Where does the time go? I mean, really! I remember when I was a kid, it would seem that time would drag soooooo slow. I would overhear adults in the family reminiscing about years past and they would always say, "Time flies." I would think to myself, "NO, it doesn't! It is taking FOREVER for summer to get here!" Even college seemed somewhat sheltered. Now that I think about it, those first few years out of college weren't that quick either. But NOW? Now, I get what my mother was talking about. It's 2010 already. Remember when we were all scared as we hesitantly rang in 2000? Just like that an entire decade has passed us by. Days pass, weeks pass, we're almost to April. Somebody please slow down that clock. Or teach me how to manage my time better. I am up much later than I should be trying to get some writing done. I do my best work when the house is quiet. The cats are asleep on various pieces of furniture in the living room with me. Lily is snoring on her dog bed in what looks like a very uncomfortable position. My husband went to bed hours ago. This is my 'me' time when I can get a lot accomplished, a chapter written, a new path explored. As I get older, though, I can't go on small amounts of sleep. By the time I get into bed, fall asleep and get my 8 hours, most of the morning will be gone tomorrow. I have things planned for most of the day into the evening again. I will be up late writing tomorrow night as well. It's a vicious cycle I get caught up in. Weekends are far too distracting. There is hiking to do, a husband to feed (multiple times - like pets, husbands need several feedings a day), shows to watch, a house to clean, naps to take. Before I know it, it is Sunday night and I have gotten little done in the way of writing. The house is clean, but that doesn't finish my W.I.P. My characters are calling out to me, but I must ignore them and crawl into bed for the evening hoping that I can make tomorrow much more productive. Balance is hard as you get into the real, adult world. I am still struggling to find it. For now, though, I feel like my clock looks more like the clock in the picture.
An outline is a like good map. You need one or you can get lost out there. Anyone who has gone hiking without a map and gotten lost, knows how valuable a map can be. I always start out with the outline. It helps me stay focused and on course. When hiking with my husband, maps don't necessarily make it out of the pack. They go in because maps are safe and we need a general sense of where we are going, but hiking with Erik means you are guaranteed to "just see where this little side trail goes." It's always an adventure. Not always a fun one. Sometimes it ends up in a neighborhood hitching a ride from a stranger because you are far too tired and hungry after four hours of trying to find your way back to the car to care if the stranger is really an axe murderer. You just hope the mere sight of your overly friendly pit bull is enough to keep his murderous ways at bay. You make jokes that she is really only "tasting him" when she licks his hand affectionately and pretend you are struggling to hold a monster back from lunging at his neck from the backseat rather than keep her from giving kisses to the back of his head.
My current W.I.P. has been a lot like hiking with my husband. I started out with the map, but ventured off on a side trail (what would happen if...) that led to another side trail and soon I am far off the beaten path. If you look at the map above, I took off towards Lake Poway when my outline was straight through Blue Sky Reserve. I started with a venture down on the creekside trail, which led me back to the main trail. But that side trail to Poway Lake was just too tempting to resist. "Let's see what is off this way," I said to my character and off we went. It's a lovely trail full of adventure! We're having so much fun following it. The problem is that we need to end up at Ramona Dam. The good news is that you can't see it, but off the map, we can make our way back around from the lake in Poway to the Dam up in Ramona. There are some steep hills and a bit of rough bushwhacking (which my husband will tell you is NOT my favorite part and brings out grumpy Jen - the ticks, the ticks! and sometimes a snake!), but we'll get there in the end.
The trail may be the safe way of getting there, but I have discovered that most of the fun is off the path! You can't always play it safe in life. You certainly can't play it safe in stories. If you're going to be daring and have adventures, you need to take a deep breath and plunge into the brush every now and then. You never know what is going to be waiting for you out there. Just make sure you pack enough incase you get stuck out there overnight. You know, the basics - water, energy bars, trail mix, a sweatshirt, a compass. Don't forget your writing materials. Those are most important of all!
I probably should have titled this Avoidance Behavior because that is actually what I am doing. Things are flowing quite nicely with the W.I.P. but I'm on a difficult scene that I want to be perfect so what am I doing? Posting on my blog. Running away from the scene that I am right in the middle of. I don't ever back down from a fight so why am I hiding from this scene? It's not confrontational. The scene is actually waiting there patiently for me in Chapter 6. "Ye just finish up what yer doin' and I'll be right here waitin' on ye, luv." Apparently, my scene speaks in a cool accent.
