Monthly Archives: October 2017

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

It’s IWSG time again! The Insecure Writers Support Group is a place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Thanks to Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh and this month’s co-hosts,  Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and Rebecca Douglass!

November 1 question – Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

I’ve finished two NaNoWriMo projects, in 2015 and 2016. Neither has been published yet, but I’m working toward that goal. For me, the greatest gift from NaNo was my now firmly-established daily writing habit.

“Winning” my first NaNo was a challenge, especially because November brings family visits and travel, both of which tend to gobble up (sorry, bad pun) my writing time. The second year, finishing was a delight, and I merrily told interruptions to bugger off—in the nicest way possible. And now, I just write for at least two hours per day, often much more. It’s what I do. On days when I can’t get some writing time, I feel itchy and cranky, like an inveterate runner who can’t log her daily miles.

Offers of “book/writing coaching” continually land in my mailbox, and I wonder: Who needs this? Editing help, yes. Someone to bounce ideas off, yes indeed. (That’s why God gave us critique partners.) Marketing advice? You betcha. Writing teachers? Yes, please—though I’ll work through your craft book before I’ll sign up for your workshop or pricey webinar.

But paid encouragement just to write?

A few years back, I attended a panel discussion by four Seattle-area writers. Someone posed this very question: How do you force yourself to write on days when you just don’t feel like it? The speakers exchanged puzzled looks, and then one replied, “If you don’t feel like writing, you’re not really a writer.” At the time, I found that answer somewhat cold—now, I get it.

Sure, there are days when it just doesn’t work out, but I always feel like writing. My first NaNo helped me eliminate the stress of wanting to write but not getting around to it. And, as a pantser, I need to get that first sprawling, messy draft down on paper before I can begin to shape it up. NaNo is great for that phase; what fun to have a bunch of fellow writers urging you on. The Tacoma area NaNos offer lots of gatherings during November—not so helpful for solitary writers like me, but still fun.

Now, if I could just transfer the enthusiastic focus of NaNo to other areas. National Exercise Every Day Month, anyone?

#MeToo

This is a long one. I try to keep my blog posts shorter, but this needed to be said.

I served in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984. Money was tight in our family, as it is in any family getting by on the salary of one public school teacher, and the GI Bill offered me the chance to pay for college. I’m grateful for that chance, and proud to have contribute to our nation’s defense.

Basic training was the hardest thing I’ve ever done—physically, at least. Over the course of three months, our two male drills sergeants—one young and hunky, one older and fatherly—turned a bunch of whiny teenaged girls into a tight-knit, disciplined platoon of soldiers. They were marvelous, honorable men. But one of the other male drill sergeants in our company had a list of girls he intended to sleep with. The list was found. My name was on it. He was not removed from his position; we were merely warned by our drill sergeants to keep away from him.

I was very fortunate: I enlisted at a time when we were not at war, except for the Cold War, of course. I remember our first “alert,” a drill in which we prepared to move out for field maneuvers in the middle of the night. We knew it was coming, of course, and so, when the notification came at three a.m., I ran up and down the hallway of our barracks, sounding the alarm. “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” I thought I was hilarious. My first sergeant thought otherwise.

It takes a lot of people to keep the armed forces running, and a lot of jobs. Mine was 71 Delta, legal clerk. My duty assignments were at the division JAG office, first in Frankfurt, Germany, then in Hanau, Germany, and finally at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I helped the lawyers with typing, phone calls, interviews, research, courts martial, as well as helping soldiers and their spouses prepare wills, powers of attorney, and file paperwork to be reimbursed for damages to their property during moves.

I’m very grateful for the experiences that serving afforded me. I got to travel in Europe, I got tuition assistance for the college classes I took after duty hours, and I met some very fine people from across our nation. Most of them were men. Most of those were good men.

But the constant rain of sexual harassment weighed me down. It’s funny—I remember it got really ugly around 1982, when there was a public service campaign against sexual harassment. It’s as if the male soldiers were pushing back against the idea that it wasn’t okay to yell abuse at passing females. (That’s what they called us, females–or other, uglier things.)

In Hanau, where I was stationed from ’81-’83, a favorite game among the soldiers was to pop their heads out of the top floors of the office or barracks buildings and yell charming things like, “Suck my dick, bitch,” or “You’re only good for one thing, bitch,” or “How much, Baby?”. I knew my rights. I’d march up to the front desk, fuming, and tell the NCO on duty what had just transpired, and what the perpetrator looked like. Sometimes I’d get as far as the commanding officer.

Not once did they do anything about it, except to laugh in my face. Not once.

And then there was the time my NCO organized a weekend run. A bunch of us from the base Legal Center were training for a 10K race. When I got there, it was just him and me, even though he’d led me to believe there’d be several people. Stupid young girl that I was, I left with him. We ran for an hour through the German countryside—the whole time, he tried to convince me to stop by his house “for a beer.” I laughed it off and kept running. Thank God, he didn’t push it; I doubt I could have outrun him.

Things got much worse at Fort Stewart, home of the 24th Infantry Division. The whole base vibrated with machismo. We had just adopted BDUs, the loose-fitting, camouflage uniforms soldiers still wear today. I was a scrawny little person, just over a hundred pounds, and they didn’t make uniforms small enough for me. I looked like a walking shrubbery—short hair, no make-up, cap smashed down over my eyes, my oversize uniform flapping around my skinny limbs. From my barracks, I had to bicycle to work on the other side of the base, a good five miles.

