Appropriate Stubbornness

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Summers in my late teens and early twenties involved a lot of travel to and from a large(r) town to enjoy a choice of movie theaters, a tiny mall, and the Neptune Diner. Convenient to the largest cinema, the Neptune stayed open late enough to allow me and my friends snacks and boisterous conversations after whatever summer action blockbuster debuted.

On one of these occasions, as our server took orders for burgers and sides, one of my friends dared me I couldn’t finish a large salad. I should’ve suspected that he possessed advanced knowledge of this salad’s volume, estimated the far smaller space of my petite body’s
stomach, and made a bet that he couldn’t lose. To me, the feat seemed achievable, compared to eating a 48-ounce steak, for example. I wasn’t wholly prepared for what awaited me, and I confidently accepted. When I ordered it, I might have heeded the waitress’ raised eyebrows. She must have figured I knew what was in store. As long as I paid for it, she likely didn’t care if I managed to eat the whole thing.

I remember the bowl seemed large enough to comfortably contain a school of goldfish. The Italian dressing, I requested on the side, arrived in a coffee mug. Iceberg lettuce, tossed with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, and cheddar cheese, filled most of the bowl. A scattering of obligatory croutons dotted the leafy expanse. I tried to keep a nonchalant demeanor in the face of my challenge, but my shock was evident by the grins on my friends’ faces.


I refused to be cowed by the immensity of the task at hand and instead poured the dressing and forked with gusto. Eating mechanically, I closed my eyes as if to will myself into hypnotic gluttony. When I opened them, there barely seemed to be a dent in the greenery. I could read the doubt in the eyes of my peers.

As I’ve gotten older, I find less reason to be stubborn. It’s not something to be proud of as much as it is to be ashamed. I feel better about times when I’ve managed to work out a compromise or let something go. I save the stubbornness for the causes that mean most. Lately writing has become that cause, with its frequent rejections that can frustrate to the point of hair loss. I can call it determination, but in the end it’s the same thing.

I don’t like anyone to tell me what I’m not capable of doing. I have limitations, sure, but I want to be the one to decide when I’ve reached them. I finished that salad, and I felt like I might explode, but I ate a few fries from my friend’s plate afterward. It was a statement: Think twice before betting against me. How childishly dramatic, but it’s funnier, now that I think back on it.

I’ve been lucky enough that no one has ever voiced their doubts to me about my writing. I’ve received patronizing nods and smiles when I mentioned my goals, but at least they stopped short of verbal discouragement. Maybe I would be writing more prolifically if they hadn’t.

What’s your giant salad? I’d love to hear about your stubbornness in pursuit of your dreams in a comment.

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Pulverizing Writer’s Block

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There are few things more frustrating for a writer than writer’s block. As it gets worse, more prolonged, it can fuel self-doubt and exacerbate the problem. For me, trying to power through it and continue efforts on my current project only produces inferior writing and more frustration. Ironically, only writing or writing-related tasks seem to help alleviate my severe cases of writer’s block, like the kind I’ve experienced lately.

Finding another writer I can help can stoke my creative fire. I’ve found that regardless of the type of help I give, it prompts me to examine my own writing. Whether taking part in a group discussion or providing notes on a story I’ve agreed to read, I’m surprised at the creative energy this can generate toward my work in progress. When dealing with the frustration of writer’s block has sapped my energy, this is the kind of boost I need to motivate my continued efforts. It’s also personally fulfilling to contribute to the writing community, since there always seems to be a kind member who’s willing to help me when I need it.

Reducing the stakes of the writing I do can also help recharge my batteries. Journal writing is something I do too seldom, and since it’s writing solely for myself, I can write lengthy brain dumps of words at a manic pace. Something about this contrast with the plodding pace of my creative writing is rejuvenating. Likewise, something mundane, like a review of an online purchase, can remind me how much more fun it would be to work on something creative.

Here’s an actual review I posted on Amazon for some electric toothbrush replacement heads:

Like me, you purchased your electric toothbrush with a goal in mind: healthier teeth and gums. Like me, you may have been shocked, nay, outraged at the price of replacement brush heads. Certainly you would find more reasonably priced options online, but which could you trust to deliver the cleaning comfort you need at a price you can afford?

This product’s massaging oscillations provide brush work artistry comparable only to the Renaissance Masters. For a fraction of the cost of name brand brush heads, enjoy a family-size package sufficient for a year in a typically sized household. Finally it’s no longer a compromise between value and the brushing health you deserve. No need to stretch the head’s use past the recommended three-month lifespan. Change the head as the manufacturer intended, and do it with confidence that your wallet won’t suffer.

