Monday Morning Pages

Morning Pages.  Three pages of longhand writing in the morning.  Not meant to be written, in the sense that they’re a exercise in getting the brain onto the page and giving voice to what the Chinese call monkey mind – that bouncing, scattershot squirrel of thoughts that natters on throughout the day behind the scenes.

I’ve been doing Morning Pages since 1995 and they’ve quite literally changed my life.  It’s to the point, now, where I don’t even argue their effectiveness, because I know they’re effective – I just assign them, teach them, preach them, do them.

They’re most effective when we do them, I’ve learned.

When I came up with the theme for Mondays as “Monday Morning Pages,” I did it more for the sense of transliteration than anything else.  But as I type, I find it fitting that Mondays would be this sort of post – a Zen wander through my mind and, in the case of today, my camera.

The morning was gorgeous.  The light had a golden quality with the oncoming sun that made the snow sparkle.  It was really cold, only about 8F, but lovely.

My lunch serves as a rest for my craft bag, which right now carries the Emerald Keep Scarf and my story binder, which has two in-process novels in it, Sealed by Duty and Sapphire Dream.  It’s got the story grid, setting triangle, and GMC for all of the characters.  I’ll expand on what those things are in another post, but for now, I’m just sharing what’s in my bag.  The cup is my cold coffee for the morning.  A necessity.  I didn’t have time to make hot coffee, so this is some cold stuff that I made yesterday.  It’s caffeinated, that’s all I care about before I’m all the way awake.

There’s no school today, since it’s President’s Day.  But the school had a light on, making me wonder who went to school today?  A hardworking teacher?  A lonely janitor?  A homeless person sneaking in out of the cold?  An alien, hoping to take over the building as the new command center of an invading force?

Hey, man.  It’s Monday, and this is the Morning Pages.

You have been warned.  🙂

Sunday Journal

Sundays evoke the image of a relaxed day, perhaps with family around the table and a nice meal, or maybe watching the television.  We’re doing the latter; farting around on Netflix after a large brunch of eggs and bacon.  We’ve got lobster tails for dinner for the man of the house and burgers with bleu cheese for me, and ribs for The Boy.  It’s a nice day.

As I write the draft for the third book in our popular Sealed series, which is called Sealed by Duty, I’m reminded yet again of how tenacious our inner critic can be.  As I look at the story, my words are strangled and silent and it took nearly an hour just to get 300 on the page.  Still, it’s 300 more than I had yesterday and I’m reminded, yet again, that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Here’s some more thoughts about how that process works for me, in case it sparks something for you in your creative endeavors.

I open the draft and sit with the blank page for a while.  Sometimes, if I’m really not seeing Story, then I’ll reread the part prior to where I need to add more to the page.  That will help me figure out what happens next.

Sometimes, that doesn’t work.  But I have to give it long enough, and listen hard enough, and then write down what I hear without judgment.

That’s the hardest part, actually; writing down what I hear without judgment.  Trust the story to tell itself.  See it, like a movie in your mind, and report what you see.  They say the second book is the hardest, because after the exuberance of the first book, you know what’s coming and how much work it’ll be.  I find that’s true for the seventh book, and the twenty-seventh book, too.  My inner critic goes for my jugular each time.

On occasion, listening doesn’t work because the critic is too loud to hear Story.  No amount of coaxing helps.  These times are incredibly frustrating and they typically hit, for me at least, in two key points:  the first is after the first 25,000 or 30,000 of the book is on the page and I can start to see the full scope of it; and at the end, when I’m about 3,000 or 4,000 words from the end.  In both cases, the end is near and that’s what stops me.  I have a fear of endings.

No, I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet or I wouldn’t be writing this post.

One of the things that works at this point is to draw a grid of squares on a blank piece of paper.  Yes, by hand.  For me, this process is kinesthetic.  Doing it on the computer doesn’t work; I’ve tried.  Cherry Adair teaches her Plotting Board, and this is a modified version of it.  I write in the grids what parts of the story I already have; this allows me to see where the gaps are.  It’s normal that I have the beginning, some parts of the middle, and the end.  It’s the dreaded middle that’s the problem – which is the title of an essay I read but can’t now put my hands on, so I’m afraid I can’t give the author due credit.  They’re right, though, this author; I do dread the middle because I need to get through it to get to the end.  As much as I have trouble with the end, it’s the middle that has to be done to even have that problem.

And then there are those times where none of that works – not listening, not drawing grids, not banging my head against the keyboard, nothing.

At those times, one needs to step away.  Now I don’t mean give up easily – give it a real, honest try.  But if you’re still stuck after an hour, walk away.  Get your head clear.  This is one of the many reasons I knit – because even if I’m blocked on words, I can still make something.  Let the knitting tell you a story.  Sometimes it’s your missing story; other times, it’s a bedtime story that soothes your inner artist and lulls the inner critic into a nap so that you can sneak onto the page.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about: get onto the page.

