It’s Wednesday, it must be the beach.

unnamedMy husband and I have one car. This usually isn’t an issue since we work at the same place and have almost the same schedule. But on Wednesdays I work 10-7 and he works 8-5. Since our library is six blocks from the beach, I have started a tradition of beach and coffee on those mornings.

I drop him off at the library at 8 and then drive to a secret place where the beach is relatively uncrowded. I dress in shorts and a t-shirt and take my towel. Then I walk down the beach a little ways, kick off my shoes and go wade in the water for a few minutes. Then I return to my towel and meditate.

Mediation is something I have been working on for a while. It is the most simple thing in the world, and yet one of the hardest things to achieve. You don’t need anything to do it, just a quiet place and some uninterrupted time. I love the beach because it is naturally conducive to meditating. The waves are soothing, the sand is cool under my feet, and the breeze is usually refreshing.

Anyone who has ever meditated before knows that it is an ongoing practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Which is true to a point. I’ve been meditating pretty regularly for about a year now, and while I see an progress I know I still have an ocean’s breadth of improvement I could make.

Some days it is so sublime. I will sit, drop out of my head and sit in empty presence while the waves lull me into a state of peace. And some days (most days) it is a constant struggle with my head to get it to shut the hell up. I’ve always been an over thinker, a “monkey mind” and getting the brain train to slow down is sometimes nearly impossible.

But I show up every week and I try again. And I always feel better, calmer, more peaceful after I have meditated, whether I felt it was successful or not.

After meditating I pick up my towel and drive to The Brick, a coffee shop on the swanky Fifth Avenue of Naples, Florida. I get coffee, set up my computer, and write for an hour before I have to be at work.

Usually it is a good place to work. I can tune out most people chatting around me, but I can’t tune out TV. They do have two TVs in The Brick, but they are tuned to news stations and muted. Except for last Wednesday. Someone had put one TV on low volume but had it turned to the local Fox station. Did you know Jerry Springer is still on TV? Still doing the same damn shtick that got him started nearly thirty years ago? Well he is and I found it very hard to focus with all the screaming and fist fights.

Other than this last week’s anomaly I find it very easy to slip into my story and write. I usually find it hard to stop and pack up at the end of the hour. But I do, and its off to work I go. I love Wednesday mornings because they bring me peace and joy. It is “me time” and I savor each minute.

Sanibel Island Writers Conference – The Authors

I was so lucky that I got the opportunity to attend the conference this year. I signed up to volunteer so I could attend for free, and that was the most amazing thing. It was four days packed with creative energy, great speakers and teachers, and a lot of really cool people.

nathan-hillOver the course of the four days I got three books signed and met some wonderful authors. Nathan Hill, who wrote The Nix, taught a workshop called “X-Ray Writing,” which was genius. He was also funny, and nice and very personable when I approached him to sign my book. He lives in Naples and used to teach at FGCU, but now he’s a full time writer. He says it took him ten years to write The Nix, but what a book! You really need to read it.

rob-wilderThe second book I had signed was Nickel by Robert Wilder.  He’s from Santa Fe and the poor guy spent most of Thursday sitting on the tarmac at various airports. When I picked him up at around 6:30 that evening he’d been awake for hours and hours and probably wanted nothing more than to get some sleep. But he was great to talk to and really funny. Plus he presented an amazing workshop on YA Crossover fiction. I hope he had a better trip home. His book, Nickel, is a novel so funny I snorted coffee out of my nose. It also was honest, and real, and a great read.

steve-almondFinally, my last book I got signed at practically the last minute on Sunday. Some of my Boston librarian friends first made me aware of Steve Almond. They dragged me to a reading of his once in Cambridge, and the guy was so funny and such a good writer I’ve bought everything he’s written since. Three years ago I bought his book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life but I didn’t get to track him down to sign it. Since he comes to SIWC every year I knew I could corner him this time, and I did. He’s so sweet and a genuinely nice person.

