Prepping to Write a Novel

When it comes to fiction writing, lately I've been struggling.

First I was totally committed to writing one novel.  Oh, but no.  Then I decided that I absolutely, positively was in love with a different idea.  Until I desperately needed to work on yet a third idea, the best one yet!  This has been my fiction-writing life for the last few months, a little attention here, a bit of attention there, which adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Have I ever mentioned how unhappy I get when I'm not writing fiction?  I exist in a semi-miserable state of dullness when I'm not fully engaged in a fictional world.  So it was vital that I get going on a novel.  And yet, every time I started in again, I'd do the same thing.  Commit to one idea for a bit, then another, then another. 

Part of it, I'm sure, stemmed from uncertainty about my completed novel.  I'm in the process of marketing it to agents, which is not for the faint of heart.  (Honestly?  I understand why the traditional publishing industry is imploding: many agents are so overworked they won't even bother to reply to your queries.  What's wrong with this picture?  Don't the agents rely on writers for their jobs?  Can't they at least manage a polite no?) Repeatedly, I am being told a variation on this theme:  love your writing, but your main character is not relateable enough.  Oh, and get this–being a writer is one thing that makes her unrelateable.

Anyway, it is hard to be creative when you're busy thinking dark thoughts about the publishing industry.  And certainly I had plenty of other writing to keep me busy.  So I kept going on my round-robin of dipping into different novel ideas.

But the truth is, I was driving myself crazy.   I wanted to be deeply engrossed in writing a novel again.  Yet I couldn't manage to make it happen.

Until a couple weeks ago, when my coach challenged me to move forward on this issue.  She suggested I ask for guidance.  I was to ask the universe for a project that felt good and authentic to me, would be fun to write and yet also easy to sell (might as well, right?)

And so I did.  When I walked, I asked for a novel idea.  When I did dishes, I asked for a novel idea.  When I showered, I asked for a novel idea.  I really, really wanted an idea for a novel.

Cue my other ongoing project, office organization.  Sorting through files, I realized I had lots of them full of notes for various truncated novel ideas.  So I made a stack of them and started reading through, with an open mind.  The very first one, a forgotten idea with some rough notes from several years ago, made my heart pound. 

And when I read over the notes I had in that file, I identified my problem.  I'd not done any prep work for the novel!  Worse, I'd not done it for any of my poor stunted novel ideas.  No wonder I was spinning like the Mac pinwheel when I set out to work on them. Oh, I'd started preparing character dossiers and plot outlines.  But something always pulled me away from it, and off I'd go attempting to write.  Which is like building a house without a foundation.

The thing is, I know better.  I've given lectures on how to write a novel in 30 days, which is dependent on having some pretty damn solid prep work in place before you get started.  I exhort my students to get to know their characters and write up at least a loose plot outline before getting started.  I blog about these topics!

But I think I've lost my center as I've been in the process of marketing my previous novel.  If anything can make you feel unsure of yourself, its submitting work to agents.  And beyond that, has been the lack of closure.  I'm not certain where I'm going with the original novel and that lack of certainty has made it hard to move forward.

Until now.

Because I'm on it, baby!  I've committed to working the idea that made my heart flutter, no matter what happens with Emma Jean and no matter where this new novel takes me.  Which means that the next step is some serious novel prep work.  And, since I generally blog about what's on my writing mind, that means I'm going to spend the next two posts (Wednesday and Friday) on this topic. 

I'm excited.  Nothing better than getting to work on a new project.

Chime in!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on starting a new fiction project.

7 Ways to Use Writing Prompts With Your Current Project

Writing prompts…love 'em or hate 'em.

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Some people swear by them, while others shudder at the thought of using a writing prompt in their work. Because, too often, using random writing prompts can lead you astray.  And let's face it, most prompts are a bit on the random side, aren't they?  Those books of prompts are great, but they have about as much as common with your novel in progress as flying to the moon does to a wedding dress.

Say you're stuck on your writing project, so you open one of your books of writing prompts, choose one and begin writing.  All well and good.  Except that you're just writing, not really writing about anything of much interest or use to you.

Now, I'm a great one for writing something, anything, on a regular basis.  And I often exhort people to do just that–particularly when they are stuck.  But writing mindlessly for any great length of time can be as frustrating as not writing.   Writing aimlessly is bad for your creative morale, because your heart and soul won't be in it.

