Friday, December 20, 2013

Advice We Can Use

Yesterday I received the news that an editor was interested in a story I'd sent in but that it lacked character motivation.  To any authors out there reading this, you know how exciting this is! To NOT receive a form letter of rejection and be told exactly what is the missing link between being published and slipping from a slush pile and into the trash is a huge gift.  Advice that makes sense from someone who could be my next editor is like winning a mini-lottery. YEY!

Advice is one of those funny creatures in life.  It most often comes without being asked for, is seldom recognized as a gift, and is fully contaminated by the viewpoint of the giver.  But when it works, it can be manna from heaven.

The unsolicited kind can bring out our inner dragon.  To be told what to do and how to do it when we never asked to be told can relinquish uncontrollable scary monsters with in us.  The type of monsters that spit out fires of retorts, sarcasms, and childish temper tantrums.  It can take all of the mustering with in to pull together our adult responses and either thank the advice giver, or politely state that the advice was not requested, thank you anyway.

The other side of the advice coin is that it could come at a time that it is needed in the recipient's life.  There's that saying about when the student is ready, the master will appear.  And I am assuming the master will be dishing out unasked for advice.  A master will know how to flavor the advice so that it will appeal to the needy student and cause him to relish what he receives.

Comedies often portray mothers as the givers of unwanted advice.  Perhaps because most of us feel tied to the outcome of our child. When our kid does something wrong, we can feel like it is a reflection of our parenting--that we will look bad.  So if mom can control what the offspring are up to, we look like the mom of the year.

I try to stay away from tying my self-worth to what my kids accomplish, but I too have back slipped into force feeding advice more than once in my career as a mother.  I don't worry too much about my fault comings, though.  My teens are always the first to point them out to me, so I never have to wonder.  But I do have to be able to listen to them and acknowledge when I have crossed the line.

In regards to the editor's advice, I grabbed it like a relay baton.  Yesterday was spent developing character motivation for Piper in the children's picture book called, What Piper Peppertree Discovered.  Let us pray to the gods/goddesses of the world of publishing that soon you can read this book and give me some advice as to whether or not I accomplished the goal of clear motivation for why Piper does what she does.

Until then, I have plenty of other books you can read to let me know what works and what is a dismal failure. Just be gentle with me. As with all writers, I am a beginner.

Heather Leigh

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meditating On My Cats

In my author profiles, I always give credit to my cats for their muse abilities.  To be sure that I am using this word correctly, I just looked it up in that big honker of a book on my shelf called the dictionary.  Here is what Webster says about muse: 1.  to think or meditate in silence. 2. to say or think meditatively.

While I always thought of a muse as someone who gives inspiration, this true definition is actually more fitting than I had realized.  When I am getting too much into a story, one of the cats will sense that it is time for me to spend a moment in this world--not the world on the computer monitor.  And I need to be in this world not just in thought, but physically as well. In other words, I need to pet them.

Yes, I do have the pronouns of the last sentence in the correct place. Cats have little need for us human beings. It is us who need to feel their fur and appreciate the softness of earth.  We must take breaks, reset our brains, and be present to each moment.  Makes for more efficient writing.

In recognition of my writing about Girl, our fat black cat, she just opened a bottom cupboard she had been sleeping in to kick out a jar.  The cupboard is generally kept empty for her as this is a cat house and her desires rule over our need for jar space.  She knows she is being written about.

So when it is my time for reconnection with the real world, either Girl or Playful will saunter up beside me and MEOW at the appropriate noise level to get my attention. If I am not fast enough, the noise will get higher.  They are thorough in their jobs and will not stop their cries until they feel my hand rubbing down their backs and stroking their chins.  Those animals are exceptional at their jobs.

Next, our Australian Shepherd, Sydney, will follow his companions and offer her head for scratching. And while I will include her in the attention, her motive is not to serve as muse. It is to get petted. Same outcome, different motives.

People suggest to me the idea of setting a timer to be sure and take breaks at regular intervals.  These are the people who do not have a companion cat.  In my sincere pity at their lack, I thank them for their advice. I don't wish to brag that cats make much more personal and loving interruption getters than a mechanical timer.  Oh, those poor souls.

Perhaps there should be a cat muse rental service geared toward writers.  Those of us who work alone at home, typing away the day, should be an easy sale.  Feel free to create this business idea of mine into a money maker. Just let me know how the cats do.

