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Yesterday morning I had a visitation of the mind monkeys.  You know the ones I mean: they drop in unannounced, stomp on all of your shiny new ideas, tear things up and leave slimy banana peels all over your outlook for the day. The fact that they showed up is not surprising.  They used to live here.

I didn’t realize, until they burst on the scene yesterday morning, that they’d actually been out wreaking havoc elsewhere.  In my writer brain over the last week or so there has been mostly contentment, pleasure in the work at hand, inspiration, excitement, and enthusiasm.  Rather than sulking in corners, my muse has been throwing flowers and candy my way.  Mind you, her aim is bad and she often bops me in the nose with something hard or prickly, but she’s been forthcoming and almost cooperative.

When the mind monkeys reappeared, it was immediately clear that absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.  I prefer to write without them.  It’s nice to venture through the door to work with plot ideas simmering or the brain running searches for that perfect but elusive word.  Too much energy gets tied up in trying to mitigate the mind monkey damage.

Check this out:

“ Our minds–made up of our thoughts, beliefs, and self-talk–are always “on.” According to scientists, we have about 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s one thought per second during every waking hour. No wonder we’re so tired at the end of the day!
And what’s even more startling is that of those 60,000 thoughts, 95 percent are the same thoughts you had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Your mind is like a record player playing the same record over and over again… Talk about being stuck in a rut…
Still, that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the next statistic: for the average person, 80 percent of those habitual thoughts arenegative. That means that every day most people have more than 45,000 negative thoughts… Dr. Daniel Amen, a world-renowned psychiatrist and brain imaging specialist, calls them automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs.” ~ Marci Shimoff from Happy for No Reason

My goal for this weekend?  Keep out the mind monkeys.  Oh, sure – they can be entertaining – but the writing goes so much better without them.  Somebody, I think it was Joseph Campbell, said “never complete a negative thought.”  I’m trying to create an awareness – catching those thoughts as they are going through my brain and changing them to positive. Optimism and consistent effort, those are the tools for me.

Yes, I’m bound to relapse.  I’m sure I’ll be seen here before too long, whining about this or that rejection, or how the writing isn’t working out.  You have permission to throw banana peels at me.

Friday and I’m back to work, with a weekend On Call ahead of me.  I was thinking about my writing goals for this weekend, and how this place I am currently at in my writing is different than – well, anywhere I’ve ever been.

I spent the last three days in a frenzy of preparation for what Em calls Query Road. I’m more inclined to go with the metaphor RA Ballard and I came up with on Twitter the other day. Getting ready to query feels like standing on a cliff, with the sea spread out a mile below, while all of your new writer friends are shouting, “come on, jump in, it’ll be fun.” With a hefty dose of angst and a lot of help from my friends (Tasha and Em, I love you) I got a query letter and synopsis together, and took the plunge.

The water is cold, but refreshing, as I knew it would be.  Frankly, I was mostly afraid I might smash my head on the rocks on my way down. Now that I’m here, I feel more at peace than I have in weeks.  The company is excellent, and I have done what I set out to do.  I have a marketable product, a professional query letter, and a solid synopsis all ready to go.  First rejection is back, but it was personalized and positive.  From here on out, I’m trying to think of this process as the business venture that it is.

And I’m back to writing.  Now that the pressure is off, I’m working on Swimming North once again.  And you know what?  I love this manuscript, with all of its faults and weaknesses and weirdness.  Not to mention the challenges it presents. My brain is humming with possibilities, the muse is dancing around the room singing, and I’m just trying to keep up with her.  Today, while I was driving home from work, she gifted me with a couple of ideas that nearly took my breath away.

My weekend goal for myself is unusual for me.  I’m a ‘pantser’ to the core, but this book requires a firmer hand. I fear that revision will need an outline of some kind, although the usual outline format never works for me.  I’ve begun with the Armature: it is clearly stated on an index card and pinned to my bulletin board at my writing desk.  Also on an index card, in big letters, is my MC’s primary goal.  I’m visualizing a big poster board with a combination of pictures and words.

While I’m busy visualizing, the universe is probably conspiring to present me with a number of really interesting work related challenges that will keep me from writing.  But then again, maybe not.  What about the rest of you?  How’s the writing process these days, and what are you planning for this weekend?

It’s been an interesting day.

Early this morning I took my eldest offspring down to the DMV so he could take his written test.  Yes, I am going to have to cut him loose soon.  There have been moments of panic about this, usually in the middle of the night.  What if he gets in a car wreck?  What if he gets lost, or has a flat tire, or his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere at 1 am? What if?  

But here’s what I know, learned the hard way by experience: you can’t live life by the ‘what ifs,’ because what actually happens is usually something you didn’t even think to worry about.  And there’s really no control over what happens anyway.  If you locked your kid up forever in their room in order to keep them safe, there would probably be some ironic tree that would fall on your house and take them out while they slept.  Or a prince might come a long and scale the wall, by means of the princesses’ long, long hair.  My point is, life is what it is, and both the the probable and improbable will happen despite your best efforts at control. 

