Friday, August 7, 2009

De-stressing! What a novel idea! *bad pun groan*

Wait a minute.

You mean... at some point you're supposed to relieve stress??

Huh. Maybe somewhere in the foggy past I read that incorrectly as "re-live stress". Because - that I can do. I can replay stressful moments over and over in my head like one of those songs that gets stuck in your brain for days at a time...

No no. Seriously. Stress relief. That's a good thing. Especially in this job.

Now, rather like Jillian, I tend to thrive in pressure situations. No really! I do! Hang a deadline over my head, dangling from a fraying thread like the sword of Damocles, and I'm good. Tie me to the tracks with the deadline-train a'comin' and I'll somehow manage to fish out my trusty swiss-army knife. Loom ever larger at me all you want Mr. Deadline, I'm walkin' straight toward you, whistlin'...

*starts to hyperventilate slightly*

...Heh. Um. Wait. Do you think maybe I have deadlines on my mind?

Okay - focus here people. By "people" I mean "me".

Right. Stress relief. What do I do for stress relief?...

I could say "shop" but I actually find that kinda stressful (unless it's with my Mom, 'cause she's really good at it.) I could say "yoga" but I haven't bent myself into a Lotus Position since I got my first contract. I could say "watch tv" but I barely know which remote goes with what device.

I... um... read? Okay, yeah. I do that - but I do that anyway. I listen to music - same deal, though.

Oh wait! I garden! Sure! That's what I do.

*pauses to look out window at sadly neglected shrubs that need a serious pruning*

Huh. Maybe I should take some time to de-stress this weekend. If nothing else, the geraniums need to be deadlined--er dead-headed. Yes. That's what I meant. No I'm not stressed - why do you ask?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Light Movies and Reality TV

Here’s something strange about me: I sort of thrive on the stress involved with being a writer. I love deadlines. Sure, I’ll complain about how stressed I am at the time, but I love being busy, having a writing schedule, feeling the need to get something done by a particular date. When I don’t have that I actually start to feel a little lost.

Case in point: I finished a draft of a new book three weeks ago. I had immersed myself in the book for three months, stayed up late and woke up early to work on it, and I thought about it constantly. When I struggled a bit with the ending and then the revision, I complained to my husband about how stressed I was and how I couldn’t wait to be finished with the book to take a little time off.

That was three weeks ago, and in three weeks away from that total book immersion, I’m itching to get back in, to start something new. Um, I’ve actually sort of already started it.

It’s not that I don’t ever need a break, because I do. When I was in the middle of working on my draft last month, I was so overwhelmed and stressed after working on the book every single day for six weeks straight, that I took an entire weekend off, completely away from the computer and the book. I watched four very light movies and sat glued to the television as if they were The. Best. Movies. Ever. Yes, it took Beverly Hill Chihuahua and Confessions of a Shopaholic to detox my brain. But by Monday, I was completely refreshed and ready to go back to work.

If not light movies, then I also enjoy light reality TV to de-stress. Can I admit that I am a fan of Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List for just this reason? In college, I used to take study breaks to watch All My Children, because really, how could I be stressed about a paper or an exam when Erica Kane was getting remarried for the 27th time?

In general, though, I love what I do and all the stress that comes along with it. I like my stress breaks to be short ones, and thank goodness, because imagine what my life would be like if I sat around watching light movies, reality TV, and soap operas all the time!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Shuffle and Start Over

My idea of a stress reliever might surprise you. Yes, I'm all about lounging by the pool with a good book, or sipping a fresh mimosa while digging my toes into the sand. But what really relaxes me and sloooows down my brain is a brain teaser. I absolutely love a good crossword puzzle or a sudoko better than anyone I know. And what I really love more than anything is either a jigsaw puzzle or a nice relaxing game of solitaire - especially spider solitaire or free cell!

In fact, I'll tell you this. I was once so addicted I had to remove solitaire from my computer. It's true! I would have never gotten an entire book written if I had continued to feed my addiction. Fortunately those games don't come standard on Macs, and every Mac owner knows - once you go Mac you never go back! I've heard there are free solitaire websites on the computer, but for the moment I'm just saying no!

When I was little I loved those hand-held number puzzles that you had to move around with your thumbs. You know the home-made kind that had hand-written fortunes under each triangle? And I really loved the plastic ones with numbered squares that you had to shuffle until all the numbers were in order from from 1-12. I never did master the Rubik's cube but I could have died trying.

