When All You Want To Do Is Edit…Wait, That’s Not A Thing?

I’m sure that somewhere away from the page, away from my keyboard, the weather is really just as hot as they claim.

I’m sure that ice cream still tastes fantastic, especially chocolate chip mint and caramel swirl (but maybe not together).

Undoubtedly vacation will come and I will be pulled from the editing zone by my husband holding plane tickets in one hand and my suitcase in the other. (So maybe at some point before the end of summer I should pack unless I want him doing it for me. I don’t. I really don’t.)

Until then, my head is deep into editing. In fact, I resent anything right now that is not me, pen in hand, paper, or putting those notes into my latest draft.

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And, egomaniac that I apparently am, I’m kinda crushing on my own writing at the moment.

Don’t worry — I’ll get over it. Self doubt and agony “But am I any good?” will return to paralyze me. I had one of those mornings earlier this week. Um, it might have been yesterday. Until then, I’m enjoying myself.

Are you wondering where I found the time to pound out this lil’ missive?

The next pages up to edit are printing right now is how. (Pardon me while I shake my print cartridge to get the maximum number of pages before changing it. What, you don’t do that? You should give it a try.)

Oh great. Now my printer’s not working. Time to bang on it and curse. Wait, I’ll try shutting it down and restarting it.

Where’s my personal assistant? What, I don’t have one?

Note to self: start vetting discreet, efficient personal assistants with great techie skills who also like to clean house.

You’ll notice I started off by saying all I want to do is edit? Well, I sense a shift in mood coming on. Where’s that blasted ice cream? I could have it eaten in the amount of time it is taking this printer to shut down and come back on. For the love!

I suspect I now have black ink from the cartridge on my face and possibly on my new blouse. Merde.

Rescued blouse, did a visual check of face: all clear.

Unplugged printer, started alignment because printer demanded it.

Now it is spitting out pieces of blank paper.

I have no idea what this printer is doing now.  It claims to be aligning after getting jammed and wasting four pieces of paper.

And WHERE IS MY ASSISTANT? Oh, that’s right.

I do have someone who has offered to work for me when I’m ready; all I need do is say the word. Word. No, wait, not yet.

The printer says the alignment has failed.

My mom calls and says she has found a (redacted) that (redacted) wrote before (redacted). Now trying not to cry.

But the printer is printing again, even though it is telling me that the ink cartridge is low. I know; I shook it so I could squeeze thirty more pages out, remember, printer? Because I’m thrifty that way. Looks like I’m only going to maybe get 20 this time. Better than nothing.

Bemoaning that I want ice cream that I did not buy. No! Stop thinking about…

I am about 60 pages shy of printing the rest of my novel. This is on purpose. My process is this: edit a hard copy, maybe 50 pages or, ideally, a chapter or two. Then I put the edits into my computer file. Because otherwise I get really cranky trying to make all of those corrections at once. I like editing, but not looking between paper and screen. I prefer all paper or all computer, with my true preference leaning towards the hard copy.

Today, though, it was nice, editing. Though even after I transferred the changes I was left with a hastily scribbled note to myself that there was a character who had walked offstage, never to be heard from again. Historically speaking that’s true, but I wanted my MC to be guilted into thinking about her. So I was able to add that with a few strokes. Yay for notes.

After having struggled with my printer (I will not change the cartridge, not yet, even though the pages are getting lighter) because if I do I will print the remainder of my book and I will try to rush through the edits not because I want to be finished but because I get single minded.

But the interruptions have been sufficient to return me to this world for the evening, I think, anyway. I may just put my newly printed pages into my backpack for tomorrow and take my evening walk.

Wait, didn’t I hear something about it being warm out?

Creative or Rule Follower?

My first conscious act of creating was in response to my elementary school principal’s command. She gave us a sheet of paper covered in circles and told us to come up with ONLY things that did not exist.

I was in the fifth grade. This principal was the strongest woman I knew — she was probably close to six feet tall, a large, craggy woman with a deep voice and half a dozen children if I remember correctly. She had only to look sideways at a student for that student obey. I both feared and adored her.

