Author Archives: AMO

About AMO

Mommy. Metalhead. Librarian. Hippie. Mystic. Foodie. Skeptic. Dreamer. Writer.

Juggling

It’s June 1st.

I’m supposed to start rewriting, today.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to read through my draft and make notes and edits and sit with the work, convinced that I’d have a clear map and a new understanding of where this book was going. I’ve had moments and flashes of terrific inspiration and insight, there is no doubt. Moments of excitement and stubborn fortitude, almost convinced that I can do it.

I CAN do it.

But the day is here, and I’m stumped at where to begin.

 

I don’t know where to start.

I don’t know HOW to start.

 

I don’t get a nifty little instruction guide when I Google: “How to start rewriting your book.”

I wrote this blog post, to get me warmed up. Maybe it’ll help.

I also have two kids in the house on summer break driving me a little nuts, a veterinarian appointment for the dog, a skimpy fridge, two loads of laundry to fold still, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner to think about for all of us. And my floors are dirty.

I hate dirty floors.

But not as much as I hate having an unfinished story. That bugs me to no end.

Wouldn’t it be terrible if someday this was said about me: she couldn’t finish her book, but damn it, her floors were clean?

I’d die of regret. I really would.

This isn’t rocket science, for sure. It’s not as simple as just “hiring someone” to clean floors. That might help in the short term, but becoming a writer isn’t about quick fixes. It’s about establishing habits and routines that get the books written.

I’m still tweaking. There is no instruction manual on how to do this, so I’ll have to write my own.  I want a clean house, a happy  and healthy family, and a finished book. I want it all.

I may not be a rocket scientist, but I am a fine juggler, keeping all of the balls in the air. Most days I do pretty good. Some days, the book project falls just out of my grasp.

Then again, some days, my kids eat crap and the floors stay dirty and the words get written.

I guess it’s about priorities, and choices.

June 1st.  Today is the day. Time to call the cleaning lady. Time to call Grandma for an overnight for the kids.

Time to start my rewrite.

There Is No Time

Chris Cornell died yesterday and it’s had me all kinds of thinking. It’s rare that I am ambivalent about an artists death. Especially an artist like Chris Cornell, who helped define a whole generation of music. I think about all the creative work he had yet to do, and what his music meant to me.

It hurts me to my core that he was walking around in such pain. I really can’t even imagine it. I’ve walked down dark, dangerous paths before, but I’ve never stayed there for long. I found may way back.

I wish he had found his way, too.

It makes me feel a little guilty, actually. From his places of pain came so much damn great music. Maybe I appreciate it a little more if I know the artist had suffered to create it. I read an interview with him not long ago where he talked about his deep introversion and his fears of performing. I could totally relate to that. It made me appreciate him even more, that despite these things, he created anyways.

It seems that the same spark that ignites a creative life can also burn the artist. We are the “feelers” in the world. We feel deeply, struggle, create, share, and try to connect with others. It is both a gift, and a burden at times, no?

His death also spotlights what I already know: We are getting old, my generation. Generation X. Children of the 60’s and 70’s – we are getting our first AARP cards and dealing with all the realities of middle age: raising small children, teenagers, grandchildren, helping our aging parents, dealing with our health issues, our career demands. I think our creativity has suffered.

We think we are still young and that we’ll have the energy someday. But crazy hormones and creaky joints and gallbladder issues are upon us right now. Heck, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. It made me even more determined to tell my story and write this book.

Generation X. We are the last generation born into an analog world. We had the last good childhoods, I believe. We were free-range and rebellious and we had experiences we need to talk about. We are adults now. We can handle the painful truths.  It’s OK to share these things.

We haven’t much time, my friends. The years are accelerating, and we are dying out. We are a small generation to begin with, sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials.

I implore you: Start writing, start that art project, start the band, start talking and sharing. Start your dreams RIGHT NOW. It is imperative that we leave our legacy, our culture, our stories for the future.

There is no someday. There are no guarantees of tomorrow. If you have a burning desire to create, you must start right now.

