Writing Sensory Images

 Literature Blogs

Today may prove to be a record-breaking heat day for this area. I’ve closed all the windows to keep in the early morning coolness, but haven’t yet turned on the air. It just seems too early in the year to do so. Besides, I find a bit of perspiration and being uncomfortable helpful to me as a writer.

Once, I was writing a chapter about kids traveling through a desert. The more I typed, the hotter and more thirsty I became. There I was, typing on the computer, while sweat dripped off of me. I kept thinking, “Wow! I must be one terrific writer to imagine things so vividly that I’m physically getting hotter and hotter.” I’d been typing for a few hours, closed up in the den, when I finally got up to take a break and get a drink of water. It was only then that I realized it was 100 degrees outside, and I hadn’t turned on the air conditioner.

Did I turn on the air conditioner at that moment, you ask? No, I did not. I finished the chapter first, taking note of all my hotness and putting it into words.

Character Changes in Past 50 Years

 Literature Blogs

This week I caught up on some ancient reading history. I read a couple of Newberry books from the 1960’s.

Okay. I know this epiphany should not at all surprise me, but it did. Before these latest reads, I’d been doing what “everyone” says to do — read the latest books in the field in which I want to get published to see what IS getting published out there today. There are many great reads. Too many books, too little time. However, I noticed that in the books of the ’60’s the main characters experienced a lot of what main characters in today’s writing world do, too. (There is nothing new under the sun.) Only, back then, the kids were fifteen years old or older; today’s main characters who do the same actions are nine or ten years old.

This can only mean that in another fifty years, we will be reading of two and three year olds fighting off villans with mad sword skills, and dashing through streets or forests to rescue the fair maidens in distress or find the enormous lost treasure. Good thing I’ll be dead by then.

If You Had One Million Dollars

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An ancient time ago, when I was in grad school, one of the touchy-feely things we did in class one day was that each student was given “a million dollars” to spend on a select number of items for which we had to bid. Some of the items included material things, like cars and boats and houses. Some included less tangible things, like a best friend who always listened to you, or good health. Most of the students in the class spread their money over ten or fifteen things.

I looked over the list and looked over my funny money. I ended up putting it all on only three items. First, I gave away 1/10 of the money as a tithe. Secondly, I chose to buy an island. Several others bid on the island, too, but had spread their money too thin. Yeah! I bought myself my first-ever (and only-ever) island. Yeah!

The second thing I bid on for nearly half a million dollars, was to never have to bathe again.  When my hand quickly shot up for the bid, those closest to me scooted their chairs away. Seems I only needed to spend one dollar of funny money, since no one else bid on that particular item. I didn’t regret it, though. I felt it was (would be) well worth it. But because I could tell my fellow students were mentally putting me in an entirely different class of animal from them, my social awareness kicked in and I felt I needed to defend my choice.

“Oh, you all just thought it meant never taking a shower or bath again,” I said. “I wouldn’t need to spend half a million dollars to do that.” I laughed lightly. No one else joined in. I swallowed and continued. “What I’m buying for that amount of money is a machine, a machine where in about two minutes, I could walk through each morning and be washed, shampooed, makeup-ed, and dried and hair styled. I hate wasting a necessary hour or more each day to do that. In just one week, I’d have about 7 hours free which I didn’t have before. What I’m really buying for my half a mill is seven free hours each week.”

With that explanation, nearly everyone in class nodded and grunted an affirmation of the length of time taken to do one’s toiletry every morning. I felt relieved that they felt relieved. Explainations are a good thing.

Sure, they agreed with the time factor, but none of them moved back any closer to me for the rest of the class time.

Simplicity, Complexity, My Life

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This past week I heard a sermon on spiritual disciplines. One of the suggested spiritual disciplines was simplicity. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie. <– Picture me dancing barefoot along a line of red-hot coals.)

However did my life become so complicated? There was a time, driving three states away to my first teaching job, when I’d packed all my earthly possessions into my little Pinto.  Today, my husband and I agree that the only reason we don’t get divorced is the threat that whoever files for it, has to take all the stuff we’ve accumulated over 30+ years. (Well… maybe that’s not the ONLY reason, but whatever works.)

So how does all this relate to writing? The whole point of the simplicity section of the sermon was that with simplicity comes focus. (Oh, ouchie, ouchie, ouchie.) Simplicity is more than just throwing out that second lawn mower in the garage which no longer works. It is more than letting go of a time-sucking commitment. It is more than being able to work on eight different manuscripts “at the same time.”  It is a lifestyle.


