This weekend was hot.

Santa Fe broke the record high on Saturday by hitting 100. So, yeah, not so bad. And it’s a dry heat. Believe me – I lived in St. Louis for a while. Lack of humidity makes all the difference in the world.

We have nice cross-currents for air flow in our house and ceiling fans, so we never felt like we had to turn on the air conditioning. But we stayed pretty still. Even Isabel stayed inside. She’s gone from being the toddler-cat who has to be dragged in from playing, kicking and screaming, then immediately falling asleep, to teenager-cat. Friday night she spent the entire hot, still night in the garage hunting mice. Then on Saturday morning she slept in, got up to eat breakfast and went back to her kitty condo – the cat equivalent of partying all night and watching TV in the darkened den all day.

Then this storm rolled in, creating a dramatic sunset and dropping cooling rain. All of us parched people, animals and plants drank it gratefully.

I’m making steady progress on Sterling. Allison called me “quietly enthusiastic” about it. I said that’s because I’m trying not to be obnoxious. I never thought I’d be one to agree with the write-every-day thing. When I was first working at being a writer and attending every workshop I could, almost every singled writer gave that advice.

Write every day.

Write at the same time every day.

Some would shrug, apologize and say they knew it wasn’t easy, but that it was the only thing that worked for them.

I felt like that was impossible for me. At the time I was finishing my graduate thesis, working full time and taking and teaching martial arts classes most nights of the week. Even if I wrote every day, it couldn’t possibly be at the same time, because every day was different.

So I wrote when I could. Usually in sporadic chunks. I was writing essays then, so I could write an entire essay over the course of a few hours and that worked for me. My first publications came out of that time and my first book. We’d have to agree that worked just fine.

But other things still took precedence. Even gardening and quilting tended to edge out writing time. I would bemoan my lack of writing time, but there it was.

All that changed when I went to writing novels. Obviously I couldn’t bang out a novel in a few hours. I found I had to work incrementally, building the story piece by piece over the course of months, holding the ideas in my head over that time.

It took me nine months to write Obsidian. No, I didn’t work on it every day. I had several long stretches where I worked on it only a little or not at all. Sterling will take five months. And I’ve really only hit the smooth rhythm in the last two months.

But I do have to write every day. At pretty much the same time. Shockingly enough, it works. That approach also requires that the writing time is my core schedule and I work everything else in around that, even the day job (unless I just can’t make that happen, which can occur).

Some people draft faster, then revise. For me, when I’m done by mid-July, the novel will be reasonably polished.

And I keep thinking that it might be really good.

Which is this lovely bubbling feeling.

My quietly enthusiastic.

Winter Supplies

I’ve gone on record as saying I believe that New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure by their very nature.

Occasionally I launch projects in the new year, but I do think the pressure and the expectations make keeping the resolve more difficult. Besides, January often feels like a bad time to start stuff. The holidays are all over, so you feel kind of let down. The light and seasons may be turning around, but it’s still a dead time of year, with a ways to go until actual rebirth.

I’m more likely to start — and stick with — new projects in the Fall. This is probably because I’ve spent most of my life either part of, or living in a town shaped by, the academic calendar. I met David in January, which ended up being a very successful project. It might be a good time to start a new book, since there’s not much else to do. Otherwise?

For Christmas, David received a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited, which really is a wonderful franchise, and our local store is particularly pleasant. They encouraged David to get one of these jay wreaths, which you fill with peanuts. Jays eat peanuts — who knew?? Plus it keeps them off the other feeders, so the smaller birds have a shot.

You wouldn’t believe the jay party that resulted here. You can see one jay below, waiting on the yucca, while another proudly brandishes his newly acquired peanut. They were returning so quickly, it didn’t seem possible that they were taking time to eat them.

They had the entire wreath emptied inside of an hour.

David refilled it and it’s partially full still this morning, though they’ve been working at it. Either they were seriously hungry and now are eating more slowly, or they’ve realized that the peanut supply is here to stay and they don’t have to pack it all off to wherever they put all those peanuts.

That’s the trick, I think, to sticking with new projects: finding a way to make them a part of your life, rather than a big New Thing. The way you treat the New Thing is not how you treat a daily habit. I think that’s why I’m reluctant to do things like writing challenges or fast drafts or what have you. Every writer has to find a way to make writing a part of her daily life. And by that I don’t necessarily mean writing every day, though some swear by it.

It’s more like knowing where the peanuts are when you need them.

Fractals and Obituaries

Kalayna Price is disappointed in the pattern of her days.

