I’m Alive…and 49 Pages Closer to “The End”

You lookin’ at me?
(Thanks MKD for the photo.)

Another heavenly week has come and gone. This was year 2 of my Virginia Beach writing retreat with the Doll Babies. If that’s conjuring up images of sweet, little ladies popping bon bons as they write, well, the bon bons are not far off course, but sweet…nah. If you saw us coming, you might think we were a gang. We’ve got the thriller-writing motorcycle mama, and the tattoo-covered fantasy writer. Then there’s the one that sounds like My Cousin Vinny. Ahem. Throw in a former investigative journalist, a nuclear plant engineer, and a flamenco-dancing biologist. Don’t let the two southern belles fool you. And beware of the one who induces death by chocolate every night. Scarier still, the one who cannot be bribed with chocolate cake and has some frightening ideas on revenge. You don’t want her moving those ideas from the page to the street. Trust me on this.

Were we having fun yet? Hell, yeah!

Long story short…I had hoped to complete another 18 manuscript pages, but I ended up with 49. Don’t ask me how. As everyone sat at their computers for hours, I got up for a snack, and then some relaxation on the beach, and then a run and shower, and then a nap. Oh, look at the time—dinner. You get the idea. Whatever works.

There were moments I wanted to skip over the tough scenes and write the easier ones. But I knew I’d never have this kind of uninterrupted time again, so I forged ahead. It was a good decision. It forced me into the dreaded middle of the novel and I got some momentum going.

Besides the writing, there were a few other highlights:

I went down to the beach, one morning, sheet in hand. I kicked sand into a few umbrella holes, laid out the sheet, and then lay down with my eyes closed. The sound of the surf lulled me into a meditative state. A short while later, the excited screams of two women disrupted my peace. “Oh my God. Look at all those crabs.” I lifted my head slightly, shaded my eyes with my hand, and realized the women were pointing at me. My sheet was surrounded by crabs. Those umbrella holes I covered up…not umbrella holes. The crabs were digging themselves out of their wrecked homes. They looked angry. Some of them wielded little beach sticks in their claws. Frankly, they were menacing. I grabbed my sheet and ran.

Another day, a fellow writer and I walked to a nature preserve. It was a long walk. A very long walk. It was hot. We didn’t have water. All the snack bars were closed because it wasn’t quite the season. When we arrived at the entrance booth, a friendly man gave us each a cup of water and then told us to mind the venomous snakes and the wild pi-igs. Wild pigs? Yup, those ones with the tusks. I was convinced he was having some fun with me and my New York accent. Not so. There’s something about the word pig pronounced with two syllables that scares the hell out of me.

So now it’s back to the real world. Work. Bills. Chores. Not enough time to write. No worries. I’ve got memories of ten women sharing their stories, eating good food, laughing like crazy, not a care in the world. It’ll keep me going until next year.

A strong suggestion for my readers: Do this for yourself. You don’t have to be a writer. Carve out a week with like-minded people. It’s food for your soul.

7 x 7 Link Award

My pal over at Celluloid Zombie passed along this award, which led me to revisit some old blog posts.

The rules to the 7 x 7 Link Award are simple:

  1. Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.
  2. Link to a post I think fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride Worthy Piece.
  3. Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

And we’re off.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows

If not one person knew some deep, dark secret of mine, I can’t imagine why I’d suddenly tell everyone. But here’s the thing…I’m a pretty open person. I’d offer up even the most cringe-inducing confession if I thought someone else would benefit by it. So there you go. Not nearly as exciting as the bodies under the floorboards over at Celluloid Zombie, I know.

1. Most Beautiful Piece

Without hesitation, my most beautiful piece—One Two Three Kick—is about the person responsible for so many happy moments in my childhood (even if I do shudder when re-reading the paragraphs detailing the excessive snacking. What did we know? It was the 70s.)

2. Most Helpful Piece

Felix the Cat and MacGyver inspired this post that I hope encouraged you to consider how the simplest things and a bit of imagination can take life from mundane to memorable. Check out Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong.

3. Most Popular Piece

Reading Old Journals…Yikes! struck a chord with many readers. It is my leader in Comments and what great comments they are.

