Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing and Reading

Blog Voice: Deborah
Mood: Frustrated
Music: the clicking of my keyboard
Writing: Journalism work stuff, and this blog

Hi All,

First of all, Outdoorwriter, yes, definitely read more. I saw that in one of your comments to Sarah. I started Native Son, a novel about growing up black in America in the 30s and it was too depressing, so I set it aside for a while. Then I went to Schuler's and bought a fantasy book my daughter-in-law recommended, Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. This is first in a trilogy--Yay!--and the book is really good so far. Only 732 more pages to go!

I also picked up Grand Rapids in Stereographs 1860-1900. Because I write so much about GR buildings, parks, and places, this book is fascinating to me. I've been poring over the stereographs like a loony woman! I even bought a magnifying glass so I can get every detail. I'm such a dork.

Then, of course, there was a sale on classics, so I got Jane Eyre, Leaves of Grass, and The Scarlet Letter, none of which I have ever read (OK, I've read bits and pieces of Leaves.). Guess that comes from attending a small school--if you didn't get in lit class the one and only semester it was offered each year, you just didn't get in it ever. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

As for writing, I wrote 10 articles this week, but nothing else. I'll do my 30 minutes of prime time tomorrow.

I was a little down when I left Susan's cottage and the wild women writers last week. I think the stuff I shared in our group was shared before I was really ready to do it. I was doing a personal essay of sorts, and was really using the writing to explore an inner call I have and trying to understand it. While the stuff I brought to group was first draft (always the best for me sharing-wise), and the feedback was definitely helpful, thoughtful, and gave me tons of ideas, the spiritual side of me wasn't ready to let go of the piece and let it be "out there."

But, hey, I knew that about me going in and could have taken something else for group. It was good to be reminded that I DO get attached to some of my work, and that I need to give it enough time before sharing it.

So, I'm off to get my laptop fixed. It just went Pffft! last week. My tech guy says he thinks the motherboard is fried. I'm taking it back to the guy who built it, and we'll see what he says. It's past the warranty time, but he said he's willing to work with me on that part (unlike Sarah's tech guy!), so we'll see what gives. In the meantime, it's nice to know that Dell is having a lot of back-to-school sales right now...

Later, you keyboard tappin' geniuses, later!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Today's Mood: Content. Today's Music: Classical--on NPR. Today's writing: chapter whatever of IFFY (I went to Panera before my inservice--great house latte!) Today's Quote:
My only real, hard piece of advice about the writing process is this: if anyone tells you that there is just one method or a correct way of getting it done (few people would, but there's always someone), they're wrong. If you want to revise your book completely backwards, while hanging upside down covered in bees . . . feel free. Choose your teachers carefully. In the end, you'll teach yourself anyway.--Maureen Johnson


It's amazing how quickly vomit can kill the muse. I got home from my wild women's writers retreat all fired up and ready to write. In fact, I was going to get up EARLY on Saturday just because I couldn't wait to continue the chapter I was working on. But when I got out of the shower Friday night, my five-year-old walked in covered in puke. And all that night I did laundry because not once did she manage to make it to the bucket or the toilet. And I'm talking a dish pan here not one of those pathetically tiny crescent shaped things they give you in the hospital! That did it. I didn't write even one word all weekend.

But then came Monday. Donna, my wonderful reader, got together with me to go over my second manuscript, Free Lunch Program. After chatting for over an hour, I was all fired up to get going on revisions. Sort of. Problem is, I'm already working on this other novel. And I don't really want to give that up. But I don't have time (or brain cells) to do both. What to do, what to do.

Gloria, one of my small group members, suggested that I revise and work toward getting it done before the Fall retreat so that I could then have those few days to sink back into the new novel. I like that--a deadline to get the revision done and out to wonderful reader Donna for feedback, and a big chunk of writing time to get immersed into IFFY again. It's all good--I hope.

Check it out. Meg Cabot talks about revision being hell and Maureen Johnson tells how to revise a book here. Don't I just wish I was making revisions based on an Editor's remarks!