Yes, I went a little overboard with the dramatic flare, but that was the point. Destroying my writer’s block is achieved by bringing back the fun that started my aspirations to write. Plus, the product makes my teeth feel awesome, so I can stand behind my review.

When writer’s block is frustrating me, I’ll turn to whatever I need to get writing again. What works for you? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

Spring, Sounds, and Skunks

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As I walk outside this time of year, I can tell spring is waiting to burst out. It’s like a…well, a compressed spring. There’s a palpable, coiled force that will be released soon, at least here in NC. (Sorry, northern friends.) Our next string of warm days might spur buds on the trees, greening grass, and a chorus of avian song.

Some couldn’t wait. I’ve seen robins hunting worms. Geese are showing up in grassy clearings around town. Daffodils have pushed through the earth but haven’t yet flowered. The Bradford pear trees are in bloom. Their white blossoms are a nice break from the bare branches, even if they are an “ecological disaster“. (I imagine Bradbury pear trees would be worse because they would be a Martian species, invasive and carnivorous. Sorry, my writer’s brain does’t stop.)

When will the other trees follow suit? I can’t help but think of the brave kids that were first to jump into the swimming pool in early summer. They always said the same thing to us more cowardly swimmers: “It’s not that cold. You’ll get used to it. Come on!” Do you think these early arboreal bloomers put the same pressure on their neighbors? “Come on, oaks, maples! Winter’s over. There might be a few cold nights left, but you’ll get used to it?” I wouldn’t trust those daffodils. I’ve seen them push up through the snow. I probably shouldn’t even mention the blasted dandelions. Some of them are already going to seed and scattering their fluffy aviators all over the place.

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Misophonia is occasionally in the news. It’s the rage-inducing sensitivity to certain sounds. I’m lucky enough not to suffer from it. I only notice the occasional sound that drives me batty, though I’m a big fan of quiet for times of concentration and creativity. I wonder if Cookie Monster’s enthusiastic chomping and crunching ever triggered anyone? That would be tragic. He’s long been one of my favorite Sesame Street characters. Maybe it’s our mutual love of those desserts. If he ate them quietly, it wouldn’t be the same. I don’t think he would have the patience to soften them in a glass of milk. His name isn’t Reasonable Cookie Aficionado, right?

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A friend of my family’s, whom I remember from childhood, recently passed away. His name is Al, and news of his death shocked and saddened me. Most of the memories I have of him involve my deceased father. They worked together as well as played together. I vividly remember their partnership in canoe regattas. Al crafted his own paddles. He was a handy guy, even blew glass, which seemed like magic to me back then. He and my dad also carpooled together, so I saw Al often. He would pour a cup of coffee from our pot while my family finished breakfast, and they would head off to work.

One morning, Al stopped short in the doorway. We all stared at him, puzzled by his uncustomary quiet. The cat figured out what was amiss. Our orange tom froze in mid step. His growl seemed just as freakish as Al’s quiet. Then the smell hit us, the acrid, tear-inducing stench of skunk.

We had experienced a rash of skunk trouble during the summer. The pesky rascals toppled our trash cans and made a mess of the yard. My dad owned a tender-heart trap and had successfully nabbed several of the varmints, always careful to throw a sheet over the trap before loading it into the back of the pick-up and transporting them out of town. Al borrowed the trap and was not as successful. He must have been in a hurry to get to work and somehow not realized he’d been sprayed. Even today, when I smell skunk, I think of Al’s mishap and chuckle. RIP, Al. You’ve left a lot of people who treasured you and treasure memories of you still.

Writing Conference

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Recently I attended  my first writing conference. It had originally been scheduled for fall of 2018, but Hurricane Florence had other plans for us. Thankfully it was rescheduled and not cancelled. A small affair, it was held on a rainy Saturday at NC State’s campus. Armed with pens, notebooks, and a hurriedly written pitch for my first novel, I prepared to engage fellow writers and hopefully entice some agents to read my manuscript.

I was both disappointed and a little relieved that there were no agents attending. At least I had an elevator pitch to use on other writers and ran into another author with a penchant for post-apocalyptic fiction. Over lunch, we discussed indie publishing, the difficulties of gaining blog readership, writing discipline, and a host of other topics. I left with his business card and his hearty encouragement to keep writing, keep working to improve, and never give up.

