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Archive for the ‘Writing Central’ Category

Well, folks, it happened. The well of creativity overflowed. I’ve spent sleepless nights and groggy days in a state of writing bliss. I admit that while I was blogging about the certainty of eventual inspiration for my climax, I felt anything but certain. But it worked. My crazy, weird routine worked.

Talking with a fellow creative after church this morning, I found support for the need to throw out the rule book. But I liked his point. That we have to understand the rules’ purpose and give them a fair shot before we put them in the trash bin. If I needed confirmation that the Jessie Mae Writing Guidebook (I like that name better. I’m renaming it.) should find its way to the blogosphere, I have it.

But let’s backtrack a little. To Topsfield Maine, where I spent Thursday evening through Saturday. It houses the family farm, an hour north of Lincoln–a town whose recent addition of a Dunkin’ Donuts closes at the same time as its Walmart: 9:00 PM. Sharp.

Bye, bye civilization. But the stillness; the lack of wifi; and the nearness of the coffee pot… it was all what I needed to make my final push. My parents, my wonderful parents, asked me to do absolutely nothing the whole time. They brought me coffee and listened to my weird music and didn’t try suggesting I should sleep. My brother–who came up with his kids on Saturday–encouraged me just as fiercely. Each felt the surge of writing in me and respected it. I adore them all.

And so, a dozen cups of coffee and twenty thousand words later (I’m already fifteen thousand words over my hopeful end point), I find myself a mere few chapters from finishing. Will it happen today? I left my sister/her baby and even forewent my nephew’s second seventh birthday party (the second round of celebrating year 7) in the hopes that I will, indeed, finish. I claimed a table at Starbucks, bought some iced coffee, and plugged in The Piano Guys. Because this is routine and, if the last twenty thousand words have showed me anything, it is that the method in my madness works.

So let’s hope I finish soon, because you–and all my friends and family–probably won’t hear from me again until I do.

Blog Bonus Feature: My virtual notebook is chocked full of character facts and plot problems. It keeps me organized. Good solutions will earn a happy face. Bad solutions are getting a frowny face today.

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Friends,

When I draft a novel, I DRAFT a novel. Free-writing is my mantra. I don’t let sensible thoughts weigh me down. Why bother? They are chains on my creativity. This process works, it really works, for me. Writing tip: if you are trying to edit while you are writing, you are a hundred times less likely to enjoy the process or finish the story.

And then the muses sweep me in a different direction… (Thanks, muses. I love you anyway.)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote two scenes that were to take place in the medieval fortress of Saphree. Saphree is of great significance to one of my characters so there were lots of specially crafted phrases describing its architecture and its emotional impact. All of this was powerful writing, until the muses decided my characters should be at some legendary waterfalls in the middle of the open woods instead.

Usually, relocating is not too much work. A wall is a wall so change bricks to wood or wood to stone and, poof!, you’re done. But relocating from indoors to outdoors is a major project. And relocating from one significant place to a place that is significant for entirely different reasons… Oy vey (which, by the way, is a “Yiddish exclamation of chagrin, dismay, exasperation or pain”). My brain hurts just thinking about it.

And yet… I admit. I find these kind of time-consuming changes fun. It offers a challenge that my typically sloppy free-writing does not. So here’s to finding a little fun in the journey and the work and the muses. May your challenges melt to joy today and the stories you craft–in pen or deed–receive a breath of fresh air,

Jessie Mae

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Deep breath in. Smell the coffee. Relax those tense muscles. Transform from the businesswoman you’ve been all day to an author. Preferably in the next fifteen seconds. Right. (Sarcasm intended.)

Perhaps the greatest struggle of authoring is that simple switch: from the ordinary and not so ordinary of real life to the fabulous fiction of your other self. And it isn’t always so easy to open up the laptop, turn on the music, and hit the writing-ground running. This blog very often serves as the transition, this corner at Starbucks as the muse I never had, and the well-worn iTunes albums as the horn that pulled the Pevensies into Narnia.

Tomorrow marks the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long to jump into their luscious descriptions of mountains and lakes. I like the camps in April and July far more than their better-known father: National Novel Writing Month. At camp, there is grace and friendship and inspiration aplenty. 50,000 words, phsaw. 10,000 becomes the very doable minimum. And writers are thrown into cabins to bond across the country. Not to mention the writing prompts already filling up my Facebook wall. The very idea of the camp sends my writing self scrambling to pack a virtual bag and head for the hallowed hills of authordom. The camp’s tagline:

“An idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.”

Oh, me and my crazy life long to join the retreat! But free-writing just isn’t in the time frame. Editing The Lure of Lemons consumes me. Day and night, my mind is pulled deeper and deeper into the world and the stories. For now, that is exactly where my focus needs to be.

Yet real life still tugs at me–making me feel like I’m stumbling around my day on sleeping pills. The morning was spent getting some kind of test (there have been so many lately, I’ve quite honestly lost track of what one I had today) at the hospital, followed by breakfast with my mom, accounting and meetings, and more business. But now I’m here. At my beloved Starbucks, warmed by sales in the state of Washington, by bright and encouraging family, and a cherished letter from an even more cherished friend reflecting on the awesomeness of our friendship. Life may be trying to use me like the rope in tug-of-war, but I’m loving the journey.

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If you were ever a college student, you’ve probably had the nightmare. You know. The one where you forget about class, arrive late, walk in on a test, and realize you know none of the material. If you’re like me, you wake up from that recurring dream with sweat beading down your forehead. Maybe grades are not your tense point. Still, I’m willing to bet you have had a similar dream.