So what is everybody up to in their writing?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Change in tense

Today's Mood: happy (of course, considering the amount of wine I consumed in the last two days...) Today's Music: believe it or not, I was listening to old tapes (yes, those old cassette tape things. Not as old as records but getting there) of Dire Straits and Peter Gabriel. Today's Writing: Chapter--I think it is 9 or 10 of IFFY. Today's Quote:
"That's just your [writing] gremlins talking"--Tricia and the other wild writer women of Whitefish Lake

I changed to past tense in my current manuscript. BUT, I didn't start over. I was tempted to, but Tricia talked me into starting from where I was at in the manuscript--and making a note of it in my notebook so I know where I made the change. From the things Tricia has read, there is research that shows present tense to be the hardest to write AND read. I find that interesting because writing in present tense is my instinctive way to write--and I've written two novels in present tense already. In fact, I found the switch to past tense challenging. For some reason I have the tendency to want to use a lot of being verbs. I have to really think about how I can write past tense and use active, vivid verbs.

As for being hard to read--or more tiring--I can honestly say that I haven't notice it--IF the writing is good. Reading poor writing whether it be present or past is always tiring. But really, if the story is great and the writing is good, I often couldn't even tell you without looking if that book was written in past or present.

So why did I switch? Because I'm hoping it helps me with transitions. I get stuck in a scene or conversation and don't know how to get my character out of the room. She has to continue to see, smell, taste, hear, and say everything. I have a difficult time skipping over the unimportant parts without it sounding choppy. This wasn't a problem in my first two manuscripts because they are more journal format. But this story doesn't fit that style. Hence the attempt at past tense and a more storytelling voice. I'll let you know if it works. For right now, at least it is good practice for me.

Two more things. One is that boy, oh boy are the writing gremlins (those little voices in every writer's head that say that she/he is no good. They say this in all different ways--mine do go on about tense--and they are very insidious.) loud after such a long period with no [regular] writing. I needed my writing buddies to remind me that I am not a crap writer, or a piss-poor writer, and yes they WOULD let me know if I thought a piece was publishable and it really wasn't ready, and yes--if they tell me I am a good writer they are NOT lying..... Those gremlins! I really need some duct tape to put over their mouths.

Second thing. We--the wild writer women at Whitefish lake--saw the most gorgeous sunset. The pinks, salmons, oranges, and golds contrasted with the blues, indigo, and purples in spectacular patterns. And the fact that the tornado in Montcalm country was north of where we were in Montcalm county was also a good thing. I wouldn't go in that pump house if I saw the dang twister heading right for me! It looked exactly like a mausoleum. No joke. I decided I'd take my chances in the bathtub--but thankfully that was unnecessary as well.

I can't wait to get back to my writing and my writing schedule on Monday! Happy weekend. Happy writing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Polishing stones

Today's Mood: Productive. Today's Music: a mix of Sarah McLachlan, Maroon 5, Coldplay, and Collective Soul. Today's Writing: some pre-writing for a camping essay. Today's Quote:
"Sorry--if I had any advice to give I'd take it myself." -John Steinbeck
The new issue of Writer's Digest came in the mail today. I haven't had time to read it, but I did page through it. An article titled Keep the Commission caught my eye and I skim read. It's about being your own agent, and hitting the small presses. Best of all it has a whole page of small press listings. I've only sent off a query to one small press so far. Still haven't heard back. Of course, it said it could take up to 12 months to respond to a query letter. But it's been almost 13 months. I supposed I need to look at sending out more queries. Of course, right now all I want to do is get writing again on a regular basis.

I also spent some time yesterday browsing the blogs, and came across an interesting post about Point of View. Check it out--it's August 20's post. (I thought Diana's storyboard thing--August 21 post--was interesting too. I wonder if that would help me with plotting as well--especially the whole sub-plot part) Right now I'm not stressing over POV so much as whether or not I should use past or present tense. Hmmm. I thought I'd give it a go in past--not that I want to bother rewriting anything right now, but if I can nail the voice, then maybe the writing will go a little easier. Wishful thinking at 11:13 (and after 2 glasses of wine. I didn't ask for the second, but my principal poured it anyway.)

