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Cathy: Results!

Remember this list?

I spent the previous two days at writing camp with my writing group. Two whole days dedicated to writing. Yesterday I had a different meeting in the morning, but then I headed straight to  my writing camp’s day two, and thought I was going to have trouble, but amazingly got right to it! I seriously surprised myself by what I accomplished in the last 48 hours!

The List now looks like this:

DONE~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

DONE~write observatory scene using A. H.’s notes

Fixed~pay attention to name changes for T. B. and T. N.

working on~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

working on~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

working on~edit down cooking relevance

mostly finished, maybe a bit more at the end~more on comets

I also edited it a bit more in making sentences and paragraphs more succinct in the first 50 or so pages.

I need to edit the observatory scene now, but at least it’s on paper – er, computer screen. I think my next stage is to print and edit again by hand. I read very differently on paper than on screen, and can see needed changes so much better.

I obviously need to be in a different environment than my office with my home distractions to be able to concentrate on my manuscript edits.

The other five women I sat in quiet with for the past two days expressed the same thing. Here’s the funny part: I thought it was because of my kids, etc, but only half of us have children at home, and of varying ages. I am the only one with a toddler or a special-needs child, of course, I have one of each. Two are grandmothers who live with their retired spouses, who are both very good at busying themselves. And one is home while her husband still goes to the office.

We’re all at a stage of editing a large work we’re committed to. All of our projects are middle reader or young adult novels. Yesterday we planned that the rest of our usual twice a month meetings for the summer will be devoted to writing, no critique.

This way, when autumn comes around, we will all have work to critique. How’s that for commitment? I couldn’t do this without them. I am so grateful to my writing group and to the time we commit to working together.

[crossposted from musings in mayhem]

Cathy: Caught writing

Last week I mentioned my new story idea that came up in the midst of my big edits I need to do on the first book.

Yesterday I had one of those rare creative spells in which, no matter the interruptions, I wrote steadily over the course of about 6 hours on the new idea.

I’m really enjoying it. That spark was what was missing in the edit draft two stage of the manuscript. I mean, I enjoy making the improvements, but it’s a slow road.

But having something else to be excited about is just plain fun.

So I will continue to edit when I have good uninterrupted chunks of time, as in when my writing group meets. But in the meantime, I’m going to have fun over here on this little idea in all the little moments I have between the usual family business.

Making stuff up is so much easier than fixing what I already have. And it’s fun. I feel like a kid with a kite. It’s time to fly.

After my prior whiney blog share, I felt compelled to crosspost from musings in mayhem something more positive on writing that happened shortly after.

Cathy: Road Blocks

I went to bed last night and woke up this morning with every intention to write today.

I feel groggy and have a huge headache because we had big thunderstorm in the wee hours.

Toots is running around per usual.

The kitchen is a mess and I skipped laundry yesterday, so there’s more to do today.

Grandma, who is usually out of the house by 9am, is playing Farmville next to me, so I hear whinnies and moos and clucks along with Toots’s Sesame Street theme from the other side of the wall.

I opened both the new piece and the manuscript to work on, unsure which direction I felt gung-ho about earlier.

Then the highway that runs behind my house that has been torn up and repaved four times in the past six months is illogically being torn up again on this thunderstorm threatening Friday before Memorial Day weekend, when we all know, they won’t be back until at least Tuesday to begin to deal with the mess, and the trucks’ constant motors and grinding are hell on my headache.

Calgon, take me away!!!!

[Crossposted from musings in mayhem.]

Cathy: Breakthrough, lists

Some people are born list makers and some definitively are not. I fall somewhere in between.

I like to make a list then buck it; or avoid making a list, thinking I can keep this, that and everything else in my head.

The truth of the matter is there are some instances in which making a bonafide list is truly necessary.

Otherwise I go into the grocery store for lemons, milk, asparagus, dill, and artichokes, and I come out with ice cream, cookies, potato chips, and baking soda. Then we have no vegetable side dish for dinner.

