pages from my art journal

I love the creative process. I love the brilliant idea as bright as a candle flame. The revision process? Not so sexy.

I wish I could fall in love with rewriting. These tips for writers as they revise at Necessary Fiction really got me thinking. Here are a few useful ideas from the post:

  • write the plot on sticky notes then organize in columns
  • retype the whole thing
  • change fonts
  • make sure what your character wants is an impediment to what others want
  • raise the stakes
  • get rid of introductory clauses

I am in love with the short form. I love blogging. I sit down. Write for 20 minutes. Add a photo or two. Hit publish. Done! Go about life.

For me revising is endless. There’s no Done!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have two half-baked novels written during the months of November (2011 and 2009). Due to their unwieldy length, slightly more than 50,000 words, I can’t bear to open the first chapter. Just maybe if I set out the plot on colorful sticky notes or cut up my scenes with scissors, the story could emerge more like a work of art, a collage, than a mess of incomplete plot points.

collage – perhaps upside-down?

I have been crazy making collages lately. I get into a Zen mode and throw paint and color and images down on paper or on discarded library books.

Done! I love the haphazard process and the chaotic result. Maybe I could see the process of revising my writing as a visual art project.

As the blogger Matthew Salesses says, “a lot of these thoughts are about seeing. Remember: re-vision.”

I, too, can repurpose, rewrite, rethink, rewind, rework, and revise. Re-vision.

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Keep Practicing

I love a daily discipline of writing. I loved doing NaNoWriMo in November. Writing is a solitary experience. So a shared blogging platform, like PostADay2011, made writing a communal experience in 2011

work in progress, my book for book of days

Today I signed up for 365 Grateful and Book of Days for 2012. I like a push, a reminder, shared misery, and shared joy.

I respond well to a gentle and encouraging nudge.

If I’m creative on a daily basis, then I have a vessel in which I can dump my creativity when something really cool pops into my head.

It’s good to keep practicing. Writing is a practice. I love that Buddhism is considered a practice, not a fixed religion. The practice of a religion or creativity is not idolizing an icon, but living creatively and staying open to the creative spirit.

Somewhere in my brain there’s a quote about the reason that firefighters shine the pole in the firehouse every day. It needs to be smooth for that one day a year when there’s actually a fire. That is why I write daily, for that one day a year. That”s why I practice.

NaNoWriMo Progress

I’ve got 7,200 words and no plot going on my NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) novel. To win I need to write 50,000 words by the last day of November.

In 2009, when I won NaNoWriMo (yes, that’s right, WON!), I wrote a young adult novel, but this one I classified as literary fiction. Yes, LITERARY fiction. Not, crappy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fiction.

Oh, wait, that is what I’m writing. I have no idea what is going to happen next. Let’s say a song about diamonds comes on the radio as I’m writing, I put a diamond in that scene.

On Sunday morning, I read a New York Times article about a drunk roller, a pickpocket who slices into a drunken and passed-out subway rider’s pocket with a straight edge razor. So I added a scene with a drunk roller.

My protagonist is a crazy, overworked mother of three, a writer, teacher and New Yorker with a benevolently neglectful husband and an active fantasy life. A stretch for me? Not really. As they say, Write what you know!

I wish I had time to write thousands of more words today. After all, it’s quantity, not quality that counts with NaNoWriMo, but I have to get to work. Two of my three children are home sick with a flu today.

Perhaps by tending to my real life, I will find some direction and plot points to share with my protagonist. And, in turn, by writing my novel, I will create a cycle of adventure and creativity in my real life. (This fits with my Rule Number 2: Escape through reading literary fiction.)

Why I Write

We do not write to be understood. We write to understand. – C.S. Lewis

This was one of the quotes from Writing for the Soul, a workshop led by Rev. Lynne Hinton in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. She has written 14 novels. Yes, 14! Oh, to be so prolific.

Tomorrow, Nanowrimo starts so I’m hoping to write one more novel this month!

In Rev. Hinton’s workshop, we began with free writing à la Julia Cameron’s admonition in The Artist’s Way to write three morning pages — which I have been practicing for about 15 years. Every morning, I hand write three pages of brain drain. But give me free rein later in the day to tap into my unconscious and I’m, oh so happy.

