Writing Without Limits

IMG_1408I had the good fortune of hanging out with San Diego’s romance writing chapter last weekend. Not only did I get to hang out with fabulous people and empty the Hilton of all its Smart Water, I also spoke to the chapter about “Writing without Limits.”

The conference organizers suggested the topic–thank you, SDRW, because I had no clue–so I went from there. Confession: movies inspire most of my ideas, so here was my thought process: I should go running. That helps me think. Remember that cool movie about running, Without Limits, about Steve Prefontaine? It’s sort of related. Run with your whole gut. Don’t heave, though, at least not near me. I’m now inspired to think about this talk. Though I did not go running, I did plan the talk.

Anyway, when you write, invariably, there are limits to face, both internal and external. You put limits on yourself. We all have places we’re scared to go. I don’t like to write action even though I know characters have to do something. And in many cases, I’m scared what they’re going to make me do. You want to sell your writing, which means interacting with others and their limits. Because of market trends, you may feel your character should act a certain way or you have to write a certain story.

Writing a romance novel presents even more limits: Two characters should fall in love. They must live happily ever after. Put in some hooks if you want to attract readers. Make the reader feel good.

So with these limits in mind, I suggest developing an action plan for 2016–one where you think of your writing self as limitless within these 11 months and 5 days. What are you going to do with this time?  Let me fall back on a list, which always helps me focus on my goals and lists are easier to write than actual prose.

While I was thinking more about writing without limits, I figured there were four good points to help any writer on the path.  It’s important to know:

  1. What you want: To be an NYT bestselling author? Write full-time or that person who puts out one amazing book every two years (hello, Emily Giffin)? Not everyone is cut out to publish a book every six months or worldwide fame and riches. Be realistic about what you really want.
  2. What you don’t want: All of the above. Maybe you don’t like any kind of limelight. You just want to write–that’s it. You want to do your thing and perhaps eventually put your work into the hands of someone who will get it out into the world. I work with authors like this, and clarity on this issue helps immensely.
  3. Who you are: Do you love Marketing and PR more than the actual book-writing? Do you blossom as a solitary writer and as a conference-goer? Or are you the one who’s written hundreds of books, but not a soul has ever met you? No one is here to judge. You should know yourself–or at least explore where you thrive. This makes a big difference in the world of writing/publishing, and well, anything else you want to try.
  4. What excites you: During pitches, I can tell when a writer is really pumped up about their story. It’s obvious! There’s a light in the eyes, a feverishness in relaying the gist to me. That excitement transfers to me and I usually ask to read the manuscript. As you start or finish or work through your book, always remember what excites you. Where do you absolutely have to go next?

With these four pillars under my belt, I’ve chosen three realistic goals for this year. Mind you, my desires are in both the fields of editing and writing. For me, my big focuses (Is it foci, Mr. Cobb–my high school Latin teacher?) are:

  1. To write 10 craft related blog posts (9 now)
  2. To write a book of some kind, even if it’s terrible. Am putting this off until Nanowrimo.
  3. To do more public things–go to more conferences, be a little less married to my couch and more active in the outside world. This won’t be too hard since I’m scheduled for at least five big work events so far.
  4. Bonus goal: Don’t give in to pessimism.

Some sample goals could be to talk to that agent/editor; act out of character at a conference (but don’t hit me up for bail $$$); send that proposal to a publisher; get that book out there somehow.

Once you’ve done this self-research, it’s time to close the door, stay focused on the story, lose your attachment to the outcome and anything else you can’t control. The only thing you can control is how often or how long your butt is in the chair. Let’s go for numb butts in 2016 from so much writing!

Ps. Thank you, Jeanne Dickson, for taking this picture!

 

Happy New Year and New Goals!

miamisingHappy 2016! Are you ready for a better year?

I definitely am, though aside from horrific world events, my 2015 wasn’t bad. The paperback version of Romance Is My Day Job emerged in January. I got to visit Louisiana for a conference in March, then another one in my home city. Summer ended with a spectacular family reunion, two more conferences and a trip to Miami to see my adorable father-in-law and his lovely companion. My husband has a new pasta maker, which means more deliciousness on my plate. Best of all, my family is reasonably healthy and sound.

Goals for the year:

An easy one: Be a good wife.

I will push myself a little harder  and avoid bingeing on Vanderpump Rules. People who work hard go places. Then again, I have to do the right kind of work. Sometimes working harder in the usual areas slows one down in more important ones.

