This year has been a scary one, for sure.

I turned the Big 6-0, meaning I’m facing my eventual lack of longevity right smack in the kisser. It’s all downhill from here, right? I’ve lost good friends and relatives from the outset of this year, and continued to lose them throughout. It’s been sad and crushing.

Then, of course, there are what I call the celebrity dead people, Prince, Bowie, most recently Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. With every passing, I see the world dissolving right before my eyes. Maybe not so much with the celebrities, since I didn’t know any of them, but there’s that intangible connection, usually borne out of art or music. You mark your own time by their demise. My mother (also long deceased) loved Debbie Reynolds, probably because she was like her in many respects – dancing, singing, short, cute. And Carrie, I remember seeing the first Star Wars. It was opening day, the HarMar theater in St. Paul was packed, and my boyfriend at the time and I were as high as kites, sardined into their tiny lobby.

But I digress. I’m lucky in that I’m in fairly good health for my age. Yeah, being a food snob, I eat far too extravagantly. I’m pretty sure I should be on a strict diet of wheat grass and kale, but that’s not happening. At least I try to eat half (successful sometimes, sometimes not so much). Moderation is the key, you know. I try to run at least three times a week (sometimes a lot more) and I stay away from the real junk like fast food and white bread and soda.

So imagine my surprise when one Friday this month just as I was jumping off my treadmill I felt the right side of my face and my right hand go numb. I tried not to think about it as the tingling got progressively worse. Twenty minutes in, I texted my nurse friend in Colorado to ask her opinion, trying of course to remain calm and light.

I could still breathe, I could move my face, I could still function, so I brushed aside the notion that something was seriously wrong with me.

Until… the next day, when I arrived at work at 8 a.m. and found I couldn’t type with my right hand. The letters I thought I was hitting were not being hit. And I tried to text, but I couldn’t feel the screen enough to do so. (Like trying to text with your gloves on.) And the phone rang, and I found myself sounding like I’d just consumed a bottle of vodka or had just returned from the dentist with a mouth full of Novocaine. So I tried to write a note to my girl coming in at 9, except my normally legible and sometimes beautiful handwriting was not. It was more like chicken scratch. I couldn’t read it. At all…

So I closed up the building and drove myself straight to the ER. (My fine motor skills were gone, but I could still drive.) You can find all the gruesome details on Medium.

This post is not about the hospital stay. It’s not about not being able to talk; I’m fairly certain a life of silence can be handled. No, this post is about being an artist and finding out you can’t express yourself.

I’m right-handed. I write. I draw. I create jewelry. I garden. I like my coffee with cream and sugar. I LOVE to cook. I’ve painted, canvases and houses. I sew. I’ve done tons of needlework. I’ve played instruments (badly).

For me, life is an opportunity to create…in many different ways. WITH. MY. HANDS.

When you are left with a floppy right arm unable to pick up a coffee cup, much less wire wrap or sign your name, panic sets in.

My father fell on his head a couple of years ago while chasing a mouse out of his bird seed container. He had blood on his brain. For a while, he couldn’t speak or walk or feed himself or go to the bathroom (thank goodness he is much better now!). He has said this episode was the most scared he has ever been. You can live with old age if you can function. If you can’t, then what’s the use?

As for me, I continued to have these symptoms ten days after the hospital stay, although with each passing day, they lessened in severity. I have a January appointment with a neurologist. Things have improved immensely. Now I can write! And make jewelry! I even made a prime rib for Christmas!

What I have learned from this unfortunate hospital stay is that I should go back to my original mission statement: I’m writing as fast as I can!

Because life is short, and my story is still in there trying to get out.

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Have a writer in your life? Want to encourage them in their endeavors? Christmas is coming up quickly, but there is still time to get that perfect gift for your writer friend/relative.

Have no funds? You really don’t need to purchase a thing. The best gift (in my opinion) is the gift of time. If you are a relative, offer to do the laundry, make dinner, shovel the sidewalk clear, or mow the lawn. This will free up valuable time for your writer to put butt in chair and write without worrying about those common, everyday distractions that we all must tend to. If your writer friend has children or elderly parents to babysit, offer to watch them for a few hours. It would be especially nice if you could make a habit of it, say every Friday from 3 – 6? (Hint, hint…)

Books (of course!) are always a welcome gift, and writers need their libraries full of reference books. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley is excellent. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, also good. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way Every Day is a daily reminder. Having had attended some of her workshops at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I can attest that Martha Alderson’s Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple is a good reference, especially if you find yourself stuck. (Currently using this one.)

Another good gift option is online backup. When you have hundreds of thousands of words saved in digital files and can barely remember what you had for dinner last night, much less remember to manually back up, you need a little automatic help. I have been using Carbonite for years, and it’s saved me when three of my laptops have died. Every time I power my laptop, it backs up – a no brainer. For me, it’s been more than worth the $59 a year.

