Stuck in Writing Traffic

Why is it that when you’re stuck in traffic, your lane is always the slowest one? The cars beside you start moving, so you squeeze in, then everyone stops and the lane you just left starts moving. It never fails. At least for me. There must be some lucky few who always wind up in the lane that moves. (If you’re reading this, let me know you’re secrets! I promise I won’t tell). I’m not the lucky sort, though. I’m forever trapped in the slow lane.

That’s how I’ve felt with my WIP lately. I have been desperately trying to finish for a while now. It usually takes me three months to get through a draft. This one has taken six. Granted, I’ve had to do a lot of research for it, and that’s not something I’m accustomed to, so it bogged me down, but over the last few weeks it’s seemed that every time I get a chance to write, something stands in my way. I switch lanes, thinking I’ll definitely get going now, and boom! More traffic.

Let me tell you about roadblocks I’ve experienced, just in the past week.

Hubby had to travel for work last week. He left Sunday and was due back Wednesday. While I hate when he travels (I’m a huge scaredy cat. Every noise is an intruder, or rapist, or zombie. I feel like I’m nine again, turning off the bedroom light and leaping into bed so the monsters don’t get me. Yes, that seems old to still believe in mosters, but I’ve always had a very active imagination). This trip, though, equalled three days of uninterrupted writing time. I had a plan, a rough outline of what I needed to write. Two chapters a day would get me across the finish line.

I dropped Hubby off at the airport and spend the remainder of Sunday at Starbucks. I started off well-enough, got on a bit of a roll. As the afternoon wore on, more and more people packed in, loud people, and I don’t work so well when it’s loud. Unfortunately, I don’t work well at home either, between the dog barking for my attention, the cats walking across my laptop or jumping on my shoulders, the dog chasing the cats, FedEx/UPS delivering packages, you get the picture. At least at Starbucks I got caffeine.

I also got one chapter written. One.

Okay, so I was off to a slow start. I thought it was a good chapter, at least. That just meant I had to get three chapters in on one of the other days. No problem. I went to work Monday, full of plans for a quick dinner, then hours of writing at my favorite–and quiet–indie coffee shop.

Guess who got a stomach virus (the puking kind)? Oh yeah. Not a twenty-four hour deal either. That bad boy hung around for a week. All my writing time, literally, went down the toilet. (You’re welcome for the image).

I got better toward the end of the week, but then Hubby was home and we had Christmas shopping to do, and parties to attend, and one thing after another. I told Hubby that no matter what, Sunday was my day. Just me and my manuscript.

I spent the whole afternoon at Starbucks. This time, I got two chapters written, everything clicked all at once. The other chapters I’d planned–not needed. The story came together in a way I hadn’t expected. It was wonderful. I could’ve written for hours, hours!

Except I couldn’t. I had a Christmas party for the youth at church to attend that evening. So I stopped, a mere two short chapters from finishing the draft. “Monday,” I said. “I am finishing this Monday, and no one and nothing will stop me!”

Last night, I sped through dinner, rushed Hubby out the door, and took off for the indie coffee shop I love so much. Guess who forgot her laptop at home? Back to the house, raced in, grabbed my computer, darted back out, finally got to the coffee shop.

Like Starbucks the week before, the place was packed. More people than I’ve ever seen there. No matter, I was on a roll. Just had to send the first few chapters to a beta reader, a few tweaks to the last chapter, then dive into the new one, and holy crap it was 8:00! The coffee shop closes at 9:00 on Mondays.

Go, go, go! Write, write, write!

Almost through the chapter.

Then all those people stood up. They took out books. They started to sing.

Yes. Sing.

Carolers. In my quiet, little coffee shop. Emphasis on little. The place isn’t very big. It’s cozy. At least it was, until the full, professional level choir took up half the space. Then it went from cozy to cramped.

Normally, I love carolers. I love Christmas music. But in a coffee shop? Maybe it’s just me, but most people I see at a coffee shop are there to do something quiet. Read, write, do homework, study, a few low conversations, open mic nights on some nights–but those are usually posted ahead of time so you know what you’re walking into, and there has never been one at my coffee shop. In my experience, most people don’t go to coffee shops to hear caroling. Loud, intrusive caroling.

