Treading Water

I keep reminding myself this summer is extraordinarily busy. More hours at the day job. A trip back to the Midwest to see family. Moving from one city to another. And we’re not done yet. But it looks like my estimated time of arrival back at “normal” after September needs to be pushed back. There’s a niggling concern that I may be entering a “new normal” that feels anything but.

All of this has knocked my writing off course. More often than not, I’m wondering if I’ll ever again find that steady flame of desire to set the words on the page. Will I find myself always thinking about the stories, but never moving to the act of writing beyond those thoughts?

Part of me knows this feeling will pass, and I’ll spend more time in the Scrivener files when we’re finished organizing the new place and I’m used to it. I’m just ready for that to be now rather than later.

Getting to spend Saturday in DC helped. After so many weekends spent packing and cleaning, it was nice to hop on the Metro for some playtime. The cooler break from our normally oppressive summers was also a relief.

dcfountain

The image above, taken in the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden had me thinking of my first WIP. One of the scenes took place in this very spot. But that particular storyline has been dropped for the revised version that will one day be written. I really like Katarina and Mihailo and hope I’ll someday tell their story in a way that resonates with enough readers.

dcolmec

The second photo, taken outside the Natural History Museum, reminds me of Kat’s story from that first WIP. A version of her adventures will stay. This is a cast of a Preclassic Olmec colossal head from Veracruz, Mexico. While Kat does Classic period Maya archaeology in lowland Guatemala, she’s very familiar with the Olmec culture from her graduate studies and teaching Mesoamerican archaeology. I’m sure she’s seen the real thing.

Of course, my (current) plans are to continue work on the new WIP, as you’ve seen from the “setting” photos in my recent posts. No photo for that one this week, but maybe for my next post. And maybe I’ll have some better progress to report then.

How go your plans as the end of the year slips ever closer?

73 thoughts on “Treading Water

    • Deep down, I know you’re right. It’s the darn feelings that are closer to the surface that are driving me crazy these days. And I just noticed a horribly ungrammatical sentence in this post that I had to fix. And I can’t even blame WordPress for it. Ouch!

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  1. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans” is one of my favorite quotes. Some days I just have to keep it on refrain in my head. I agree with what Clowie wrote …. take time; you’ll get your ideas committed to words when you’re able to focus again. In the meantime, breathe deeply — and enjoy spontaneous trips to DC!

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    • That quote is absolutely spot on! I keep reminding myself to breathe, but it’s hard to do this week. The air quality is the worst it’s been all year, and my lungs are really sensitive to that. Not quite asthma, but something too close for my liking. I’m taking it as a positive sign that I am still thinking about the stories and jotting down ideas and sketches and taking photos for inspiration. I’ll just feel better when I see some words appearing on the page. 😉

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  2. There’s nothing wrong with letting ideas percolate. That drive you’re feeling to write again will one day – soon – coincide with your ability to actually sit down and let the words flow. The simple fact you’re aware of missing that feeling and having the desire to get back to it will lead you to that place of creation (or revision, if you like) again.

    Your Muse, if you want to call it that, finds ways to manifest itself other than words on a page, too. It’s in your photography and in your work, which you obviously love and which shows through in your writing. When I read things like, “I really like Katarina and Mihailo and hope I’ll someday tell their story,” that’s a signal that that story is still strong within you. It may move you to take a different path for the telling, but the desire to tell it hasn’t been lost.

    Enjoy the freedom of not having to sit down at your desk, trying to make the words come. Let the world and its stories find their way through you and the excitement you’re feeling right now. 🙂

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    • Oh, did I mangle that sentence about Katarina and Mihailo! I had to go back and edit it big time. Ugh!

      It’s wonderful to see encouraging comments like yours coming through on this post. I know I’ve said it before, but I really do have the best blog buddies around. 🙂 You really help me keep going through the rough times. This craziness will settle down at some point, and even if a “new normal” isn’t as generous with spare time as the old, I’m sure I’ll adapt. It’s just the process of getting there and the frazzled feelings that drag me down in the meantime.

      I promise I will try not to feel guilty about not sitting down at my desk and writing during this period of upheaval and extra work.