Gifting an online class is also a good idea. SavvyAuthors and Litreactor are but a few of the web sites offering classes on craft, queries, and even design, most of which are given by authors, agents, and others in the publishing business.

Having taken a class with Michelle Richmond, I would highly recommend gifting classes, reference books, or even a personal session with this best selling author. You can find her store here, or you can purchase her novels on Amazon or any retailer.

Depending on your writer, blank notebooks are also a great gift and will be well appreciated. I’m a strong advocate of keeping a small notebook on your person at all times. Doing so prevents the use of napkins or Taco Bell wrappers when inspiration strikes – items that can be easily tossed into the trash, because…well, it looks like trash. I personally like the pretty, small notebooks for such tasks. I also use a full-size Moleskine with graphing lines for each novel I’m working on (or if I’m in a class). The squares make it easy to plot out your story line into a graph, or if you need to make a calendar in order to keep your events straight. I’ve also given each character a page and a color and can cross-reference the number of times they appear in my novels. Moleskine also offers an “Evernote” which I have but haven’t figured out how to use yet. It takes your notes from your Moleskine and somehow through the magic of technology, transfers from paper into your computer. (Yeah, right.)

In 2017, I’m going to use a Hobonichi, only because I will be prompted to write something every day. Like the Moleskine I like, the pages are graphed. I’m using a big one for creative thoughts and the smaller one for work.

Speaking of notebooks, if your writer has a favorite pen or pencil, consider buying those for gifts. (I like the Pilot G2 07 pen in black but mostly use the Papermate Sharpwriter #2 pencil. Erasures, you know…)

No matter who your writer is, there’s a perfect gift for them just around the corner. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments. There is no such thing as too many good suggestions.

Merry Christmas!

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Hope everyone had a gorge-ous Thanksgiving!

(Okay, that was lame.)

I’m happy to announce that this year’s NaNoWriMo was completed last Friday.

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Can I get some applause here? Champagne, maybe?

Yes, despite my life, my work, the election, Thanksgiving, an art show, my yard full of leaves and sweet potatoes, I managed to pump out 50K words by close of business November 25. It was by far the most successful spillage of words since I started doing the NaNo about ten years ago, and made me feel fresh and renewed since I’ve spent the last eighteen months or so not writing much at all.

This is not to say that the novel is complete. If anything, this novel is like an old house I just took down to the studs and loaded the front yard up with all the building materials I’m going to need to finish. (I have had experience in extreme rehabbing this year. I wouldn’t recommend it, even WITH a plan.) I’m going to need to think this one through very carefully.

I needed the last few days off to decompress. (I’ll probably need until January.)

What I’ve learned with this year’s NaNoWriMo:

  1. You can’t worry about it. Write. Write some more. Don’t worry about prettiness, literary probability, appropriate tags for dialogue, grammar, or the Chicago Book of Style. Don’t worry about plots or subplots or themes. Write like your house is on fire and you’re running like hell and don’t look back.
  2. Give yourself an hour. (I used to give myself three, but I’m way too busy for that luxury.) Concentrate on something, anything. Write dialogue if you want or spew backstory, but don’t be afraid to shift to another part of the book and do something else. Whimsy is as whimsy does.
  3. The notebook that fits in your purse! Yes, get one, and use it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of a phrase, a word, a name, or something else and have jotted it down to use later. (This is because I’m notoriously forgetful.) I also use my iPhone notes section, but it’s far easier for me to use a notebook and pencil.

For those of you still in the midst of NaNo, don’t give up! You have until midnight Wednesday. If I can do it you CAN do it. And if not, don’t beat yourself up.

Remember, there is always next year.

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fall

Week Three of NaNoWriMo and I am pleased to announce that my word count is 40,008. That leaves just 9,992 words to goal. With Thanksgiving coming up (besides cooking the turkey, I’ll also be peddling my jewelry at Leon & Lulu this weekend for the Holiday Artist Market), I need to be ahead of schedule.

The word count is the good news. The bad news is the way that I’m writing.

I sit down and begin to write. That’s good. (Very good.) I’m actually getting a lot done in the small amount of free time that I have. However, I’m pantsing it the whole way this year. Which means I’m not writing in a linear progression, meaning not by date, not by story line, not by character or point of view, not by anything.

Example: Last week I simultaneously worked on the beginning, the end, and the in between. Not in logical order, mind you. I kinda-sorta know the scenes I have in mind, but I don’t write them beginning to end. And what’s worse, I might get 3/4th of a scene finished, time’s up, I move on to something new the next day, and three days later come back and finish the first scene.

I know, I know, I could maybe go back and serialize it as I go along. But this is NaNo! I don’t have time to dink around with logistics! Dinking around is why they made a month called December!

I wouldn’t recommend writing in this haphazard way, and I don’t think I’ll do it again. It’s very messy. Already I see I’m going to have to print this work out and use my trusty scissors in order to get it back to a normal and sensible progression. Too late to change direction now.

