Remember that line from the Wizard of Oz?
A few weeks ago I visited the Salem Witch Museum with my daughters and some of their friends as part of a school project. Yes, we went in July even though school is out. My youngest daughter takes advanced placement classes and the requirements for summer work are outrageous!
The museum hosts a reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in which twenty people lost their lives. Most of those found guilty of witchcraft were imprisoned, but Giles Corey was brutally crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea.
Sitting and watching the reenactment I was struck by how much our society has changed. In 1692 punishments were brutal and in Mr. Corey’s case unjust. Try to imagine how desperate Mr. Corey must have felt, knowing he was innocent while they piled heavier and heavier stones on him until he was crushed to death.
The proof against Mr. Corey and the others was the testimony of three girls who later admitted they made the whole thing up because they were bored. I like to think that we have come a long way in our criminal justice system, but I wonder what would happen if three different girls from a small town accused someone of crime. I have an inkling that we have a protective instinct toward young girls and that their accusations would be given serious weight even in this age of forensics.
When the reenactment was over we moved to the second half of the museum where the staff discussed the reality of witches. I had to laugh at myself when they played that clip from the Wizard of Oz. We see witches in the media dressed in black and flying on brooms. Even Harry Potter, the most modern wizard that comes to mind, flies on his own fancy, brand name broom.
The final thing that struck me during the tour was the word “pagan” and the meaning that has been assigned to it through the ages. Visit this page at Merriam Webster and look at the comments. There is a debate raging about MW’s definition of the word as an “irreligious or hedonistic person.”
I’m not going to suggest you convert to paganism, but the museum staff gave an interesting talk about how the church and the media have colored our view of witches. Institutions like The Salem Witch Museum help us understand the mistakes of the past and how our culture has influenced our understanding of history.
What I am wondering today is… now that we have taken the power of information out of the hands of the few and spread it around to all of us, what mistakes will we make with this new power? And how will our ability to communicate over social media and blogs give rise to the Salem Witch Trials of 2012?
What things will our descendants look upon and remember how naive we were way back in 2012?
Last week I started an experiment. When I’m stressed about something and tempted to reach for a cookie, I get down and do a few pushups. The idea was to change my habit of eating when stressed to a healthier habit of exercising when stressed. If it works and I can find relief from stress in exercise, it will be doing double service. Relieving my stress and doing my body good at the same time.
I’m on the right track after my first week, but it will be a long time before I know if it is having any real impact.
For those of you who have been following MANday from the beginning, you know I’ve been hurt and stopped exercising for a few weeks. I’ve been getting steadily better and one of the reasons for my experiment this week was to try out my abs and see if they could take pushups.
Good news so far. I did fifty pushups on Wednesday (twenty at once). My arms were a bit stiff on Thursday, but my side has been pain free.
I’ve been slowly ramping up my exercise but not always in the most intelligent ways.
Last weekend I went out along the Cape Cod Canal in flip flops. What started as an easy walk for a mile or two turned into six miles. My legs felt great. My lungs appreciated the fresh air. The weather was perfect. But walking six miles in flip flops can give you huge blisters on the bottoms of your feet. If you don’t believe me, come over, I’ll show you mine.
That put a crimp in my plans to get out and run.
All in all, it’s good news this Friday. I’m back in the saddle and ramping up to running by midweek next week.
How is your workout routine coming along?
Welcome to the second installment of Get Over The Hump Day. Please welcome Terry Odell, author of 10 novels she calls romance with a twist of mystery. Terry has some great advice for keeping your writing momentum and keeping your head up when the words aren’t quite flowing.
Thanks so much to CJ for inviting me to be a guest today.
When you’re a writer, most of your time is spent alone with your keyboard and that blinking cursor on the monitor. And sometimes it sits there blinking, blinking, blinking—daring you to move it down the screen.
There are probably as many methods for dealing with stalled writing as there are writers. Nora Roberts who’s written more books than even she can count, I think, is known for saying, “You can’t fix a blank page.” She’s spot on with that. I’ve got a t-shirt that sums it up.
