Archive for Saboteurs

Guest Post: The Charming Light Box and a Literary Fetus

This guest post by Creative Writer’s Workshop member Kim Chamberlain, who is steadily making excellent progress with her memoir. Kim is a music teacher, clarinetist and jazz singer with lots of great stories. Kim can be reached at chamberlaind@bellsouth.net.

My writing coach’s words from a month ago reverberate inside my head: “You have four long weeks to get a lot done.”

Now, my deadline looms at midnight. In my basement writing room, twenty-seven chapters, hiding inside 2 large binders, remind me that I’ve got Writer’s Block.

Light Box by Kim ChamberlainI can write. A lot. I can quickly churn out another chapter for my memoir, sending it on its way to Wayne’s Thursday night writers’ group.  I recall the ending of my group evaluation at our last meeting weeks ago:

“Consider choosing five chapters that anchor the plot best, and start building structure from there,” Wayne suggested.

Five. Yeah, right.

The glow from a nearby lamp radiating off the top of Wayne’s pate inspired me to ponder the reflective quality of human skin. My mind meanders down a trivial trail into a thicket of distraction.

His mouth continued to form words. “Why not start by identifying the setting, characters and theme?”

I wonder if Wayne’s crown feels silky or maybe a little bumpy. That Yul Brenner look requires a nicely shaped head like Wayne’s.

Ann, the first published author among us, chimed in. “It may be difficult to pick five, but I learned a lot by doing the same thing.”

Back from her year-long sabbatical, a time spent publishing her book, Ann has plunged into her second work while still finding the time to promote the first one. She manages to simultaneously write new material and present workshops requiring airline and hotel reservations.

Will I even get to the editing stage?

Ann flashed a wide grin. “Just spread the chapters all around on the floor like I did. You’ll figure it out.”

She had a point. I earned my Masters in Library Science in a maelstrom, broadcasting my handwritten notes, rough drafts, markers, and pens upon a wide table in the library. The debris always managed to write itself. But writing memoir was different.

I imagined a hurricane of papers scattered haphazardly on my already cluttered writing room floor. I pouted and replied, “Well, I’ve put all 27 chapters in 3-ring binders.”

Wayne’s timer trilled, and everyone folded up their notes on my work and passed them to me.

Wayne smiled, “Good work, Kim. Karen? You’re on.”

A masterful weaver of imagery, Karen often apologizes for not producing enough. Yet her book is organically forming itself.

“I didn’t get much done,“ she confessed, as I unfolded her 2000-word entry of the week and contemplated my commentary next to hot sauce stains that I’d added at lunch earlier in the day: “Brilliant as always! You’ve accomplished so much!”

Enjoying a mini-sabbatical herself, the soon-to-be online published Hana checked in through Wayne. We learned that while she drove her son to a soccer tournament, her characters frolicked in her mind, concocting the next plot twist.

Wayne wrapped it up. “See y’all next month! Do good work!”

Flanked by my fellow writers, I stumbled toward my Subaru, noticing one benevolent star at the far end of the plum-hued sky. It was a hopeful sign.

As soon as I pulled into the carport, I made a beeline for my basement writing room.

I’ll start tonight!

It wouldn’t take long for my chapters to come together and form an embryonic entity, the way primordial organs adjoin in utero. By July, there’d be a memoir, a literary fetus. At group, everyone would coo, “Look! You can see all of its parts, and there’s a cute little ending. How adorable!”

Still warm from group, I hole-punched the group’s notated papers and snapped them into Binder 2.

Better start fresh in the morning.

FullSizeRender 9That was a month ago.

I’ve gotten a lot done over break, but I haven’t touched my memoir.

First, Dave and I spent four days with our son at his future college. Exuberant student representatives plied us with window decals, plastic coffee cups, T-shirts, and brochures. Time had to be spent to sift through it all.

Next, I succumbed to my thrift store addiction. Rather than heed Wayne’s words, I made things from purchased wooden boxes, bric-a brac, knick-knacks and picture frames. Whenever I’d sit down at my writing table, my creative brain focused on crafting.

Hmm. If I remove the glass from that picture frame and put it inside that wooden box, I could make a nifty case for my clarinet reeds.

The hours ebbed into lost time, yielding unique folk-art masterpieces and charming light boxes.  My writing room is ablaze.

I did work on my memoir just a bit. One day I cleared a place at my long folding table, and I skimmed a few chapters from Volume 1. Jotting down the main characters, setting, plot, and themes onto index cards, I realized that some of my work belonged in the “reject” folder.

The next day, I slammed volume 2 onto the table with a thud. I froze. I fell asleep.

Hours dribbled into days until I had less than 72 hours left.

Volume 2 just sat there—a Stonehenge monolith—impenetrable, looming and impossible. Rather than turn to another craft project for diversion, I realized that worry and grief work just as well.  I was seriously nutting up.