Lynne gave us an exercise where we chose random words, picked like wild flowers from our unconscious, to add to word prompts, like these (but not these, exactly!):

Diamond _____

Shelter _____

Instant _____

Prayer _____

Barcelona _____

Boo _____

Avoid _____

Teacup _____

Angel _____

School _____

Write _____

Create _____

Ocean _____

Sun _____

Venice _____

June ____

Moon _____

You get the idea. We wrote our own couple of dozen words down the page on the blank lines. From our written words or the provided prompts, we made sentences on bits of paper. Then we shuffled our sentences and wrote them down in a poem format.

How fun! Our internal censor didn’t even know we were writing a poem, we were just playing around! Writing is play!

It’s impossible — at least, for me — to attend a writing workshop and not make new friends. I find the adage so true —  A stranger (or a fellow writer) is just a friend I haven’t met yet.

Often in writing workshops, my friends and I drop into such a deep level of sharing that we cry when we hear each other’s work. I felt this way hearing the poems of my fellow writers, Jessica Connor, Beth Buchanan, Kerry Wood and Isaac Broune. I was blown away as they unearthed playful and meaningful poetry from their unconscious.

I am so grateful for the wisdom of fellow writers, writing teachers and my own ability to tap into my unconscious on a regular basis. Going a little crazy in my writing keeps me sane!


In Poetics, Aristotle said — yes, I’m smart like that, quoting Aristotle — we move from ignorance to knowledge, from enmity to friendship, from neutrality to commitment.

Lynne Barrett taught this juicy class on plot at the International Women’s Writing Guild this week at Yale.

In stories, she said, everyone has to have a piece of the puzzle. No one character can hold the whole story.

Lynne gave us the timeline from the movie, Casablanca (which I’ve never seen) in which Bogart’s character moves from nonchalance to commitment.

The flashbacks in the story move the story forward. People don’t just ruminate on their past for no reason. The lover’s past (in Paris!) sparks an understanding that propels them to take action.

In all narratives, a reversal is necessary. Cinderella goes from low status to high status. I always taught this in my drama classes, that this is what makes for comedy — a high-status character becomes low-status — or visa versa.

This is why Lynne said the story of Spitzer is a better plot than the story of Schwarzenegger. He fell from the top, not when he’d left office.

But the reversal is not just “who’s up and who’s down.” A secret become public. A single person becomes married.

This class nudged me to reconsider the lame plot in my young adult novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

When I mentioned to Lynne, I had a novel, written in one month, she said, “Yes, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote the book. No Plot, No Problem. No plot? Big problem!”

Incidentally, Barrett taught with my friend Dan Wakefield at Florida International University.

If it’s fun, it’s good

“We buy these difficult books because we feel that, while not very exciting, they are in some way good for us…It’s a sort of literature-as-bran-flake philosophy: If something is dry and unpalatable, it must be doing some good to our constitutions.” (No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty)

I have written about how I loved NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Such a creative, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, positive way to write a novel.

“With his startlingly mediocre prose style and complete inability to write credible dialogue, Chris has set a reassuringly low bar for budding novelists everywhere,” says Chris Baty about himself, the founder of NaNoWriMo. Awesome.

I love that. So funny.

See, sometimes I feel — especially at work — that the most morose, the most academic, the most acerbic, that person wins. The one who puts others down? Yup, he or she  gets respected, if not promoted. But what about the nice guy/gal?

Hello! It’s harder to remain positive than to go negative.

It’s easier to be Debbie Downer than Ula Upbeat! Just because someone is negative, doesn’t mean they’re smart and right. And just because someone is positive, it doesn’t mean they’re dumb and wrong.

Ever since the leadership academy, I’m starting to see a shift in the culture of meetings and conversations at my workplace. People are affirming one another more. People are acknowledging that it’s okay to have fun at work. It’s okay to compliment one another’s work or unique style. It’s okay to be creative and, even, passionate.