There is no more time.

The Lonely Road

Writing a book is an emotional experience, at least it has been for me. Of course, I’m writing a memoir, so maybe my experience is different than other writers writing different things. I’m pretty sure we all share one thing in common, though, and that is the lonely road. The road we walk as we write a book from start to finish.

I am a loner. I like being alone. The lonely road is curvy and hilly and very bumpy. There are days I feel like I have on no shoes, and the map is completely wonky. I look around and see no one.

We all toil alone. Ultimately, it is just the writer and the draft. The writer putting in the time while the story reveals itself, both in the writers’ mind, and on the page.

Right now for me, the draft on the page is not meshing with the story in my mind. As I read through the work so far, I find that something isn’t quite right. When things aren’t right, I freeze up. Why write more words when the whole draft needs torn apart and rewritten?

Also, I made a mistake this week, I think. I shared my work with someone whose work I respect and admire.  When they offered to read and help – I jumped. Probably too soon. WAY TOO SOON. After a lovely exchange of messages and despite my best instincts, I sent a chapter. It’s been a week now, and I haven’t heard anything. I’m in agony, thinking I’ve blown this opportunity. Was my writing so hideously sophomoric? Did I offend in some way?  Have I made a complete fool of myself? How did I not see that big typo before I sent it off?

Those questions sit heavy upon me as I look at this mess of a draft. It all kind of makes me want to cry. It’s a despair of the soul, realizing how much fucking work I have left to do before I can call this a book. And realizing: asking for help is hard. Sharing work is scary at first.

I have a strong spine, but thin skin. We are our own worst critics. I just need to be patient. With myself and everyone I meet along the way.

While I don’t mind being alone on the road, this section of the road is absolutely desolate. The offer of help was a mirage. There is no relief. No water. No shady spot to sit and rest.

So, I have to keep walking. This road will lead me to somewhere.

What is funny is that last week, I was pretty sure I was 80% done and close to being finished. This week – it’s the exact opposite. I’m 20% done. Nowhere close to being finished.

This is the lonely road. I can’t talk about it with ‘normal’ people. My husband just looks at me like – how hard can it be? Write the stupid book! (At least I have a spouse that supports the general idea of me being a writer and understands my need for solitude. But nitty-gritty details and general bitching? His eyes glaze over.)

My book needs a complete structural edit. After staring at it for a couple of days, I opened a new document and started cutting and pasting, just for fun. I moved Chapter 5 to the beginning. The first four chapters will now be used as narrative and flashback. I’ve got to learn to write all the transitions. Everything is tied together in my mind, but now I need to tie it together for the reader.

I could be three weeks away from being finished, or three years. Who the hell knows? I’m not sure I’m built for that kind of stamina, and I’m tired.

I’ll keep walking. Slowly, carefully, with purpose. It doesn’t matter if I ever hear from that other writer. It doesn’t matter one bit.

It hurts, but it doesn’t matter.

All I know is that I’m not at liberty to stop writing this book.

And if I see you on the road, wobbling and tired, I will offer you my hand in friendship and tell you:

Keep walking.

(Edit: I heard from the writer just hours after I posted this. Great feedback! Still, lots of work to do.)

Progress

How to Avoid Your Book

(or…how to deal with paralyzing fear and get your writing done anyways)

All right, so I’ve felt a little stalled this week. The book is coming along, but the writing is slow.

I’ve done everything else instead:
  • I’ve talked about my book
  • shared part of it with two friends
  • researched on it, found an article I needed
  • got the name of a good agent that represents books like mine from a published author
  • made a list of next-steps and to-do’s for the draft
  • planned how to do a good structural edit that will hook the reader and keep the story flowing
  • dreamed about it – said hello in a dream to someone I need to contact for research, someone I hadn’t thought of before.
  • jotted details on random note cards for the draft
  • jotted details on a fiction story that has been bugging me to be written
  • cleaned my desk and got my self reorganized
  • I did the spice cabinet, too. And the pantry. And my sock drawer.
  • wrote a blog post
  • posted on Instagram about my book
  • reviewed my early notes and brainstorm sessions – am I missing anything? Why do I have all these colored Post-it notes in random patterns in my notebook? Oh, yeah.
  • I started thinking about my book proposal.
  • And now I have a list of action items and next steps for that, too.

