Dear Janet Napolitano, Please Don’t Arrest Me

Dear Janet,

I hope you don’t mind my using your first name to address you. If you would prefer “Secretary,” we can go there, but, woman to woman, I’m in favor of avoiding old stereotypical titles, and, “secretary,” well, don’t you think that’s a bit demeaning? Anyway. I’m sure you have your hands full getting coffee and filing things for the Department of Homeland Security, and no time for formal titles and nonsense. Besides, we are practically sisters, as you undoubtedly already know everything there is to know about me, and I’ve seen your face so many times in the news and online that I would possibly recognize it in person. I’m not sure. I’m really bad with faces.

So, sis. I just wanted to fill you in on my morning, because I wouldn’t want there to be any lingering misunderstanding between us. The fact that I was Googling “United States arsenal interior view,” “Inside a military armory,” and “How does the United States store and guard its military weapons” this morning is really nothing to be worried about. Honest.

You likewise need not worry about my sudden fascination with flamethrowers, acid guns, and various forms of chemical warfare, not even when you discover that most of my searches begin with the words “Can I build” and end with “at home.”

And when I asked for information on “What is an EMP” and “Does EMP kill people” and “How to build an EMP”? No worries, mon. Everything will be okay.

Seriously. Don’t worry about it. I would explain why, but it’s top secret. I don’t reveal my projects until they’re launched, you see.

We cool?

Sincerely,

Heather

P.S. Dear writers: What questionable Internet searches have you performed recently in the name of novel research?

P.P.S. In case you need to know how to build an EMP for your book, I’ve saved you some trouble. Here you go. It’s in German. Awesome.

P.P.P.S. Seriously SERIOUSLY, NSA/Homeland Security/CIA/Other Faceless Government agencies SERIOUSLY, I’m kidding. I mean, not about the searches. I really did search for those things. It’s for RESEARCH. I’m writing a BOOK. Not THAT kind of book, no. No no no. The fictional kind. It’s for my characters. In a fictional society. Don’t you people have a sense of humor?

P.P.P.P.S. I’m actually kind of scared right now. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted this.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Anyone know how I can get a tour of an active-duty armory? Or learn to actually operate a flamethrower?

Merely Super Talented

It started with the usual nightly request: Will you read to us? But then it got ugly. I asked them whether they wanted me to continue reading Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire… or treat them to an excerpt from a new section of my WIP! (WIP means work-in-progress and refers to the novel I’m in the middle of writing. Using the acronym helps me feel like an insider to the world of novelists.)

Those ungrateful little brats chose Harry Potter.

Because apparently, J.K. Rowling’s record-breaking bestseller is more fun to listen to than the first draft of the first novel I’ve ever written.

Obviously, my novel sucks.

Luckily, it doesn’t matter. Watch this. It’s worth it AND it’s funny. And he’s wearing the most awesome indoor sunglasses and mustache ever, which goes to show that if you are funny and smart (and perseverant, apparently), it really doesn’t matter what you wear. Whew.

“Lots of people want to do it. The odds are against you. But luckily, very few of them are sane. Then there’s a subset who are medium to low talented… but perseverant (even WordPress doesn’t think that’s a real word but it doesn’t matter because we all know what he means)… and they are much more likely to be successful than those who are merely super talented.”

Oh, thank God.

Slogging

I hit 60,000 words yesterday. I was on a high, not just because of the word count, but because I knew I had found my calling.

I’ve always thought that expression, “found your calling,” meant that you had found something you were naturally good at. But since making it a daily habit to give an hour to my novel, I’ve discovered it means something else entirely. It has nothing, it turns out, to do with being good at it, except that when you do something regularly, you become good at it.

It’s about how you feel when you’ve found it. A sense of rightness, of “of course”-ness. I was feeling this feeling strongly the night before last, lying in bed next to Carey, and I told him this, that I thought this was my calling, this novel writing.

He rolled his eyes at me. Smirked.

Hmpf. What did he think was so funny?

“It’s funny because everyone else in the world has known this all along, Heather.” Oh.

So I spent all day yesterday on this high, because everything in the world is right when you’ve found your calling. When you realize that everything, everything you’ve ever ever done has led to this. That everything you thought was weird about yourself isn’t weird:

Obsessively reading drafts over and over because you want to see how it reads from everyone else’s point of view, one person at a time.

Obsessively researching every little thing that crosses your path.

Obsessively reading and re-reading blogs and stories that tear your heart out, and letting the tears course down your cheeks, and beating yourself up for “torturing yourself.” When it turns out you weren’t needlessly torturing yourself at all: You were researching. Researching your heart and the hearts of others.

You listen to this:

And you nod along. YES, that is me. I’m not weird. I’m a WRITER.

You find out that everything you’ve ever done–raising chickens, running a business, being a mom–all of it matters to this thing you’ve been called to. It all contributes. It all makes sense.

And so, last night, I cheerfully set my alarm for 5:30 even though I don’t have to be anywhere until 10. And this morning I rose cheerfully from bed and came to this computer to write. Write! Write my novel! And I opened my tracking document (tip: If something matters to you, track it–this does something to your brain to make it take you seriously. Even the brain science I read matters to my calling!), recorded my starting time and word count. I opened my beloved document with my incredible story, and the characters I have grown to love so very much. And I scrolled to the bottom and I re-read the last paragraph to get my bearings, and then I

blanked. out.

Nothing.

Geez.

So I did what they say to do, and I wrote anyway. About 1300 words of boringness. All description. I managed to eke out a dialog between two main characters, but not much of one.

Sigh.

Calling, schmalling.

This is slogging.

Nice blank page, man.