But those were the books I got signed. I also got to meet Liza Wieland, Stephen Elliott, Joyce Maynard, Lynne Barrett, Jeff Thomson, Jim Daniels, Gina Frangello, and Thomas Swick. Everyone I met was gracious, warm, and interested in having a conversation about writing and creativity. I wish I could bask in the conference’s glow for weeks instead of just four short days.

I’ll write some more soon about the classes I attended. They were all really great and I learned so much from them. I am anxious to finish my first draft so I can go back and start editing with some of these ideas in mind.



My Writing Process Part 2

I have been furiously writing my new novel. It’s historical YA fiction with a fantastical twist. And that’s all I’m going to tell you right now. But I do want to talk a little about how I write.

I told you about my basic writing process long ago here. In it I talked about my “cowbell list.” It is the list of things I need to tweak or change or amp up in subsequent drafts.  I usually put it on a dry erase board in my office. This summer in Nuremberg I bought a real cowbell which I have now hung in my office.

But the cowbell has become intertwined in my writing ritual in other ways. That ritual is what I want to share with you today. I don’t always write at home, but when I do, you can bet I am doing this:

I go into my office and light candles. I love the soft light from them and I usually don’t have any other lights on in the room, except my computer screen. I have a couple of stinky candles my husband hates, but I love.

The second thing I do after lighting those candles is to ring the cowbell. It seems a little silly, I know, and at first I felt silly doing it. But now I have grown to love that noise. It is a signal to the rest of the house not to disturb me because I am about to write. Every time my husband hears it he calls, “Oh boy!” from the other room.

Sometimes I close my office door. That’s if the cats are being their usual rambunctious selves and are chasing each other all over the house. It’s awful to have them tear into my space and interrupt the lovely peace I have created. The husband I don’t worry so much about. He wants me to write as much as I want to and generally leaves me alone unless he comes to ply me with beverages and snacks.

And then, I sit in my IKEA Poang chair, put my feet up, and plop my computer in my lap and write. This little ritual has been working well for me. It’s like I’ve opened a beautiful little portal from my creative self and it just comes pouring out. Usually.

driving-car-nightE.L Doctorow said that writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You have a destination in mind (most of the time) but you can only see as far as the end of your headlights. So you write to the end of your headlights and then drive a little further. I find this analogy extremely apt. I know where I am headed, but I can only write to a certain point to where I have to think again.

I don’t listen to music while I write. I can’t–it’s too distracting. But I do like to have a soundtrack for whatever I am working on. This time my husband, the classical music freak, collated a playlist for me. It’s very dark, atmospheric and moody: Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, the first movement from Schubert’s Symphony #8, Prayer of St. Gregory by Hovhaness, and others.

So when the time comes that I’ve gotten to the end of my headlights, I pull out that soundtrack, plug in my headphones, and think of the story while I listen. This is when I can really get mileage out of the music. It inspires me, it helps me to see further into the story. Then I can go back and write more.

That’s how it plays out: write, listen to my playlist, think, and then write again. It’s a pleasing little cycle that really works well for me.

However, please don’t think that everything has been easy in the writing of this novel. Parts of it have really flowed, yes, but there are parts where I get stuck. One portion of thirty pages I had to rewrite three times so I was going in the right direction. It was frustrating, but entirely necessary. I had to find the ways that didn’t work before I hit upon the one that did. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

I also sometimes tend to meander between big scenes. Like I got off the main road and took a few scenic routes on my way to the next big thing. I know when I go back to it in the second or third draft I may have to reroute myself, or trim the route so it more directly segues and flows better.

First drafts are a paradox of making the magic of telling a story along with the detritus of a brain dump. The second draft is all about winnowing out the chaff so you can find the real story inside of it, and the third and all following drafts is about tweaking and tightening so the story is smooth as a river pebble. I’ve heard some authors say they dread the second draft but I find it to be where the interesting work really begins.

I raise my glass to all you writers out there who are working on projects now. What is your process and how do you work best?