The sunlight leaves a crosshatch pattern on the floor, like the tic tac toe we played as children. It’s almost charming, until you see the bars. They were built to look like trellises from the outside, with climbing roses planted at their base—the roses refuse to cooperate. In their stubbornness, the roses have not grown up, but together into one large mass that chokes out the buds and leaves the branches to dry and fall away.
I tend to make notes and write missives on every available writing surface. I have random notebooks with half-filled pages and scribbled sentences in my own shorthand. There are envelopes from old bills (hopefully paid) that have words, phrases, titles of books, and authors names written on the back at various angles. I write on calendar pages, on sticky notes, with pencil on my desk top, and I have even been known to write on my hands when there is nothing else available.
I am always on the lookout for the next great notebook or notepad. You all know what I’m talking about—the one that is going to hold all my fantastic ideas and help me turn them in to the best stories of all time. I am most lured by paper items, but use iPad apps and notes on my phone to keep some thoughts. I have recently become fascinated with the Boogie Board ewriters. Have you seen these? They are like high tech versions of the wax and plastic writing boards (Magic Slate) we used as kids, but instead of erasing when you lift the plastic sheet, you just push a button and your work is gone.
I want to buy one—they aren’t expensive, maybe $25. I can think of many uses for it, like writing shopping lists or words of the day, etc. The only thing keeping me from buying one is fear. Fear that I will find it when I have just had a fantastic idea. I will write it down, because it is available and easy to use, and then, before I can write the idea on something more permanent (like paper), I, or my kids, or my dog, will accidentally press the little round button that erases it forever and ever. The original, inexpensive version, does not have any kind of memory capability, no back or undo button and no wax backing that holds the grooves and shadows of what was on it before. I suppose I could buy one of the models that syncs via Bluetooth, but I’m too cheap for that.
After re-reading the above paragraph, I wonder if that is exactly what I need. Maybe the good ideas are only good if they stay—if they have permanence in your brain and needle at you to be written even when you don’t want to bother with them. My mother always said, “You’ll remember it if it’s important.”
The school year is winding down and things are starting to fall into place around here. I’ve accepted a new day job where I think I will be much happier, my husband has finished his MFA in sculpture and accepted a teaching position for next year, and two out of my three children are spending the summer with grandparents.
I feel like I have spent the last two years balled up with anxiety, and now that our lives are getting back to normal I have the energy to sit down and truly write. I am so looking forward to my long weekends and quiet evenings where I can be still and let my mind fill with words that can spill out onto paper and into the hands of some interested reader. Until then, I will get my house in order—it’s always easier to write when my surroundings are clean and orderly.
Raise your glass—to writing.
I have always thought of myself as a social person. I was under the impression I made friends with ease, but the more I examine my life, the more I realize I have a problem. I see pictures on Facebook of women (friends) I went to high school with or spent a good majority of my childhood with, and I notice they all have one thing in common—none of those photos have me in them. All the wedding/baby shower/family bbq/concert photos feature many of these women as bridesmaids, holding someone’s baby, helping other’s toddlers down slides, or selfies of three or four of them attending a concert or event together. I never really kept in touch enough to warrant an invite to any of these events.
Everywhere I go I make friends, but most of these are surface friends. They are people I go out to dinner with, or meet for coffee. I invite them over for celebrations at my house, but I don’t tell them all my secrets. I don’t truly confide in any of them. I have as much connection to them as I do the characters in the books I read—probably less. It never really bothered me much before, but as I get older and see how few bonds I have made, I start to wonder what is wrong with me.
How is it that I have alienated or pushed away all those who could potentially be forever friends (to borrow a phrase from my daughter)? If I do the inner psychology thing, and try to dig into the deeper meaning of this, if feels so trivial. I grew up in a good home, with good parents, so how do I have a right to be so messed up?
When I reflect on this problem—the inability to form tight bonds with other women—I realize that the characters I write all seem to have this problem as well. Honestly, I write very few female characters. The ones I do write are damaged. Even my male characters are uncharacteristically broken. They are almost always lonely. They say you write what you know, but that doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s time I write what I want.
I am not the type of person who works well with background noise. I prefer my work environment to be free from distractions- no TV shows playing in the background, no music with words (otherwise I am tempted to sing and use my brain power trying to remember the words), and no teenagers fighting and playing video games with cheers and screaming.