4. Most Controversial Piece

Controverisal? Moi? Well, if you’re planning on hiring me sometime in the future, please don’t read Denim, the evil fabric until we’ve finalized all the contracts.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful Piece

Who could have guessed that my family recipe for Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard) would top my Most Viewed chart? When did farina, eggs, and sugar become so popular? It just goes to prove that the whole, bubbling concoction is greater than the sum of its parts. With Easter right around the corner, you don’t want to miss this one.

6. Most Underrated Piece

Apparently, readers don’t want to hear about one of the more embarrassing moments in my life or the possibility that Child Protective Services has a file on me for subjecting a minor to naked aliens. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you either, then don’t read Signs.

7. Most Pride Worthy Piece

My post Travel: Gaeta, Italy in October is the one I’m most proud of. It was a labor of love to condense two of the best weeks of my life into a CliffsNotes travelogue. I’m so hopeful that someone out there will make this very trip and then tell me all about their experience. I love reminiscing about this vacation and I often return to this post to immerse myself in a sea of memories.

My 7 Nominees

I know people are busy, so don’t feel obligated to participate. However, you are the ones that entertain me the most and it would be fun to read some of your posts I may have missed.

Altared Spaces

Finding the Humor

Girlboxing

Huffygirl’s Blog

Mostly Bright Ideas

The Fordeville Diaries

The Glowing Edge

From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

It’s that time of year again. You’re either rolled up in fetal position on the floor or writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Some of you writing resolutions might prefer to be rolled up in fetal position, and those of you on the floor wouldn’t change places with the resolution writers for a million dollars.

What is this compulsion that drives us every January 1st? How predictable are we that gyms do much of their advertising in January and then again a few months later when our bright, shiny beginnings have tarnished and crusted over and there is empty floor space to be filled.

For me, writing resolutions has always been a fun ritual. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it more attainable. That’s been true in many areas of my life. However, we all have those things that are especially difficult to achieve. Sometimes the writing of the goal isn’t enough to get us there. And our good intentions, no matter how strong, can’t motivate us to “Just Do It.”

That dilemma led me to think about how I had approached other goals in my life—ones that had been attained. For example, I hadn’t just thought about working for myself and ended up with a successful business. It was accomplished by breaking the goal into manageable chunks. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing that 19 years ago, but in hindsight it’s obvious. So, why not do the same to finally achieve the goals that have been regulars on too many of my annual lists?

Writing “I will eat healthier, write regularly, and work out more” hasn’t been enough on its own to make those dreams a reality. But taking intermediate actions to bridge the gap between intention and action has proved to be successful.

For example, I’ve become quite regular with my exercise, following the “don’t skip more than 2 days in a row” rule. But sometimes, even though I know I’m going to feel great once I do it, I just don’t feel like working out. I’ve found a trick—something very simple—that gets great results for me. What do I do when exercise apathy hits?

I put on my workout clothes.

Yup.

That’s it.

There’s something about the act of getting dressed to work out that begins the momentum. Once I’m dressed, I’m going to feel like crap if I take off my workout clothes without having exercised. I know it sounds crazy, but follow the logic. The act of putting on those clothes is a prerequisite to working out, so it gets me one step further along the path to actually performing the desired action.

I decided to try out this trick in another area of my life. After thinking for the umpteenth time that I needed to get to the library to do some writing, I packed up my Neo, a printout of my manuscript, and my supply case in a bag and left it by the stairs leading down to my front door. Every time I walked through the living room, I saw that bag. Eventually, I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and WALKED to the library. How’s that for killing two birds with one stone? 😉

Which leads me to my “eating better” resolution. If you studied my eating habits on paper, you’d think you were looking at the records of two different people. From dawn till dusk, I am the model of good paleo nutrition. After the sun sets, it’s like my inner Carb vampire emerges. I want Cookies, or Cake, or ice Cream, or Chocolate. The letter “C” is evil, isn’t it? 🙂

So, I began questioning why it’s so easy to stay on track during the day. And I realized it’s because my breakfast and lunch are prepared in advance and carted to work and dinner is planned out as well. If I’ve carried meals with me, it’s unlikely that I’ll get something else at the cafeteria. And in fact, I don’t. So, the answer may be to plan and pack up a healthy snack for each evening so I don’t indulge by whim. Whim is a very bad thing when combined with food. At least for me it is.