Last Friday evening with three days left on the break, my husband and son found me plopped on the couch, as intractable as my binders.The Chamberlains, photo by Tom Marnell

“Do you want to come with us to a show in Marietta?”

“You guys go and have a good time. I’m going to work on my writing.”

I listened to the truck pull out of the driveway and reached for my son’s gaming remote. I turned on the TV and scrolled down to You Tube.

In the search bar, I typed in “The Illuminati and UFOs.”

Five more minutes and I’ll go down to the basement.

I scuttled deeper into the sofa.

Wow, I didn’t know that ex-Presidents are working for some new world order!

The television droned on. I dozed off then jolted awake to fuzzy images of naked billionaires sacrificing goats at secret rituals deep in the California woods.

Goosebumps erupted on my arms as a male voice warned, “Wake up, people! The signs are all around us!”

The weekend vanished with only hours left.

I heard Wayne’s voice in my head, “You have four weeks…”

Forget about the chapters. Write. Just Write.

That’s what I did.

Now at the deadline’s midnight hour, I finished this and emailed it to the group. On Thursday, they’ll tell me they still have faith in me. Then on Friday, I’ll fling twenty-seven chapters onto my writing room floor and see what happens.

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Kim and David Chamberlain.  Photo of the Chamberlains by Tom Marnell, mineeyeshavescene.com.

Crazy-Busy Writer

When the young writer didn’t communicate in his usual combination of valley-speak and text-speak, I knew something was up.

“I’m crazy-busy,” he spouted, jittery as an overly caffeinated Chihuahua.

crazy.4 I paused to inhale, maybe have a thought, so he anxiously interrupted to cement his point.

“Like, OMG, cray-cray busy!”

Oh, NOW I get it!

Sure, times seem fast, and we get busy, but does it make us crazy? Has the world gone mad, or are there just so many more options to pull our focus: smartphones, iPads, apps, games, social sites, blogs, internet radio, as well as televisions in restaurants, cars and, well, everywhere while at the same time we have tiny TV-computers in the palms of our hands?

Nowadays, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  Writers, like everyone else, are not immune to Crazy-Busy Syndrome.

To sit at my home studio desk and fully concentrate on my own or a client’s writing, I have to:

  • declare a strong intention (involving gigantic musty books, fire, and a magic wand a la Dumbledore)
  • turn off my iPhone (a crime in some states)
  • darken the computer screen and disengage audio alerts (can’t shut it down, I might need it)
  • hope the UPS delivery doesn’t arrive (shopping is SO easy these days)
  • ignore the cats screaming for their evening meal at high noon, even with abundant dry food in their bowl (when will they make apps for cats?)

Without disengagement, the ‘ping’ of a text message, the appearance of a new email’s little golden envelope icon, or “Meow!  Meow!”  and WHAM!  Cray-Cray!  Where did my focus and time go?

A retired professional I know can’t even write in her own home as she’s pulled by her past students, her sorority planning committees, her church friends, as well as her neighbors.  The epitome of graciousness, she would never ignore a doorbell, a phone call or anyone reaching out.

“I need to hide, and I mean in another country, but that takes too long.”

crazy.3 - CopySince she is years into retirement from an institution with offices available, I suggested she call a work friend and set up a temporary space as most of the current staff doesn’t know her.  Also, I mentioned, there are rooms at public libraries.  I could tell that the idea of getting out of the house where she lives alone to have some privacy seemed absurd or, in today’s terms, crazy.

The world keeps spinning, and ideas keep coming and going, so when do you find the time to write?  And where do you take the time?  Writers have to claim the moments and protect the space to have sanity, peace and the opportunity to write.

Disclaimer — It’s true: writers write what they know, and, yes, I write from my experiences.  However, all characters and situations in my stories are fictitious fusions, creative amalgamations.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real interactions with me are purely coincidental.

Dance With The Deadline

frank.frankenstein.1931As if Frankenstein himself is busting down the door, many writers are freaked slap out by the deadline.  The writer will cower and bargain with the monster, begging for more time to explore and re-work.  Any argument tempts nature like a rooftop experiment in an electrical storm ultimately making the writer feel crazy-mad, defeated and, well, Abby Normal.  The enraged, unsympathetic beast snatches the writing anyway, then escapes deep into the inky night.

The term ‘deadline’ strikes fear in many, not just writers.  Coined during the Civil War when prison camps were spur-of-the-moment and without fencing, guards simply drew a line in the dirt circling the encampment.  Prisoners knew they would be shot dead if they crossed the ‘dead line.’

frank.9The newspaper industry adopted this powerful language to have the latest news printed and distributed in a timely manner. Editors’ deadlines implied “If you don’t submit your writing on time, printing presses will roll, and your story is dead.”  Consequently, so was your career.

