THE MUSE: Don’t Wait For Her, Track That Lady Down

In this season of my life (in the midst of grieving for the loss of my mom), I am having some difficulty finding the writing muse. Mind you, this is not the first time that muse has been tricky with me. Sometimes I find that the house has to be perfectly straight, all my mom chores done (like that ever happens), and I have to be in my office, at my desk, in the zone, with the right music, and my mouth in just the right position…you know what I’m saying?

Well, life doesn’t really allow for that, does it? If I waited for that, I’d write maybe two sentences a month. We can’t always wait for the muse to come to us. We gotta track her down. That calls for a little flexibility and a little determination.

Flexibility

Yes, it would be nice if everything could work out as in my above scenario. But I have had to learn to quiet those OCDish tendencies in myself (or just change my locale to a coffee shop and escape the nagging mom-to-do-list-voice in my head) and focus on my work. That calls for flexibility in my environment. I have found that, with a little flexibility, very few things have to be in place for me to get writing done. Truly only two: my computer (with Scrivener in the “compose” mode – if you don’t know about this, you need to find out) and my music with headphones. I have discovered that with those two things, I can write almost anywhere. Today I’m actually at my friend’s house…she is baking up a storm and her kiddos are screaming like banshees. But I’m still writing.

Determination

I’ve talked about determination before. As a writer, it is essential. You are going to be the one who cares the most about your work. And whether or not it gets done. So, when you sit down and can’t get going, you have to make the decision to “make it work” as it were. Journal about something completely off topic from your manuscript, write through a writing prompt you find on the internet, free write about one of your character’s opinions about something…just write. Get the pump primed. Then return to your manuscript. You might discover that the muse has shown up. Writing as a career becomes a job. It’s not just a hobby. If you want to be serious, you have to write whether you feel like it or not. The requires determination.

So, what’s it gonna be? Are you going to be the kind of writer that only writes when the mood hits you? When the inspiration is present? Or will you find that flexibility and determination to make a real go of it? To make it more than a hobby?

A LITTLE OFF TOPIC: Dealing with Grief

Hey, everyone…sorry I haven’t blogged in a little while. I’ve found myself in a hard place. My mother passed away unexpectedly on April 9th. She’s not the first person in my life that I have lost. Not even the first close relationship to have lost to death. But she was my mom. And that makes it different.

And so I have been going through a myriad of emotions. Memories have flooded to the surface…some that make me laugh, some that make me ache. Then a couple of days ago, I realized that the especially difficult place I found myself in was uncomfortably familiar. Depression.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Most of us are aware that there are 5 stages of the grieving process. But I didn’t really delve into it until this week. And here’s what I found at PsychCentral and Grief.com. I will attempt to summarize what I learned.

Grief and its Stages

There are 5 accepted stages of grief. However everyone grieves differently. The stages are not necessarily a roadmap, they are more like guidelines. People in mourning will not necessarily go through the stages linearly or even hit all the stages. They may feel one stage, then another, and jump back to a previous stage because the stages are a response to our feelings. We also spend unpredictable amounts of time in each stage and experience the stages with varying intensities. Some things are the same for most people though:

  • you will move through at least some of the stages toward ACCEPTANCE
  • you will typically think of your own mortality

Another thing to note is that everyone grieves differently. I’ve seen this in my own family. I process things outwardly. I always have. While I have a close family member that deals with these sorts of things in a more private way. It is important not to judge how others grieve. It is personal.

DENIAL (& ISOLATION)

The first reaction to great loss is to deny the reality of the situation. We go numb and just try to survive. The world is meaningless and overwhelming. Life just doesn’t make sense anymore. Denial actually helps pace all the emotions of grief. This is a defense and it’s totally normal. It carries you through the first wave of pain, only letting in what we can handle. but at some point, we ask ourselves questions and opens us up to the healing process. Those denied feelings come to the surface.

I did experience this stage in a very vocal way. I remember the moment my brother told me that my mom had died. I screamed that it wasn’t true. Like I was trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so. As if I could say it loud enough and enough times to make it not true. Inside, my heart was breaking, but everything in me was working to deny the reality of it. I wasn’t ready to deal with the pain.