In other news, winter has arrived with a vengeance, after a warm and balmy fall. It was 70 degrees Friday! I woke up to 27 degrees today. Which is why the backyard isn’t raked yet. (See photo above.) I’ll be too busy writing and making turkey and homemade cranberry relish and pumpkin pie and sage stuffing in the next couple of days to get to it.

Got to run. Time to write.

 

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I started the NaNoWriMo challenge last week like I ended Week 1 – on fricking fire! As soon as I hit the halfway point (25K+ on Wednesday), I had to slow up and do a few minor things around the house. Like finish harvesting all of the sweet potatoes and bring all of the house plants back inside after their long hot summer out of doors. This is Michigan, you know, and the threat of a freeze last Thursday night was upon us.

It only took my husband and I from 2 – 6:30 p.m. to complete the task of lugging the plants back in. That’s because we are getting too old for this bullshit (as I reminded him every five minutes, at first gently, after the first hour with more vigor). And he prefers ceramic pots, so an 8′ fig tree is going to weigh about 300 pounds. I love growing things, and most of my plants (angel trumpet, bird of paradise, citrus, bay, rosemary, agave, etc.) are not cold hardy here. I’ve been lobbying for a greenhouse (preferably attached, preferably heated, and preferably with a water supply) for three years now. I think I’m going to have to put my foot down in 2017.

The rest of the week was spent in research for the current work in progress. I don’t usually perform an in-depth research, but this time I’m studying the weather conditions in the areas where I am placing my characters. I’ve also set up a calendar (my story takes place in the month of May) and have begun to sketch out where the ups and downs will be, the climax, etc. I’m a pant-ser, so this is pretty remarkable for me. I normally don’t do this kind of “planning” – such as it is, until after the first draft is complete.

After a weekend of very little writing, I’m looking forward to starting again in earnest.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

newkitty

This is Purrby when we adopted him three years ago. There’s nothing like a kitten picture to brighten up your day.

Until next time…

 

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Wow, not even a full week of writing and I’m up to over 12K in this year’s NaNoWriMo! This is the most productive NaNo I’ve had since I started. (So far. I don’t want to jinx myself by crowing too loudly.)

Not wanting to spend too much time or too many words on this post, I do want to share some observations of the last few days:

  1. The more you write, the more you write. It’s true! Getting into the habit helps.
  2. The more you write, the faster you write. I can remember previous November writing attempts where squeezing out 500 words a sitting would take three hours. Now I’m doing about 1200/hr or more.
  3. Clearing the schedule is a must. This November, I am giving up my daily runs. No work out until I have at least 50K words. Running is my hour of writing. I may weigh 200 pounds by December 1st, but hey, I’ll have the bones of the work down.
  4. Don’t look back. I used to be the kind of writer where I’d write a paragraph or two and then spend the next half hour ruminating over what I’d done. A November manuscript isn’t going to hit any store shelves right away. Go ahead and zoom along. Editing is for later.
  5. Make sure the heat is turned on. It’s easier to write if your fingers aren’t cold.

That’s it for now. I’ve got to finish my Day Job work so I can work on the novel. See you next time!

Happy writing!

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words

This year’s installment of NaNoWriMo marks the first time in ten years where I haven’t had a clue as to what to write.

No. Really.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of things to write about or to work on. I’ve been puzzling over the latest (and hopefully LAST) edits for Virtually Yours Forever. I have another YA novel that is completed but needs an edit (and edit and edit). I have no less than five manuscripts in various stages of disrepair, from 20K to 70K words. Most of those I started in November, for NaNoWriMo, but had abandoned because of some crisis or another in my life. (Crisis is a terrible excuse, I’ll try not to use it anymore.)

I’m usually a “pantser” anyway; I can’t stand the constraints of plotting, especially with new work. I want to follow the wind, be able to change my mind at a moment’s notice. Outlines *shiver* make me want to hide under an assortment of covers. Don’t get me wrong. I envy those who can whip up an outline and a synopsis before they begin writing. That is a skill I could use. I’m sure it’s a right brain function, and I’m left brain all the way.

This is not to say that I don’t have any ideas. I have ideas up the wazoo. I just don’t have the motivation or the time to place butt in seat and begin typing. The entire purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write as fast and as much as you can for 30 days. Doing so instills a work habit that writers need – write a little every day.

Actually, pleading the case that you “don’t have time” is a bad excuse too. I used to write while working. It wasn’t my best writing, but I got it done between phone calls, payroll, and irate customers.

Come to think of it, NaNoWriMo is a total excuse breaker! If you can’t pump out 50K words in a month (which don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to be complete, don’t have to have a character arc or a theme), you might as well turn in your notebook and pencil and start a new career as a street sweeper.

(Just kidding.)

So tomorrow, I’m going to start with a clean slate, a new file, and a small, purse-sized notebook and fresh pencil and write like hell for 30 days. I might be writing blind, but hey, Helen Keller was blind. If she could feel her way around a story, so can I.

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