Writing In The Time Of Corona

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Yes, the title is inspired by the title of one of my favorite books – Love in the Time of Cholera.

I don’t think the current situation with Coronavirus or COVID-19 needs any explanation or introduction. Its nasty reputation precedes it!

Now for the serious part…

For the last eight days, I have found myself trapped on treadmills of worry due to Corona’s widespread and assorted effects.  Numbers and deaths are rising, but our data is unreliable and we don’t really know what is right at this point, if we have already hit the peak or not. Most of our freedoms have been curbed for the foreseeable future, and I have realized I am more of an extrovert than I believed. The pain of separation from friends is not to be taken lightly.  People are frightened, and the media is whipping us all further into a mass frenzy of terror with their constant coverage. Ignorant remarks online likening Corona to the Black Death are not helping.

One of my fears came true today – a lay-off, hopefully only temporary, but unsettling nevertheless. I haven’t been unemployed in the past twelve years and though I have no intentions of working in the travel industry for the rest of my non-retired life, I would rather work there than have no job at all.

Work on my manuscript ground to a halt about ten days ago. This massive interruption may put a dent in my plans to publish this year. Though I knew I did not have the means to hire an editor, I did intend to have my novel typeset, have the covers designed by a professional, and set up a website. Depending on how long this lay-off lasts, publication may not take shape at all this year.

So where do I go from here? I don’t remember the last time I felt this adrift. I have a great deal of fear now, and I sense the great fear in the collective consciousness too. I fear for my family and friends who are older or somehow immuno-compromised. I don’t want to see mass amounts of people die. But I also fear the aftermath of this nightmare. When the smoke clears and COVID-19 has been contained, where will our society be and how will it recover? Will these lockdowns ultimately do more harm than good? How many will continue to suffer from poverty and mental anguish? How many businesses closed forever, how many dreams shattered? Are we heading into a second Great Depression, a sustained period of social and political unrest? How many divorces, suicides, spirals and relapses into alcoholism and drug abuse will we see in the months to come as a result of isolation, unemployment, and desperation?

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But, whatever is going on, creativity never ceases. The muses do not really sleep. They’re always awake, kindling fires deep in the subconscious, whispering in our ears. My creativity has been strangled this last week by so much worry. Perhaps now that one of my biggest fears is manifested and “purged” if you will, I can focus again.

I must focus. There’s really no choice, I suppose.

I have always had a strong spirituality, and I will turn to this in the trying weeks to come. My writing has also always been a safe haven for me in times of sadness, and it will be so very much now. My critique group will continue online for however long it must, which should give me some inspiration  to continue. Friends have checked in on me through text or phone calls and I live with family, so my lot could be much worse. Facebook video chat is pretty cool, and so are the streams of operas and plays, and virtual museum tours.

I suppose I should use this “down time” to put my nose to the grind stone and edit like a hurricane. I certainly can’t say I’m just too busy this week or burnt-out from work. I just need to pull my attention from the insanity going on outside my door and look inward, to the mysterious place of dreams and inspiration.

Times of adversity don’t last forever…but the writerly spirit does. I will continue to remind myself that this is but a temporary limbo, that every day of worry is one we will never have to repeat, one day closer to a cure or a drop off in cases and deaths, one day closer to the end of lockup –er, lockdown.

One last insight. Like many Americans, I am accustomed to a rather cushy life. Aside from the usual nonsense and glitches of daily existence, my experiences of discomfort have been mostly fleeting and highly personal. I have never lived through a global crisis of this sort and magnitude. My book is set during a tumultuous time that took place over a span of several years. Hopefully, an economic crash does not unravel the very social order of the United States and tip us into something even more frightening and destructive — like a revolution. I now find myself with a whole new admiration for other humans who lived through times of darkness and uncertainty.  The day to day stress of such things is extraordinary and coping with it and moving forward takes strength. Humanity’s survival through so many ghastly happenings is a testament to the amazing durability of the human spirit.