Parenting While Writing

Every couple of weeks or so, I decide it’s okay if I sleep in for a bit. Usually it’s a weekend, and I don’t have any appointments, so I’ll just sleep until 7 or 8, and then I’ll get up and write, right?

This is always a mistake.

Why? Because children. (Yes, that’s a complete sentence, Bloggess-approved, stop correcting my grammar. Why is my house a mess? Because children. Why aren’t my teeth brushed? Because children. Why are my boobs saggy? Yes, because children. It’s a very handy sentence.)

Why is sleeping in a bad idea? Because children.

By 7 o’clock, often much earlier, the first of my little ones is awake. Usually the littlest, who is 5, and completely insatiable in his curiosity and hunger for attention. Curiosity is a beautiful thing, delightful in a child when you don’t live with that child. Then it is torture.

“Mommy?”

“I’m working.”

“Oh. Can you go outside with me?”

“No. I’m working.”

“Awww. Please? I need somebody to come outside with me.”

“Baby. I’m working. Go somewhere else.”

Five minutes later.

“Mommy? Can I have some gum?”

“No. I’m working.”

“Can I play with your phone?”

“Whatever. Just go away.”

“What’s your passcode?”

“Here, let me do that.”

“Where do I go for free games?”

“If I get you to the free games, will you leave me alone?”

“Yes”

“Okay, there. Just pick what you want and hit download, okay?”

“Okay. What does this one say?”

Sigh.

Needless to say, this is not conducive to flow. And I wish I knew a way around it that does not involve either getting up at 5am or abandoning them at the pound. Five am is really early and the pound doesn’t accept human children. I am just in awe of authors like Lev Grossman, who just had a baby and nevertheless is plugging on with his book in small batches (check his blog, please, but don’t get too uppity and start posting comments, because then mine might get lost in the jungle. Right now there are only 10 comments on his latest entry. If you haven’t read his books, read those too. Best-selling author and all).

I suppose you could argue that an hour a day qualifies as small batch writing, but I think of an uninterrupted hour as long long batch writing. Because children.

When I get up at 6 or, better, 5, I can usually get this uninterrupted hour of flow. Beautiful. Otherwise, it’s miniscule batch writing for me.

So here I am yesterday morning. Everett has finally settled on a phone game, glorious silence, I’m a terrible parent but at least I get to write. Five minutes later the 9-year-old is up.

“Mommy?”

Sigh.

“Hi baby.” Hugs.

“I’m working, okay? So… just… you know. Let me work?”

“Okay.”

“Mommy?”

Sigh. “What?”

“What do you have to get to get a blog?”

“What do you mean?”

“If … how do you get, if you had to have something… like, you know how… it’s um, it’s um, it’s like Elihead on WordPress.com, well what would it be if you made a different one. ”

“If you made another blog?”

“Yes.”

“It would be something.wordpress.com.”

“Ooohhh. Can we work on my blog today? And we haven’t written in my book in a long time. Can we do that today?”

Ya know. Maybe I’m not such a terrible parent after all.

Check Eli’s Mythical World here. And his novel in bookstores someday. Why check out his blog? Because children.

 How do you write while parenting?

Writing a Novel is Intimidating

I have hesitated to post about my experiences because, after all, I am 39 and only for the first time in my life finally actually working on a novel in any sort of disciplined way and so, although I have been writing professionally in a business context for more than 12 years, I am not truly an “author” in the way that a Lev Grossman or a Shaindel Beers or a Sarah Pinneo or an Anne Lamott is an author. Plus, I’ve been afraid I would jinx it by publicly sharing. But today I think I will, and maybe others can share my journey.

I’ve been getting up an hour early to write every morning for just over a month (thank you Abby England, your gift started this, you know). I now have 48k+ words in my first novel.

It feels nice to watch it grow like that. It’s gratifying to read pieces of it to my kids and hear how excited they get about my characters, and receive their (quite useful, really) feedback, and listen to them ask for more, more, more.

But I think the coolest thing about it is watching my own process and seeing that I really can do something this big. Writing a novel is intimidating. An average client long-copy deliverable (i.e., case studies, white papers, etc.–versus website headlines, ad copy, etc.) runs between 1,200 and 2,500 words. A first novel starts at around 60,000 and runs up to 150,000 (War and Peace and the last Harry Potter book well exceed this number, of course). The sheer complexity of plot is overwhelming even in a short novel.

But I’m doing it. I really am.

Writing and Trust

I think writing is largely about trust. You have to trust that things will unfold okay.

At around 35k words on the novel I’m working with (my first), I hit a block. I  suddenly became aware that I am not, in any way, at all, cut out for the long form of a novel. My plot had become ridiculously complex and although I knew where the climax would go when I got there, I had no way to get to it. My writing became rambly and general and booo-oooring. I was bored to tears myself, so I can only imagine how a reader would feel.

Fortunately, an old professor of mine who is connected with me on Facebook (Chella Courington), posted this from Richard Bausch at about the same time:

Most of the trouble you have with writing anything is temporary–if you can manage to think only in terms of this one day’s work, while holding back anything other than the determination to stay there the appointed amount of time and struggle with it. As I’ve said many times, most everything ever written was written a little at a time, over time, in a lot of confusion and doubt. It’s the territory. Quite normal and all good. If you’re spending the time, confused or no, happy or no, it is all going very well indeed, even when it feels like failure. 

So the next morning, I got up again and wrestled for an hour. And guess what? The story started to make sense again, the path cleared before me like a fog lifting. Only a little, mind you. I can’t see to the end of the path yet. Just enough, and just enough is enough. Scene by scene, bird by bird. Keep wrestling, and trust. Trust that it will unfold.