Kalayna, one of my online friends (again someone I’ve never met in person), posted the above on facebook this morning. She, like many of us, is a writer who also works at a “real” job that pays her actual money. She often posts comments at the beginning of her work day, remarking on the fact that she’d rather be writing. She reports on how many words she wrote over her lunch hour. She’s driven and pushes hard for the brass ring we all want: to make enough money writing to quit the day job.

So I know what she means about being disappointed in the pattern of her days. Especially when a few days or a few weeks vanish with not enough writing accomplished. You begin to feel this vague desperation that nothing will ever change, that you’re not trying hard enough, even as something inside you whimpers that you’re already pushed as far as you can go. Maybe it’s like this for everyone who is pursuing a goal.

There’s this whole idea of fractals related to time-management and the pursuit of goals. A fractal is a mathematical construct that demonstrates the concept that very small patterns are echoed in larger patterns. Thus the outline of a pebble is reflected in the outline of a mountain range. So, the idea is, the pattern of each day will create the pattern of your whole life. If you spend 5% of your day dorking around on facebook, then 5% of your entire life is — yeah, you got it.

You can play with this idea, but I can tell you right now: it leads to depression and obsession. One way to explore it is to track your time. Just brace yourself for the results, is all I can say. Then, you try to reapportion your time so that bigger chunks are spent on the things, say, you’d like to see mentioned in your obituary–were you to have the opportunity to see it, which you won’t of course. This is where the obsession comes in. You’ll find yourself scorning the “wasted” time spent on non-obituary-worthy things like sleep and meal preparation. You’ll start parsing out, minute-by-minute, who is wasting your time, which means a chunk of your life, multiplied fractally.

Oh yeah, I’ve been there. And it’s not pretty.

I love to read obituaries. Mostly I’m fascinated by what family and friends consider to be the salient details of their loved one’s life. “Active in her church,” “was happiest fishing in his beloved mountains,” “adored her grandchildren.” Rarely do they reflect a life journey. They might list degrees and accomplishments, books published and prizes acquired. More usually it’s a genealogical record of parentage, marriages, divorces and progeny, with a few personal details thrown in, to liven it up.

My point is, none of us know what the pattern of our lives will be until it’s complete, and then we’ll be too dead to see it. And clearly, unless you get a great biographer interested in you, no one’s going to write anything interesting about it, either.

Days are a random increment of time. A coincidental product of the way our planet spins. Some days we write thousands of wonderful words, other days not at all. Some days we spend in the sun with a margarita by the ocean. Others are spent working on what someone is willing to pay us to do. All of these things make up our lives, in rising and falling waves, constantly changing in amplitude. The pattern of my days now are not what they were like when I was 12 or at 32. I suspect at 62 they’ll be something else altogether.

I trust that what they’ll be is the flowering of what I do now, not an echo.

Creativity, Discipline and Nora — Oh My!

Sometimes I wonder if there’s really a limit to creative energy, or if I just tend to think so.

I got in my 1K again today (yay! horns, confetti, ect!), but now I don’t feel like writing my blog. Alas.

Sometimes I think it’s just discipline. Halle made an interesting comment on the Ritual & Madness post that she’s come to believe that ritual is all about discipline, and that the emotional response to disruption is simply knowing how hard it is to regain the discipline. I think she’s got a great point there. I’ve read about authors who write in hugely disciplined ways. The beyond-prolific Nora Roberts says she writes eight hours a day. (Some out there will claim this is because she’s doing factory-genre writing, rather than true Art, but that’s neither here nor there.) And many novelists started out as journalists; they often cite that kind of disciplined, churn-out-articles-every-day writing as what built their ability to write consistently.

For myself, I find I don’t seem to write — to compose — for more than a couple of hours at a time. I have a whole day to write, and I find myself composing for two hours or so, and revising the rest. That and doing business, like queries, submissions, etc.

What with my dream of being a full-time writer, I wonder if that means I’ll still write about two hours a day and dork around for the rest…

That’s what dreams are all about!

Blessed Release

I got in my one-thousand words this morning.

I have to let it sit there on its own line, because it looks so good to me. It’s one of those celebrations that belongs to me and me alone. Well, and to Isabel, who’s been sitting here offering silent support. Though I suspect she’s just waiting for me to stop typing and start petting.

This is significant to me because I haven’t written my self-required one-thousand words a day since I started this blog. That was my greatest fear — that writing this would suck away my energy from working on my novel, or the sorority book or some of the essays I’ve promised to anthologies.

I knew going in that it would be a challenge. That I was changing my rituals and patterns. I gave myself the first week just to get used to writing the blog. Then I started phasing in my other writing again. And it just wasn’t working. I’d blog, then add my posts to Facebook and MySpace, but not open my email. Sometimes I couldn’t resist and would open my email, which is the kiss of death, the end of all further creative writing in favor of email replies. But, as I actually gained some friends on Facebook, that became the death knell to further writing.

