Taking the Time to Tinker

My father is visiting me this week. It’s been a good visit so far, and tomorrow we’ll be having an early Thanksgiving, making a mini version of the turkey, stuffing, and other goodies since we won’t be able to celebrate together at the end of the month.

But there’s a twist. Instead of pumpkin pie, we’ve made a key lime pie. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, we’re having a sweet potato and butternut squash gratin. And we’re trying out a new recipe for cooking the turkey instead of the traditional standby method we’ve used for years.

Part of this is for practical reasons. As great as Thanksgiving is, two full-blown meals just a few weeks apart is just too much for any mortal. Changing up the menu is a way to preserve the symbolism of the meal but keep it fresh for the palate.

It’s also an excuse to try something new. Something different. It’s also a way to practice something we both love to do: cooking. Maybe we’ll find a new method or recipe that will replace the old one. Make a new tradition for ourselves. Or, then again, maybe not.

But we won’t know unless we try.

Just like revising, until you take the time to rework that problem scene or brainstorm ways to invigorate the third act of your story, you won’t know what works unless you try.

And in the mad dash to produce a draft, to get an agent, to get published, time is at a premium.

This November, even with NaNoWriMo in full force, I encourage you to take the time to tinker. Take the time to try something new, something different with your writing.

Give yourself the mental headspace to consider the possibilities of what can be in your story.

Your craft will thank you for it.
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Family Vaction or Why I’m Still in the Closet When It Comes to My In-Laws

Tomorrow we leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation of sorts, which includes two weddings, a trip to the beach, and visits with college friends. It will be fun and exhausting, and there’s an excellent chance I won’t get anything done.

But I’m still looking forward to the trip. Even though I need to make some tough decisions as to which books to pack. Frankly some books are simply better on a plane versus on the beach. Or read on the couch in front of in-laws instead of before bed at night.

And of course any time spent with extended family can lead to awkwardness as to just what do I do all day. Now that I have two stories forthcoming from Eclectic Flash, the temptation is there to finally say I’m a writer.

But here be monsters.

Why? Well, for starters, They May Not Value Writing. I have evidence that could go either way here. If they aren’t big readers or value only extrinsic measures of success, they just aren’t going to get it. But I am a member of the family, they are generous people, and they respect me. So maybe they’d respect the writing too.

They Also Have No Clue Just How Difficult Writing Can Be. And this goes for a healthy chunk of all non-writers. So much thought goes into word placement, structure, characterization… The more I learn about writing, the trickier it is to get words down on the page that I’m satisfied with.

Because they don’t understand how hard writing is, They Will Ask Me Why I’m Not Published Yet. You know, as in what really counts when you are a writer – a book deal. Short stories are, well, short, and no one is making millions on them. Publishing is a molasses-slow process, just as writing something worth publishing takes a looong time. They won’t understand milestones like getting a CP, or querying that first agent, or getting a full request. They just want to see a book.

And there’s the whole They Will Want To Talk To Me About My Writing Projects. They might ask out of courtesy or maybe they are genuinely interested. Which is great. I can appreciate that, even though I don’t like talking about my work until it’s far enough along that I’m comfortable sharing it with others. Ideas are just that, and until they get to the page, I don’t have a strong sense of how things will turn out. A careless word by someone else can destroy a story before it even starts. Plus, can you imagine me discussing the finer points of love scenes in my historical romance with my father-in-law? Neither can I.

But I guess it all comes down to the fact that They Will Stop Thinking I’m A Mystery And Start Seeing Me As A Dreamer With No Prospects. In some sense, the question of what I do – do I stay at home all day? Do I volunteer? Do I watch soap operas? Do I secretly want to have babies and be a stay-at-home mom? – protects me and keeps them from knowing the truth. Rejection is writing’s constant companion. I don’t need someone telling me writing is impossible, that I’m a dreamer for even trying it. I already know that. But I do it anyway, and that can be hard for some people to understand.

So yeah. Not telling them. Yet.

My husband and I discussed the best time to tell them the truth. And we decided that a professional short story sale or an agent would necessitate telling folks about me writing and all that. You know, which ever came first.

(cough) yeah, right (cough).

But for now I’m optimistic that one day I will be able to share this part of my life with them. I am a dreamer. Or a masochist. It’s hard to tell some days.

Because of all the travel, blog posting and commenting may be spotty, but I wish you all happy writing! I’ll be back for sure by the second half of the month.
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Hiding in Plain Sight

Being a writer, I’ve come to accept the fact I’m more observant than other people in my life. I have to be, if I’m ever going to be any good.

So it always surprises me when my husband or a friend or family member makes a canny or clever observation. My hand reaches for the notebook even as I wonder just what else they make of the world around them that’s never voiced. After all, that’s a wonderful thing to aspire to as a writer – giving voice to what people never articulate for themselves. Those truths that resonate with readers.

I’m an intensely private person – the anonymous blog is one clue. Only a few people in real life know I write, and it will stay that way until I have a bit more to show for my efforts. I’m flying under the radar. Hiding in plain sight. Or so I thought.

My conception of myself was thrown for a loop recently when I received a gift from one of my aunts. A book on writing, with the note: “I think this is something you like to pursue in your own way.”

At first I thought my father spilled the beans to his sister. He swears he didn’t. This was just my aunt putting two and two together. Somehow.

