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Tetris vs. Jigsaw Puzzle

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My writing “process” has so differed from project to project, I can’t even relate to the die-hard pantser/plotter discussions anymore.  And really—when it comes down to it, a pantser is simply someone who plots in detailed prose, and a plotter is simply someone whose pantsing happens in a streamlined outline.

The writing process for Breath of Stone is, again, very different.  Tearing apart two novels, ripping out an entire plotline and set of characters, cramming everything that’s left back together into one volume, and making it all flow as if I’d always envisioned it that way…  And wow, holy shit, this is hard.

Outside of a couple chapter-here-and-there cases, I write my novels straight through.  Start to finish, I move between viewpoint characters, shift settings, and push forward the plot.  Everything is pointed toward That Scene – the one event/confrontation/exchange, usually near the end, that is the entire reason I’m writing the novel.*

But this time… I’m writing out of order.  Yes, yes, I know many writers do this as a matter of course.  I don’t.  So the fact I’m writing Breath of Stone one viewpoint at a time, start to finish, is a bizarre experience.  At first, I spent far too much time crosschecking while I wrote to make certain each chapter would fall into its perfect place, as if they were Tetris pieces falling from the sky faster and faster and faster…  It didn’t work for long.  Not even my Magic Index Cards could save me.

So now I’m writing chapters according to viewpoint as if I’m sorting puzzle pieces by color before attempting to assemble it.  No, wait, that’s not quite right.  It’s more like… carving brand news puzzle pieces to match the picture on the box, and I won’t know exactly how to make the pieces fit perfectly until…  well, until I try to make the pieces fit together.  Then it’ll be all about shaving an edge here, sharpening a corner there, and making sure I didn’t create a snore-fest sea of blue-sky pieces in the process.

And it should all fit within the single novel.

Aaaaaand that’s a goal.  Not a promise.  Hee.

And if you’d like to be among the first to know when advance copies will be available for review, sign up here!

Old Dog, Escape Tricks

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It was February of this year when Ty the Wonderdog began having problems with his back legs and hips.  It's been up and down over the months since.  He has good days, when he wants to do a few minutes of play-fighting or take a short walk, and he has bad days, when he has trouble doing much more than lying around.

Now...  now we think his mind might not be all that sharp.

It's little things, really. He will go wander around the house sometimes. Yesterday he walked around the dining table twice, then just stood on its farthest side and stared at the chair until I called his name. At night, our normally snooze-happy pup prowls from the living room to my room and back again. Sometimes he just circles around the kitchen two or three times before deciding to find us again.

The other thing that's happening is both scary and funny at the same time.

Since moving here some years ago, we've successfully used electronic collars to keep our pups from leaving the yard. Ty has always tested the boundaries, and has on occasion traipsed past them for a few moments -- putting up with the mild electric shock to get what he wanted. But three times in the last week, he has wandered off completely.

Our dogs are primarily inside dogs. When we're home, they're free to go outside or come inside at will, and we've established ways to communicate their wishes. In most weather, they'll stay outside for quite awhile until "asking" to come back inside. Our first indication that something was wrong was when Gambit asked to come inside, and Ty was nowhere to be found.

The first time, when I found him sniffing my neighbor's front porch, I assumed the battery in his collar had died and changed it. The second time, when I found him exploring a nearby gully, I assumed the system needed to be checked and reset. I wandered our property perimeter with the collar pressed to the palm of my hand in order to ensure it worked at the borders we'd set. I found no problems or gaps.

I thought all was well. But today, after a mere few minutes, Gambit was jumping at the backdoor to come inside. Ty was gone. I threw on my shoes and coat and started looking and calling and whistling. Eventually I spotted him wandering in the field between my neighbor's home and the river. Mind you, he wasn't wandering very quickly, but he'd managed to go about a quarter mile.

When I called for him, he twitched his ears but kept heading toward the river. When I started jogging after him, he starting trotting as if he wanted to outrun me. And when I finally got close enough to take hold of his collar, he snorted at me but came along quietly. The entire time, his massive kangaroo tale never stopped wagging. And when we finally walked into the house, he headed for his water bowl first, then flopped down on his living room rug as if nothing had happened.

