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 #1

I had a great childhood.  Not that it was all kittens and rainbows all of the time or anything, but I was a pretty lucky kid.  I had two sets of grandparents who were amazing and parents who loved me.  We didn’t have that much money, but we got by.  I think that’s one of the reasons I still have such a great imagination.  Who needs expensive toys when the two trees in your grandmother’s front yard can morph into a forest full of trolls and wolves?  What’s the point in the latest and greatest game system when a defunct learning game your mom picked up a yard sale can become a master computer that lets you take over the world (or Penny’s book from “Inspector Gadget”)?

Even more lucky for me is that I got to spend some of the best years of my life in a place that was like a greenhouse for the imagination.  From the age of nine until I moved away to college, my parents rented a house outside the city limits (what some may call the country).  Fifteen or twenty minutes from town, it was like the best of both worlds.  Close enough to the city, but quiet and large.  Our neighbors, the Macs (the McFarlands but we called them the Macs) were our landlords, and were like a third set of grandparents to me.  The Macs owned at least fifty or sixy acres (perhaps more, I don’t know exactly where their property stretched to) on which sat our house and theirs, each on a large lot, as well as a greenhouse, a cabin, and an old barn.  Behind it all was a small garden of strawberries, green beans, butterbeans, tomatoes, corn, and okra, a flower garden, a bamboo grove, muscadine vines, and then the woods.  Mr. Mac and I were great friends and I had full reign of the property with only two rules.  1. I couldn’t go in the woods by myself.  2.  I had to be within shouting distance.  If my parents yelled, I better come running.

Oh the games I played!  I’d hop on my bike and tear off across the field to the cabin where I’d pretend I was on the lam for stealing secrets with my master computer.  The back barn held an old 1920s car with suicide doors, I don’t know the make or model or anything, but I’d jump on the rails and transform into a gangster.  In the loft was a wealth of old magazines and treasures.  When I got tired of playing there, I’d take off to my “secret place”, a small copse that wasn’t technically part of the woods.  I’d take an armload of books (or the magazines) and relax, feasting on the wild blackberries that grew around it or figs from the tree behind the house (only the ones down low.  I came face to face with a Rough Green Snake while climbing that tree one day and was done with the higher branches!).

When I wasn’t playing, I was working.  I cut the grass for both houses, first with a push mower, then eventually with Mr. Mac’s John Deere tractor.  I loved that tractor.  I started out riding on it with Mr. Mac.  When I’d see him plowing a field or bush-hogging something, I’d run out and he’d slow down enough for me to hop on top of the wheel well.  He’d show me how the tractor worked and explain why he was doing what he did.  Eventually he let me drive and before long I was doing the plowing and mowing for him.  He gave me my own stretch of earth in front of the muscadine vines to plant my own garden (too small for the tractor, I plowed it with a small gas powered hand plow.  That thing was the dickens to keep straight!).  I’d stay out working in the dirt until the sun faded behind the bamboo, then I’d pick whatever veggies were ready to go and spend the evening shucking corn or shelling peas on the back porch.

I helped him lay a brick patio, I watered the plants in the greenhouse, blew the leaves off their driveway, raked and trimmed the yard, and was rewarded with fresh lemonade and the occasional use of Mr. Mac’s hat while I worked (an absolutely fantastic hat! It had a built in battery operated fan in the front).  After work, there was always plenty of time for play.  It was like something out of a book, a fact I knew well since I was an avid reader, and appreciated greatly.  I’d pretend I was Huck Finn rafting down the river (the short cinderblock wall that separated our house from the Macs) or Caddie Woodlawn taming the wild frontier (the field beside the house).