Anyways, I've been avoiding the thing all day. It started with a hike this morning. My friend Mel and I took Lily and Bubba (her dog and Lily's boyfriend) on a nice cardio hike. It was only about an hour. I returned home somewhat tired and putzed around on the computer for a few hours before settling in for a nap. Woke up from the nap and I can't honestly tell you where the rest of the afternoon went. It's not that I've lost interest in my story. On the contrary, it's all I think about most of the time. When I'm away from it, I can't wait to get back to it. I love, love, love it. But I think I love it too much. It's like my cherished child. That firstborn baby. No instruction manuel on how to raise it and I'm terribly afraid of messing it up with any actions. If I leave the scene the way it is, I can't screw it up. I can't type words that fall far short of what I have in my head. BUT I also can't write it to perfection. Or even write it at all. I am having to remind myself throughout this process that this is just a rough draft, a zero draft, an exploring of my story. So no more avoiding. Unlike words that are spoken, words that we type in stories can always be taken back. They can be changed, rewritten, polished to shine like amethyst.
My aunt and uncle used to make jewelry. They were hippies in the 70s and all about cool things like jewelry making, beading, knitting, etc. Their small house had stones everywhere you turned. I remember them covering the kichen table, the coffee table, the end tables. Sometimes they were just rocks - not cut open yet to see what was inside. Other times, they had been cracked open and amethyst would spill out. Well, not literally. It would appear to be popping out of the rock, though. They had to decide if it was jewelry quality or paperweight quality. Did they cut further until all that was left was the deep purple? Or did they polish away at the stone as it was cut - leaving one side shining purple while the other was still the dull, coarse gray of the original rock. Writing this W.I.P. has been a bit like that, I suppose. Right now I am cracking open the open idea fully to see what it contains inside. There will be a smoothing out process, a getting rid of dull bits. I won't get the finished product if I don't labor through the first, though. On that note, off to type words that need typing in a scene that doesn't have to be perfect just yet.
I have developed an obsession with keys just tonight. This story has been fun to write. Challenging, but fun. I spent a week doing a very flushed out outline for the book only to discover that I'm using the map as more of a guideline than an actual map. It's like hiking - I know the starting point, I know the finish point and there's a very clear trail to get there, but sometimes its more fun to wander off the trail and see what's just on the other side of that little hill. There are meadows to be discovered, small creeks that feed into larger ones. I would miss all those beautiful little sights if I didn't venture off the well marked path every so often. This week, I've been venturing off it quite a bit. I always come back, though. At the moment, I've wandered off the trail and discovered - keys! Not just any keys, mind you. These are OLD keys. Like older than our parents keys! Maybe even older than our grandparents! And there is a whole ring of them - rusted, iron keys that clank when they knock against each other and they must fit somewhere. My character just has to figure out where! I don't even know what she's going to find yet. It may be something that leads her right back to the trail and she discards the keys for someone else to find in another story altogether. At the moment, though, the keys are hers. They may lead her to untold treasures. Or perhaps it's just the cool way her parents have hidden her birthday presents this year and she will have to go digging through the attic to find which old chests the keys fit so that she can open them to discover all sorts of nifty things. I was surfing the internet for old fashioned keys and there are some really cool ones out there. No answers as to what they fit but no shortages of keys like the ones above.
Maybe they will unlock my brain so all sorts of neat ideas fall out, spilling onto the page. I can then sift through them for all sorts of little treasures that my readers will enjoy! I'm going to go try them. Wish me luck!
Can I just tell you hard it is to write a riddle? A really GOOD riddle? One that rhymes as well? There are plenty of helpful websites out there that try to guide you through it, but apparently they aren't enough help for me. You would think with my background in poetry (though Mr. Barone never allowed our poems to rhyme) and my creativity as a writer (SHOW don't tell, again Mr. Barone), that riddles wouldn't trouble me so. They are truly, truly the bane of my existence right now. This would be why they are an integrel part of my story, right? Of course, I had to come up with riddles that my character has to solve to find the items that she needs to save the day in the end. The stubborn part of me won't let go of the riddles because they fit the story so well. They just go. You know what I'm talking about. When you brainstorm and you feel that puzzle piece just fit. These riddles are the corner pieces. They hold the story together, the guts in. It's incomplete without them. I cannot give them up no matter how hard they are to write.
