Thursday, December 30, 2010

Showered with Ideas

I get most of my story ideas in the shower.
No, really.

I don't know why that it is so, but it is.  I think that it's probably because time in the shower is my only true "alone time."  Even when no one else is home, I can't always concentrate for all the distractions -- laundry to be done, things to be picked up, dishes to be washed, dinners to be prepared.  I think my mind is just always too full of things to do.  But in the shower, somehow it all seems to fall away long enough that I am able to really think about story ideas, or the review I'm trying to write.  I suppose it's the lack of any real noise, with no phone ringing, no television blaring Nickelodeon, no one asking me if I saw this or did that...just the peaceful sound of the water gurgling down the drain

So, all of that to say that I had an unexpected idea for a scene in my long-suffering story while I was in the shower today, and for once I actually made the time to write it down.  It seems that so often I come up with something and don't take that next step of actually jotting down the idea before it leaves my head.  Which it inevitably does...and then later, I wrack my brain trying to remember the amazing, life-changing, story-saving, sure-to-one-day-wow-a-New York-publisher idea. But it's gone. *sigh*

I don't often make New Year Resolutions; it's just much too easy to break them and feel like a failure, and really, who needs that?  But I do plan to make at least one this year:  to take that moment or two every time I think of something to do with my writing and actually write it down before it's forgotten in the overcrowded recesses of my brain, lost among hockey schedules, band concert dates, and endless things-to-do lists.  If I truly want to be a writer, and perhaps one day an Actual Published Author, I know that I need to start acting on these seeds of ideas, plant them somewhere and see if anything grows. I won't be able to do that if I let them disappear into the abyss...or down the shower drain. 

Where do you get your ideas?  In the shower?  While driving? 
How do you keep it all organized?
Are you making any writing resolutions this year?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Baking with "The Boss"

I am -- like everyone else, I'm sure --currently in the midst of holiday baking and all of the other pre-Christmas craziness.  Up until this year, I've been spoiled by being able to work on all of this (as well as shopping, wrapping, etc.) during the day.  Now that I am working, albeit part-time, I have to admit that it's gotten a bit more hectic and I am a lot less organized.  Not to mention way behind on my preparations.

But I know it doesn't matter all that much. To paraphrase my favorite Grinch, it won't stop Christmas from coming.  I'm surely going to end up with a few less cookies on the cookie platters, but that's okay.  Everyone's "special requests" will still be there, because I can't not make my father-in-law's favorite coffee cake, or a friend's favorite shortbread cookie, or my stepsister's caramel apple pie.  (But maybe we'll skip the coconut macaroons and the snickerdoodles this year, if only to allow me a wee bit of time for sleep!  ;) )

No, a few less cookies won't matter, and probably won't even be noticed.  This year, I'll concentrate on those few baked goods that are the only ones that do matter; the ones that you make because you truly want to, because they will bring an appreciative smile to the face of someone you love, will let them know you are thinking of them, and will make Christmas day just that little bit sweeter.

Happy baking!  :)

Do you have something that you always make for the holidays, no matter what? 
Any great recipes with special meaning for you?
Feel free to share in the comments! :)

** Since I need to bring it up a notch today, I am borrowing some Christmas Spirit from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hard Bleachers and Beautiful Noise

Just a quick post the morning after my daughter's holiday band concert.

The thought went through my mind as I sat there that no one past the age of thirty has any hope of ever again being comfortable on hard, wooden bleachers...and yet, strangely enough, once I settled in, I barely noticed the numb bottom anymore, because there is just something wonderful about school band concerts. 

Yes, often they are off-key, or lose their places, and on that rare occasion they do manage to butcher a piece of music into an unrecognizable cacophony of discordant notes.  But they try so hard, and no matter the level of perfection in their performances I love to watch and listen to them, every time.  I love the look of nervous pride on all their faces, their thrill at standing to greet the audience applause, the noticeable expelling of breath when they've finished their most difficult pieces. 

Mostly I think I just love witnessing these beautiful creations of ours learning to create their own beautiful noise. 

And that, I think, is worth every minute on those bleachers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

In Pursuit of the Spirit of the Season...

In my ongoing effort to recapture my Christmas spirit (I'm getting there!), I thought I'd share one thing that nearly always helps guide me back to the true meaning of the season:  Josh Groban, singing "O Holy Night" at the Rockefeller Center a few years ago.  Never fails to give me chills.  :)  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Striving to be a Grinch

I admit it. 

I have no Christmas spirit this year. 

I'm not quite sure why.  Normally, I am very determined in my pursuit of the spirit of the season.  I decorate, bake, make gingerbread houses and shop and wrap with the best of them.  But I just can't seem to motivate this year.