In the case of working on my manuscript, I found, I had a good editing list “in my head,” but I wasn’t doing the editing. It became daunting knowing I had to look for, and keep in mind this variety of “to dos” as I read through the manuscript. So what I actually ended up doing was nitpick editing the first 20-30 pages over and over again, getting hung up on a comma or a sentence, or a preposition. Then let two weeks go by, until I hit my writing group again and could sit there for three hours and look at the same 20-30 pages over again.

So, when I was at writing group yesterday, this suddenly dawned on me. I mean, it wasn’t really a new concept. I had been vaguely aware that I was preventing myself from doing the real work that needed doing for a while, but I saw an honest to goodness bluebird out the window, which set me dreaming about the edges of things, because they live in edge forests by open fields. The next thing I knew, I realized, I had been on the edge of my manuscript for months now.

So, yes, I KNEW what I needed to do, and it was plenty the more I mulled it, so I decided to write it down.

First I wrote down the chapter headings, made a list of all the chapters, like a table of contents without the page numbers. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of these short chapters into one in a few places, which would simplify a lot, really.

Then I made a list at the bottom of that which looks like this:

Working on:

~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

~write observatory scene using A.H.’s notes

~pay attention to name changes for T.B. and T.N.

~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

~edit down cooking relevance

~more on comets

While it still covers a lot of tasks, some quite involved, to see them written down is so much less confungulating (hybrid of confusing and confounding and frustrating my non-writer Honey came up with, which I love!) than when I was trying to keep them in my mind.

This way I can separate out the tasks and work on them, one at a time, and maybe fix a few of those name changes along the way.

What a concept! And to think I used to counsel my tutorial students to do exactly the same thing in organizing their much shorter papers.

Crossposted from musings in mayhem

Cathy: Denver retreat

Friday night, I arrived with Honey in Denver, CO. Gor-ge-ous sunset on the drive from the airport. Sorry, I did not bring a camera for this trip. I was going to write, after all, not fool around taking pictures! But I did curse myself up and down for lack of camera when it came to that sunset.

We helped my husband’s cousin set up his speaking engagement/seminar, and ate a late dinner of hotel bar food. the Grand Hyatt 1876 Lounge had a three-sauce sampler for fried zucchini and portabello mushrooms that was a bit greasy, but the middle sauce for dipping was a tomato jam I could have eaten on anything for eternity and never missed another flavor. I ate it on Honey’s sweet potato fries that came with his pork sliders. I couldn’t get enough of that tomato jam.

Food rhapsody over for the moment, I turn to the purpose for leaving my children on Mother’s Day weekend: to write!!!

My manuscript is, after all, my other child. They do vie for attention constantly.

Saturday morning, my dear Honey trotted off to do his tech support function for his cousin, while I stayed in the hotel room under the auspices of writing. I proceeded to drive myself completely berserk, agonizing over getting past the block I had regarding what I knew I needed to do to the manuscript. I’d been having this block for months and was blaming my lack of time alone for it. So I got the time alone, and still went bonkers.

I finally said, I must walk! I am in a new city. I have never set foot in Denver proper. I must find the nearest green space to find some solace in my frustrated writer’s soul.

I rode the elevator down to concierge and she pointed me toward the capitol and its park. Then she looked dejected as she recalled, “But there is a huge Cinco de Mayo Festival going on there, so you won’t see much of the green.”

I replied, “No problem, I love to people watch.” Along the walk, I met an adorable nine-week-old brindle coated sweet little pit bull puppy. And the young man on the other end of the leash, who had a big smile, proud to show off his new little girl. It’s been a long time since my “Boston days” between tall buildings, seeing the slant of light and shadow play down the walls and windows. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I hit the busy amusement park set up of Cinco de Mayo, on the eighth of May. Lots of good sights and sounds and distractions and rhythms, and some construction of the park, and children on rides, and walking and Spanish and dancing, and a lot of Dos Equis displays.

I didn’t stay long, and the capitol building in Denver is a gold domed beaut, like my beloved Boston capitol building, so that was nice for my suburban aching heart to see. Then I turned back to the hotel and to face the open document on the laptop.