I felt like the Grinch. All the noise, noise, NOISE!

And then, they’ll do something I hate most of all. Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, will stand close together… with Christmas bells ringing. They’ll stand hand in hand… and those Whos… will start singing!

I couldn’t think. It bounced off the walls and rattled around in my brain, stirring up the words that had been right there all day, waiting to hit the page.

Why?!?! I had one more chapter to finish the ms. ONE MORE. I felt extremely rude as I shoved ear buds in my ears to block the cheerful singing, but I didn’t care. It helped. The words sorted themselves out. Started to flow, started to–

It was 9:00. Closing time. I was literally sentences from finishing. The words were on the tip of my tongue, soooo close to the page.

I threw my stuff in a bag, dragged Hubby out, and raced home again. It would have to be there. Hubby would have to keep the animals contained, regardless of how bad they wanted my attention. I spread out on the kitchen island, and wrote, and finished.

Finally, traffic thinned enough for me to skate through. I might’ve done it by the skin of my teeth, but I made it. I finished. I FINISHED! I reveled for about an hour, until it was time for bed. The draft is now with betas and I am on to the next step, editing.

There may be more roadblocks ahead, but I’m through the worst of it. I’m back on the highway and heading up to cruising speed, and nothing is going to stand in my way of polishing this ms.

What about you? Ever been stuck in writing traffic? How do you deal with it?

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Randomness #7- Christmas of “Oh Well”

About six months after Hubby and I got married we had our first big disagreement: what do for Christmas.We both had our own traditions with our own families and neither wanted to give them up. It was my dad who suggested a compromise. We would see one family before Christmas, one family after, and do our own thing Christmas Eve and Day.

Then Daddy was diagnosed with cancer–Stage IV. So the compromise went out the window. We spent our first married Christmas with my family celebrating what would turn out to be Daddy’s last Christmas. We also spent the next year, the first Christmas without my dad, with my family. To balance things out, we spent the next two Christmases with Hubby’s family. So this year, our fifth married Christmas, we were evened out, back on track of our compromise and ready to put this plan into action. Spend Christmas together starting our own traditions.

We had great plans. Hubby wanted to build a gingerbread replica of our house on Christmas Eve, then we’d drink hot chocolate and watch Christmas movies, eat finger foods, open a couple presents, go to the eleven pm church service to ring in Christmas, wake up Christmas morning and open presents, eat breakfast, play, cook lunch, watch Les Mis, and chill that night with leftovers and the Grinch. The day after Christmas, we would hit up Lowe’s early and buy next year’s decorations cheap.

Oh, how naive we were.

Let me break down how this really happened.

Christmas Eve

We woke up kind of late. Oops.

We didn’t have all the ingredients we needed for gingerbread and lunch, so off to the store.

Finally, around 1 pm, we made it home and started the gingerbread. And by started, I mean we looked at the recipe and realized we’d have to double it to make a replica of our house. I began mixing dough while Hubby went back to the store. Then we realized our replica would mean an 11 inch wide house. 11 inches! Yeah, I put the kibosh on that idea. We scaled back to a more manageable 8×6 sort of replica–okay, it would have a porch. Hubby drew the pattern while I rolled out the dough. We cut each piece, which was way more time consuming than I thought. I made icing while the gingerbread baked. Then finally, finally, we got to the construction part.

Except the pieces didn’t all fit. So Hubby filed them down with a microplane. We put the house together (wrong the first time), decorated, and realized it was already 5:30 and we had grumblies in our tumblies (as my grandfather used to say). Oh, and we forgot that one of our finger foods, lil’ smokies in bbq sauce, was supposed to simmer for two hours. Oh well, at least we’d finished our first ever gingerbread house.

gingerbread house

Around 6:30 we sat down to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” while we ate, then realized we’d forgotten the hot chocolate. Oh well again. Two hours later we decided to watch “White Christmas.” Then we remembered we’d forgotten to bake cornbread for the Christmas lunch dressing. We only had an hour before the Christmas Eve service, so I mixed the batter and popped it in the fridge. Bad move. When we got home. the batter was too thick. I glopped it in the iron skillet and baked it. Did I mention it was after midnight? The cornbread looked weird, lumpy and white, but tasted fine, so we decided to roll with it and go to bed.