By any means necessary.

Write on.

Writer Wednesday with Noon and Wilder

Yes, dear, I know you don’t like your picture taken.
©2015 A. Catherine Noon

Why do you want me to smi-
©2015 Rachel Wilder

2015 is shaping up to be a busy year.  We’ve sent off Sealed by Magic for consideration; finished first and second rounds of edits on Emerald Keep; made a deal for Book 3 of the Chicagoland Shifters, called Cat’s Cradle, and it’ll be out in the summer of 2015; and we’ve worked out the order of the Persis Chronicles series for the next four years.  Rock on.

I’m not sure I have two brain cells to rub together at the moment, though.  ~grin~

We are redesigning our websites this year, and my website will be up shortly.  We’ll launch the new Noon and Wilder site in the next month or so, before April’s A-Z Blog Challenge.  And yes, I’ll be doing the Challenge – with more than one blog, too, thereby proving the theory that I am, in fact, mad.

In Noon & Wilder news, I’m excited to say that we’ll be holding the 2015 Keepsake Tour right here on the blog for 31 days starting March 8th.  It will celebrate the release of Emerald Keep, the long-awaited sequel to our popular book Emerald Fire.  The Keepsake Tour will be a little different than blog tours I’ve done in the past – for this one, Rachel and I are literally making keepsakes for you, Dear Reader, to collect.  Rachel is crocheting a scarf, I’m making a lace scarf, we’ll have hand-made bookmarks and other bits and bobs.  I can’t wait.  I’m booking the stops on the tour now, but you can always check in here during the tour because I’ll leave little breadcrumbs for you to follow.

For now, it’s time to put my nose back on that grindstone.  We’re almost finished with Sapphire Dream, book 3 in the Persis Chronicles, and know what comes after it – which is sometimes half the battle.  We hope to be done with Sapphire within the next month or two so that we can send it off for consideration – so keep your fingers crossed!

Happy Wednesday, Dear Reader!

Sunday Journal

For much of the U.S., it’s getting very cold this weekend and anticipated to get colder this coming week.

Good nap weather.

I got asked the other day, is it hard to write with someone else?

“Hard” isn’t a word I’d use.  While it is a challenge to communicate, writing together is deeply satisfying and a lot of fun.  It’s like any relationship, though, and it takes work and an investment of time and energy – and yes, frankly, money.  I’m flying out to Nevada this coming week, for example.  But the rewards are worth it.

I never know how to answer the question, what’s it like to write with a coauthor.  Not because I don’t know, but because the answer wouldn’t make sense to anyone else.  It’s like trying to answer the question, what’s it like to be married to so-and-so?  Being married is unique to each couple, and even within the couple, two different people are likely to give two entirely different answers.  It depends on context and individual personality.

I also, less frequently, get the ruder question, why don’t you write by yourself?  Somehow it’s seen as bad to write with someone else, as though I’m compensating for someone.  I always feel sorry for the person who asks me that question, because it misses the point so widely.  Of course I can write, and I do write, on my own frequently.  But I enjoy writing with a partner, and that’s why I do it.

Because at the end of the day, it’s a lot of fun.

Now, back to the subject of naps.  I wonder if my laundry is done and my blanket is dry and warm and fluffy?  Hmm….

Saturday Sojourn – Travel and Research

From LOLCats – For Cats’ People Everywhere

I’m getting ready to go visit Rachel in Nevada next weekend.  As Chicago fixes to go down below zero, I’m looking forward to visiting the desert – the forecast says sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Bikini weather, man – especially today, as I look out the window at the frozen icy snow slush that now covers the ground.  Bleck.

I adore traveling.  I like to travel where I live, and pretend I’m a tourist in my own town.  I like to travel to other places and pretend I’m a tourist there, too.  Tourists have gotten a bad rap – we all have the picture in our minds, the loud, arrogant jerk in the awful Hawaiian toucan puke shirt with his wife and her teacup Chihuahua in a Gucci bag, wearing stupid shoes and complaining about the locals.

Thing is, I haven’t actually seen this ubiquitous awful traveler, and I’ve been to a lot of places.  Of course, I did see the lady with the, I kid you not, twelve inch long fingernails.  It was disgusting.  Truly.  I felt like I was looking at a living skeleton.  I mentioned this to someone and they told me, “Oh, yeah, Chinese emperors used to wear their nails like that.”  Wow.  Beauty is relative and culturally determined, says the sociologist in me.  Eww, says the awful traveler.

But I digress.

