Housecleaning and the Writing Life

March 8, 2012

One of the best books I have read recently, about writing, is A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life by Nancy Peacock. This is a fabulous, entertaining, funny and well-written book about the writing life. Not a “how to” book as much as a memoir, Peacock writes about the houses she has cleaned, and how she has crafted her work and life as a writer, juggling both jobs. Her writing is lively and humorous, and she has keen insight into what makes us as writers “tick.”   An example of the former, while trying to find work she liked: “All I wanted was a job where I could show up, work, and go home with a paycheck. Oddly, this made me practically unemployable.”  An example of the latter, which I believe may be the most moving passage in the entire book: “Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work,  because if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”  That last line gets me. And I hope I remember it when I reach those difficult times in my writing where I doubt myself and my work.

Read this inspiring book!

 

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Writing numbers for 2010

January 2, 2011

A couple of years ago, I discovered the benefits of keeping a writing log. I’m working on writing a book, and so often, I would get discouraged about my progress. I decided to keep a writing log and it truly revolutionized the way I work and it inspires me to keep going.

You see, with a writing log, I merely keep track of my activities of the day. If I spend 4 hours and only write 1 page, then that’s OK. I write it down.  Although I do keep track of my time, more for just general basic recordkeeping purposes (taxes, etc.), the real heart and purpose of the writing log is keeping track of what I actually do, my “production.”

So, for example, it might look something like this:

12/13/2010   Edited 4 pages.

12/14/2010   Edited 7 pages, wrote 1 page.

12/27/2010  Wrote 1 page.

And so on.

The miraculous thing to me is that when I tally these up at the end of every month, I am absolutely astonished at what I have been able to accomplish.  In the daily grind, I often feel like I am hardly doing anything. It is easy for me to get discouraged.  But then at the end of the month, I find out just how much all of those – 1-page-days add up. It’s remarkable.

Then, when I do my year-end numbers, it is truly phenominal. Keep in mind, I am only a “part -time” writer – it is not by any means my full time occupation. I do this as I have time, but I also deliberately make time for it and remain committed to it. I have even sacrificed time with family and friends to do so. So I am quite serious about it.  But check these numbers out!

GRAND TOTALS FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR OF 2010:

Edited: 452 pages

Hand-edited: 494 pages

Wrote: 57 pages

Read: 445 pages

Whoa!!  Now keep in mind that those 400+ numbers mostly represent multiple times-through something. Meaning I may edit the same page or chapter 2 or 3 times, not just one go-round.

Still, it totally astonishes me that I managed to accomplish this much in the past year.  It tells me that “I can do it” (see it through to completion); it tells me that even though I had hoped to finish my book by the end of 2010, and I’m disappointed that I did not, I can still point to these numbers and say that I really did work on it hard in the past year, and if I didn’t finish it up, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  It just wasn’t finished, is all.

I highly recommend the practice of keeping a writer’s log, especially if you are working on a longer work and sometimes feel overwhelmed or discouraged. This practice has helped me a lot.

© 2011, writingreading


Inspired from the Past

July 24, 2010

Both my work and my avocation frequently bring me into contact with historical materials.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some items from a woman writer who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. It has been fascinating to me to read her letters and her actual writings, to see her working process – scribbles, scratches, and all – and to recognize a fellow female writer across time.

I don’t know much about her. [name witheld for both personal and professional reasons]  She’s no major novelist or playwright or poet that I can tell. But that makes her the more admirable, to me.

I’ve read her rejection letters. “Not for us at this time.”  “Does not meet our needs.” “Our readers would have been interested last year, but now it is passe.”  And then the rejection letter with a dash of encouragement tossed in: “Oh, but do send us something again. Perhaps something with a little more plot?”  That made me laugh out loud – but I can only imagine how sad and frustrating it must have been for the author.

She clearly continued to write. That spunk to continue to write, despite the rejections, I find inspiring. It is obvious it was her passion. I think I would have liked to have known her. She seems like she may have been a suffragist. She was a career woman – in a time when most women did not have careers. It seems like she must have traveled, too.

It has been fun looking at her writings and correspondence, because even though she is long gone and probably unremembered (she had no family), I feel it is a privilege to learn more about her, and be inspired by her work and her persistance and tenacity – even if she never did make it big.

That tells me writing is ALWAYS worth it!

© writingreading, 2010


Creative Every Day – Stories

March 10, 2010

Theme this month at Creative Every Day is “Stories”. I haven’t kept up with every post, and I’m not an active participant – but I love her posts, her themes, and how she is all about bringing more creativity to our lives!

The starting post for March, guest-written by Elizabeth Halt, I found to be thought-provoking and inspiring – about the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can create change.

© 2010 writingreading


Floating Rocks

January 19, 2010

I went to the park yesterday, and was puzzled when I first saw them. Large football-sized grey rocks that were apparently floating on the surface of a lake. I did  a  double take, then a triple take. Yes, they were there, on the surface. But it was only when I looked closer that I realized the lake was still frozen. That’s how the rocks “floated.”

It was 50 degrees, and the multi-week cold spell of below freezing temperatures had finally abated. It was a sunny and pleasant day. So the last thing I expected was to see floating rocks. They were slightly down into the ice, and the ice was clear, not white – so it really did look like they were floating.

About an hour and a half later, when I passed back by, the scene was even more intriguing. The rocks had absorbed heat from the sun, and had begun to melt the ice around them. They were sitting in puddles. But there was still enough ice underneath them to bear their weight although the ice was invisible. Now with the puddles forming, it truly had the appearance of large rocks floating on the surface of the lake. It was a fascinating visual riddle.

