We arrived here in France two weeks and three days ago. Since then, I’ve written ten chapters on a new novel at a pretty good clip. Except for the two days last weekend when I stalled myself out.
I’d written up to the point I had outlined. And then realized that several other scenes needed to be inserted before that point. Which meant much rearranging and figuring and deep thinking. Which eventually turned into procrastinating, otherwise known as forgetting all the advice I consistently give in workshops and to coaching clients. Because I’d decided what scenes I needed to write. I was just having a hard time actually writing them.
And what is that advice about writing that I consistently dish out? It is quite simple: get thee to the page and write. Just freaking write. Don’t worry about making it pretty. Don’t worry about having it make sense. Just write. We are way past the age of typewriters, and rewriting is easy–that’s what God made computers for. And spell and grammar check. Getting something, anything on the page gives you a basis on which to build a draft.
I know that. And generally, I follow it. Knocking out ten chapters at a fast pace is proof, right?
But then I got myself blocked. And I forgot. Literally, forgot.
It wasn’t a matter of not walking my talk. It was that, in the moment of facing the page, I totally forgot. There was a gray concrete wall in my brain between the idea to write fast and get something–anything–on the page, and the act of doing it. And instead I fiddled. And thought I had to have everything all figured out before I wrote the scene. Told myself I was stuck. Ate a piece of chocolate. Stood up and went looking for the pet crow who lives in the house behind me.
The funny thing is, I’m surrounded by writers here at the retreat who are following my advice. Who are busting out the pages, even though it goes against their usual grain of carefully rewriting and revising as they go. So I should have remembered. But I forgot.
I offer this as a cautionary tale, because your brain, too, might play tricks like this on you. Fortunately, in a desire not to squander my time here in France, I have come to my senses and started throwing words on the page once again.
And I remembered another truth, which builds on the first one: the things you need to know will come to you as you write. Yes, I believe in planning ahead. But some things just reveal themselves to you on the page, plain and simple. And if you’re stuck, the best advice is to start writing.
I do not know why it is so hard to remember this. But I will do my best not to forget again.
Does this happen to you? Please leave a comment and discuss.
Things are hopping around here. I’m preparing for a major life transition—we’re in the midst of planning an addition so that my daughter and her family can move in. Yep, soon I’ll be doing the multi-generational living thing, attempting to keep up a full writing schedule with a six-year-old and a two-year-old running around. But that’s not all. I’m leaving on March 1st for a month in France. To write, not teach.
And, there’s even more—I’m doing my best to finish the latest rewrite (in my head, I’m calling it a tweak) of my romance novel to get to my agent before I leave. This, even as I’m packing books and furniture is being moved out of my office as I work. Literally. Like I said in the subject line—chaos.
But I’m keeping up with my writing as best I can. Because writing is solace in times like these. I often wonder how people who don’t write make it through. Because for me, whether it is writing journal entries or working on fiction, writing is an escape. It’s a place to go in my head when the craziness of the world is swirling around me. And I am so, so grateful for it.
And soon, there will be retreat. Let me tell you a little about that. We’ll be staying in the lovely town of Ceret. It is my favorite town, ever. We held our workshop there two years ago (and the very first year we taught it). There will be five of us the entire month, and another small group coming for part of it.
I’m looking forward to sinking into the rhythms of a small town for an entire month, especially at a time when there won’t be many tourists. (Not that there ever are in Ceret, which is one of its draws.) And I’m especially looking forward to jibing that rhythm with my writing.
I read a newsletter this morning from the wonderful Kim Werker, a writer and maker, and she talked about the power of intention. I’m approaching this retreat with the intent to take full advantage of the glory and luxury of a month devoted to writing—and seeing what I learn from it that I can bring back home to the chaos. And my clients. And you, my wonderful readers.
I do plan to keep blogging while there, but I’ll also lose a few days to travel time so if you don’t hear from me for awhile, never fear, I’ll return soon.
And, hey–would you like to go to France with me in September? We’ve still got room for a couple more people. Check out the details here.
After three weeks in France, I’m home again. Even though the Google and my phone still feed me the occasional search result or ad in French, it is nice to be able to understand the language people are speaking around me. (It’s always a shock to land back in a U.S. airport on the journey home and suddenly realize everyone is speaking English.) It has been awhile since I blogged, with the exception of the prompt posts, so here’s what’s going on (a sort of Five on Friday on Saturday):
Reading — I’m reading the first book in the Cal Claxton series by Warren Easley. It is set in and around Portland, and I think it’s terrific. I don’t read mysteries or male authors very often, so that’s saying a lot. By the way, he’s reading at one of my favorite bookstores next weekend–more info here. I read a light novel by one of my favorite authors, Barbara O’Neal, while in France–she is great for frothy women’s fiction. This one was called A Piece of Heaven, and is set in Taos, one of my favorite places. I also finished Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, one of the books we taught at the workshop. It is not a quick read, but I loved it.
Movies — I didn’t watch as many movies on the long plane rides to and from Paris, because I was reading, but on the way I enjoyed the Melissa McCarthy movie The Boss and another one I can’t remember. Which says a lot about it, right? On the way home I watched Me Before You. We taught this book two years ago and I’d loved it and the sequel and really wanted to see the movie. And I did. And I liked it. A lot.
