Tag Archives: Writing Tips

Scatterbrained

Pancakes-and-Scrambled-Eggs-Face-by-Simple-Ordinary-LivesCan you have ADD only in regards to one thing, like cooking or on-line shopping or car maintenance, or in my case perhaps, writing? I am starting to wonder about myself as a writer. Well, I suppose I have always wondered about myself as a writer, thus this blog. I’ve chalked up a lot to fear and the inner-critic and self-destructive tendencies and inadequacy and lack of resources, just to name a few. But I’m starting to think it’s something else. Something so obvious I’ve missed it all these years. I think I have writer’s ADD, or WADD, if you will.

Here are some of my problems (skip this post if you are sick of hearing about other people’s problems and you have enough of your own):

1) I am unorganized with written materials. I have snippets of chapters or stories on pieces of paper that sit in piles with old bills, spelling tests my kids brought home in second grade, handouts from the pediatrician on various vaccines, cartoons my mother cut out of the paper and sent me, recipes for healthy chocolate cake (a ridiculous oxymoron, I know), pay stubs, downloaded articles on tips for stubborn stains or how to cook beets in a pressure cooker, return addresses I ripped off of envelopes so I’d be able to send Christmas cards some day. Then there are notebooks scattered about the house that hold timelines, notes, ideas, and paragraphs, interspersed with grocery lists or phone numbers for the oil company. Paper is my love, my nemesis. I want to organize it, control it, but it has the better of me.

2) I can’t focus. I write, “It’s 1966” and suddenly I am Googling pop-culture, timelines, fashion, politics, music, or Broadway shows in 1966. Which lead me to Simon and Garfunkel and the Batman TV series and Sweet Charity, and then I’m Gone Girl (which I really want to read but I’m waiting for it to come out in paperback).

3) I have no schedule. People say, make a schedule, but like Gandhi, I quietly resist. I starve myself of a schedule. A dear friend of mine created a great tool for tracking my writing and getting me to organize myself and it sits on my desktop gathering gigabytes of cobwebs. I open it now and then, change dates and add color and monkey around with it for half an hour to make it look pretty, during which time I could actually be writing.

4) I know there are other things I could do like carrying around tiny notebooks or a mini tape recorder or index cards to record funny overheard dialogue at Stop & Shop, ideas that pop into my head like Instagram, memories that unravel from their grey cocoons and take brilliant flight before my very eyes. But when the muse strikes I am without these things. I have a purse the size of a gym bag and most times I can’t find a pencil.

Are there others out there suffering from WADD? Is there a pill for this? A support group? A WADD coach? Or am I simply delusional, lazy, genetically screwed, maybe all of the above?

I might be doomed. Then again, I might write a book about it.

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Smell The One You’re With

Pepe Le PewI’ve been home a few weeks now and I think I’m starting to smell different. I don’t mean my olfactory faculties have changed. I mean I think I actually have a different smell. It’s a strange mix of sauted onions and garlic, chlorine, dog hair, anti-bacterial dish soap, worn denim, paper, tahmari sauce, cold air, maple syrup, old slippers, toast, blood oranges and wood. It’s slightly sweet and kind of vegetabley, a bit like a compost pile before it composes. It’s not like I’m rotting away or anything. It’s not a smell that makes you wince or pinch your nose or leave the room. It’s more like I’ve been having a major make-out session with my house, leaving my hair snarly and my lips bruised and that faint smell of, well, home, lingering on me.

You are probably thinking, she really needs to get out more. And maybe that’s true. But I don’t necessarily miss the old smell. That smell was metallic and sour. Like coffee breath, hairspray, the after taste of sugar-free gum, manilla folders, nail polish remover, twice-used knee-high stockings. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t welcoming. It was a spray tan as opposed to a walk-on-the-beach tan. And you folks in that tanning booth, don’t kid yourself, we can all tell the difference.