The trick is to find a way to make your writing prompts relevant to your current project, so that they are enhancing your writing, not taking away from it.  When used in this manner, writing prompts can be wonderfully helpful in a couple of ways:

  • To generate actual writing
  • To get a flow of ideas going
  • To get yourself unstuck

And, remember, the best way to use prompts is as freely and loosely as possible.  Take your prompt, write it at the top of a sheet of paper, and set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then write.  And write and write and write, without stopping, until the timer goes off.

If you want to use writing prompts with your current project, here are some suggestions:

1. Take the last line of the previous scene or chapter and use it as a prompt.  Or take the first line.  Using a sentence from your work is a great way to drive deeper into the writing.  Because you are writing freely and loosely, your inner critic is silenced and you may be surprised what you come up with.

2. Put a location from your book into a sentence and use it as a prompt.  You can do this for the city or area your book is set in, or do it on a smaller scale, using a building such as your character's workplace or his home to write about.  This technique can help to uncover details you'll later use in description, or even ideas your character might have about her surroundings.

3. Put your character in a sentence.  Of course, this is sort of the whole point of writing a novel, but do this in a random way, having your character do either something unexpected or completely mundane and then write about it for 20 minutes.  You'll be amazed what you'll learn.

4. Use a line of dialogue from your project. 

5. Use keywords as prompts.   Quick, tell me three words that describe your writing project.  Now use those words as prompts–either one at a time or putting them into a sentence.

6. Use theme as a prompt.  Maybe you don't know what the theme of your book is–don't laugh, it takes many a draft to figure it out sometimes–or maybe you have a vague idea of it.  Make a sentence out of what your don't know or that vague idea and use it for a prompt.

7. Riff on the title.  Most works-in-progress have a title, even if its only a working title.  Use that for a prompt and see what comes up.

Those are some ways I've used prompts with my work-in-progress.  Any more suggestions?

5 Ways to End Worrying and Write (Or Create)

Worrying is not good for your writing or your creativity.  Or anything else, really.  How can you write the next great American novel when you are obsessing about how to pay the bills?  Or if your marriage is going to survive?  Or if your teenager is going to make it through high school without getting kicked out?

You can't.

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Because when your brain is full of worries and obsessions, there's not a lot of room for creative thoughts or ideas.  Or fictional characters who come to life on the page.  Or lyrical descriptions of locations. 

Even little, garden-variety worries can derail a work session.  For instance, worrying about what to cook for dinner can distract you from working on a book chapter.  Pondering paying bills might derail your work on your memoir  for several days.  And so on.

What to do? How to prevent worrying from stopping your writing?  Try some of the following ideas:

1. Journal.  For writers, writing is often the cure.  If you are feeling so angsty and anxious that you can't work, grab your journal and write about it.  Even if you only do five or ten minutes it can help.  In truth, often five or ten minutes of journaling is all it takes to turn yourself around.  Write specifically about the worry.

2. Meditate or Pray.  I'm better at prayer than meditation, I'll be honest.  And when I speak of prayer, I mean it in the broadest of terms–pray to God, to the universe, to Buddha, to the goddess, to your higher self, to your boyfriend, or your ancestors.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is asking for help.  That is what makes a difference.  You can easily do this in meditation, too.  Just ask for whatever you need help with, such as ending worrying, and begin a meditation session.

3.  Active Imagination.  One of my favorite techniques, this can be like prayer on paper.  Choose who you are going to ask for help from, (any of the above will do nicely), and then write your question, with dialogue tags.  So,

Charlotte: I need help

God: What can I do for you?

And so on.  The other thing you can do that is really cool is to embody your problem and talk to it.  Give worry a personality and talk to it, ask it what it needs to be quiet and let  you work.

4.  Affirmation or Affirmative Prayer.  If you tend to worry and obsess over the same old things, identify them and write an affirmation about the positive incarnation of it.  Example:  I, Charlotte, am so happy and grateful that I now have a published novel, rather than damn it, why haven't I heard from that agent yet?  This really helps to turn obsessive and negative thoughts around.  The trick is to have identified the negative thought ahead of time and have the affirmation ready to go to counter it.