Now, here’s the thing: when she gave me that paper, I knew I HAD to do what she asked, because she was the principal. Because I was afraid her eyes could melt me. And because I had already incurred her ire two years before by wearing shorts and a strappy top to school, not having ever been told it was against the rules until she announced over the intercom that such attire was inappropriate. (I was not the only offender). I was mortified and spent the rest of the (very) hot day wearing my jacket, though my teacher begged me to take my jacket off. I refused, preferring to at least cover up my arms.

This principal, all eyes, glasses on a chain, and moles, now wanted me to lie, as it were. So I learned to create on command.

It turned out that I was the only one who obeyed — everyone else came up with basketballs and such, things that already existed. I had no idea that my worksheet would land me in the principal’s office for further questioning. She was taking, she told me later, a class on child development and because of that she asked me more questions based on what I had drawn. Why had I made an electric soccer ball? Why had I come up with a cheesy rat tunnel?

I have no idea if my answers satisfied her, but they did make me realize I was different, and that was invaluable. And better yet, she let me leave her office alive.

Recently I asked my husband this, though: was I creative because I did what she asked or was I more rigid than the others  because I felt compelled to follow her directions? Perhaps she scared me into creativity. Barry’s opinion is that she inadvertently helped me free my creativity. I suppose either way it doesn’t matter, but I am grateful, and I kinda miss her.  Go figure.

Writing and Little Women

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I’m reading Little Women with an online group, and in my excitement I went to dig out my copy only to discover — gasp — that I couldn’t find it.

The novel is one of the foundational books of my childhood, of my life. That I couldn’t find a single copy in our house shocked me. Why, just a few years ago I distinctly remember buying a couple of beautiful copies at a quaint local bookstore. I know I passed one along to my mother for her birthday, but I was convinced I had kept the second, until my search turned up nothing. (I may have inadvertently left the book at my former workplace where I taught. Which is fine if it’s getting some use.)

I started first searching the bookshelves in my and Barry’s bedroom. I was sure I knew just where that book was. Nope. The more I searched, the more frantic I became.  Finally I gave up and asked Barry if he minded if I bought another copy. So I did. Unfortunately, they shipped me a different edition than I ordered. Then they apologized and said they do not have the one I wanted, but they let me keep the one they sent and refunded my money, so I was satisfied, mostly, although I had hoped that the one I ordered would have extra essays and such in it. This one does have a nice introduction, but that’s it.

I can’t say how old I was when I first read it, but I was probably eight or so. The book captivated me! I read it more than once.

While I didn’t have any Barbies as a child, somehow I did have a fashion doll of some sort with dark hair. I decided she was Jo. Because I was so worried that my father, as hers had, would be called away to war (not that a war was going on at the time that I was aware of as a child, but still) I had her sacrifice her hair just as she does in the book. Yes, I cut into a sweet bob and was quite happy with it. I also made her a gray poncho out of a scrap of fabric and had her become the last woman in the world because a nuclear war had occurred. The poor young woman was left to take care of all of the children orphaned by the war on her own, which she did admirably (in Little Men and under the pine trees where I took “her” to tend her family), although I had no Professor Bhaer to give her.

Jo was my favorite character in the book, and I sometimes made life choices based on hers. I decided to become a writer. (That desire comes from several places, actually, but she is certainly one of the reasons.) In Little Men she opens an orphanage. Even as a child I picked out a huge, neglected green house in my hometown that I thought would make the perfect orphanage. (Alas, it was eventually torn down and I subsequently modified my ambition. But my husband and I did adopt two of the twelve children I had originally planned to.)

Perhaps the deepest print she left on me was her struggle to turn from writing “garbage” fiction for money versus writing from a deeper place: she wrote sensationalistic stories to send her dear, dying sister to the seashore. Who couldn’t understand that? And yet when Professor Bhaer gently redirects her, she quickly repents and vows to write only things that are worthy of her.

I’m pretty much a “live and let live” kind of person who truly believes we need to make our own choices, but I am with Professor Bhaer on this one. While perhaps his objections came from a place of moral concern for what she was writing, I do agree that we should only write those things that come from our souls. We should attempt to ignore what others expect or want us to write and create as if we never need a reader, an editor, or a publisher. There’s time to consider whether or not something needs tweaking later…craft is a different issue. But first write from your deepest depths.

Write on!