One thing’s for sure…I will never again take dining out or sitting with a journal and some coffee at Panera for granted ever again.

 

Be well, and write on. ❤

How Long Should Writing A Book Take?

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As you all know, I have been working on my novel for over four years now. I started this blog in 2018 during the second draft. I intend to self-publish in the first half of 2020. Since the time to send my baby out into the world is drawing close, it has me thinking (among a million other things) about how long it took, and asking a question: how long should writing a novel take from beginning to end?

This is a question not easily answered. Writing a book is certainly fun but no cake walk. There’s the first draft where you become hopelessly enamored of your story and write on pure passion, the second draft where you see the myriad flaws in your romance, and usually a third or, you know, sixteenth draft in which you reconcile the first two states and make peace with them. Then, there’s the designing and marketing phase, which isn’t writing, but is every bit as serious and important as the actual writing.

How long is all this supposed to take? There’s no real answer to that. Everyone has their opinions, of course, and everyone works at a different pace. If you have to do any significant research for your book, as I have had to, that can also slow you down. So can procrastination, perfectionism, and all the other tiny incidents that make up the game of life.

As I aim for publication in early to mid 2020, that makes five years of work for this project. I personally feel that is too long and for my next novel, I will aim to complete all drafts and publish within three years or less. The story is percolating within me now, and I intend to start outlining soon, to avoid any sort of writer’s block. Taking several years on end also heightens the possibility of burnout, another notorious writer’s enemy we all should strive to avoid.

If you are a writer, nail down exactly how long you wish to spend with your book and try to stick to your deadline. Your audience will thank you. 🙂

 

Write On!

 

 

 

The Third Draft! We’re Almost There!

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Yes, I took another long hiatus. Summer tends to have this effect on me. But, I am back and I have big news!

I am now working on the third (and hopefully final) draft of my novel. I completed the second draft in July, and am now seventeen chapters into my edit. Between hand edits and the help of amazing editing tool ProWriting Aid, I am well on my way to producing the best work that I can.

Like usual, everything is taking longer than I thought, so this means my book will not hit the market until 2020. If all goes according to plan, I would love to put it out there to coincide with the anniversary of when I began working on the first draft in earnest, which would be mid-March. If not, April would be perfect too.

I will try to update this blog more frequently. You might get some posts about editing! Stay tuned and Happy Autumn!

Why You Must Write the Stories You Love

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I have always believed that a writer must write the sorts of stories they love to read. Writing for market trends — known as “being a hack” — was never something I could nor wanted to do. Since childhood, I created my stories from whatever my imagination seized upon. As an adult, I continue the practice. I don’t think we will ever learn completely why stories are written and where the ideas originate. Some of them are, of course, based upon personal experience, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For those of us who craft tales about characters much different from ourselves, having experiences we have never had, in locales we have never been able to visit, there’s no explanation for writing what we do. I couldn’t explain to you in a million years why I keep circling back to eighteenth century France in my own work. Something beckons me and I have no idea what it is. I only know I have to acknowledge the call.

I grew up believing it was natural for writers to flex their imaginations in whichever direction they were drawn. That with a sharply – honed  sense of empathy combined with proper research, we could place ourselves in the shoes of a completely different person and experience life through their eyes for a while. Whenever I follow this instinct, my writing breathes in a way it never could if I did not. To me, this dedication, this passion, is what bestows life everlasting upon a book. It is, indeed, the very essence of being a writer.

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Unfortunately, I am witnessing what appears to be a slow but steady erosion of the writing spirit. There are many voices now saying that it’s not a writer’s place to craft stories too far removed from their own sphere of earthly existence. Some voices scream, others whisper or imply, but make no mistake, all speak the same message: It is inappropriate to stretch your imagination. Giving life to characters outside one’s own race, culture, gender, religion, sexual preference, state of health, or life experiences is over-reach that cannot be tolerated. It reeks of privilege and appropriation.

