Love At First Write

BookLove

I’m enjoying a new romance. 

I can’t stop thinking about my love. I’m anxious when we’re apart. Our dates give me a high. The relationship feels shiny and new; so far I see no flaws.

You’d probably say I’m in the “honeymoon phase”.  And you’d be right.

My new love is not a man, though, (or even an adorable puppy).

It’s a novel. One that I’ve just started writing. We meet almost every day—at my desk, in the library or coffee shop. Sometimes in bed.

Previously, I’ve been through two long-term book relationships, each ending with publication.  I’ve had a few breakups along the way. And another relationship that ended after the honeymoon stage. Before meeting my new novel, I was separated from another one in-progress, 3/4 through the first draft, a story I believed in and still do.

So what happened? 

I hit a rough patch—the inevitable muddy middle and couldn’t find my way out. And then life intruded, taking away my time. Then bad stuff happened, taking away my words. The bad stuff gave power to my inner critic, The more time passed that I hadn’t worked on this book, the greater my despair. We lost our connection. I began to associate the story with pain and loss, so that every time I opened my laptop, my chest tightened.

I decided to take a break.

I went exploring. Studied my craft. Sought advice. I looked for inspiration. I nourished my soul. My heart opened. Then, when I wasn’t looking, I bumped into an old acquaintance.  The idea, notes, and first chapter had been sitting in a file for 6 years. And it still looked good. I felt a spark.

“Let’s meet for coffee,” I said.

Now I hear the main character’s voice in my head as I’m falling asleep.  I imagine future scenes of our story. I reread every word spoken so far. Sometimes while driving, I get so absorbed in thinking about the plot, I forget where I’m going.

Still, I worry about our future.

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Just like some people are in love with the idea of falling in love, some people are in love with the idea of writing a novel. But for most, it remains just an idea. Writing the damn thing is really hard work. It takes a lot of time, self-discipline, and know-how. So you really need to fall in love with the story, at least in the beginning. And that’s just the writing part. Getting published requires a whole other set of know-how and connections. Even though I’ve been writing fiction for a long time, have studied the craft, won awards, and been published, I still find the process difficult, particularly trying to develop an idea for 300 pages…and doing it well. 

Of course, I am not alone in this struggle. And neither are you, if this is what you hope to accomplish.  Read enough author interviews and you’ll hear a similar lament. Doesn’t matter how many books they have under their belt, either. The spark of the new is exciting. It fuels ambition and optimism. But like any long-term relationship, you will hit a bump somewhere. You run out of things to talk about. You’ll partner’s flaws become magnified. Then one day you sit down at your desk and say, “What was I thinking?”

You fall out of love.

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There’s plenty of advice out there on navigating the midlife crisis of a manuscript (or any part of it, for that matter). As I noticed how similar my behaviors were to someone newly in love, I looked to the advice offered by marriage counselors to see if it might apply to writing through the rough patch.  Here’s what I found:

l.  Remember why you fell in love in the first place. 

    When you are stuck, rewind to the beginning. Write your mission statement for the novel. Think about the magical parts. Outline its future. Imagine the scenes yet unwritten.

2. Know that every relationship goes through rough times, some harder than others.

    Getting writer’s block, feeling stuck, disliking what you’ve written, are parts of the process of building a solid story. Calling it quits is sometimes necessary, but first, you have to ride the wave of uncertainty. Expect it. Make friends with it.  

3. Make time to nurture your relationship. 

    Saying that you’ll finish your book when the kids are in school, when you can quit your day job, or when you finish re-doing the basement, rarely works. You’ll eventfully, find another reason why “now” is not the right time—real or imagined. So strike when the iron is hot, even if that turns out to be 30 minutes a day or two hours on a Sunday. Meeting once a month is not enough to make progress. A year from now you’ll regret not having started.

4. Take a break if necessary.

     After putting in time and effort and you still feel stuck, try starting a new writing project. It’s like having a fling with no consequences. (What fun!) Then return to your book with renewed energy and fresh eyes. See how you feel.

5.  Get help.

The writing life can get lonely.  Working on a novel brings frustration and self-doubt no matter how experienced you are.  Don’t go at it alone. Find a critique partner. Join a writer’s group. Take a class or workshop. Attend a conference. Read guidebooks from those who walked the path.