I was planning our February trip and pulled a book off my shelf, Quick Escapes Chicago.  It got me thinking, maybe there’s one for Las Vegas (there is).  The premise of the book is that there are twenty-six suggested escapes near the Chicago area, including one in downtown Chicago itself.

These kinds of things are easy to find, once you know what you’re looking for – and it’s not just books.  There are several links to things like Chicagoist, that have suggestions for day trips.  Towns and cities typically have tourist sites to lure travelers, and these can provide a wealth of information.

There’s something to be said for going off the beaten track.  In fact, there’s a website called Off the Beaten Path.  That’s targeting the adventure outdoor travelers, but the idea is the same:  look around for things that locals enjoy, that aren’t necessarily the mainstream big tourist spots.

For example, did you know there’s a museum of surgery right here in Chicago?  There’s a Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois.  Farm stands can yield a variety of local color – even a speed trap where you can get a ticket in Dukes of Hazard style, given to you by the largest man ever birthed by woman (I swear he couldn’t have fit in the police cruiser car; I think it had to have been a Tardis).

Even walking around our own neighborhoods, when we do it with the eyes of someone who’s never seen it before, can yield amazing insights.  What we see as “normal,” after all, is only normal to us because we see it every day.  If you like to snap photos, there are online communities (Picasa and Imgur are two very active ones) that are stuffed to the gills with folks who like to look at the world around them, in all its mundane and glorious detail.  When we start to see the world around us with the eye of a photographer, then we truly begin to see.

What interesting local attraction have you wondered about?  Could you visit it this year?

Unusual Travelogue

Ever heard of a salt cave? Want to spend some time in one? Never heard of it but curious?

Join me today at Delilah Devlin’s blog, in my guest post about the Galos Salt Caves.

Join me at the Samhain Publishing Blog today!

I’m at the Samhain Publishing blog today, talking about writing with a collaborator.  I hope you’ll join me!

Underwater Basketweaving – or, “It’s Research!”

One of our newer stories, which will be part of the forthcoming Bound series, features a character who owns a pleasure boat.  He used to be a sailor and worked on a fishing trawler, and the group of people he’s part of used to run a trawling company.

The only problem is, Rachel and I don’t know much about boats.

I mean, they float, right?  And they’re pretty.  Seagulls like them.  They have masts with sails.  Pirates used to steal them.  I saw Pirates of the Carribean and, aside from not being able to spell Caribeane to save my life, that means I know about boats, right?

Wrong.

Off to research we went.  I work near a marina with a lot of boats, so the first step was to wander around and poach.  Boats, not fish.  I’d send pictures to Rachel for boats that I liked, and we found a couple brand names.  Then the real work began.  Rachel looked up the brands on the internet and we ran smack into our first problem.

Apparently, “boat” isn’t a very precise moniker.

Jeez.

We had to learn the right definition for the size of boat our character owns.  Does he fish with it?  Is it a sailboat?

Does it have a shower?  (You’d be surprised; this is an important question; not all boats have them.)

We finally settled on a boat we both like.  We’ve been working on the scenes with this particular boat so when you read it, you’ll have to see if you can tell whether we did our research well or sound like land-lubbers.

And next time someone gives you a hard time for internet surfing because you got curious about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?  Tell ’em, “It’s Research!” with a capital “R”.

Working and Writing – Creating Sane, Grounded Practices

Many of us who write, do so while working for a living doing something other than writing.  While on the one hand, this seems like we might rather write full time, on the other we can see it for the opportunity it is while we’re waiting for our ship to come in.

Structure

When we work outside the home, we have to be somewhere at a set time.  This teaches us structure. This also gives us the idea of working hours.

Why not set working hours for your writing, as though it were a second job?

Discipline

When we work at a job, we must do things on time and according to standards that are already set for us.  This can give us the starting-point to set our own standards and procedures.

Why not set a word count goal for each day?  One thousand words a day, or about 3 or 4 pages, is enough to write a novel in 2 or 3 months.

Networking

When we work outside the home, we have a resume and a network of professionals that we know in our field.  This helps us stay employed and, if necessary, get a new job.

Why not write a writing resume for yourself?  Include all the different kinds of writing that you do.  Are you an active blogger or Facebook user?  Proficient in social media.  Are you active in an online forum?  Member of thus-and-such group.  Use your imagination – just don’t make up things out of whole cloth.  But not everything on your resume must be related to a job-for-pay.

With a little thought, we can leverage our working experience together with our writing experience and re-craft our lives into something we’ve always dreamed.

Write on!

Worldbuilding and Emerald Fire

Join me at the Writer’s Retreat Blog today where I discuss some of the techniques that helped Rachel and I in the writing of our new book, Emerald Fire. Enjoy!