A few tips I can share for keeping things moving forward:
1. Understand why you’re stuck. For me, it’s usually because there’s a plot point I haven’t figured out. For example, I might know who the killer is, but I’m not sure why he did the killing. Use the “Rule of Twenty” to help brainstorm through that. (Don’t know what the Rule of Twenty is? It’s simply coming up with twenty possible answers, reasons, or solutions to any given plot point.) In general the first ideas you get will be the obvious, and won’t make your writing special. Admittedly, I don’t usually get as far as twenty, but each one can open up new lines of thought. Often, what seems totally off the wall ends up leading to one that works.
When I began writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the 4th book in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, I knew the hero was going to be Grinch, who’d been a secondary character in other books in the series. What I’d forgotten was that due to a throwaway line in the first book, where he never even appeared on the page, he had a child. How could I write a romantic suspense where the hero had a kid? After considering as many possibilities as I could, I ended up with a way around the problem. (Of course, my solution also involved a dog, so now I had yet another “character” to deal with.)
3. Don’t waste time on details. Placeholders are your friend. XXX works very well. I’m terrible at descriptions, and even worse at metaphors. Likewise character names. If I’ve stopped for more than about thirty seconds, I simply put in an XXX and move on. In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, a character was a landscaper, and he’d brought a plant that was suited to the setting high in the Colorado mountains. An XXX with “research plants” meant I could keep writing instead of fretting about what kind of a shrub he would have brought her.
2. Understand you might have slow days. Didn’t meet your word count goal? Why? Were you stuck on a piece of research you needed? Getting the answers counts as writing time. “Head Writing” counts as writing time. I don’t outline, or plot more than a few scenes in advance, although I do have plot points that will have to be covered, or simple “what about?” questions that I write on sticky notes and put on a foam core board. Thinking about the book counts as writing. (And, this might be the perfect time to go back to your XXXs and see if you can fill them in.)
4. Don’t stop at the end of a scene. Move at least a few paragraphs into the next one, or make a note of the plot points. That way, when you come back to work the next day (and if you’re a writer, it is a job, so you need to be as disciplined as if you were going to the office), you’ll have a running start. Knowing where you’re going brings the excitement needed to get that next section on the page.
5. Print out your day’s output. Take it away from the computer to read. I like to do this in bed, where it becomes a “book” and not “work.” Make basic markups, noting things that jump out at you, such as repeated words, confusion as to who’s speaking in dialogue, typos, transitions, and places that need elaboration or cutting. Don’t fix them, just make notes. Then when you go back to work the next day, you’ve got another running start.
6. I also have a tracking board. When I finish a scene, I jot the plot points, characters, time, and setting onto sticky notes and put them on what others call a story board. But I do mine after I’ve written the scene. I admit I get behind at times, so during those “lulls” I go back and take care of updating it. This also can trigger new ideas. When I was writing DEADLY SECRETS, I wasn’t sure who the murderer was. Then I looked at my tracking board and saw a character’s name showing up in all the critical scenes. Ta Da!
Please remember: this is what works for me. I fix as I go, and when I get to “the end” I’ve got a polished first draft. Normally, one more pass and it’s ready to go to my editor.
And, when things seem impossible, you can always write a guest blog post!
Stress is what happens to the body when the mind stops it from beating the hell out of some ass that richly deserves it.
Picture that for a second and feel the energy bouncing around that body. What do you do when you feel that angry?
Last night I got a phone call that whacked me out and I went straight for the chocolate chip cookies. Not good for a guy who’s not exercising and getting ready for a MANday photo! But the obvious alternative isn’t socially acceptable.
Today I’m thinking about the link between stress management and diet. Two people come to mind. One lost someone close to him and then gained an unhealthy amount of weight. The other eats whenever something bothers him. Both people are at risk for all sorts of problems and will probably die earlier than someone who exercises and eats a healthy diet.
Why did this happen?
Probably because junk food is really soothing and for some reason it makes difficult emotions more bearable. Women seem to become aware of this in high school, but for men it is more subtle.
