Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket Day

It seems today is a special day, one where we're all supposed to carry a poem around in our pockets. The assumption is that we are all carrying around a PDA anyway, so we can easily download a favorite poem and keep it in our pocket all day. 

Now I have to admit that I don't have a PDA. Nope. I love my laptop, but I have no desire to carry it around with me while I do my errands or work. And I don't like being that accessible by phone, either, so I have a prepaid cell phone and only use it when I need to (in other words, it's OFF when I'm not specifically using it). I've had it over a year, and at the end of the first year, I'd used less than 100 minutes of it (thank goodness they roll over when I add time to it). 

But you know what I discovered? This radical old medium... paper. So I'm taking my poem with me anyway, in celebration of the day. Only I'm just writing it on a Post-it note and sticking it into my pocket. It's a pretty short poem:

This is Just to Say
 I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox 

and which
you were probably
for breakfast 

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold 

William Carlos Williams

If you like it, feel free to check out the website and find your own favorite. I like this one (despite its lack of rhyme or strict form) because it shows me how simple poetry can be. It has always felt like a Post-it note stuck on a fridge... so when it comes out of my pocket today, that is exactly where I'm putting it. 

What poem would you choose?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Writing Activity #1

I published several other writing exercises on my past blog, but I thought I'd continue the practice. I opted for Wednesday, too, though I can't promise that every Wednesday I'd remember to do this. Still, here it is:

I've created one half of the dialogue in a conversation between two people, intentionally vague so that the conversation could be made into almost anything. Paste this dialogue into your message box and fill in the other person's portions... create names for the people, etc., and feel free to modify the given parts, if necessary. Don't modify too much, though, or you aren't really doing the activity. Above all, make it interesting (for yourself, if for no one else). And feel free to answer anonymously, if you are too frightened to share your identity:

Character #1:  Did you have to do that?

Character #2:

Character #1:  I don't believe you. I can't believe anything you say. I have tried for so long to get my life together. I thought I was waiting for you all this time, waiting for this. It isn't what I thought it was going to be. It's harder. It's too hard.

Character #2:

(Character #1 doesn't answer.)

Character #2:

Character #1:  Don't touch me. 

Character #2:

Character #1:  How can you mean that? How can I believe you?

Character #2:

Character #1: Okay, for now. But if it doesn't happen, I can't promise I'll stick with it. Or you.

Character #2:

Might be easy to make this a romance novel, but what else could be happening? Who are these people? What is really going on between them? What are they trying to do?

Knock yourself out... and post when you can... I'll be checking back through next Wednesday, when I post another one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Voice of God?

Yesterday's blog was full of promises... I was going to redirect my energies towards a certain piece of writing, use what time I had to do something real with my talents... 

But then the day happened, and when the sun had set, and I looked back on it, I hadn't written anything except my blog. That made me wonder. If I had a gift but never used it, would it be taken from me? I imagined God, looking down at me, at my wasted day, filled with nothing but chores. He looked back over the last month, where I'd accomplished pretty much nothing of note at all... and he decided he'd had enough.

"Cheryl," he intoned down to me, his voice resonating, "you've been a bad little girl."

"Yes, God." (What was I supposed to do, deny it? He was right.)

"Since you can't seem to make any time to write, I've decided to take your talent from you."

"No, please," I'd beg. "I don't paint much, either, but when it do it turns out pretty good still."

God thinks that one over. "Maybe I should take that one away, too."

"Please, no!" I whine. "All I'll have is my piano and my sewing."

"But you haven't done enough with those either. Or that theatre thing you do."


"Now, no arguing. You know you don't deserve any of it."

And I don't. I don't have a comeback for that one. I just rub my toe into the dirt, dejected.

"Okay, now, don't cry," God says. "I'll let you have them a while longer. But do something with them, okay?" Sounds just like me begging my son to behave for once at preschool. Does God know he's likely to reap the same level of effort from me as I do from my son? Surely, if he is real, God knows this already.

I nod, hoping I can make the next few years different from the last few. I hope I can write more, write every day, write stuff that's really worthwhile, ignore the online games, get the chores done faster so that I have more time for what's really important, and not fritter away what little time I have on useless, stupid things. 

I hope, I hope, I hope. Will I change, though? Only time will tell. If you have any advice for how I can do this better, I'd love to hear it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What Do I Do Now?

I may have a week of writing ahead of me, since my weekly obligations have tapered off to some extent (or, at least, I've learned to manage them a bit more effectively). But now I am up against a block: I want to write, but I don't want to write any of the projects on my list. 

So, what does one do, when one has several hours to spend on one's craft, but no desire to finish a current project? What if I don't want to revise Desdemona, or revise Remember Me, and I'm not yet ready to revise my novel Mariah's Ark? What if the prospect of another vegetable children's book doesn't float my boat today, and the idea of researching the vegetables online makes me cringe? What should I do?