5.  Don’t give up— at least without a fight.

    Sometimes the first novel is a warm-up, a learning experience. It becomes part of your past. Even great ideas may fizzle in execution. And not all books should be written. If you do decide to break up, at least you know you gave it your best. Then, you have to figure out what to do differently the second or third time around.  Maybe you’re hoping to finally meet the Right One. But how will you know? Writing a novel is as much a process of discovery as it is an act of creation. You will learn things about yourself. You’ll discover truths. You may create something you never thought possible, something more whole, real, and satisfying than earlier attempts.

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The beginning of any relationship is both exciting and scary. Starting a new job, moving to another city, adopting a dog, making a new friend, all carry uncertainty.  In a romantic relationship, this is amplified. Does she like me for me?  Can I trust him? Is she the one? Can I commit? Will he still love me when I’m sixty-four?

Unlike humans relationships, a romance with a novel puts you in control. The book will never abandon you.

And you always have the last word.~  

 

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A Great Teacher Gift

Looking for a last-minute gift for that special teacher? A gift that she/he probably doesn’t already have?

I recommend the beautiful picture book , Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes by Susan V. Bosak.  Published in 2004, this gem has received numerous awards.  The book poetically explores hopes and dreamsthroughout the arc of one’s lifetime.

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The story is multi-layered and can be appreciated by young children and older teens as well.  Aspiring artists will appreciate the full-color illustrations by 15 top world illustrators.  Each page has an inspirational quote and a hidden star for the reader to find.

The narrator not only encourages young people to dream but to to action: “You need the Believe of childhood, the Do of youth, and the Think of experience.”

As a teacher, this is just the kind of gift book I’d love to receive.  It works for multi-age groups and can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Dream was published as a part of the Legacy Project’s LifeDreams program. The website offers terrific ideas for literacy and cross-curricular activities.

I discovered  Dream a few years ago when I began searching for projects to inspire kids to set goals and imagine their future. Now I use the book as part of my writing workshops and presentations. At my latest educational workshop: Raising Girls to Dream Big, a young couple showed up with their newborn daughter. I was thrilled to have these first-time parents in attendance.  I congratulated them for getting an early start on raising a child with hopes and dreams.

So now I’ve adding Dreams to my list of meaningful baby gifts, as well as teacher gifts.

Happy Holidays!

The Muggles took Manhattan and I stayed home.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 16th, J.K. Rowling made her only public appearance in the US,  and I missed it.

Ms. Rowling was interviewed by writer Anne Patchett at Lincoln Center in NYC, and then spoke, read, and signed her new book,  A Casual Vacancy. Somehow, I had missed the initial announcement in September when tickets went on sale, so I didn’t find out about Ms. Rowling’s appearance until October 8th while reading Dan Blank’s blog. Dan was running a contest to give away 2 tickets to writers who have been inspired by Rowling’s work.(Who hasn’t?)  I felt a few seconds of excitement at the prospect of winning the tickets.

Did I even enter? No.

Reason? Door to door it would take me about 6 hours to get there by train. (I certainly didn’t want to drive by myself from Boston to NYC.) That would mean missing work Tuesday morning.  Then, I’d have to stay overnight. Where would I stay? A hotel would be way too expensive.Then I’d miss work Wednesday morning, I might not get back in time for Audrey’s dance rehearsal…. You get the picture.

My pragmatism overshadowed the chance for a once-in-a-life opportunity.

This wasn’t the first time I had missed an opportunity to meet J.K. Rowling. In 1999, when my oldest daughter was 8, a friend of mine called saying, “The author of that Harry Potter book your daughter liked so much is at the Barnes and Nobles right now signing books!”

This was way before J.K. Rowling’s mega-author status.  Emily was jumping up and down.  “Can we go, Mom?”

I called the book store to check and was told, yes, indeed, Ms. Rowling was signing. There was a line out the door! They estimated the wait at one hour.  I told Emily that by the time we got there, the wait might be two hours, and her little sister wouldn’t be able to wait in line, and who knows, we might not get in anyway.

So we didn’t go, and I attended to whatever other pressing matter I had at the time.

My daughter didn’t get her book  signed or have a photo taken her new favorit author, who would go on to write 6 more HP books.

And if you think my daughter has forgotten, think again. She still has her tattered , unsigned copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Emily (a.k.a. Leah E. Caras) and I amusingly refer to this incident as an example of short-term thinking. Not seeing ‘the forest through the trees’.

And, Mom’s lack of spontaneity.

Once upon a time, I was a heck of a lot more adventurous. That was BC–before children, when being a risk-taker seemed more suitable. But spontaneity?   I don’t like unpredictable situations. Ditto for big changes. I like order.  I am never late. I have always been a thoughtful decision- maker and a planner.