If you happen to enjoy experimenting with yourself as the guinea pig, let me know how these ideas work out for you. Most important, keep it positive. Don’t focus on what you won’t do. Rather stay focused on what you will do. There’s a theory that your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. So, for example, if you say I will not eat cookies at night, all your mind hears is I will eat cookies at night. That minor design flaw has been wrecking diets around the world. Just to be on the safe side, focus on what you will do. “I will eat berries and Greek yogurt at snack time.” Or whatever your intention is.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. Life is a process. We get to grand places by taking little steps.

Happy New Year.

Feel free to share your tips and successes.

On Writing: When Outlines Attack

Back in my early days of novel writing, I was addicted to reading how-to books. I raced through one after another with barely a breath between them, let alone time to apply what I’d just read. Eventually, I became disgusted with my lack of progress after eight years of working on the same novel and decided to read a book and actually do the exercises in it. That book was The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray:

“A dynamic 52-week program to help you produce a finished novel…one weekend at a time.”

I can already hear the groans of the writers in the audience who sit down to a blank sheet of paper and start writing a novel with not one bit of a plan in mind. Bear with me. 🙂

On Weekend 1, I started with character sketches and completed one for each of my characters. I progressed to the characters’ back stories, their dreams, the contents of their closets, and then it was time for storyboarding, sketching out scenes, and setting the stage. I’ll admit I was having fun in those early weeks, exploring and discovering.

Soon I had a 3-column table listing every scene that would eventually be in my novel in excruciating detail. I was ready to sit down and write. And that I did, right up to the last quarter of the book where I stopped dead and lost all interest in finishing.

The following year, I showed up for a writing workshop at my local library. We were told to bring our in-progress novels and any other materials that we had created to facilitate the writing process. As we went around the table, each person held up a chapter or two and told a similar tale about how they had sat down to a blank page, begun writing, and hadn’t gotten very far. Then, it was my turn. I pushed my hand truck up to the table and started unloading my specimens. [click on graphic to enlarge]

My turn to share at the writing workshop

The shock and horror on the faces of the other participants will never leave my memory. It was like I was the star of a circus freak show.

When I finished my spiel, the instructor stood up and said something so simple and obvious, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t thought of it before. But it was truly a light-bulb moment for me [click on graphic to enlarge]:

You must unlearn what you have learned.

Then she turned to the others and said, “She needs to do less plotting and outlining, but you need to do a bit more.”

I barely heard the rest of it because my brain had jumped into high gear. I realized she was right. I had already written the novel in summary form and dreaded writing it again. A few years later, I would study personality typing tools like Myers-Briggs and realize that I am an unstructured person by nature who had been forcing myself to operate in a super-structured way for an extended period of time. That mistake had sucked the creativity and fun out of the writing process.

“If I had a plot that was all set in advance, why would I want go through the agony of writing the novel? A novel is a kind of exploration and discovery, for me at any rate.”  —Chaim Potok

From that point on, I did away with the tomes of reconnaissance on my characters. When I had an idea for a new novel, I’d jot down some notes and play with the idea like it was a piece of clay, mushing it this way and that until I saw something I liked. Over the course of the writing process, I’d record a bare-bones list of scenes, maybe 1-2 sentences for each scene. Sometimes the scene had already been written. Sometimes it hadn’t and I didn’t want a good idea to slip through the sieve that is my brain.

The skeletal structure of my outline made it extremely flexible. I could delete or add ideas whenever the mood hit. It was also helpful as a Cliff Notes-type tool to remind me what I had already written, so I didn’t have to waste time rereading chapters before getting down to the task of writing. Perhaps the best part of such an outline is that it makes the dreaded synopsis, a submissions requirement of many publishers, much easier to write because it is already in “tell/don’t show mode,” which is how a synopsis should be written unlike the novel itself.

I’ve seen debates online where writers claim their approach to writing is the better method. Writing organically, or not, is a good thing only if that is how you write best. If it’s not, forcing yourself to work that way is a major chore. And let’s face it, writing is hard enough when you’re doing it in a manner that is true to your personality type.

