Thursday, November 02, 2017

Writing Process: The Tortoise and the Hare (I'm both)

I had a good day writing yesterday. 2806 words by the time I shut the computer at 10 pm. It’s pretty common for me to have a good day on the first day of nanowrimo, before the long slog sets in, while i’m still excited and have the ideas fresh in my mind.
I’m writing my sequel for nanowrimo, but as a nano rebel, I’m actually also using this time to write the ending of the last novel (which I stalled on about three months ago) and allowing the momentum to carry me through into the next book. And I’ve spent 3 months not writing that story.
I was very frustrated coming to the end of that story, and couldn’t finish. But I’ve been thinking about it, ever since then. I’ve been mulling it over. I’ve been reading it over. I’ve been getting ideas for how to finish.
But even with the ideas, I did not write them. I waited. I let them percolate. Along with the idea on how to finish, I got the sudden inspiration to write the sequel for nano, just last month. I’d been planning to skip nano this year. So I wrote some outline notes (very sketchy) and continued to wait without writing. I call this the “hushing and holding” phase. Or “fallow period.” 
It’s silent, but it’s growing. 
Part of my writing process… perhaps THE writing process, I’m not sure if it’s necessary for everyone or just many of us… is NOT writing. I require times of silence and contemplation. Sometimes before I have a story. Sometimes when my story is going well and I just need to go deep. Sometimes when I am stuck and need to work out tangles that my conscious, actively writing mind can’t figure out. 
I almost feel bad having such a good day for nanowrimo, because I know not everyone does, andI don’t want to make the slower paced writers feel like they are doing it wrong. Because they’re not. 
There are many different writing processes, and going slow and steady is just as valid as writing binges where the word count is racked up. Writing fast and furious without the internal editor is just as valid as writing carefully and slowly and choosing the exact words as you go. Even with someone who DOES write fast, like me, I go through periods in my writing process where there is no writing. Or the words come slowly. Or I’m all about planning. Or I’m all about revision. Or I have to skip around from story to story. Or I’m writing non fiction. Or I’m drawing. 
My three months of non-writing or slow writing are just as valuable as the times when I binge on 50k in a month. And to be honest, forcing myself to write TOO MUCH is not good for my long term writing process. I write better when I write a little bit more slowly. Nanowrimo pushes the outer edges of my comfortable writing pace (about 1200 words a day according to this past year which I am quite pleased about.) No matter how much of an adrenaline rush I might get from hitting 5k in a day, it is generally not sustainable and if I push for it, can lead to a full stop on my writing process. And no matter how disappointed I might feel on those days when my word count is only in the hundreds, that slower pace is still moving me forward.
So here’s the thing. Stop comparing yourself to other writers. Stop seeing what they did and looking at your process as wrong. If you wrote. You wrote. And those words add up. If you only had time to write in 15 minutes sessions, those bits add up. If you wrote 90 minutes in the morning and none at all after. That adds up. If you had to work and couldn’t hit your word count, recognize that your life might not look like other people’s lives, and you might have more time and focus on the weekends, where you get to catch up. If you write better with other people around. Go to a cafe. If you write better alone, hole up in your room with your computer under the cover. If you’re not doing nano at all because the pressure and competition doesn’t work for you… DON’T DO IT. Screw competing. Unless competing really gets your juices flowing THEN COMPETE. Try to beat someone’s word count. IDC. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
Here’s the trick… you have to write in order to figure out what’s good for you, though. So do your writing. Do nano or don’t. Don’t feel bad about not being like other people, instead, look at the ways you’re not like other people and say, okay that doesn’t work for me BUT THIS DOES, so I’m going to do THIS like me, not THAT like you, because this is my process, not yours. 
find this post here, on my writing tumblr

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Nanowrimo and Parenting or Again

Again, by Rowena Murillo

The first time I did nano, I had a one year old and I was pregnant with my second. I went through the infant stages, the toddler stages, preschooler, kindergartner, early elementary and now the mid grade years. Every year, I managed to keep them alive and fed and relatively clean and happy. Nine years later and I have attempted nano every year and only failed the year I also moved cross country in November.

