Monday, May 30, 2011

The Nesting Instinct: Or Why Writers Do What They Do

When I’m working on a novel, I become a nesting bird. I sit in one spot for a long, long time. Nothing but thirst and hunger will lure me away. When nice people invite me to lunch or a party, I politely decline.  I must disconnect from the Internet, too--this is downright painful because I truly love blogging. After a while, the hair grows in, but I can’t even go to the salon and get my eyebrows waxed. I’m sitting on my egg.
 I sit on my egg because I love the whole process and because I know what can happen if I flit away, even for a short time. In recent years, I've become even more determined not to abandon my nest because the publishing industry is unbelievably tough.

A writer must be everywhere (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and nowhere (the nest).  She eats a daily bread called Angst, topped with Doubt. True, she drinks sustaining nectar called I-Love-My-Job, but it only flows when the hen is focused. Otherwise, the results can be unpredictable.

I began writing seriously in 1981. My first novel, Crazy Ladies, was published in 1990—I sat on many eggs that didn’t hatch. I still do.

Over the years, people have asked, “Must you watch that egg? Can’t you leave it alone for two hours? A few days?”  

It sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Have some fun! All work and no play. Blah, blah, blah.But when you return, your egg might be a different egg--or gone.

The work suddenly becomes harder when another question arises. Someone you love and/or respect might say, “Do you think this egg is the best, most unique, gonna-change-the-world egg?”
No. This isn’t about hubris. It’s about keeping the egg alive and intact. It’s because you don’t have a choice. You are called by an unstoppable force. And if you leave the nest, you know the consequences.

Been there, done that. More blah, blah, blahs. At the very least, my egg might get damaged...
 or worse.

“It wasn’t a strong egg,” a serpent-voice whispers. “Don’t fret. It wasn’t meant to be. Another egg will come along.”
No, no, no. That’s not the point of nesting.

In general, people take a dim view of nesters. It doesn’t matter if the writer is struggling to sell her first novel or if she’s sold fifty—the nesting instinct is an ethereal concept. Hard to understand, even harder for non-writers to understand. To complicate the issue, not all writers nest.
An article in the June issue of RWA’s magazine, Romance Writers Report, discusses the challenges a scribbler faces at home. Author Shirley Jump examines how the ever-changing publishing industry is just one of many problems we must endure. Extended family might not understand; or sometimes they understand and become subversive. Friends may abandon your coop, leaving you alone with your silly egg.

 “Writing is an extremely difficult career path. Most people have no idea how hard it is to write something saleable.”
--Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author

Another writer friend often tells her naysayers to write a book--or just half of book. Then set it free. How does it feel?
It stops feeling ridiculous when it starts being you. 

If you don’t take your work seriously, how will anyone else respect it? Some people are blessed—bolstered by their nearest and dearest. For some, the words might hatch in abundance. No struggle. No defensive clucking.  The rest of us are in the hen house, guarding our wee egg, flapping our wings at intruders.

Shirley Jump interviewed many authors in her article; some asked for anonymity and others gave testimonials.  Author Lani  Diane Rich said, "If you're writing, you're writing because you're called to write, and that's a sacred thing."

I needed to hear those words; I've needed to hear them for a couple of decades. I want to thank Ms. Rich because our work is a mission, a passion, and a privilege. Why else would you sit on an egg that might not hatch? If it hatches, the chick might survive two weeks.  The proceeds won’t cover a bag of chicken scratch, yet the busy little hen is already gathering twigs and feathers for her new nest.

The rooster is crowing, “Where’s my daily worm? One of the nestless chickens scratches a message in the dirt—LMAO.
Go ahead, the little hen thinks. Laugh your arse off. But I’m laying another egg. As for the broken shells and lost dreams, well, nothing goes to waste.

Our hen settles onto her nest and sighs. She is a bird on a mission. A writer with a Calling.
And her egg-quest will continue.

From Wiki:
Verb: Continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no indication of success.