With that said, I do think it sometimes helps to sprinkle a pinch of “opposite function” into the stew. For example, when you’re flying by the seat of your pants and you feel yourself floating off into space, maybe a bit of a plan would help. And if you’re recording every last detail in an outline before you even begin writing and find that you’re stuck, maybe it’s time to put away the outline, take a notebook outside and just start writing whatever comes into mind. These kinds of tricks often help to awaken the part of your brain that’s having a long siesta.

In 2009, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an exercise in which you write a 50,000-word novel in one month. I started on November 1st with the barest hint of an idea and had to come up with 1,667 words of pure, unthought-out originality every day. I managed to churn the words out for about half the month until my novel The Benefactor was published and book promotion took precedence. However, I did end up with about 28,000 words of a novel that I was looking forward to continuing. I planned to proceed in the same manner—without a plan—but because of the complexity of the story, I repeatedly found myself in a labyrinth of dead ends. I wasted a lot of time before I gave in and wrote out a brief outline to make sense of the various twists and turns and to gear up for an equally complex second half.

As a technical writer in a my day job, I’m happy to plan out the details in advance to be sure my documentation covers all the bases. At night, I prefer to be a bit more creative and meander the various paths that could lead to the end of a novel. But I’m most comfortable doing that with a crude map in hand, just in case I get lost along the way. That’s who I am.

I’d love to hear about your light-bulb moments in writing or self-discovery.

 

A Vacation for My Soul

I’ve always believed that the universe sends gifts our way when we most need them. My most recent gift came via email from my friend Julie Compton. There was a spot available at a writers’ retreat at a rented beach house in Virginia Beach. Nine other women who had known each other for years had room for a tenth. Was I interested? I admit for a brief moment I was transported back to school yards of yore and uttered “that sounds like hell.” My friend laughed and reassured me, “not these women.” I decided to go for it because I was beginning to feel despair over the lack of writing momentum with my next novel.

I flew in on Saturday and shared a shuttle to the house with Geri and Cal. We chatted merrily, unaware that our driver was hopelessly lost. When we finally arrived at the house, Linda and Mary welcomed us with gift bags filled with writing goodies and showed us to our rooms, the doors of which had been decorated with name plaques and doorknob signs requesting privacy for the writer within. Within the hour, Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of the fantasy novel Finder (but playing the role of gourmet cook), arrived with Signa. Finally, Diana and Sara (the dessert diva) pulled up. Julie would arrive the following day.

The Doll Babies, as the group is called, range in age from mid-forties to eighty-something and comprise talents and successes too numerous to list. Each woman had something special that drew me in and made me want to know more. I was reminded that everyone we meet in life is a potential teacher. If you pay attention, you can learn some wonderful things (about yourself, even) from other people. There’s something magical about admiring traits in others and realizing you can adopt them for the betterment of your own life. What a gift. Needless to say, a week just wasn’t enough, especially since I sensed immediately that this writers’ retreat was going to be about a lot more than just writing.

There’s something about being out in nature that sets me right, reminds me of who I am from the top of my gooey grey matter to the tips of my toes, and airs out my mothball-scented spirit. The house was huge, and there were balconies attached to every room that provided an awe-inspiring view of the beach. Before long, the natural rhythms of the ocean infiltrated the beach house and my existence. There was no set schedule, but my days seemed to flow as follows:

  • Wake to the sound of waves breaking on the shore
  • Exercise – I finished another week of the C25K running program.
  • Have breakfast
  • Write – I completed several scenes and had a breakthrough on a part of the novel that had me stumped.
  • Break for chats about writing and publishing – Writing is a solitary existence and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
  • Do crafts – There’s something therapeutic about this even though I’m not very good at it. Focusing my mind on stringing beads or pasting paper silences the mental hamsters.
  • Eat dinner (and dessert) – Guinness beef stew, wine, homemade chocolate cake. Yum!
  • Converse – Listen to the stories of 9 amazing women.
  • Fall into a peaceful slumber, waves still breaking on the shore.