Life Hack: Of Podcasts and Procrastination — Both Can Be Your Friend

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Procrastinated, I mean. In the past I’ve felt bad about it. When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t usually procrastinate. I have so much to say that I could pretty much write nonstop. But there are times…

Today began with a fun talk with my husband before he went off to work. Then I took an invigorating run followed by a leisurely breakfast. I was happily on the endorphin express. But.

After breakfast this morning I discovered that didn’t want to get dressed because I didn’t want to pick out clothes because I wasn’t in the mood to make choices. (I did it anyway, of course.)

Then I didn’t want to load my too heavy backpack onto my coat and lug it to the café where I am working. Once there, I didn’t want to unbundle and set up all of my things: computer, books, paper, pens, plug the computer in by crawling in the floor in front of everyone, etc. Things that I do everyday without thought have been more difficult today.

And even though I own probably 50 scarves, I forgot to bring one, which bummed me out. Thankfully I am wearing double layers. (Note to self: tuck a neutral-colored one into your backpack for the future.)

Still, once I got here I made my daily “I will do/the universe will do” lists. Okay, I only wrote the “I will do” list. I know what I want the universe to do and most of it reads like a honey-do list: Shampoo the carpets, replace the caulk in the bathroom, put up the Christmas decorations. Things that don’t have to be done today, but it would be nice if they were done before our eagerly awaited holiday visitors arrive. (I have evolved to the point that I know those things will get finished, and I also realize that they have no deadlines attached, so we are good. In fact, some of those might even prove to be fun.)

And oh yeah, Universe: make my dad well.

So here I sit, proud that I have made as much progress as I have. Except I don’t want to do anything on that list I promptly hid after writing. After tunneling into my fiction for the weekend, I am finding it difficult to make the switch to nonfiction today.

My dad is in the hospital and I’m worried about him. I’ll get to see him tonight, but I wish I could ease his suffering and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. If you know me, you know I can’t handle feeling helpless. I suspect this is the cause of my unease.

Before you think I am just foisting my ho-hum attitude upon you, read on. Because I just discovered today that procrastination is my friend and it can be yours, too. (Minor bit of required diversionary backstory forthcoming.)

I am a podcast junkie. I listen to them when I run. I listen to them while I cook. I listen to them while I clean. Don’t ask me what kind because it depends on my current taste, which is always changing.

This morning I was listening to one while I was stretching, and I was thrilled to hear someone say that when you procrastinate, what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself from taking action before you should. That is, your mind is not in a place where it’s time to do anything, so don’t make a move until it is. I LOVED hearing that. It was just what I needed today.

Maybe I needed to think about my dad a little today after I called my mom and got the not-great prognosis. Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t jump right into my usual routine and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.

Maybe that hesitation I feel is because the right people aren’t available to interview today anyway, and if I just wait until tomorrow they will be.

Maybe by writing this today, I am not procrastinating at all, but I am writing it for someone who needs it as much as I do.

For some reason, though, I suddenly feel ready to look at that list again. Perhaps this time I will see friendly letters looking back at me that inspire me instead of an enemy with a whip (which the list sometimes feels like, no matter how slim I make it). Here’s hoping.

Honor Your Process: Know When to Write and When Not to!

Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.

A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.

Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.

But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.

Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.

Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. 🙂

Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.

In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.

NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.

I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.

When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.

I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.

I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.

The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.

Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.

Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!
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Shh…I am reading! Lisette’s List

After waiting ALL DAY, while I was on my walk my husband texted to let me know that UPS had been. So I am happy to report that I am now blissfully reading Susan Vreeland’s newest book, Lisette’s List.

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Shhh…you may not hear anything from me for quite some time.

Ah, writing about art. Is there anything like it? Reading about art.

A Writer’s Retreat…in Changzhou, China!

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Until recently my body was in China, my mind in France, and my heart in the United States. Let me explain.

I apologize for having been silent for some time. My last post was actually written while in Changzhou, China. Drat these days of having to be so careful when one travels that one can’t shout from the rooftops “I’m in China!”

This post is not meant to be a travelogue. I’m sure stories of my time in China will come out in my posts, but I wanted to deal more with my writing while I was there. If you’re truly interested in more about our time there, may I refer you to an article I wrote about it for glo Magazine? http://www.the-papers.com/OnlineIssue.aspx?pub=glo  (It’s on page 42.)