With that said, there is one type of background noise that works to get my creativity going. When I need to get some work done, and I need to drown out the teenage noises, I put on “You’ve Got Mail”. I have seen this movie so many times, that I don’t need to pay special attention to it. I could probably recite the entire movie while it’s running and still not break my work trance. The music, the witty dialogue, and the general happiness of this movie seems to ease my mind.
I don’t only use it to help me write, but I put it on when I’ve been feeling blerghh or when I am feeling lazy and want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and let my mind wander. I look up every once in a while, especially when one of my favorite lines is coming up.
“I’m going to the nutshop, where it’s fun.”
“I tried to have cyber sex once, but I kept getting a busy signal.”
“That caviar is a garnish.”
“It’s like they’re an entire generation of cocktail waitresses.”
I get sad every time I think of Nora Ephron’s passing. Who will write such witty and profound dialogue for me to enjoy now?
It should be no surprise that I am, at this very moment, watching “You’ve Got Mail.”
“I live a small life. Valuable, but small.”
I have been honing my observation skills lately. I might have actually been honing a little too intently as it has become a problem at work. I find myself studying my co-workers so intently that I miss giant chunks of information in meetings. I hear things like, “The discretionary budget has come under some strain lately…the harsher alcohol sanctions don’t seem to be making a difference.” It would seem as though our staff are using our budget to support their drinking habits. This is not the case, but if I don’t stop ‘observing’ so intently, I could pass on some really bad information in my reports.
I am trying to focus most on personality quirks I can use with my characters. One of my characters wears glasses, so I am seeing people in glasses everywhere- kind of like when you buy a new car and see that make and model all over the place. I observed someone on Thursday who wears the reading glasses that connect at the bridge with magnets. (As though it is so difficult to just pull them off your face.) The reading glasses were very stiff and didn’t quite sit on his face. They seemed to be suspended in midair above his nose. They didn’t look new, but they still had the cling sticker in the corner of one lens that said what strength they are. I don’t know how the individual doesn’t go crazy seeing this in his peripheral vision all the time.
I like these little details and am excited to look for more. I just have to try not to concentrate too hard on it during meetings.
I finished another chapter this weekend. Small victories. Having a workspace away from my house makes a huge difference. I really like this community workspace idea. I’ve met some great people and, it turns out, there are community workspaces around the world that have reciprocal agreements for members. For example, I could happen to be in San Francisco (don’t I wish) and need a place to work for a day or two. There are close to a dozen community workspaces where I could work at no charge because I am a member of one in my own town.
The idea of coworking is not new, but I didn’t appreciate the idea until recently. While the space I rent is only a short walk from my home, it still provides me with a space free from daily distractions like children, laundry, TV, dishes, and dogs. I do take one of my dogs with me now and again- usually when I’m working very late at night.
If you’re struggling to get writing done at home and don’t want to spend the money to rent an entire office, Check out coworking spaces in your area. They’re not or everyone, but it could be a viable alternative to working from home.
One of the great things about being a writer is the research. I’m sure many would disagree, but I really enjoy it. I love finding out more about where my character’s live and which cafe they frequent on weekends. It can help sometimes to have visual geography in which to base my fictional city or neighborhood.
Right now I am working on something based in Boston. Boston Medical Center features prominently in the story line, so I have been doing research on the surrounding neighborhoods. I found one in particular I really liked- in fact, I am using it as a basis for my main character’s own neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I can not physically go to Boston right now, so I have to be creative with my research. I have to send a shout out to all things Google- Google Search, Google Maps etc. Google has helped me find the information I need, but it has also given me too much information. Google is the reason I feel like a stalker.
Thanks to Google I can see 360 degrees around the entire neighborhood (streetview). Using Google search I also found the square-footage and price of residences in that area, along with realtor’s websites with photos of the insides of some of those residences. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know and before I knew it, I had a manila folder full of information–almost as though I was launching an investigation on the residents.
The only thing Google doesn’t seem to have are the sounds and smells of the neighborhood or an approximation of how often the guy in number 23 runs to the deli on the corner to get his pregnant wife something to eat, or how many kids play in the fountain on any given summer afternoon, or whether you can hear the sounds of the one-man-band playing at the street fair around the corner.
In some sense, internet research almost defeats the purpose of writing a work of fiction.
In reality, the only thing I need is a map of the area in case I need to figure out distances to landmarks, or use the real names of main streets.
All that said, I should probably change the pronoun in my title to ‘I’, but it makes me feel I’m not alone in my creepiness. I can’t be the only writer who has felt mildly voyeuristic while doing research. Right? Anyone?