Monday, July 01, 2013

“Earrings Before the Outfit” and other Habits that are Hard to Break…

I have a terrible habit and it’s a very OLD habit. In fact, it’s become my shopping “motto”.

Me, in black button earrings and
matching yellow/black plaid pants.

          When I need a new outfit, first I go find the jewelry I want to wear, and then I work it from there.
Unfortunately, this motto of mine has spilled over into my writing. But first, let me explain how this started…
I’m blaming it on the 1980s.
Shucks, I might as well place all the burden of my problems on the Deb stores. Remember those?  In the ‘80s they had the best of the fads. Stripes and dots, sugary-colored pants and shirts, dresses with big ties or bows--Sound familiar?
The problem was I couldn’t really afford every outfit I craved or “needed” to pass as a fashion-savvy teenager.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have jobs. I had money. But I wasn’t up to spending it all frivolously on frocks that I knew were going to be in one minute and out the next.
Instead, I flittered across the mall to the next place I’m going to blame—Claire’s. You know this store, with the fashionably-cheap jewelry. I can’t think of a single time I’ve been in a mall that didn’t have one of these chain stores.
At Claire’s, I could always afford a pair of earrings. ALWAYS. The earrings represented the inspiration for my next, best outfit. And thus, my motto became: If I have the right earrings, I’ll find the perfect outfit to go with them!
My motto has worked for me for decades! In fact, sometimes if I’m lucky, I can find TWO outfits to match a lovely piece of costume jewelry. (Jewelry hording is a completely separate story…)
The motto worked until now.
What started as a simple phrase became a way of thinking. If it worked to buy earrings first, maybe it would work to by the floor mats before the car? Maybe if I had the right pots/pans before I tried the recipe? And what about that story I’m writing?—Put a title down first, then write it.
See my problem?
Titles don’t work that way. In fact, I’m not sure exactly how they work. I’m completely stuck on this now and it’s tearing my entire thought process of the past 30 years to shreds!
For all my WIPs, I started my writing with a few basic things—characters, problems and working titles. In the past, this formula worked. But now, it doesn’t.
In fact I hate the working title of my current story. HATE it! But like those earrings I bought last week and then the outfit I bought to go with them, I’m having a hard time trashing it.
I’m a mental mess!
In my mind, there is the irrational fear that if I get rid of the title, my story is going to have to change somehow.  And as I’m finishing up my revisions, I know that this is probably true.
The story has changed.
As much as it feels like I’m giving up my “inspiration” for this story, I’m going to have to find a new “match” to accessorize it with.
Besides, as we all know, the outfit is always more valuable.
Writers out there, what would you do?
For me, I think it’s time to go shopping…

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Power of Music

I got the music in me…
...Well, at least it’s on my iPod (which is PRACTICALLY an extension of my hipbone or shoulder, depending where I decide to “hook” it today). And it’s a beautiful day in the Midwest. One worthy of a long morning drive in my convertible with my dog… and the radio.

First let me explain a bit. Like most people, I’m pretty easy to decode within ten minutes. I prefer the woods to water. I’m artsy. I’m a bit off-center. I don’t like being “boxed” in.

And MUSIC moves me...

Inspires me. It takes me places pictures can’t. Music can cause change. Music is powerful!

The long and winding drive this morning happened in part because a song came on the radio. If you are like me, even if you are mere seconds away from your driveway, a good song can make you rethink your stop.

The song that created that diversion today was “Same Love” by Macklamore. It’s a beautiful song.

Recently, I downloaded the entire album, The Heist, to my iTunes. But before this album, I bet there wasn’t one rap song on my playlist. (Okay, maybe “Ice-ice, Baby” but that’s only because I was in college when it came out.)

I love nearly everything on this album. It’s bouncy, it’s energetic, and for the most part, it’s about story-telling.

But from the moment I heard, “Same Love”, I knew it was part of one of my story’s playlist.

The song, for those unfamiliar, shares the story of same-sex relations. Apparently the team of Ryan Lewis and Ben Haggerty wrote the song in support of equal rights laws in Washington state.

Give or take your personal views on marriage etc., what I heard in the song was “LOVE”. Unconditional. Non-judgmental. Simple-LOVE.

Maybe it’s Mary Lambert’s soulful hook, “I can’t change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted too.” Whatever it is, it works for my story.

The manuscript I’ve attached this song to, one that is dear to my heart, is not about gay relations. It’s about friendship. The story is about a friendship with all the trappings and complications of society. The main characters are two preteen boys and a slightly older girl from different social classes.

Essentially, the story boils down to the depths of platonic relationships. And Walla! The song, “Same Love” fits for my purposes.

There are other songs that work for my WIP too. But this is my favorite.

I’ve made playlists for each of my WIPs. I have ‘20s and ‘30s music for a historical fiction. There are e-pop songs for a dystopian manuscript.

But like most writers I know, music can be distracting to listen to while in the actual writing stage. I use music for inspiration. It’s motivational to me for times I am wrestling with those deep, internal conversations with characters and story development. Music can set the mood. It can relate and recreate a time period. It can create a specific space and place for my characters.

Are there certain songs that you use when writing? If not, perhaps it’s time to search Pandora. Plop in key words that relate to your theme, characters, or setting and see what comes up!

It might be exactly what you need to get the story rolling!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SUCCESS and FAILURE-- Finding Motivation in Each

Monday I shared my thoughts on strength and training. Today, Wednesday, I’m sore. Achy. I spent my Tuesday night with my typical routine and I’m taking a break between my Wednesday morning sets to write. (Muscles are tense,  but I’m going back in there!)

What’s up with that? Why do I do this to myself?