5.  Find Comfort.  You're worrying for a reason, no doubt, because all of us have problems that distract us.  Sometimes what you need to do is give yourself a little love.  Figuring out what the root cause of the worry is and do something about it helps.  But so does uncovering the emotion that is driving your obsession and tending to it.  Maybe you'll find comfort in taking a walk, or sitting by a fire for a bit.  Or petting your cat, or reading.  Taking a few minutes to ease your worries can do wonders for your attitude.

So now, if  you figured out ways to end worrying and focus on your writing, how much more could you get done?

 Photo by Shazbot, from Flickr.

A Novel-Writing Vision Board

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I'm in the midst of a marketing program given by Christine Kane, and she talks some in it about vision boards.  A blog post that she did on creating vision boards comes up first when you do a google search for the words, which is some strong google juju, let me tell you. So she knows vision boards.  And I envy admire her for this.

But then I realized that I know vision boards, only of a different sort.  Of the fiction sort.  And all this got me to thinking that I've never told you about my own version of vision boards, which will make me feel better about myself and not quite so envious.

So now I'm going to.

What I like to do is create a vision board for a novel (or other book) that I'm going to write. I learned this during the first residency of my MFA, as I sat discussing my future novel with my new mentor, Melissa Pritchard, she who I also admired slavishly the entire two years of the program.  She told me about the joys–and benefits–of creating a vision board for a novel. How creating a place to collect visual images and written words that had to do with the story could be incredibly inspiring.  This became my first assignment.  I was to create a vision board for the novel I wanted to write and write an essay about the process, an assignment I relished and could hardly wait to begin.

So I went to Office Depot and bought two of their inexpensive posterboard triptychs.  Since my novel was set in two locations, and location was so important to the novel as to practically become a character in it, I reasoned I needed two vision boards.  One was for the Portland portion and the other for the Santa Fe portion.  I put on these boards images of the two very different places that inspired me: fir trees and gray skies for the Portland portion, and dramatic vistas and vast skies for the New Mexico version.  I made lists of characters and timelines and tacked them up, as well as photos of people who might look like characters in the novel.  Any time I found an image in a magazine or a postcard or anything that inspired me, I added it to the vision board.  Any time I needed a written reminder of something over and over again, I made a note of it and added it to my vision board.

These two vision boards were my constant companions as I wrote the novel over the next couple of years.  I had them propped on my desk and I'd switch them out according to which part of the novel I was working on at the time.  When I finally set the novel aside, I folded up the vision boards and put them in my closet, where, as far as I know, they remain to this day.  That novel never did get published, though I learned an enormous amount writing it.  And every time I think about writing it, I think about those vision boards and how important they were to me and the writing.

Fast forward a couple years to the writing of Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  The idea for that novel, and the main character's voice, came to me in such a rush that I never had time to make a vision board.  It was all I could do to get Emma Jean's insistent voice down on paper.  But now that EJ is making her way in the publishing world and I have an idea for another novel, I'm pondering the vision board idea again.  I'm such a visual person that I surrounding myself with imagery relating to the book truly inspires me.  So once I get back to Portland, I think a trip to Office Depot is in order.

How about you?  Do you have any experience with a novel-writing vision board?

***Yes, I know my blogging schedule is completely wonky.   And that I have not posted anything on Writing Abundance this week.  I'm hit what I calculate to be Phase Four of this lengthy sojourn away from home today, and it is the most intensive and stressful–the Writer's Loft orientation.  Things will get back to normal next week, when I'm on retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains and have more time to write.

Photo by Jono Rotten, from Flickr, via Everystockphoto.

Scheduling Writing

Everystockphoto_211230_m As I work on my novel rewrite, I keep trying to find the writing schedule that works best for me.  To my mind, there are two main ways to fit working on a big writing project into your life:

1. Make time every day.  Get up early, stay up late, write during your lunch hour, ignore the kids, whatever.

2.  Clear stuff away.  Spend a few days getting every single thing on your to-do list finished so you have time–a day off, the weekend–to work on your project.

My preferred method is number one, and it is the schedule I most often recommend to people.  I like it because it keeps you attached to the project, keeps the words in your mind and the momentum going.  In many ways, it is time efficient, because you don't have to go back and re-read where you were when last you managed to make time to write.  It is also good because, let's face it, most of us have so much going on it is impossible to clear everything away for even a day.

And it is this type of schedule that I've been endeavoring to keep this summer.