ANGER

The initial effects of the denial are wearing off…but we are not ready. We want to deflect from our vulnerable heart, so anger rises to the surface. Anger actually gives us strength. It gives us some structure to the emptiness of the loss. You may even feel guilt over expressing the anger, which can make you angrier. And while it may seem counterproductive, it is important to feel that anger. As you allow yourself to experience this emotion, it will dissipate and the more you will heal, and the feelings underneath can bubble up and you can get to them (in time).

This is a stage I have experienced, moved on from, and come back to. And it has been spent largely on my husband in the form of my irritability shot in his direction. And he has taken it in stride. He is amazing. He is so loving and understand that I am going through something huge and trying to navigate my way through tricky waters (so to speak).

BARGAINING

This is a normal reaction to feeling helpless and vulnerable. You want to regain control. You are plagued by the “if only’s” and “what if’s”. You may make a deal with God in the midst of this self doubt. This is a weaker line of defense protecting yourself from the pain. Those “if only’s” lead you to find fault in yourself which only leads to guilt. And guilt is like bargaining’s best friend. They run in a pack. This stage finds you living in the past.

There is no time prescribed to each stage. Some stages may take days/months. Some may take minutes. That is true of this stage for me. There have been moments of bargaining, of “if only’s” for me. “If only” I had asked this question. “If only” I had thought about that. “If only” I had been more attentive in this way. None of it gets me anywhere. But it is a part of the grieving process and dealing with my emotions.

DEPRESSION

Unlike, bargaining, this stage focuses on the present. It may be a reaction to practical things. Like the costs associated with burial or the guilt of not spending time with friends. Typically this can be eased by clarity and reassurances. Another, more subtle depression may take hold, however. This is a kind of preparation for letting go. This stage is marked by sadness and regret. Empty feelings pervade you, as if it will last forever. Your grief may be as if it has deepened. Experiencing depression as a reaction to loss is NOT a sign of mental illness. Other things you may note: withdrawal from life, intense sadness, wondering if there’s any point to continue without your loved one.

This is where I am now. Having been through postpartum depression three times, this is uncomfortably familiar territory. I struggle to get out of bed, want to return to bed. The world feels “unsafe” emotionally. I have to force myself to get out. But I have an amazing support system and, through counseling and therapy, I have many tools in my toolbox that are helping my ease my passage through this stage. I have essential oils that help. I know to plan something everyday with a friend or loved one to give me something to look forward to. I have my binder of counseling exercises and significant verses. It is not a cure-all, but it helps.

ACCEPTANCE

The final stage. Not everyone reaches this stage. Perhaps the death is sudden or we may never see beyond our anger and denial. This stage should not be confused with a feeling of happiness or a sense that we feel okay with what happened. You probably won’t ever feel that what happened is okay. This is simply about accepting the reality that they are gone physically. This stage is marked by withdrawal and calm (and it is different from the withdrawal associated with DEPRESSION). You are now able to accept a new normal and know that the old normal is gone. We must now invest in our other relationships. We begin to live again, but not until we have given grief its time.

How someone copes with death is very personal. And no one can smooth out the process for you. But others (your support network) can be there to comfort and be with you through the process. The best thing you can do for yourself is to allow yourself to feel the grief. Resisting your own emotions only prolongs the process.

 

A JUGGLING ACT: How Many Books Can I Keep In the Air?

There have been a few times in my short writing career when I have found myself in a juggling act. Too many books, so little time, you know? This would be one of those times. I started a project here, submitted one there, and soon enough, I ended up juggling several things at one time.

The Lady and the Hussites

This sequel to The Lady Bornekova has been contracted by Clean Reads and is its first round of edits. It will go through content edits (working on the continuity of the story, plausibility, closing any loopholes in the plot, etc), then line edits (more the grammar type stuff), and then proofing edits before a final read-through from me. Cover art will come at some point in this process as well (that’s the part I can hardly wait for).

A Convenient Risk

I will be exercising my skills at self-publishing this manuscript. It is in another editing process right now as well. Advanced Reader Copies have been sent to “Turnquist’s Troupe” as well. Though this book was finished after The Lady and the Hussites, it will actually hit your favorite computer ebook store first in all likelihood.

Leaving Waverly

Ah, the novella I wrote crazy fast… It is with my mentor/critique partner to give me some editing feedback before this novella is ready to go out to my newsletter followers for FREE! So, everyone who is signed up currently, or signs up for my newsletter will receive a FREE copy of this novella.