 

And I wrote about 2k words total this week. Not much. Not enough. But it was some.

Plus all that.

 

I’m calling it progress.

Breadcrumbs

I’m always super-curious about how other writers actually write, and how their brains work. While I was struggling to get started with my book, it’s how I distracted myself – looking up writers’ habits and tips. Unlike my many other forms of random time-wasting, seeking out this information actually inspired me. It helped me get started on my book. It was like a permission slip, finally knowing that it was OK to write however I needed to write.

There is no magic to the formula. It is work. You must work. You must find a way to work.

Morning writing, evening writing, standing up, sitting down, one cup of coffee or four, longhand, laptop, index cards, scotch tape and scissors – there are so many styles, so many ways to do it. There is no right way. There’s only your way.

It can take some time to find your way and settle into it.

Some people settle into a style and are committed to it from the start, others experiment around – different notebooks, pens, computer programs, ways to stay organized. I definitely fell into the latter category – I tried a bunch of stuff.  ADD, meet OCD.

While I worried about the “right” way to write, I was also leaving myself a lot of clues over the years. I have boxes and boxes of old journals, college papers, printed out emails, the various documents of life. I have online accounts, too that are equivalent to those boxes.

I think of all that as “breadcrumbs in the forest”.  All of these random bits are helping me as a writer. They are helping me write this memoir.

They are going to help me write future books.

(and, for whatever reason, it’s breadcrumbs, not pebbles. They stay on the ground where I leave them. The wild animals in my imaginary forest don’t like breadcrumbs. I feel like you needed to know that, dear reader.)

So, I’ve finally settled into a routine. I usually write in the mornings.  I review my breadcrumbs at night, and I wake up early to work on the next thing.  If I can’t get the words in the morning, then I force myself to find time during the day to work on it.

For my analog journal writing, I use a stiff backed, quad-ruled composition book. Its sturdy, cheap, and it fits in my purse. If I have a free 10 or 15 minutes, I jot down my feelings here, my day, my troubles, the things of life good and bad. Quad rule keeps me open and flowing, for some reason. I don’t journal every single day. A few times a week seems to keep me on track and in-touch with myself. I’ve been doing it this way for years. Now I have a pretty little row of trusty notebooks.

Fancy notebooks seem too dainty for the weight they’ll bear. My sturdy composition books are built for the heavy breadcrumbs.

I also keep a notebook handy near my desk to jot down ideas, article citations, lists of things, resources and random bits that I want to follow up on. Agent names, books to read, concepts or theories.  I don’t want to use my regular journal to capture these ideas – so I keep another notebook. Usually cheap and wirebound.  When it fills up, I review it and start a new one.

More breadcrumbs.

My third tool is the almighty Evernote.

Everything changed for me as a writer when I started using Evernote. The one thing I hear from new writers that I talk to is that they “need to get all of their writing into one place”. I don’t know exactly what that means for them, but for me, the solution was Evernote.

I used the free version for about a year, and it is perfectly functional and awesome. I upgraded and became a paying customer about 5 years ago, and I’m happy. So happy. I use Evernote every single day.

Evernote is my online brain. I can access is from anywhere with an internet connection. I use it on my phone, my desktop, my laptop, and various work computers.

I do most of my idea-capturing, research, writing, and document storage on Evernote. It has a web-clipper tool for your browser – so it’s stupidly easy to save stuff from the web. PDF’s, even.

Evernote has a really decent word processor. I write my blog posts here. I also draft scenes for my book . I cut and paste them into Word as I go.

Then, I save my Word document back to Evernote.