I’m a smeller. I associate feelings and memories and moods with smell. Every job I worked at has a particular smell. People I love and hate have smells. The house I grew up in, the place I lost my virginity, the state of Maine, every Target in every town, favorite cars, my mother’s scarves, the ball field where I watched my father coach Little League, old ornate theaters hushed before the performance, my kids’ pajamas, my high school library, the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge. They all have a smell. When my other half goes away to a yearly conference for work  I take one of her t-shirts from the laundry basket and sleep next to it.

My father is a smeller. He knew where we had been and what we were up to with one whiff. Like my father, I too will smell my children around the house when they have grown and left, and it will dry up my throat, moisten my eyes, and make me feel small in the world. From 300 miles away I want to wrap my arms around my father and let him inhale.

So here’s my thought for the day. Get out there and smell. And when you are writing that quick-witted dialogue, scintillating scene and page turning plot, don’t forget the smells. Get us to smell you and we’ll follow you anywhere.

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Killing Me Blankly With Your Lines

It’s Saturday, and here I am again, facing the blankness. It feels scary every time.

My kids are upstairs, one playing guitar (12-year-old), one sleeping (16-year-old). My better half is moving furniture around in the next room. She does this periodically like other people bake or knit. It’s like that old Helen Keller joke. Good thing none of us are blind.

I am listening to music. Mumford and Sons for the accent and the swearing, Pink for the sense of murderous rebellion, Les Mis for the story, and Tracy Chapman to make me think about hanging out in Harvard Square bookstores and coffee shops in the late eighties.

I’ve stalled again in my novel writing. Life so gets in the way. Once I saw a Writer’s Digest in my dentist office wedged in-between the People and Shape magazines and stole it.  It landed in the basement and was just excavated in the furniture moving process. I don’t know why my dentist had this magazine, but I stole it because the cover boasted articles like How to Write Your Book in 15 Minutes a Day, and 21 Ways to Beat Writers Block. Plus there’s a cheery woman on the cover in a blue turtleneck with eyeglasses who could almost be me. Except I never wear turtlenecks and my glasses make me look old and frumpy, not smart and chic. She’s holding a big coffee cup listing the Plus articles like Be the Kind of Writers Editors Love and Red Flags You Need to Know.

Anyway, I will share the sound advice of Writer’s Digest with you. It hasn’t helped me a bit. I would have been better off ripping out the 5-ingredient, low-fat. delicious, immune-boosting crock pot recipe in the back of Real Simple but maybe you’ll get something out of it.

First, stop obsessing about writing a book and instead, spend 15 minutes writing one page, five times a week for a year.

Seriously, 15 minutes on a page? Dear god I better just shoot myself now because it can take me 15 minutes before I get a coherent sentence on the page. In this same article you are supposed to write out a detailed outline on index cards, including anecdotes, quotations, scenes, plot points, what characters are in each scene, where each scene takes place, etc. Then you bundle these index cards in a rubber band and carry them with you everywhere. What a nightmare this would be for me. They would weigh 15 pounds, get mixed up and so stained with food they’d be undecipherable, and I’d wind up using them to wrap up chewed gum.

The 21 tips for curing writer’s block include dusting, shooting squirrels with a BB gun, playing solitaire, and running headfirst into a glass wall. OK, those are new.

They do spend some time answering your biggest writing questions, like, “How do I get paid on time?” OK, so this one is not weighing heavy on my mind just yet. They also tackle a few big grammatical issues, which I have plenty of, mind you, but unfortunately I already know the difference between e.g. and i.e., even though you don’t really see them in a lot of fiction.

And finally, the article on publishing your first book after 50 was particularly disconcerting. Apparently if you’re writing a war story, you’re not supposed to mention that you served in the Korean War because you’ll date yourself. Advice seems to lean towards a don’t ask don’t tell approach when it comes to the “mature writer.” I can’t even believe there is such a category.

Still and all, this magazine was totally worth stealing. It made me think about writing. It made me realize I could use some new strategies, even if they aren’t the ones in the magazine. And I’m growing fond of the lady in the turtleneck. I think she likes me and wants to share her coffee.

Got any writing tips for me?

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