When I work with editorial deadlines, I prefer to avoid last minute pressure by setting a personal deadline about three days in advance of the real one.  In most cases, I am able to submit my copy ahead of deadline.  This gives the client extra time, plus it demonstrates a strong work ethic which brings more assignments to my desk.

So what if you don’t have an editorial deadline or a gun pointed at your head?  You can hire a monster (i.e. me, minus green makeup and bolts in my neck), or you can be creative and do it on your own.

Karen wrote consistently as a member of my Creative Writers Workshop, but struggled to finish a story.  In conjunction with private coaching, she decided to try using a contest deadline as motivation.  The word count added more limitation, yet provided her with a crash course in sharper revision and final editing.  She hit the word count with characters to spare and the deadline on target.

Kirby protects her scheduled writing times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  To complete and publish her book, she set a firm November deadline so she could have books printed by early December. She factored in time for her completion, my editing and the printer’s process.  Even with snags, all ended well with her wrapping up books as gifts for the holidays.

Cammie quickly discovered the necessity to schedule coaching sessions every other Saturday with a deadline of Wednesday midnight to get her work to me for meeting prep.  Using this system, she completed her ambitious project, a major feat considering she had not written beyond undergrad projects, much less 128 polished pages in a new genre.

Basically, the deadline is a commitment to an amount of time, a certain number of words written, or a project completion date.  Your editor, printer, writing group and coach are counting on you, so count on yourself.  Meet your goal.

If you want to be a successful writer, make nice with the misunderstood monster.   If the term ‘deadline’ frightens you, change it.  Use ‘goal,’ ‘aim,’ ‘target,’ or ‘destination,’ whatever feels good to you. frank.3Embrace the deadline’s positive influence as a vital partner in the dance to complete your writing project.

Affirm:  My deadline is a positive motivator.  I do my best work, and I celebrate meeting my deadlines, the final one, as well as every small step along the way.

So, the dance is over.  What do you do After The Deadline?

Images: Frankenstein (1931) with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff; Young Frankenstein (1974) with Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle.

Writing Retreat

beachwriting2Through planning and packing for a group beach holiday, Gale was both large-and-in-charge and a nelly nervous wreck.  Even in the overstuffed minivan, out of the driveway and on the interstate, she remained anxiously edgy until our gang was far enough away to make it completely idiotic to turn back.

However, like the eye of a storm, the calm was only temporary as the excitement of arriving and unpacking led her to explode when she discovered an item had been left behind.  Time for our tactical maneuvers: fire up the ice-filled cocktail blender to counteract her verbal tirade; pour a chilled one for her as a booby trap; then escape to the safety of the surf.

Getaways are intended to be good for our spirits.  We all need time away from work, demands, relations, to-do lists, pressures, bad news, and you-name-it, yet sometimes we take those issues, even the folks attached to them, along with us.  Even if we love every part of our daily lives, we still need to relax and recharge to bring a new perspective and life-affirming peace.

Take your writing with you when you go.  It can serve as both a vent to release frustrations and a path to inner calm.  Settle your external turmoil by exchanging your hurricane-force whirlwind for writing’s gentle breezes.  Allow yourself to listen compassionately to those internal blurts that attempt to sabotage your happy writing, and let them go as you focus your practice on the comforting messages wafting to shore.

Just as ideal destinations change according to season and mood, so can what you choose to write. Splashing in a fictional stream of consciousness, playing with prompts discovered in your new surroundings, or strolling the sands of your mind’s thought waves can all be centering and energizing.

And when you get away, remember that whatever you forgot to take is most likely available where you are going. . .or, perhaps, you might not need it anyway.  Sure, take care to pack the basics; for me, that’s my laptop, sunscreen, bathing suit and hat.  The key word for me is ‘essential.’

That’s what I realized as I wrote under an umbrella during mid-week wearing the only bathing suit I’d worn of the four I brought.  As the gulls squawked overhead, I wrote about how lugging a suitcase of clothing and three pairs of shoes beyond my flip flops was silly.  I also wrote about how much fun Gale could be, but only in small doses, and that another week-long trip with her wasn’t in my best interest.

Retreat, I wrote, isn’t about fleeing the enemy, but surrounding myself with positive energy and empowering habits.  Like frolicking in the breakers, beachcombing for treasures, and playing with good friends, I am centered, renewed and delighted through writing, a reliable retreat wherever I am.

Affirm:  At home or away, my writing is always a good journey, an easy-to-get-to destination that renews my spirit.

Disclaimer:  It’s true; writers write what they know, and, yes, I write from my experiences.  However, all characters and situations in my stories are fictitious fusions, creative amalgamations.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real interactions with me are purely coincidental.