Lately I’ve been wondering how/if my childhood would have been different if I’d had all of the technology kids today have.  Would I have been able to go in the woods alone?  Sure there were snakes and ticks and hunters, but I would have been just a call away.  Would I still have had to be in shouting distance?  Would I have even wanted to be outside playing as much?  Kids these days don’t seem to appreciate the simple joys of riding a bike and pretending anymore.  Of course that could just be my jaded view of things.  My sister is thirteen (I’m currently 28, yeah I know, big gap), around the age I got to drive the tractor by myself, and she seems to care more about texting her friends than pretending outside and playing games on her iPod rather than reading a book.  I’d like to say that I would have been the same kid, even with the technology, but who really wants to admit they’d have succumbed to it too?  Truth is, I don’t know what would have been different, but I’m glad I had the childhood I did.  It made me a hard worker, taught me to love the outdoors, fostered my imagination, and fed me with things I grew myself.  If I ever have kids (I’d love to adopt some day), I hope I can get them to put down the technology and open their eyes to the world around them.  I hope I can give them a childhood they will look back on as fondly as I do mine.

You Don’t What?!

I never cease to be astonished when people tell me they don’t like to read.  I just don’t get it.  There are so many amazing books out there!  So many styles, genres, and subgenres.  You’d think there would be something that would appeal to them.  To me, there is no greater joy than curling up with a cup of coffee or a chai tea latte on a rainy afternoon with a great book.  My mother teaches English and Literature, and she hates reading.  Can you believe it?  I never could.  She reads the Cliffs Notes.  Occasionally she’ll read an actual book, but it’s rare.  To me, not reading is like not listening to music.  Or not liking chocolate.  How do you get through life without reading?

Everywhere I go, I have a book with me.  Usually more than one.  I keep one in my purse, I have a Kindle app on my phone, and just in case I’m still caught book-less, I have a copy of Dante’s Inferno in my trunk (I just can’t bring myself to take it out, you never know when you’ll need a book!).  I pull my book out constantly.  At lunch, at the mechanic, at the doctor, in traffic jams, or just waiting for my husband to get off the phone.  For really good books, I literally read every chance I get.  My husband gets frustrated when we’re at dinner and he returns from the bathroom to find my nose in a book.  When he’s out of town I read during every meal.  We were at a good friend’s wedding this weekend and my husband was an usher, so I sat on the back row reading until time for the wedding to start.  He couldn’t believe it, but what was I supposed to do?  Stare at the chairs in front of me?  (Coincidentally, that same friend is someone who doesn’t read, which prompted this post).

I would rather read than watch tv, or movies, or do much else really.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some shows and movies that I absolutely love, but it always feels lazy to me.  Like someone else is doing all of the work.  I like imagining how people sound or how they look.  It’s one reason I hate books on tape (or cd/mp3 nowadays).  I hate for someone else to read to me.  I can’t hear the character’s voice, I can’t let my imagination really play and fill in the gaps.  Which makes me wonder: do people who don’t like to read lack imagination?  Do they need someone else to create for them?

Maybe that’s it.  I myself have an overactive imagination.  It’s one of the reasons I like to write.  There’s so much going on in my head that needs to be set free.  Perhaps they don’t have the imagination to read?  Or they claim not to have the time (which is just silly, I’ve already proven there are tons of opportunities!) Or maybe they lack the attention span?  In today’s generation people have to be constantly entertained, do they find books too boring? 

Like my mother, my sister doesn’t like to read.  Every one in a while she’ll finish a book.  When she does read, she only picks up books that are close to reality.  Give her fantasy or something science fiction-y (even Harry Potter) and she’ll turn up her nose.  In her case, I can definitively state it’s because she lacks imagination.  Once, when she was five or six, I tried to pretend with her.  We sat on this rug with a picture of a house and I pretended it was a real house.  She absolutely wouldn’t budge and maintained that it was a stupid game because it was a rug  not a house.  I might add I’m fifteen years older, so I was about twenty at the time.  Twenty years old and I had more imagination than a five year old.

What do you think?  Why don’t people like to read?  Lack of time, imagination, or energy?  Something different altogether?  Or have they just not found the right book yet?