“How do you think your writing was affected by your trip?” I have been asked multiple times since returning. One of my friends has given me the perfect reply: “We’ll see.” She’s so right. How anything changes us often takes some time to reveal its effects. But I can say how lovely and fantastic the experience was!

The beauty of this retreat:

1. I did not have to do laundry.

2. No cleaning house.

3. No cooking. (That was a mixed bag as I actually like to cook.)

4. Naps!

5. Staying in a five-star hotel.  Very posh!

6. Being treated as if we were royalty by the hotel staff. They gave me a private writing space complete with an attendant who brought me drinks and snacks! Weekly fruit selections delivered! Nightly cookies! Surprise cake and desserts!

7. Amazing food generously supplied wherever we went. I now adore seafood and eating with chopsticks!

8. The gift of not being able to speak the language. This allowed me to focus on my writing, even when I was in a teahouse full of chattering people. The sound was mere music because I couldn’t understand a word! It also forced me to find other ways to communicate: hand gestures, drawings, etc.

9. Being fully appreciated by very sweet people for…well…everything! That I am a writer. That I am an American. That I am a blonde.

10. Sightseeing! Beijing. Shanghai. The architecture was spectacular. Always something new to see. Everywhere.

11. Buying pearls. In the above photo I am standing in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower…my favorite building in Shanghai, and I’m wearing the pearls Barry had newly purchased for me. (I’m having a hard time not wearing them every day! I’ve always been a fan of pearls.)

Clearly, I could go on at length. Let me shift gears.

My goal for writing in China (other than accompanying my husband, who was there for work) was to write a new section of my WIP. I had hoped to add 50 to 75 pages. I ended up writing over 100 new pages. There was something about writing in another country that allowed me to tap into something I did not at home. The section that I had no clue about in the States came to me bit by bit, then page after page. I wrote with pen and paper, something else I don’t usually do. It was wonderful to look up form a long morning’s writing only to realize that I was in China, not France.

Barry and I spent many fun evenings out with new friends, but we also had not only private evening dinners or room service, but we also had cherished hour-long breakfasts. We would sit and drink cup after cup of tea and talk, which thankfully emptied my mind for my day’s writing and energized him for the work day. It was perfect.

You wouldn’t think it would be any different, writing at a desk, sitting in a chair, or on a couch or a park bench, no matter the country, but it was. I honestly haven’t had much time to look over the new material I wrote while I was there, but I’m eager to see how it was different. In part I think there’s a real difference in writing not in stolen moments or almost as a hobby, but instead writing because the day was created for you to write, and everything in the universe confirms that, down to the weather. Everyone and everything seems as if it’s your handmaiden, your doula.

If you ever get the chance to take a writer’s retreat — even if you have to steal a weekend and go to a hotel, do it. There’s something special about purposely created moments. The muse, I am firmly convinced, is ever with us. (S)he’s just waiting for us to say hello, no matter the country in which we find ourselves. There’s something very comforting about knowing there’s a whole other world ever present, ever ready for us to tap. Here’s to catching buckets full of rich writing.

Not Writing Is Still Writing

This is going to be a quickly written post and a lightly edited one, because if we all waited to perfect our post, we’d never write any, right? And because I promised myself I’d take a nap, and I’m due somewhere in less than an hour, so there’s not time to do both. Or is there?

Here’s the deal with “not writing”: I’ve been gratefully spending loads of time with my WIP (work in progress). Don’t get me wrong — I adore my MC and if she were here today, I’d hang out with her all the time, I’m sure. (I already talk to and for her, so why not?) The past day or two, however, she and I have been having a different sort of quality time. Instead of steady clips of time, I can only bear to write and/or edit for an hour or so at a time. At that it’s been deep, soul-searching stuff and I really couldn’t tell you what I wrote if you asked. All I know is that this MC is causing me to dig deeper than I thought possible. To tell her story is to tell mine, even though our lives and experiences are absolutely nothing alike. (Some day I’ll do a point-by-point of how different we are, just for fun.)