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  3. I know this feeling all too well — ever since I realized that writing to write is not the same as writing to be published. While I still feel the pull of story in my heart and soul, I am more cautious and hesitant about whether it’s good enough to share with others. Or, perhaps, the fear is whether I’m good enough of a writer to share it with others. I suppose only time will tell.

    Summer is historically my best time for creativity, but this summer has been ever so busy that I haven’t been able to sit down long enough to write what I want. In just a few weeks, the kids will be back to school and the old craziness will rear its ugly head. Sometimes, no matter how much we plan or wish, we just can’t get the schedule or motivation we need.

    After having had the pleasure of reading your novels and your short stories, I know that you have the chops to be a published author. You have a huge blog audience who adores you and your work. And I agree with Mayumi regarding Katarina and Mihailo. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pop up again in another book. There is good reason when characters and storylines don’t leave us. 🙂

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    • That understanding of the distinction between writing to write and writing to publish is a tough one for me, too. When I started writing the first novel, it was all fun and blissful ignorance. As my understanding grew of everything that truly goes into a truly publishable novel, and objective comments came back from objective readers, my confidence in my writing took a hit. I suspect that’s another significant factor in my decreased output of words on the page. It remains to be seen if I can overcome that self-doubt and my own foibles about how I want to present the characters and their stories and write a book that has a chance at finding a public.

      As I said to Mayumi, I have the best blog buddies around. 🙂 You all help me keep going, even through the worst of my self-doubts and self-criticism. It’s wonderful to be part of such a wonderful, supportive group!

      I can’t believe how quickly the summer is flying by. The back-to-school ads are everywhere, and the fall clothes are already in the stores. I know it won’t be easy, but I hope you can fine some time to work on the querying and new manuscript!

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  4. Settling in to a new home always takes longer than anyone likes. The whole event causes so much mental upheaval even when the new place is better than the last!.
    I predict you’re back on a writing schedule when the new school season begins, even though you’re doubting that now. I think we’re so programmed to think of Summer as “downtime”!

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    • I so hope you’re right about getting back on schedule. 🙂 September has some major demands on my time already reserved, and more projects keep popping up at work. I am in no way complaining about the extra work—it is far better for the job security to be too busy than not busy enough!

      At some point, this new place should feel more like home. I know it took a while to get used to the last place, and there’s no reason this should be any different. It’s one of many reasons why I hope the next move will be to finally buy the place we want to be for many years. 🙂 Fingers crossed on that!

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  5. It’s frustrating when the idea we have about writing (spending hours a day tending to the craft) doesn’t mesh with the reality of life. It’s often said that if we really wanted to, we’d find the time, but sometimes that’s just not the case (as I’ve discovered this summer). Sometimes life intervenes too much and personal responsibilities demand all our time. But the good news is, our manuscripts will be there waiting for us when we do get a moment, and oftentimes the break away is a plus to our creativity, not a hindrance. At least that’s what I tell myself. 😉

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    • That bit of advice about always making time for writing has always irked me a bit. As you say, sometimes life intervenes with events that demand our attention and time. And the experts often conveniently forget to mention that “making that time for writing” might be at the expense of “spending time with loved ones.” I wonder how many relationships have ended because the writer dedicated more time to “the Muse” than the family and friends.

      I agree that the breaks can be healthy for our minds and creativity. So we should both keep repeating that and not feel so guilty about being away from the characters and stories at times. Family and friends should come first. 🙂

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      • Absolutely about the friends and family coming first. If I’m on a deadline like I was with my publisher’s edits for my first novel, then they understand that I need to hide in my cave for long periods, but otherwise, I need to put my family first (within reason). I figured with everything going on with my family right now (my mom’s health, my kids getting ready to return to school), I probably won’t be able to start my second draft of my current WIP for another couple weeks. And that’s okay. My Type A personality needs to remember that. 🙂

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  6. Finding I need to revise the manuscript I was ready to market even more for lack of understanding some things about fantasy writing. Fighting the urge to just throw that manuscript in the trash and continue with the new, nearly half finished, novel. After all, that first novel might not be worth all this effort I’m investing. It could be time to let it go (even if it is only 10 months old).