Even though the majority of people I met were non-fiction authors, even photographers, their desire to be published and share their creative efforts was palpable. I was in good company. Their questions to panelists often echoed by own concerns and confusion about the publishing world, marketing, and a host of other topics. I could feel tension from some who, like myself, were a bit overwhelmed by all the details, especially the expensive ones.

The panels ranged from branding and marketing to publishing and outlining. Again and again, I heard disparaging remarks about traditional publishing that dispelled many of my preconceptions. It was also overwhelmingly obvious that the panelists were entrepreneurs first, drumming up business for their editing, layout, or marketing services. Some of them were also writers. I found myself wishing there were more full-time authors on the panels instead, people who could provide keen insight from their own experiences in the trenches, without the incentive to sell me something other than their novels. I think what I really crave is out there somewhere, maybe in another city not so far away, at a conference that spans a whole weekend or even a few days.

According to what I heard, traditional publishing has changed considerably over the years. Most of these changes benefit the publishers by allowing them to cut expenses. They invest most of their time and money in authors guaranteed to make them money, which makes sense from a business standpoint but sacrifices the discovery and support of new talent. Editing quality and marketing are two areas where publishing budgets have shrunk, and both can have a drastic effect on book sales. Since the publisher would also benefit from additional sales, it left me scratching my head. I guess there’s some mysterious formula that helps compute which books are better off unsold than being marketed more aggressively.

Armed with questions around what I heard the panelists discuss, I turned to an online writing group for some opinions. What I received in response to my questions was phrased in pros and cons of both traditional and indie publishing. Will I continue to submit to agents, or will I self-publish my novels? I’ve read that doing both, when possible, is the best practice. In the immediate future, I won’t do either. I’ve got at least one more revision to make to the novel I finished and more outlining to do for my new project. I’ll continue to submit short stories to publications, when I have time. Self-publishing involves more work on my part, more time spent marketing and leveraging social media. Since I don’t have time for that right now, I’ll have to be content to hone my skills and research agents seeking the kind of fiction I write.

The most important advice I received was that I will need to finish more books before any of the rest becomes important. Keep writing? I can do that.

Too Old for Rock-n-Roll

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Photo: Jester Jay Goldman

Todd Snider! Squeeee! I’m going to get tickets. The show’s on a Friday when I don’t have to work. I can’t believe I’ll get to see him perform live. I can’t believe the show hasn’t sold out. Tickets: um, one. Section: Floor seats sold out, so balcony. OK, better than standing. Because I’m old. Show time: 8:30. Wait, that means he probably won’t go on until at least 9 o’clock. Figure I get out of there by 11 o’clock, I should be home by…way past my bed time. There’s no way I won’t fall asleep, sitting upright, drool soaking through my shirt, even with hundreds of screaming people and raucous music playing. I think I’ll just buy one of his albums. I guess I’m too old to rock and roll.

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I’m planning a longer blog post about it later but thought I’d write some quick impressions about the writing conference I recently attended. It left me with a lot of questions about my writing intentions. Am I headed down the wrong path when I submit my novel to agents? Can I count on a traditional publisher to present, edit, and market my novel in ways that will reach and satisfy more readers? I don’t know. Many of the panelists expressed opinions that disparaged traditional publishers. The majority of them were also obviously trying to sell services to self-publishers. Can I afford to absorb the costs for editing, cover design, print layout, proofreading, printing, and marketing if I self-publish? Do I want to lose rights to characters and other creative content? Do I want to hand over something that took me years to craft, so I can make 20 percent or less of the money earned from book sales? I have a ton of research to do, and that translates into time I won’t be writing.

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I got nostalgic in my car and turned on some Willie Nelson. He was a favorite of my late grandmother, one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever known. When I was young, she and my grandfather would take me and my sister with them to bluegrass festivals in their RV. We’d sit on the grass and enjoy the summer sun, while bands picked and grinned. I still remember becoming mesmerized by the hammer dulcimer and remain a fan of bluegrass and jug bands to this day. The best part was watching my grandparents dance. Even at my young age, I was able to imagine what they must have looked like when they were young. The years just sloughed off them as they smiled at each other.