As an unstructured person (who secretly wishes she was more structured), this routine soothed. Life is best lived when we enter into its rhythms. I think my cells mutated from the joy of it all. 🙂

As wonderful as it all sounds, there was more. A spontaneous trip to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment got my mind percolating about my purpose and how I can better integrate body, mind, and spirit. This was live-changing and it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. I needed to process it all. (Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wondering where the heck I’ve been. Who says you don’t make real friendships online? It’s nice to be missed. 🙂 )

What this experience taught me was even though I think I’ve carved out “me” time by working only 3 days per week, it isn’t the same as going on retreat minus all the distractions, personal and electronic. Sometimes we need to isolate ourselves from our routines and the roles that we play in our daily lives (not to mention the other people in our lives and the roles they play). We must fast from the things that keep us from going deeper, enter into a meditative space, ask the questions, and wait for the answers. Some questions in life are complex and it’s okay not to have all the answers. In fact it’s probably better to live a while without the answer than to rush into the wrong one. With all that said, I intend to make every effort to take a trip like this on an annual basis to share some one-on-one time with my soul. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. You deserve it.

Gone Fishin’

Fishin’ for words, that is. I’ll be out of town until next Saturday at a writers’ retreat with 9 women. We’ve rented a beach house in Virginia Beach. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom. From morning till about 3:30 PM, we’ll go off on our own to write. In the afternoon, we’ll come together to talk shop or read excerpts. For dinner, one of the writers will cook up some yummy sounding meals. She’s already sent us the menu:

  • Saturday: Guiness Beef Stew, bread, salad
  • Sunday: Chicken parm, and pasta in a roasted tomato sauce
  • Monday: General Tsao’s shrimp, rice noodles and stir-fried veggies
  • Tuesday: We eat out together.
  • Wednesday: Whatever fish looks good, fixed some delicious way, asparagus (or anise) and either risotto or wild rice.
  • Thursday: Sausage (chicken) and peppers
  • Friday: Fritatta

Another writer loves to bake desserts and there are promises of a chocolate cake, warm and gooey from the oven. Did I mention I’m bringing my Couch to 5K podcasts so I can continue my interval training? 😉

This sounds like it will be a wonderful break for me, but let’s not forget the real reason I’m going. The writing. I started my new novel during NaNoWriMo in November 2009. Do you know what today’s date is? After writing about 27,000 words, I was catapulted into the world of book promotion for my first novel, which came out that same month. Not much writing, except for blogging, has been accomplished since then. And that’s a very baaaaaaaaaad thing. So, I need this trip to get me back on track. In fact, there’s a wee bit of fear that I won’t be able to, but I’m doing my best to ignore it.

If you happen to stop by while I’m away, feel free to send me some love. I’ll need it. If I don’t respond right away, that’ll be a good sign.

Catch you when I get back. Have a wonderful week doing things that make your heart sing.

[Update: See my post A Vacation for My Soul for more on my retreat experience.]

Reading Old Journals…Yikes!

A few weeks ago I dragged a box of old journals from my closet. I started my first diary in elementary school. It had a padlock on it so nosy siblings couldn’t peek. They could have just ripped the binding off the darn thing, of course, but they never thought to do that. I don’t know what happened to that early diary. I wish I had it now to see what my 9-year-old self thought was important enough to record. I suspect it was stuff like “Michael W. stuck his tongue out at me today when Mrs. N. was writing on the blackboard,” or “That kid Joe R. seems really nice. I bet he’ll marry my little sister 20 years from now.”

The earliest journals in my possession are from the mid-1980s when I was in college. But I didn’t pick up steam until after I graduated in 1986. From then on my journals record things like:

  • The loneliness I felt after leaving all my friends behind and returning from the happy bubble of college life
  • My growing dissatisfaction in a 9-to-5 job that just wasn’t me
  • Countless dates with “bad boys” who weren’t interested in serious relationships. Duh!
  • My fickle nature
  • My dreams and wishes for the future
  • The plans to realize those dreams and wishes
  • The actual steps I took
  • The successes and setbacks I experienced

Some of the entries are truly heartbreaking. They transport me back to pain I don’t even remember. I may as well be reading a stranger’s journal because I don’t recognize the empty person behind the words. But then, with the flip of a page, the tone changes and I’m going on and on about becoming a rock star. Yeah right! That band I was in with John, Richie, and Vito in high school obviously went right to my head.

A few journals later and I feel exhausted after reading about the hard work it took to start my business. And then, there’s the ridiculous: I’ve obsessed over my weight my entire adult life, but with the exception of a short period of time leading up to my pregnancy and for a short time after giving birth, my weight has not varied by more than 5-10 pounds. How do I know this? Because I recorded it. I could have refrained from worrying and had the same result. The best part of reading my old journals is the exhilaration of seeing dreams and wishes from one year become reality in subsequent years. Progress.