Writing — I’ve decided to do Nanowrimo. Want to do it with me? C’mon, it will be fun. I have an idea for a romance that I want to get out. Between now and then, I’ll be doing some prep work, and also taking the time to finish a novella I started this summer. And maybe try to figure out how to rewrite the novel I finished a first draft of last year. That ought to keep me busy for a bit. And by the way, my Bonne Chance bakery novel is in the hands of an editor, so think good thoughts, please.
Cooking — I woke to rain this morning, yay. I love the rain and I’ve been so looking forward to the return of fall weather. “Live starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald. This turn in the weather coincided with the arrival of a new cookbook yesterday. Called 30-Minute One-Pot Meals, it is full of things to cook now that it’s cooler out. (We mostly grill all summer.) You know how some cookbooks you get and there’s some stuff you like, but tons of stuff you’d never consider making? In this cookbook, there’s like two things, period, that I can’t imagine cooking. Score!
Fiber — I carefully toted my knitting with me to France, because I found the year before that it calmed me in times of anxiety (like when I had to mail a package at the post office). But this year I didn’t pull it out as much. Now that I’m home, I’m back at it. I’m actually going back to the basics and trying to re-learns some things. I’ve knitted all my life, but first learned from my 4-H teacher and then taught myself stuff, which has meant picking up bad habits and missing a lot along the way. So I’m following the simple patterns on this site and I’ve already learned some cool new things. There’s a lot to be said for the beginner’s mind.
And that’s it, that’s all I’ve got, except for this: Debbie and I are meeting on Monday to begin planning our 2017 writing workshop in France. We already know where it will bee–Collioure, where we stayed last year, a wonderful seaside resort town full of picturesque scenery, cute shops and fabulous restaurants. Leave a comment or pop me a line if you’re interested and I’ll put you on the list.
What is going on with you? Do tell. I’ve missed you.
What Who I'm in Love With: My new grandson, Owen Lewis Hopman, born October 13, thus becoming the 9th Libra among our extended family and friends. He was two weeks overdue, and I'm convinced that he just wanted to make certain he had his very own birthday, rather than sharing it with a grandfather, grandmother, father or uncle (two of them), because he wasn't a big baby–7 pounds 6 ounces.
What I'm Writing: My next novel, the one I started in France. I'm the kind of writer who doesn't like to talk much about a book until it is done so I'll leave you guessing. But I was struggling a little bit with the story, so this week I had a plot session with Cathy Yardley, in which she asked me a lot of questions about the story so far. By the end of the hour, I had designated the inciting incident, plot points, pinch points, and my main character's goals, motivations and conflicts. Since I no longer belong to a critique group, I really needed someone to bounce ideas off, and she delivered in a huge way. Highly recommended.
What I'm Reading: A silly Christmas/knitting novel set in a small English village, which I can't even remember the name of. It reads like a first draft, self published novel that has not been edited, and yet it was put out by a major house. Of course, I'm still reading it–and I'm the queen of ditching books–so maybe that's why. Up next is Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie by Beth Howard, (research!) and the sequel to Me Before You, the blockbuster-ish novel by Jojo Moyes, which I enjoyed a lot and we used as a teaching book in the 2014 France workshop. And I still have the gazillion novels I downloaded on my Kindle before I went to France to read.
What's Going On: You may have noticed that I've not been blogging as much lately. I got out of the habit while in France and haven't recovered my momentum yet. But I will. This here blog has been around for eight years and counting, and its not going anywhere. One of the problems is that I hate the current design, which looks the way it does only so it works on mobile devices. Getting the design I want is going to require moving from Typepad to WordPress. I've been twiddling my thumbs over what to do, mainly because of those eight years of content, which is a bit onerous to transfer from Typepad to WordPress. But I think I'm coming up with some feasible solutions, so stay tuned.
What's Coming up: Okay this makes Six Things on Friday, but oh well. We will be announcing the topic and location of our 2016 France workshop (hint: Ceret, Ceret, Ceret, my most favorite town in the south of France). AND rumor has it there might be another European destination in the works for the spring. I'll keep you posted!
Okay, that's it for me. This weekend I'm going to finally finish setting up my office, which I moved from upstairs to downstairs right before I left for France, and catch up on work. What's up for you these days?
I flew home from Paris last Sunday, and as I write this, I'm still a bit jet lagged. One of these days I'm sure I'll get back to a normal sleep schedule. I now seem to rise at 4:30 every morning–at least it gives me time to write.
But I'm not complaining. Because travel–any kind of travel, but especially international travel–is good for the writer's soul. Really good. So herewith is a round-up of some of my impressions of France, and how I see they relate to writing. (Because, you know, everything relates to writing.)
1. Potato chips. You gotta love a country that is as obsessed with potato chips as France. Nearly every bar or cafe brings you a little cup of them with your wine or Orangina (my new obsession). It's offering a little something extra–a habit we writers would be wise to emulate, don't you think? Take the time to go deeper, to go back and rewrite that scene you've never quite been able to get right. Take the time to give a little extra in your writing and your life.