I have been watching these debates rage for a while now in real-life and online. I’ve withdrawn from several writing forums because of them and dedicated a lot of brain power to the subject, brain power that would have been better applied to writing stories. If these ideas are taken to the extreme that many in the publishing world wish to take them, we will be left with little more than unsatisfying memoirs as author Lionel Shriver noted. Imagine what our bookshelves would look like if writers never left the confines of their own life experiences on the page. We would be deprived of many great works and the shimmering richness that makes up the reading world we all love.

Though I can be moody (how typical) and an epic procrastinator among other things, I consider myself a basically good person. I place a high value on all life forms. I endeavor to be respectful and honest. And for years I have sought to expand my consciousness through spiritual searching. Those who know me very well would (hopefully) describe me as a good friend and a sympathetic ear. Outside of self-defense, I would never intentionally harm other human beings. But I maintain a hardline stance on unabridged freedom of artistic expression for creative as well as legal purposes. Naturally, we should strive for accuracy and excellence in all that we do, but the writer’s imagination should never be shackled by the political rhetoric du jour.

Indeed, it is the writer’s duty to portray and preserve the stories of humanity in all their beauty as well as their ugliness, to seek out the beating heart of human experience and capture it on the page for others to find. We can learn a great deal from the arts. Studies have shown that avid readers have more empathy and higher EQ than non-readers. That says a lot about the importance of honest writing.

I will continue to write what my imagination embraces, write the stories that reveal themselves to me, uncensored. I am too authentic to fake things, too in love with my trade to dumb it down. I don’t foresee my work getting a great deal of flack, but for those writers whose work will  leave them more vulnerable to criticism, I hope they are also willing to follow the siren song of the stories within that seek release.

In closing: Always write honestly. Always write what you are called to write. Refusing to do so will only strangle your voice and flood the bookstores with mediocrity.

Write on.

 

Why You Should Join A Writing Group

Five reasons every writer should belong to a critique group.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 . ***

The very title of this post probably has some of you cringing. Join a writing group? Where I actually have to let others read my writing, or worse yet, read my writing out loud to people who might not like it? Shiver. I could never!

Ah, but you can—and you should! I have belonged to a writing critique group for around nine years and have been moderating that group for at least four. During this time, I have learned a great deal from my fellow group members. Without further ado, here are some reasons you should seek out a critique group—and, you know, actually go to the meetings. 😀

1. It Will Hold You Accountable

We all know writers love to procrastinate. Attending a writing group will force you to produce consistently.

2. You Will Learn How to Take Criticism.

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As a writer, learning to take criticism is a must. We often don’t see the flaws in our own work, so other people need to point them out for us. Helpful group members will be respectful but honest about your work and you will grow accustomed to receiving real feedback.

3. It Will Help Keep You Inspired

Nothing fuels inspiration like reading or listening to other people’s work, which is what you will be doing in a writing group.

4. You Will Make Human Connections

Writing can be a lonely craft. Meeting other writers will get you out of your own head and you may even make new friends, or meet people who work in other fields related to writing, such as editors or publishers.

5. It Will Sharpen Your Editing Skills

Critiquing other people’s writing will help hone your own editing skills, which will make you a better writer. Win/win situation.

So where can you find a writing group? Your local library or college are usually good places to start. So get up and get going! You owe it to yourself!

 

Write On!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

How Poetry Made Me A Better Writer

Poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

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***Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017***

Poetry is a curious beast, to say the least. (Hey look, it rhymes! LOL.) It can be beautiful and intriguing, but devilishly hard to understand, and even harder to write, or at least write well. I have loved poetry since I was a child, and filled up several notebooks over the years with my own poems, or, more accurately, my “efforts at poetry.” Though I have never considered poetry my “main writing gig,” I do admire the genre and feel I am beginning to get a grasp on writing it. A kinda, sorta, infant-like grasp.
***UPDATE: I have since had several poems published so I am officially out of pre-school. 😀 ***

