Monday, October 20, 2008

Nourishing your Muse

Friday is coming! Yay!

No, it isn't that it's the end of the work week that has me so exited. Friday will see me driving (forever, on roads I hate) to Woodbridge, NJ for my annual foray to the NJRW conference.

A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do.

NJRW was one of the first conferences I ever attended. I keep going back because I've yet to be disappointed in what it offers, and it offers a great deal more than the agenda you'll see on the website. It offers comradery, understanding, encouragement, friendship, and nourishment for the writer's soul--and muse.

Published and unpublished mix and mingle, talking about a subject only we, as writers, understand. Conversations in the lobby alone include things like: "And then she stabbed him!" and "Well, the sex has to be hot or it's not for me." Or "Well, I'm not sure if I should kill him. If I do, then I have to decide how, but I know it won't be poison--that's a woman's weapon. Maybe I'll throw him off the battlements. That would work."

I can't begin to imagine what the other guests at the hotel must think hearing those snippets. I can, however, report that people passing a cluster of writers often look as if they've found themselves on the wrong side of Alice's looking glass.

Writing isolates us. We write alone with only our characters bearing us company. Most of time, those characters are enough. But not all the time.

I have a wonderful friend who doesn't write, doesn't read romance, and is a cheerleader extraordinaire. She hasn't a clue about my process, but she'll listen. I'll start talking about a character who's giving me fits, and she'll say, "Stop. Is this a REAL person or one of yours?" (Real to me doesn't count.)

As much as I love this friend, as much as she allows me to use her for a sounding board, she really doesn't understand the call of my muse, why I'll spend hours on a paragraph, or work into the dawn when I'm on a roll so, no matter how much she would like to, she often can't help me. I need another writer's take on an editing problem, for info on an editor or agent, and a host of other things.

Writers aren't plentiful where I live. There isn't even an RWA chapter within an hour of the house. Online groups are wonderful, but being overwhelmed by email isn't. Conferences fulfill a need for all writers, but are a necessity for writers who have no immediate support group. While surrounded by others like ourselves, we network, we laugh, we discuss, and we argue. We talk writing until the parched creative gardens within each of us are awash in a refreshing, fulfilling rainshower of new ideas and differing slants.

By the time the weekend is over, we're all ready to sit in solitary splendor (I can dream, can't I?) once again, answering the calls of our individual muses. We have nourished them, and they, too, are ready to get back to work. The blank screen looks like an adventure waiting to happen again, not a forbidding wasteland.

I can't wait.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Time Leeches--addendum

Sometimes my head gets so far ahead of my fingers, I actually get lost in my own thought process. Annoying, but true. That's what happened with the Time Leeches post--so much stuff wanting out that the original reason for the post got lost in the shuffle. What was that reason? BLOGS. Lots of them.

Blogs are--as much as it pains me to say it--mega-time leeches. As you hopscotch from one interesting piece to another, the day slips away. The "call" stories, the advice, the bios on other writers you know only online, the tips on perservering, the little known fact or amazing tidbit all conspire to keep you glued to your computer, but you aren't writing.

My solution is a once a week approach. If a chapter mate or writing friend is blogging somewhere, I will pop in to support them (goes back to that being a friend ideal), but then it's back to work (and here we have a wee bit of self-discipline. Whodda thunk?) Posts are also a once a week chore--so far--and provide an outlet for the myriad random thoughts playing Ricochet Rabbit among the characters and story ideas that people my cerebral landscape.

I also realized, in the course of my earlier Time Leeches blog, while illustrating the "mother" part of the family time leeches, I presented no solution specific to that particular problem. Some of us live some distance from our families. That makes avoiding these leeches easier thanks to Caller ID. That's it. I see that area code, and nobody's home.

For those of you with a drop-ins problem, the solution is more difficult. First, if you tend to just "drop-in" yourself, stop. Call first. "Are you busy? Do you have time to (fill in the blank)?" Bioligic reproduction tells us that like begets like, you reap what you sow, etc. These are basic truths. The same holds true in most relationships.

Changing gears with friends or family may take some perserverance--which, as writers, we either have or must cultivate--but after the first couple of times someone asks, "Why are you calling? Just come over." And you reply, "Well, I know how valuable my writing time is, and how distressing it is to have that interrupted. If you are doing something important to you, I didn't want to be inconsiderate," they'll catch on. Well, maybe not the Guilt Master, but even she will back off after a while. Not gracefully, mind you, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Okay, bases covered--I think. If I'm wrong, feel free to fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time Leeches

First, a public service announcement: I don't edit blogs. You get what I think when I think it. Proceed at your own risk.

In the course of my writing, I've discovered the Time Leeches. They are many and varied. Some are sentient. Others, silent but deadly. All swallow your writing time, sucking it into a gaping black hole, leaving you dazed and aghast. They all have names. Some can be avoided. Some we must work around. Some we can outwit. The rest? The Oracle at Delphi couldn't answer that question, so I won't even try.

Let's start with the most insidious. Email.

If you are like me, you belong to numerous loops dedicated to the craft, business, or specific genres of writing. They provide support and information. How can they be Time Leeches?

Easy. We belong to these loops because the topics interest us. We read the posts, respond to our fellow writers, and when we have asked for research help or input, check back often. They hold our attention until we look at the clock and realize an hour or more of writing time has been sucked away.