More agonizing. I called a friend, who asked me to send it to her, to which I promptly said NO! Then backtracked that I was sitting there staring at seven critiques already. She kindly said, “Oh, no, you don’t need me to look at it. You need to know that what you know you have to do to your manuscript is good because it will make it better!”

I said, “Aha! That was the missing piece! Editing will make it better!”

And so I began to edit. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I still struggled, was still largely attached to what I had already written, but I moved stuff around, rewrote the beginning.

Loads more to the weekend, but as far as the writing, that’s what I did. I agonized, I moved something around, I agonized, I moved stuff around. I agonized, I deleted a few lines here and there. And I agonized some more. I made it to page 5 out of 120. And I was disappointed enormously with my new first line.

I thought, “If I picked this book up off the shelf, and read that opening line? I’d put it back.”

And then, the day after my arrival home, my writing group met to write on Tuesday. All of a sudden, I was able to work much more effectively in the company of my writing group all sitting quietly with their laptops and notebooks, doing largely the same thing I was doing: editing what we already had.

But if I had not gone to Denver; had not driven myself crazy until I chiseled away a crack in the writer’s block, I would have been of no use to myself or my manuscript on Tuesday.

And, like Edith Ann says, “That’s the Truth, thpblbubblepppbubth!”

[Cross-posted from my personal blog.]

Cathy: The Universe works in mysterious ways

I will kvetch no more — this week anyway — as after my last two days of considering every option and feeling like I had none left, suddenly:

a friend offered to barter my tutoring her 13-year-old daughter for watching my 2-year-old daughter on writers’ group days.  So I don’t need to find and pay for immediate daycare just so I can have a few hours of writing and critique time a couple of times a month.

aaaand!

drumroll, please…..

Honey’s cousin needs some of Honey’s professional expertise on a public speaking gig in Colorado in a couple of weeks. And he offered to let me tag along, too. I will go to his public speaking gig, but largely, I am going to blissfully sit in my hotel room, without any interruptions and edit the bejeez out of my manuscript on Honey’s laptop!!!

and Grandma offered to watch the kids for that weekend.

I hope I didn’t die, because this sure feels like heaven.

[slightly edited crosspost from musings in mayhem]

Cathy: writerly crisis of faith and confirmation of all my fears

This entry is a combination of a couple of recent posts on my personal blog.

on Monday, I wrote:

writerly crisis of faith
Almost two weeks ago, I gave the first 33 pages of my baby, er, children’s novel manuscript to my critique group. We meet tomorrow. During school vacation. At my house. With my gang of mayhem and two other kids added to the mix. And the one person I know outside the group will not be there, so she returned my pages with her comments yesterday.

I’ve done a lot of work on those first 30 pages in the past 6ish years since I started writing this little tale. They are the initial inspiration, and what I always felt really worked about the book. The changes I had made were on the small side, grammar, tense, slight rearranging of things. Now I feel like I have to move a thought bubble that wraps the first third of the novel very nicely and turn into a scene that will be the new opening of the book. Not that that was her exact suggestion, but that’s where my mind took it.

But I love my opening! There’s a great slow build to what happened to make this kid so upset in the opening lines.

I have had other readers who really loved the opening. I have four more readers to hear from tomorrow.

How can my heart be simultaneously in my throat and in the bottom of my gut at the same time? I feel like I have a big envelope to open, and it either has very very good news, or absolutely horrid news to bear. Quite possibly both. And once I open it, I will have to cut my big ball of dough in half, knead it, fold it over and over again into itself, pound on it, and hopefully, a beautiful loaf will emerge from the oven.

I know, mixed metaphor central, but give me a break!

Anticipation is a killer.

On Tuesday, came:

confirmation of all my fears

Great writers’ group this morning — afternoon. We wrote, I was interrupted by kids a variety of ways (school vacation and toddler), and then we got hungry, ate lunch and discussed the first third of my novel, as I mentioned yesterday.

They confirmed all of my misgivings about the manuscript’s current state, and now, boy do I have a lot of work to do. But it’s good, not the dread that my anticipation was giving me.