Maybe it's because as much as I'd love to go out and buy the usual boatload of gifts for everyone in my life, I simply can't do it this year, and it saddens me to have my spirit of giving stifled by circumstance.  Combined with other personal challenges at the moment, it's exhausting to think of how much there is yet to do and how little I seem able to summon either the energy or the finances to do it.

However, I keep reminding myself of what I've always told my children: Christmas isn't about getting gifts or spending money, but is a spiritual reminder of the importance of giving of oneself to others, of remembering what's truly important. 

Which, of course, leads me to the Grinch.

Yes, the Grinch, that curmudgeon of coddled Christmas spirit, so jealous of the joy in others that he tried to steal it away in his effort to pull everyone down into his pit of grinchdom.  I've always found it curious that the Grinch is most commonly remembered for his lack of Christmas spirit (or "grinchiness") when in fact it's the eventual discovery of it within himself that seems the most important part of the story.  My favorite moment in  Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is when he has his epiphany, and "...the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two."  It's that moment, when he opens his heart to love and sharing, when he holds out a hand to little Cindy Lou Who ("who was no more than 2") that has always held such poignance for me (and countless others, I imagine).

And as silly as it may seem to draw on an old children's story for my own Christmas spirit, the Grinch truly is an inspiration for me.  Part of it, I know, is that he was my father's favorite character, too.  My dad, one of the sweetest and most giving men I've ever known, always loved the Grinch best, and joked at being "grinchy" himself.  One Christmas, I made him a Santa hat with the word "Grinch" spelled out in glitter on the cuff.  He grinned beneath that hat proudly every year, and those Christmases are among my most cherished memories of him.

So this year, in spite of the current slump in which I find myself, I'm determined to find my Christmas spirit however I can.  I'll decorate the tree, snap precious pictures of the annual Gingerbread House Decorating Day with my daughter and niece, and wrap whatever presents I can give.  I'll remember my dad smiling around his pipe with that silly hat on his head, and I'll remember to count my blessings of past, present and future.  I'll remind myself, too, that Christmas is more than what I can put under the tree, and will bring smiles and laughter even "without packages, boxes or bags." 

In fact, I'm going to try to be the best Grinch I can be...

Do you have a favorite Christmas character?  Any special Christmas memories wrapped around Rudolph or Frosty or the Grinch?  How do you find your own spirit of the season? 
Feel free to share in comments! :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Allure of the Romance Novel

All anyone has to do is peek over at the list of authors on the side panel to see that when it comes to reading, I am currently a fan of the romance genre.  With the possible exception of Diana Gabaldon, whose epic Outlander series somewhat defies any true categorization, all of the talented women listed are romance novelists.

There was a time when I had little interest in even picking up a romance novel.  In the past, I've tended more toward mysteries and thrillers and general popular fiction.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John get the idea.  They are still prolific, talented writers I admire, but I no longer seek out their novels as I used to.
While I still consider Stephen King an amazing, one-of-a-kind author, I find I no longer want to spend any extra time considering "the dark side" of life.  No more of King's rabid dogs and murderous sewer clowns, Koontz's lab experiments gone horrifically wrong, or Grisham's lawyers running for their lives.  The daily news has enough of the horror and fear; it seems I can't bring myself to seek it out as entertainment.

Ah, but then there's the romance novel.  Especially the historicals.  With these, I can truly escape to another time and place, one that doesn't hold quite so many echoes of the world we now live in.  The inhabitants of that historical romance world dress better, behave better, and appreciate the world around them and the people in it.  They live more simply, gathering together to read a book or listen to a concert in a neighbor's drawing room.  They hold house parties and balls and interact with the utmost civility and good manners.  Children are respectful of adults, men strive to be gentlemen, and hard work is both expected and pursued.  In the historical romance world, there are no televisions, iPods or cell phones.  When people are together, they have actual conversations; they don't walk along texting other people, ignoring the person beside them.  They appreciate the company of others. 

Naturally, a good portion of the allure of the romance novel is the romance itself.  Who doesn't love love, after all?  Who doesn't always hope for happy endings?  And with a romance novel, there will always, always be one. It's pretty much guaranteed.  And despite what some believe about the sex in romance novels, while they may vary in intensity from mildly steamy to erotic, in my experience they are almost invariably written with sensitivity and with the goal of conveying the natural progression of love.

Of course, the characters in romance novels are not perfect. There are always conflicts and misunderstandings, arguments and sometimes danger.  But these are inevitably worked out or overcome, and the villains receive their comeuppance while the heroes and heroines discover love and begin their Happily Ever After.  And these days, I would much rather set aside the endless stories of crime and unhappiness, and choose instead to remind myself of the possibilities of love and hope.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friendship and Perseverance

It's been a long week.

There have been unanticipated challenges, deadlines, and worries...and the end result is that it's been days since I've opened my story file.  I'm fairly certain I will not reach my 50K word goal by November 30th.  I still plan to write, whenever I can, right up through the end and beyond, because I find I am no longer willing to simply throw in the towel when it comes to writing.