If my hard drive crashes, I’ve got all of my writing and research backed up and accessible anywhere. If I’m so inclined, I can pull up my entire book, right from my phone, and read and edit what I’ve written. I can also take notes right on my phone in Evernote, and all that is saved for me.

I’ve got a writing career ahead of me from all the breadcrumbs, I’m sure of it. And,  I’m committed to leaving clues now for my future self.

Meanwhile, my current self is grateful to my past self for struggling to keep all of those breadcrumbs. Once they process back through my writing brain, they transmutate, and become pure gold.

In the Margins

I dream and fantasize about long chunks of time in which to write. In my minds’ eye, I have a writing cabin in the mountains, surrounded by trees and wildlife and solitude.

There’s a river nearby, full of fish. I like it there, that fantasy place. I think it might be in Alaska.

The reality is, though, I’m a mom in Arizona with two elementary-age kids. I have a part-time job.  I have a husband and a house and a dog. I cook and clean and take care of the shopping and bills. You know, normal life, nothing fancy.

So, when do I write the book?

My short and crude answer is:  “Whenever the f*ck I can”.

The long and elegant answer is:  I make time in the margins of my life.

I’d love to say that I have it all perfectly planned out where my writing time was etched in and I always hit goals and everything aligned all the time.

That would be a lie. One of my issues lately is that I have a child who is an early riser. He’s up as soon as there is a glimmer of light on the horizon. My little Rooster.

He’s a talker and a cuddler.

I’ve had to adjust my margins a bit. Totally worth it.

I’ve had to adjust my definition of writing, too.  There’s everything that leads up to the writing: The thinking, researching, re-reading and correcting, daydreaming, waking up to write things down, journaling, note taking, outlining – all of these things are things I count towards writing. Some days I only actually write a few hundred words. Some days less.

Once in a while, I take a day off. But it’s still on my mind. IT’S ALWAYS ON MY MIND.

Then there’s the days that I sit for a few hours and bang out a few thousand words and purge all of it out of me. Most of those words happen in the mornings, but once or twice a week, I sit down after the kids go to bed and I get a chunk of good writing in while the husband watches some murder-death-kill movie without me. We have a small, open house. My desk is 8 feet from the sofa.

Thank goodness for earphones and music. If I can’t be alone, then this is the next best thing when I want to get the writing done.

I’m compelled. I need to finish this book. Get it to the point where it’s editable. It’s almost there.

I’ll write before I go to the grocery store. I’ll write while I’m waiting for kids. I’ll write if the house is empty. I’ll write if I need to write.

I say no to a lot of useless busy-ness. I’m not much of a recreational shopper. I don’t really like large crowds. I spend most of my time with my kids and husband.

Whatever spare time, whatever margin I have left after my family time and personal responsibilities  – those margins are for the book.

I write every day, and then I write whenever I can.

I’m trying to get this draft finished in the next 4 weeks, so I’m pushing myself a little harder. I’m also having fun with this blog, so…

I’ll adjust my margins. Writers write, right?

Be Quick, but Don’t Hurry

I am an unpublished writer, writing my first book. I just hit 80k words on a solid second draft. I’m almost done, and then on to the editing/rewriting.

I think it’s one of the toughest things, being in this limbo state. I don’t know what the future holds for this book, but I am excited about it in a way that quivers deep in my belly. Good things are going to happen, I just know it.

But I’ve got to get this book done.

I go to bed thinking about it, and I wake up early to write on it every day.

The thing is, though, I’m not a fast writer. In fact, I’d say I’m pretty slow. But then, I talk to other writers and tell them where I’m at, and they say, wow, you’re making great progress. It’s a matter of perspective, really. There are all kinds of examples of fast and slow writing.

It doesn’t matter, though. Writing slow is better than not writing at all, and I was not writing at all for many, many years. Decades, even. I felt like I was dying inside. That feeling went away once I started taking my work seriously. That was 30 months ago, in October of 2014.