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    • Sometimes it feels like the more I learn about writing, the “less good” I get at it…. Deciding whether to keep with a story or abandon it to the bottom drawer is a tough call. What if keeping with it would make a great story and instead we dump it? But then, what if we aren’t recognizing the fact that we’re trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? How do we make the decision to keep or drop a story when on Monday we think it’s crap but then on Friday see that it’s good?

      This is probably one reason so many writers historically have turned to the bottle or other drugs to get through the process!

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  7. This year it’s been difficult to plan more than a couple of days in advance. That seemed rather liberating… Glad you’re settling into your new place and getting some fun time! xoxoM

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    • I think you are dealing with your unsettled time far better than I am, Margarita! Change has always been difficult for me to embrace, even when I know it’s for the best and something I want to do. I should try to be more accepting of it and try to work with it…. 😉

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  8. The feeling will come back. It always does. The key is making sure you’re ready to meet it! In the meantime, I’d suggest writing a little bit everyday. Sometimes that can help bring back the spark. Glad to see you’re enjoying the summer though.

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    • I’d probably be enjoying it more if we hadn’t decided to make a move. 😉 All that packing and cleaning is a pain, as you know. I should try writing just a couple of sentences every evening, even if they don’t relate to one of the WIPs. Start with baby steps…. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  9. Cut yourself some slack lady! Most writers have up and down times don’t they, both in terms of motivation, and in terms of actual time available. You’ll get back to it. I’ve been so busy on my dissertation and essay writing lately I haven’t had much time for anything else, but I’ve really worked so hard on it and it’s been exhausting but very satisfying too – nothing like approaching deadlines to motivate the work! I was just planning on having a bit of an evening visiting some blogs today as I’ve been away from that a lot and I like to keep in touch with my fellow bloggers 🙂

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    • I am terrible at cutting myself any slack! I always expect more from myself than from anyone else does. And when I make mistakes, I’m much harder on myself than anyone else is. That’s just the way I’ve always been for some reason.

      While September will be very busy, I’m really looking forward to a part of it, and maybe that will start the transition to a level of busyness that I can handle…. 😉

      All the best wishes as you take that dissertation to completion! That is a lot of work, and you should take great satisfaction in a job well done. 🙂

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    • Parts of it are enjoyable, and once we’re finally settled, I suspect more of them will be. I just wish that could happen sooner rather than later. Patience has never been one of my strong suits. 😉

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  10. Enjoy your summer and time with your family. Your mind is still that of a writer so words will always come through on the page. Priorities shift during the year. Family time is high on my list, and yes, higher than writing at times too! I’m away for a month and think about my WIP, but Worrying about NOT writing takes the fun out of the moment. I say go forth and have fun!

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    • Worrying is something I do really well. 😉 So hearing words of encouragement from you and others really does help me get through my worst days of self-doubt and feeling guilty about not writing. You’re a great reminder that it’s okay to step away from the manuscripts now and again and still be a real writer. And those who say we can’t aren’t admitting the realities of life that most of us have to face.

      I hope you’re enjoying your break!

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  11. Sometimes change, a break and a respite from writing is exactly what will re-energize you when it’s time to settle down again. Those stories and characters are undoubtedly incubating and will be eager to show themselves to you eventually. Meanwhile, I hope you’re also enjoying summer.

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    • I am hoping that you are right! We’re stealing a few chances here and there to have fun, but the moving and cleaning has really cut into that. Now that we’re fully out of the old place, we should have more opportunities for those breaks. And maybe those breaks will lead to new ideas and reinvigorate my characters to kick me back to their stories.

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  12. There’s nothing worse than spotting a grammar error after we’ve hit publish!!! I’ve been there many a time, don’t worry. It sounds like you have much on your plate right now, I’m sure you’ll rediscover the time and the desire to write again at some point x

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    • I really hope you’re right. The encouragement and understanding that you and other readers are sharing on this post are of tremendous help to me. I honestly believe I have the best blogging cohort out there!

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  13. Isn’t it John Lennon who said “Life happens when you’re busy making plans?” Sometimes finding the time is much easier said than done. Adjusting to a new normal is always tough, and summer seems to be a time of upheaval for a lot of folks — not sure why, it just is. Don’t give up though. It’ll all work out eventually; you’ll know when the time is right. Your characters and WIPs will wait for you.