How they knew I was female, I’ll never know. But they knew, and they followed me, yelled at me from their cars—really ugly things. More than once, a car would pull up alongside me, and some guy would yell, “Get in.” I ignored them, of course, but that often made it worse. “What’s wrong, bitch? You think you too good for me? I’ll show you what you good for, bitch.”

Now, mind you, I had some marvelous male friends during this time, many of them gay but hiding it—this was before “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” And if this sort of nonsense happened in front of my guy friends, they’d stand up to the bullies, challenge their ugliness.

But every day, I slunk from building to building, head down, middle finger up. Man after man greeted me with smarmy, sleazy “compliments” and offers of sexual acts. To the few nice guys who only wanted to wish me a pleasant day, I’m sorry—but the abuse was so thick and so constant that I couldn’t, wouldn’t risk talking to any strange male.

Years later, I was talking about sexual harassment with my then father-in-law, a lovely man who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He didn’t believe that the situation could actually be as dire as it was portrayed.

I saw red. I told him, mincing not one word, exactly what I endured for four years, exactly what those soldiers had said to me, done to me.

He was shocked.

Good. I’d had enough of protecting men I loved from the truth about that ugliness. No more pretending it’s really not so bad. It was. It is.

What feeds you?

The Japanese Garden in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park

My husband, a wise fellow, often uses a nutrition metaphor when talking about his work: he says teaching feeds him. I tried this metaphor last week when chatting up an interesting acquaintance. That boring old question came up: “What do you do?”–meaning, how do you earn money? This question only yields interesting results for privileged, prosperous people who’ve had lots of choices in life. Most folks are just working to pay the bills, not to feed their souls.

That’s the question I asked Fred: “What feeds your soul?” He answered without hesitation: music. Turns out he’s a guitarist who’s played professionally and recorded albums in another country. For this guy, music is a vital nutrient.

Taking this metaphor a little further, there are nutrients you can gobble with abandon–say, fiber, and those that are essential but become toxic in large doses, such as niacin. Writing is my main psychic nutrient, the work I find most rewarding and most essential. But a diet of only writing leaves me as malnourished as if I tried to live on, say, cheese.

And if I neglect certain soul-vitamins, I start to crave them. One nutrient that’s been missing from my diet lately is a change of scenery. I’m quite a homebody most of the time, content with long hours spent writing in my comfortable little office. But too much sameness makes my creative motor run down. (Uh-oh, metaphor overload)

Yesterday, wise Hubs and I went for a long walk in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, a local beauty spot. I returned energized, cheered, and smacking my head for having neglected these important nutrients:

  • fresh air
  • movement
  • natural beauty
  • new scenery

To that list of nutrients, I’d add social time with friends and family, ditto with interesting new people, time with other writers, reading fiction, music, dancing…

None of these feel like duty, like work, like bitter medicine. They’re all delicious nutrient for my psyche, and I just have to remember–to take my vitamins.

How about you? What feeds you?

Oh, and have you seen the studies that prove cheese is good for us?http://www.eatingwell.com/article/289455/5-reasons-cheese-is-actually-good-for-your-health/?did=181228&utm_campaign=ew_nourish_101617&utm_source=etg-newsletter&utm_medium=email&cid=181228&mid=9530003697

Hallelujah and pass the Parmesan!

IWSG: Sometimes It Is All about Me!

Is it IWSG time again? Oh my—tempus sure does fugit. The Insecure Writers’ Support Group is a safe haven for writers of all kinds, where you’ll find resources for every step of the writing and publishing journey. On the first Wednesday of each month, IWSG sponsors a blog-hop. Check them out here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

This month’s IWSG blog-hop question – Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

September was for yard renovation and family visits, not for blogging, alas.

I actually wrote on this month’s topic back in August twenty-third in Fashion and Vengeance: What I’ve Learned about Myself by Writing Fiction. Please scroll down and take a look if you’re interested.

But wait! If you order now, you also get for the low, low price of $9.99, plus shipping and handling…

Of course my stuff winds up in my characters! Is there a writer who doesn’t do this? Some resemblance shows up in surface details: though I’ve stopped dying my hair with henna (no longer flattering on my aging complexion), my female protagonists all have reddish hair, along with my green eyes and freckles. Hmm.

And then there are themes and motifs in my fiction that reveal lessons I should have learned in real life. For example, I’ve tended to jump right into romantic relationships like a kid making a cannonball dive—cowabunga! (This has not always worked out well.) But my protagonists are more cautious—they struggle with inner conflict over relationships that are moving uncomfortably fast. Hmm.

Another theme that echoes my own life is reinvention. I think it’s a universal human desire, especially in middle age, to re-evaluate the path we’re on and correct course. I lucked into the opportunity to start a new chapter, though years of hard work and saving for retirement certainly helped. My protags are also mature women who either can or must start anew.  And, like me, they believe in signs from lost loves or the Great Spirit or what have you—arrows that point us in the direction we’re meant to take. Hmm.

It looks like I need to stretch myself more as a writer and create protagonists who resemble me less—and I am, in my current WIP. Since romance novels are usually written in alternating male/female POV, I’m working on my first male protagonist. I was hesitant to do this, thinking it would be hard to create an authentic man. Any romance fan has read stories in which the male lead talks and acts and reacts like a very girly woman. Fortunately, the guys in my critique group are helpful for corralling that problem.

How about you? How closely do your protagonists resemble yourself?