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I remember a day, seemingly eons ago, when I would have painstakingly crafted a role-playing game character with only seriousness in mind. He or she would have some dark backstory that would catapult him/her into a life of adventure, likely seeking vengeance or answers to the mystery of what caused such adolescent trauma. Angst, passion, pain, deliverance, or possibly redemption would follow. Maybe I’m just getting older and having problems taking my gaming as seriously. I certainly spend far fewer hours playing these days. Now I’m more apt to create a hobbit monk that looks like chubby Elvis and plays the spoons, or a roguish conman based on Tim Meadows’ “Ladies’ Man”. Dungeons and Dragons has become just one more example of the fun that can be had when laughing at my own jokes.

 

George: A Portrait of Kindness

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When I was seven years old, my house was gutted by fire.

I was next door, having lunch at my grandparents’ house. The anticipation of my first trip bowling with my dad was foremost in my mind. When we finished eating, we hurried home to get ready for an afternoon of fun. Smoke belched from the door when my dad opened it. He yelled for me to run back to my family and have them call the fire department.

I remember the pets we lost but not many of the things we couldn’t recover. The only one that sticks with me to this day was a stuffed rabbit by the name of Horatio Hare. I never went to bed without him. The space in bed next to me, settled into my grandparents’ home until ours could be rebuilt, was empty.

People in my neighborhood turned out in force to donate clothes and other necessities. This neighborly generosity is one of the best parts of small town living, in my opinion. In no time, I had stuff to wear and toys to fill hours of playtime. Perhaps the best gift I received was a second-hand teddy bear.

I dubbed him George, and he never bothered to correct me if I was wrong. He was floppy, with a big head I could easily grip in the crook of my arm as I slept. His fur was worn soft by years of love from his former owner, and his black fluff-ball nose seemed always in danger of falling off.

A few years later, I was too grown up to sleep with George anymore. He went to live on my parents’ bed. I suppose he easily could have been donated to another kid in need, but I’m selfishly glad my mom kept him. When my son was born, George came to live with me again. I was happy to sit him in my son’s room, on a child-sized chair my grandmother was given to commemorate her years of teaching. My son has since outgrown his stuffed animals, but George still occupies the same chair in his room.

I think I will always have George, even after my son refuses to share space with a teddy bear. To me, the little guy is a symbol of kindness and charity. When I see him, I can’t help but think of the best in people. I love having that tangible reminder of neighbors helping neighbors, of love that can be passed on again and again. Everybody needs a George, when we start to doubt that people care about us or each other. I’ve been lucky to have the same one for most of my life.

Brine to Unwind

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A few items came to my mind that didn’t fit the length of a typical blog entry. Usually I’m reluctant to publish them, but I think I’ll include more of them in the future. Maybe I’ll call the recurring theme “Saturday Stream of Consciousness” until something better occurs to me.

I tried a float session and have mixed feelings. The term “sensory deprivation tank” sounds scary, I guess, but that’s what I was expecting. For marketing purposes, “float” sounds less torturous. When I read Dean Koontz’s The Door to December, I was fascinated by the concept and wondered what sensory deprivation might hold in store for me. I knew it wouldn’t be like what I read in the novel. That would have scarred me for life. I hoped that I might experience something enlightening, like a trance in which I could remember something long forgotten. Instead I just fell into a deep relaxation. I turned off all the lights and ambient music, surrendered to the womb-like warmth and quiet, floated in the salty water so much like the blood flowing through my body. I listened to my heartbeat and my breaths and eventually slumbered, until bubbling jets alerted me that my session had come to an end. It felt like something between a really calm night at the beach and waking from a dream because had to pee. I don’t know if I’ll try it again. My senses weren’t truly deprived, not like what I sincerely wanted. I might have had similar experiences with a hot bath, followed by a nap. If any of you have tried a float session, please leave me a comment. I’d love to read your experiences.

I’m excited to be attending a local writing conference next week. It was rescheduled after Hurricane Florence interfered with its fall date. (Wouldn’t it have been nice if that had been the only problem the hurricane created? Luckily for me, that was nearly the only inconvenience I suffered.) It’s only a one-day conference, but it’s my first. I hope to overcome my introversion and make some contacts among the attendees. So far, I haven’t had much luck finding a local writing group that meets when or where it’s realistic for me to attend. Maybe I can create one with some of the conference participants I meet. I’ve tried a couple of times to enroll in a local speculative fiction writing class, but it was cancelled due to low enrollment both times. While some of my experiences with online writing groups have been great, I feel like a smaller group of local writers would be better. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the distance inherent in an online group allows people to feel more confident in giving honest criticism of my work. I’d like to find out which method helps me write better.

