Saturday, October 14, 2006


Just a quick note from upstate New York, where I am visiting family and loving the fact that fall turns the landscape this amazing array of colors. It's been a good one for color, this fall, though it seemed as though I woke up one morning and suddenly everything had changed from luscious green to orange and red in a single day. Brr! The wind set in today too, reminding me that any hope for Indian summer is probably long gone. Ah, well. I can sit inside under my toasty blanket and admire the colors from afar.

Do you have a favorite season to write about? Do you tend to set your stories at a particular time of year? Of course we know that weather can be a great external conflict no matter what our story (if you need a little conflict between characters, throw in a storm or two, right?). But do you ever deliberately choose a season for the very reason that it frames your story? Or do you rely on a rather general anytime of year?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sort of Like Running

So I've been feeling sort of sorry for myself lately, frustrated with my attempts to publish which seem to go nowhere while wondering if all the time spent at the keyboard is worth it. I took a week off. I traveled. I watched TV. I visited with some old friends. I went for a run, or two or three.

And then I realized something.

It's sort of like running. Writing, that is.

When I was living in Cleveland during graduate school, in my early 20s, I turned on the TV one Sunday morning to catch the end of a marathon that's run every spring through the streets of downtown Cleveland. They run a 10K, too (that's 6.2 miles). I was fascinated. And so I decided that the following year, I'd run that race too. Something inside me wanted to be the one doing, not the one sitting at home watching.

You know where this is going, right?

I hadn't run farther than 2 miles in my life, but I changed. I ran 2. After a couple of months, I ran 3. Then 4 every so often, and eventually I worked my way up to 6. I ran that race, the following year, and though I finished in the middle of the pack, here's the thing: I finished. I did it. I ran through the streets of Cleveland alongside 5000 other runners and thought to myself how I glad I was that I wasn't sitting in my living room that morning.

Since that first race, I have run countless others. Mostly 5Ks (they're shorter), but a lot of 10Ks too. I even have one half-marathon and one marathon under my belt.

Why do I run? Well, I'm not particularly fast. I've never actually WON a race of any kind, though I've placed in my age group. I don't even actually enjoy running, when it's too hot or pouring rain or my legs don't want to move. I've taken time off. I've taken years between races.

But here's the thing: running has definitely become a part of who I am. I know I am stronger, physically and mentally, than I was before I began running. I am in shape. I am healthy. I have the blood pressure and the pulse of someone half my age. And some days, there is nothing better for escape and conquering frustration (or writer's block) than putting on my running shoes and heading out the door.

So yes, I guess I've figured out in the last week that writing has become sort of like running for me. I've only been writing seriously, on any kind of regular basis, for 5 years. 5 years! And I've finished 4 novels, all of which have made their way to agents' desks. So why should I be down on myself? I'm doing. I'm not sitting in front of the TV wishing. And if I don't ever publish, then it's not the end of the world. I won't ever run a 20-minute 5K either, and I've come to terms with that. I don't think I could go back to life without writing, though.

That's a good thing to realize.

Monday, October 09, 2006

First Draft in 30 Days

This is the title of a book I recently picked up. Sounds interesting, right? And it is...sort of.

It's also a little intimidating. The author is a woman who's developed this system where you basically write a really detailed outline in 30 days that then allows you to write the novel from it in 2-3 months. Well, I leafed through her book today. She has some good tips, especially about brainstorming, and some helpful worksheets in the back, but wow!

It's a little too micro-managing even for me, who tends to be sort of over the top when it comes to organization and making lists and timelines and such. Every day is broken down into specific goals, and within those goals are another 3-7 things you're supposed to accomplish. My outlines never get as detailed as she recommends. Maybe they should. But I guess I'm still the kind of writer who sketches things out and then writes through an entire first draft, letting plotlines and characters change and develop as I go.

What about you? Do you stick to a very strict timeline when you're tackling a piece of writing? How detailed is your outline? And how long, really, does it take you to finish a complete novel, those of you who have? My average seems to be about 9-12 months. This author writes 3 novels a year. Maybe I should follow her system after all.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Going Home

So I went back to my college alma mater for alumni weekend, the first time since I graduated over ten years ago.

First, let me just say that I loved college. Every single minute of it. Even the boring classes, with professors who droned on and on. Even staying up all night to finish a paper. Even wading through 6" of snow to get to the dining hall. Even drinking too much really, really bad fraternity party beer and suffering the consequences the morning after. Even having my heart broken by the first boy I ever loved.

Still, though, I was apprehensive about this weekend. I mean, what's a 30-something grl to do on a college campus?

Well, people-watch, first of all. I couldn't believe how young all the students looked! And I had to laugh at the parents who were in town as well, posing their children for picture while the poor kids rolled their eyes and tried not to look too embarrassed. I mean, here they are, on the cusp of adulthood, figuring out their own grown-up identities, and Mom and Dad are still buying them t-shirts at the bookstore and making sure they have the right books for class and...

But the best part of the whole weekend was seeing my old college friends. It's funny how we haven't really kept in touch. Most of my closest friends from those days live scattered across the country. We try and call or email, but you know how that goes. One month turns into six and then a year or two has passsed before you finally catch up again.

How wonderful, then, to find that underneath it all, beyond the stress and responsibilities of job and family, we are really still the same people we were when we were 18 and trying to negotiate the world. There is something powerful about reuniting with the people who knew you when you were young and skinny and naive and sad and scared and brave and successful and trying to forge your own identity alongside everyone else in that dormitory.

I always tell my students that they should go away and live on campus when they go to college, because class is just one part of the college experience. And to be honest, I don't even think it's the most important part (sorry, Mom and Dad - I know you paid a lot for my "education"). To learn who you are, in a place that's brand new, surrounded by people of all walks of life, is powerful stuff.

It was good for me to be reminded of that part of my life, of those people who knew me way back when.

Think maybe I'll go back next year too.