It is this type of schedule that I find myself failing to keep this summer.

What happens is this all-or-nothing thing.  I get going on my novel, get engrossed, and work on it to the exclusion of all else.  Like today.  I had to pull myself away from the rewrite to get this post done.

But then what happens is that I've got fires to put out.   Lots of them.  Things I've been ignoring, urgent to-dos, phone calls and emails and life in the real world.

So I end up veering between the poles of writing fiction and the rest of my career, even though I try my best to keep up a steady-as-she-goes pace with the rewrite.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that this is the most social summer of my life, with weddings, out-of-town visitors, and family galore, all of which I love.  But most of it has to do with the fact that I love, love, love writing fiction.  And when I get going on it, I don't want to stop.   The reason I sometime stop myself from starting a writing project in the first place is because I know that once I get into it I won't want to stop.

But I'm still pretty sure that the first option is the saner one for a writing project.

How about you?  How do you schedule writing?

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Structure_building_sunset_237219_l So, it was a weekend spent mostly away from the computer.  Two days spent celebrating my birthday with family and friends.

And suddenly it is Monday morning again.  Besides numerous manuscripts to read for people and a bunch of unfinished assignments, there's the novel rewrite to get back to once again.  And despite the fact that I'm feeling just the tiniest bit unfocused this morning, I am on it.  No really, I am.  On it.

Or at least I will be once I finish meandering about the internet writing this post.  But here's the deal–when I do get back to the rewrite it is going to be simple to ease right back into it.

Why?

I'll tell you why: structure.

Because I have a structure for rewriting in place.  Because when I finished up on Friday, I reviewed what I had already done (five chapters!) and looked ahead to where I would start after the weekend.  This was easy to do because of the structure I've created for myself.

Here's the deal: as writers and creative types, we resist structure.  I know I do.  I want to be wafty and spontaneous and free.  And yet this resistance has led me astray on several occasions.  Jumping into writing a novel without having the vaguest idea where I was going, for instance (I'm not talking about my current novel here, but an earlier one I wrote).  Or starting a knitting project without figuring out a pattern.  And don't even get me started on how many times I've headed off for an appointment without finding the address ahead of time.
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Even though we resist structure, it is inherent in writing.  For instance, just by choosing a genre, you're imposing a certain amount of structure on yourself.  Say you decide to write fiction over non-fiction, you've already narrowed things down.  And then you can choose even further, if you want to write romance, mysteries, thrillers or literary fiction.  Each of these has a certain structure that you'll need to follow in order to get published, or even have a novel that makes sense.

It is easy to embrace the romantic notion that all you have to do is start writing, and voila, after a few hundred pages you'll have a novel.  Go ahead and try that and see what you come up with.  I've done it myself and gotten only pages of writing on yellow legal pads to show for it.

So, don't resist structure, it is your friend.  That being said, it can be a wobbly friend, or a rigid friend, or a fair-weather friend.  You can create a loose outline of events in your novel that is more like a list (what I did for this current novel), or you can create a very rigid, OCD-type outline, complete with roman numerals and all that.  But come up with something. 

And after you've created a structure for the actual novel, come up with a structure for how you will approach it.  Will you start at the beginning of one draft and go all the way to the end of it?  (My preferred method; actually I think it is the only way to write a decent novel for a variety of reasons I don't have room to go into here.)  Or will you be one of those writers who has to polish every word and every sentence before moving onto the next?  (The mere thought of working this way makes me cringe.)  Again, it is your choice.  But choose something.  Because once you have a plan, a structure, in place, it is so much easier to proceed.

And then when you come back from a weekend away and say to yourself, now where was I on that rewrite? you'll know the answer.  And you can get right back to work.

What are your favorite structures for planning and for doing the actual work?  Do tell.

Deconstruction of a Rewrite

EJmanuscriptnotebook Years ago, I asked one of my MFA mentors how to go about rewriting the novel I was then working on.  As I recall, she told me to sit down with the manuscript and re-read it.  Um, not the most helpful of advice.  Yes, it is imperative to reread a manuscript when you are going to rewrite it, but what are you reading for?  What should you be looking for?  How do you figure out what to do?  It is incredibly daunting to hold a 350 page manuscript in your hands and try to decide what to do first.