Fool’s Spring is over. You may have seen a popular post in one or more of your favorite social media outlets about this. We had a few really nice days in a row, enough to get my heart singing with the birds for a lasting breath of warmth. I had to use the air conditioning, but now the heat is running again. The poor trees that already blossomed are hating the returning cold. The migrating geese are probably regretting their wasted trip north. At least I know better, after two decades in NC, than to have swapped out my cold weather clothes for my summer things. Of course, last year at this time I was mowing the lawn. You never can tell, and that’s the only consistency.

Lessons from “The Gambler”

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On a warm summer’s eve
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin’
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak

The first stanza sets the scene. The characters are succinctly described and their motivations identified. Much like the first chapter of a novel or first paragraph of a short story, the train (metaphor intended) chugs into motion as it stirs our curiosity about these characters and the potential interactions they might have. What will the gambler say? We know it will be something interesting. Here is a person who lives by his wits, fickle luck, and the foolishness of those less experienced. What adventures he must have had, and now we are raptly attentive.

He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
Stanza two answers some questions about the characters introduced in the previous stanza. Our gambler is older than the narrator, seasoned, grizzled perhaps, in his lifelong meanderings on chance’s highway. He is in a position to provide advice from his experiences, in exchange for a nip from the bottle. Are thees his only motivation, a taste of spirits and a bit of tongue-wagging to pass the evening? Our narrator is younger, fallen on hard times, bereft of money but not currency. Is the price of the advice fair? It is one more gamble the narrator will have to risk. The stanza compels us to continue, in hopes of learning what the gambler will disclose.
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his faced lost all expression
He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
Suspense is prolonged in stanza three. We learn the cost of the gambler’s advice. He ups the ante, demanding a cigarette in addition to his quoted price. It’s not just a sip, but the last sip, of the narrator’s whiskey. The value is increased by the laws of supply and demand. The stakes are higher now, and the narrator has already paid, already invested the precious commodities and received relatively little, except the promise of something greater, something to be revealed in the chorus, and perhaps some foreshadowing.
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You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Finally the much anticipated advice passes from the lips of the sagacious master to the ears of the anxious neophyte, and it is disappointing in its simplicity. What can it mean? There must be more, something deeper, something worth the price paid. “Tell me something I don’t know,” we imagine the narrator yelling. Secrets can’t be revealed too early. Sure there needs to be something dangled to satisfy curiosity, but one can’t reveal his cards until stakes have been raised to the maximum dared by the gambler’s instincts. Or until the very next stanza, to keep the song moving.
Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep
Explanations and clarifications at last begin to satisfy our narrator’s yearning for understanding. Gambling is a skillful art, where success is determined by knowledge and understanding of the odds, the tells of one’s opponents, one’s own tendencies to be too bold or too cautious. There is only one certainty: death. It seems the gambler’s real lesson isn’t about gambling. Here his motivations change and he redefines himself in his cautionary tale. Our narrator is confronted with the realization that his life is in the balance of his decision to pursue Lady Luck’s favor or abandon her for a safer, more peaceful living.
And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
In the last chapter, er… stanza, our sage exits the stage. Having passed his learning to the narrator, he is freed of his burden. What knowledge he had accumulated during his life of uncertainty and danger has been conveyed to the best of his ability. It is up to the younger version of himself to learn from this wisdom or ignore it at his peril. The narrator realizes it for the treasure it is, but will he push his luck or fold into a life of stability? We are left to imagine the path he will take.
I believe there are writing lessons to be gleaned from Kenny Rogers’ famous song, especially for the type of adventurous genre fiction I like to write. There are nuggets to be mined pertaining to plotting and pacing. There is a reminder that secrets are best revealed slowly, letting anticipation grow. The lyrics also leave us with uncertainty, like some of the best endings in my most treasured books. Perhaps there are even lessons about writing itself, in its parallels to gambling. You’ve got to know which stories to shelve and which stories to submit. Never count your earnings, ’til you’ve reached the end of your royalty cycle. Well, not very lyrical, but the message it still there.
“The Gambler” is one of my favorite stories in song. I hope to find others to share as writing lessons, as my blog continues this year. Here’s hoping 2019 is the year of your greatest hand yet. Leave me a comment, and let me know about your winnings so far.
Lastly, of course, credit where credit is due for these meaningful lyrics:
Songwriters: Don Schlitz
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Puppy Time

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It’s probably not an original turn of phrase, Puppy Time. It likely prompts images of time spent in the company of our canine friends. For many of us, that’s literally our happy place. Dogs have a way of making us feel wanted, loved, needed. They’re so easy to please and ask so relatively little. Mine just wants to snuggle on the couch, worm around in a sunny patch of grass, and eat until she explodes. That last one isn’t allowed, but she’s content enough with the first two.