    Btw – I got you meet your mom in DeKalb on Kourtney Heintz’s book tour. What a lovely woman! So wonderful of her to support Kourtney with her connections.

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    • I’m not sure who originally said it, but whoever it was hit the nail on the head with that quote. It’s right up there with making God laugh by saying “I’ve got plans.” Just now it seems like I should give up on planning anything because too many other things have decided to crop up when least expected. Like having to move up next week’s regularly scheduled cleaning at the dentist to tomorrow so she can start the work to replace the onlay that I broke last night at dinner. Sigh. Maybe some of events of this stretch will need to make their way into a WIP. Those could be some good “trials and tribulations” for the main characters. 😉

      My mom really enjoyed the event and was very impressed by Kourtney’s dedication and professionalism. She’s always been a voracious reader, and that’s probably why I’ve devoured so many books, too. She was a great role model for the importance of reading!

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  14. J, how are you?? I’m doing the same as you. And, for quite a time, I was plugging away! That being said, I am further along than I was and when things stabilize, I’ll have more to come back to. I’m going to look at it that way because optimism furthers one along than the alternative. I’m making a local move as well and like you, I’m very ready for some stability! Hope you and yours are wonderful. I’ll be glad when we’re both back on our schedules, writing and blogging.

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    • Way too busy with too many little irritations, Brigitte! Just broke an onlay last night so had to move up my scheduled dental cleaning appointment to tomorrow instead of next week, my computer doesn’t play nice with the wi-fi in the new place….. Ugh! I know these are first-world problems, and I’m trying not to let them wear on me, but some days that’s tougher than others….

      I hope your move is going smoothly and may you have an easier time settling into the new place than I am. This may be one rental too many for us, and we may be getting serious about buying again next year. That’s a scary thought in itself but could make some great fodder for a WIP, no?

      Here’s to schedules that work for our creative endeavors! 🙂

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  15. I find that when I’m extremely busy, I cannot focus on my writing very well. My mind is in too many places at once. So, I can understand why you haven’t been in the swing of your writing. I’m fortunate to be writing a lot these days. I even posted something from my WIP that I’m very excited about. Except, it’s extremely difficult to write. It’s a challenge, but a good one. Good luck with getting into a new normal and be well.

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    • I’ve barely been able to focus on anything, so it’s not just the writing that’s suffering. But life happens as it will, and sometimes we don’t have any say in it, right? You’ve certainly been dealing with some very unexpected events and difficulties! I should be visiting blogs later today and into tomorrow if needed, so I’ll get to read your excerpt soon. Glad to hear that you’re doing well with the writing!

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  16. Oh, JM, I can so relate to what you said: ‘Will I find myself always thinking about the stories, but never moving to the act of writing beyond those thoughts?’ My challenge precisely! I have hundreds of stories in my head, adding new ones every day, but by the time I get to sit down at the computers, they’ve disappeared like water in the sand. Then I might see interesting people who would be perfect as a characters in my novel, so I take note and file that image away. Or I get a phone-call from a friend who tells me something in her life and I’m thinking, wouldn’t that be a great twist in my plot? etc. etc. If only these thoughts can make it into written words. Sigh. However, if past experience can be the judge, not all is lost. Once I do sit down and start writing, it somehow always comes together. I am sure that happens to you too. Best of luck returning to your WIP.

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    • From what I’m seeing from other bloggers, many of us aren’t making the progress we hoped for this summer. And I hope we’ll all find a way to get those trapped ideas to the page without losing too many of them. I tell myself to take it as a good sign that I’m still thinking about my stories and taking notes on them. In that sense, they’re not languishing on the vine. But they deserve a fair chunk of my time to get from the vine to the glass, so to speak. But when my brain has a hard time stringing two sentences together for a conversation, it’s nearly impossible to write even a few coherent sentences. I couldn’t believe the mangled sentence that made it into this post originally—I had to edit after publishing. And usually I’m much better at catching something like that before scheduling a post.

      I hope you’ll soon find yourself immersed in writing some of those ideas!

