The Duct-Tape-Conflict Fix
Friday, August 21, 2009

I am coming to that place in my story where all the emotions begin to erupt. Everyone's getting mad, someone's about to throw something, tears might follow, or shouting, or running away. I look at the words on my computer screen, and suddenly remember that I haven't checked the phone messages in two days. Or I listen for the washer and realize it has stopped. Time to hang the clothes out in the sun.

Or maybe some frozen yogurt would help me figure out just how the next chapter should flow. Time to head to Yogurtland!

I've been watching myself run from conflict for years now. I'm not even sure how I manage to make it back to my desk to continue to write those scenes that bring out the emotion in folks. I'm all for harmony. And of course, that's how I am in real life, too. But you can't have a story without conflict-writer friends know I've tried! It's probably only due to my stubborn streak and a maniacal obsession for loving to cross things off lists that I bungle through writing the tougher scenes... But oh, how long it takes for me to pen anything that is conflict riddled!

It reminds me of my son, who can't sit through a mushy or embarrassing scene in a movie. Even now, at fifteen, he rises from the couch and slinks away until the kissing is finished. He laughs at himself, but won't keep that bottom planted for those thirty seconds of smooching.

Every writer comes at the process of creation and revision (and marketing-since that is now the third rung in a writer's life) differently. I don't like marketing, but I am capable enough, and can do it-will do it-knowing its importance. I love to edit, and can pass hours and hours with a rough draft and coax from it better and better words; that is the part of the process in which all my gifts come together. But writing those most important FIRST draft scenes-filled with raw upset and emotion-that writing only comes out in fits and spurts. Sometimes I walk (or flee is a better word) just as much during the writing of a scene, between trips to the kitchen for snacks or sips of unneeded water, as I do when I'm out walking for exercise later...

I'm looking for solutions. I've thought about working in a public space, where pacing the coffee shop would be unacceptable, and where the laundry and dishes would be far from my hands. But it's hard to cry and talk to yourself, or listen to music in a public space. I'm not sure that's the best idea. I've also thought I might put a seatbelt on my chair and actually strap in. Or maybe duct tape, which would be much harder to undo. I figure if I can't physically leave my writing space, then I might make it through these scenes much more quickly, and maybe the writing will be even more explosive, with all that pent up energy in my body releasing itself through my madly typing fingers. I'll let you know how it goes. It sounds like a fun experiment, or, at minimum, something that might provide a few good laughs while hanging out at Yogurtland.

A Play Date with Words
Monday, July 6, 2009

To maintain a career as a writer, I have to wear, oh, so many hats--and juggle several projects, all at various stages of completion. My marketing hats are the most gruesome of all—they fit too tight, they itch and squeeze my redheaded head... But in this world of writing, they are a must hat, no matter how ill fitting or uncomfortable they might be.

One of the hats I love to don is the creative one. It's all floppy and comfy. It wiggles around on my head and plays jokes on me. It's colorful and is a good companion when I want to just goof around and enjoy words without having them make all that much sense. This hat-made-for-fun doesn't mind if I toss it in the air or use it to gather runaway marbles. It's the perfect play date hat.

I recently put on this hat, took a break from the business side of writing and spent several hours over on the site. I had a blast. Since my picture book on St. Brigid is just coming out, I decided to see what the full text would look like as a word cloud. You can see two of the examples above. But I didn't just make two. I was in a playful mood, and I made eight! Not to mention the fact that I also made several of The Man and the Vine as well... (You can see those creations on my Links page...)

So when you're needing a bit of a break from research or heavy writing, or from MARKETING! (or from diapering, or cooking, or running errands, or changing sheets, or sweeping up crumbs from day old muffins, or folding laundry, or writing an explication paper for your English teacher, or taking out the trash, or telling toddlers how to share, or convincing ants to find another home, or paying the bills, or driving to and from baseball practices or school or work or the gym or the beach or the dog park or Trader Joe's, or... we do wear so many hats, don't we?) take a break and play with your own words... You're never too old for a play date.

I’d like you to meet...Saint Brigid
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hi Saint Brigid. I need to introduce you...


A milkmaid. A shepherdess. A philanthropist. An evangelist. Saint Brigid is one of the most beloved figures of Western Christianity, and for good reason. She holds special reign in the hearts of the Irish and once I discovered her story I became completely enamored with her spirit of kindness and giving and adventure. Christ has used her... to change me...

First of all, you need to know that she was born many, many years ago, in the fifth century, when Christianity was just being brought to England and Ireland. During that time in history-a time of feuding tribes, of small kingdoms, of thatched roofs and people worshiping the natural world-a time when it was against the law not to be hospitable to travelers and strangers, lived this young, and I like to think, feisty girl who through her life experiences learned to embody Christ himself. She put Him on, completely, and changed her whole land by her example...

Can you imagine, one young girl, today, an American, sweet and giving, a girl scout, maybe? Working at a food pantry with her mom on Saturdays, changing the entire land? I like to think it's still possible. That God is that big...

Brigid was many things. She milked cows; she managed her father's kitchens. She tended flocks of sheep and spoke of her love for Christ. She cared for her mother. An entire community grew up around her-she as the abbess. She must have been a charismatic yet humble leader for so many to follow-for so many monks and nuns and lay people alike to live under her care. But more than anything, she was a giving soul. This spirit of kindness and generosity comes out in every account of Saint Brigid's life and this is the legacy I'm hoping to highlight as children of our own century learn her story...