I kind of wish I was done already…but I guess this is what they mean about 2nd draft work. It’s not just about picking through the first draft and the million and a half edits already done, but about the complete restructuring of the storytelling… focus description into action, rearrange parts, rethink what is important about characters and how they serve the story, get rid of unnecessary adverbs…you know, the big stuff.

So big stuff, here I come. Right after this diaper change….

Psst! And guess what else?  They liked it, too!

Cathy: Back to the book

I have received excellent notes from someone in a position to discuss observatories in a way that I need to fill the hole in my manuscript. For this, I am extremely thankful, and feeling the impetus to write that one hole in the book.

I basically have not been able or free to write or edit in the manuscript since my retreat in January and my surgery in February. The fact that my toddler is way too busy now at times when other than her, I have the house to myself, and therefore should have no distractions… Yeah, right, that’s a good one!

So much for writing during morning naps. Buh-bye! Actually that was gone about six months ago.

Then, two other things put a kink into the process: My mother-in-law started a diet support group with her exercise buddies on the same day as my critique group; and my critique group bumped the timeslot from 12-2pm to 10-12pm. Same time as her regular exercise classes she has committed herself to for over three years now.

This prompted me to start seeking inexpensive daycare services to try to cover Toots for at least two half-days a week, so I would have time to write and time twice per month for the critique group. She turns 2 on April 1. All the basic church basement type preschools in the area start at 2.5 years. Otherwise, it’s parent accompanied playgroups or expensive daycare centers. I felt really SOL. But I have committed to putting my writing on the map. Think, think, think.

So I got a message late Sunday night to request a change for this week’s group meeting to Thursday from the usual Tuesday meeting. And it was to be a writing rather than a critique meeting. I was half-ecstatic. Only half, because while it did not conflict with my mil’s diet group, it did conflict with her usual exercise classes.

Yesterday morning, I shored myself up and asked if she would mind watching Toots on Thursday morning instead of going to her class.

Not that she typically says no, but it’s not like I typically feel I can ask, because I want to respect what is important to her. She said sure.

Maybe a week by week check-in is what it will take to get my writing on the chart, to coordinate around a household of six including toddler. At least for now. And in six months, maybe I can start her in a regular preschool, if we can figure it into the non-existent part of the budget.

Baby steps. For now, I will write, in the committed company of other writers on Thursday for two hours. That is two hours of writing I did not have before. One week at a time.

Crossposted from Cathy’s personal blog.

Cathy: Seek and ye shall find

Crossposted from my personal blog

For this post, I was drawing blanks. Each thought I had shot forth from my brain like I was out clay pigeon shooting, and having terrible aim. I yelled, “Pull!” and fired, and two things would sail quickly through the air away from me, and somewhat toward each other, arch, miss completely, and drop dead to the ground. The clay pigeons fell with a thud and a puff of dust. The bullets lay listless in the dirt. There was nothing left to salvage. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Not that I have ever been clay pigeon shooting. But I have watched it on tv. That’s right. That’s about as exciting as it gets around here. I like watching Dog Shows, too. Although, I have fired a gun and target shot at antique colored glass pharmaceutical bottles in the woods in Vermont. Oh to be 14 and that stupid again. I should have kept them, they were very pretty, and sold them on ebay. But there was no ebay back then, or the internet. It was the dark ages, between Lynyrd Skynard and the B-52s, at a vinyl speed of 38rpms.

So, because it’s a half day of school, for the rest of the week — more on that later – -a Certain Someone kept wandering over and asking if he could use the computer now to… (this is where I tune him out because it’s something long and involved and involves giant monsters, most likely, or funny cats, and he’s told me the particulars or something like them so many times I feel like my face is melting off when he starts again, especially when I am trying to focus on something else, like say, my own imagination and what I want to write from it because, really, this is all about me you know). So I asked him, “What should I blog about today?”

“Write a blog about how I was inspired by the nicknames you gave [Mr. Cynic] and me on Musings in Mayhem and how I’m making a video mini-series called ‘The Adventures of Mr. Cynic and Captain Comic’ to post on youtube,” responded Capt. Comic.