Honestly, what it reminded me of was the year or two between the onsite of my grandfather's dementia and the decline into anger and violence, the year or two when the stories about him were sad and funny rather than sad and painful. There I was, under doctor's orders not to jog or run, trying to hustle after my dog who can't really job or run but who is determined to outdistance me for kicks and giggles. We must have looked ridiculous.

I wonder if Ty is thinking he's still out on the farm, with more than a hundred riverfront acres to wander at will. I wonder if he's simply trying to regain that freedom. I wonder if I'm trying to impose some sense of logic on the actions of a pup who is obviously and unstoppably aging.

And at the same time, I have to smile. Ty has always been the sweetest of dogs, and also the most determined of dogs. He's a Lab who'd gladly swipe a roast from the counter, and take the scolding with a tail-wag because it was SO worth it. I can't help but wonder if his internal monologue is something like, "Piss off, Nice Human!" with a tail-wag. "I'm going to the river and you can't stop me! Neener-neener, catch me if you can! Woo-hoo!"




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Ah, Much Better

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Since I'm behind on absolutely everything, I did what any good independent author would do: spent a couple hours updating a cover.

Serpent Heart has a new look:


Take A Peek!Collapse )

With holiday sales coming up, followed by StoryBundle (more on that soonly!), followed by the anticipated release of Breath of Stone, I wanted Serpent Heart to share some of the same visual elements as the rest.

In coordination with Sand of Bone’s appearance at NetGalley, I’m offering review copies of Serpent Heart as well.  Drop me a quick line via my contact page if you’d like to receive one!

Linky Goodness

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Someday I'll get to posting about the weird (for my) process of writing Breath of Stone.  In the meantime, here are some links I simply can't keep to myself:

I Am an Indie Midlister (and That's Okay) From haikujaguar comes a great post on her experience as an indie author, her sales numbers, and the perceptions of success in today's direct-to-reader  publishing world.

Via The Passive Voice, link to and discussion of The Bookseller's First Independent Author Preview.  As I mentioned in the comments there, it's still important for industry-to-industry discussions of indie-published works to be compared positively to trade-published works.  Many in the industry have little experience, exposure, or knowledge of what is happening outside their boundaries.  They don't know or understand how readers are connecting with independent writers.  They aren't at the forefront of the change.  They still need to be told where to look.

(Aside: Also, as a middle-aged woman, I have extensive experience with such comments.  After all, I grew up hearing, "That's really good, for a girl!" and being told that should be taken as a great compliment.  The trade-publishing folks who using "Well done, for self-publishing!" also think they are being progressive and complimentary.  It'll pass.)

Speaking of gender perceptions, Women You Should Know delivers a fabulous interview with the woman who, as a child, was featured in the 1981 LEGO ad with such a positive message about creativity in childhood that had nothing to do with gender.  Rachel Giordano speaks well to the issue of today's gendered toys, and how easy it is for those toy-imposed messages to affect choices of life and career.

Lastly, and back to the writing front, I offer you the blog post What Agents, Editors, and Art Directors Look For Online.  Alack and alas, I discover upon reading it that I would be a terrible prospect for an agent or editor.  I've written things that might be divisive!  I've discussed the publication process!  I've told people when my books are on sale!  I share some things from my personal life!  If you really want to delve into it, there is one anonymous response that goes into great detail about what the person wants to find and avoid in someone's social media presence.  And, to add a dash of humor, there is a survey respondent who doesn't really want to be reminded that writers might research their online presence as well because they "don't like the feeling."

A New Grown-Up In the House

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I wanted to post this the other day, but LJ had other plans, it seems...

Denver was spectacular.
Sure, there were annoying family-type things to deal with (primarily because, while I share basic beliefs about parenting with my sister and my own parents, our methods are wildly different), but the worst arguments crested and dissapaited quickly. We are the, "Oh, fuck it, who wants pie?" family in many ways.