So, today, I finally reversed the order. I did my 1K first, then wrote this. It’s my own personal 1K Day, and the best part is I can have it every day!

Yes, I know you don’t really care. You don’t feel my rush. If you’re not a writer, you probably think I’m nuts. But I know the writers out there understand.

Ten years ago, when we put on a Writers Summit for our region, we made a t-shirt. (Gotta have the shirt!) On the back we put this quote from Mark Rutherford:

“There is in each of us an upswelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.”

That’s why it feels good to get my words in. I’ve cut a course today and the swamp is draining. New life springs up in its wake. It’s a good day.

Ritual and Madness

Today it was the kitties’ turn. I’m feeling flu-ish, so I skipped the rec center and slept in. Because I went to bed at 9 o’clock, this meant that I still woke up by about 6:45. David took the opportunity to skip, too, but had gotten up at 5:30 anyway, to soak in the bathtub. When I stirred, deciding I wouldn’t sleep anymore, however much I’d prefer to stay in my warm, dark den, both kitties trilled delighted meows at me and came running in to leap on the bed.

You’d think I’d risen from the dead.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and they bolted for their food dishes — which had still some dry food in them, mind you — portraying desperate starvation the way only a cat can. I mentioned it when I visited David taking his bath, to say good morning. Oh yes, he said, both cats had been coming in to stare at him accusingly. I wondered why, since they normally don’t get fed until about this time anyway, when we get back from working out.

It’s the wrong pattern of activity, he said; a disruption of their routine.

If you read yesterday’s post, you know this comment hit home for me. The creative gurus are all about ritual and routine. Write every day. Write at the same time every day. Play the same music while you write. All meant to coax the subconscious into performing, like a well-trained pet. They compare the subconscious to an animal. Our unthinking animal side.

What happens when it falls apart? When I can’t access my current novel in progress because I haven’t yet reinstalled Word. When I can’t listen to my writing playlist because I haven’t reinstalled Sonic Stage. When the getting up and getting breakfast isn’t timed the usual way and the yummy canned food doesn’t fall in the bowl as expected. Frantic behavior, is what.

I have a friend whose mother every morning goes for a walk and then has her nonfat, sugar-free latte. I know about this because this woman’s husband, my friend’s stepfather, called my friend for advice. Apparently if she for some reason is made to miss her walk and latte, she becomes nearly hysterical. He wondered how to deal with it. And maybe was asking a slightly deeper question: is she a little crazy?

Maybe insanity isn’t just doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Maybe it’s becoming paralyzed if you can’t do the same thing over and over. Ritual may feed the animal in us, but the higher being in us must remain flexible. Overcome and move on. Whether it’s a computer malfunction, sickness, losing a job, losing everything — the trick is being able to rise above the ritual and cope anyway.

In the end, ritual is a luxury.

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was

I’ve been tracking my time the last few days. Renee Knowles got me going on it when she gave her Career Bootcamp workshop at CRW the other day. Her point was that, if you’re not getting everything done that you want to — like drafting that bestseller — then one approach is to track your time and see where it’s going.

Now, my schedule is pretty tight: I get up much earlier than I like; I go work out; I hit this blog (new activity); write for another hour and a half or two. Then I shower up, practice harp, work my day job. At night I have meetings sometimes or I hang with David, which I believe in as relationship investment time. So I think I have my time pretty well accounted for. But I thought it would be interesting to check.

I made a spreadsheet (it’s the Virgo in me — can’t resist a spreadsheet) with my day listed in 15 minute increments, from 5:30 am to 11 pm. When my mom asked Sunday evening what I’d done that day, I sent her my 15 minute blow by blow list. Every mother should have such a responsive daughter. After she asked why on earth I’d done this, she remarked, “right off, I’d say less computer time.”

No shocker there. Though I defended it as an unusually heavy computer day because I’d been at the workshop the day before and had lots of catch-up to do. But even tracking my work day yesterday, which admittedly involves being on the computer all day, a huge chunk of my day is spent on emailing, instant messaging and looking stuff up on the internet. No, not surfing so much as deliberately going from link to link, reading the daily stuff on my list.

Okay, so there’s networking which, just like relationship investment, takes time. No way around that. And even Renee, like many others before her, exhorts reading blogs if you’re trying to market work as a writer.

The upshot is: what’s dropping out is my reading time. Even though I’m in the middle of a fascinating book (Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer) and had time scheduled to read it, that time decreased, wedged up against my looming bed time hour, and I spent more time on the computer. Working on stuff to market my work, so I can sell books to people who have less time to read them.