Course Corrections

This is one of those posts I started several times, erased, started over, thought about, thought about skipping, realized I was out of writing quotes I had not used yet, muttered bad words, etc. I ingested candy corn, which I have recently discovered I do not hate, learned the hard way that the maker of said candy corn does matter (live and learn, right?) checked on under-the-weather-family member, almost tripped over Skye, almost tripped over Skye, almost tripped over Skye (cat people, you know how that goes) and finally came to the conclusion that this is One of Those Days.

We all have them. In my case, day could have gone on Schedule A or Schedule B, but life happened, and we ended up going on Schedule C, which meant no schedule, because nobody had counted on Schedule C, and I Hate Days With No Schedule. Hate, hate, double hate. Seriously bothers me to the point of irritability. Can I get a ballpark figure on when anybody wants lunch at least? Desired menu items? Give me something, people? No, nothing? Oookay. This is why I have an office (which does not, contrary to popular belief translate to “storage area.” We’re working on that.)

I work on a daily to-do list, which makes time a lot easier to manage. Days like this require course correction. Grousing about how things are not going the way I wanted them to go only takes me so far. It does not get the current ms written or the completed one edited, nor does it write blog entries. If there is one writing related thing on my list that I can control today, it is getting this blog entry written and posted. Sometimes, life is going to get chaotic, and the only sane thing to do is to call a time out. For me, that means getting away from the chaos and retreating behind office door. One of these days, I am going to have to make a new Writing Cave sign. Even on days when I’m not able to get to the keyboard, I can write in my longhand notebooks, both all purpose and for each project. Staying in touch with the stories that way and the discipline of putting pen to paper helps a lot on days like this.

Creativity starts, for me, with showing up. Butt in chair, pen on paper, and, as a former writing group facilitator often said, the process begets the product. In short, get the pen on the paper, keep it moving, and content will come. I’ve found that almost always works. Sometimes, trusting ourselves as writers is scary business, hypercritical gremlins picking at our clothes and whispering in our ears how we’re not good enough, they’ll all know we’re only faking it, don’t quit the day job, other writers do it better, and, in fact, so well that there’s no need for us. They’re wrong, of course, but we still hear them, and it’s still a big nuisance.

The notebooks in today’s picture were all purchased or received with love, and begun with good intentions, whether attached to a particular project or as an all-purpose book. Each one of them has some to several pages, but not more than 25% (math is not my strong suit, so probably an even lower number than that) filled with…something. Either I realized I was going in the wrong direction, that book wasn’t as good a fit for its intended content as I thought it was at first glance, or I flat out wasn’t feeling it anymore. In any event, there they sat, stuffed out of the way so I wouldn’t be reminded of Yet Another Failure.

Until today. There I was, at my desk, casting about for something to photograph, and there was the tiny pink Moleskine, my attempt to satisfy my longing for its full size version (and to be a handy dandy reference for one of those back burner historicals.) This led to the spiral pink notebook (similar reason) and the red-violet with the silver heart (too cool on the inside, with blank and lined pages both) and the blue deconstructed Studio Oh! book that I started using as a catchall book for Her Last First Kiss, then set aside when I found the right one. The Papaya! Art “Fearless” (hah) book that I’d forced myself to write anything in, then abandoned because that felt forced and plain and downright disheartening…you see the pattern here. I did, too, and stared down this sampling of notebooks that didn’t  (not the only ones, by any chance) and had a revelation. They weren’t ruined forever.

Nope. What are we talking here, a few pages? I love all these books. They’re pretty. Why do they have to be abandoned because I made a mistake or two in the early pages? News flash: they don’t. It’s okay to rip or cut pages out, glue them shut, staple, tape or paper clip them together if I think I might want to refer to them in the future, and start all over, fresh and brand new. I’d be thrilled if I were to receive brand new copies of these as gifts, so why not give them to myself? I can start fresh and fill them with the sort of art and writing I do now. I like that idea.

If that can be true about the physical notebooks themselves, it can also be true of the stories that go inside them. Okay, my first try at Book X didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I walked away, or it did. Maybe we decided on a mutual break, but there are still some parts, a character, an idea, a relationship, a setting, whatever, that hasn’t gone away, no matter how deeply I tried to bury it. Why not take that bit and make it into something new? What would I be losing? Nothing. What do I have to gain? Books, my friends. Big, sprawling tales of love long ago, and happily ever afters for all.