But what I really want to share here, is the great influence poetry had and still has upon my fiction. Some of you might be wondering how that could be so. Poetry, especially modern poetry, is short, and often highly personal and not as clear-cut as straight prose or fiction writing. But poetry has taught me two valuable lessons that have helped me tell better stories:

1. Notice the small details

Poems focus to a great extent on small details and subtle nuances. The way light glimmers off of broken glass. The smell of autumn leaves. The way a person removes their gloves or holds their coffee cup. Yes, this is found in fiction too and plenty of books on how to write fiction, but I have to say that poetry has been my greatest teacher when it comes to observing tiny details and learning how to bring those details to life on the page, which is the essence of writing. That brings me to my second point.

2. Unique Descriptions

Poems are nothing if not unique. Reading them or listening to others read them, you will encounter similes and metaphors that you have never heard before, that capture the image or feeling of the subject so well that you remember them for days or years to come. Reading poetry or attending a poetry reading are kindling for my writing fire, and sometimes the whole ton of logs. I really credit my love of description to all of the poetry, both classical and modern, that I have enjoyed over the years.

My advice to all writers: explore some poetry. Even if you don’t particularly like it, you may learn some valuable lessons and others too. You might also find that you love it, and the things we love often become our creative inspiration.

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay

Is Writer’s Block Fact or Fiction?

I am pretty sure that, despite being often being invoked as a lame excuse, writer’s block is sometimes real.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 ***

Every  writer has heard of it and every writer dreads it: writer’s block. Though this “malady” seems to strike word nerds across the board at some point, there is debate as to whether it is a real phenomenon or just a cheap excuse not to park your keester in front of your computer and get the keys hot. Truthfully, I have found myself on both sides of the argument at different times of my life. What is my current take on it? I am going to say that yes, in some cases, it is real.

Now we all know that many writers are epic procrastinators and frequently cite assorted reasons why they are unable to write. But beneath those reasons lie a mere lack of motivation and discipline. And then sometimes, life really does happen and you need to attend to real-world issues, which is perfectly understandable. That’s called being a human

However, I have experienced episodes of what I can only describe as “block.” This block goes far beyond knowing exactly what I need to do next in my story and how to do it, but deciding to binge watch episodes of “My Haunted House” instead and eat my way through a bag of miniature Butterfingers. That’s laziness. Pathetic laziness, often rooted in fear of an impending challenge.

But block? It sucks. You want to write, but for some reason your brain is like an overactive beagle puppy cooped up in the house on a rainy day; it can’t sit still long enough to focus and does not want to do what it is told. Furthermore, and this in my opinion is the worst part, if you try to push through the block and force yourself to write, you end up with god-awful dribble on the paper in front of you that is so uninspiring, it is not worth pursuing.

It happened to me after I finished the first draft of my third novel. I knew what I had to do and wanted to do it, but I felt like I was walking through drying concrete. Like a good little trooper, I slogged through for a while, but finally I had to take a hiatus that lasted for several months. Those first seven chapters that I rewrote when I was struggling are quite frankly mediocre and need to be rewritten again.

I have no explanation for it, but I do remember feeling sort of empty, like a corn field that had been picked clean of its crop. Only husks of my creativity remained and I needed to wait for next year to come back to life. I had given all I had to give and now I needed to rest and replenish.

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Maybe this is just the natural ebb and flow of life at work. Everything after all comes in cycles and I assume creativity is no different. Writing is satisfying but challenging work and maybe our brains really do need a break occasionally. Knowing when to retreat is just as valuable as knowing when to forge ahead. Retreating though does not mean you lost the war; you’re just recouping and waiting to come out in full force again.

So yes, I am pretty sure that writer’s block, despite often being invoked as a lame excuse, is sometimes a bonafide issue. What it is not though, is a good reason to completely give up and abandon a project. Give yourself a rest if need be; and then when you’re ready, give it everything you got!

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

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