My Giant Brain


I’m supposed to be writing this week. I thought I would pound out at least four more chapters in seven days. So, that didn’t happen. Life happened. It happened all around me. Cat sitting, dog managing, spouse home for several weeks recovering from a surgical adventure. Oh, yes. I said weeks. Even when those around you take care of themselves and stay out of your field of vision, for the most part, we are always keenly aware of their presence. We’re also aware of the laundry mountain awaiting our attention, and the dust bunnies multiplying like, well, rabbits, beneath the sofa and pulling food from the freezer for dinner 8 hours from now. And hey! Wouldn’t this be a great time to call Nancy and have a chat over coffee?

In 2011, the University College in London did a study and concluded, and I quote, so you won’t think I just made this up to justify my possible ADD-Sugar-enhanced-Dory-the-fish Olympic avoidance festivals, “… those who are easily distracted from tasks at hand have ‘too much brain’.” Researchers at the university found that there were larger than average volumes of grey matter in  certain brain regions in people whose attention was easily diverted.

YES! This is the problem! I have too much brain! I am vindicated! Free now to claim superior deductive powers,  not a lack of control over my attention span. No, sir. It is the sole fault of my giant fraking brain.

Some distractions we really can not do anything about and so we must live with them. Others, we can have some control over; like our writing environment. I have a table that I used as a desk last year that sat in the corner of my living room. It worked pretty well for me until staring out the window at the neighbors house began to feel far less inspirational than it once did. It was time for a change of scenery. I commandeered the dining room. A long, white table sits next to the front window giving me a street view of winter snow, spring blossoms and now, a lush green, leafed out Michigan summer. Being a dining room table it is a magnet for every bit of junk mail, keys, hats, empty coffee cups and whatever family has in their hands as they pass. I made this place a little writing altar. I have a candle and a Kwan Yin and some little tchotchke things that I use as writing juju. I do not care if that Sprint headset box that was left on the table looks just as important as my turquoise suede pouch with the wolf stone my daughter gave me, it is not MY juju and I find it distracting.

The other day on Pinterest, (the MECCA of distraction), I saw a sketch of a guy sitting on a heap of books with more piles covering the landscape. It said some clever thing about wisdom. Nice enough picture, but I found myself thinking that any real lover of books would be freaking out at the horrible disorganization of what they supposedly, love. That is not wise. That is not even love. That is feeding a short term addiction to interesting stuff. When we truly love what we read and love what we write and love the ideas our muses give us, we want to be able to easily and quickly lay our hands on them again so we can quote them or nurture them into a storyline.

Scanning my dining table/workspace I find that my own stacks of reference books, research material, spiral notebooks and sticky notes with “great ideas” may have been moved to accommodate the nearly finished mocha latte to-go cup that he-who-will-not-be-named really, really needed to leave right there. It … distracts me.

Shades of Joan Crawford screaming about wire hangers move through my mind when I look up from the keyboard and see that paper cup exactly where my Celtic Wheel of Life and The Path of Druidry books were earlier this morning.

Logic says that this is all yet another avoidance tactic to getting down to the writing. Giant Brain Squirrel Girl says, “Honey, does this rag smell like chloroform?” It will be interesting to see which choice my giant brain makes…right after I have some lunch because I see the spouse making a sandwich and that looks really good right this very minute…


What Does It Take to be a Writer?


The other day, I stumbled onto an old post on a writing website. The author had asked readers what they thought it took to be a successful writer.

Good soldiers said it took discipline. Several said it required patience. One guy even said it took, “patients.” Perhaps he was a medical writer. A few pointed to skill and there were a few votes for a love of words.

I’d have to go along with the word love fest myself, but I’d add that we must be in touch with our wild selves as well. Real writing worth reading always takes us somewhere that could get messy. We must love to roll around in words like my dog does on the lawn just after I’ve mowed.

Writer’s must be part cat. We need to revel in rubbing up against words with embarrassing sensuality. We also need the cat’s ability to survive being thrown off a roof and still land on our feet when rejection letters and bad reviews arrive in our lives.

The tenacity of a Gila Monster comes in handily in word wrangling; biting into a storyline and hanging in there until our teeth touch and there is nothing left to say on the subject.

We need the vision of an eagle; flying high above all the sameness on the plain of published words and seeing something meaty and delicious, be willing to fold our wings into a death dive, down to where it is and bring it home.

Most of all, a writer must become a word lion; embracing our predator nature, staring down what we want and following it wherever it goes. Without shame or apology, we must set our sites on that feast of words and take it down; bloody truth and all; laying it out on paper to be devoured by our dinner guests, the readers.