But Denver! Whoo! I really enjoyed the downtown area—an important thing, considering how deeply I've fallen in love with Indy's downtown—and paid a repeat visit to Ali Baba's Grill. They have the second-best lamb kabobs I've ever had.* Their staff is smart and welcoming. I could eat there again and again and again...


The odd thing is... I fell in love with the prairie.


Really, that isn't odd. It's downright bizarre. All my life I've longed to live in the mountains and spent tons of time hiking mountains. Now when I have the chance to really live in the mountains, I find myself drawn to the land east of Denver, where you can see damned near forever. I could concoct some reasonable-sounding motivation for it—after all, my love of mountains does not extend to a love of winter driving in mountains, especially in areas that require tire chains—but the truth is my mother and I drove east to look at some property and the open expanse took my breath away.



But the most important thing is I left Indiana with a child and came home with an adult.


It didn't hit me until the day after Dev's eighteenth birthday. My folks live on Buckley Air Force Base outside Denver (and man, if I could live on base I would in a heartbeat!). Going on base requires guests be escorted by someone with a military ID at all times, but after 9pm, it also requires any guests to have their own base-issued pass that involves a brief background check for criminal history and the like. Since Dev and I wanted to take in a movie without fearing the 9pm cutoff, we applied for a three-day pass.


I got my pass, then stepped aside so Dev could get his pass. For the first time, Dev had an official document processed without needing a parent or guardian. There was no need for me to give permission, sign a paper, answer a question—nothing. And, yes, that's when I got a little teary-eyed.


We did go off to the Movie Tavern, a theater where every seat is a recliner with a personal table, the menu includes everything from standard popcorn and soda to mango habanero chicken tacos and Long Island iced tea, and the food and drink are brought to you at the press of a button. We saw Big Hero 6, which we both deemed wonderful (and you MUST stay through the credits).


But the best part was the Disney short that came before the movie. Feast, the story of one dog's experience of his human's love life through the sharing of food, had me and my eighteen-year-old son in tears within a couple minutes. I wish I could show you the whole thing right now.


"He's like Gambit!" Dev said, sniffling and smiling at the same time. "You have to make kibble special!" (And that makes perfect sense once you know Gambit, our rescue dog, will wait patiently by a full food bowl until something—anything!—is drizzled atop his food. Dev and I call this "making it special." When I went camping and forgot to bring most of my food, Gambit knocked his bowl over in the dirt because it was just plain pup food. The next day, when I sprinkled a tablespoon or two of coffee on his food to "make it special," he gobbled up the whole bowl.)


Our weeping might have been worse because we hadn't seen our dear pups in days and days. And mine might have been even worse because I kept thinking of my newly-adult son on his own, with his dog, and finding the love of his life.


Coming home this time wasn't as depression-inducing as last year, perhaps because we didn't come back to iced-over roads and painfully cold temperatures. Or, perhaps, because eventually joining our greater family seems finally to be within reach. Or perhaps, as Devin said, because we didn't attend a funeral for a close friend or family member this year. Whatever the reason, coming home felt better than last year, and we'll take that as a win.


And my son... Wow. A legal adult. How the hell did that happen so quickly?


Here's what I wrote on his birthday:

My son is eighteen today. He is compassionate. Strong. Intelligent. Gentle. Driven to see both mercy and justice. Amazing.


My son is eighteen today. He will sneak up on the world, step by quiet step, and join with others to see positive change come to pass.


My son is eighteen today. He and his peers will create a world we old folks will hardly recognize, and it will be good.


My son is eighteen today. Every day he spends with my changes my life. His gaze is set on tomorrow. I can't wait to see where he goes next.


*The best? Sameem in Saint Louis. When I again drive cross-country, I will plan it so I must stop in Saint Louis for the sole purpose of dining at Sameem again. No, I'm not joking. To say the Denver restaurant is second to them is no slight at all.