Perhaps I should spend the day at the piano, sight reading a few songs I've never looked at before, or practicing some old standards. Perhaps I should pull out the paintbrushes and paint another small watercolor, something that won't linger, unfinished, like so many other things. Perhaps I should pull out the sewing machine and fix my husband's (too-tight) pants. 

I could even get more responsible, and fill my day with real chores: laundry, grocery shopping, dropping off donated clothing, etc. But that road only leads to depression (I know, I've tried it, as some of you know). 

Nope, the best thing I can do is write. And what do I have to write? A ghost book, of course. I have a press release to create, a list of newspapers to make (to send the release to when it's finished), and a whole world of ghost stories to venture into, once I get them. I even have two people waiting to tell me their own local ghost experiences, whenever I tell them I'm ready. And the prospect of all these steps--yes, even the press release--fills me with excitement. 

So I'm going ghost hunting today. Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting Advice

Yesterday, before my husband left for work, and we were planning out the next few days, he looked out into the backyard and asked, "So, you gonna finish that weeding today?"

Now, I am anything but lazy (ask anyone but my mother, who wouldn't know)... and I was planning to work on the garden. But I also had a pit of a house to contend with, since we have company coming over today, a pit of a house that HE had contributed to, by the way... 

So I told him that yes, I was planning on it, but I had a bunch of other stuff, too, so I didn't know... and I also told him when I thought of stuff he could do at work while he was there, I'd call him and give him the list, too. You see, for the most part, the house is one of my jobs. It's my work. And I take it pretty seriously. However, it is only one of my jobs, and I don't appreciate his input on any of them, since he can't even seem to get his shoes into his closet (or his laundry in the hamper, or his dishes in the sink, etc.)... 

Thankfully, he kept his mouth shut, and when he got home and saw all the work I'd done (with a sick little boy home all day, no less), he did nothing but praise me. Good boy. That's what I needed in the morning, instead of a "honey-do" list... 

And this little event leads me back to my writing, as it always does. I tend to keep my stuff pretty much secret when I'm developing it. NO ONE reads a first draft of my writing... not even my husband. And when I send something out to readers, I make sure I do it only when I'm certain I'm ready for criticism. I find I am infinitely more ready to accept criticism when I actually ask for it. If you read my last post, you'll know I'm pretty good at taking it, too, but only if I specifically prepared myself for it, not when it's unwelcome.

How do you respond to criticism? How do you ask for it? How do you react when it's offered without your asking for it? I'd love to know. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting Things Up and Running

I'm here! I can't believe I've made it! So  many people are technologically savvy... but, alas, I am not one of them. I would be, but I simply don't have the time. Too many wonderful things to do, too little time for all of the magic to happen. 

Today is no exception. I am still coming off the high of having my novel make it to the quarterfinals of the Breakthrough Novel Contest, but the Publisher's Weekly Review I received for my efforts helped to bring me down pretty quickly yesterday. Here it is:

This novel hints at an interesting, fantastical, quasi-biblical, quasi-heretical premise — the construction of an ark in preparation for a modern day flood — but delivers a pedestrian story of familial discontent and a “murder mystery” that isn’t quite a murder. Mariah’s father has been working on a secret project in his barn since before he met her mother, and soon after the rains begin, he dismantles the barn to reveal a boat. Around this same time, Mariah meets a mysterious and compelling boy, who follows her home on the last day before the flood begins, and she pulls him inside, not sure why or even why she’s getting on the boat, just as her family is ready to seal it off. Over the course of the novel, Mariah discovers the boy, Ben, is deaf and guilty of a mysterious crime. Out of this premise is spun a story that then focuses almost entirely on Ben and Mariah with Mariah convincing her family that Ben is a good person, while Ben works to convince Mariah that he isn’t. When Ben’s crime is revealed, it feels overblown, and when Mariah reveals, toward the end, a special talent for communicating with strangers, it feels unjustified by the rest of the novel, which, in the end, fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.

I admit, I was hurt. But only for about five minutes (okay, maybe an hour). Fortunately, I had dishes to do, kids to get ready for school, etc., and that gave my brain time to wrap itself around the whole thing. 

And, you know, by the time I'd read it to my husband in the evening (about 9:30 p.m.), without any effort at all, I felt elated. Think about it. When in real life does a novel get an actual set of reasons listed to explain why it isn't taken up by a publisher. I've been sending out various items of my writing for YEARS, and my only response has been a kind, short, completely unspecific form letter telling me it didn't suit their needs at this time, but encouraging me to show the same work to other agents or publishers. No reasons were ever given for the rejection. 

Now I have something real to work with as I revise the novel. Now I can approach my readers--the kind people who have willingly spent time reading my novel, show them the review, and ask them what they noticed, too. They'll know I'm serious, and hopefully they won't be afraid to show me what bothered them. Once I have all that feedback, I can work on the novel some more... and make it better. 

I'm lucky. Very, very lucky. I feel like hugging Publishers Weekly for this.