writing

Writing By Hand in Wisconsin

Last week slipped away from me in a frustrating fashion. There were so many great presentations from the Women in Publishing Summit that I wanted to blog about, but then I found myself approaching the weekend and needing to prepare for my ladies’ retreat to The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin. I say that in the most loving way possible because it was beautiful and quiet and open and just what I needed.

I mean, LOOK at this little farmhouse.

And the view:

And this DESK:

Everything about it screamed sit down and write. (It helps my productivity if a setting bosses me around a bit.) And that little ladder on the right? It leads to a tiny nook that satisfies my inner 8-year-old.

I didn’t grow up with a treehouse, so this seems as close as I’m likely to get to the magic of private, aerial spaces. Also, it was pretty hard to haul my thirty-year-old carcass up there, so I see now why you sort of age out of this particular magic.

This lovely rental home is just outside of New Glarus, Wisconsin, which is a surprisingly adorable town with Swiss charm, a top-notch brewery, and all the requisite cheese curds for a proper visit to America’s Dairyland.

Living in Chicago, I’m accustomed to the ordered houses and apartment buildings pressed close together like boxes on a pantry shelf. My eyes expect to see bodies moving up and down the street regardless of what time I look out the window. So there was something refreshing, then alarming, then almost thrilling about turning around in a complete circle and seeing no one — just flat, white fields broken up by plumes of dried grasses and wispy winter trees. Rather than looking or feeling dead, it seemed calm, waiting, knowing even better than us that spring always cycles back again.

It was the perfect place to pause, take a breath, and write a bit. My job and my daughter demand so many pieces of me, and the writer piece falls behind the shelf too often. But for one weekend, it took priority.

I didn’t feel like taking my laptop, which is my standard writing implement, so I dug an old notebook out of my closet and toted that instead. I often forget how tricky hand writing can be; it takes longer (for me), and you’re left with a bit of a mess on the page.

Lines are scratched out, carets stick my afterthoughts in, and question marks litter my areas of doubt.

But at the end of an hour, when I had perhaps written one decent sentence, quilted together from the salvaged remnants of the cuts, I thought about what that would look like on my computer.

It would have been a line and a half, and I would have released the long-suffering sigh of someone doomed to always see time move faster than progress.

Yet there’s something about getting to view every curvy line signifying a nope, and each convoluted arrow leading to a wait, this! It shows me the very real work I’ve done. The silent task of sliding the puzzle pieces to the front of my mind and snapping them into their ideal fit. The unseen effort of self-editing, finding the balance between word vomit and refinement.

It’s a mess, but so is the inside of my head.

Sometimes a physical representation of a mental struggle is all you need to feel validated.

So thank you, New Glarus, for the mac ‘n’ cheese pizza, the cracked pepper cheese curds, and the space to think on the page.

writing

Write What Scares You

Today kicked off the 2019 Women in Publishing Summit, an online conference catering to the ladies who write, edit, design, market, and do anything else in the service of creating books and getting them into the hands of readers.

The presentation I focused on today was Joan Dempsey’s “The Value of Highly Contentious Topics in Fiction.” It drew my interest because most of what I write centers around those hot-button issues that tend to draw debate and ire.

Dempsey’s advice was this: write what scares you. Don’t be afraid of your readers’ response to you exploring contentious issues.

“[Stephen King] gets hate mail,” Dempsey says. “He gets people writing to him and berating him for being racist or sexist or homophobic… because he writes characters who embody those traits. He does it so well that people believe Stephen King is those things, when what he has done is embody those characters so fully and so fearlessly.”

I’ve been plagued by concerns about misrepresenting people of color or people with a different sexual orientation or gender identity. I don’t want to be another straight, white person who thinks she knows what these different walks of life entail.

But I always come back to the fact that we have to try. Because if we don’t, then we’re implying we’re not even interested in having the conversation. We’re so afraid of getting it wrong, that we neglect representation.

So, let’s write on, sometimes getting it right, other times getting it wrong, either way getting some hate mail (or hate tweets). Let’s be humble enough to know we barely know anything, and cocky enough to say we’re going to try anyway.

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Does anything make you feel better than JK Rowling talking about failure?

I came across this video of Jo talking about hitting rock bottom as a low-income single mother, and how that set the scene for her to have nothing to focus on except her one passion project (three guesses what that was).

There have been a lot of distractions in my life that have kept me from writing, and not all of them have been bad (the most notable being my daughter, who, depending on the day – or the hour – is the funniest toddler in the world or a wailing, yogurt-stained creature of nightmares).

But something about this video makes me feel like maybe the times when failure seems to pile up (I’m looking at you, generic rejection emails) aren’t such dire times after all because they clear away the distractions and make you focus on what you’re really yearning to spend your time on.

I love this woman.

 

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20-new-ineteen?

Yeah, it sounded better in my head before I typed it out, but stay with me a moment because 2019 is the year I finally step into, I don’t know, this decade? I’m moving my blog over to WordPress from Blogger, and then maybe next year I’ll get a car with power windows (not joking) and see what all this Twitter business is about (only kind of joking).

The point is, my genetic makeup is 1/5 Luddite, and it took me awhile to get here, but now that I am, I’m going to share something that is really going to make you cringe:

I have a mantra for my goals this year. Which is… unusual for me, to say the least. I hate New Year’s resolutions. I tend to think that if you cared enough to change, you’d do it any time of the year, not just January 1. But for some reason, the stars aligned enough this year that I was starting a new job at the beginning of January, and it set the scene for a lot of big changes in my life. I felt like I was finally “getting after it” (“it” being the things I really want to achieve in life). So now, any time my natural inclination to shrink down and withdraw into a little patch of wallpaper seems like it could keep me from getting what I want, I think, “Hell no, get after it.”

If this is getting a little too “Girl, Wash Your Face,” I agree, so I’m going to move on because I couldn’t even wade through the introduction to that book without making the stink face fifteen times.

In summary, I’m an introvert who’s forcing myself to be a little less introvert-y career-wise this year. Being an introvert can be really awesome, and I’m endlessly tired of people trying to use “quiet” as some sort of insult, because it’s not, but I also think you generally have to do things that scare you in order to get anywhere, so this is my theme for 2019 (and hopefully beyond… we’ll see how it goes. I may decide to just hermit it up in 2020).

In writing news, I’m nearing the finish line with my third book, which is not the conclusion to Children of Guerra, but something else entirely that I’m really excited about. Stay tuned for more on that soon!