Sometimes, course corrections can take us to where we were always meant to be.

Inside (and Outside) My All Purpose Notebook

Art is about honesty. It’s about an individual’s expression of her own, unique vision. You don’t tell another adult what she sees. She stands at a different vantage point from you.

–Judith Ivory

First hot tea of the season at my favorite coffee house, all purpose notebook in my computer tote is going to need reinforcing with packing tape (which will then need distressing, because packing tape, while sheer, is also crazy shiny, and I  may give myself eyestrain merely looking at the taped cover. Using this notebook has taught me two important things: One) I love the smooth, unlined paper in PaPaYa! (the exclamation point is part of the name) notebooks, and, Two) cahier style notebooks are not made for sticking in computer totes if one does not want serious wear on the covers of said notebooks.

For those who are new to Typing With Wet Nails, notebooks, for me, are Serious Business. When I find one I like, I hold onto it, get others of its kind, and, as soon as humanly possible (unless there is a natural waiting period, as there sometimes is) figure out exactly what I want to use that particular book for, what sorts of inks, in what colors, go with it, and if it’s going to be in my purse, tote, next to my chair, bedside table, etc.  It’s both an art and a science. I have gone so far as to seal a notebook in a Ziplock baggie full of baking soda for a week in order to save the book from permanent damage from what we shall call pet odor. So, really, there are not a lot of things I won’t do to preserve a notebook. As with this one.

cover scuffage

cover scuffage

Keeping an all purpose notebook, for me, is essential. While I have several notebooks, each dedicated to a particular project, the all purpose book is the workhorse of the bunch, travelling with me every day from house to Laundromat to coffee house, on the road, etc. I like the cahier style for portability -slim, light, I can bend the cover backward an flex it in my hand when I need to fidget. The gorgeous PaPaYa! art makes me drool, so this was a natural choice. I wasn’t sure, at first, that I was going to like the unlined pages, but they do elicit a different way of writing than lined or gridded pages, and I have come to accept that they have their place in my repertory company of notebooks.

The binder clip is a must. Notebooks coming open in purse or tote drive me bonkers. They have to be closed-closed, and stay that way until I open them. Binder clips work for either cahier style or spiral bound notebooks. The hardcover books I favor tend to have a built in elastic band and stay closed that way. As does the softcover Moleskine I have in reserve, a lovely teally turquoise number with very faintly dot-gridded pages. I haven’t tried that one yet, as it’s not yet that book’s time, but it will come when it comes.

Notes from CRRWA meeting with guest speaker Karen Rock

Notes from CRRWA meeting with guest speaker Karen Rock

Binder clips are also excellent for holding said cahiers open when I need to refer to a two page spread at once. Pages above are from Saturday’s CRRWA meeting, with guest speaker, Karen Rock, whose fabulous presentation on maintaining quality under deadlines is definitely pertinent to my interests. I picked up the tip about drawing a frame around an unlined page to make it less intimidating, which dramatically changed the way I use unlined pages. This also works on gridded pages. I haven’t tried it on dot gridded pages yet, but that will happen soon. The frequent changes of ink colors is a newer practice, but keeps my magpie brain happy. I used to change colors with only each session of writing in a particular notebook (unless it is a one pen only notebook – we will look at those later) but, recently, I’ve started changing colors with each topic which my brain has apparently taken as a signal to go faster.


Sticky notes are a must, in any notebook, and yes, they do need to be color coordinated. Artist’s kid here. Color palettes are important. If the colors don’t agree, I feel restless. For a long time, I thought this was being picky, but it’s part of the way I work. If the colors work together, my brain is at peace and I can concentrate. The all purpose pen I have with this notebook is a promo pen, picked up at a conference. It’s clicky, which is good, but it’s also white. White goes with my laptop keys, and the cord from my headphones for the laptop, but I recently rescued a pink promotional pen from an already filled spiral bound notebook, and that needs to be moved over, because pink pen goes with pink laptop, which goes with pinky purply cahier with pinky purply sticky notes inside it. Putting sticky notes directly in the notebook, permanently on a page so that I can get them directly there and not have to fish around in my purse or tote for same, is another game changer. Choosing what stickies go with what notebook helps me bond with the book, as well as makes it easier to employ said notes. I employ a lot of them.