When I moved into a place where I couldn’t store chocolate ice cream, I found myself driving to a little take out place for a hot fudge sundae whenever I was really stressed. I have no idea how long I’ve been doing this, but my guess is it has been decades.
The cycle isn’t a good one. I get stressed. I eat junk. I gain weight.
What if when something bothered me I did a few pushups instead of eating a cookie?
I wonder if I’d feel better and be better able to deal with other stresses that come along. It seems to me like pushups are a better way to burn off that anger and frustration than eating chocolate. Maybe I’ll get past the annoyance faster that way.
For the next week, I am going to try and substitute pushups for cookies when I’m annoyed and see what happens. Want to try it with me? You know you do.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
You may not realize how true this is for writers unless you are one. We overcome tremendous obstacles to create our stories and in the process we learn how to motivate ourselves when things look dim. Today I’m starting a feature called Get Over The Hump Day. I’m going to invite writers here each Wednesday (hump day) to tell us how they stay inspired.
My guest today is Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of eleven novels and as many short stories, most recently A Bitter Veil. You can find her here. You should also know that her book Easy Innocence is free today on Kindle.
Libby is hosting my Get Over The Hump Day post on her blog today. We call it Mutual Bloggeration.
Please welcome Libby!
When the Going Gets Tough…
Funny you should mention this, CJ. I’m in a tough place right now and —well— I’m struggling. It’s not writers’ block per se. It’s broader than that.
Over the past ten years I’ve published ten novels (depending on how you count them) and about twenty short stories. Number eleven is done, and it should come out in 2013. When I think about how far I’ve come, I’m amazed, especially since writing was never on my master plan. I was going to be a film-maker — the Lina Wertmuller of the United States. I had visions of riding off into sunset with Federico Fellini. Life had other plans, though, so here I am.
But I’ve always been a sucker for a story. The most seductive words I know are “Hey I want to tell you a story.” Say that, and I’m yours. So it finally dawned on me that I am a storyteller, whether I’m writing it, filming it, or just imagining it.
And that’s the problem. I’m just not that excited by the story I thought I’d be telling next. As some of you may know, I’ve reinvented myself in my fiction. I started with an amateur sleuth mystery series, expanded into a hard-boiled female PI series, and branched out into thrillers and stand-alones. The thriller I’m revising now is set in Cuba, and that’s usually the time when I casting around for my next story. It’s never failed. In fact, the siren song of the “next best thing” usually puts me under its spell, and I can’t wait to get started.
This time it’s different. I had written up to page 60 on a new Georgia Davis story when I left her and decided to write three stand-alone thrillers. I promised myself I’d go back when I’d finished. The story isn’t a bad one, and I’d pretty much figured it out in my head. Georgia discovers a half-sister she never knew she had, and that sister is in big trouble. I was also going to bring back a character from an earlier book — the villain who got away.
But the problem is that I’ve been avoiding jumping in. I reread the first few chapters – bear in mind I wrote them almost three years ago – and they sounded flat and boring. No problem. That’s why we do revisions. So I rewrote the first chapter, and it’s better. More exciting. Still, I’m not captivated by the story the way I should be. And I can’t figure out why.
Is it because I already know the story? Often when I’m writing I love the sense of discovery and surprise when a character does something I didn’t expect and the plot moves in an unexpected direction. But I already know most of the twists and turns in this story.
Is the story itself a little too formulaic, too “PI-driven?” It’s not exactly a new story. Few plots are. (They say there are only two plots in the world: A person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.) But we write anyway, and no story turns out to be quite like another. I suspect that would happen here.
Or is it “story fatigue?” After eleven books and twice as many stories, am I just storied out? Bored with my thinking, bored with the genre, bored in general? Am I finished? All washed up? Do I have any stories left to tell? I don’t know.
Usually when I have writers’ block, I stop writing so that my brain switches from left to right, or right to left (whatever it is). I read a new book by an author I love… I go to the movies… or I talk it out with a friend. (My friend Judy Bobalik can tell you a funny story about that. Just ask her.)