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Via a Twitter link, I came upon Infodump, Mary Sue, and Other Words That Authors Are Sick of Hearing. I'm a little bit in love with it, truly. Don't even attempt the comments unless you want to watch a rehash of the years-long debate of what Mary Sue actually means, and what every single commenter means when they use it. Trust me: if you weren't sick of hearing Mary Sue before reading the comments, you will be after. It's rather interesting, though, that of all the terms in the article, it's the Mary Sue that got most folks all a-chatter.

A brief Twitter conversation came up between some writers, including the comment that new writers are told not to use the omniscient viewpoint because editors don't want to see it. I do wonder how many lovely books have been lost over the years because of that.

If you haven't already, head over to Maggie's journal for The Uncomfortable Trail-Blazer. (There you'll also find a link to the interview she did with Publishers Weekly, which is, y'know, pretty darn cool.) Pay close attention to the section on the publishing reality of 100 good books for only 45 publishing slots: "At the end of the day, there were 1000 books worth publishing, and 45 got through the door. And there was nothing the remaining 955 authors could have done to better their chances. "Write a better book" is false advice, because many better books still failed. "Write a more marketable book" is better advice, but it requires you to understand the market, be willing to write to it, and get it to someone before the trends change... and the book still might fail"

That cannot be said enough, and writers deserve to know it, understand it, and plan their careers accordingly.

Lastly, Publishers Weekly presented The Rise of the Seven-Figure Advance. Ostensibly, the article is about a seeming increase in mega-advances being given out, particularly to writers who have no BookScan records. But it's really quite a peek into how the industry is evolving, and it's the first time I've seen mention of certain predictions come to pass. As reasons for high advances, anonymous insiders say the "pool of talent is shrinking" because there are now fewer submissions, and publishers are having to prove themselves because of the success being found in self-publishing.

Really, truly, go read the whole thing because that little article just quietly confirmed publishers and agents are now caught up with the backlog of slush enough to realize the number of manuscripts that aren't there anymore.

Looking In Different Directions

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Is it a sign of aging that everything that happens in the present triggers memories of the past?

We held our last Black Belt Test of the year yesterday. It was a pretty clean test, and all 40-odd candidates passed. One adult man testing for Sandan (third degree) broke a finger during multiple attacker self-defense, alas, but taped it and iced it and finished the test anyway.

One of my adult students tested, and did a fabulous job all around. He started training with me over three years ago, around the same time he'd started college with little firm idea of what he wanted to do. Now, in the fall, he'll be heading off to law school. Double win!

Another candidate, a fifteen-year-old girl, started classes with me shortly after she'd turned four. She was hyperbolically girlie, complete with concerns for her mussed-up hair and the possibility of icky dirt on her bare feet. When upset about something, she'd press the back of her hand to her forehead and sigh. Her family moved when she was eight, and just returned to the area last year, when she resumed training. Now she's taller than I am--so tall, in fact, she did her self-defense against the adult men.

She. Rocked.

And as I watched her, I kept seeing that little red-haired girl who once curled up the mat to sob the first time she tried sparring, who squealed with joy and jumped up and down when she earned her first belt stripe, who used to hug me around my waist at the end of every class.

She went to karate camp last summer--a sort of junior-counselor-in-training--and met up with Dev. It took them three days to connect the dots and remember they used to play with Pokémon cards together. Now they're best buds again, and even spent half of GenCon hanging out with each other. Our families celebrated over dinner together after the test.

Then there's the young junior black belt, on the verge of getting his driver's license, who started classes with me when he was six. The nine-year-old boy who was a newborn when I first started training his mother. The two women who began training with me seven years ago who are now Nidan (second-degree) getting ready for Sandan next year. They've just started a women's-only class of their own at another dojo in our system, modeled after the one I'm running at my dojo.

By rank, I sit just a tad above the middle of our review board. To my right are people I've known and trained with for over a dozen years. To my left are people I've had a hand in training, some for a decade. And now in the junior ranks are the children of those higher-ranking folks on my right, two of whom were not even born when I started karate, and other almost-adults I've watched grow up.

Just... wow.

And on a humorous note...
Since my Sandan test was delayed last year due to the dislocated elbow problem (and is now delayed indefinitely because of the hip problem), I'd shared at the time with one of my test-mates that I'd always wanted to try something... different... during multiple-attacker self-defense. Just to see what the reaction would be. And I told him my idea.

