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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?

I think my muse hates me.

At the very least, she takes pleasure in tormenting me – taunting, teasing, coaxing me into territory where angels fear to tread.  Well, okay, maybe the angels would be comfortable here, but it’s a stretch for me.

“Could we please just write something straightforward and not too challenging?  I went along with that whole arduous rewrite – tore the last novel apart to make you happy.”

She gives me a LOOK. “I’m still not happy. You’re in a hurry to put it aside.  It needs polish.  There are pages where the writing is clunky and utilitarian.  Look at this moment, where you tell what you could be showing -”

“Right.  I see.  It still needs work.  But, you still want me to start querying it, AND you’ve got these outrageous ideas for what to do with Swimming North. What do you want from me?”

“I want everything – your mind, your soul, that stupid logical streak that always shuts me down.”

“This is beginning to sound like Mephistopheles.  Do I need an exorcist?”

“Too late.”  

And now she smiles, and I know that I have lost this war.  Muse gets what Muse wants.  Swimming North has given me enough trouble already.  As my Beta readers will probably tell you, it has some good moments.  I accede that point.  But the thing has always twisted in my hands, evolving just on the edges of my understanding and my skill level.  For the last couple of months it has been blissfully out of my mind while my Beta readers have been reading it, and I’ve been working on rewriting the WIP.

As my edits are coming to a close on Filling in the Blanks I made the dangerous decision to open my mind to the contemplation of what to do with SN.  And then my muse got involved, and the question turned into ‘what is SN going to do with me?’

I sat down with a pen and notebook to get some structure in place.  What is the Armature, per McDonald’s so excellent advice? And then the Maass questions:  What does Vivian want more than anything else in the world, and what does she hate?  What are her heroic qualities? Where is her major conflict?  What about the other characters, some of whom are on the flat side.  What motivates them?

Which is when the Muse got involved.  “Think bigger” she says.  “Give George a POV and a history.  While you’re at it, give your other characters early POVs.  You’re not using them effectively.  The book isn’t about Vivian – sure she’s the protagonist, she’s critical, but that doesn’t make her necessarily the focal point.  And while you’re at it, give the poor girl a cat – why does she not have a cat?”

And so on.  It’s not that I don’t think these are good ideas, it’s just that I was already struggling a little with the shifts in reality and the surreality, so the idea of throwing even more into the mix is alarming.  I know that there is no point fighting, though.  I will follow blindly where my muse drags me, albeit with some struggling and screaming from time to time.  Sooner or later we will arrive at something resembling a completed novel, and then we shall see whether this was madness or not.

Vivian’s cat is black with golden eyes, in case anybody was wondering.  It doesn’t have a name yet, but I predict that by nightfall it will.

“Insanity: repeating the same action over and over again, and expecting different results.”  Einstein

“But the worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.”  Friedrich Nietzsche


Insert image here of Wiley Coyote flattened against a wall, or falling over a cliff, or blowing himself up one more time and appearing singed, hairless, and dejected.

This, my friends, is me.

Reality is a locale that I avoid.  It is an inhospitable world, one in which I feel alien and outcast.  But every now and then, my Muse gets together with whatever demon was charged with tormenting me into personal growth, and they drag me, kicking and screaming, through those oh so solid gates and lock me in.  My repeated head plants into the wall do nothing to extricate me from the situation, and eventually I figure out what it is I need to learn.

In case anyone has noticed, I have been increasingly frustrated with my writing of late.  I angst over lack of time, over slow progress, over my inability to write what I think I should, or could, be writing.  The sheer pleasure in the act of creation, in mastering this craft, got lost somewhere along the way.  Over the last two days, after dashing myself repeatedly against the very solid walls surrounding the land of reality, a certain amount of logic has finally pierced my slow and unwilling writer brain.

Things have changed.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, when I got up at 5 am to journal or yoga or write, I was alone and undisturbed, with at least an hour and a half before anybody else dared to enter my personal space.  On my days off, I was alone and free to write or do whatever else I wanted after the kids went off to school  All distractions, digressions, and procrastinations were at my own discretion and under my control.  Until one day, both of my darling children announced that they wanted to be in jazz band – a zero hour class that started at 7 am.  This shortened the morning solitude significantly.  Child #1 then decided that 5:30 was the optimal time for him to get up and have a shower.  My wonderful and beloved partner, who used to leave for work at 4 am, got laid off and began getting up with me at 5.  Days off involved the presence and distraction of somebody I love to spend time with; somebody who needs an extra pair of hands for a project here, and wants to go for lunch there, and is just generally bored and wanting to go do things. 

My response?  Going on as if nothing had changed.  Getting up at 5 and expecting alone time, despite repeated proofs that this just wasn’t in the cards for the day.  (Speaking of cards, the tarot tried to help me out, repeatedly giving me advice and sneaky little hints about change, and the end of something, and letting go and moving on to something new.)  On days off, I continued to expect long, unbroken stretches of writing.  Rather unrealistic, considering that the house we live in is completely open, and anybody else inhabiting it, unless locked in a crypt, is going to make appearances and engage in conversation and want to know what happened to those left overs that got shoved into the back of the fridge last night.

I ceased to enjoy anything.  When I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t engaging with my partner or my children.  When I was hanging out with various family members, I felt guilty that I wasn’t writing.  I would set improbable goals and then beat myself up for failing to meet them.  More recently, I sank to beating up my very supportive and dearly loved man person.  Okay, I didn’t hit him or anything, but I did blame him for something that is in no way, shape, or form, his fault.

Insanity.  What my brief sojourn in the town of reality has taught me is that it is time to accept the changes and adapt.  Writing time may need to be more scheduled, with clear and explicit boundaries.  I can’t expect people in my world to know whether I’m twittering or blogging or deeply involved with a difficult scene if I don’t tell them.  And my usual writing station at the kitchen table, in the center of an open plan house is just begging everybody to interact at will.

Thus it is that I have moved my desk and my computer into the mud room.  Not the room of one’s own that every writer dreams of, I suspect.  There is a huge window and a french door between me and the rest of the house.  The sound of pianos and guitars and TV sitcoms is dimmed, but not shut out.  I’m surrounded by shoes and there is a definite traffic flow pattern of people entering and exiting the house.

But there is a boundary in place.  When I’m in here, I’m writing and everybody knows it – a signal of intent.  So it is that out of the tears and emotional flailing of yesterday, a peace is born.  I can work here.  And I will try to remember, as I flee the harsh reality world back into my softer and much more entertaining lands of fantasy and conjecture, that there is more to life than writing. Not much, maybe, but if the writing work gets done then the rest of life holds so much more pleasure.


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