Trail of Fears

I am in the self-editing trenches with this back-logged novel. It’s been too long on the shelf. So long, in fact, that I have grown in my craft skills to the point this now needs a major re-haul. What seemed perfectly fine to me at the time, now looks too tell-y and the point of view too shallow. I’m excited to dig in and a little intimidated at the enormity of the rewrite.

the Diary

This novel is completed, with the last beta reader, and “resting” before I tear through it with my self-editing eye.

Unnamed Work

I am in the “spark” phase for the next novel. I have the “kernel”, the idea, the “what if”… And I am so excited about it, but I am not quite ready to share any more than this: it will be Historical Fiction, still, but will cross into the realm of Biblical Fiction.

In Summary…

I’ve got a lot going on. I don’t know how “normal” this is for an author (to be juggling so many novels in various stages at once). It seems that most of my author/writer friends have only one, maybe two going at a time. I understand that Isaac Asimov would have sometimes in excess of four or five going because he would tire of one and then move to another to work until he bored of that one. This way, he was always working, but never letting his creative juices dry up.

At any rate, having multiple works going is normal for me. It keeps things interesting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way? What about you? Any of you have multiple tasks/works going at once? Any of my author/writer friends wish to share how many works in progress they handle at one time?

PLANTSING: How I Wrote A Novella In 3 Days

Plantsing…

What a weird word, huh? Especially to those of you who are not in the writing world. But even for those of you who are writers, this word may not look familiar. It is what happens when a pantser begins to bring plotting into their process or vice a versa.

Hold on a minute…what is a pantser? What is a plotter? I’m lost… Let me help.

Pantser: A pantser is someone who “writes by the seat of their pants”

There is no planning, there is no outlining, they just sit and write and let the story come as it may.

Plotter/Outliner/Planner: Someone who, to the opposite extreme, plans out the entire novel, sometimes down to the most minute detail. Plotters can have pages upon pages of notes, diagrams, charts, and whatnot before they ever write one word of the manuscript.

Pantsing tends to be more work on the back end, giving you a pretty rough first draft. While plotting is a heavier work load on the front side, giving way to a more polished first draft. I’ve heard it said that for a pantser, the first draft is just a very detailed plotting session. Take from that what you will.

So, what are you? What am I?

It is said that what you are in life (a list maker, a scheduler, etc) you tend to be in your writing. That is soooo not true of me. The idea of going to the grocery store without a list makes me anxious. Not having my day planned and a “TO DO” list in hand would probably give me a panic attack.

But I was a total pantser when it came to my novels. I would just sit and write with very little idea about where I was going and how things would turn out. Vague ideas, I tell you…very vague. I loved letting the story unfold and surprise me this way…setting the characters in motion and having them take over the story in a way. Once you have established their character, the way they will react/interact is pretty set. You can’t have them do something or react somewhat outside of the character you’ve established, right? So, through the twists and turns of the plot, you can let your characters lead you where they will go. Pantsing is exciting and exhilarating.

But…

As I have learned more and honed my craft, I have begun to see the wisdom in taking time to plot some. Not a whole lot, but sketching out my characters. This deepens the character, and thus the readers experience with them. And as I began to do some plotting with characters, I found that the novels went deeper and flowed out of me faster. The most recent novella I wrote, was completed in 3 days. And that’s not 3 long, arduous, 10-K-craziness kind of days…I put in probably 5 hours each of those days.

What does that process look like?

First, you have to pull out your hero and heroine, your POV characters. Then you do character profile sheets on them and some preliminary daydreaming. Then, I get down to business. I love Susan May Warren’s The Story EquationThis is how I begin to really drill down and deepen my characters. I have to find their Dark Moment Story (you just have to read Warren’s book).

Then you can take that, and sketch out a basic plot outline, which is discussed in her book. I do one of these skeleton outlines for each of the POV characters. (More character development.)

Now I’m ready to dive in and begin writing. Unless I’m still feeling stuck. Then I might go to the Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method and go through the first 4 steps. This will help wrap my mind around what the novel is really about.

At this point, I have deeply developed characters. I have the whole iceberg, so to speak. Am I going to put everything on the page – no. The reader will only see the tip of the iceberg…what’s above the surface. But I truly need to know the entire structure in order to make that piece the reader interacts with feel three dimensional.

And with my characters firmly in my mind, I can let my pantsing take off. Since I know them well, I can give them more freedom to “take over” the novel and go places I never could have imagined.