As I swam yesterday, however, I was writing but not writing. No, this isn’t the usual something comes to you and it takes all of your effort not to drop the vase you are holding so you can write it down. (I DID shush Barry today so I could write down a story idea. I do not normally approve of shushing, and I don’t think he appreciated it either, but in my defense it was a really good idea. But then they ALL are, aren’t they, in that first flush? So I hereby publicly apologize to Barry for the shushing. I would say I won’t do it again, but I know I will, especially at the movies.)

The kind of writing/swimming I was doing yesterday was allowing thoughts and images to flow without trying to hook them onto anything else. I allowed them to just come and go, my mind filling and releasing. I knew they’d still be there when I wanted them, and then I sat at my computer and I wrote. Truly, I’m not sure what I wrote, but I know it was important to my MC. Was it any good? I couldn’t say — I haven’t been brave enough to go back and read it.

So even if you don’t think you’re writing because you take a break from your scheduled writing time, if you believe in your current work and are determined that you will give it as long as it takes and will not compromise an inch until your MC’s (Sorry, non-writers. “MC” stands, of course, for Main Character. My apologies.) story is told. Every. Last. Word. Of. It. Just as she wants it to be.

So I would argue that if your MC needs you to stop writing your way (because she wants to say something in a different manner or if she feels pushed around), stop writing and see how else she wants you to write, because not writing is still writing, even if you don’t see it. And just as you know when a tomato is ripe, (If you don’t know, just ask. I’m that woman who will stop you from buying unripe ones at the market — it’s all in the amount of give and the smell, you know.) when you sit at your computer (or your lovingly rediscovered, Paris 016in my case, notebook and pen) it will be there, because knowing when not to write is an important part of writing. Right? Write. Sorry, Couldn’t resist. Let’s see…forty minutes before I must leave. No nap yet and I still have to fix my hair and makeup and put on my shoes. Rats. Well, I’ve always been a reluctant napper anyway. But never a reluctant writer. 🙂

P.S. The photo is one I took of a fountain in Paris. Just because. Enjoy!

Transcribing Bites! But It MAY Be Worth It!

It’s not an elegant title, but it tells the truth.

This is going to be a quick post because Barry and I have dinner plans with new friends and half an hour out from it, I am still in my bathrobe, so. But I really do want to kvetch about this.

Lately I have returned to writing in notebooks, long hand. There are several reasons I’m doing it, such as portability and to see if I write differently. (Yes, I do. I write more thoughtfully and philosophically, I think.) The only problem is that then said writing must magically find its way onto the laptop and into a Word file. Right.

The writing part went really well recently — I found myself quickly with 100 fresh pages of my novel. How fun it was to go from a coffeehouse with my light notebook to a park bench. How liberating! Until.

I have spent two days this week transcribing and whining. Whining and transcribing. I’m happy to say that I transcribed all 100 pages, yippee, and now I’m editing them. Editing, I don’t mind. In fact, I enjoy it, once I get started.

I whined about the transcription so much my husband asked why I didn’t just hire someone to type it in for me. Trust me, I was tempted. But it occurred to me there might be benefits to doing it myself. Just what are those said benefits, you ask?

1. It reminds you of what you wrote. Maybe I’m the only one who forgets what she wrote some days, but it happens to me. So transcribing places the story more firmly in my mind.

2. It’s an early form of editing. As you type, if you’re like me, you’ll whittle at that bad boy even as you’re transcribing it.

3. It enthuses you to write more. I found that after I had the new pages on the laptop before me, I was inspired to keep going.

4. It’s interesting to see if you do write differently when you write long hand. I think I do. You should try it!

5. I was easily able to add side notes and questions. Yeah, you can do this in Word, but it’s a little harder to make out, if you ask me.

6. I underlined things I questioned as I wrote that I might want to confirm or reconsider. Again, early editing without it seeming as if I were being overbearing on myself, so it was nonthreatening when I went back.

7. Cursive just seems friendlier and prettier. Maybe not my writing — I can write prettily but am usually too busy/impatient to — but cursive (or print, if you prefer) is romantic looking.

Maybe I could think of more reasons, but our dinner date looms and while I don’t think the restaurant has a dress code, I’m not sure a robe and slippers are acceptable attire.