I can’t help but laugh at the thought process that is going through my mind:
“Wow, those shoulders are sore, Juli.”
“Must need to loosen them up a bit. That a.m. spinning class will help.”
“Sure, I’ll fix a strawberry/banana smoothie as soon as the workout is finished. That will help.”

But what I haven’t said yet, is that even my HANDS are tight. How am I thinking I can exercise and write in the morning if one activity negates the other? Shouldn’t I give up? Ditch the writing today?

That’s when this handy little thing called MOTIVATION kicks in.  I want to write. And I want to be strong.

But it helps to have a bit of SUCCESS and FAILURE first.

Let me start with FAILURE. I’m a bit like rabbit running from a predator. I dart from one direction to the next by nature. I’ve failed at so many things I’m not even sure where to start but I’ll narrow it to three areas:

·         Sports—I stink. My coordination and focus is limited. If a stray ball comes my way, I duck.
·         Cooking—Let’s just say my best meal involves mac n’ cheese and stop at that.
·         Math—There are many reasons I married my husband. Math is on that list. (Along with hundreds of better reasons!)

Don’t get me wrong. I still DO these things. But there are so many FAILURES among these categories that I’ve nearly given up. Nearly, but not completely.

Because somewhere in there, sometime in my past, there has been SUCCESS.

·         Sports—Sure, I can’t catch, throw, or dribble a ball, but I can maintain a plank for longer than I thought possible and spin on a exercise bike with the best.
·         Cooking—I’m a fabulous reader! If I have a good recipe, I can make it happen. I make a mean stuffed mushroom appetizer!
·         Math—Geometry. I get it. I can manipulate, translate, slide and divide into symmetrical sections. My quilts have PERFECT seam allowances!

So despite my flops and flaws in specific areas of skill, the point is I still TRY. Even though my SUCCESS has at times seemed small, I have it!

Just as there are thousands of ways to look at a piece of artwork, there are thousands of ways to approach your life. You can choose to focus on the FAILURES or move forward knowing you can SUCCEED!

I could take every one of my failures and give up. If so, I would ever get near anything related to sports. If I did that, I’d miss out on the opportunity to play a pickup game of knock-out with my students at recess. Even though I lose the game early on, every time, I form a bond with them. That’s a SUCCESS not a failure.

I could completely quit cooking. I admit, I’ve come close to this one. (A kitchen can be a crafting center, right?) Yet, my boys need fresh, hot cookies. And…. Adding a bit of cheese on top of everything DOES make it taste better!

I could give up math. Na… I ‘m a writer! I have word-counts! It’s all in the way you look at things. Math as word-count goals is a challenge but I have meet 50,000+ every year for the past three years during NaNoWriMo. That is SUCCESS enough in math for me!

Essentially, it does boil down to how you want to look at your life. You can make these choices. No one else will do it for you. I want to write and I want to be strong.  I’m not going to linger on the failures. By focusing on the past successful moments, no matter how minuscule they are, I’m going to keep moving forward.

FAILURE—it happens, but take it for what it is. A moment that is now in your past.  Instead, see it as an opportunity to make something different happen. That’s when you’ll find the SUCCESS you are looking for.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit--I Work Out!

Waking up at 4:45 a.m. to throw on a pair of shorts, a sports tank and tennis shoes to go workout with a  boot-camp instructor (one that I love intensely because she scares the hell out of me) can test one’s personal motivation and dedication each and every day.

     Take today for instance, I set two alarms. One for 4:30; one for 4:45.

     The first alarm is purely symbolic. I will not get up at 4:30 a.m. I simply refuse. I set the first one as a reminder that the second one will be coming soon afterwards.

     Once the first alarm goes off, I start my “mantra”. The chorus to Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You” starts playing in my mind.

     Then the second alarm rings. The “stronger” part of the song is what makes me sit up. I repeat it out loud.

     I don’t know about the majority of the world, but I can’t see through the crud covering my eyes when I wake up. I trip over things, I walk into walls and by the time I have everything gathered and I am heading out the door, I feel like I’ve already had a morning workout. But I know by now that this is just the beginning. My guru, Reggie, will make us work hard! And it’s all worth been it because I can see the results. I started this journey sometime around January and I am stronger.

     Which is partially my point.

     Yesterday was the end of a weekend writing retreat. My first retreat in solitude. I have been to writing conferences, listened to speakers, critiqued and had my own work critiqued in various small groups, but I have never been to a retreat in which time was completely mine to manage. I could read, sleep, write, draw. Basically, I was the instructor of my own writing workout.

     After working a couple hours the first day with a critique group, I focused on revising a manuscript that I know has promise. Although I didn’t meet the goal I had set for myself, I was astonished at how much I accomplished.

     Recently I read an article by Jody Hedlund on her website about figuring out when you are finished revising, editing and ready to submit your work. She suggested making it through each of her five points.

     If you had asked me at this time two years ago if I could make it through that list, no way. Last year, I was getting close but I still didn’t feel strong enough.  After reading the article and coming back from writing intently all weekend, I am now ready.

     Which brings me back to my morning workouts. Writing isn’t so different than my time at the gym. Had I expected to hold a plank the first week I attended boot camp? Could I dead lift without tipping over? No. And neither was I ready as a writer to submit my work without building the strength, core confidence and revising/editing endurance that it take to get a manuscript in shape.

     In all endeavors, I believe there is a part of each of us that feeds our negative selves saying things like, “Your arms are still flabby! Straighten your pose!” and “You use to way too many adverbs!” However, we have to keep at it. Giving up, stopping in the middle, skipping our morning workouts (physical and writing) adds fuel to that furnace of self-doubt.

     I challenge you to set step-by-step goals, work towards them and don’t give up. Whether they are mental, physical, spiritual or personal goals, when you realize you can check each of those off your list as “accomplished”, you will be transformed and a stronger person for it.