What I’ve come to call Puppy Time is a state of mind akin to the joyful, zen feeling I experience when I sit with my dog. It’s so easy to get lost in the sound of her blissful snoring, the velvety texture of the hair on her ears, or the gentle rise and fall of her relaxed breaths. It’s like meditating, no, it’s better. So often when I attempt to meditate, other thoughts intrude. I’m not distracted when it’s Puppy Time. Time passes unnoticed. Only when she stirs or licks me am I brought back to future or past concerns.

I’ve started thinking of other moments of zen presence as Puppy Time, too. Increasingly writing is like this, at least the first draft. My computer’s clock will tell me it’s been an hour since I last noticed. I will marvel at a thousand new words on the pages in front of me. What magic prompted such focus and calm creativity? Puppy Time.

One might argue that I’m not “present” when that happens. My mind is racing to deliver words to typing fingers that struggle to keep up. My focus is in another place, a world I’ve created, with characters that aren’t literally speaking to each other. I’m not conscious of my breathing in the now or even the tingling in my wrists from the frantic typing. I’m more hypnotized than meditating. Call it what you want. I call it productive writing time, carefree of the world outside. I call it Puppy Time, even though my dog would rather I were sitting on the couch with her instead of at my desk.

I hope everybody has experienced Puppy Time at some point, and just as much I hope that they get to cherish it often. It’s precious, just like my dog. It’s a time to recharge batteries drained dry by the stresses and schedules of the world. Whichever way Puppy Time is enjoyed, I think we all need more of it. To drift out of Puppy Time is to feel rejuvenated. I think that’s when we’re at our best and most capable of positive interactions with others, our most patient and kind, our most daringly creative.

What’s your Puppy Time spent doing? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Writer’s Muscles

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I stared blankly at the screen from my comfortable chair. I couldn’t recall how long I had been staring, been sitting, been conscious. My protruding belly served as a coaster. Cheez-It crumbs decorated my shirt and stuck to the condensation on my glass. I strained to lift the weight of my arms, to brush away the crumbs. Eventually the dog would discover me, and the crumb situation would be handled. I could wait.

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That’s an analogy, by the way, but I can eat half a box of Cheez-Its in one sitting. The atrophy of my physical muscles from inactivity easily parallels those of my writing. Just like re-establishing a workout regimen, it can be an uphill battle to start creating again. It’s a painful process, working those author muscles that want me to ignore them. I hope some time off at Christmas will help me build some real momentum. Not like New Year’s resolution gym membership momentum, but something that will actually last.

There are plenty of things surrounding writing that aren’t really “writing”. Some time spent just sitting and thinking is valuable, but it’s easy to extend that time beyond what’s fruitful. I’ve been fighting through outlining my next novel with little regard for short fiction or blog entries, until one day I was compelled to write a story. It had to be written, before I talked myself out of it and spent the time on outlining or stuff I needed to do around the house. It was like going for a jog after months recovering from an injury. I think I pulled something. I was definitely exhausted after two thousand words or so. Just like after a good workout, I enjoyed the fruits of my efforts.

My new plan, keeping in mind that the outline still needs to get done, is to allow myself writing time every day. Even if I only get ten or 15 minutes, I can’t afford to lapse and atrophy again. I’ll write anything that comes to mind. I’ll start with the three or four other projects I’ve dreamed up. I haven’t given them time to gestate because they don’t seem as fleshed out or commercially viable as the novel I’m outlining, but it certainly won’t hurt to start writing them. I’ll see where my imagination takes them, just to keep limber and toned. I’ll explore short story and blog ideas when they come, and maybe some will take shape. If I don’t start writing them, I’ll never know.

I’ve toyed with the idea of contracting a highly recommended writing coach, someone to help me finish the outline more quickly and start writing the novel. After the years it took me to finish my first novel, I know there must be a better way, a more efficient way, to get my novels written. I’ve long been hesitant to do this, due to the cost and difficulty admitting I need help. Now I think it might be the long-term investment I need to make if I want to seriously pursue a career as a novelist.

Are you struggling to gain momentum with anything important to you? Leave me a comment, and we can help each other get past what’s slowing us down.