But this natural optical illusion was thought-provoking beyond the literal. How often do I see a problem as insurmountable – only to realize later that I merely had the wrong perspective.  Too often, I cling to my own stubborn views, without ever considering that they might not be as solid and reliable as I assume.

If someone had told me they saw large rocks floating on a lake, I’d say they were crazy. But I saw it myself, I know it is true. Perhaps, not in the most literal sense – they weren’t floating, after all – but at least in a metaphorical, visual, illusory sense, they were. To me, that tells me that even the impossible can become possible, given the right circumstances and the right perspective.

I’ll need to remember this the next time I get discouraged about my book, when progress seems slow, when it seems like I may never get done. I will remember these floating rocks, and I will believe that the impossible is just a figment of my imagination – and that the rock that stands in my way, is really just a stepping stone to help me across an otherwise dangerous or impassable path.

© writingreading, 2010


Two Inspiring Young Women

November 1, 2009

Just this week, I’ve heard two stories about two young women – both age 12 – who are truly inspiring.

The first is Dorothy Dark, who creates original headbands and sells them at a boutique in Nashville, Tenn. They’re going for $8-$12, folks. She’s 12. What a talent, and what an entrepreneur.

The second is a young woman who may be about 14 by now, but the story I learned about her concerns her life when she was 12 and 13. She was making a movie, and not just any move, but a feature-length film – about zombies. Emily Hagins’ story is told in the documentary Zombie Girl – and it follows her through two years of filmaking. She was 12 when she did this, folks. Twelve. As in – in middle school. And this is no ordinary feature-length pre-teen zombie movie. It’s the Real Deal. Makup. Slates (“action”), film-editing, sound boom. The works.  (With lots of help from Mom and Dad and her schoolmates. And the local IGA, until the zombies left a trail of blood behind after the filming – but we won’t talk about that.) What’s more, she won a $1000 Texas Filmmaker’s Production Grant that helped her family recoup some of the funds they had put into the film. It took her two years to create the film before Pathogen premiered to a sold-out crowd in her hometown of Austin, Tex.

I really loved the documentary about the making of her film, because it showed her passion for filmmaking, her professionalism at such a young age, and her desire to do good work, and see her project through to completion. I mean, really – how many 12 year olds can keep their enthusiasm and momentum going on one subject for more than a few weeks – let alone two entire years? It was impressive and inspiring.

It was neat to see, too, how she and her mother got along during the entire zombie-journey. It was amazing to see how supportive both of her parents were of her endeavor, but especially her mother who provided transportation, and served as caterer, sound crew, makeup artist, props department, and special effects technician. Sometimes Mom tried to have too much influence in production, which led to some artistic differences and tension between mother and daughter, but her story, too, as mother of a child-film-producer was also interesting to watch.

I’m interested to see where these young ladies are in another 2 to 10 years. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one is a major fashion designer and the other is getting her first Academy Award or Sundance Film Festival honor at age 18.

Young women like these inspire me. If we as adults, particularly us women, believed in our dreams and followed our passions with the heart and drive as these young girls – what might our world look like? Well, it might be full of zombies wearing hip, cool headbands – but I’d venture a guess that we’d all be happier, and those around us would be happier, too, because by following our passions, we would bring joy and laugher and pleasure to others. What’s more – we could inspire others – just like these young women are inspiring me – and I hope, you too!

 

© writingreading, 2009


Keeping a Writer’s Log

September 30, 2009

It seems like many of us struggle with the idea of calling ourselves “writers.” I know that’s true for me, and I know many of my writing friends feel that way too. In a writing group I belong to, one of the great sayings is: “A writer is one who writes.”

I love that phrase. It is simple and inspiring. And unarguably matter-of-fact. Even so, sometimes I still doubt.

One method that I have started using which has helped me immensely in any number of ways is to keep a writing log. No, not a journal. It is not a place to write. Rather, it is a way for me to keep track of my writing.

A typical run of entries might look something like this:

9/30/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/28/09 Edited 7 pages.

9/18/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/15/09 Read 10 pages, edited 3.

9/12/09 Cut 4 pages.

And so forth. This technique has helped me so much. First, it keeps me accountable, if only to myself. If I choose to share it with friends (as I have elsewhere), it makes me even more accountable. If they are paying attention, they can tell me “hey – I see you haven’t written anything in the past few weeks – everything OK? Need a jump start?  Keep going, you can do it.”  Or, they might notice that I’ve had a good run, and might cheer me on. Even if they don’t respond in any fashion, it still helps me to be accountable to myself, and to a community of writers.

Second, it’s useful for me to see where my time is going. Have I been mostly writing, or mostly editing?  After a few weeks or months of keeping a log like this, I may be able to notice patterns. I might find that I’m more productive at the end of the month. Or that when I am editing, I move much faster than when I am writing. Or that when progress seems slow, that’s OK, because it will be followed by a strong outburst of activity.

Keeping a log like this also helps keep me in a routine. I know that every night I write, I have to “check in” and make a note of my progress. It’s kind of like the ol’ marks on the wall to mark a child’s growth. These are my marks. Sometimes the growth is tiny and incremental; other times it comes in great bursts.

Finally, what I like best about keeping a log like this is when I tally things up at the end of the month. I come up with some amazing and surprising numbers.  For instance, all along, maybe my progress has been “write 2 pages” or “edit 4 pages” for many days.  Well, at the end of the month, it’s not unusual for me to total everything up and be astonished to discover that I’ve written 60 pages – or edited 80!  Yes, folks, those are real numbers. And I am not a full time writer.

It helps me realize that even just a page a day can add up to a whopping 30 pages by the end of the month. That even the smallest work, if done consistently, can add up, and can get me where I want to go. I can now say, with confidence – I am a writer!

© writingreading, 2009