Heather Leigh

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Month As A Novel Prisoner

I read a cartoon once in which a husband was consoling his crying wife.  He said, "Honey, I know you really wanted to win that Pulitzer Prize in literature, but I think you need to write the book first."

The National November Writer Month, NaNoWriMo, pushed me over the edge last month and forced me to write the sequel to my young adult novel, Red Nectar.  The goal was to write a complete novel, 50,000 words, in November. Thank you to every person involved in that glorious company!!!

There were no excuses for me to make each evening as to why the book had not been worked on for days at a time.  I could not say that the kids needed me to make elaborate dinners, that the baseboards needed cleaning, or the dog needed a third walk for the day.  Could not even say the cats needed to be pet for another half an hour.

There was only word count to fulfill every single last day of that entire month. It was relentless. Write, write, write.  Do not move my rear end from the seat or allow a moment of fingertips from straying away from the keyboard.  Eat? That could be done between chapters for three minutes at a time. And who needs to shower when you don't go outside and sweat?  My arms may have been frozen in place for unnaturally extended time periods, but letters were forming on the screen.

Every night came the ritual of updating the new word count onto the NaNoWriMo.  There was no hiding from the mockery that came when I had once again not met my self-imposed daily goal. The graph shouted out how far below the line I was in being able to finish on time.  By the last two days of November, I would have needed to write 4,000 words a day to be a victor.

But yesterday, I did finish.  Because I was able to get so close at the end of the month, the motivation was high for me to stay within the depths of writer's purgatory and complete a rough draft of Black Licorice, second part of the trilogy of books about Emily, telepathic teen living in a world that will torture and even kill those with her abilities.

Yey! I did it!

And not only did I succeed, I learned a new way to write that I will continue.  In simply writing the first draft without editing what I did the night before, I remained a part of the story. There was no stopping to think of what would happen next.   I did not worry, fret, or grovel at the mountain of mistakes a rough is prone to.  I just wrote.

Now I can go back and have a book to edit and revise and make super pretty.  There are only improvements to make on an imperfect structure.  Do you get the way this frees me up?!  The structure is already there!!!

Bless you demanding, whip carrying, sadists from NaNoWriMo. You are beautiful creatures in deed.

Heather Leigh

Sunday, December 8, 2013

November Novel

There has been only one posting on my blog in the past month, kids have been virtually ignored, laundry stacks up daily, and (organic) Mac and Cheese has been the food of the month.  Must be National Write a Novel in A Month month!  It's this crazy, insane, stupid thing that writers have been doing for years with a national organization dedicated to helping us writers get on our butts and complete a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.  And it works!

Every day in November, I wrote when ever I could snatch a moment at the computer and type away at the sequel to 'Red Nectar'.  It was a new approach for me. The goal was not to get out a great story, but to get the story out. In so doing, I did not re-read what I had written the day before, but rather continued where I had left off.  This kept me in the story, with Emily (the protagonist) and her friends following along with them on their daily activities.  I did little self-correcting but a lot of immersion therapy.  With the result that I got to 42,000 words and an almost complete rough draft of a story that I wasn't finding the time for with all the day-to-day stuff that fills the minutes of a mother's time purse.

After learning this new mode of relating to a story, it is one that I recommend and will keep for myself. I can hardly wait to finish and then re-read what crazy sentences I concocted in my writing stupor for the month.  The best result will be a story that needs little correction, has some inspiring moments, and will not embarrass me as a writer.  I suppose that is the desperate plea of every writer--to not be in utter self-humiliation when reading what I have written the night before.  Kind of like waking up to a one night stand after a night of unremembered drunkenness and hoping the person in bed with you is not a clown, serial killer, or a life time stalker.  We can only hope for the best.

Thank you to the folks at NaNoWriMo for the motivation for us authors to make our manuscripts happen. For being one of the brave few who will look a writer in the eye and tell him/her to get to work and write that story.  It is a courageous endeavor that few would take--writers can get moody, volatile, hostile and full of excuses when it comes to completing what we've been thinking of writing for years.  I appreciate your work, NaNoWriMo.

After this posting, I will be back to finishing up the sequel--probably called 'Black Licorice'.  And although the drive is ever present to get it done and over with, I will take more breathers and remember that I have children, laundry, and three blogs that love me, too.

Any writer out there reading this, get ready for November 2014.  We can do the next one together!

Heather Leigh