I absolutely adore needle point and knitting. And I long for each stitch to be neat and perfect. The irony in that is nothing else in my life is neat and perfect. Sewing must represent a small little something I can have complete control over.

HOWEVER, I've had to make a conscious effort to put away my needles, give away the jigsaw puzzles and stop my subscription to the newspaper. (This might be an excellent time to give a shout out to The Tennessean - your crossword puzzles and sudokos are top shelf, baby, top shelf!!)

So where does all this leave me if my priority has become novel writing and I'm turning my back on my addiction(s)? TO THE INTERNET, OF COURSE. I can have my computer in my lap, my WIP on the screen and click on for all my spelling and synonym needs. And while I'm at it I can sneak peeks at my both of my email accounts, and the NG website, and Amazon, and Ebay, and CNN and, and, and . . . I'm back to where I started - with a brand new addiction. YIKES. What now???? Find another way to relieve my stress? Suggestions anyone?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sunburned = Perfect Remedy for Writer Burnout

This week's topic isn't a toughie for me, as I'm sitting here typing this in my bathing suit with a nice frosty glass of lemonade sitting beside me. Yes, I'm on vacation! Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to be exact. And I haven't thought about work...much...OK maybe a little...those revisions to Book #2...forgot about those...whoops.

Scratch all that--this will be a working vacation! I'm still finalizing a few small things for my second book, so tomorrow I'll be hitting the pool with my laptop in hand. Truly, my book will be a "beach read."

Regardless, the first few days of this vacation have been heaven. I can already feel my creative juices renewing and I'm itching to start my next book. I've been checking emails sporadically on my Blackberry, instead of feeling glued to my laptop. Even just three days of relaxation have provided some much needed perspective and a huge mental break.

Most writers I know spend their days chained to their computers, obsessively checking emails and waiting for the phone to ring. It's hard to know how stressful that is until you actually step away from all of it. It's been so freeing to wake up in the morning and not power up my computer before I even have a cup of coffee.

Thus, like I said, I'm a' rarin' to go on my next book thanks to this little reality break. Creative juices are flowing once again, folks!

Now, if ya'll will excuse me, I have some suntann--er, business to tend to!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Overheard (and slightly overdue)

"Good heavens. She's done it again."
"That Livingston creature. She's posting all pell-mell and willy-nilly on the wrong day again."
"Well. You sound as if you just don't care--"
"Busy here."
"Oh. Oh yes. Quite right. It's only that there are proper procedures you know--"
"Hand me those."
"Right-o... Awfully dark in here, what?"
"That's 'cause yer in my light."
"Ah! Yes. Sorry. Better?"
"Look--are you absolutely certain you're supposed to cut that one first?"
"Just that I would've thought red before green."
"Okay. That's it."
"What? Where are you going? I can't do this alone!"
"Shoulda thought of that before you opened yer big yap."
"Oh. Oh my..."

Ah dialogue. I just LOVE dialogue. I get a huge kick out of sitting back and letting the characters do all the work for once. The thing about conversations in a story is not just that they can tell you things about whatever subject is under discussion--but they can also say so much about who's doing the talking, where they are, what's going on around them, and why on earth you should care.

With absolutely no description, no dialogue attribution or speech 'tags', no narrative intrusion whatsoever, in fact, you should be able to glean an awful lot from a simple conversation. The above exchange, for example. Sure it was a bit slap-dash on my part, a bit "willy-nilly". But if I've done an even half-way decent job ot it, you should be able to tell a few things about the participants. What they're doing, maybe. A sense of the surroundings (just a hint, here, really), perhaps an inkling of their relationship and differeing personality traits, maybe even a few clues as to ethnic identities and age difference. Another thing? Conversations can be pretty useful in moving the plot along.

I start scenes like this all the time when I'm writing. I just let my guys and girls "open their big yaps" and I take it all down like a court stenographer. The conversation becomes the bones of the scene. Then I can go back and flesh it out to varying degress. You know--add a few beads of sweat on an upper lip here, the sounds of ticking there, a rough edge or querulous warble to a voice, stuff like that.

Sometimes, your skeleton will need extra meat on its bones before you send it walking around. And sometimes, it'll just need a little bit of muscle and skin. But once you've got dialogue down, you've at least got something to hang the juicy bits on. And maybe someone who can diffuse that bomb. (Or not!)

Now go. Try it. Eavesdrop on your creations. Just remember to cover your ears when the little red numbers read 0.00!