At the same time, I must remain anal about meeting deadlines. No amount of stress-relieving acupuncture can delete this from my hard drive. I don’t care if I have six books to edit in one month. Insanity continues in 2016!

I’ll try to stop Googling Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton so much. I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I will write down those smart thoughts I have while editing. So many writing tips to relay. My desk is piled high with notes from various manuscripts: Stop repeating, “He knew…”.

Can I be mindful of my resolutions? Yes. I’ll also avoid using “mindful” since 2014-2015 saw a rash of mindful speech. I’m mindful of the fact that I’ll never resist coconut Rittersport. You’d have to be out of your mind to do that. I can always buy bigger clothes–as long as I get myself to a treadmill…and be mindful about it.

Finally, it’s the Year of the Monkey, which means that one should beware of flying feces. Remember 2004? I do. It was sucko-town, but I won’t let this year be a repeat. Instead, I’m ready to bob and weave, while still holding respect for my near relation, Curious and Infuriating George.

And with that, I’ll start my year.

2016–The Year of No Fear

10408509_1452102735049184_7143387598584098629_nIt was an ordinary moment, me talking to my boss about my conferences for next year, all of which involved flying (my not favorite activity even though I do it often). I love conferences, and yet, getting myself out the door on Travel Day can be pure drudgery.* Knowing my shaky relationship with flight, my boss asked if it was okay, my going. I said, “2016 is my year of no fear.” Who knows where that sentence came from, but it is sticking in my head, especially with what’s been in the news. Right this instant, I really can’t imagine going anywhere. So much bad stuff is happening out there. Let’s all stay inside.

I imagine many feel this way right now, but there are gifts you only get when you leave your house.  A few days ago, I was supposed to go to a party then bailed at the last minute. You really should go, I thought. A little into the party, I got a text from my husband, who holds a doctorate in Patience-ology. It was a selfie of him and my beloved high school Latin teacher partying down. Sam said, “You still have time.” Faster than you can say semper ubi sub ubi, I threw on clothes and got my butt to the party. The best part was precious time with my teacher.

There will come moments of hibernation. Next year, though, I’m going to devote myself to getting out and not letting the bad guys get me down. Don’t we all have miles to travel and people to see?

 

Endurance

004I stopped running a year ago. Every time I went to run, I’d get impatient before darting home in that cloud of failure. Be gentle, I reassured my agitated self. This I was and perhaps rightly so since we were entering the holiday season. This gentleness went on for months, and I finally declared, “I’m no longer a runner,” citing back problems, anxiety, and overall fatigue with the sport after almost forty years. At Duane Reade, I breezed by Runner’s World in the magazine section. Nope. Don’t wanna read that anymore. I’m going to relax. Maybe do yoga.

What I discovered soon after this was how easy it was to abandon tasks, like a healthy breakfast or my no-dessert-every-day regimen. My yoga ambition lasted one day. I became easily distracted, stopping a project after five minutes.  Eventually, I would finish what I needed to get done, but no more. Rewarding myself was a big part of gentleness, so I did a fair amount of TV watching. When I went to exercise–now trying to befriend the elliptical–I stopped after ten minutes. The boredom was mind-numbing. A personal trainer helped me rebuild my strength and I got through an hour of this each week. Little by little that hour didn’t seem so terrible. An addiction to Fitbit and a competitive streak with my Fitbit friends also fueled my soul (I’m going to beat you, John. I don’t care if you’re biking and climbing mountains now). Maybe weight lifting and protein smoothies could be my new sport.

The nasty reality came when I stepped on a scale and saw a number I hadn’t seen since college (my beer, croissant, double-bacon-cheeseburger days). This got me back to the treadmill fast a few weeks ago. Though I’d lost my endurance, I vowed to fight for it again. Slowly but surely. Last week, I finally hit a distance mark I hadn’t seen in a year.

This is gradually bleeding* into more than one activity and helping me set some real goals with the knowledge that:

  • If you don’t work hard, how does that help you?
  • If you can’t write a blog post, how can you write a book–especially when you’ve written 8 before, along with 10 screenplays?
  • Laziness is good for weekends but not a daily virtue.
  • You may be sick and tired. That won’t change if you stay where you are.
  • If she can be questioned for eleven hours by people who hate her, surely, you can run three miles a few times a week. Maybe even more.

That is all.

*Forgive me, I am re-watching Dexter.

