Saturday, September 23, 2017

My morning writing companions - a pair of black vultures!

My little room on retreat is on the third floor of a beautiful antebellum home that looks out over the James River in Virginia. The room still has the old fireplace and two original floor to ceiling windows, but the owner thoughtfully added in a ceiling fan, a skylight, and a window to the front to allow for air flow and light and a view of the mountain beyond the river.

The bed is just to the right of the skylight, perfect for stargazing before falling asleep. I've had the windows open the entire time. With the ceiling fan and a small desk fan it's been perfect, and I am able to listen to the birds, insects, and such which I find very comforting and inspiring as I work.

This morning I woke up to what sounded like something cantering across the roof. It definitely wasn't a squirrel, but it didn't sound like a four-legged creature so I was mesmerized. I looked up at the skylight and there were a pair of black vultures!

I adore black vultures. They do a much-needed service to man - eating and ridding the landscape of carcasses - and if you take the time to look at them they are incredibly handsome birds. If you've never seen them performing their morning cleansing ritual where they spread their wings and hold them to dry in the sun you are missing a gorgeous sight.

These two birds today seem to be as fascinated with me as I am with them. They are looking in at me,  striking regal poses, spreading their wings, and generally putting on a show for me. I've never been this close to a black vulture, so close I can literally look into their eyes.

At least one culture viewed the black vulture as a symbol of the divine feminine. To me they symbolize that as well as a connection between the earth and heaven - to watch them fly is for me a thing of joy. They soar, they circle, they weave in and out as a group. They stand in groups when they  feed and the spreading of wings in the sunshine makes them look, to me, like nature's black angels.

This is the last full day of my writing retreat and to have this visit this morning is the perfect start to my writing day. A gift that speaks to me on an archetypal level.

They flew earlier this morning but returned as I started this post. I'm honored.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Couldn't resist the light or the mirror frame

The late day sunshine cascaded into the room across the hall, which is lonely with no writer in it, and I was drawn in with my phone. Just took off the cold damp cloth I'd wrapped around my neck to cool down after moving my bags in from the car, and took out the wrong glasses - thought they were my reading pair but they were the old prescription spare pair I bought off the internet. Not sure why but they suddenly seem better than my current progressive lens pair! So now I'm alternating between three pairs of glasses but have written around 4K words so, writing retreat life is good. Tea and an oatcake and a blog post and now it's back to the desk. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

At the desk, writing retreat in progress

So happy to be here. The drive was wonderful, clouds manifesting shapes of things that came to mind as I drove. This often happens, the synchronicity of the creative process, as I'm entering the zone, or the space where deep work happens.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Just started reading this book which is about finding ways to get beyond distractions and into a "deep work" state of mind. He talks about Carl Jung and his writings on this and although I'm only a chapter in, I'm very glad to be reading this right now. I know what deep work is and I know how to get there but I need regular booster shots in doing the things I know I need to do to achieve it.

Number one for me is logging out of Facebook and staying off for several months. Check.

Just in time for some deep work on the novel!

It's so easy to do tiny bits of things and never get to a long, ponderous effort where time seems to disappear and the hours fly by.

(Not sure if I'm defying the notion of deep work by reading more than one book at the same time, but there you go!)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day in the life of a writer, 1

I like having "series" of blog posts that focus on one topic and realized this morning I should start one for the writing life here on November Hill. Years back I hosted a blog where writers, including me, wrote posts every day of the week about writing. It was a wonderful thing but in the end became too labor-intensive to keep going. I had another solo writing blog as well and at some point became tired of having my life "split" between two blogs since, after all, it is all really one life and who is to say where the farm and the horses/donkeys/cats/Corgis and the writing begin and end?

Thus, a new series here.

Today's day in the life of a writer:

I got an email from the editor-in-chief of a literary journal that focuses on long short stories. Several years back I wrote a 12k story that pre-dates my novel claire-obscure and fills in a gap in Signs That Might Be Omens.

My plan was to use it as a promotional piece but when my writing group heard me read it out loud at a retreat that year, they all said I should submit it on its own. Most of the story takes place in Paris and I adore the Paris Review, so I sent it off to them after a final edit. Several months later I got a little note in the mail that said they loved it but couldn't take it, and that they would like to see more of my work. That's a nice rejection, especially from Paris Review.

I've been sending it out about every 4-5 months since. Several more journals rejected it, and at least another two said they liked it a lot but noted that it was quite long for their publications. I workshopped it last year and was able to cut it down to about 9k, which at least brought it under 10k!

In late spring I found a list of journals that only take long stories and submitted it yet again. Mind you, this is year three of submissions for this one story!

So this morning the editor-in-chief of one of these journals emailed to say she is delighted to have the story in hand, is getting ready to read it, and that the longer it's been since submission the more likely the story has been longlisted as having potential for publication. I hope Clairette finally finds a home!

My dilemma with this story is that it is a very long short story but not long enough to be a novella. There's technically a form in between called a novelette, but not many places seek out submissions in that word length. I've considered, instead of cutting it back, actually expanding it into novella length. Submission options for novellas seem to be mostly limited to contests though, so I decided to focus on cutting instead of expanding.

My mantra with the shorts I've written in the past few years and submitting them was to focus on finding them each the right home. So far every short I've written and edited has indeed been published. Clairette is the one that's been tricky to place, but maybe this is her time.

As you can probably imagine if you read this blog regularly, my to do list with writing is about as long as my to do list for the farm. The difficulty with writing to do lists is that the work is not a living creature and thus gets perpetually pushed aside for those that talk, whinny, bark, bray, and meow.

I suspect this is the difficulty most writers face. A story may take years to place, for no payment at all. Novels may take that much time or longer. It's a labor of love but even more so a labor of "I can't not do it." If you're a writer it's usually because writing is a way of making sense of the world around you. I can't not do it, but I also can't shove everything else aside to do it full time, front and center, because the living people and animals in my life mean even more. I won't call it a battle, but it's an ongoing struggle for me. How to keep a balance between life and writing.

One way I've managed it is with writing retreats away from home. Getting off the farm, to a place where my only focus is writing, is an odd and wonderful sort of journey. It's not a vacation, but it does feed my writing soul, and it allows me to make significant progress on work that needs hours a day of focus which is so hard to attain when I'm here on November Hill.

I've most recently tried to get 2 weeks away a year, and with time here at home I manage to get things done. This year I've decided to try a 4-day weekend a month. My September weekend is coming up and I am already feeling the energy flow. I'm at the end of a final edit for a novel that has also been underway for several years. It's gotten good feedback from my writing posse and also from an editor I hired to read it. I aim to get this to agents as soon as possible - because it's time to get this one out of my hands.

I have THREE complete drafts of new novels waiting to be edited. There was one insanely productive year when I wrote like a mad woman and got them down. Looking back I have no idea how I did it, but now I'm backlogged with work. It seems to be my modus operandi to have way too much on my plate at all times. I think I've made peace with it. I don't ever have to finish it all. There's no way to finish it all. Because I thrive when there are lists and projects piled around me waiting for my attention. That it also adds a little stress to my life that all that work is awaiting me is the core of the struggle. The bone I have to pick with myself on a daily basis. But if I look at it as a way of life instead of pressure, as treasure instead of the to do list, it becomes delightful.

So, today, I'm focusing on the email from the editor and the excitement that maybe Clairette is finding her home in the world. Later this week I'll be digging in deep to Never Not Broken. It's the writing life.