Christmas Day

We woke up and opened our presents from Santa. (You better believe Santa came! What’s Christmas without toys?). We ate some cinnamon rolls then opened our presents to each other. Hubby did FANTASTIC by the way. He surprised me for pretty much the first time ever, with an antique typewriter. I’ve wanted one for years. It’s SO. COOL. The original ribbon still kind of works, well enough for me to type some random sentences.

typewriter

Then we got to making lunch. Well, I started making lunch. Hubby forgot he’d planned to make egg nog. So he looked up a recipe while I started the dressing.

Except, my dressing recipe didn’t look right. In fact, it looked…oh no. I’d been going off the wrong recipe. No wonder the cornbread didn’t turn out right. I had to make another skillet of cornbread (the right cornbread) while cooking the rest of the dressing items.

Meanwhile, Hubby still worked on his egg nog. I pestered him to start the creme brulee, which had to chill for three hours. He made egg nog. Did I mention I don’t drink egg nog? I also asked when he needed to start the cranberry sauce. Didn’t it need time to set up? “It only takes ten minutes. I’ve got this,” he said.

I finally got the dressing together and in the oven. Hubby finally finished his egg nog and started clearing the table for lunch. Then started the creme brulee. We’d just have dessert after our Les Mis. No biggie.

But he beat the custard too long and it was, well, really foamy. As in, all foam. Oh well, we’d try it anyway. (It was turning into the Christmas of “Oh well”). Out came the dressing and in went the creme brulee.

I started cutting the ham, a pre-cooked Honeybaked Ham that we’d taken out of the freezer the day before. It was still frozen. Hubby started the cranberry sauce, then remembered it only took ten minutes to cook. He’d forgotten it had to chill.

So, by the time we sat down for lunch, the dressing had gotten kind of cold, the ham had to be microwaved twice, and the cranberry sauce was literally steaming. We decided to try it anyway, only to realize Hubby hadn’t added enough sugar. Talk about tart!

All we could do was laugh. We sat there with our hot, tart cranberries and cool dressing and just laughed. Oh well.

We cleaned up lunch and had a great battle with the lightsabers Santa brought Hubby, then with the Bop It game Santa brought me. Atticus roamed around in his Santa suit Hubby had found on sale and tried to eat the toy mice we’d gotten for the cats.

Santa Puppy

Then we bundled up and trekked to the movies to see Les Mis. The parking lot was pretty full, but we didn’t wor–Holy crap the line was out the door. Did I mention it was raining?

We decided to got to a different theater. I bought tickets online, reserved our seats–back row!–and we drove across town, bought our popcorn, found our seats–uh oh. Not the back row. The front row. We couldn’t even see the top of the screen! Frustrated at the theater’s poorly designed seating chart, we tried to swap our tickets for a later show, one that wouldn’t involve cricks in our necks from looking straight up for three hours. Sold out. Hubby got a refund and we decided to go back to the other theater.

On the way, Hubby realized we’d forgotten we were going to make gingerbread cookies for the neighbors. I’d mixed the dough the day before, all we had to do was bake it. So Hubby drove me home and I baked cookies for an hour while he bought the tickets in advance this time. (My first gingerbread cookies. They were delicious, I might add!).

We finally saw Les Mis, got home around 9:30, and settled in with a plate of leftovers and the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The real version, the cartoon, not that crappy one from a few years ago. We’d recorded it while we were at the mov–nope. Some stinking basketball game ran over and cut into the Grinch’s time. We saw five minutes of the Grinch before the recording cut off. At least Hubby’s creme brulee turned out, and it was pretty good!

It stormed something awful last night. The wind howled, our decorations blew across the yard, ribbons and bows came loose. There were tornadoes in some parts of the state. Neither of us slept. This morning, Lowe’s had already put away most of their Christmas decorations, so we didn’t really find anything we wanted for next year.