BLOGPOST The Weird Kid in The Corner

Posting telepathically

Today, I’m interrupting my writing flow for a little bit and doing the social network check-in thing because I need a break. Maybe you know this from personal experience. or maybe you don’t, but writing is a lonely business. We word bleeders spend an inordinate amount of time all by ourselves. Any given day, we can be found clacking away over keyboards and cramping our hands with our Bic Rolling Writers; capturing things and storing them in cheap lined spiral notebooks we found at Walgreen’s; hoping we can read our hideous handwriting later. Especially the parts that had us so excited that we started writing like the guy in A Beautiful Mind. Which is disturbing, because we do consider ourselves “normal”;even though there may be times when we can’t lay our hands on clean paper and seriously considered asking for a friend’s white shirt as a stand in. That’s normal. Right?

When I feel like stopping to check in with the world on Facebook, or Twitter or Linked In or some other place where people who have real jobs might wander through once or twice a week, I’m torn between feeling like I’m connecting with real people or just doing the wraith thing; a drive by past those who build stuff or heal things or do some work that counts as “real” in the wide world.

I used to feel that way until I started “following” some of my favorite authors and other creative people on Twitter; Christopher Moore, Lilith Saintcrow, Brandon Sanderson and others. There they were, stopping their own writing day to be a human for 140 characters. Some post periodically throughout the day when they just need to vent the steam lid of their head. Like me, they do it so the world they are writing doesn’t become more real than the place where we actually live. They tweet about food they are cooking and odd things they were researching for their latest books. They post photos of their dogs and comment on current social situations they hold an opinion about. They behave as if they didn’t spend thousands of hours dreaming and writing in worlds that hold dragons and demons, and post apocalyptic necromancers. I liked that.

Writing, like many other creative endeavors that don’t require other people to help you make it real, isolates us. It can take its toll on the people you live with. It takes its toll even on our pets, like my Great Dane, who comes to lay at my feet and occasionally let’s out a vocalization that sounds remarkably like “Why the hell have you been in that chair for seven hours?” Her eyes get sad when “mommy” disappears again into the invisible place in her head where the characters live.

I had fair warning that this would be part of my life as an adult. I was that weird kid in the corner of the classroom, especially during a writing assignment, who was hunched over her desk and writing like a madwoman, page after page, and stealing glances at the clock to see if I had enough time to wrap it up with a bang. I’d finish what I was writing and let out a giant exhale and finally look around at the kids nearby who were staring at me like I had grown a giant horn atop my head and I might start yodeling any second now.

When teachers asked us what we wanted to do with our lives, I really wanted to say I want to make people laugh and I want to make them cry when they read what I write. I want to make them see what I’m seeing in my head and sometimes, I want to make them so sexually aroused that they’ll really need to take a cold shower. I want to make them fall madly in love with the characters that I make-up and I want them to quote a line one of them said because it meant something personal to them. I want people to read my writing and I want them to begin to look at the world around them differently than they do right now. I want to write things that help people find answers to questions they didn’t know they had. I want them to relate so well to one of my characters that they color their hair the same color, paint their room to match or maybe even get a tattoo somewhere on their body and every time they look at it, they’ll think of that character and what he/she would have done in their place.

That’s what I wanted to say to the teacher who asked what we wanted to do with our lives. Instead I said, “I want to write.” It sounded less maniacal; less arrogant and grandiose. But what I wanted actually was grandiose. Who wants to write things that are forgettable? What I glimpsed as a kid, that little bubble of creativity that surrounded me in a classroom while I gleefully raced my pen across the page at the teacher’s starting gun-that bubble only fit me inside of it. There’s only enough air in there for one, and though you can see the world around you, you are removed by a thin clear membrane from its touch while you are inside.

Social networks allow a writer a moment outside the bubble where they can check to make sure the world is still out there. Leaving word breadcrumb trails and graffiti humor on the walls of Facebook or Twitter let’s us exercise our word demons. Jumping jacks! Give me 50! Go! When we read another writer’s description of their writing process and the small things they do to maintain balance in their lives when they come out of their own creativity bubbles, well, it let’s us know we aren’t the only weird kid in the corner. Like you, reading this, right now. Hey, Weirdo! How’s it goin’ over there?

BLOGPOST Hearts, Walls and Getting the Flow of Creativity Moving Again

I’m a new member of writer and author groups. By new I mean, three weeks. Not new to writing though, I’ve been writing for so long that the home made blue jean maxi skirt with fabric inserts I was wearing when I wrote my first poem has come in and out of fashion several times since then.