So write by hand, and then transcribe. If you dare. It may be worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monkey Mind and Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts: It’s All Writing

I’m not writing a dissertation, so you might wonder why I recently picked up a book called Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker at the library. Of course it was the word “writing” that drew me. What kept me interested was its intriguing, fresh writing tips.

A few months ago I had the marvelous opportunity to teach a writing class at my church. When I surveyed the participants, I discovered they were there for many different reasons. “That’s okay — writing is writing, in many respects,” I said. Reading this book confirms this for me, because Bolker’s tips ring true to me, even though I am primarily a fiction writer.

May I recommend chapter six, “Interruptions from Outside and Inside”? Here she asks the reader to take a hard look at what is really outside of our control when it comes to writing. We all know about those “interruptions” such as social media and those fascinating, emailed newsletters that we just have to read right now. And don’t get me started on Pinterest!

She references an essay by Anne Tyler that I’d like to hunt down called “Still Just Writing.” Even though I haven’t read it, I can imagine (because I adore Tyler’s writing) what it says. I wonder if she’s been questioned about the legitimacy of her work as I currently have. I’ve been accused of being unemployed because I made the leap to full-time writing. Yesterday I ended up working thirteen hours with only a brief break or two. Unemployed? Hardly.

That is not to say that I don’t fall prey to those interruptions that others do: mail (I love all mail, email or snail), a phone call (although I try not to answer the phone while I’m working), and emails. So many wonderful emails to answer!

If you need a kick in the rear, Bolker will do that. She recounts the story of an advisee she had who was 8 1/2 months pregnant. Bolker told her that was no excuse for not finishing her dissertation, and the woman did! Tough love, but someone’s got to do it.

While it’s not the same, my last semester in the MFA program I attended I had the opportunity to present a novel for a novel-writing workshop led by an idol of mine. I quickly signed up for it, only to realize that the “novel” I had been working on was not what I wanted to present to her. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t want to waste it on something that was not the best, the truest writing I had in me. So.

So I decided that I would write a first draft of this newest novel (thankfully the subject of the novel called to me at this very time…not sure I believe in coincidence) in, oh, less than eight months.

I wrote in a dreamlike state, writing until my wrists ached. I think my maximum page count FOR ONE DAY was twenty three pages. This novel burned in me; this opportunity was truly that special to me.

I lost weight. I taught in a trance. I quit going places or hanging out much with friends. Our house became, shall we say, pleasantly cluttered as I struggled to do the most important things — dishes, laundry, cooking. My husband helped out as much as he could, but he was working long hours too.

The only thing I didn’t let go was my exercise regime. Most days. But that’s because that’s brain fuel for me. Yeah, yeah, I’ve told this before, but I just can’t believe I did it. I finished that draft. And a second. I am currently on the third draft and am still as excited about it as I was when I began.

I think Bolker would approve.

For me, perhaps the most meaningful section of Bolker’s book comes in her utter acceptance of an individual’s writing process. She suggests not fighting the monkey mind that wanders off, but to work with it. To either keep a list of those “I should” tasks that pop up, or to write what you’re thinking, no matter how off target it seems to be, and you might be surprised to see the connections your mind is trying to make.

What a relief! So my mind (which ping pongs) is okay? In fact, those thoughts that seem wildly out of line with my writing might actually be my mind’s way of trying to classify its thoughts? Monumental! I can’t tell you how freeing that validation is. She’s saying we should trust our minds! Yes, even our monkey minds.

She suggests “…instead of trying to push it out of your mind, try writing whatever is in your head”. She believes if you do this enough, useful patterns will emerge and themes. I love the idea that everything about us is connected and helpful. (I’d like to believe that my irrational fondness for Reese’s peanut butter hearts — or Reese’s pb anything — is not a weakness but helps make my writing better. Wait. I think we call that rationalization.)

Bolker teasingly jokes that the best equipment for a writer is a bucket of glue and a chair. Many others agree that all you have to do is show up. Regularly. (I’m ripping someone off, but who?)

If you’re not writing a dissertation, there are chapters such as “Your Advisor” that you can safely skip. I confess to doing just that. But if you need to feel better about yourself and your unique writing process, give this book a read. Who knows — maybe you’ll end up wanting to write a dissertation, even if you never do.