As most of you know, I've set to rewriting my novel this summer.  This after I was convinced that the 8 rewrites I had already completed would be enough.  But then an agent read it, said she was interested, and gave me comments on what she would look for if I cared to rewrite it.

Key word: comments.  Because hers gave me a way with which to begin the rewrite.  They fell into two areas:

1.  The main character, while funny, kick-ass and brash, is also bitchy and difficult to take at times.  (She's a woman who does what she wants, when she wants, and of course, if she were a male character, her behavior would not be an issue.  But that is a topic for another time.)  The agent felt that she would have better luck presenting the novel to editors if Emma Jean were more reliable.

2.  Some of the secondary characters are not fully developed.  Because Emma Jean is such a powerful character,  the others exist as sort of satellites to her.  While I understand Emma Jean intimately, I never pushed to truly get to know some of the res of them.  

So that is my charge, to make Emma Jean relatable and develop the most important of the secondary characters.  Before I began, I also kicked these comments around with my writing group (who have read the book every time I rewrote it) and other writers who've read part or all of it.  And here's how I have proceeded so far.

First of all, I took a trip to Office Depot. (Brief aside: when I was working on my MFA, after each residency I would take part of the money from my student loans and go buy supplies at Office Depot, so it is a bit of a ritual for me.) I bought a ream of three-hole punched paper on which to print the novel, and a pretty pink binder to put it in.  Then I languished in the journal aisle and eventually, after much pondering,
bought two small spiral-bound notebooks, one red, one black and white.  One became the journal I
wrote about the characters in, and the other became a place to take random notes that occurred to me as I worked on the characters and reread the manuscript.

Next, before I did anything else, even read the manuscript, I returned to the characters, specifically the three the agent mentioned as needing development.  I started by putting each of them through the Ordinary Day exercise, which I found incredibly revealing.  In some cases, that was enough.  In others, I did a bit more work, whether through time lines of their life or writing specific bits of backstory.  All of this proved so helpful that I did it for everyone of the characters, though some only got a few pages of effort.  I wrote it out in longhand, in one of the new journals.  For me, writing longhand seems the more direct route to my deepest self.

A note here: for reasons unknown to me at the time, I felt it important to work with the characters before I reread the manuscript.  It just felt like the right choice, and also I was a bit daunted to face reading the 350-page tome.  It proved to be a good move, as I was able to come up with fresh insights that would not have occurred if I already had evidence of what I thought they were like in front of me.

By the time I finished with the character work, my little red journal was starting to get lots of good notes and ideas in it, all written as they occurred to me, without making an effort to categorize them at this point.  Now it was time to read the novel.  But first, I pulled out as many colored flags and post-it notes that I could find (should have bought more at Office Depot) and made a key.  I used pink for Emma Jean's lover, orange for her husband, purple for the throughline about her bitchiness.  The point was to be able to track the characters and themes I really needed to focus on in this rewrite.  
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Finally, basket of flags and post-its at hand, I began reading the novel.  I made notes on the manuscript pages and in the little red journal, and flagged character arcs and throughlines madly, as you can see in the photos. (Interestingly, most of the flagging happened in the first two-thirds of the novel, which is where most of the rewriting will happen.)  I also made a list of chapters and what exactly happens in them, because I know from past experience how easy it is to forget.  (Does she meet Ava in Chapter One or Chapter Two?  Oh that's right, I made Chapter Two into two chapters, so now it's actually Chapter Three where they meet.)

So now I'm ready to actually rewrite, right?  Not quite.  Because my notes are a mish-mash of thoughts and ideas, scrawled as I read and wrote bios. 

In the final step before the actual rewriting, I spent a pleasant morning at my neighborhood coffeeshop with my friend and web designer (my website will be up soon!),making sense of my notes.  With legal pad, little read journal and list of what happens in each chapter, I began.  Going through the legal pad, I wrote #1 on the first page, #2 on the second, and so on, for 23 pages, which constitute the 22 chapters and one epilogue in my novel.  And then I went through my notes, and when something had to change in chapter one, I noted that on the #1 page, and so on through the book.

So now I'm ready to do the actual writing.  Which, I must say, will be far and away the easiest part.  I've done the heavy lifting already.  The pondering, figuring out, and conceptualizing are what is tough.  Now all I have to do is flip through the pages and add stuff in.  Easy, right?  Well, if you believe that I have a bridge for sale that I'd love to talk to you about.