One of the things I like best about having an all purpose notebook is the freedom to jump in and muck around, do whatever feels natural at the time, whether it’s drawing frames on the page, or switching inks, figuring out where the sticky notes go, how the paper feels, how it performs under heavy or light use, etc. I’m at a place where, rather than trying to chase down a method that works for me, I’m going to do what I do, and, when I’m done, figure out how I did it. The fact that it means I get to play around with pretty paper onto which I throw my brain droppings is a plus.

Flipping the Switch

Some days, the writing comes easy. Other days, it’s not. Then there are the days where getting to the writing place is a bigger challenge than making the story happen. This may be one of those days. It’s been one of those weekends. Possibly weeks. Hard to tell, sometimes. Things like this are going to happen to every writer, at one time or another. If it hasn’t happened yet, wait.

Real Life Romance Hero is back home, and we’re settling into the post-hospital, get-back-on-feet phase. Funny thing about that phase, it’s rarely the same twice, and yet it’s consistent. Caregiving is a different mindset from writing historical romance, though both are fueled by love.

On the caregiving front, there are medications to dispense, things to watch for, ways to help the loved one get back in their game. Some are physical, some are emotional. A lot of them take a lot of energy out of the caregiver, even when it’s given gladly. In most cases, things are more orderly in story world, the characters (usually) exactly where the writer has left them, and if they move, most times they will leave a forwarding address. Funny thing about the times when writing has to go on the back burner; sometimes, story problems work themselves out while the writer is tending to other things. Sometimes this has something to do with those other things, and sometimes, all the story needed was some time and space to do its own thing.

By now, I’ve found there is a pattern, at least for me, to switch between the two modes. No big surprise, it involves stationery.

My park boyfriend?  (considering that he swam away, probably not :P)

My park boyfriend?
(considering that he swam away, probably not)

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was from K.A. Mitchell:

  1. Change your seat.
  2. Open the file.

Okay, that’s two, but they go together. This morning, after not enough sleep and too much stress, the fact remained that it was still Monday, and nobody else is going to write my stories, blog entries, etc. So. This means writing must happen, even if brain wants to crawl under the covers and pretend it is eight years old. That’s where the sage advice comes into play. I filled my purple cup with ice and water, loaded my hobo bag with notebook, pen pouch and camera and headed for the park. No idea what I was going to do when I got there, but:

  1. Change your seat.
*not* the view from my recliner

*not* the view from my recliner

It’s been said that time + distance = perspective, and I do find that to be true. In this case, a walk around the lake (lack of mallard boyfriend notwithstanding) puts me in a different head space than the same four walls I see every day. I also noticed that I saw only the male ducks, which lets me know the gals may very well be tending their nests, which means bebeh duckage in the not too distant future. That alone is a mood booster, and the physical act of walking around the lake and peeping at blooming things does get the mind in a different frame.

boys, boys, boys

boys, boys, boys

Which is the right place to be for:

2. Open the file.

In this case, the notebook. I’ve learned that, for me, when I’m staring at a blinking cursor, or don’t know what file to open first, the answer lies in good old pen and paper. Big notebook is by Papaya Art, small notebook is Moleskine. There’s something special in touching the smooth paper (will probably do another post on the Papaya Art books later) and deciding which color gets to come out and play when I freewrite.

i1035 FW1.1

Part of the freewriting is making lists. What projects do I need to work on this week? Which ones are time-sensitive/have a deadline? Which do I feel most capable to take on in my present state? Which ones need some time and distance? What specific tasks do I need to complete to make progress on said projects?

Breaking it down that way is a lot more manageable than looking at the big looming wall of Things To Be Done. I’m intuitive, but like order, so sometimes, it’s asking myself which task feels like it wants to be done first. Things usually look like this:

  • make bullet point outline for scene X in Project A
  • blorch (aka babble on paper) for scene Y in Project B
  • visit sites C, D and E to research Project F
  • respond to latest email from Collaborator on Joint Project

Maybe research is what I can do at the moment, or maybe I want to dive into the wilds of a blorch, where it’s gloves off and anything goes, where getting it all down as fast and true and messy as possible is what’s needed. Putting things down in pen and ink can be like putting a cage around the Tasmanian Devil whirling at will through my brain space. Contained, he’ll tire himself out, settle down, and we can have some fun together. Thing by thing, what do I need to make each thing happen?

Not that different, after all, from caregiving. Maybe some of this is taking care of those voices who live in my head. Maybe not, but what I do know is that it’s a pretty reliable way to flip the switch that opens the door to story world, and I’m glad it’s there.

Writer friends, how do you flip your switches?