Monday, January 25, 2010

Story Book Reader Distractions

This morning I found myself still distracted by a vicious (yet strangely satisfying) confrontation last night. It kept replaying…you know how it goes. “Oh, I wish I’d said this.” “Darnit, I should have told them that!” Built-in distraction. I could feel my blood pressure rising.

Fortunately, I managed to get my head on straight and start in on the second-to-last chapter of my client’s book. Oh, so close to completion! Still, distractions were abundant. Twenty-month-old Baby M insists that she is the center of the universe. I can’t quite argue with that, since I feel much the same about her. She brought me an electronic story-book reader that had somehow fallen into two pieces. Being the wonderful mommy I am, I not only fixed it, I also screwed off the cover and replaced the batteries.

What was I thinking?

I’m now inundated with an electronic female voice telling me to “Please insert a book to begin. Please insert a book to begin. Please insert… Please insert… Please insert a book to begin.”

In vain, I searched for one of the Sesame Street books made for this demonic invention. Nothing. Nada, Zilch. They’ve vanished. Yes, all of them. So, as I try to concentrate on plot and tension at the climax of this novel, I find a blue-and-yellow My First Story Reader shoved across my keyboard with the insistent reminder, “Please insert a book to begin…”

Where’s that screwdriver?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Ever read a book or watched a movie and said to yourself, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that!”?

Last night I watched the movie Julie & Julia…based on two true stories. It was a good movie but, more importantly, it brought to mind the concept of ideas.

Julie’s idea was inspired. She didn’t realize it would create the furor it did, launching her into a semblance of fame that was then compounded by a Hollywood movie. She was simply looking for a project to finish, something to give meaning to a career she saw as stalled, at a standstill. Her idea worked because it was original. It connected with people on a basic level. Julie was a normal woman, just like millions in the country, connecting with her idol and giving her life meaning through the act of cooking. What’s more important, she carried through to the end. She moved her readers.

Ironically, her success has probably created a surge of “copycats,” people who are now trying to make their way through some other cookbook, or some other kind of book entirely, blogging about it and hoping to achieve the same success. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but if I’m right…they’ve missed the point.

Great ideas are difficult to come by. Sometimes it takes a happy accident. More often, it takes intense dedication, insight and just plain hard work. Because of that, people who come up with those great inspirations (and who follow through with them) deserve the glory the ideas bring to them.

It’s far easier to copy another idea, to become a mere shadow of someone else’s great work. I’m not judging. I’m the first to admit that I have few, if any, truly original ideas. Most of my ideas can be summed up as, “…like this book crossed with that book,” or “…something like that author, but with elements of this author over here.” It makes me a little disappointed in myself.

If you write them well enough, you can pay the bills with unoriginal ideas. If you take familiar elements and rearrange them artfully, you can create a readership. Until we manage to capture our own brilliant concepts, we may have to be content with that. Bills do have to be paid; you can’t go bankrupt because you only want to write original ideas. That doesn’t need to keep us from trying harder.

I, for one, want to strive for even more. I want to strive for that “Ah ha!” moment, that idea that makes the reader say, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Track, or Derailed?

After my last post, I made a concerted effort to get myself back on track. As a result, I went through several days of wonderful productivity. I both set and met writing quotas every day. Even Tuesday, which was filed with fighting cats, cranky toddlers and renegade horses in our yard, saw me exceed my writing goals.

Perhaps I got cocky. Whatever the reason, yesterday blindsided me. Now, I understand that a 20-month-old doesn't understand my need to work, or to focus on anything other than her. My question is (men, especially, pay attention):

How can an adult with reasonable brain capacity not realize I cannot simultaneously carry on a conversation and write a book?


Yes, it's a snarky question, brought about by intense frustration yesterday. Since last night was bell choir night, desperation moved me to make the 45-minute drive a couple hours early and hole myself up in Starbucks. A soy, no-water chai latte helped my mood tremendously, as did the ability to finally finish my daily chapter for my client.

Today, I'm back on track. I've already finished that daily client chapter, and now look forward to two hours of toddler nap time in which to write a mere seven pages on my own project...three to make up for yesterday plus the four scheduled for today.