I also love revisiting the quotes I captured from books I was reading at the time or other sources.

From one of my favorite books Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman:

 “All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and the depth of understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort.” Rachel Carson

From Dinah Mulock, “Friendship”:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are—chaff and grain together—certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

From Alex Noble:

“Oh, the miraculous energy that flows between two people who care enough…to take the risks of…responding with the whole heart.”

My New Year’s Resolutions for 1996 were taken directly from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

Health enough to make work a pleasure,
Wealth enough to support your needs,
Strength enough to battle with difficulties and overcome them,
Grace enough to toil until good is accomplished,
Charity enough to see good in your neighbor,
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others,
Faith enough to make real the things of God,
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.

In 1997, I began my journal with “My Symphony of Life” by William Henry Channing:

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This will be my Symphony.

That same year, I was plagued by chronic back pain. The following passage by John Adams caught my eye. It was written three days before his death and reassured me that even as our physical bodies break down, our spirits can continue to thrive:

“The house in which John Adams lives is falling down. The roof leaks badly. The foundation is crumbling. The shingles are dropping like raindrops, and the windows let the frigid air through like screens. In spite of all this, however, John Adams is doing just fine, thank you.”

Reading old journals reminds me of who I was and who I wanted to become. Moment by moment, we make decisions that lead to changes that are sometimes barely perceptible in our lives. Yet years later, in hindsight, we realize how far we’ve come or how far we’ve veered off our intended course. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But when an alternate path does not result in fulfillment, it’s time to make adjustments and become aware of how we lost our way.

When I put the last journal back into the box and pushed it all back into the closet, I was feeling refreshed and ready to start daydreaming about what I want to do in the second half of my life.

Do any of you keep journals? What do you find most valuable about the practice? Do tell. 🙂

Blogging Guilt

Bless me Followers for I have sinned. My last blog post was over one week ago.

No kidding, sometimes that thought crosses my mind as I view my Stats, see faithful followers have stopped by, and know there wasn’t new material to greet them. Those stop-by nudges usually get me back in gear.

I struggle with the question of how frequently one should post and not only from the writing end of it. As someone who reads her fair share of blogs, I am often overwhelmed by the frequency with which people post. My mailbox subscriptions overflow and there are times I can’t possibly view and comment on every post. I know some WordPress users have resorted to using the Like button as a cyber wave, a way of telling their buddies they stopped by to skim but don’t have time to comment.

When I read about WordPress’s Post-A-Day challenge, I ran for cover. If I had a choice, I’d rather read one thoughtful, well-written post by an infrequent blogger than a blog-for-blogging’s-sake post every day.

For me, a post every four days is about right. Less than that and I feel rushed, in terms of the writing and the responding to comments. More than that and I feel disconnected from all of you. That’s about where I am now…Hellooooooooooo, anyone out there?

I’d love to hear your views on this. Are you on a blogging schedule, or do you blog when the mood strikes? Do you prefer to blog every day, or do you need some time in between posts? Are you ever afflicted by blogging guilt? Do tell.

Why Do You Keep Coming Back?

Conversations with your dentist have nothing on conversations with your gynecologist.

I had an appointment today for an annual check-up. My doctor remembered that I had a novel published and asked how that was going. Then we talked about blogging. Several people had told her she should blog, but she didn’t know what to write about. The obvious answer was medical topics, but after a long day at work, she needed a break from that. Doc asked if my blog had a focus. I laughed. Lack of focus is my focus. She laughed and related, I think. And then she asked the $64 million question:

What keeps people reading your blog if there’s no focus?

I thought for a moment about what makes me return to a blog. A particular post draws me in initially, but the personality of the blogger and the relationship we develop keep me coming back for more. It’s no different than the connection I feel in person when I meet a kindred spirit. I guess for me, a blog and its comments are like conversations I might have with my non-cyber friends. Those are not on just one topic, right?

So, what do you think? What keeps you coming back? Enquiring minds and one gynecologist want to know.

