The Rhythm Method

DSCN0042My friend Janet sent this to me with a “you go girl” card last week. (She’s such a thoughtful friend. Thanks, Janet.) Can you read it? The guy at the computer is typing “January 11: Still struggling with the novel. Chopped more firewood.” There are piles and piles of wood–and likely no fireplace.

I cracked up. Totally relate to this. In fact at this very moment, I’m “supposed” to be doing my five pages for today and instead “preparing to do my five pages” (read chopping firewood) by writing this blog. You see–I reason–if my schedule is clear, I can write straight on through with a wide open day. It actually says that on my Google Calendar: Wide Open Day.

But it’s really a game I play with myself because more wood will inevitably “need” to be chopped. It’s why they have Na-No-rimo (or the lesser known Jan-no-rimo which I did with my friend Lois who was writing a thousand words a day and I thought I’d copy her) or computer programs that force writers into a daily word count or writers groups with arbitrary deadlines and so forth. We’re all looking for a system, a rhythm method, to help us get our stories told.

And every once in awhile I find it: that writer’s sweet spot. Suddenly, words are just pouring out. I’m knocking out above quota each day, loving the pacing on my story if it’s a first draft, killing my darlings on a rewrite, loving the creative dance. I’m a writer. I’m writing. I’d like to bottle it. I could sell it at writer’s conferences and make a mint.

And then BAM. Time to chop firewood. You can just never have enough. (Doesn’t it feel cold in here? Don’t worry. I got this.)

Critique Groups

DSCN2174Accountability. Feedback. Ideas. Support. These are all reasons writers join critique groups. What they get back, however, is so much more.

There is a sort of serendipity that occurs when creative minds come together to create. It’s a collective consciousness of sorts, a group dynamic, where each individual is made stronger by the whole than they would be if they were alone in a vacuum.

Critique groups come in all sorts and sizes. I’ve worked in a variety of them over the past six years. Each is valuable in its own way. It’s really about your needs as a writer.

My first writing group was in Southern California–the Southern California Fiction Writers they called themselves. The critique members came from a larger organization–the Southwest Manuscripters–which was Ray Bradbury’s group at one point. (Every organization needs their star.) I was asked to join by the man who started the group very early on in my writing career. We called him Captain Dick because he ran the group like a military mission. I will be forever grateful for this group which met weekly on Wednesday night, because I knocked out the first draft of my novel to provide ten pages for them each week. Hoo rah. They cheered me on and encouraged me–and taught me how to do the same for them. Accountability.

When I moved to Northern California, I met Linda. Working together was meant to be as we both had a ready draft of a young adult/middle grade novel, and we were both very passionate about our stories. Having this compatibility was like skiing with someone at exactly the same level–smooth, efficient, fun. We met weekly and were able to quickly work through revision drafts of our works in no time. One-on-one feedback was priceless and the timing was a gift. Simply, a gift.

Along the way, key writing partners came into play. Charlie was really what felt like my first editor in looking at my novel as a whole piece (very important since writing groups focus on sections usually). We write in the same genre, and care about the same key issues, which made his feedback priceless. His experience and sensitivity to my voice let my creativity materialize. Other writer/readers along the way are key: Abe, Barbara, Lois, Deirdre. Not groups, per se, put a key accessory to your process.

Currently, I work with Jen and Darbie in what we call the “Tiaras.” (I don’t really know why, but it kind of stuck.) Each of us are working on a YA novel of very different types. Working in the same genre, though, really informs each of our writing. We are able to brainstorm as we are in the same head space. Ideas. They are the first ones I think to call with a writing success (or bump in the road) because they get it. Support.

We meet every 3rd week and each brings very unique gifts to the process. Together, we watch our writing grow, improve, and we are all able to be very thorough and honest with each other in this size group. Each of us is able to bring ten pages each time for the next time and we do the edits off hard copy vs. Google Docs. I am so grateful for this combination of writers because there is something magical in the combination that I’m not sure I can even put into words. It’s almost other worldly.

Each group is unique and so valuable in its own way. There are as many types of groups as there are writers. Where do you go if you want one?

It’s important to really think about what you need from a group. Is it accountability? Is it feedback? Ideas? Support? Then, write it out. Draw out what your perfect group would look like. How many members? What would each write? Contribute? Where and how often would you meet? Get very clear. Then, like with everything else, put it on your vision board (what? no vision board?) or just mentally send it out to the universe and before you know it, you’ll have a group, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one.

One Writer’s Place: Day 3

So I hit the send button yesterday inadvertently. My mission was to get photos, add them, take out the line about my camera (though I did want to give a shout out to the nice camera man), but “send” was what went out. Best laid plans.

Here’s the beach of which I wrote. It’s one of those places that’s hard to capture on film it turns out. It lies west facing in a bay which I think is where the grass thing comes from. There are lots of paths like this one.

It’s a very quiet, meditative place and I really wanted to sit right where this seagull was sitting, but he looked so content I couldn’t chase him off.

So instead I went and picked up potentially the best Chinese take out food I’ve ever eaten in my life at this little hole in the wall place that somebody told me about when I was waiting in the amusement-park length line at CVS for my antibiotics (to cure the ear infection I hope to not take on the plane.) There, I found my new mantra for my book.

And I came back to the cottage to do just that.

One Writer’s Place

Having survived the Bourne Bridge Rotary on the way here (what the…?), I am happy to write to you from the Edna St. Vincent Room at One Writer’s Place. As most of you (my three loyal subscribers–Mom, is that you?)know I was selected to come here after going through the application process last year. (Do I get to put that under the “Awards” section of my resume?)

This is only Day 2, but already I must say this is the best idea ever, and I am so thankful to have this space to slog through First Break and let Paige tell her story. Thank you, Jackie Mitchard, for picking me and for providing this type of support for writers. You have inspired me to work towards getting a cabin in the woods where I can do the same for others one day. (Get that, honey, “working towards.”)

An interesting venture, this debut novel thing, and sometimes there just needs to be cricket-chirping silence to do it. That’s what there is here. I’m on the third floor, surrounded by evergreens and sky, with breeze that flows through the windows just enough to make it nice, but not so much it blows my papers all over.

On Day 1, I never left (butt glue). But today, lest I turn into a hermit, I drove down to Paines Creek Beach. My camera was broken when I arrived in Cape Cod, but some nice fellow down at the South Patriot Square Camera shop fixed it for me today and didn’t charge me a dime so now I will go back tomorrow so I can show you this amazing beach. You can walk out a mile it seems and it is only three inches deep. When you look out, it looks like people walking on water. It’s not a straight sandy beach, but is filled with wild grasses and a stream running into it. People sit in little coves or out on their own little sand islands. Not a wave to be seen. Truly unique.

Anybody know what’s up with all the “we make our own ice cream” places on Cape Cod?