At the library, I do have the impulse to choose the weighty, solemn and classic tome, but in fact, I should choose the fluffy, fun and juicy book. It’s more palatable. Just because a food tastes good, doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Mother’s milk is very sweet.

And blueberries? Fun, yummy, good for you.

Just like “No Plot? No Problem!” Chris Baty’s funny, simple, profound how-to. Reading this book has got me psyched for next November when NaNoWriMo takes off again. Anyone want to join me? It’s more fun than eating bran flakes. And when the bar is set so low, everyone can cross!

Only Connect

Last night I saw The Social Network on DVD (Thanks, SAG!). It totally captured the irony of this connected life. The movie also questions the primacy of male nerd culture, the difficulty in small business start ups, and the ownership of creative ideas.

In a closing scene Zuckerberg is left alone in a corporate office right after a potential friend declines his dinner invitation. He opens his computer to Facebook befriend her online. It is lonely, true. Yet, the scene reminds me that when the real world stings of rejection, having an onscreen persona can ameliorate the sting.

There is a place for online meet ups. For example, today I’m hoping to meet some of my fellow NaNoWriMo writers whom I’ve only received emails from during national novel writing month. Having companions while being a lonely writer has led me to greater compassion for other writers. I am grateful for my writing compatriots’ inspiration and productivity prompts. I’m grateful for real life workmates too. I’m always IM’ing my work buddy for motivation on being more productivity (Thanks, Beth!).


The president reminds the nation to connect in his awesome inspiring address this week:

“Use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

I have written before about being wired to care and seeing my own need for compassion as a weakness and not a strength, especially on the job (which, I know, is ironic, given that I work at a Christian agency.)

I think my desire to connect and be compassionate and have compassion is okay. It is bound up with my innate and human drive to be part of a community.

I have no idea why I receive weekly emails from Rector Bill Tully of St. Bart’s Church, but I’m glad that I do. (I should visit this church for my church a day (week) blog )

Tully is one of those brilliant church people who is addressing and writing about the need for connection and community.

This week he says, “…America is a hothouse of communities. In towns, cities, neighborhoods, congregations, clubs, schools, service projects, even in offices and places of work, we have a chance to practice the known virtues of love.”

Tully quotes our President too, who said:

“I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

What he said.

NaNoWriMo Takes Off Without Me!

Okay, my beloved NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) started on November 1st. What?!! Already! I wasn’t ready. I was tired that first night. And last night was Election Night and I had book club. Does it sound like I’m making excuses? Well excuse me. What? Do I sound defensive?

Here’s the truth: I really don’t want to start another novel this November until I finish the one I wrote one last year for NaNoWriMo. (And I did win NaNoWriMo last year!) But it might not win a Booker Prize (and I might have to be English any way to win that prize).

When I looked at the novel again, I thought, it’s not bad. It’s kinda good. When one of my twins woke up early yesterday morning, she found me with my novel, tentatively called “The Missing Twin,” spilled out in front of me on the kitchen table. Charlie asked if she could read it.

So I read Charlie a few pages from the middle of the book.

“It’s good,” she said. “Although you should add more details.”  My kid is brilliant. She’s so right. I have to add more details!

Here’s a little bit of the novel from around page 51: (Don’t judge yet, it’s only a second draft. And I need to add more details.)

We were approaching the stop light at the corner of West End and 72nd. A white van slowed and pulled up beside to our cab. The driver wore dark sunglasses. He lifted a piece of paper.

The sign read, “I’ve got her.”

“Jordy!” I meant to yell. But it came out like a whisper. I slunk down.

“What?”  He was still looking at the picket line. “I think I see Angela, our cleaning lady, there.”

I slunk even lower and pointed at the white van.

Jordan looked. He laughed. “That’s weird.”

“Weird? That’s scary. What if he means Elise?” I asked.

I glanced back at the van. The man’s sign read, “I’m wearing panty hose.” The traffic started and the van rode ahead of us.

“Oh my God, a minute ago, he had another sign. It said, ‘I’ve got her.’ I’m worried about Elise,” I could hardly speak.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jordan said.