My past writing has been the, under 1,000 words for magazine articles, poetry, marketing copywriting, essays, opinions and blog post style. Now tackling novels, I am experiencing something new; The Wall. I have three manuscripts going right now; each in suspended animation at around 22,000 words. The one I most want to dive into, a Celtic druid time travel MS, had me in an artistic tizzy. When I would pick it up to see if the muse is home, I swear I could hear elevator music. It’s annoying. The pace, the flow, the stamina required, the seven thousand gallons of coffee for novel writing is just, well, different. I wanted to find some other writers to speak with about the literary walkabout I needed to embark on in the Outback of my mind. Where do I start? What should I take along? What should I leave behind? Will there be spiders? (Please, say no.) Without a clue what my first step should be in finding the commiseration I was seeking, I resorted to doing what I usually do when I’m stuck in a creative whirlpool. I did something completely unrelated and hoped like hell while I was distracted, a way would open up for me and I’d be awake enough to see when it happened.

A friend of mine calls the powers in charge of serendipitous stuff, “The Set Designer’s Of the Universe.” She says they sit up above us and move things and people and opportunities around so we either don’t crash into it or we do…on purpose. She says they laugh their asses off when we finally smack our forehead and catch on to what they’ve been up to.

A few weeks into just doing things unrelated, I saw a post on Facebook from a local artist, Barb Hranilovich. Her work is amazing and during a food bank event planning job a few years back, I got the chance to paint ceramic plates with her one day. She worked so fast and her vision was clear and steady and within the short time we had, she made three different pieces that were astonishing in their detail. In March, I saw her Facebook post on a workshop she was teaching on the art of making little felt heart sculptures. She called it HeartFelt. I have lots of heart things around my home and heart shaped jewelry. Love them. Perfect. Love her. Love her work. I’m in. As I sat at the table in the Grove Gallery in East Lansing learning and making my own little felt heart, we women started to yak. The woman across from me told us all about a new group she helped form; the Capital City Writer’s Association. A whiplash inducing head swivel locked my eyes to hers and she told me about their first meeting (the very next Saturday) and how to join. Tunnel…light!

At the meeting, they talked about Romance Writers of America and the group leader casually mentioned that there is a local chapter that we might want to look into and by the way, romance writer’s as a genre, are the most organized author groups in the world. I heard that. I wrote it down. A few days later I went online and joined RWA and just for the heck of it, I looked up the local chapter, MMRWA. Their monthly meeting was in a few days. I saw the address of the meeting and did another whiplash double take. Not only was the meeting just a couple days away, not enough time for me to start stacking projects and excuses in front of it so I couldn’t get there, it was less than two miles from my house. What? Ok. I can follow a sign that’s lit up that big and in my face.

I went to the meeting not knowing what to expect and just “happened” to sit next to author, Diane Burton. She writes sci-fi. SCORE! I am, arguably, the biggest sci-fi fan in the Multiverse. At the end of the first meeting, she did a brief head’s up on a talk she’ll be giving at the next meeting. It will be on book jacket blurbs and elevator pitches. She gave us the home work of writing a short blurb and tag line describing the book we’re working on. My grown son was in town for a weekend visit so I tossed the homework to the family and said I was having trouble doing it. After giving a five minute synopsis of the story so far, the boy child cocked an eyebrow at me and said, “She holds the future. He holds her heart.”

WTF? Did he just do that in ten seconds? Yes. Yes, he did. We talked a bit about storylines, characters and situations I was wrestling with and as if someone poked a hole in the dam holding back the water of creativity, it just started to flood out. I am now deep in Celtic Druid Time Traveling World Changing Romantic storytelling.

Here’s where I lay out the weird parts of this story. The Facebook post for Barb’s workshop drew me in because I saw a photo of a heart she had made. The book I have been working on for several years is called The Grove. The gallery where I took the HeartFelt workshop is called The Grove Gallery. I was, literally, holding my heart, when the woman told me about the CCWA. The CCWA led me to the MMRWA and an open chair on a corner led me to a seat next to Diane who gave the home work that I took home and with an open heart, shared with my family who led me to a breakthrough in writing progress of the book.

So, to wrap this up, here’s my advice for when you hit your own wall. Look around you and pay attention to what excites your heart. Follow it wherever it takes you and while you go, pay attention. Following the heart will always lead you to exactly where you need to be to do what is next for you. Trust your heart. It’s a text message from The Set Designer’s of The Universe and in case you didn’t know this already, they always have your very best interests at heart.