Tag Archives: writing

Don’t Look; Just Write

I’m tucking into my second book, finessing the proposal with the world’s most patient woman, literary agent Pamela Malpas and her sidekick, Louise. (Louise is a bunny; she has a killer kick.)

And I have discovered something about the process of writing. It requires more than discipline; we all know it takes that. What writing really demands is hardass blindness.

It requires ignoring dirty dishes in the sink, or eating off paper plates. It requires admitting the spice rack isn’t alphabetized, the car cleaned out, or your underwear folded before it gets stuffed in the drawer. Writing demands serious thought time; although some people can, I’ve never been able to work on a chapter for half an hour, then get up and go. If I can’t get a couple of hours in with some depth perception, it’s not worth it to open the laptop cover. Sort of like napping; what’s the point if you don’t get to REM?

Someone asked my hobbies the other day; I said crocheting, playing the harp, caning chair seats, and swimming. The person said, “And writing, right?” No, not any more. Writing is something to make time for, not do when I can find time.

It’s not just professionalism (read: a tight deadline) that’s shifted my priorities. Like exercise of any muscle, writing begets the desire to do more of it. H0bbies fall away as you clear time to write, but so does household tidiness, perfectionism, and deferring to the social obligations others want to demand of you. It all goes in the same un-emptied dumpster, overflowing with good intentions.

Someday, I’m going to put my good china in the upstairs cupboard and our everyday dishes in our downstairs bookstore kitchen. Feeding Valkyttie yesterday, I realized my Irish Waterford Crystal saucers had gone to the cat closet. That night I had soup from a plastic bowl with a very old decal of Snoopy on the bottom.

Where did we get a Snoopy bowl? I don’t remember buying a Snoopy bowl, and I haven’t had time to yard sale this summer, anyway.

Someday, I’m going to pick the delicious apples on our backyard trees. Meanwhile, we just keep calling neighbors to come get them. They’re lovely. The Golden ones are the size of my head. The neighbors who pick them always give us a couple; they’re great with peanut butter as a quick desk lunch.

Someday, I’m going to go back to playing Celtic harp, and pick up my Arabic language lessons again. Someday. I still swim once a week because it’s good for me, and I’ve lessened the exercise slack by walking to the grocery store. It’s just a half mile from our house; I use the time to think about narrative structure. Or what’s not getting done at the bookstore.

Someday, I’m going to make Christmas tree angels from old hymnals, create bath bombs with the kit I bought two years ago, and cane the rest of the chairs in our garage.

Someday I’m going to say to Jack, “No, honey; you cooked last night. Let me do it” and make something that won’t frighten him with its swiftness, use of leftovers, and microwaved edges. Someday.

Meanwhile, I’m writing a book. Someone call me when it’s Thanksgiving Dinner, okay?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

What Yarn has Taught Me about Writing

Wendy yarnMy name is Wendy, and I’m a yarn hoarder [pauses for hellos from the assembly].

Not that this is a problem, mind. I enjoy my addiction. In fact, yarn has taught me many good things over the years, particularly about writing. The processes are similar: sit down, follow a thread, create a whole piece.

So here are a few pieces of wisdom that have found me during yarn meditations:

1) Every tangle – be it plot, wool, or life – has two entry points: the beginning, and the end. Find  either one, and it will eventually lead you to the other. And help you untie your knots. And leave you with a nice little ball to play with.

2) While tension is required to hold a project together, knowing when to finesse with gentle fingers (or words) versus when to give a good hard yank, is important. Too much tension creates an impossible situation–remember that television series known as 24?–while too little leaves a shapeless messy mass. Enough tension to keep the needle (or pen) moving with surety, not so much that the project fights its own creation: that’s the way to do it.

yarn kitten3) Cats do not help with the actual physical goal, but they sure are fun to have around during the work. Kids, too. Cuteness never hurts, and it lowers the blood pressure. Even if maybe you ought not let the cat or child actually write on any of the manuscript…. or play with the yarn.

yarn tangle 14) When dealing with a particularly large or vicious muddle, the first thing to do is separate out that which does not belong. Not everything in life is tied to everything else, even in Buddhism. Get rid of the bits that don’t contribute, and what you have left is a thread you can follow. Of course some projects are made of multiple colors and threads, but the time to weave them together is after they’ve been disentangled from each other and understood as themselves.