And check out her Good Writing Advice Gone Bad--I can relate to some of this, can you?

This Is My 30 Minutes!

Voice of the Blogger: Deborah
Mood: Contented
Music: Tree toads, again. And crickets.
Writing: This is it!

Hi All,

I just finished four articles for the publication, and have seven more to write tomorrow. A couple more interviews tomorrow, too. It's going to be a very long day.

I'm so bored with my articles. The people (interviewees) are interesting, the subjects are interesting (at least to me), but I'm so bored with my writing. The same words, same phrases, same ways of manipulating sentences so they aren't passive.

My editor says that keeping things fresh is the challenge of all writers who write regular beats, and who write to a deadline. Writing similar news items week after week, and writing to a timeline that normally doesn't allow much pondering of phrases or phrasing, can sap the writer and the writing.

Yup. That's where I'm at. (Sentence-ending prepositions be damned!)

I know one solution for me is to read other journalists' articles. My pub has three sister pubs (in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and SE Michigan), and usually when I start getting bored with my stuff I read the articles written by the other editors who have my job at those pubs.

Should have done that today, but didn't even think of it until now. Guess that's what I'm going to do first thing in the AM. I also guess that's what writing--blog or otherwise--does for me: helps me clear my head, focus my thoughts, and come up with something to write--which is usually the thing that's currently on my brain, the thought that needs de-fogging. You know, like being bored with my writing and deducing through writing that I need to read to get inspired.

So let that be a lesson to me! When I'm bored with my own writing, write! (Doesn't work for cooking, though.)

Well, it's 1 AM and my pillow is calling. Or maybe that's a tree toad...


Nope. It's my pillow. Better go see what it wants. I bet it's something good.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Scotland, Maine, and all manner of the unexplained!

Voice of the Blogger: Deborah
Mood: Reflective, wishful
Music: Tree toads on the wind, dishwasher on the wash cycle
Writing: Scotland, Maine, Colcannon, and generational memories

OK, folks, I sat down with the blank screen on my lap, in my sunroom (or, today, gloomroom, since there's only a misty-gray sky), and started typing. The goal: 30 minutes. The result: 60 minutes, 688 words, very little editing-while-writing, and a trip through the foggy waters of what I call Generational Memory--those memories, urges, desires, and sentimentalities that have been part of my soul forever, that I believe have been passed through my bloodlines from my Scots ancestors, and stir my soul like nothing else can.

I feel like I've started a great exploration in writing. A clarification of things unexplained (my urge to go to Maine--I've never been there--in the winter and stay in a cottage on the beach for six weeks, alone, with just a bottomless pot of coffee and a laptop and the dark waters on the horizon), a sorting-out of feelings (my sense of kinship to the high, black cliffs of northern Scotland--and I've never been there), and wishful thinking (getting whiskey-drunk--it would only take one shot--in a pub in Scotland and singing Celtic songs in fluent Gaelic with distant relatives I'm not sure even exist, and who, I find out after the songfest, are gifted poets and lyricists). Discovering a possible answer to the "why?" I keep asking myself about these memories of place and language and music and culture that aren't my memories, and aren't even memories at all.

The personal journey begun today is one I can't wait to return to, to continue the ride with words, nuance, and simile (the writing of which, for me, is like trying to catch a butterfly without a net).

To find joy in the practice, and desire in the gift.

And now to the store for leeks and potatoes to complement my first-ever organically-grown cabbage from my first-ever garden. The result? Heavenly, aromatic, Scots-created colcannon (how's that for a segue?).

Wish you were here!