All right, maybe yesterday's damage is irreversible. I'm still basically on track, committed and making progress. What more can a WAHWM (Work at Home Writer Mom) ask for?

Thursday, January 07, 2010


This has been a lost week. Right now I'm surrounded not only by my own 19-month-old (who, yes, has the ability to surround me all by herself), but also by my brother's 3- and 5-year-olds, who are here while their mother recuperates after the birth of their younger brother. I thought my daughter created mayhem; I now vainly wish for that level of noise and distraction. It sounds like a peaceful oasis compared to the sound of three toddlers running in circles pulling two chatterbox phones and a pushing a stroller. It doesn't help that the weather is below freezing and foggy, so I can't usher them out the door and lock it behind them.

I've accomplished no writing this week. As I said...a lost week. I'm used to blocking out a certain level of distraction--phones and conversations in an office, the subdued clatter of a Starbucks or B&N, even the sound of heavy machinery--but I have no idea how to focus with this whirlwind around me. It seems the only time to accomplish anything is when the monsters--uh, I mean children--are asleep...but how to cope when their naptimes and bedtimes leave me looking for my own pillow? So far, Writer Mama offers no clues. I tell myself I've worked 8-12 hours a day before, that I've had experience soldiering on without a two-hour naptime. It doesn't help. That pillow and blanket, in the peaceful serenity of a briefly quiet bedroom, is too tempting.

Focus, I tell myself. Exert self-control. Unfortunately, such self-talk doesn't work any better in this instance than it does with chocolate brownies.

I know I'm not the only mother attempting this. Any helpful suggestions?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Scary Queries

What makes the idea of writing a query letter so frightening to writers? After all, we're writers...we should have no problem writing a simple letter. Yes, a letter on which hangs the fate of a particular story or article, but still just a letter. It's ridiculous that a professional who can write anything from a noir comedy to a how-to on installing a smoke detector should break out into a sweat at thought of a one-page synopsis. The wealth of instructional articles and books on the subject, though, shows that we are, indeed, afraid and desperate for a solution.

For me, the thought of writing a query brings chills and a sense of nausea much like the flu. Just the thought of writing one of those beasts makes me feel like going and lying down. I've even been known to pass up a publication that requires a query in favor of one that wants to see the article. Yes, now you know my deepest writing secret. I'm a query coward.

Not that I haven't written several queries--some of which were actually successful--but the process has lost none of its terror. For some reason, writing a cover letter, though difficult, doesn't bring the same sense of horror and helplessness. I suspect it's because I harbor the insane hope that, even if my cover letter is crap, the editor will glance past it and be wowed by the dazzling article behind. (I never said I wasn't delusional.)

Nor have several years experience in writing and editing marketing copy helped me bridge the gap from selling a product to being able to sell myself.

Yes, selling myself. That's what we're all selling when we write and send a query letter, a cover letter or a story. I think, at the heart of it, we're not afraid of editors rejecting our ideas. We're afraid of editors rejecting us. Of course, to any serious writer, it's the same thing. We are our ideas. At the same time, that's where the ego comes in. Why should we have to sell ourselves? We are writers; we are brilliant. Our work shouldn't need selling. It should shine like a beacon, drawing the editor to itself like a sci-fi tractor beam. How dare the editor need a query?

Still, it's just a letter.

A New Direction

I've been thinking a lot lately about the format and direction of this blog. Not that this is an issue of international importance...I've been getting the feeling that I'm the only one who reads this rag of a blog, anyway. Since that's the case, though, I can do what I want with it. Right?

You see, I received a copy of Christina Katz's Writer Mama for Christmas, and I've been slowing making my way through it. In it, she suggests blogging for idea generation and exposure. But, I thought, I already have a blog. I just never post anything. After thinking about it for a few days, I decided I needed to transform the blog I already have into a format on which I'll actually post. Imagine!

So, from now on, Get Creative with Writing will look less like a semi-annual writing instructional and more like random ramblings with the topic of writing at their center. So, yeah, more like most of the blogs that exist today.