2. Fantastic wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region. Oh man, we loved the wines from the area we stayed in. (It was the south of France, but very close to Spain. Big Catalan influence with many signs in both languages.) What can I say? Setting is important. Bring yours to life with details from the location you're setting your story in.
3. Water follows a natural course. In Ceret, the sides of the narrow, cobblestones streets have gulleys in which water flows all day and night. (See photo above.) The sound of running water and church bells chiming the hour (starting at 7 AM–no sleeping late there) are a constant backdrop. Hopefully, your writing flows, too. It does when you just let it, go I've learned. And it doesn't when you force it.
4. You will get jet lag. And that's a fact. The best way I found to cope was to go with it. The first few nights in France, I awoke every night and stayed awake for a few hours, but I was so excited to be in Paris (and have a 360 degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur) that I just got up and admired the vista. You will get writer's block at some point, too. My advice? Quit resisting and go with it. Take a break. Refresh yourself. You'll get back to the work, trust me.
5. French women do have more style. They just do. And I think its because they make an effort to put their best selves forward in every situation. Even if they are running to the corner boulangerie, they pay attention to what they're wearing. Do me a favor, would you? Check over your manuscript one more time before you send it out to anyone. Make sure its formatted correctly (double spaced, please) and that there are no typos. I've seen a lot of manuscripts lately wherein the writer seems to have forgotten this crucial step. Put your best self forward.
6. If you don't speak the language, try anyway. My high school French is rusty, very, very rusty. But a smile and a sincere effort to communicate always did wonders. Funny, because this was one of the things I worried about most but I always muddled through. So maybe its time for you to try writing that personal essay you've been mulling? Perhaps you really do have a novel in you? (And by the way, if you decide you want to learn a language, there's a fabulous free website called Duolingo that can help you.)
7. In Ceret, there's a boulangerie on every block. (Kinda like there's a coffeeshop on every corner here in Portland.) Every morning, I'd take a walk and swear I would not return home with chocolate croissants. I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how successful I was. But this baked goods abundance made me think about ideas, and how we live in a rich stew of them. An idea on every corner! And many more in between. We just have to become aware.
8. Tourist areas are fun–but many other areas offer delights as well. I traveled through Paris on my way to and from Ceret. My first couple of nights in the city, I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Diane (this was where I had the amazing view of Paris). I rented this place through AirBandB.com. On my way back, I stayed in a fancy hotel on the Champs Elysses (thanks, Marlene). Two very different experiences. Is there a different area of your creativity you'd like to explore? Painting? Line dancing? Fiber arts? Head off the beaten path and see what you create.
9. A community of writers is crucial in so many ways. Our hardy band of retreaters read and commented on each other's work every morning as part of our workshops. Not only did they enjoy the support and trust that sprang up, but they spurred each other on to new heights in their writing. No kidding. You wouldn't believe some of the amazing work that got put on the page! Find your community, whether it's a physical or in cyberspace. (And I have one word for anyone interested in going on retreat with us next year: Italy.)
10. All roads lead to Perpignan. We took the bullet train (that baby really is fast) from Paris to Perpignan, which is a bit of a hub. It's where Salvador Dali reputedly had a psychedelic experience that led him to declare that Perpignan was the center of the universe. This may well be true. As we were out and about on the countryside, we discovered that no matter which direction we traveled, there would be a sign saying we were on the road to Perpignan. For me, this is true of writing as well. All roads lead back to my writing. All experiences, everything that happens, are reflected in my writing one way or another. I wouldn't have it any other way.
What about you? Does travel, foreign or domestic, inspire you? What exotic locale would you most like to visit?
***The above photo was taken by moi. I had planned to add a bunch more images to this post, but major wonkiness is going on with Typepad and photos. I took tons of pictures, some blurry, some crooked, some actually halfway good, and you can see them all on my Instagram stream.
France was wonderful. Paris has only gotten better in the years since I've been there, and Ceret, the small town in the south of France where I spent a week leading a writing retreat, charming. I had full intentions to blog regularly during my trip. Obviously, that didn't happen. To my credit, I did try, but discovered that with an Ipad, one can only use Typepad, my blog host, on an app. Which I did download. But then it seemed easier to walk to town and enjoy an afternoon glass of vin rouge than figure out how to use it. So I didn't. (But, between teaching and drinking, I did manage to write quite a bit on my own projects, so that, at least, is something.)
In the meantime, after the 12-hour flight (10 from Paris to Salt Lake City, and 2 from SLC to Portland) home on Sunday, I've been a bit wigged out, trying to straighten out a weird sleeping pattern, and catch up with a million things that happened while I was gone. So my grand plans for blogging have gone astray.
However, I am working on a round-up post (that will also go out with my newsletter) for Thursday, and I'll have a book review posting on that date as well. So please stay tuned, and know that I missed you. By the way, the writing retreat/workshop was fantastic! All of our participants turned out a high level of writing and seemed well satisfied with the week's work. Next September we're going to Italy–so start making plans to join us now!
Until then, you can view my photo stream, with tons of pictures of Paris and Ceret, on Instagram.