Ah, nobody said writing a novel was easy.  And that is what makes it so much fun.  What about you?  What are your methods for rewriting?  Do you do as much pre-writing as I do?  Have a great tips to ease the process?

The Recalcitrant Character

Recalcitrant:

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-adjective

1. resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant; refractory

2. hard to deal with, manage, or operate

This describes exactly one of the characters in my novel.  Actually he's very passive aggressive in the novel, but as I've been trying to get to know him better, he's been recalcitrant, unyielding in giving up his secrets.  Which has made it difficult for me to move forward on my novel rewrite.

I'm going through and deepening my understanding of my secondary characters as a precursor to actually starting the rewrite.  Yesterday and today I've been working on the husband of my protagonist.  But he's balky and remote and really didn't want me digging around in his psyche.

Finally, through perseverance, I managed to get him to talk, and I learned a lot about him, interesting things that will flesh out his character in the novel.  This got me to thinking, how, as with all fiction, what you need with characters is a way in.  You need to find the key that will unlock who they are for you.  And sometimes you may have to try a variety of techniques to accomplish this.

Here are a few:

1.  The Ordinary Day.  I wrote a blog post about this recently, and I still think it is the most useful character exercise you'll find anywhere.  But what works for me, may not work for you.  Honestly, what works for me this time through might not work so well for me next time through–that's the nature of fiction writing.  So I reserve the right to fall out of love with this exercise.

2.  The Interview.  All your journalistic types will like this one.  Pretend you are going to write a feature article about your character and interview her.  Or, imagine that you are interviewing him for background on a certain aspect of his life, say, his work, and ask questions.  Often if you can get a character talking about a specific thing you can keep him talking. 

3.  The Character Dossier.  Write down all the specifics–height, weight, appearance, style of dress, mannerisms, etc.  The basic exterior stuff which can often lead to interior stuff.  For instance, perhaps you see your character as very tall and then you realize she stoops all the time.  From there its a short leap to understand that she's embarrassed about her height and that knowledge can lead to all kinds of revelations.

4.  Dressing the Character.  I got this from Robert Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist, which has fabulous prepping exercises for writing a novel.  (His website has some pretty good stuff on it, too.) Have your character go to her closet and write what happens as she dresses for the day.  This can be folded into the ordinary day exercise.

5.  In the Dream.  Another one from Robert Ray.  What does your character dream?  Ray recommends that you use the phrase in the dream as a starting point, and continue it throughout: in the dream, the sky was purple and the moon blue, and she was walking through a forest.  In the dream, cats barked and she understood everything they said to her.  In the dream...I've found this an especially useful, if sometimes odd, way into those totally refractory characters.  (Note the use of the word refractory, which means, hard or impossible to manage.  I just learned that this morning, while looking up the definition of recalcitrant.)

6.  Action.  The novelist Darnell Arnoult tells her students to give themselves short assignments and often these involve characters in action.  So, for example, write about your character under something, breaking something, cleaning something, above something, shopping for food, buying gas, whatever.  You get the idea.  The beauty of this is that you can often write it when you only have a little bit of time.

Okay, those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with recalcitrant characters?

Giving Up, Or Why I Should Once In Awhile

Friday I hit the wall.  
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As is my usual wont, I woke early (6ish), grabbed my coffee, and went to work on my writing.  Lately I've been thinking deep thoughts about my novel rewrite and writing them down, which leads to more deep thoughts and more writing.  I'm writing about characters, trying to get to know them better, and pondering plot points.  All of this is intense work.

On Friday morning, I wrote a couple paragraphs and stopped, because I knew I was done.  Just…done.  My pen wouldn't move.  I couldn't form any more thoughts connected to the novel.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch.

My brain, however, seemed to have plenty of room for thoughts about, oh, the missing child in my city, Kyron Horman.  Or the oil spill in the Gulf.  Or the World Cup.  (No, I'm not really a soccer fan.  I'm trying to be.  I have this idea that it would be really fun to buy season tickets for the new pro soccer franchise that is coming to Portland.  But first I have to learn to enjoy the game.  And that seems to be slow going.) 

In other words, my brain wanted to focus on anything other than writing.

My brain, poor thing, needed a break.