A writing acquaintance posted on a listserv how she’s finished writing and publishing 500 manuscripts. Yeah and congratulations — seriously.

I wonder, though, if I were to die tomorrow (or today), which of my “500” unpublished manuscripts will ever catch anyone’s eye and make an impact?  (BTW, I have published about 150 magazine and newspaper articles, and have received positive reader comments. So perhaps it’s possible that I can make mini-impacts.)

A poll has shown that in every income bracket, people want to be on the average, 20% richer than they are. If they get 20% richer than they were, they may be happy for a while, but it is short-lived, as they then want to be 20% richer. I can relate that to publication, too. I will always want to be 20% more published.

Paul Goble was once asked at a library presentation I attended, what was the favorite of all his books. His answer: “Always the one I’m working on.” Brilliant. Simple. Focus.

Now… to go shred more of those checks from the 1980’s. Not to worry. I’ll throw them into my compost pile, then spread the further broken down checks around my flowers and veggies, then let their nourishment float up through the plant roots. Then I’ll eat them! Sounds complicatedly simple, right?

(Maybe I just need more sleep.)

What Are YOUR Writing Rewards?

 Literature Blogs

To reward my 5 hours of revising and critiquing today, I went outside in the MARVELOUS afternoon sunshine, and built me a 6′ snowman. THEN I put a sign on it, challenging the neighborhood to a Snowperson Contest. (I’ve seen several stoppers & lookers so far — tee-hee.) At the bottom of the sign, I wrote that their snow person had to be seen from the road, so I would be able to tell if anyone did it. So far, mine is the only snowman in our neighborhood. I can hardly wait till the weekend to see if I’ve got any takers.

I did this (made a snowman) for several reasons: I work for rewards; I like making/creating things; I like making things out of snow; the temp was perfect snowball-making snow; I LOVE being outside, especially in the sun; and, the last time I made a snowman (last month, in fact) I pulled a muscle in my arm carrying the middle ball, so just wanted to prove to myself that I could get right back up on the snow horse and ride her without fear.

I did this (Snowperson Challenge) for several reasons: I wanted to send a message to my neighbors that it’s fun to be outside; I really wanted neighborhood kids who would rather video game inside, to take up the challenge and spend some time in the great wintery out-of-doors; I thought it would be way-cool if our neighborhood had snowmen on every other yard; and, doing a neighborhood event/challenge like this makes me feel closer to my neighbors, whether they build snowpeople or not, whether they hibernate or not.

So… what rewards do YOU give yourself for successful writing times?

Stopping the Canary from Singing

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I feel deflated and defeated and that de-big-guys squash me.  It reminds me of the story of an elderly woman who took her canary to the vet, explaining he no longer sings.

“Did you leave the window open? Have you gotten new pets or had visitors? Has anything usual happened?”

“No. No. And no. I just don’t understand it.”

“When did he stop singing?”

“The last time I cleaned his cage.”

“What happened then?”

“I decided to clean the bottom of the cage with the vacuum cleaner. Well, Birdie flew down to investigate, and got sucked up. I thought I’d killed him, but when I cut open the bag, I found him covered with dust, but still breathing — just barely. So I took him and put him under the water faucet and washed him off real good. Then I used a hair drier to dry his feathers.  He looks fine, but he hasn’t sung since that day.”

Family v.s. Writing Time

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One of my critique partners made several suggestions for writing during the holiday times. She asked on her 2009/12/27 blog (http://dramaquill.wordpress.com/) How do the holidays affect your writing habits? Besides being a friend, she’s a mind-reader, for I was thinking of blogging about the same thing. So… hey, what do you know? Here I go and do it, anyway, post-holiday.

I have always made family a priority. To me, nothing else (except my faith) could rate higher. If I were to spend so much time writing that I ignore my family, could I live with that decision? Family time these days is precious and wide-spaced in the year. I will never regret giving up “my writing time” to eat and laugh and play games and eat and tell family stories and eat some more, whenever they are present. It is not a hard decision for me. Besides, even in the best of times, with all my other commitments, I tend not to put in a 40-hour writing week. It is all about priorities.

So, in answer to my friend’s question, during the holidays, I take the time off writing to be with family. Then, when it’s all over (i.e., they leave), I go back to feeling guilty about postponing my writing for so long, take one last look at my company-clean house, and then plunge back into my normal, haphazard, unstructured (but productive) writing schedule.

(And now there’s a question for curious minds: Can a schedule be haphazard and unstructured?)