Only problem with this is he has not actually started filming because Mr. Cynic wants absolutely nothing to do with this. His friends might see. This is causing great consternation and Wars of Words that are particularly virulent around when I’m making dinner and everyone’s hungry and tired from a long day of school, toddlering, taekwando or bass lessons, etc. There is much door slamming and stair stomping and MOOOO-oooooming involved, too.

Someday, the boy will be a filmic genius, I’m sure, but his brother will not be starring in the films as the villian. That will have to remain true to life and in the house. My house. Probably in a couple of hours. Yep. I’m pretty certain of that.

So, on three days in a row of half-days: can I just say that this is not how I wanted or expected to spend the remainder of my ‘free time’ *cough, sputter* before I go in for surgery on Monday.

If it rains, I’m a goner for sure.

[Editor’s note: Cathy’s surgery is today. Please send her your hugs and healing thoughts!]

Cathy: Moms Who Blog

crosspost from musings in mayhem

Moms Who Blog: It sounds like a support group for mother’s who can’t help themselves from blogging, a twelve-step program.

But it’s a growing population of those of us who need to tell our stories, lament the woes and record the triumphs of our day in and day out, a way to be creative when we feel we have no mental space for thinking more deeply in order to write our great american novels or capture the image of our masterpieces, like in the days before we had children and we still had brains capable of more than routine tasks and singing Old MacDonald for the 300,000th time, or reading Tikki-Tikki-Tembo until we are blue in the face.

It seems from where I sit anyway, that there are more of us in the blogosphere than most, and fathers too, recording the amazing and most common thing humanity shares, the raising of our children.

Some of us are special needs moms, some are moms of teens, tweens or small children, some moms of blended families, some young moms, some who waited until later in life, and some of us are all of the above. And yes, I am talking about me in that last group. 🙂

We share a lot, with each other and of ourselves with the world at large. I think, besides the outlet for creativity, we do so to say, like the Whos on Horton’s dustpeck, We are here! We are here! We are here! To say, we matter, I am doing something with my life, and it’s important. We do it to say, I am not alone, are you out there, can you hear me? I want to hear your story, too!

The old trotted out line that it takes a village to raise a child is very true, and one of those reasons is to keep the mother who is caring for her kids from feelings of desperate isolation. It may be the mother who is running from work to home and racing to the store for dinner in between, who is lacking a serious connection with her friends she used to see all the time or stay up all night talking on the phone. It may be the mother who is going mental thinking the last time she had a conversation that didn’t involve diapers and their contents in graphic detail was she can’t remember when. It may be the mother who seems to have moments of sheer joy at the developmental milestone her child just sailed past, who wants to call out, Hey! Did you see that?! It may be the mother who found a moment of quiet and beauty with her child that cracked her open like an egg to the wonders of the universe.

Some people, even in this day and age, still have their coffee klatches and playdates, some of us don’t. In the twenty-first century, we have our blogs. Our neighborhood is the whole world and whoever happens to click in and say hello, I see you, and that sounds just like me! Sometimes readers click in, and if you use a tracker on your blog, you can see them and know you’ve been visited from Brazil, Ireland, Russian, Japan, or across the the US or even from the next town. I feel validated when I see my tracker or when people, I still haven’t met but who feel like friends comment. I feel like what I’m doing matters. That sometimes talking about the tougher stuff helps someone else, or sharing a joy lifts someone’s spirit. But mostly I feel like the fact that I am parenting matters. That I’m not doing it in a void. That doing what I can for my kids is the best thing I can do.

I’ll just write the great american novel later. When I’ve had some more sleep.

Cathy: No Nanowrimo win here

crossposted from musings in mayhem

I am happy to have taken part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. It put me into a good lead on a companion book to my first novel, and now both need some serious editing. I lost my momentum between lots of doctor appointments for my whole family, getting quite ill myself and caring for sick kids, then my back went out as we leaned toward Thanksgiving, and I got hung up in word count rather than having fun enjoying writing well.

That last part was what killed the project for me. Not the whole project, I am happy to continue work on this particular piece, but I want to go about it in the way that is familiar to me. I am an editing nightmare to some, but I’ll tell you, that is what I really enjoy about writing as I write, the scribbles and rewording, the back-typing and rewording, the considering of the scene from an entirely different angle, etc. It’s what I enjoy about the middle of breadmaking, too: the kneading, the punching it into form.