The nightmare is no longer about college. Not for me. It has moved on to writing. I guess that’s a sign I have been doing my job a long time. Or that I am heavily invested in it with my time and my emotions. Probably both.

I dreamed last night, with great amounts of panic, that I had left several empty paragraphs in a published book. There were even author’s notes to correct the emptiness, making it a glaring flaw. This might not sound so terrifying to you non-writers out there, but I wince as I read grammar mistakes in previous editions. Let alone EMPTY PARAGRAPHS!

Can you tell someone is nervous about The Lure of Lemons?

Nightmares aside, the book is actually coming along. I’m still far behind my deadlines, but solid progress is finding its way to my mind and into the novel’s pages. Maybe my dream-panic is premature. I’ll never be quite that sloppy. Yet mistakes will happen. That terrifies the perfectionist in me.

Art is not about perfection. I refuse to allow my fear of grammar mistakes, spelling errors, plot-line issues, deadline misses, and total failure (I could go on) to stop my writing. To stop my passion. To stop the good work that is done with these books. No. Nightmare, go back to the depths from which you came. I will press on.

 

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Cooking is like writing. Just ask anyone who has watched me create bruschetta. It is long, repetitive work as I chop the basil, the garlic, and the tomatoes. Out of memory and with frequent tasting, I mix in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese as, nearby, the bread toasts in olive oil or butter. From all this we can gain several lessons applicable to writing…

Lesson #1: Don’t give up before the end!

It would be fairly easy in the midst of Michael Buble’s serenading of my tomato slicing to stop. About a half an hour in it seems the task will never be completed. Excuses like, “Company will be here soon,” slip to the tip of my tongue. Yet, if I surrender to the fatigue, it would all be for naught. Writing is much the same. Many would-be authors never finish. Their tales are consumed by the daunting work they fear they could not complete. Just remember: without an ending, your story is only a bunch of chopped tomatoes.

Lesson #2: Revise.

Mere chopped tomatoes no longer, the bruschetta now has all its ingredients. Yet it does not taste quite right. I recoil as I put it to my lips and add a bit more of an ingredient. This is the time for tweaks, fixes, and revisions. This phase takes a pile of bruschetta that could never be served to company and turns it into the masterpiece guests will be talking about for weeks. In writing, revisions are the necessary tweaks that fill the novel with aroma, spice, and color. It is a common mistake to think the first draft is publishable. Chances are, it isn’t.

Lesson #3: At some point, stop second-guessing.

All this revising is well and good. Until, that is, I begin to fix parts of the recipe that were never broken. A chef is his/her own greatest critic. Eventually, well-enough has to be just that. It is time to add the bruschetta topping to the French bread. This is a magical moment, when criticism fades and taste buds rule. When writing, it is perfectly just to spend a long time fixing, reshaping, and editing a story. Nevertheless, an end to the perpetual changes must come. Know when to be satisfied with your work. Consciously choose to experience the thrill of a finished story, instead of always second-guessing yourself.

Keep writing and dreaming, friends,

Jessie Mae

 

 

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Last night, after work at the law firm, Starbucks became my home. I claimed a table in the corner, determined not to rise until the novel was finished. My coffee grew cold. Consciousness of time slipped away as I was transported to another world. I pushed away distractions: like the truly awful music coming over the speakers and the groups of students ‘studying’ around me. I rose long after darkness had set in, unaware that it was nearing nine pm.

The draft is complete.

There is something special about this phase, when the story is finally tangible, but my own special secret for a little while longer. And, of course, it helps that my fans are getting restless. Impatient comments are already filling up my Facebook wall, encouraging me to press deeper and deeper into the tale I am weaving.

I’m still terrified that this novel won’t shape up. It will require plenty of work to take my sweet, little ugly duckling and turn it into the jewel-clad swan it ought to be. With my epic, international trip merely fifty-seven days away, I have just that much time to finish solo-editing. Upon my return I’ll need to jump right into editing with my mother. (And if you are wondering why I edit with my mom, check out this post to catch up on all the fun we have.) Sure. It will require some hard labor to polish, but the good books usually do…

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Why is it easier to blog than to work on my novel? I cannot really say. Except that with every few hundred words I write here, I have the privilege of hitting the word: Publish. Whereas, with my novel, ‘publish’ will not be an option until many more months of labor have been inserted. Oh, yes, and several thousand dollars. Nevertheless, I do make progress on my novel. And with each word I dutifully type into the Word document I get just a little bit closer to finishing.

Some novels are hard to write because you lack inspiration. Others, because you lack focus. Still others, because you lack incentive or experience. But a select few novels… These are hard because they hit a little too close to home. They express more of yourself than you meant to share. And going to the computer to type no longer feels like an escape from the every day. No; it feels as if you are reliving your every day.

Now, all along I have protested that this novel has been a painful growth spurt–and I do believe it is. But I am also beginning to wonder if maybe the novel is so hard because it is so much of myself. I can recall writing Asandra (Book 2) and telling my mother that it was too sad. No one would like it. And yet, it was the novel where people began to say, “You let us see so much more of you.” It was the tale that got people really, really hooked to my writing.

So, in truth, the Lure of Lemons may turn out to be the epic failure I fear it will be. Or it may become yet another turning point in my career. Either way, the answer will not be found on this blog or in procrastinating any longer. It will be found in finishing the work and risking myself yet again to share it. The consequences for failure won’t be so extreme; but the rewards for success will be sweet. So I had best get back to drafting…

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