The thing about nanowrimo is that life never gets out of the way for it. Every year, it's the holidays. Every year, there are technical difficulties with family and work and living and health and relationships and money and time. Every single year. I've moved in November, twice. Last year I got separated in November. I've struggled with the flu. I've needed to find a new job.

The other thing about nanowrimo is that if you keep going, if you keep putting one word down after the other, if you keep giving yourself 15 minutes, half an hour, nap time, the minutes while the chicken is baking, an afternoon while grandma babysits, an hour after the kids go down for the night, if you keep giving yourself that time to write and you actually do it, you will succeed.

Make the time. Keep writing. Don't judge yourself. Don't edit. Sit down and write. Find the time. Commit. Just do it. Write. In little bits and drabbles or in long bingeing periods where you forget to eat and neglect your kids (actually don't neglect your kids, just pawn them off on someone else) just keep writing.

Nanowrimo tells me that over the course of the last 9 years, I have written over half a million words during nanowrimo. That's right. 500,000 words. And that's not counting the work I've done outside of November, the new work, the research, the outlining, the editing, the revising. I actually have one full, finished final manuscript that I am sending out to agents. And I have become a much better writer for all the effort.

As parents, we might not have as much free time as other nanowrimo participants. We might have more responsibilities and sticky handed time bandits, but we also know what matters in life. We know what matters to us. We know that if we want something, we have to take care of it.

So the first question to ask yourself at the beginning of nanowrimo is this: how much do you want it?

The second question to ask is what will you to do take care of it?

Monday, October 05, 2015

How To Reappear

How To Reappear: Listen To Your Heart Beating, by Rowena Murillo

The process of coming back from a fallow creative period can be very difficult.

Uhm, like, REALLY difficult.

I think we do a lot of self flagellation over not being able to create. Hand wringing, hair pulling, shirt rending. Metaphorically, I hope.

If you're an artist, shouldn't it be EASY to create? Shouldn't it come naturally? Shouldn't it be something you want to do and like doing? Shouldn't it be fun?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. It should.

Except for when it isn't. Because sometimes creating is hard and it's like pulling teeth and you want to avoid it because it is facing things you really don't want to confront and it's not fun at all because, goshdarnit, it is hard work! And that is just as it should be, too.

So, yeah. I've been in a deep creative funk, at this point for a couple of years. I'm always trying to get it back, I'm often doing projects and writing novels and snapping photos and writing in my journal and taking workshops  and doing challenges and these are all good ways to get your mojo back, but in some ways, I've lost my direction.

At some point, I have to pull all my little projects together and make it mean something. Something for myself, give it a purpose.

But what happens if I don't know what purpose I want to have?

I wonder, maybe, if this is the reason for my creative slump.

Maybe instead of spending my time with figuring out what projects I want to do, or how I want to do them or when I have time to squeeze them in, perhaps I need to spend some time working on WHY I want to be creative.

Why? What is my purpose? What fills my life with meaning? What is that something that keeps me going?

Another problem.

How the heck are you supposed to figure out that?

To answer that, I refer back to the drawing. Follow the things you love. Follow the things that fill your heart with gladness. Follow the things that make your heart say "yes." Just keep following them.

Take real steps to make those things a part of your life. Find the "yes," say "yes" to it. Do.  Don't imagine it, don't say "oh that's really nice, I should try that, what's playing on netflix?" (btdt)



Monday, May 11, 2015

Big Things Are Done With Small Actions

Hi all.
I have committed the fatal creative error of grandiose dreams.

When I fell off my blog, I kept wanting to come back bigger and better than ever. I'm sure it wasn't a coincidence when I stopped blogging just as I hit one thousand blog posts.

All of a sudden, I felt like everything should be much bigger than it was. And when I stopped blogging I thought I should come back with everything revamped, a new website, new goals, new everything and all better than I had been doing it before.

But the truth is that I got to 1000 blog posts because something about my blogging worked for me. My blog has always been a blog about process. It has always been casual and immediate and about sitting down every day to create and to document my creativity.

So here I am. Coming back. Hoping to stay back. Hoping that by returning to something that was an effective part of a successful creative process, I can make it work. Once again.