I have just a few days left to try to make it to 50,000 words. I am at 19,201 and have my family home, no one at work, no one at school or at senior exercise programs until the thirtieth. I don’t think reaching 50,000 is my personal goal anymore. A children’s novel is typically about 30,000 and I don’t want to just write crap for filler for a contest that has lost meaning for me in it’s final goal. I’ve also lost my thread plotwise and feel like I’m wasting precious word count time doing what I actually love about writing and my process in it. That is indicative that it’s time for me to move on and refocus without the contest looming.

For now, for me, this year 19,201 is a fantastic stopping point. Now I can sink my teeth back into the edits of the first novel and then run right into edits on the second I started because of Nano.

Does this then make me a loser if I am not a Nano winner? Certainly not. I have 19,201 words written that I didn’t have before I started NaNoWriMo. That’s a big win in my book. I’ve never written 19,000 words toward one thing in three weeks time in my whole life, nevermind with a houseful of sickies and also school days off throughout the month.

I may not have hit 50,000, but I did a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t tried.

Cathy: An update on the progress or not of my nano novel

crossposted from my personal blog

Life happens,
doctors happen,
and this past week, a lot of doctor appointments happened and other sundry bits of attending to sick self, sick kids, etc. So in the interest of pediatrics, Nanowrimo fell somewhat behind and has been having trouble catching back up. also, I really got walloped by news of Brother Blue passing away.

Nanowrimo is an excellent tool to get yourself writing if you call yourself a writer but don’t find yourself doing much of it. It’s an excellent jumpstart, you feel inspired, and even if you don’t, you push to meet that 1667 words per diem minimum. But once you fall behind, it becomes really hard to scramble. but I figured out a a few little secrets today:

1. I don’t have to write 1667 words per day.

2. But it works a heck of a lot better if I do. Otherwise I’m playing a deceitful game of catch-up – which is really very much like swimming against the riptide during hurricane season.

3. Nanowrimo becomes an obsession. Possibly a very unhealthy obsession. I sat in the pediatrics office for six hours on Wednesday thinking not so much of my kids and their various stages of this long, non-h1n1 flu we’ve had, but of how I could be writing instead of sitting in this waiting room, exam room, phlebotomy department, radiology department because when I took my daughter to the hospital the previous week, they didn’t run all the tests they now had to run during Nanowrimo. The boys were with me, too for their wellness appointments, etc, vaccines, etc. I was barely concerned, except when C was crying from getting stuck with a needle for bloodwork or having a big loud machine shoot light boxes all over her leg and hips, while mommy wore a big lead apron. Nano becomes unhealthy when your spouse and you are sitting right next to each other all night long on separate computers not saying a word to each other until he does, and you get annoyed that he’s interrupting your train of thought, but more importantly, your word count. It becomes an obsession when every time your toddler wanders over and whines and pulls to be on your lap, you act like it’s the end of the world because you can’t finish your train of thought or your word count. Same with the preteen mom-mom-momming in your ear and poking you in the arm or the teen mom-mom-momming you on the cellphone until you realize in a half-attention moment you allowed him to sleep over someone’s dad’s house and you don’t even know where he lives, because you were still typing when he was asking and you just wanted him off the phone.

4. But Nanowrimo is important, because you will write a novel in thirty days, whether you make the word count or not, and you will have another manuscript to edit and eventually shop with the other one, because you now can market it to agents as a series of sorts….and you will have two books at the end of this! And at the end of this, you’ll pay better attention to your spouse and your kids and yourself for that matter, and to the fact that maybe the sun is in fact shining outside and oh, yea, there’s an outside…..

5. I don’t have to write the parts in the order in which they come chronologically, but in the order in which they travel through my bleeding brain.

6. Ok that’s more than a few things, but I also figured out it is much better to write about what you know than have to research about something for a novel you’re trying to write in thirty days. Set it in a country you’ve been to, and forget about wildlife, unless of course, it has become a central theme in the book….

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