I’m still struggling with how she guessed since I’ve never acknowledged that side of me when I’m around her. Of course we both share a love of books and have been trading novels, recommendations, and reviews for years. And my vague answer to what I’m up to these days is probably eyebrow raising to her, considering my past academic and professional achievements. But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable admitting it. To her. Yet.

But the fatigue of keeping up appearances, of pretending this huge part of my life doesn’t exist, is wearing on me.

The fantabulous, always-articulate Tahereh Mafi wrote a post this week on Writers Coming Out of the Closet. Even looking through my old archives, I’ve noticed this issue of identity recurring again and again. And there are hundreds of posts out there from published authors, bestsellers even, who still feel insecure in their writerly-ness.

Do you find yourself hiding in plain sight? How do you own being a writer? And if anyone could tell me who started the silver pin “I am a writer” badge, I’d be much obliged. Happy writing!
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Spousal Rhythms

or My Post for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest

It’s that time of year where we not only eat, drink, and be merry but also contemplate what we are thankful for.

I have a wonderful life. I ask my husband what we are going to eat, not how. I worry about the logistics of traveling home for the holidays, not the financing. All of Maslow’s basic needs are covered. I have my health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and more and more confidence each day that all this writing stuff is going somewhere. And I am thankful for all of these things.

But if I had to choose one thing I am most thankful for this year, it is my husband’s support. It is his job, his abilities, his willingness to let me explore, that has given me the opportunity to write fulltime. There are no guarantees anything will come of it – we both know that – but he supports me just the same.

I get most of my writing and reading done while he is away at work during weekdays. Nights and weekends are our time, whether it’s making dinner, doing dishes, or running errands. But because he’s a researcher, sometimes personal life gets pushed aside in favor of deadlines for proposals, conferences, and journal articles. It is during these crunch times that I simply reach for another book or tinker with another WIP afterhours. I get more work done when my husband’s workload increases.

It’s kinda funny, but I also think it’s a time when we both understand the most about each other’s work. When he’s writing proposals or articles, he gets so frustrated when the words don’t come. Or when the writing sucks hard but he knows he just has to get it down in order to fix it later. Sound familiar?

On weekend mornings, we’ll go to coffee shops and hunker down at a table for two hours – he’ll be typing away on his computer or highlighting an academic paper, while I’ll be scribbling in my notebook or red-lining a printout of my latest story. Sometimes we’ll both catch each other staring off into space, thinking about our next words, or working out a new idea, or simply taking a break from all the mental exertion that goes on at our little table. We’ll smile, maybe make a joke, discuss our new idea or where we got stuck, and eventually start working again.

It’s a nice arrangement – how his working rhythms dovetail with mine. It’s not something I expected, but now that I have it, I can’t imagine going without. How do spousal rhythms influence your writing? Do they cheer you on? Work with you side-by-side? Or give you the time and space to do your thing?

I am thankful my husband gives me a little bit of everything.

This post was written for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest, spearheaded by Jeffrey Beesler. You can find a list of other participants at Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Identity and In-Laws

My in-laws are visiting for a week starting today. Lovely people. Honest. We get along for the most part and although we’re not best buds, I know I can count on my husband’s parents for anything.

So what’s the problem? They don’t know I write. As far as they’re concerned, I fritter away my time while my husband works. Quite a reversal for an educated woman who had clearly achieved some measure of professional success in another life. Do they think I’m lazy? Unmotivated? Depressed? It’s hard to say since it never comes up except in oblique, sideways references.

I’ve run into this issue with friends and acquaintances as well. There are some people I just don’t know well enough to tell them about my creative aspirations. If I meet someone at happy hour, I’m not going to launch into my plans for the umpteenth revision of my WIP. I’m sorry but I don’t trust my dreams and hopes with just anyone. (There’s a great post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that also talks about this issue).

Even close friends of mine don’t know. If I fail, I want my failures to be as private as possible in this day and age. I’m still insecure with my progress. I keep thinking it will be a lot easier to tell people what I do once I have publication credits to point them to. (Agent Nathan Bransford calls this the “if only game”). Without evidence, I feel like a cheat. A wannabe. I feel the whisper of failure.

So I don’t talk about writing. I don’t talk about the one thing that has shaped my life into what it is today. I keep it all bottled up inside. When people do inevitably ask me what I do, I play the fool, cultivating the image that I’m just some pampered housewife taking her time figuring out what gives her life meaning besides cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This way, my deep dark secret is safe. But at the same time, I’ve discounted my intelligence, my abilities, my determination. People don’t take me seriously. And I’m accustomed to being taken seriously. It’s quite a reversal, and I’m still trying to cope with it.

I feel like my interaction with people who don’t know I write are monochromatic, one-note, absent of vibrancy and meaning, because I’m holding some much of myself back because of vague notions of pride, fear, and self-preservation. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy. I’ve gotten better about it. I’ve let a person here and there in on the big secret with no obvious ramifications. I felt a bit more entitled to the idea of being a writer after attending my first writing conference. And then of course, I always have my colleagues from my writing groups to help put things in perspective.

But there’s something about the in-laws that makes everything worse. They don’t know. They won’t ask. And I just end up feeling awkward about the whole thing. Even if I do succeed someday in getting published, I’m not sure if they’re the type of people who would understand my decision to write when more practical, prudent paths are available to me.

But what’s important is my husband understands. He understood my desire to write before I ever articulated it. I’m thankful for that everyday I get to play with words. And usually that’s enough.
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