I’ve gotten out of the blogging habit, but new year, new house, hopefully new kitchen soon, new attitude. I bought a new trailer, new to me anyway, in November. It needed some work, but it was better than the one I had, much newer and larger. I would have room for a real live office. Yay me. I love it A lot.
I’ll love it more when I can unpack boxes stacked in the two bedrooms and get my desk out of my living room and into my office and also find my research books. It makes me antsy not having them where I need them. My girls did not put things where I asked them to put them. It will be a treasure hunt.
So, in the midst of chaos, I’m trying to finish revisions on The Rain Crow, my Civil War novel. I have some beta readers patiently waiting for it, but I won’t send it until I’ve done all I can. I hope I can have it down to 150,000 and they can see what else I can cut. It’s at 155,000 and has already been cut significantly.
When we started looking at the plumbing in the kitchen, I realized it was just going to be better to rip out all the cabinets and start over. Luckily, after a couple of false starts, I found some gorgeous custom-built hickory cabinets a lady was taking out in a remodel for a very reasonable price. Very reasonable. Now, I have cabinets sitting everywhere in the living room, dining room, and kitchen, but none installed because I also had to move a gas line 12″ that ate into my budget severely and now, I’m replenishing. Anyway, it’s going to be wonderful when I’m done and I love it.
January was a doldrum month for many of my writer friends. It was hard for me to force myself to revise. I find it hard to focus in chaos, but if you’re a writer you write. No excuses. We were discussing tips to keep writing on the Litforum which used to be the AOL Literary Forum and then Compuserve Literary Forum and is now just he Litforum. It’s a pretty solid place for writers and those who love writers or reading to hang out.
For me, the prime thing is to get in the habit of writing. Once your mind gets accustomed to something, it will anticipate it. If I sat down every day at 10:00 in the morning and fixed a cup of tea and got a slice of cherry pie, before long, my mouth would be watering for cherry pie a bit before cherry pie. Of course, I like cherry pie. Your mileage may vary. I had, at one point trained myself to the habit of drinking a cup of hot chocolate about thirty minutes before I went to sleep. That was the signal to my brain that we were getting ready to shut down. So, I didn’t go to bed and start thinking about things. I went to bed and went to sleep.
So it goes with writing. If you get up at 6:00 a.m. before the rest of the house is stirring and set aside thirty minutes to yourself to write, before long, your brain would look forward to this block of time you set out to be creative. If you’re a writer, you deserve the time to write. You shouldn’t have to ask for it nor feel guilty about it. This is your dream. Now make it a reality.
I bought an antique hourglass. It isn’t pretty. I wanted a maritime hourglass like the one in the movie Master and Commander, but I could afford this. Someday, my pretty. I will have one like you. For now, this works perfectly well. When I tip the hourglass, which measures thirty minutes, this is writing time. I don’t research. I don’t look up things on the internet. I don’t check twitter or farcebook (intentional). I write. Usually by the end of thirty minutes I’m on a roll and keep writing. Stop before you run the well dry, though.
Hemingway wrote until he got to a place he knew he could stop, but he also knew what was going to happen next. The next morning, he’d re-read what he’d written the day before to refresh his mind and pick right back up because he knew what was going to happen. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make changes, he wrote forty-nine different endings to For Whom The Bell Tolls. It means he didn’t run the well dry as he was writing. When he finished writing, he read. All good writers do.
Keep a journal with you at all times. You’ll come up with ideas when you least expect it. A bit from a dream I remembered made it into a powerful battlefield scene. I wasn’t really sure it worked, but I did a blue pencil with an award-winning historical author who read it and he said it nailed the horror of battle without the gore. Someone on Twitter posted a video of a girl playing violin. Karolina is a brilliant artist. I’ve watched her play this probably twenty times now. I have a scene running through my head inspired by it that will go into the fantasy.
Think about the alphabet. If you get stuck and can’t think about what to write, get out the alphabet. Instead of alphabet blocks, you’ll have alphabet unblocks. Just go through the dictionary until a word calls to you and write something with one of your characters or something completely new. It will prime the pump and get you writing again.
I’ve included a few things from some exercises.
C is for Confederate. Captain Simmons of the 5th NY walked beside me quietly, drawing deeply on the cigar. He wasn’t the type of man to fill the void with mindless chatter, but he was quieter now. We both were. How do you respond to a man who has just admitted he killed his own brother to protect a Confederate woman?
S is for smile. Jeremy looked about for chairs, but there were none to be had in any office. “I’m sorry, ladies. I’ll see if I can get someone to help you.” He whispered to a harried aide who looked at us and nodded. Imogene turned to face the hapless clerk. Her very large, very blue eyes widened. Then she beamed her let-there-be-light smile on him, the one that made people think all their cares would melt away in her mere presence. He returned a sunstruck smile that showed he was already a believer. They always were. “Yes, ma’am. How can I help?”
Keep a calendar. I buy two calendars at the beginning of each year. One is a Civil War calendar with beautiful paintings and Civil War trivia on each day. That’s my pretty calendar. The other calendar is a regular calendar with big enough blocks I can make some notes and put stickers. Yes, stickers. I have a few goals I want to hit each day. Stickers like this. I have others, pretty Victorian stickers, but they’re in the other filing cabinet. These are in the drawer next to me. This idea comes from Victoria Schwab who is pretty awesome and you need to be following her if you aren’t.
As Hemingway said, read. Reading not only clears your mind, but it instructs you. Whether you realize it or not, you’re learning how to do things. You’re either learning how to do things you like or how to avoid doing things you hate. You notice how writers keep your attention. You pay more attention to pacing. You even notice the white space. This all registers. Reading something particularly well-written makes me want to write, just as soon as I wrap my wrists from the bloodletting.