We live in times of abundance and greed. Of potato chips and lounging in front of the television watching re-runs of Drake and Josh or Hannah Montana. Our children have few examples of folks fighting for the underprivileged, the poor or the homeless. People do not walk to our front doors asking for food or shelter. No Trespassing! Call the Police! So in conjunction with the release of this book, I'm hoping to also speak regularly about all the work that is being done in the spirit of Saint Brigid to help others. I'm hoping to do something myself... hoping to give more of what I have-to help others, and to help save myself!

Since my life is a busy one, I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what more I can do to help-along with the now and then checks and donations to shelters and ministries. I've come up with two things. One, is not to judge.

I've been struggling with this for some time. In Santa Monica, where I grew up, there was (still is) a sign at the intersection of Chautauqua and Pacific Coast Highway that says not to give money to the homeless-(paraphrasing) that it would facilitate alcohol and drug abuse and hurt the community. I read that sign almost every day as we traveled through that intersection and I learned to look away when I saw those unfortunate beggars standing there in the median. I learned that being compassionate meant giving them bus tokens and McDonald's vouchers. I learned to avoid their faces and pleas, and take my donations to thrift shops, all those bags cradled in the back of the blue Volvo. I never had to look at one unfortunate face along the way.

I can tell I'm about to launch off topic, so I'll save the stories welling up in my heart for another time... Looking away hurts, so now I try to see these people as icons of Christ. Try my hardest to look them in the eye. They are God's creation, though broken and hurt. I am not the judge. I look at them, teeth missing and all, and ask their names. I give them money-say a prayer for their safety-and leave it at that.

The second thing I've started doing is baking bread. Baking is something I enjoy that satisfies me on many levels-not just the food one! I find the many phases of baking prayerful and soul-building... I bake often and have made it a practice to always make more than I need. The rest is bagged up and given away. Most of the time it simply goes to those closest: my next-door neighbors or someone walking by when I happen to open the front door. But we're making more and more of an effort to take the bread out into the streets. It's one, very small, thing that I can do.

I'll finish my introduction of Saint Brigid with this traditional poem-listing those things Brigid most wished for.

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity.

What's on your wish list? :) In the spirit of Saint Brigid, I'd love to know your name, read your words, and have you write your wishes, too...

Beach Wednesdays
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In order to write well, and often, I need to have experiences that will feed my imagination. There's certainly adventure found doing the mundane-who knows when your dishwasher might revolt and flood your house with torrents of water, which would certainly set in motion an unexpected adventure-but I've found that being in nature brings many of my best ideas forward. It's a fueling stop for my sometimes blah imagination. Because I still have a little one in tow, I've searched for ways that he and I can both benefit from our outings; he in play and fun and movement and exploring creation, and me, doing the same, with a very cute companion!

Every Wednesday, whether there's wind or scorching sun, or fog or soupy mud-puddly rain we dress accordingly and head to the beach. It's the wildest place we have within a short drive. There, we sometimes dig, or picnic, or walk in the tide pools. The baby always throws rocks and sometimes I join him to see how many skips I can get out of a flat rock across a retreating wave. Sometimes we bring homemade lemonade. Sometimes we collect driftwood. I always wear a hat, and try to look around and see the colors, and smell the salt, and feel the raw elements on my skin.

What I love about going to the same place every week is the joy in seeing the changes. In Southern California we have little opportunity to mark the seasons. June is one of my favorite months because of the fog. It brings something new and varied from our typical sunny and seventy degree day. But at the beach, the moon rules the tides, storms bring in surf from thousands of miles away, and seaweed and driftwood float to the shore, creating their own natural groupings and sculptures in the sand. These changes show the creativity of nature-the many possibilities of color and texture, of smell and sound. All these things feed my creativity-something that is necessary to keep me moving forward.

The routine of things is necessary for our survival; I am fascinated by the twenty-four hour clock. By the waking and sleeping we need, by the automatic grumbling of my tummy three times a day. We live in a structured world, and the ticking of the clock, the passing of the seasons, and the waking and sleeping provides for me a template for my writing life as well. I wake in the fives. Write during the sixes and sometimes the sevens, and am off being a mom and editor, nurse and chauffeur, baker and candlestick maker for the rest of the day.

I bring up routine because, just like in our every day lives, the structure of the routine somehow frees us to be more creative. When the boundaries are there you don't have to fret over potential chaos. There's no worrying about what to do on a Wednesday. I have plans; I'm headed to the beach! So in the framework of my day-I write, the family rises, we eat breakfast, I do a little cleaning, laundry, maybe start a batch of bread... and then we're off to the beach, buckets and shovels in the trunk, hats and sunscreen at the ready. It's something we do-it's Wednesday and we go. And when we're at the beach, time stops. We play, we walk, we throw rocks-it's different every time. There's always a surprise, so we find the unexpected in the framework of the expected...

Stories are just like my Wednesday beach days. They are framed, placed in a structure so that the reader doesn't have to fret about the potential chaos. Boundaries are gently placed around the story so that the writer can then let that imagination fly, but still have the words make sense!

So I encourage you to choose a day, maybe it's even just once a month, when you can get yourself out into nature to see what adventure comes your way. I'm convinced you'll find something unexpected there...And the healthier we are as people, the more refreshed and more productive we will be as writers-as people.