“I did,” I said. Jordan pulled a pad from his pocket and wrote the license number AGS 254. The van turned on 74th Street. We turned on 77th Street. I sat up in the cab. I told myself to breathe. Inhale. Exhale.

NaNoWriMo Again

I love writing.

Revising? Editing? Not so much.

I love the act of creating. When I was on my sabbatical, writing a blog post a day, I was in heaven. Always new. Always thinking. Always up for another cup of coffee. Hit the Post button. I’m done. I wrote it. I’m brilliant in the very short form. The long form. Ugh.

Last November, I wrote a novel in a month. NaNoWriMo. Na=National, No=Novel, Wri=Writing, Mo=You get the idea.

I wish that I had as much gusto for editing the book these last 10 months as I had for writing the book in that one month.

So it is with any big achievement.

Everyone’s up for a wedding, but who is up for the day-to-day of marriage? Helping the newlyweds redecorate or navigate their finances? Nah! Everyone loves to celebrate the baby’s birth, but the grueling day in and day out of diaper changing? Not for the faint of heart. No big balloon bouquets for the daily slog. How about graduation? Heck, I’d love to send the graduate a card with a few bucks tucked inside! But help her in the days, weeks, months ahead as she’s looking for a job? Not really feeling it.

I honestly never felt so purposeful as I felt writing my novel last November. Never felt so accomplished as when I finished it. I made myself cry (but if you know me, well, crying’s my forte.)

Loved the challenge of reaching 75K (or was it 50K? How soon I forget) of NaNoWriMo. I loved the support, encouragement of my cyberfriends and my real family.

Charlotte quieted the other two, “Shhhhh, Quit fighting. Mom’s writing.”

Hayden bragged about me at an all school assembly.

Catherine brought me a cup of tea, then backed away like a geisha girl.

But the month was over. Weeks turned into months. It’s almost November — time to start a new novel. How can I start another baby when I haven’t completely finished the last?

I opened the humongous file of the 2009 NaNoWriMo winner, stared at the screen. My fingers lay dormant.

After a while, “What are you doing, Mom?” My head was on the keyboard.

“Thinking about my novel,” I said.

“I thought you wrote that book already, Mom,” Char said.

“I did. But now I have to rewrite it,” I said. Honestly, I have to — not only rewrite and edit it, but I have to start to read it. I can’t even remember my main character’s name. I wrote those 175 pages in November as if in a trance.

Hayden walks by carrying a plate of Bagel Bites. “Your book? Mom, when is your book coming out? I should make an announcement at school again,” Hayden nodded.

“Oh, it’s not done.”


I don’t know. Maybe there’s someone somewhere who actually spews out words and doesn’t have to rewrite them. I wish that was me. But that ain’t me — Gotta rewrite this part! Got to, rather — That isn’t me.

I need to brew and stew and revisit. Ah, maybe that’s how I can get back to the novel. See it as a little visit to a world I once knew and loved and forgot. Like remembering the high of a wedding, a birth or a graduation. Rest on achievement represented by that one big day, but don’t let the one big day stop me from really living the one big life. ‘Cause life is an accumulation of days, some big, some small, mostly average. That’s what writing and editing is – the daily grind, no big who-ha! And I’d rather party, but I’ve got to slog.

I am challenging myself to read my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel and edit and revise for 10 minutes every day until November when I begin a new novel. I will try to periodically check in here and post progress. That seems to have been a successful way to get myself to start running; the semi-public act of blogging about running has made me a more consistent runner.

Maybe the semi-public act of writing about novel writing will make me actually work on my novel. If you think this is true, see an earlier blog post where I have considered doing this in April. It’s just easier (more fun!) to write than edit.


I had so much fun in November for National Novel Writing Month. I really should/want to do National Novel Editing Month in March. Starting tomorrow.

But Fifty hours of Editing! Ugh! I can’t do anything for 50 hours. I’ll have to get up early or skip exercise at lunch time or work for hours and hours.

And what about my commitment to myself to blog everyday of Lent?

Yet the characters I birthed in November are wandering around in a Netherworld, asking me to come get them out of their half-lives. They are so needy and I’m a sucker for characters that need me. Seriously considering…..