You can find RWA on Facebook at and
For workshops and free chats: Savvy Authors
Lori Wilde's blog (She's sponsoring a Kindle giveaway.)

Images courtesy of Fotolia, Dreamstime, and Dreamstime Free.

Three Writing Secrets

There are many writing rules. One rule is, "Never start a sentence with 'there.'" 
Okay, I just broke that rule.
But if you want to know my three inviolable rules, they're pretty simple.
And tough. 

Writers can learn from the ladybug. She’s no bigger than a polka-dot, but she keeps going even if the wind is blowing like crazy.

She's determined, disciplined, and focused.
She might not have lunch with the girls. She might poke around on her flower.
Because you never know when something wonderful might happen.

Writers can also learn from weeds.

A weed is persistent…

and it isn’t deterred by an inhospitable environment.

Nature shows us three writing secrets:  
  1. Determination.
  2. Discipline.
  3. Focus
To be sure, if you want to write a novel, it’s a good idea to learn storytelling skills (plot, character, dialogue, viewpoint, etc), but it’s even more critical to understand the foundation beneath the foundation. A novel’s structure holds a book together; but what holds the writer together? 
She needs roots, or she's gone baby, gone.

 Because sooner or later, the writer will hit a snag. This usually happens at the one-third mark in a novel--I call it the sticky, I’m-Starting-Over syndrome. It can happen to a poem, short story, painting, or a blog post. It strikes without warning, leaving you with I-Hate-This-itis. Your internal gardener will demand justice. "Yank it up!" 

Craft is like Queen Anne's Lace--resilient, upright, attractive. Roots give the plant a strong foundation. And you, the courageous ladybug, will keep going.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Writer's Journey

Writing a book is like navigating through a twisty maze.

Or climbing an endless stairway.

But at some point, the journey ends.
The writer finishes the book.
I finished the copy edits on Acquainted With the Night, and in about six months, I will hold the finished book in my hands.

I celebrated with a salad--and I was sorry to see the meal end.
I was sorry to be finished with the book, too. Part of my thoughts were still in the maze--maybe I should have turned another way? 
Maybe. Maybe not.

But I'm not alone, because my editor will know if this journey still needs tweaking.
Meanwhile, I will gather all the empty teacups around my desk ...

And rest.
Lawd, I'm tired, and the (lightning struck) house is a wreck.
(The television has been repaired, btw.)

I must rest because another journey is about to begin.
Teeny Templeton needs my help in her next adventure, A Teeny Bit of Trouble.

One journey's end ...
.. is another journey's beginning.

Images courtesy of Dreamstime and Fotolia. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Lightning Strikes

I'm in still in Deadline Mode, which means little sleep and too much coffee. Last night,I worked until 2 A.M. It was dark outside, but I finally saw a wedge of brightness in the manuscript. All I needed was one more day. A day without a household calamity or an earache.
The Yorkies and I went to bed, only to be awakened by whistling wind, slashing rain, and the crack of lightning. It was 4 A.M. The television still worked, and the storm map on Channel 5 showed a block of red over the mid-state.  Pushing in behind it was a bigger block of red.
Another boom shook the house, and our hard-wired smoke alarm began shrieking, along with the carbon monoxide detectors (including the one that was already chirping). My poor, little Yorkie, Mister, yelped and dove under the covers.
Mind you, our house was struck last month while I was on book tour, and lightning had scorched various household objects, including our HVAC system.
His Lordship managed to turn off the shrieking.
"I've solved the problem--again," His Lordship said in a snippy tone.
A while later, lightning set off another ear-piercing howl. His Lordshit (yes, I'm mad at him, but for another reason) fixed it again, but the old beep, the one I mentioned in a previous post, was joined by a louder, nerve-jangling second beep-beep. Then it sounded like a thousand crickets on steroids.
Bandwidth put on his Noise Police hat and discovered that yet another carbon monoxide detector had gotten deep-fried.
And so much more, too. I haven't begun to assess the electrical damage (but I just heard Bandwidth  say, "Oh,  no, not that, too!)
The noise pollution continued until noon.