It's only recently that I began writing again, but I have a long history of wanting to.  In high school, I wrote a short story that everyone oohed and aahed over, which was essentially a regurgitation of a book I'd read (in other words:  completely unoriginal!).  In college, I lived for researching and writing all those papers.  In those pre-computer days, I'd spend evenings in the library, with my box of index cards and notebooks, writing everything out longhand before pulling together a final draft on my new electric typewriter.  I still remember those nerve-wracking but proud moments of handing in papers I just knew were good.

I interviewed for jobs in writing or editing, but my lack of an internship (I'd worked a secretarial job through college) knocked me out of the game.  I ended up taking a full-time position as a secretary/administrative assistant.  And then another.  And another.  A few of them allowed me the opportunity to do a small amount of writing or editing of company newsletters and such, but nothing truly fulfilling in a "writerly" sense.

And when the jobs ended, the parenting began.  I made time to be a wife, a mother, a homemaker, a bookkeeper...everything but a writer.

And so I stopped.  And along the way, it seems I lost my confidence, pushed back the desire until it barely registered.

I no longer identified myself as a writer.

As my children have grown, I've felt myself growing, too.  Coming out from behind all that Mom Stuff I'd needed in the early years, reaching out for something I knew was missing, but I didn't know what it was.

And then fate led me to a new friend I'd never expected, who reignited a passion for reading and soon, for writing.  She shared her own fantastic work, encouraged mine, introduced me to another writer friend who shared her journey, too, and helped me find an audience for some of the thoughts in my head.  And now, I can claim at least one published essay, a freelance job as a book reviewer, and perhaps even the title of  "aspiring author."  And if not for that one friend reaching out and recognizing something in me that I'd pushed so far back I no longer saw it myself, I would never have taken those first hesitant steps on the path I should have followed all along.

How far we can come when we open our hearts to friendship, and how unexpected the gifts can be...

The road to here has been a long one, but I'm hoping I've only just begun the journey.  I'm blessed with many friends and family who support me in all that I do, who encourage my efforts to continue becoming.  While I may not have learned how to juggle it all yet, I've discovered I don't need to stop being me in order to be Mom, Wife, Employee, or anything else that I need to be.  I can keep writing, keep trying, even if half of what I write today is garbage and even if I won't be able to grab that title of "NaNo Winner." 

After all, there's always next year. 
And I know I'll still be writing...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Time for NaNoWriMo

Time is always the problem, isn't it?
Finding enough time for the things we really want to do. For me, this November, that would be NaNoWriMo. Like last year, I am trying to meet the NaNo challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. And, like last year, it seems I am unlikely to succeed.
I certainly don't do my best writing under the limitations required for participation; namely, quantity over quality. It seems I am a hopelessly determined editor. Spelling errors haunt me, awkward prose nags at me, and dreary dialogue pounds away at my temples, screaming for rewrite. I find it nearly impossible to forge ahead, letting my last poorly-rendered sentence fade away, forgotten as I move on to the next. The words beg for deletion, plead for reworking, and it's all I can do to put them out of my mind and forge ahead, telling myself I'll revisit them again, sometime in December.
Choosing historical romance as my genre requires a huge amount of research, and I realize that I should have spent the month of October locating all of the information I needed, outlining my novel, and organizing myself for the frantic month ahead. Alas, I didn't. Historical inaccuracies abound, I'm certain, and all I can do is hope that my basic premise doesn't balance on some fatal flaw that will ultimately bring the entire thing crashing down.
If only there were more time.
Time that is free of concerns, worries, and every other thing unrelated to the story currently whispering to life in my head?
That kind of time, I know, will never be mine. Nor anyone else's, I'm quite sure. Women, especially, seem to have the ability to juggle so many things at once, and it's hard to realize sometimes that we can't always "do it all," that often we can only do, well, enough. And sometimes we need to make time for ourselves, for the things we want most to do, even if other things need to be set aside for awhile.

And maybe that's the whole point with NaNoWriMo. Trying to meet the challenge is a training exercise of sorts. I am learning that despite whatever is happening in my life, I can make time for writing, even if it's not the recommended 1667 words per day. Some days I can't write a word, for one reason or another, and that's okay. That's life. But other days, I can surprise myself by writing 2k words in one sitting, and that can be pretty okay, too.
I may not make it to 50,000 by the end of this month. And I definitely won't have a decent novel by then, either. But maybe I'll have the bare bones of an idea, a few scenes to work with in the future. And regardless, I will know that I have the fortitude to keep writing through all the personal challenges, to work toward a goal that may not be met on a certain timeline, but has the potential to be met someday. I'll know that I have it in me to keep going. And maybe, for a writer, that's enough.