A dream is a wish your heart makes…

So sang Walt Disney’s Cinderella, and as little girls we loved it.

But artistic dreams? Those need more than wishing to come true. Persistence, determination, and focused attention, these are the tools the grown-up uses to make dreams a reality. I bet Walt would call them his magic ingredients.

At this time of year I am often discouraged with my writing progress (or lack thereof). I am worn down with with teaching and often feel overwhelmed. The dark, rainy days here in northwest Oregon do not help. But although I am tempted to quit, I never do.

No, we shouldn’t lose heart, dreaming friends. Keep writing, keep creating, keep starting over. Who knows what the new year will bring?





A “rubber ball” writer am I

So a friend and I were talking over our NaNoWriMo results. You know, the “something is better than nothing” evaluation. Oh, sigh.

Am I a fair-weather writer? I write often, but I become easily overwhelmed. I seem to do my best work in focused gusts.

My creative brain has a limited attention span? Dang. I’m no better than my middle and high school students. Except that I don’t bother with excuses anymore.

It’s like I’m a rubber ball writer. Into the sky I soar, overcoming every setback–elastic, rebounding, free! And then whoosh, I lose momentum, go flat, and hit the floor with a thump. And then I roll somewhere.

Like a Rubber Ball I bounce back Photo Credit: shira gal (Creative Commons)

Bouncing high into the sky and then … rolling under the sofa!
Photo Credit: shira gal (Creative Commons)

Funny thing, though. Soon I’m back to bouncing again. After I brush off the gunk I collected under the sofa.

I cranked out 27,000 NaNo words (may they be useful!) before November took me out. Not too shabby. Chapter by chapter, Darcy By Any Other Name grows. Chapter 30 will mark the end. I am on Chapter 27.

I would so like to be The Little Engine That Could. You know, someone who keeps chugging along, day in and day out, consistent and relentless. Instead I’m the rubber ball that keeps bouncing.

Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.
The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once.
Quitting means not starting again–and art is all about
starting again.

~~ David Bales and Ted Orland, Art and Fear

‘Twas the week before NaNo


So here’s my NaNoWriMo check list:

1. A plot map. Otherwise known as an outline. I’ve done NaNo “pantsing all the way,” and the result wasn’t pretty. Or even usable. Hat tip to Tonia for sharing A Plot Outline in Six Acts, which I will be following to the letter.

2. Larger-than-life lead characters. I am using NaNo to draft the next Mercy’s Embrace novel, so I’m good here.

3. A rocking bad guy. Because as Steven Pressfield says, “The middle belongs to the villain.” And the muddled middle is where we run out of ideas.

4. A clean house. Seriously. Haul out the vacuum, the mop, and get that bathroom sparkling. NaNo is all about minimal zero housework.

5. A clear work area. Clutter is like static on the radio, right? Make room—a clean, physical space that you can see—for new ideas.

6. Supportive WriMo pals. (That’s what we NaNoers are, WriMos, ha.) I could not believe the difference this made during July’s Camp NaNo.

7. Did I mention pre-NaNo cleaning? This is not a waste of writing time … yet.

There’s nothing like a sailor man swabbing the deck. So now you’re inspired to do the same.

Because you want to neglect the house with a clear conscience. And joyfully, right? Clean now, ignore later.

Photo Credit: USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT  Airmen Day and Mc Duffie  swab the deck (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Official USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT photo
Airmen Joseph Day and Alexander Mc Duffie swab the deck
(Creative Commons)

Why English Teachers Die Young

CalvinHobbesBrainTuesday, as my students read aloud these lame and painfully bad analogies, they laughed until they cried.

This list is comprised of entries from, I think, the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest. And it’s as much fun today as when I first snagged it from the Internet years ago.

I offer it in celebration of Friday. And also, you know, because everyone can use a good laugh.

*   *   *

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Benjamin Zander and Reducing the Impulses

Sometimes it helps to cross-train with artists from other disciplines. Today, a TED talk from conductor Benjamin Zander.

As always, he is a delight. He transforms the way we see classical music. And, I hope, the way my students see the craft of writing.

“Observe his performance of Chopin,” I tell them. As writers, what can we take away?

But first, a few quotations to ponder.

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak  (Public Domain)

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

“The desire to write grows with writing.” (Desiderius Erasmus)

Get started and watch what happens.
Learn from Mikey: “Try it, you’ll like it.”

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you grow.” (E.L. Doctorow)

Writing is all about discovery.
What lurks in your creative mind?
If you don’t start writing, how will you know?

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” (Benjamin Franklin)

So don’t be stupid.
Because stupid is a choice.

“Everyone who works in the domain of fiction is a bit crazy. The problem is to render this craziness interesting.” (François Truffant)

Guess what? If you write a boring story, it’s kind of your fault.
And Benjamin Zander would agree.

Come discover why ‘Reducing the Impulses’ is important.
How can we do the same thing with our writing?