Be Quick, but Don’t Hurry. It’s a saying that Coach John Wooden used for his players. I’m getting quicker, but I refuse to hurry. I’m establishing my muscle memory as a writer. Grooving those patterns into my brain so that they become second nature. To me, quick is efficient, hurry is sloppy.

Rather than feel like I’m dying inside, I’ll just keep writing at my own pace. I’m too old to beat myself up over it.

My friend, Sam, just sold his second book, and is working on his third, in less than two years.  He specializes in a specific genre of non-fiction, for a specific market. He blogs, he travels, he speaks, he gives workshops and is busy, busy, busy. He is a real go-getter. I’m super happy for him and I love watching him go after his dreams. I’m learning a lot from him.

But, I know in my heart that I’ll never be the kind of writer he is. His thing is his thing. The work he is doing is important, and it’s HIS work, his vision. I can’t be him and have his career. I can only be me, I can only share MY work, and my vision.  And I am 100% OK with that. I cannot compare my speed, my style, or my project to what he is doing. We are in different lanes of the highway.  He’s quicker and more strategic. He’s a planner and a performer. His vision is clear.

I honestly don’t know if I even have a vision. I’m finding it as I go.  I’m OK with that, too.

All I know is that right now, I am writing a memoir. A deep, dirty, painful, magical, awesome rock n’ roll memoir. I’m digging stuff up.  I’m seeing patterns in my life. I’m seeing themes and connections from childhood that are still impacting me. There are memories that are only beginning to make sense to me, now that I’m looking at them as an adult, and from afar. Sometimes I need to really think about it, or research it, or I’ll reach out to people who can help clarify. Sometimes I’ll have vivid, amazing dreams in which mysteries are revealed.

Sometimes I just need to sit with it all and have a good cry.

In other words, I’m taking my time to deal with the shit that needs to be dealt with.

I never took the time to deal with it before. I was too busy. Too busy with school, with a big career, too busy with a marriage and two babies and a household to run. I was too busy trying to be perfect, too busy trying to make everyone happy.

I’ve always struggled with attention and focus issues.  Distractions and multitasking are my two worst enemies and that’s all the world values these days it seems. Busy-ness is a trap, I think. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to be busy for the right reasons. You’ve got to say no to things, sometimes. You’ve got to keep your focus tight, and you’ve got to make room for yourself, as an artist.

Just like not writing, being too busy made me feel like I was dying inside.

And I was dying inside. One thing sure to make you slow down is a cancer diagnosis. All of my years avoiding issues and being too busy, too hard on myself, too perfect – it was literally killing me.

I’m OK now, I think. I’m on the mend. I’ve beaten cancer. I’ve been writing this book for two-and-a-half-years, through a tough cancer treatment, and I’ve got more work to do. But I’ve got a solid draft. A draft that I can mold and edit into something. I am not afraid of cancer anymore. But I am afraid of not writing.

As a new writer, there are a lot of things I’m supposed to be focusing on. Building a platform, blogging, connecting with others, sharing. Absolutely. I want to do all of those things. I AM doing all of those things. I’m making progress. I’m learning to prioritize.

But most of all, more than anything, I want to finish this book and be done with it. I have more books in the pipeline, whispering to me from the shadows. They need to be written, too.

I am not worried about being perfect; there is no such thing. But I do want to do quality work. And with a memoir, it takes time to find real reason you’re writing the book. You have to write the book to answer all the questions. The act of writing a book actually transforms you, because you aren’t the same person you were before you wrote the book. There is great magic in the act of creation, for the art AND the artist. But, you need to sit with things, sometimes.

You sit with your life and try to make sense of it, and sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s goddamned hard.

At the heart of it, I am a healer and a comforter of people. It’s a role that comes naturally to me. Writing this memoir is my way of healing myself. By sharing my story, I’m helping others.  The only way to help others is if I’ve taken the time to find the truth about my experiences, to find the common humanity that binds us all together.

If you are writing a memoir, be prepared to give yourself some time. Honor your story, but get it done, share it, and move on to the next one.

Be quick, but don’t hurry.