He thought it was a marvelous one. I told him to go for it.

So when he came up to the line for his own test yesterday and gave me a nod, I knew what was coming. Five men lined up to attack him. He put up his fists. Shihan shouted out the order to begin. The moment the five men charged, my friend yelled, "Stop! Back off! Leave me alone!" The attackers hesitated in confusion, and my friend smacked them all before they figured out what was going on. My friend took a bow to laughter and applause.

For some reason, no one was surprised I was the one responsible for the idea. Your voice is a powerful weapon, I always say. :)

Crockpot Love

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Have I mentioned I love my crockpot? :)

Truly, the crockpot is a beautiful thing for someone like me: a single working mom who'd rather spend the hours away from outside-the-home work homeschooling her kid and writing her books.

It's also a beautiful thing for the person I'll be one the kid has finished school: a single working woman who likes good food, but would rather not cook a "special" meal for one (or maybe two) every night.

This week's crockpot happiness was a concoction of chicken, broccoli, potatoes and cheese. Mmmmm....

Ingredients:

2, 3, or 4 chicken breasts, depending on how much chicken you want in the final product. I chopped the chicken into big chunks because I like that better than shredded chicken in most dishes. If you like shredded chicken, just put the whole breasts in and shred them before serving.
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 cups of broccoli, chopped. You can use fresh or frozen. Fresh will give you firmer broccoli in the end.
2 to 3 cups of potatoes, peeled and chopped. If you're looking to reduce carbs, just leave these out. Add another cup or so of cauliflower and/or broccoli instead.
1 can cream of something soup. Celery, broccoli, mushroom, chicken, potato, whatever.
1/2 to 1 tsp paprika, if you like that flavor
OR
1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg, if you like that flavor
1 to 2 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 - 8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded

(I usually dump in some thyme or parsley or marjoram in uncertain quantities.)

Dump the chicken, onion, broccoli, and potatoes in the crockpot. In a bowl, mix everything else EXCEPT THE CHEESE with the cream of something soup. Add maybe half a cup of chicken broth (or water in a pinch) to make it smooth and pourable. Pour it over all the stuff in the crockpot. Cook on low for about 6 to 7 hours. Add the cheese about 20 minutes before serving.

Usually I'd put this over spaetzle, but I was out so we had it over rice. That was all right, but I prefer the noodles.

But I will say it's wonderfully warm and hearty on these cold nights...

Well, This Is Awkward

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For the third time in less than a year, I've seen someone who attended Viable Paradise mention feeling uncomfortable discussing self-publishing with most Viable Paradise folks.  One writer was hesitant to even mention the fact her work is up for an award because it's self-published. Another mentioned being careful not to discuss self-publishing plans at all at the workshop based on a couple of overheard comments.

My own VP experience came when self-publishing was still new enough that it wasn't much of a conversation topic. The comments directed toward self-publishing were fewer than a handful, and easily brushed off as an "early days" sort of thing. The landscape has changed much in the last three years.

So I'm curious about this. I'm not in need of campaign to make it different, but I certainly would want to add a disclaimer to my annual Viable Paradise posts if self-publishers would leave the workshop feeling like they couldn't be honest with their classmates and instructors.

If Viable Paradise wants to maintain a more exclusive focus on trade publishing, there is nothing wrong with that. I simply would want to make a note of it when recommending it to others so those choosing to solely self-publish don't end up having to choose between feeling awkward or keeping quiet.

Please understand I'm not looking for a list of VP folks who self-publish as "proof" of self-publishing support. I'm interested in what happens at, and is discussed at, the actual workshop. Honestly, I've read enough off-hand comments on various platforms to believe folks who self-publish would think twice before applying and attending. (And I'd guess those making the comments would wonder what all the fuss is about...)

If you don't feel comfortable answering here, feel free to send me a direct message.

Again, I'm not looking to start an argument. Just honest assessments so I can steer folks in the right direction.