The thing about creating is that you can't do big things. All big things are made up of small things. You can't climb a mountain, you can only reach one handhold, then the next, then the next, and keep going until you have climbed that mountain.

I wrote a novel, but I didn't do it by writing a novel. I did it by writing a word, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a draft, a final, and now a thousand different versions of a synopsis.

Big things are done with small actions.

When you feel overwhelmed with your big things, step back and see what small step you can take to get you closer to your goal.

So I'm going to make a goal to stop taking my blog so seriously, expecting it to be so established and perfect and professional and I am instead just going to commit to seriously sit down to write my small, imperfect, process driven, document of my daily creative life.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Shooting in the Dark

Shooting in the Dark

One night, past sundown, I was sitting in a lovely little waterside bar, with my new camera beside me. I had missed the sunset, arriving just a bit too late. It was getting darker and there wasn't much to see.

My plans for capturing the sunset had failed, but I said to myself, "self, what do you have to lose?" And I picked up the camera and took a picture. Even though it was too dark to really see. Even though I'd tried dark shoots with my old, crappy camera, and it was always a crap shoot.

And then I looked at the picture I had just taken.

Nature Preserve!
Deep blue with just a touch of pink!

Now, I am not a professional photographer. I just like to play with pictures and capture pretty things. I consider it a hobby and a tool, and myself an amateur. I couldn't tell you why this camera takes such better pictures although my uncle the photographer tried to explain it to me. I can't explain anything about apertures or shutter settings. I forgot that after my long ago high school photography class. I am relieved to not have to deal with developing or chemicals or any of that stuff from the last generation. I just like to be able to play.

And I can also recognize when an image sizzles.

Here's the lesson I learned.

Take the chance. Even when you are not sure what might come out, what the results might be. Even when you feel like you don't know what you're doing and you have missed your opportunity. You have nothing to lose. Take the chance. Even though you feel like you are going blind and don't understand anything, trust yourself and take the chance.

It might not end up like what you expected.

It might be better.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


It is the end of October and tomorrow is the first day of November, the first day of Nanowrimo.

My mind is awhirl with ideas.

Tomorrow starts the month when I put my ideas down on paper and attempt to make something concrete out of them.

It's a scary thing, often, making your ideas real. Sometimes it feels much better to keep your ideas in the realm of the maybe, to not put them down on paper, to not show them, to not turn them into something real.

The thing is, ideas can be wonderful and great and genius and perfect, but once you put them down on paper to make them real, they will be real in their flaws, lumps, awkwardness, and imperfection. Before you put them down, when that page is blank and full of nothing but potential and possibility, your hopes of what might be can get so big and important that it's too frightening to write them down and expose them.

Because reality is never perfect, and genius may start with a genius idea, but to make it real, it takes an awful lot of work and pruning and revising. It is so much better to put that flawed idea, that uncertain attempt, that maybe down on paper than it is to sit with the flawless, intangible idea floating around in your brain.

Put it out there. Try it out. See what happens when the floating idea lands on the page and inspires a second idea, and then a third. Or maybe it turns out to be a bad idea that doesn't go anywhere. In that case, scrap that idea and move on to the next. Just make sure whatever it is, you commit to those ideas, you make those ideas real.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Get Ready for Nanowrimo with a Mock Up of Your Book Cover


In preparation for beginning nanowrimo in November, I created a mock up of the front cover of the novel I am hoping to write.

It is actually quite surprising how creating the cover of your novel can help you focus on the book you are going to write, it almost makes it real, whereas before, it was just a nice idea and a bunch of words all mashed up in some order you're not quite sure of yet.

I suggest this as an exercise for anyone tackling a big book project, whether in nanowrimo or on your own. I did this once before for the novel I was revising, and it really gave me the push to see it all the way through.

Some suggestions for how to get this mock up going.

1. Take a look at some of your favorite book covers and look at how these books convey the mood and characters and story of the books. Start getting some ideas of what you'd like your book cover to look like. For some inspiration, I have pinterest collections of illustrations, and more text based illustrations. Notice that the illustrations can be anywhere from super elaborate to very simple, multiple colors or black and white, perfect and precise to scrawled graffiti. 