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Blogger: Deborah
Mood: all over the place
Music: just the conversation in my head
Writing: back yard observations

Mike Stratton, the writing challenge is ON!!!! I did 45 minutes today! Finally. I took advantage of the quiet morning and experimented with writing my observations of the first rays of sunlight peeking over the fence and playing along lengths of spider threads, glistening bursts of greens and golds. It amazes me that a creature I find so abhorrent, and am, quite frankly, nearly terrified of, a creature that appears bulky and clunky and bulbous (I hate bulbous), can create something so beautiful, so strong, and yet so fragile. In an hour, the angle of the sun's rays will no longer illuminate those shining threads, and the arching vines in my garden will hang slack in the heat.

Some days I feel like those threads and vines: bright and shiny at the beginning of the day, full of strength as I face the sun; wilted and blended into the background after bucking the heat of my day. But today, this beautifully cool pre-autumn morning, I observed and wrote and reveled in words and sentences and thoughts strung across the page like glistening threads.

Happy writing to all!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blogger: Deborah
Mood: Rebellious
Listening: NPR's This American Life
Writing: this blog

Well, I'm supposed to be cleaning my totally trashed bedroom so the hub and I can find the bed, find our shoes, find our clean clothes, and find some rest. But I'm here instead.

The goal was to get my butt out of bed this morning (Saturday) and spend 30 minutes writing. But no! I FORGOT!! Can you believe that? I FORGOT! And now it's well into the day, and I have to sacrifice the writing to do the things that make my space calm and peaceful.

I guess because writing daily isn't a habit yet, it's just not foremost in my mind. Maybe that's why I forgot. I just rolled into the old habits of trying to get a bit of extra sleep, and then feeling guilty because I haven't cleaned the bedroom in so long we can write our names in the dust on the bureau (Hey! At least I'd be writing!!). So the guilt of being slovenly overtakes the pleasure of writing.

OK. Tomorrow, Sunday, I'm devoting 30 minutes to writing something, and not this blog. Something else. I don't know what. Maybe a cruise to the big lake will be the inspiration. Maybe sitting in my sunroom will be. Maybe lying in my clean bed in my clean bedroom, gazing at the freshly dusted and shined ceiling fan will bring the muse. Or maybe I'll just write.

However I do it, the goal is 30 minutes. No word minimum. No word maximum. No perfection needed on the page. Just write, dammit! Write!

To inspiration, from whence it may come!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Blogger: Deborah
Mood: Upbeat
Music: The lyric melodies of my interviewees' voices over the wires
Writing: none, but gathering that good ol' background

Well my day off yesterday did me some good. My date with Jean Luc went well, and I'm chipper, alert, and have already conducted two interviews with two more on today's docket. Then this afternoon I hope to get all those interviews translated into articles.

Speaking of interviews, they are pretty basic to writing a good story, and I'm sort of burning out on what to ask--I'm tired of asking the same things over and over and over. And while I do follow strings of consciousness that my interviewees bring up, and thereby get some interesting tidbits for my articles, the interviews are pretty much the same.

Anyone know of a good article, blog, or book on interview techniques?

How about research techniques for articles? I don't do a whole lot of research, because it's often not needed for what I write, but sometimes I'd like to delve into a topic a bit more and I'm sort of lost on where to find info (besides the Internet).

Anyone know of any good articles that have been written about urban development? I'd like to read another writer's stuff so I can learn from them. New techniques to infuse my work would be great.

Hey! I'm also going to the fall retreat. Can't wait!!!!! Hope to see you there.

Larry, when are you coming to a retreat again? We've never met, and the group, while always talented and interesting, could use your perspective on life. This fall would be a great time to re-join us, don'cha think?

Mike? You, too? Coming up to join us?

Hey, Sarah. We should talk about some ideas I have for promoting the blog.

Later, all.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Day Off

Mood: Lazy (is that a mood?) Music: Tim O'Brien Fiddler's Green Today's Writing: Nothing!

Hey everybody! It's not Sarah. It's Deborah. Surprise!!!

Today I took a day off from interviewing for articles and writing those articles, and spent the whole day lying on the couch watching HGTV. I'm feeling a big punky now, after not doing a thing today, but man, it was great! I soooooo needed to not look at a computer screen or think about anything. Vegging out has its moments, let me just tell ya.