As I write this, people are stomping so loudly on my roof that the windows are rattling. Normally this would be cause for alarm, but since there is a roofing project in progress, I’m trying to ignore what would normally send me out the door shrieking, “are you okay?”  This was another one of those ‘sometimes you just have to do it’ projects.  There is a long story here,  involving shoddy construction by the original owner and the unfortunate consequences thereof, and the project requires literally taking off a section of the roof and replacing it.  We were going to tackle this bit of fun and excitement on Monday, but the weather was oppositional.  It sulked, it stormed, it precipitated. Consequently, the weather for today was a topic of concern and debate.  There was angst, there was hesitation.  Should we do it now, or should we wait?  The contractor won’t be available again until the end of the summer.  What if, what if, what if?  And finally the decision was reached to boldly roof, a process which has been going on all day.

As for me, weaving in and out of the kid driving, the alarming roof noises, and rescue runs to the hardware store for roofing supplies, I’ve been working on a query letter.  If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know that this is not my first query letter, nor is it the first time this novel has ventured out into the world.

But this time there is an important difference.  The extensive and painful revision and restructuring process I undertook has paid off.  I love this book.  There used to be a little niggling doubt, a reluctance to let people read the manuscript.  Now I can’t wait to show it off.  I want to run around accosting total strangers and saying, “hey, you want to read what I just wrote?”  Consequently, when it comes to writing the query letter, the fear is deep and laced with a sense of responsibility.

There is so much to lose this time.  Don’t get me wrong: last time around I sent the novel out in good faith.  I truly believed it was ready to go. The novel wasn’t bad, the query was good enough to garner a partial read and some invaluable feedback.  But part of me really didn’t want to succeed because subconsciously I knew the novel wasn’t as good as I could make it.

Now I’m in a different place altogether.  I feel responsible to this novel – I owe it the best possible chance of making its way in the world.  Which means that so much more is at stake.  And I find myself lying in bed in the middle of the night, asking “what if, what if, what if?”

But there is no what if.  There is only what is.  Along with taking risks, and living life to the fullest, and writing the best story that is in me.

So that is what I intend to do.  (Once I get a green light from my absolutely fabulous query consultant – you know who you are.  I know you don’t want my firstborn child, or I’d be tempted to offer…)  When the query is ready, off it goes.  And I go back to writing, which means tackling Swimming North again.  Frankly, I’m looking forward to it.

Please feel free to share your ‘what ifs’ here in the comments.  Writing them for all to see kinda takes the energy out of them, I think, and opens the way for accepting both ‘what is’ and ‘what could be.’

Hunting around in the dusty corners of my mind for a bit of wisdom or inspiration to share this morning, I came up with nothing but a few dust bunnies.

Not that dust bunnies aren’t fascinating.  Mayhap you are a better housekeeper than I, and have never encountered the dust bunny phenomenon.  Or, if you have seen the creatures, you immediately contain them, detain them, and toss them in the trash bin, or worse yet, tear them apart with the vacuum cleaner.  

Our house is a natural habitat for the North American Dust Bunny. It’s an unfinished house, a work in progress, and the living area furniture is arranged right on top of the concrete slab.  Now, don’t be shocked.  Some day we’ll put down tile or some other product to make it look finished, but the concrete slab as floor is highly under rated.  It holds heat in the winter, when we get the wood stove blazing.  It holds the cool in the summer after we leave the windows open at night.  

And it is a breeding ground for dust bunnies.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe their habits and, frankly, I find them fascinating.  They are a little shy, tending to observe the world from under the wood stove, the chairs, the dresser, where they are safe from passing foot traffic.  

I don’t mind letting a few of them alone, but excess isn’t good for anything, and the job of controlling the population of the creatures has fallen to me.  When I must pursue them with the vacuum, I deal with the guilt by telling myself that I am the agent of natural selection, that I am keeping the population healthy and vital and under control.

Sometimes I wax philosophical and try to sound the depths of the origin of dust bunnies. Why, I sometimes ask myself, do these separate and random bits of dust, hair, and grass, collect and unite to form a new and interesting entity?  How does this happen?  And what is it about concrete that seems to catalyze this process, because the Dust Bunnies here are superior in size, shape, and consistency to any I’ve encountered in the tile and linoleum kitchens of my past.

The only answer I have is that for some reason, all of these disparate bits of matter form an attraction for each other, and come together to create something new and interesting.

Something similar what happens in the writer’s brain, I believe.  It’s important to allow a few corners where particles of discarded thought can mix and mingle and take interesting new shapes.  It’s also important to find a balance in this process.  A constant life of unexamined thought will breed too many brain bunnies, and if they over proliferate they disintegrate into dust and cobwebs and no writer wants that.  Too much thought – shining the flashlight of logic into every dim corner – will route the creatures entirely and they will move on to a more hospitable environment.

It’s best to keep an eye on them, checking in from time to time with your peripheral vision, never letting on that you’re watching.  This is important, because brain bunnies are shy, and tend to disburse if you stare at them directly.  But properly handled, Brain Bunnies become Plot Bunnies and Ideas, which with some hard work and a measure of skill, can become completed stories and novels and poems. 

Well, that’s the thought for the day.  Sadly, in my literal house here on the hill, the time has come to cull the dust bunnies and I will shortly need to get out my vacuum and tear apart their fragile little lives.  But the brain bunnies live on, and I think, as I carefully peer into the corner, that there are some nearly ready for harvest.

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