The most dangerous time for Email Leeches is when we first boot-up the computer (maybe someone posted a response to my question), and when we need to go online for research (I'll just check and see.)

There are several ways to avoid this sneaky leech.

A friend uses an Alpha Smart. This gets her drafts done without temptation. It's portable and convenient for her. Editing and polishing force her back to the computer, but half the battle is won.

Self-discipline. Yes, I know. A tough one, but all writers must exercise it to some degree or we'd never get anything written. And you know with exercise muscles grow, get stronger, power increases. Exercising self-discipline is hard at first, but becomes easier over time, just like those nasty crunches.

My personal solution (Now, be fair. I never claimed self-discipline as MY strong point) is to avoid my email carrier. I have several email addresses, but none with my ISP.

This has served me in two ways: When we move, I don't have to change addresses with any of my loops; they travel with me. And my friends and family can always find me (a mixed blessing sometimes) regardless of our geographic location.

When I need to research, I go there. Yes, the other little icons do call my name, but I've learned to ignore them. (See? Self-discipline at work.)

The downside is that many of my favorite research sites are saved to my original server, but as the need arises, they are being moved.

Family and friends are next on the Time Leech list.

They love you. They need you. No one else can do what you do.

Family is rough. How do you tell your mother you can't talk now? Or turn down your sister's invitation to lunch to 'catch up?' The kids have commitments and you're the chaffeur. Come on, Mom, get with the program. Since the needs of each family member, and their abillity to fill those needs themselves, differs, each must be judged on his/her own merit.

If you have a supportive family, Mom will understand if you ask, "Can I call you later?" Some of us are blessed that way. Others are not.

"Why do you always put everything and everybody else first. Don't I count at all? I'm your MOTHER." The stationmaster at the Guilt Train Express is handing out tickets. She's had years of experience knowing exactly how to push your buttons and doesn't hesitate to use it. Oh, and she will, of course, be the first to crow and take credit for your success when you get published. (Just a word of warning.)

Before my mother slaps me upside the head, let me add that mine is the supportive mom. I do, however, have the misfortune to know the other kind as well. Marriage will do that to a girl.

Your darling children. The apples of your eye, the fullness of your heart, the pain in your---neck.
Yeah, I know. You aren't fooled.

I wouldn't trade my children for anything. They are, in truth, my pride and joy. But the demands of their schedules while they grew made writing difficult. Prior to the acquisition of driver's licenses, they ran me ragged. And I let them. Why? Because the children were, appropriately, my priority. While there are days that seem to last forever, our time as necessities in their lives is short. Enjoy it. But don't hesitate to draw some lines--and adhere to them. Pandering too much results in selfish, careless, inconsiderate little monsters.

Priority they may be, but they will leave (unless they've morphed int the monsters described above. Then they might bless you with their presence forever), and having a life outside their needs is a good thing.

Friends are a blessing. No doubt about it. Friends understand. Friends are there when you need them. Friends DO NOT undermine your ambition. Even if they aren't writers and don't really understand, they listen. They support you and your efforts. If you tell a friend you need to work, a friend won't pout. A friend doesn't whine about the time you spend working. A friend will make a date to have coffee or lunch or whatever because a friend is in your corner.
This doesn't mean, however, that when a friend needs you, you should ignore that need. Sometimes needs are inconvenient. But to have good friends, one needs to be a good friend--and good friends find time when necessary.

Cultivate the good friends and weed out the Time Leeches. You'll be glad you did.

Okay, so this is turning into a thesis, so I'll try and summarize the rest.

TV. Turn it off, close the door, do whatever it takes to shut it out. PLAN your viewing. You'll see what you really like and get a lot more writing done.

Chores. My nose is a sensitive thing. Smells drive me crazy. I will track them like a bloodhound pursuing public enemy #1. We have animals. Smells are part of the deal, and like the dust bunnies under the bed (yes, I do believe they call me), trying to ignore them is more distracting then attending them.

It took a bit of juggling, but basic chores are tended every day. Some folks can work with clutter and chaos and mess. Some can't. To make the most of your writing time, define which you are and do what needs be done. Personally, keeping my office tidy (I didn't say orderly or organized, mind you) is suffient to silence the other dust bunnies--as long as the door is closed--when deadlines approach.

Phones. If you have children at home an ailing parent, anything that requires you answer every call, and don't have caller ID, get it. If you don't have voice mail or an answering machine, make the investment. You can then know if a call should interrupt your writing. If unsure, you can check your messages--a matter of a minute instead of ten--and decide whether to call back now or later.

Spring fever. (Didn't expect that one, did you?) When the sun is shining and the air is warm and redolent of hyacinths, birds fill the air with their joyous welcome, and the garden cries out for attention, planting myself in a chair kills me. Cabin fever has given way to rebirth, and the experience renews everything. So take a walk. You heard me. Take a walk. No treadmill, no gym, just you and the fresh air. You'll be amazed how much clearer your head is, how much more alive you feel. Indulging your needs is not forbidden; it's required. If you don't take care of you, no one else will, and your work will suffer. That walk is an investment in yourself so take it, enjoy it, and never doubt that you're worth it.

Do you have any personal Time Leeches? If so, how did you overcome them? I'm sure I missed some, so please, feel free to educate the rest of us. Time Leeches are everywhere. We are the exterminators. Let's get it done.