When events like this happen, I go tharn like the rabbits in the novel Watership Down. My brain quivers like a Jim Morrison song, with leaping toads. Because I'm Southern, catfish are jumping in there, too.

A trusty knight (my electrician) smashed the dragon-like detectors on my behalf (actually, he repaired them). But all is not well in electrical land.
Now I'm listening to a soothing Puccini aria, but my heart is leaping against my ribs, waiting for another blast of high-pitched noise. Because outside, it's still lightning.
Like my mother always says, "What man breaks, man can fix."
She didn't have a comment about what happens when Mother Nature attacks.
If you are still reading, you might wonder why I wrote this discursive post.  Yeah, I'm a whiner. I break just like a little, pig-tailed girl. And I am still on Deadline (missed it). I should be looking for punctuation errors and murdered sentences, but I do have a small point.
I must move beyond the fear-of-future-noise and honor my deadline.
Writing is tough.
True, many things are tough. But if you work with words--in books or blogs--you probably know how noise affects you. (You might tolerate beeps but loathe something else.)
But this is a blog about writing, so I will share what best-selling author Nora Roberts said last year at RWA: 

"Writing is hard," she said. "It's supposed to be hard. The fact that it's hard is what makes it special, makes it worthwhile to keep going. Embrace the hard work."

When a writer experiences a visceral emotion, it's not always a bad thing. It's an opportunity to jot down the physical sensations. It's easy to forget them when the danger has vanished, easy to forget your quivering bottom lip, or the sticky-sheen of your clammy palms, or the bees zooming out the top of your head.

Writers use it.
My mother thinks this attitude is a trifle cool, which in Mama-speak translates to icy/ridiculous.
But she is a normal person, not a writer, and I respect her opinion.

So if you deal with words, if you are sound-sensitive, if you fear the household heebie jeebies, here's an idea.
The next time lightning strikes,
  and you want to dive under the covers with a Yorkie,
remember Nora's words and "ride the hard."
Because it's not all about the writing, is it? It's not about noise or fear of noise or interruptions and missed deadlines.
It's about coping.
It's about pulling yourself together as opposed to falling apart.
It's about inner grace. 
I must rise above an insignificant beep-beep. I must cast aside the notebook and feel a true visceral emotion for someone other than myself and the nervous Yorkie. And count blessings.
Lightning can be an illuminating streak in the dark, fodder for poets. It can also start fires and take lives.
Let's be really real, Piper. A beep is nothing.
Compassion for others, true compassion, breeds strength--because it is the luminous core of humanity.

all photos courtesy of Dreamstime except the rainbow, which is mine.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Imaginary Tablescapes for Writers

I'm in the middle of copyedits for my vampire thriller/romance, Acquainted With the Night, and I'm struggling to finish by Friday.
So I'm tablescaping in my head today.
Dark, dramatic cobalt china will set this faux table.

But it's spring, the season of pink-and-green. Let's change the dishes to white. What if I scattered rose petals on the imaginary tablecloth?

I love the idea of  "standing" the rolled napkins, and the tiny vases add whimsy at each place setting.

Black-and-white-and-and pink--classic for a dreamer's table, or a real one.

Sometimes I write so hard, I see dots churning before my eyes--let me grab a few, color them red, and bring them to the table.
Raspberries are a welcome touch.

Black-and-white is always classic. The black dinner plates (and the white salad plates) were bought at Big Lots. The b&w balls were bought at an antique mall.

I'm joining Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday. She reminded me to take time to play--and she was right. I love writing, but tablescaping is a pleasure, too, even though it is very hard work--hard as food blogging. I admire my friends who do this every day--arranging tables, cooking, photographing, editing the photos, writing words to go with them. I miss playtime and visiting. Someday!

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Images 1 -5 courtesy of Dreamstime; images 6-8 by Michael Lee West.