2. Pick a medium that you are comfortable with. Remember, you are not actually trying to be a book illustrator, you are just trying to make your book real to you. It's okay if you are not a great artist. If you like taking photos, try using one of your photos as the main image. Use magazines and collage images that convey a sense of the story. Perhaps your book cover is just color block, patterns or words. If you know photoshop or computer graphics or  like cool computer fonts, use that. I generally hand draw all that

3. Take out a piece of paper and divide it into 6 or 8 book cover shaped rectangles. Sketch a few ideas on this paper, one per rectangle. Think about different main images, colors, where the text goes. Try rearranging the main elements for the best effect. Leave space on the image to put your book title, author and any other text. Sketch out the title so you know how much room you'll need to make it all fit. Pay attention to the space around your images, the negative space, so nothing is too squooshed or unbalanced (unless that's part of your design.) After I did it, I noticed that my lettering is a little unbalanced, but you know what? It's not that bad, and this is just a mock up. It's good practice for nanowrimo to not worry about being perfect. Practice letting go of your internal editor. I'll be honest, I skipped this step when I did my own mock up and went straight to step 4.

4. Take out a larger piece of paper and sketch out the placement of your images lightly, just so you know where it all goes on your paper.  Oh, I suppose if you're working on the computer do whatever it is the computer wants you to do. The point is, try out your final arrangement. 

5. Now go at it and make your image, paint, draw, collage, photo edit. Don't be too obsessive about getting it perfect. You only have a few days left before you have to start writing, so don't spend all that time on this. This is an exercise for your writing.

6. Don't forget to display your new book cover mockup so that you can be inspired by it while you are writing. Upload it to your novel page on nanowrimo. It feels good to have it on your profile.

I am specifically not giving advice on how to do graphics or art techniques, because the point is not to get all wrapped up in the hows of the craft, but to help you with your planning and drafting and writing. And to play. This is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, scrap it. Find a better exercise for you, your personality and your creativity.

Perhaps it would work better for you to write the back copy of your novel... those few paragraphs that you would read if you picked up your novel in a book store and wanted to find out what it was about. Do that instead. Or do that also. Just have fun, and focus on the story you want to tell. Woo hoo, November is almost here!

Friday, October 25, 2013

I May Wander But I Am Not Lost, Turning Failures into Something New

Sometimes, when I am printing up one of my paintings that someone ordered, something will go wrong. The ink will splotch or an unnoticed spot will appear or the colors will be off or I tried to use the wrong paper or something will smudge or the printer will break down or it just won't be right.

I won't send those prints out. I will stick them in a box and pray the next print comes out. Every once in a while, that one doesn't, or the next one doesn't. So every once in a while, I go through my boxes and files of failures and look for something that I can take and do something with, make something of.

I had a whole series of prints where the color was off. I finally just took them out and chopped them up into little bookmarks. This is one. You can see the tip of a flying girl's foot right above the 'wander.'

I thought this was a kind of fitting metaphor for life, and a good illustration of Tolkien's quote.

I wander from my path. I fail in my endeavors. I get lost in the details or in the living. Then I unpack all my mistakes, and see what I have learned, how I have grown, what I can make from my failures.

Interestingly, I'm doing the same thing with writing. I'm doing Nanowrimo in a few days where I will write 50k words in a new novel in the month of November. I've done nano for the last 7 years. I dropped out last year because life was just in too much upheaval, but even the two years before that, where I met my wordcount goal, I wrote stories that were failures as stories. The first of those stories didn't work, so I tried again the next year, and that one didn't work either.

They wandered. They wandered terribly into places that didn't make sense and didn't seem to get me where I needed to go, narratively speaking. I explored paths the story wasn't ready to take, and so the "novels" I wrote never went anywhere. That would be 100k words of a novel that wandered, without ever getting where it needed to go.

So here I am again, getting ready to write that novel that I failed at twice before. Unpacking those hundred thousand words, reading them, salvaging what I could.

And I chopped that sucker up, just like the bookmark. My new outline starts with the one scene that worked in the first novelistic failure.The same scene that I started again with the second novelistic failure. After reading both drafts, I realize that my second draft improved greatly on the first draft of the scene, so I got ONE thing out of rewriting it twice.