What I should have done was recognize this right away and take some time off from thinking and writing about my novel.  Lord knows I've got tons of other things to work on.  Or, if I didn't feel like writing, I could read.  Or take a walk.  Or go look at art at a gallery. 

But did I do any of those things?

Of course not.

Instead, I soldiered on.  I was determined, absolutely determined, to get more done on the novel rewrite.  So what if my brain didn't want to work on it anymore?  "Pathetic, lazy brain," I told it, "buck up and let's get going here."

And you can imagine how well that worked.

Yeah, right.  About as well as….well, I can't think of a metaphor so provide your own.  And so, instead of intentionally deciding to take some time off and give my brain a rest, I kept at it.  And ended up reading endless updates of the Kyron Horman case and pondering all sorts of interesting websites I'd never seen before.

This kept up all day Friday and Saturday.  Finally, by Sunday, my brain had had enough rest, the dam broke, and off we went again.  However, I suspect if I had just taken the time off on Friday morning, I'd have probably been back at it by the afternoon.

Lesson learned: it is not always a good thing to soldier on.  Though the prevailing point of view in this society would have us believe otherwise, which is one reason I think it is so hard.  In the future, I'm going to do my best to pay attention when my brain rebels and give the poor hard-working thing some time off.

What about you?  How do you know when you've hit the wall?  What do you do when you splat against it?

Guest Post: Networking: An Essential of the Writing Life

Please welcome my good friend Linda Busby Parker to Wordstrumpet today.  I'll let Linda tell you the story of our friendship, but I want to urge you to go visit her blog, because she is starting a book club on May 1st, and let me just tell you, nobody deconstructs a novel the way Linda does.  You'll learn so much about writing, trust me.  So check it out.  And now read on:

My good friend and fellow writer, Charlotte, invited me to occasionally post on her blog.  She favors me by doing the same—posting on my blog.  Here’s my first post for Wordstrumpet.

NETWORKING:  AN ESSENTIAL OF THE WRITING LIFE

I first met Charlotte in the fall of 2001 when we both entered the low-residency MFA in Writing at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were both in a workshop taught by Sena Naslund, author of AHAB’S WIFE, FOUR SPIRITS, and ABUNDANCE.  Charlotte submitted a terrifically good short story for workshop—I still remember it.  It was subtle and understated.  For whatever reasons, we hit it off right away and became companions at meals and joined a group of other students after hours for a glass of wine to close the day down. 

Our circle of writers in the MFA program grew.  At the last residency in the fall of 2003, Charlotte and I participated in a novel workshop.  Each of the five participants submitted a completed novel for critique.  That workshop was led by writer/professor Julie Brickman.  The five students in that course plus Professor Julie became close friends, colleagues, and supporters of each other.  We called ourselves THE NOVEL GODDESSES. 

It’s been nearly seven years since that workshop convened, but the novel goddesses are still friends and colleagues.  Two members of the group—Julie and Deidre—reside in California, Charlotte in Oregon, Maryann in Michigan, Katy in Kentucky, and I’m in Alabama.  We’ve enjoyed one writing retreat—all six of us came—on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  In the fall of 2010, we will again convene as a group—all six participating—in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

In the intervening seven years since we first met, we have supported each other through many writing triumphs and disappointments. We’ve also given advice to each other when asked to do so.  On a personal level, we’ve seen each other through the deaths of four of our collective parents, the major illness of one husband, and the marriage of one daughter.

Having these writing sisters has sustained me more times than I can count.  They are the first group of friends/colleagues I go to when I’m terribly disappointed about what’s happening in the writing world in general or my writing world in particular.  It’s also the first group I go to when I want to share a great joy in my writing life. 

I’ve established other networks of writing friends here locally in Mobile and at both Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, but the Novel Goddesses constitute the largest of my writing networks—the Goddesses have remained a close group and continue to offer support for each member in the network.  I cannot stress enough the importance of forming networks if you are a writer.  The writing highway is crooked, the hills steep, the disappointments numerous, but joys are also a part of that crooked highway.  Networks get us through the crooked bends and twists in that highway and give us sustaining friendships when it’s time to celebrate!

Linda Busby Parker is author of the award-winning novel, Seven Laurels and is a professor of writing at The University of South Alabama in Mobile.  She also teaches in a low-residency program in Continuing Education—The Writers’ Loft—at Middle Tennessee State University.  Her blog is www.lindabusbyparker.us