The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

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Back at this post, we talked about throwing away the Wet Blanket—turning off the part of your prefrontal cortex that inhibits creativity—in order to use new writing skills and be creative at the same time.

It’s easy to say.  There are writers who have, it would seem, a natural ability to bypass the Wet Blanket or perhaps have no Wet Blanket at all.  Hearing their advice—”Just do it!”—can be so frustrating because the fact you can’t just do it makes you feel like a failure or an imposter.  It’s even worse when the advice is coupled with judgment about a writer’s worth that’s based on this single measure.

But know this, my darlings: Very few writers can “just do it,” and natural ability is no indication of future success.  The fact your creativity doesn’t perform on command is normal.  Tapping your creativity can be learned.  But it is also, unquestionably, difficult at times.  And the most difficult time is when you’re actively working to improve your skills.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania found free and creative thinking could be enhanced by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex with a mild electrical current.  Shocking your brain sounds a tad extreme for home use—not the sort of DIY project I’d recommend—so let’s see what else we can do, hmm?

We writers love our accumulating wordcounts.  Numbers are a way to prove—to ourselves, if no one else—that we’re actually doing something, moving forward, making progress.

But we get so focused on forward progress that deleting words feels like failure, and words written for anything but a story we expect to edit and market feel like a waste of time.  We talk about it as spinning our wheels, being stuck in one place, or even (dun-dun-DUUUUN!) writer’s block.  Among writers who have seen a little success—moderate sales on the first self-published novel or a publishing contract for the first novel—the pressure to amass only words that can be strung into a story drives that counterproductive feeling.*

I invite you to see deletion of words and writing non-salable words instead as an investment because practicing the New Thing is the only way to transform it into a Known Thing, and the primary way for a writer to practice is to write.

As an actor, I usually spent more hours rehearsing than performing  Musicians, artists, athletes, crafters, chefs—all of them expect to invest time and effort, expect to do it wrong before doing it right, expect to spend time practicing even when the practice produces nothing useable or salable at the end.  They all know rehearsals are required, not wasted, time.

Gill McGrath mentioned this in comments at Blair MacGregor Books:  “When I get stuck I start writing in what I call list form, sort of whole thoughts in small readable segments (meaning I am not worried about structure or full stops or actually what I am writing about or if I will ever read it again).”

That’s excellent!  It’s a perfect way to lull the Wet Blanket into thinking it isn’t needed, opening the door to your deeper creativity.  In theater, my favorite director would have actors who seemed unable to truly engage in the scene stop saying their lines and improvise, driven by the scene’s emotion, instead.  I suspect that method hit the same cues Gill is speaking of, and I plan on trying Gill’s “list form” when the Wet Blanket strikes again.

Another method that works for me is often a combination of writing prompts and pressure, which happens to be a method used at many writing workshops.  At the end of the Writers of the Future week-long workshop, we writers were to take a single prop, a quickly-researched topic, and a person we met on the street in front of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater and craft them all into a complete short story in twenty-four hours.

I was terrified.  After all, my head was full of incredible new writing stuff taught by KD Wentworth and Tim Powers—all sorts of ideas and rules and advice and guidelines that left me feeling I hadn’t known a damned thing about storytelling before showing up.  And I didn’t at all consider myself a short story writer.  But the ticking clock (and likely the resulting exhaustion), combined with prompts I didn’t have to think up on my own, tossed the Wet Blanket aside.  With very little editing, that 24-hour story has become one of my most-read short pieces (and, for some reason, extremely popular at Barnes and Noble).

But what about things we write and throw out?  Well, I wrote four or five complete novels’ worth of practice words, as well as a dozen partial novels, before Sword and Chant.  While there are some ideas in that pile I intend to mine for other pieces, the actual storytelling is beyond saving.  And those were all words well spent.  Time well invested.

But there is another way to practice that doesn’t involve actual writing, one that was brought up by Green_Knight in comments over on LiveJournal.  “…the fallow period while my brain churns on New Thing is a necessary part of the learning process and the sooner I delve into it, the sooner I come out.”