5) Don’t underestimate how much you’ve got to work with–or how fast words can pile up. Sure, kids, meals, day jobs, and the other stuff get in the way, but when you pick up your project–be it knitting needles, or nouns and verbs–just give it a few rows and don’t worry about speed. When you look back from the far end, you’ll be surprised at what those little bits and pieces of time and effort added up to, over the long haul.

birds in the nest6) Have fun. Joyless crocheting is like joyless writing: dull, misshapen and lumpy. You’re doing something cool. Disappear into it. Dive deep. Tangle and disentangle, sing the colors, swing those needles, and drink wine–or diet coke. It’s your project. Do what you want!

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It was Wendy’s Idea

Wendy says it was my idea.  I’m sure it was hers.

Well, anyway, I guess I should introduce myself.  I am her ER doc friend, Elizabeth, and I live in a fabulous, mid 20th century house in a suburb of Big Stone Gap (aka a rural area of Lee County).  So, Wendy occasionally does writing workshops.  And ONE of us suggested that my place would be IDEAL for such an activity. *coughWendycough*

JaneJetsonWhen we moved into this house, the woman who built it had just died and her children were selling it.  Some things had been redecorated, but mostly not.  It still had the original drapes in the living room, the original flocked wallpaper in the entry hall.  It has a white bath, a pink bath and a green half-bath.  It has steel cabinets in the kitchen.  It has a ceiling light in the breakfast area that looks to me like something Jane Jetson would wear on her head!

It is surrounded by several hundred acres of cow pasture and hayfields.  There is a small community behind my 5 acres, with modest homes and double wide trailers, whose inhabitants come out of the woodwork on their ATVs with the first hint of pretty weather. (Our road is gravel, so not much actual traffic!)frontyard

The garden was started by Frona, 60 years ago.  She planned the layout and planted the perennials.  Every year is a journey of discovery with new flowers that must have been dormant in the previous years and with the plants I have added.

sunflowers

So, if you are interested in writing, Wendy is ready to mentor you at this workshop.  There are beds and sofas for you to sleep on and we are excited about sharing our little corner of Eden with you.

You can contact us through the Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore Facebook page for more information.  You can see pictures of my place on my Facebook page, Elizabeth Cooperstein, in Big Stone Gap, VA.

Jane

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Filed under small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Write Comes to the Cumberlands

August 9-10 is WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS – yeah yeah, so I like puns. This is an all-day workshop on  Saturday 10th when you can work on your novel or narrative non-fiction.

It’s being held in scenic Lee County, VA, at a hundred-year-old farmhouse in Turkey Cove. Participants arrive the night before for an optional opening session and find their sleeping quarters (beds available from cheap and cheerful to elegant and private, $10 to $50 per night). The next day after a home-cooked farm breakfast we’ll gather around the table to talk projects, do some prompting exercises, set personal goals and strategies, and then off you go to write, write, write. Throughout the day you can have private critiques and we will regroup in the afternoon to discuss publication options and whether to find an agent. It all happens in an encouraging atmosphere.

From beginners on up, this workshop focuses on ideas, productivity, and jumping the hurdles that hold us back. We meet for supper at 5:30, then drive to the bookstore (4 miles away) for an evening of reading your works and enjoying music together, 7-9 pm.

The workshop without accommodation is $140 and includes all-day Saturday meals and snacks. If you are interested in attending, slip over to the Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC page on Facebook and check out the invitation.

Payment can be made via Paypal to jbeck69087@aol.com; or you can mail a check to the bookstore (address is on the FB page). Payments are 100% refundable until August 3. Questions? Ask them here or leave them on the FB page.

My friend Elizabeth, whose majestic farmhouse will be the site of this workshop, will be blogging about it at the end of the month. A gourmet cook and a medical doctor with a passion for flavorful and healthy local food, her meals will be as wonderful as the fun of gathering with other writers to get your gumption on.

Ready to write? Ready to roll? Let’s do this thing!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Ceiling that Started It All

palmer house cornerJack and I were sitting in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago when my book sold; I talked to two different publishing houses, chose one, and off we went.

It’s a story I’ve been reliving from telling it at back-to-back literary festivals these past three days, and because my friend Tele Aadsen has sold her memoir. Rejoicing at a fellow writer’s recognition sparks happy memories.

Tele’s book on being a fisherwoman, which caught bids from no less than four publishing houses, will be out in about a year. Her blog is HOOKED; it comes right up if you google her. If you want to read my “sold the book” story, it’s “THE DAY THE BORDERS CLOSED AND OPENED AT THE SAME TIME” in the December blog postings.

palmer house ceilingBack to that ceiling: The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago is a wonderful place, and since Jack and I got it on a last-minute half-price deal a week before we left, it wasn’t ruinously expensive. And they have a swimming pool. Getting into water always makes me happy.