It wasn’t the Christmas we’d planned, but it was definitely one to remember. Our first Christmas on our own. Next year, we’ll plan better. We now know just how long gingerbread houses take, and that cranberry sauce needs to be cooked in advance. We’ll buy movie tickets ahead of time and probably just buy the Grinch. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but, for me, it was kind of just right.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah, or at least a good vacation. For me, the vacation is over. I have a lot of revising left to do and I can’t wait to start writing again!

Just Wants

The other day I found myself thinking about my goals and caught myself saying “I just want to be published.”  I immediately stopped what I was doing and scolded myself firmly.  Just Wants are dangerous things.  They creep up when you’re least expecting them and lure you into a false sense of simplicity.  It’s a trap all of us fall into.  “I just want (insert want here)”.

See, the thing is, there is no one Just Want (yes, I am personifying it.  I picture a Just Want as a small, somewhat fluffy creature with big dough eyes.  It looks so adorable you just have to pet it, but then it opens it’s mouth and you drop it on the floor.  It’s gaping, impossibly large, maw lined with rows of razor sharp teeth, ready to ensnare you).  You may think something like: “I just want five minutes of peace and quiet” or  “I just want my car to run smoothly” or even “I just want to help people.”  But that’s not true.  Not at all.  You don’t just want peace and quiet, et. al.  You also want the those around you to understand what you’re going through, to be sympathetic to your plight, to make things easier on you.  To take it another step further, you also want to be warm, well-fed, comfortable, clothed, the list goes on and on.

I am an insomniac.  It’s a mix of staying up late reading under the covers with a flashlight (or light up troll doll after my dad took my flashlights away) and genetics (my dad, his sister, his mom, my brother, we all have a hard time sleeping).  It sucks because I love to sleep.  When wide awake at three in the morning after hours of tossing and turning, I frequently sigh in frustration, or sometimes through tears if I have to be awake at five-thirty and travel or something, and proclaim “I just want to sleep!”  Even that statement is usually followed with a string of disclaimers, like there’s some genie in a bottle somewhere listening, looking for loopholes to slip my wish through.  “I mean I want to sleep soon.  Like in the next few minutes.  And wake up rested.  And wake up on time.  And not have a bad day because I didn’t fall asleep early enough.”  So, I don’t just want to sleep.  I want lots of things.

And I don’t just want to be published.  I also want to make enough money to support writing full time.  And I want people to like my books.  And I want to connect with readers.  And I want to inspire people.  There’s a whole string of “ands” from that one statement.  Not to mention that I want all of the comforts I already mentioned (food, water, shelter, etc).

I think one danger of Just Wants is: what happens when we don’t get it?  If you trick yourself into thinking that’s the only thing you want in the world, the only thing that matters, it’s a lot more soul crushing when you don’t get it.  For a long time I Just Wanted to be a veterinarian.  When vet school didn’t work out, my world caved in.  I had no other goal.  That was it.  The one thing I’d wanted since I was four.  It was a lot harder to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.  I’ve always wanted to be an author too; I’ve mentioned before,  I believe, that I wanted to write books about being a vet.  (I say author because anyone can be a writer, you just have to write.  In my mind, authors are published.  It’s not exactly an industry definition or anything, but it’s my personal differentiation).  But I don’t Just Want to be an author.  There are other things I want in life as well (happy, healthy, wise).  So my world doesn’t revolve around that one thing.  It’s kind of freeing, actually.  To know that the world won’t end if I don’t obtain my goal.

Another danger of Just Wants is that we think we’re easy to please.  We just want one little thing, right?  But that’s exactly what the Just Want wants you to think.  It’s just sitting there, looking cute and fluffy, with its Precious Moments eyes, waiting for you to pick it up.  We don’t want to admit that there are actually a ton of things we want.  We feel guilty (or at least I do) because there are people whose Just Wants include clean water and a safe place to sleep.  But pretending doesn’t really do much for us.  We should just admit that there are a lot of things we want.  It’s okay.  For me, going through the list of things I Just Want makes me appreciate the things I have.

Besides, there’s a lot of good that can come out of not getting the things we Just Want.  My best story ideas come when I can’t sleep.  In light of the season, when people are asking you what you want for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, think about your list of Just Wants and be honest with yourself (as well as being grateful for the things you already have), and see if it doesn’t free you up a little bit.