In all honesty, it started out as only one riddle. One simple riddle written to perfection by...my dad. Thanks dad! But as the story grew, the need for more riddles grew. I couldn't go back and ask my father "hey, I'm writing a book, you wouldn't mind writing me another three riddles, would you? I need one for each element." Instead, I took his one perfectly written riddle and tried to venture off onto my own. Okay, that's not entirely true. I did ask Dad for more riddles and he told me to write them and he would "tweak" them. The first problem: my dad is a great riddle writer. Awesome, even. "Like, oh my god, gag me with a spoon" good (for those of us who appreciate 80s references). He set the bar really, really high. I have had a hard time vaulting up even close enough to brush that bar with my long, hot pink fingernails. It's almost embarrassing. I'M the one with the writing degree. He's the one with the Masters in Business Management. He has something like seven college degrees (addicted to learning much, dad?) and not one of them is in anything close to a creative field. Yet, he can write riddles better than his daughter who had 13 poems published before she graduated high school. Imagine what an ego blow that is to me. Which further intimidates me. Still, I managed to write two more on my own and he only had to tweak one of them (I think). Now, I am on the last riddle. The very last and most important riddle of them all. For over a month now...two lines. Can't get past that no matter how much I try.
Why does this matter now? I jumped into Laini Taylor's writing challenge eagerly. It's been fun setting small goals and reaching them with other writers. However, my goal for this week is leading me dangerously closer to said riddle. I either have to write the damn thing already or find a way to tiptoe around it in my first 'exploratory' draft. It's daunting. I feel like the riddle is the elephant in the room. It's not just in the room, it takes up the whole room. The cats can barely get to the furniture. Lily can't move around without bumping into the thing. We can't live with this elephant much longer. I have to get this thing written and get that colossal beast out of my life! Elephants belong in the wild, not in our living rooms. And writers should be able to write one simple, six lined riddle. Wish me luck.
(That's a picture of my dad, the Riddle Writer, on a hike we did at Mt. Rainier a few years ago.)
My dog loves to be outside during the day. She'll find a nice spot in the sun, throw herself down and be out for a nap. Sometimes, though, like this morning, there are just too many good spots to choose from. She'll start in one and then I'll glance out the window into the yard to see her belly crawl across the grass to the next spot she would like to try. I was hoping to get a picture of the belly crawl this morning, but the minute she saw me step into the yard, she rolled onto her side hoping for a belly rub. I had to comply. She's too cute not to. Since I didn't snap a picture of the belly crawl today, I'm including one from the Dog Park on a really hot day (85 degrees). She belly crawled to the bench and proceeded to make out with a smaller dog under it (I believe a jack russell). Just picture her without the bench and the make out dog and set her in motion across the grass - you get the general idea of the Belly Crawl. She's a hit at the Dog Park because she looks like she is in combat traning crawling across the grass, under benches, then sprinting off with dogs chasing her. But I digress.
My Belly Crawl. Sometimes when I am writing, like this morning, I feel like Lily doing a belly crawl across the grass. I'm inching my way forward to the next tempting, sunny spot. Sometimes it feels soooooo slow and I wonder how long it will take to get there. Will the sun even be there anymore? Will it have dropped enough that the spot I was crawling for is now in the dark, shaded by the trees in the yard? In my outline this week, my story took quite a few turns that I was not expecting. It didn't change the outcome of the story, just added a little turmoil and more adventure before my character belly crawls into the sun at the very end. Those dark spots can be scary, though. As an author, we take on the adventures of our characters. I like to write mine out of the dark spots quickly, not lingering there. Belly crawling can seem an eternity during an afternoon write full of unexpected dark creatures to fight, riddles to crack and important items to retrieve before hitting another snag and having to battle my way, her way, our way out of that one! I will get her there in the end. She may even get a kiss when she gets there! Her first kiss, the very best kind. Awkward but still worth remembering. It will make the slow belly crawl she has to do and the few dark patches she hits along the way worth it when she edges across that finish line!
There is nothing better as a writer than finding that story that so captures you that it is all you can think about. When you are away from it, it calls to you. The characters speak to you in your head suggesting scenes, plot lines, urging you back to the computer. Even so, when I sit down at the computer, I find myself online. From one website to the next and suddenly I have lost two or three hours. Sometimes half a day! Cursed internet - the bane of my existence!
Having an actual job, though it doesn't pay me, should make me manage my time better. I teach a few days a week for half a day. On my days "off" during the week, I have to update our facebook page and take care of things for the nonprofit. I need to walk the dog at least once a day. Then there is the story. If I make it most of the day without sitting down for at least a few hours to work on it, I begin to stress out. There is plenty of time to get to my writing if I only manage my time better.
Right now, I am updating my blog having gotten to a point in my outline where my story took a sudden turn I wasn't expecting. I had no idea those darned stones would disappear and didn't see the wolves awaiting my characters arrival. Sigh. The wolves they can handle. I don't know where those darned stones went, though.