What I Am Reading and Eating

FullSizeRenderFriends and Romans, I’m in that state of reading five books at the same time. See picture. 1. The two Classics oriented ones I picked up because I’m doing secret research. It’s like I’m there with Caesar about to get stabbed by my peers. And Seneca, he’s not the frozen apple juice enriched with vitamin C or the small town in Upstate New York. He’s that famous stoic or that famous fake-stoic placating Nero — or Dr. Phil. I’m not sure, but I can’t put these books down! 2. Because I read the gossips, I know that Meryl Streep sent Equal Means Equal to everyone in Congress, so I have to read it, too, because she’s Meryl and it’s about time I became a feminist. 3. As much as I try not to love Elizabeth Gilbert — because I have petty moments of resentment of her hang-out time with Oprah, travels, selfie-skills, and overall enlightenment — I am officially coming out as loving her. Once more, I’ve bought her in hardcover at an actual store. 4. On the romance side, I’m deficient in my Sherry Thomas reading. This writer is gifted–tells a beautiful, layered story–and is a really good speaker.

My books, along with my day job, have kept me out of the blogosphere. I can only deal with so many words a day.

What I’m eating: biscuits from Cafeteria (restaurant featured on Sex and the City). They make good coffee too. I secretly order them when husband is out. I throw away all evidence of gorging — the bags, the takeout Tupperware — so he has no idea. Not to worry. After a year of sloth, I’m running again. The idea of replacing my wardrobe scared me into it.

Hope you are all experiencing page-turning reading and unnecessary-yet-delicious calories. We’re in this together.

Six Years of Facebook Friendship

Just marriedAugust 10, 2015 is the six-year anniversary of when Sam Friended me on Facebook, which began our courtship which resulted in marriage. As a single girl for forty-two years, I got very used to my own rules. Now, with a few years of cohabitation/marriage under my belt, I’ve learned a few things:

It’s fun to do nice things for another person. Sam beams at me when I bring home food or do the dishes. I did the same just last week when he got me tickets to see Jane Lynch (my girl crush) at Joe’s Pub. Marriage can be a harmonious exchange of good tidings. Who knew???

Just because you’re together, doesn’t mean you have to spend every second together. When he wants to go out with his friends, I’m like, go for it, dude (as I turn on Housewives the second I hear his footsteps retreating).

Respect territory. The kitchen is his, the couch is mine. The yoga mat used to be mine, now it’s is. He cooks dinner, I bring home snacks and toiletries. I get the covers.

Bitchy behavior = he’s getting sick. And when he gets sick, I navigate between bringing him chicken soup and leaving him alone. He will yell at me no matter what.

In a New York apartment, he will see me in hot rollers. I once read that Gwen Stefani always makes sure she’s in full makeup, even around her husband*. I tried this and lasted one day.

Kindness wins over complaining. When I want to scream at Sam, I think, Is there a point to this? Usually, there isn’t. Sometimes, he deserves it, though.

Like all the books and rom-coms say: Trust is key. I leave my diary and phone out all the time. I don’t care if he reads them (the boredom would be punishing), but trust he won’t.

Ignore couple rituals. We don’t have a “date night” since we already spend a ridiculous amount of time together. Our Valentine’s Days are laughable. Romantic vacations are severely lacking in frequency and we don’t explode into tears over our love. We just are.

You can co-exist if you have different political leanings. Happening right now as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. We discuss points of view without ridiculing the other’s beliefs. He’s wrong, of course.

Cleanliness is optional. Apart, we are clean-freaks; together, we are total slobs. We only clean in earnest if someone is coming over.

Being with the love of my life doesn’t solve all my problems, but it adds richness and joy to my life every day. I get to witness this other person’s life in an intimate way. What a privilege!

Happy Facebook Friendship, Sam! You’ve taught me so much and I’m excited for the next forty years.

*They’re divorcing but hey, it was a long-ish marriage.

Oversleeping

FullSizeRender(1)I didn’t set my alarm last night, which means I overslept until 8:00am. I have to be in the office by 8:30. Did I fret? No, but I did grab the first thing I could find in my closet, apparently, a lot of white. Sam said it looked fine but he’s in shorts-and-t-shirt season so what does he know? This is why I usually plan my outfits in advance. I can’t complain since it’s only an 8-hour day and no one will really see me and I did spend hours on my hair, which is amazing. And because I’m The Flash, I made it to work by 8:45.

Even editors of romance obsess over little things.