughs


Yep.  I set ’em all right.

So much for that.

The problem came when I realized that I had misunderstood one of my editors.  Sure I almost had one of two articles finished.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one she needed first.  This meant that I switched gears, quit working on the article that was nearly done and swooped down on the other.  The good news is that I’ll turn it in tomorrow.

The bad news is that I got little else done.

Because of this, my list of goals for this week looks remarkably like my list from last week.

  • Finish activity list.
  • Finish the second interview based article.
  • Write the handouts for my first talk.
  • Write my second talk.
  • My husband’s surgery went well and he’s recovering nicely but he will also be home all week but can’t do much for himself.  I also happen to like spending time with him.  But, like I said before, all of the above needs to get done and the deadlines are now that much tighter.

    Oh, joy.

    It really is a good thing that I love what I do!


    Friday: Characterization in Picture books

    All picture book characters deserve serious effort from their authors.
    All picture book characters deserve serious effort from their authors.

    Do you do character sketches when you write a picture book?  Or is it something you disregard since your target word count may well be shorter than the character sketch itself?

    That’s how I used to feel.  I’d like to say that I changed my mind when an editor put me on the spot.  I was attending a small writers retreat.  With less than 20 participants, we had a good deal of face time with the editor.  Time for her to ask questions.

    “You did do a character sketch, didn’t you?”

    I shrugged.  “I know a lot more than is in the manuscript.”

    She didn’t buy it.  “I’m not sure you know enough.”

    Fine!  Fine!   I thought.  I’ll do the stupid character sketch.  Obviously this manuscript needs it.  Thank goodness they don’t all need them.

    Laughing yet?

    For a while, the only picture books I wrote were nonfiction.  Then, I hit on a great idea for a fiction story.  I whipped it up and took it to my critique group, warning them that it was really rough as in first draft.  This was just different enough from my regular work that I needed to have some clue if it worked on any level whatsoever.

    They liked it but they asked a lot of questions.  Questions about motivation.  Questions about what role one of the characters played.   Could I just do away with him?

    I knew I needed all three characters but I also knew I hadn’t done my job.  A character sketch of each main character would have helped me shore up what about each one was unique.  I could then work telling details into how they speak, how they move and what their preferences are.

    Maybe next time I’ll be smart enough to do it just a bit earlier.

    We can always hope.


    Down in the Dumps

    Share a cup of coffee with your writing pals.
    Share a cup of coffee with your writing pals.

    The other day I had a good gripe session with one of my writing buddies.  Good in that I built up a really good head of steam.  I groused about how discouraged I’d been about my writing lately — in general but most specifically where my fiction is concerned.

    Before I knew it, she was joining in.  “It seems like no matter what I send them, the editors just won’t bite.”

    “What are you talking about?  You have books!”  I’m sure I squeaked.  I was that shocked.

    She laughed.  “So?  You earn a real income.”

    “But . . . but . . . I don’t have books. I can’t sell fiction.”

    We had a good laugh and then got back to work.   Then I got an e-mail from another writing buddy, an astonishing novelist.  She was discouraged too.  She was almost done with one project but not sure what to work on next.  As a result, she felt completely crabby and out of sorts.

    It seems to be something we writers all go through at one time or another.  I think it may be a symptom of working so many hours in isolation and getting only critical feedback on our work.  Granted, critical is good.  But when you get that and rejection letters, and not much else, you can start to wonder if you really have what it takes.

    This is why you need a solid group of writing friends.  Your husband or wife won’t necessarily get it.  Your writing buddies?  They know.

    Even if you are a serious introvert, keep a solid group of writing friends around you.  They can help haul you through the bad times and they’ll be there to celebrate the good times too.  Who better to understand just how sweet those good times are?


    New Market

    42 is a new quarterly print magazine focused on “living a meaningful life.”

    They are currently seeking submissions of poems, articles and stories for the Winter 2009 and later editions.   The “focus” is on peace, justice, ecology, economy, self-reliance, simplicity, reason, joy, love and art.  Among other things, they are fielding column ideas.

    Check out the web site for details.

    Thank you to Writing World which is the publication where I read about 42.


    Using Curriculum Standards

    This year, my school district decided that most parents didn’t know about national curriculum standards and they sent a hard copy to each household. I now have a print copy of elementary guidelines for the state of Missouri.

    This makes my life much easier when I’m writing up an activity for an educational publisher.

    What grade would it be perfect for?   I flip through the science or art standards, or whatever else is applicable, until I find a good fit.

    When I want to sell a publisher on a project, a flip through the standards until I find specific listings for the skills taught by this activity.  Now I can tell the publisher what grade level and specifically what standards I will cover.  When I need standards for upper grades, I go to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education web page for curriculum and use the links from each curriculum area to the grade level expectations for that area.

    Make use of the standards when you pitch your next picture book, magazine nonfiction or activity.  You may find your way to greater sales.


    Goals — A Little Bit All Around

    flowersI managed to accomplish something on each of my goals for last week:

    • Come up with the list of activity ideas that the editor asked me to do.  I am just over half way.
    • Write the second interview based article.  I have a solid draft done.
    • Get the interviews going for the third.  Check!
    • Write my first talk.   Rough but check!
    • Outline my second talk.  Check!

    Again, fewer individual goals would mean more progress on each but I need to get this stuff done, so:

    • Finish activity list.
    • Finish the second interview based article.
    • Collect interviews for the third.
    • Write the handouts for my first talk.
    • Write my second talk.

    I’d like to get just a bit of picture book work done too so I’ll come up with some goals but these are two week goals (ie after I get this stuff done):

    • Zoo research.
    • Astronomy research.
    • Tweak picture book manuscript.

    Off to see what I can accomplish!