Had I been given adequate prior notice for both these J.K. Rowling events, I would have made the necessary arrangements to attend. Hey, with my strategic planning skills, I’d have been first in line!

When I heard the coverage of the latest event on NPR, I felt like the kid left out of the big party.  Over 2000 adults showed up for Rowling’s book debut.  One woman traveled from Paris!  Others came from Florida, Ohio, Arkansas. And I was sweating the a 4-5 hour train ride?  I thought about how excited my kids–all huge HP fans– would have been for me. ( Not to mention my students and blog readers.)

I consoled myself by saying I probably wouldn’t have won the tickets, anyway…

But this incident got me thinking about other opportunities I have passed up due to lack of spontaneity–example: a free trip to Israel (bad-timing).  Most of them, I can honestly say, I regret not taking. In retrospect, I can see how I might have been able to make the nitty-gritty details work.

I also remember a few times, when pushed, I jumped. Case in point: appearing on the Lifetime TV show, The Balance Act.  My daughter, 19 at the time, landed an interview about her publishing business, Yaldah Media, Inc.  The producer wanted me to join her. I can’t even remember what reasons I gave EmilyLeah for not wanting to do it. (Finding coverage for my CEO Mom job?  Flying to Florida by myself?)

“Are you crazy, Mom? she said over the phone. “You are going to pass up a chance to promote your book on national TV?”

The experience turned out to be a fun mother/daughter trip. I learned about television production and sold a lot of books!

Perk: I got to meet fitness guru Denise Austin while we were having our make-up done. And, since my sister and parents live in Florida, I got a quick visit with them.

So my friends, I am publicly announcing that, from here on, I will strive to seize the moment and grab an opportunity when it comes my way. I may need a little coaching to get there, but, as they say in recovery, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I hope to report on my progress in future blogs.

Addendum:  I am happy to tell you that I actually did get a chance to see J.K. Rowling in person. In 2008, Ms. Rowling was the Harvard University commencement speaker. Being an alumna, I received much advanced notice of the event, as well as two complimentary tickets. I’ll never forget my ten-year-old daughter’s face as her beloved author took the podium and the crowd cheered.

It was pure magic.

Are you a spontaneous person?  How do you know whether to say ‘yes‘ when an opportunity presents itself?  

Young Writers

The NY Times featured an article today about children and teen writers whose parents have helped them self-publish their writing. One boy sold 700 copies of his book so far. These are ambitious kids who love to write and are taking advantage of today’s easy publishing technology like Iuniverse and Lulu. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting too bent out of shape about this kind of creative endeavor. Still, the adult naysayers couldn’t keep quiet.

“What’s next?” asked the novelist Tom Robbins. “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”

“There are no prodigies in literature,” Mr. Robbins said. “Literature requires experience, in a way that mathematics and music do not.”

Perhaps it is true that there are “no prodigies in literature”, as Mr. Robbins asserts, but does that mean young writers have nothing meaningful to say or imagine? Is it not possible for a teen to craft an engaging fantasy novel?

Yes, young writers should study craft, revise, and work with an editor before presenting their work to the world, but need we put an age limit on publishing opportunities?   With educators today lamenting that kids can’t write and don’t read, shouldn’t we celebrate those who can and do by encouraging them to reach for their dreams?

Last week, I addressed a room full of award-winning authors–all under the age of eighteen.  These kids were top winners in the Young Authors of Maryland Annual Writing Contest.  The award reception was held during the State of Maryland International Reading Conference.  I told the students that when I was a seventh-grader I won my first short story contest in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Competition.

“That little taste of recognition sparked the fire of possibility in a shy and insecure adolescent. I had a story to tell, and someone thought it was good!”

Kudos to those young Maryland authors, their proud parents and teachers. You don’t need to be a literary prodigy to publish your writing. Keep reading, writing, revising, living, loving, and learning. The words will follow.

A Parent’s Dream

I’m busy working on my presentation for the State of Maryland International Reading Association Conference. I’ll be speaking with my daughter, Leah Larson Caras, founder and publisher of Yaldah Media, Inc., Wed. March 26th.  Topic: A Parent’s Dream.  I’ll trace my journey from teaching first grade to publishing my first novel while raising an entrepreneur.  Thurs. evening I’ll talk about my book along with a slew of other children’s authors at the Author’s & Desserts event.  Looking forward to meeting inspiring educators and authors. Let me know if you’ll be attending or in the Baltimore area.