That is indeed so important.  That “fallow period” is a type of rehearsal, indeed part of the learning process that pulls New Thing deeper into the mind to become part of creativity rather than a set of rules to follow.  It’s like the athlete who envisions the perfect throw, the speaker who envisions the audience and venue before stepping onto the stage, the architect who envisions the impact of different angles on the fall of light within a new building.  Imagining how to apply New Thing is practice time as valuable as attempting to apply New Thing.

And many might hear “fallow” and hear “unused.”  In truth, leaving a field fallow is the choice to cease wringing the last bit of productivity from the land and instead allow it to regain its natural fertility.  Fallow fields are not left bare.  They are instead covered with plants–either intentionally planted or naturally seeded–that enrich the soil for future crops.

So all those words you write and discard, all the stories you start and stop, all the writing rambles and morning pages and journaling and stream-of-consciousness words you get on the page, all the time spent seemingly doing nothing but thinking—all of them are ways of practicing.  All of them help get rid of the Wet Blanket.

Lastly, I want to mention the importance of retreats.  It can be a specific writer’s retreat, like Rainforest, or a workshop-driven retreat like Viable Paradise, or a lone excursion like my days camping beside a lake.  If you’re generally like me (a human with responsibilities) or perhaps specifically like me (the widowed parent of a teenager, self-employed, solely responsible for all finances, concerned for aging parents, working to complete numerous writing and teaching projects), the Wet Blanket of your prefrontal cortex will fight tooth and claw to maintain control because it might be needed at a heartbeat’s notice.

In those cases, retreating lets the Wet Blanket relax.  Sometimes the relaxation comes quickly.  A few minutes into my drive to the campground, my mind had already released the responsibilities of home and turned to solving the problems in my novel.  While camping, I let myself take my time, work or walk or sleep or eat or stare at the landscape when the fancy struck me.  Forty-eight hours of bliss.

Sometimes, though, it takes days.  When I attended Viable Paradise, I think it was Wednesday before I fully relaxed, and even that was with the help of gimlets and whiskey.  I’d been wound so tightly for the months leading up to that week, getting my Wet Blanket to go away was actually a painful process, but so worth it.

If you’re a writer without the options to get away, as I was for many years, the notion of a retreat sounds like a distant dream.  But this is when rituals come into play, truly.  Your time might be limited to an hour between the time the kids go to sleep and the moment you are too tired to continue, or a lunch hour hunched over a notebook in your cubicle at work, or twenty-minute sprints dependent on naptime.

If this is your situation, (been there, done that, got the stained and tattered t-shirt!) you can develop a ritual to set your Wet Blanket aside.  A cup of coffee or tea.  Re-typing the last paragraph from the day before, then writing more.  A quick note posted on Twitter that you are commencing your writing time.  Anything can become the cue your Wet Blanket can to be elsewhere for awhile because the world is, for a little space of time, a safe and predictable and uneventful place.

So.  Turning the Wet Blanket into a warm and cozy one requires practice—actual writing, and thinking about writing.  That practice can be helped along with acceptance of the process that produces words simply for the sake of writing them, and enjoyment of that process as one of discovery.  And if it is the stress of life rather than the writing rules that keep your Wet Blanket tucked over your creativity, finding a way to retreat—whether by physically leaving home, or creating a set of ritual cues—can do the trick.

It isn’t an easy process.  It isn’t comfortable.  And sometimes it feels… well, safer to stick with the rules we implement while editing than risk what Sherwood Smith calls the white fire.  But it is necessary if we want to reach that point of creativity when everything around us disappears, time becomes inconsequential, and we fall into our own story as if it has always been part of us.

And you know what?  That’s not a touchy-feely woo-woo notion, either.  It seems that when we hit that deep creative flow, another part of our brain—the parietal lobe—goes very quiet.  And when that happens, our sense of self as a distinct and separate being fades away.  It happens during prayer.  It happens during meditation.  And it happens when we sink into storytelling.

We truly do feel at one with our work.  Our brain can make it so.

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Blair MacGregor
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