Typical Day in the Life of a Writer

7 AM – Wake up early, roll out of bed, and go for a walk. This is part of the writing process, you tell yourself; the beauty of nature opens your mind and allows your thoughts to combine in new and creative ways…

8 AM – After doing a few floor exercises to tone your saggy writer’s butt, shower and don your lucky writing sweater. Sit down to a breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and raisins. You can’t concentrate on writing when you’re worried about the state of your ass or when the grumbling of your stomach is louder than the whisper of your thoughts.

9 AM – Read both newspapers cover to cover. That way, if you don’t have any luck writing your novel, the anger inspired by the jackasses who share your world will lead to a passionate blog post.

10 AM – Call a friend to vent your frustration about the jackasses who share your world. “Can you believe the Sanitation Head staged a work slowdown during the blizzard but the Mayor fired the EMS Director because his guys couldn’t get through the unplowed snow to save people’s lives?”

11 AM – Feeling a bit peckish, but the sorry state of your ass prevents you from eating again until at least noon. Start to get ready to write. Assemble your BIC 4-color pen, multi-colored college-ruled notebooks, a Papermate mechanical pencil with pink eraser, AlphaSmart Neo word processor, lap desk, the latest draft of the novel, notes to self, list of scenes, various pages of scribblings, and your winged, Goth, fairy girl figurine, a tangible representation of your Muse. Set everything up just so on the living room sofa and coffee table. Grab a throw in case it gets chilly. Satisfied that all is in order, look at the clock. It’s noon. Yay!

12 PM – Open refrigerator and stare at shelves. Close door of refrigerator, open door of pantry, and stare at shelves. Repeat three times. Sniff a few of the leftovers, pick one, and pop it into the microwave. As lunch heats, stare out the back window and allow nature to continue to form your thoughts in new and creative ways. Beep beep beep. Chow time.

1 PM – After using the bathroom, because there’s no concentrating with a full bladder, look in the mirror and notice the patch of dry, flaky skin between your eyebrows. Apply some moisturizer on the spot. Smile wide. Hmmmm. Get out the expired box of Crest Whitestrips and apply them to your top and bottom chompers. And while you’re still in the bathroom, grab your tweezers and get rid of that stray hair that’s ruining the arch of your right eyebrow.

2 PM – As you pass the computer in your home office on your way down to the sofa to write, sign in to Twitter and tweet “The Mayor is a boob.” Sign into Facebook and watch the video of GloZell using Nads to rip her armpit hair out. Laugh hysterically. Fool. You should know…you tried that once with Zip meltable wax and it hurt like a bitch. Not to mention what it did to your college roommate’s soup pot. Shhhhh.

3 PM – Get comfortable on the sofa, lap desk in position. Stare into space. Tilt your head the other way and stare into space some more. Write the date at the top of the page. Draw a few speckled amoeba at the bottom-right corner of the paper. Stare out the window. Aaaaah, let nature do its work. Meet the contemptuous gaze of your cat. The little furry bastards always let you know exactly what they think of you, don’t they? You lookin’ at me? Giggle. Jump up and run to mirror and say that line over and over again in a DeNiro accent. Giggle some more.

4 PM – Tea time at the inn. Yay!! Put the kettle on. Warm the tea pot. Select the right tea. Will you be writing an Earl Grey kind of scene or maybe the White Pomegranate is the one? Set up a tray with a china tea cup, tea strainer, tea cozy, Demarara sugar cubes, festive napkins, and a plate of…open pantry door, stare at shelves. Close pantry door. Open pantry door again and have another look. Climb up on a chair and find that stale box of Scoobie Snacks and arrange the dog-biscuit shaped cookies on a delicate china plate. Carry the tray into the living room and settle down with your throw and steaming cup of tea. Stare out the window and sip. Feel the creative thoughts permeate your brain with the help of the steam drifting up your nostrils. Organic writing at its best.

5 PM – Holy Cow. Dinner time already? Yay!!!

6 PM – Realize it’s been just about a week since your last blog entry. Crap! Run upstairs to computer and whip up a quick blog about how ripping out your armpit hair with hot wax is a lot like writing.

7 PM – Stand, stretch, yawn. Gather up all the writing materials for your novel from the living room sofa and put them away. Everyone knows you can’t summon up creativity at night. That’s a morning pursuit.

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