I put in a 40-hour workweek just on M, T, & W for the publication I work for ( -- shameless plug), and when I got up today I didn't want to interview one more person or write one more "work" word I also didn't want to write any other kind of words, work-related or not, until now.

I love doing what I love for a living -- writing -- but there are nights when I go to bed with my thoughts whirling, whirling, whirling with the 10 or 12 interviews I did that week and the pressure of hitting a deadline week after week. Last night was one of those nights. I was so overly tired I couldn't get to sleep, and when I did, I slept until 10 AM today, something I haven't done in months. Plus the hub and I just expanded our cable TV selections, so what's a gal to do? Lie on the couch all day and stare at HGTV, that's what!

After coming back from the summer Glen Lake conference I've been following a pretty good routine of getting up early, having breakfast, getting ready for the day, and spending a while spiffing up the place before walking the 10 steps into my office for the day. That routine has been great for me. I feel like my life is so much more balanced--even though the "balancer" is just a bit of housework or laundry. It has helped me so much--I don't feel overwhelmed like I was feeling for months (because I was overwhelmed) and my house feels better, so it's a happier place for me to be--and I'm here all day, so I need to be happy with my "spot."

So... the next goal: continue with that routine, and add 30 minutes of writing my own stuff. Even if it's just blogging. I'll let you know how the new routine goes, and what wonderful things I write.

I also want to get my old blog started again. I have new fodder for the "presses." It seems that after a year of reporting on West Michigan haps I am forming a few opinions about urban development, land use, and water pollution. Go figure!

Well, I've gotta go and get some supper. Then I have to watch some more TV because I taped a bunch of stuff that I need to watch (I had to practice with my new DVR)-- and I don't want to keep Jean Luc waiting!


Friday, August 3, 2007

Moving forward

Today's Mood: Comfortable. Today's Music: U2--The Joshua Tree. Today's Writing: Chapter seven of IFFY. Today's Quote:
"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning." -Peter de Vries, quoted in The Writer, June 1994

I read a good book yesterday--The Looking Glass Wars. It is the true story of Alyss in Wonderland, and it celebrates the power of imagination--both for good and for bad. Besides being an entertaining book, it made me excited to get working on my own story. I've had a hard time maintaining a scheduled writing time this summer, and too many days off makes it hard for me to get into the story when I do finally sit down to write. Of course, all that will change in a few weeks when school starts again--and with it a scheduled writing time. But for those of you facing the same difficulty, I read a great blog post on how to overcome writer's block on Diana Peterfund's blog. Check it out here, and if you have tried any of these or other methods and found them useful, let us know.

Hope you have all been writing.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Today's Mood: Celebratory. Today's Music: Robert Pollard--From a Compound Eye. Today's Writing: Nothing until now. Today's Quote:
On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: How does the never to be differ from what never was?

Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp. -from The Road by Cormac McCarthy p.32
Uh-huh...oh yeah...that's right...I'm dancing...oh yeah! I'm going to the fall retreat. I finished the last Harry Potter. I have a laptop computer that works--and has all my information on it! Ya-hoooooooooo! I'm so excited to be writing this on my own computer. Finally! Granted, I now have an antique computer that I've paid more for than a new MacBook-but hey, it works. And I've got my sign up sheet all set to go for the fall retreat. (just need a stamp) Yessssss! I'm dancing*, oh yeah. Come on everybody--dance with me! What are you celebrating?

Oh, and tomorrow my kids go to daycare so I can WRITE! Which is a good thing because I got nothin' for Monday's small group. But I will.

Since I wasn't writing I was reading. I did finish Harry Potter and thought my small group would tell the author that the book really should have ended before the Epilogue-but hey, she's the millionaire. I also read The Road. The writing is poetic, lyrical. Of course, hard to say I loved it since it is apocalyptic literature and therefore rather depressing. But it was still an awesome book. Inspired me to write--again.
*And no, I'm not dancing naked (see previous post here) because the air conditioning is on too high.