I sat under this glorious human-made sky, feeling like anything in the world was possible, the day the competing editors talked to me about their vision for my book. It was a heady time, and Editor Nichole turned out to be as lovely as she sounded that first day. She shaped and smoothed, guided with a gentle hand, and smiled the whole time with more than just gritted teeth. She was having fun, and that was fun.

teleWhich is what I’m wishing for Tele, whose sky and sea are of a different hue and temperament, and for all my new friends made these past three days. Whether you self-publish or work with a house, may you have a voice you trust, a hand whose firmness is comforting rather than restraining, and fun, fun, fun. Underneath the miasma of economics and marketing and other underbelly necessities of publishing, there are stories waiting to be told. Great stories, quiet stories, honest and enlightening stories, tales that will make us laugh and think and remember.

So here’s to all the storytellers giving us back the tales of our lives. I lift my own cup of overflowing happiness to you, and wish you well.

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The Jabberwock vs. the Narrative Arc

So the last time I finagled a weekend away from the bookshop and holed up to write, the Jabberwock roared and a lot of work got done. But I also discovered something. Three days isn’t as good as two days.

If you have three days, well, it stretches out, luxurious, like a snake in the sun, SO much time to get things done. If you have two days, you arrive the night before and haul your writing utensils onto the desk and slam some food in the fridge and start making notes to yourself so you can get up in the morning and hit it hard.

I come from a long line of procrastinators – which is in itself an oxymoron; think about it–so it doesn’t surprise me that time is the first thing I squander when there’s “plenty” of it. And this past weekend, with just two days to write, I got double the word count of my three-days wonder in late January.

It was less listening for the roar of the Jabberwock (if you’re going “huh” just now check out the blog postings from a few weeks ago) and feeling his claws pull me in, than constructing a framework on which to build: “this goes here, write a section that bridges that,” managing word flow and putting things where they make a cohesive narrative arc.

Oh, that sodding term again. For those unfamiliar with it, the narrative arc is what distinguishes a series of fun, comedic episodes forming individual chapters from a story with a beginning, middle, end, and series of events and consequences that spark other events and merge into a whole. A whole, not a hole. Narrative arcs are what make stories compelling because you want to find out what happens next, as opposed to just a pleasant read one can dip into and come out of at will.

Narrative arcs are flippin’ hard work. But once you get the frame up, they really help move the story along.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, sorry we forgot to put a blog up yesterday and we’re back on schedule now: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with Jack guesting once a week.

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Embrace the Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! –Lewis Carroll

Everyone finds it hard to make time to write. Sometimes squeezing “butt in seat” moments requires hiding from humanity.

Since publication of Little Bookstore last October–heck, since the February before–my agent Pamela, a diplomatic woman of great gentleness, has been dropping hints. “Working on anything?” She doesn’t push, she just … asks. Every once in awhile.

It’s very effective.

Lest poor Pam bear the brunt, I have WANTed to be writing again. A vague idea has swirled into semi-solid form, and the little pin prickles of desire, of inspiration–of guilt–have grown into claws that reach out to pull my butt back in the chair.

Those of you out there who write know what it’s like: toy with an idea, write a scene, think, daydream. Start to build. Force yourself into the chair and silence your internal critic’s voice: “This is stupid. This is crap.”

Beware the jaws that bite.

Then the half-formed beast of an idea’s claws reach out and pull you in, and you’re dropping social engagements to get another hour with your characters. You never want to leave that chair.

It’s not unlike being in love.

Last weekend I fled to a quiet place for two days of butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. It’s funny how writing begets writing in the same way that exercising exhausts you, then energizes you to exercise more. First your brain goes into a post-writing meltdown where you have nothing to say; every last spark of creativity gone, you curl into fetal position under a quilt. Lying in the dark, you start to think “what if he…” and you’re up again, fingers on keys, butt in chair.

And then you hit a bald patch, or the characters take over and drive you into a corner you can’t see a way out of, and you pout and fume and go back under the quilt, and a mental image comes to you, and up you get, and so it goes.

Perhaps it’s less love than lion taming. You don’t want to completely subdue the beast of an idea, but you can’t let it take over, either.  Partnership rather than dominance; you need it and it needs you.

I’m not sure the chair-quilt swing is a healthy lifestyle, but glory, it’s fun. When it’s going well. Or when it’s over. It’s fun the same way half-way through the marathon is fun (my running friends tell me) even though every step is pain. Sometimes it’s about the moment you’re in. Sometimes it’s about the goal you’re reaching.

But it’s always, always a thrill when those claws reach out and catch you, and you see in your mind’s eye what’s going to happen next, and you’re just waiting for the chance to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and hear the roar again.

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