My new outline for this twice attempted book is taking an entirely different direction. The book, while it has the same characters and basic premise, will have an entirely different flavor. I believe it will be richer and smarter and darker. It will mean more.

Because the thing is, I have learned things over these last three years of failed noveling that have actually gotten me past the struggle I was having with writing the new story. Some of those lessons are about writing and character and plot, but some of those things are about myself, living, love, fear and pain.

I am very optimistic about my writing for this nano, and about the story I am going to tell. Is it because this time I put my energy into planning and outlining instead of winging it like I tried for the last three years? Quite possibly. Or is it because in my wanderings I have grown and am now ready to write the story that needs to be written? Maybe that, too.  I may wander, but I am not lost.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Write. Just Do It.

Write, or Pink Smith Corona

To reach your dream, you have to make a commitment, a real, solid, painful commitment, much like a marriage. It's a better or worse kind of scenario. It's the kind of commitment where you forsake all others, and give up other things to stay true to the dream. If for instance, you dream of being a writer, you may think only of the wild and alive story that you have brought into the world, the glories of publishing, the swagger of being that writer with the pen in hand and the journal, sitting at the cafe like some Parisian bohemian, drinking strong black coffee and pouring his soul out onto the page. But being a writer is often a lot uglier than that. It's struggling with the days when the words don't come. It's a deadly dull day job or grinding financial struggle. It's rejection letters. It's fear and insecurity. It's isolating. It's the hundreds of pages that you have to delete because you were just going down the wrong track. It's your laptop dying when you didn't save, when you had finally figured it out, and were *that* close to the masterpiece of your dreams. It's that moment when you say, "Forget it. I give up. It's too hard."

A lot of the time, when we think about our dreams, we only see the hilights, the pretty pictures, the golden light streaming through the windows and the joy of achieving what you have worked for all that time.

But the truth is, dreams are hard work and they have shadows, too. They are full of struggles, confusion, failure, drudgery, dust bunnies, neglected children, neglected health, being broke, lonely days, detours, breakdowns of many varieties, long stretches of silence, block and giving up.

But if this dream is really your dream, if you love the journey, not just the idea of accomplishment, if you love the work, then trust yourself, trust that when you come back, your dream will be waiting for you and you can climb your way back onto the path. But, it's hard. Don't think it will be easy. If you really want this, and you have lost your way, you will have to claw your way back, regain the ground that you lost inch by inch. But believe in your dream and believe in yourself, because it's that belief that makes the dream possible, even when it seems like it isn't.

PS  This is my 1000th post. I think that is why I've had such a bloggers block this year. I knew this momentous post was coming up and I wanted to make it a landmark, important. I made the stakes too high and it kept me from writing. One Thousand blog posts. ONE THOUSAND. Even thinking about it kind of blows my mind. So perhaps, instead of making this a special post, I will just quietly go back to writing my blog, one post at a time, the way I wrote every one of those thousand entries, without trying to make it momentous. Maybe I'll reward myself with a new sweater. Or a cake. Cake is good.

PPS I'm also doing nanowrimo this year. Is anyone else taking the challenge? I am rosymamacita over on nanowrimo if you want to buddy up.

PPPS I have prints of Write or Pink Smith Corona up for sale in my shop. You notice it says "Write" not, "Hey, why don't you think about writing and avoid the blank page until you are absolutely 100% sure you have it all perfectly down and will not make any mistakes and really really know what you're doing and are totally confident and the circumstances are just perfect and you're not tired or stressed out or don't have to go deep clean the kitchen." Just write. Do it.

PPPPS Yay me for sitting down and writing this blog entry instead of just thinking about it for more weeks on end. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Reintegration and finding yourself not lost

Reintegration by Rowena Murillo
There are times on our journey where we might find ourselves lost.

The answers that we are accustomed to do not address the questions that we are being asked.

We might find ourselves confused, and aimless, at a loss.

What now?

Here's something that I have learned over my long journey.

These times of crisis are not a failure, they are part of the process.

The important questions will be asked again. The important answers will have meaning again. And the important paths are the ones we are still walking, even though the signposts no longer show us the way.

Keep going.

You will find yourself again.
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