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  17. No need to worry -looks like your characters are well and alive in your head. Keep listening to what they want to tell you. Perhaps this is time for you to go deeper with them. Get to know them better. All the best. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Carol. All of this encouragement and understanding from fellow writers really means a lot to me. It is a good sign that the characters aren’t abandoning me, isn’t it. And it may be that spending more time thinking now will mean a cleaner first draft down the line. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. 😉

      I hope your manuscript is progressing well!

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  18. I love those head guys. Always amused by what is called art and shuttled to one building and what is simply artifacts of a civilization and get shuttled to another place.
    Some people don’t move easily – it takes time to sort and group thoughts as well as items in boxes. Besides those old walls of the former place have all those thoughts and ideas soaked into them…they are slow to relinquish them until promise of others to replace? Actually if that was “real”, it wouldn’t surprise me – you’ve been in places so heavy with previous history it just swirls around you?
    Summer is time to live and get out. Meanwhile the writing is safely stored waiting. Indoor time will be before you know it – and then you get back into it more easily.
    Always enjoy the pictures!

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    • We’ve made so many moves over the years that I wonder if my mind and body are finally saying, “Enough already!” But there’s at least one more when we find the right place to buy. I can already guarantee that two stories will be the max. Four is hard to get used to.

      I wonder if subconsciously I drew on some of these moves for Meghan’s last short story—the scene where she and Rick are talking about the memories being in them, not just in the house, come to mind with this move. I think places can absorb an imprint of the events and people around them. A lot of people feel that way about Gettysburg, and I really experienced the history around me at Antietam. And it’s interesting to experience the hush that falls over people as they reach the Lincoln Monument. Even the brashest and most cynical people will fall silent for once.

      Now that we’ve finished with the old place, we’re hoping to have a little more time where we can just enjoy ourselves. Alas, all the projects coming in at work are doing their best to keep our attention. At least some of them are interesting!

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  19. A surprising twist on moving/writing happened to one of the women in my writing group. Her house had water damage, and while repairs were being made she moved from her quiet, woodsy home to a rented apartment on a busy thoroughfare. Within a short time, she decided that the only hope of survival was to submerge herself in her novel writing. During the loudest part of the day, she walked 3/4 of a mile each way to the library, settled herself at a desk in the work area, and got busy. In the evenings, she put on headphones with classical music and did her editing.
    At the end of the repairs, she had a momentum going and had accomplished more than normal!

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    • That is an excellent way to adapt to new surroundings. 🙂 I wish I could listen to music while working, but I find even classical to be too distracting. I tend to get drawn into the music rather than my work at hand. I most likely need to develop my own take on her approach, though, to get going again with my writing. And that may mean sitting down for short stretches (5 minutes or so) and simply free writing or penning a few sentences about a character or story line. Even if those aren’t incorporated into a WIP, that routine may get me back in the habit of writing and thus spurring some ideas. It certainly can’t hurt!

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  20. That’s fun to have real pictures of real places for your WIP!
    My writing has had some spurts this summer, but I need to remove myself from day-to-day life and re-set my schedule to get back on track.

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    • I think many writers in our corner of the blogosphere have found real life staking a claim to large chunks of time this summer. I would love to reset my schedule to what it was earlier this year even, but I’m afraid that won’t happen any time soon. The muse and my brain will have to come up with some new ideas if we’re going to get anywhere with these stories.

      Hope you’ll be back on track soon!

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  21. Sometimes you have to just let life take over. I spent 4 years not writing at all because other things were my normal – it was difficult at the time, but I came back to it after that time with more creativity than ever – and I wasn’t even really thinking about the writing. You obviously still have those stories percolating, ready to be written when the time is right.

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    • I honestly hope I’m not looking at a 4-year break. That would be so difficult, and I hope life events wouldn’t require it. But I shouldn’t beat myself up for not being able to meet a regular word count or schedule. I did get a few sentences down this weekend on the newest WIP, and maybe this break is letting the story line develop in my subconscious. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway. Maybe in 3 months, or a year, one or more will be ready to set down in complete first drafts. I have to take it as a positive sign that the characters are staying in my head.

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