So now I'm going to try to be good with my procrastination. Instead of surfing the internet, I'll update my blog. Then I'll go exercise myself (because walking MY dog is not exercise - she stops and sniffs entirely too much), shower and see if I have the stones. They are terribly important to the story so I must discover them somewhere, somehow. When I'm done with the showering, if they haven't appeared, I'll likely eat lunch and go to the grocery store. Perhaps, the answer will be hidden behind a box of spice cake mix or in the vegetarian section behind the fake meat! Wherever they are, I need to find them because my self imposed deadline of finishing this outline is rapidly approaching (midnight tonight - yipes!).
Wish me luck. And if you see those black, polished stones that you can strike together to create flame, drop me a line and let me know where they are. I'll pass it along to my characters so they can retrieve them.
(NOTE: The picture has nothing to do with the blog entry, but my dog is so beautiful that I can hardly ever resist a chance to show her off.)
"This is MY dream and I will decide where it goes from here." - Alice, "Alice in Wonderland"
I have never been satisfied with the ordinariness of life. When I hike in the forest, I am always on alert for that rabbit hole. I look for the fairies floating upwards toward the sky on the misty clouds at the foot of the waterfalls. I hope that if I round that corner on the trail quick enough, I will catch the wood elf before it has time to disappear just outside of my subconscious again. I believe there is magic in the woods, magic in the trees and anything is possible. So why do I limit myself so much in my real, ordinary out of the forest life at times? Force of habit, I think. Starting in kindergarten, they try to make us color in the lines, stop eating paste and glue the pictures on the paper where THEY want them, not where we want them. I had to make an "All About Me" book for my kinder class and not much of it was true. I made up family members - added a sister because I had only brothers. I made up pets - not normal pets like the rest of the class, I had a catepillar named "Inci". I said that my favorite thing to do was to swing from the bar in my closet while dressed in my squirrel outfit. I didn't have a squirrel outfit and my father would have "blistered my bottom" for swinging on that bar though it was always so tempting. My mother was embarrassed by my stories. My father always found them amusing. Although I don't think anyone liked my show and tell story when I claimed that my mom had given me my Barbie because she was having an affair with the man up the street and was pregnant with his baby. My mother was mortified when the teacher asked her "when is the baby due?" as she picked me up that afternoon. I'm not sure my teacher believed her when she told her that none of it was true. Why would a 5 year old make up a story that dramatic? Well, I had to follow James O'Connor and, though I can't remember what he brought with him, I remember everyone thinking it was the coolest toy ever. I was under pressure to up the ante on my Barbie. Why my 5 year old mind thought that telling the kids that my mom was having sex with the man up the street would somehow make my Barbie cooler is beyond me. I do know that Grandma was told never to watch her soap operas when she babysat me after that. (Grandma still did. It just became our little secret.) After kindergarten, I started slowly losing my fearlessness when it came to being creative. I think the last creative story I told was in the second grade when I tried to convince my friend Karmyn that there was a ghost carnival you could get to through my closet with all kinds of fun rides and unlimited cotton candy but only I could go there. After that, I stuck to paper and shared my stories with very few...which leads me to "Alice in Wonderland."
I want to be like Alice. Too many times in my life, I have let other people tell me which path to take, where to go, who I am, who I am not and haven't stood up to shout, "This is MY dream and I will decide where it goes from here!" I have allowed my path to be turned, my quest to be predetermined. Though I am now at a point in my life where I know who I am and where I am going, I still struggle with this in my writing. Too many times I try to rewrite while I'm still in the first draft. I second guess myself constantly. That little voice inside me starts to creep in - you know the one, it tells you that your idea isn't good enough, your writing isn't good enough, no one would be interested in your story. I want to become Alice in that moment and tell myself that this is MY dream and I will decide where it goes from here. I can be fearless and mad as a hatter. I can be the queen's champion and slay that jabborwocky. My story can go whichever way I want it to once I fall down that hole. And with that...I am off to write!
I am an Humane Education teacher & writer living in Burbank, California. I left television production almost a decade ago to pursue my passion - animals. Along the way, I snagged myself a super handsome, extremely patient and very supportive husband. We rescued three cats - Ol' One Eye Pip, Eowyn the Snow Leopard and Wednesday the Butt. We also ended up with an American Staffordshire Terrier pup, Lily. I co-founded my own non-profit (Paws and Learn Humane Education Center) and spend three days a week in the schools educating kids about kindess to animals, dog bite prevention, city wildlife, pet overpopulation and responsible pet ownership. I love my job, but I also love to write. I spend my spare time writing and daydreaming. I love the outdoors and enjoy hikes with my hubby, friends and our dogs! Life is what we make of it and I am making the most of mine.