This time, though, I’m not sure what to do.
Anyone have any suggestions?
Several years ago I joined Myspace and learned how to make friends using a tool called Friendblaster. I hoped my new friends would buy and love my books. I soon learned they all wanted something different. Some wanted to pass the time. Many wanted to sell me something. Some wanted advice. A few even wanted to sleep with me. That was a shock! I never expected women to solicit sex online, but now nothing surprises me.
At first I saw my new online friends as customers, but over the years I began to connect with many of them as true friends. I’ve learned so much from my friends in the medical, legal, and law enforcement communities. I’ve been counselor, mediator, and book reviewer to many. My most enjoyable role is still game show host. I love running contests and giving something back to those who have supported me most.
Writing in my office at home there is no one down the hall to chat with. No one stopping by the water cooler. But Facebook and Twitter are never far.
This last weekend I drove to Lisbon Falls, Maine to spend time with someone that goes back to those early days on Myspace. The whole family welcomed me in. Friday featured a birthday party with about 50 guests. Normally when I’m in such a large gathering of people I don’t know I’m “on,” telling people about my work and selling books, but this weekend I was part of the family.
It was a joy to sit back and meet everyone. I put my writer hat on a few times. I’m always curious about family dynamics and it was interesting to take in all the personalities. It’s also heartwarming to be surrounded by a loving family that truly cares for one another.
When I told people on Thursday it was going to be a relaxing weekend, they warned me it would be hectic and chaotic with all the little ones around, but we lounged by the pool, watched fireworks and took in the Moxie parade without a single tantrum. My kids are nearly grown, so one of the true joys of the visit was watching the little ones play in the pool. Those little giggles never get old.
Today as I go back to work I’m truly thankful that my circle of online friends has gone far beyond the typical author/reader relationship. I count myself lucky to have so many good friendships that have blossomed from a simple friend request.
What unexpected blessings have you found in your online life?
It’s frustrating to sit on the sidelines. To watch your work slip away and know you could have continued to improve day after day. That’s how I’m feeling after a week without any strenuous exercise.
But there is good news.
What I thought was a stomach ulcer has turned out to be a nasty muscle pull.
I’ve had to stop pushups, planks, and runs while my muscles heal. This weekend would have been my photograph, but I’ve been off my regular workout regimen for weeks and I’m gaining a bit of weight. I feel like I can attain a much better shape given a few more weeks of rigorous workouts, so I’ve decided to wait until I can get back into working out before taking that photo.
Today I’m thinking about finding balance while I wait.
I’m a huge fan of the blog Zen Habits and this week while relaxing with my daughter at the beach I focused on my breathing. Leo talks a lot about breathing and how important it is for us to relax and just breathe from time to time.
I noticed my breathing has become more steady and powerful as a result of my running over the last three months. Try it. Close your eyes, relax and breathe. It’s very centering. Life affirming.
Last night I took a long walk through a cornfield. Walking used to be great exercise, but now no matter how fast I walk, my breathing doesn’t change. It doesn’t feel like exercise anymore, but I am burning calories, stretching my legs and taking in the scenery. I really enjoyed the sweet smell of corn. The rows stretching as far as you can see. And the rabbits and birds darting everywhere.
Today I’m embracing my need for a little balance.
Part of balance for me is eating chocolate. And if you’re going to eat chocolate, why not make it something fantastic? For those of you who’ve been eating chocolate every day, go out and run. For the rest of you, check out this fantastic recipe for a great Friday treat.
Peanut Butter Squares
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey graham crackers (1/3 box) – crushed
2 sticks margarine – melted
Between ½ and 1 lb confectioner’s sugar
16 oz semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Mix well – peanut butter, graham crackers and margarine.
Add confectioner’s sugar until firm, but not dry.
Spread the mixture in a 13 x 9 pan and compact.
Best results when the top is level
Melt the chocolate chips and spread evenly on top.
Cool this mixture for about 15 minutes in your freezer.
If you cool to the right temperature, the squares cut easily.
Serve slightly cooler than room temperature.
Do not serve frozen!