Jeanne: Writing through Coronabrain

Digital illustration of macro Covid-19 cells floating over a human brain and a web of connection. Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic concept digital compositeWhen I was a child, my mother sent me to the local YWCA for swimming lessons. Although I took lessons for what I remember as an entire winter, I never really mastered the art of moving horizontally through water.

There were two issues I couldn’t seem to overcome:

  1. I never got to where I could put my face in the water and turn my head for breath every few strokes. Putting my face in the water engendered a feeling of panic I could never conquer–not even after spending a week faithfully practicing dunking my face in the tub when I took my bath each night.
  2. The frustration that came from furiously flailing my skinny little arms and legs until the whistle blew, only to discover that I hadn’t progressed forward to any appreciable degree, left me unenthusiastic about continuing.

Lately, I’ve had much the same feeling when I sit down to work on my manuscript. I work away industriously, face in the water for what feels like hours, only to surface and find that I’m still in the same spot I was when I jumped in (though without that gasping sense of panic that I can’t breathe, so that’s good).

Part of that is the Coronabrain mentioned in the title of this post–difficulties in focusing brought on by the stress of living through (and watching my kids and other loved ones struggle through) a global public health crisis whose long-term impacts are impossible to predict and there are no guarantees we’ll all make it out alive and solvent.

But with cases back on the rise and no relief in the near-term future, it feels like it’s time to figure out how to propel myself forward, despite the situation.

One of the problems is that I’ve let myself wander away from my trusty schedule of writing from eight to noon. I’ve been staying up later at nights and therefore getting up later in the morning, making it difficult to work out, shower and breakfast before eight a.m. And since I am not at my desk by eight, I go ahead and prioritize other things (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning) ahead of writing.

This week I’m going to try to return to my schedule, putting writing at the top of my list again. I’m going to try giving myself a reward (watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, which I recently discovered on Netflix and LOVE) each day that I complete one thousand words. So we’ll see how that goes.

If you’re having any luck with productivity, what magic spell are you casting?

Kay: Getting Unstuck

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Father Tim Pelc of St Ambrose Church in Detroit, Michigan, blesses parishioners by shooting holy water into their car windows. He’s been a little concerned about how the Vatican might react if these photos reach the Pope, but so far, no word from the pontiff.

Things are tough all over, but I’ve been happy to see that the Catholic Church seems to be doing a good job at improvising during the pandemic.

In other news, the folks at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) have nagged me relentlessly the last couple of weeks, begging, exhorting, cajoling, and threatening me to join JuNoWriMo, the summer version of Novel Writers Torture Month. I have easily resisted this call, because I tried the November version once.

But when I was thinking about what to post today, I bumped into the blog of author Sarah Wynde, who talks about participating in this event. I’m sure otherwise she is a sane person. I’ve seen her comment on Jenny’s blog, and she always strikes me as intelligent and thoughtful, as well as amusing and kind. Continue reading

Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction Writing: Five Why’s

Question Concept with Magnifying GlassA couple of weeks ago we talked about a technique used in manufacturing problem-solving that can be adapted to fiction writing, the fishbone diagram.

Another Six Sigma technique that can be adapted for fiction-writing is Five Why’s. With this technique, the problem solver attempts to get to the root of the problem by asking “why?” five times in succession. This technique is used to avoid declaring victory before really drilling down to the fundamental issue.

Manufacturing situation: a customer rejects a print order because it’s flawed.

  1. Why is it flawed? Because the press wasn’t set up properly.
  2. Why wasn’t the press set up properly? Because the operator set it up wrong.
  3. Why did the operator set it up wrong? Because he wasn’t properly trained.
  4. Why wasn’t he properly trained? Because that part of the training program was discontinued.
  5. Why was that part of the training discontinued? As a cost-saving measure.

If you stopped after your second “why?” you would assume the pressman was at fault, when in fact the root cause is a policy issue.

(Note: Five Why’s is particularly useful, in my experience, when you want to actually solve a problem, rather than just find someone to blame it on.)

In fiction writing, I find this technique really useful when I’m trying to dig down into my characters’ motivations. For example: Continue reading

Jilly: Planning for the Zombie Apocalypse

Have you been reading (or watching) much fiction over the last few weeks? What kind of stories did you choose?

I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.

Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts. Continue reading

Kay: Narrating Family History

The family tree of Cesky Sternberk Castle, Czech Republic (Library of Congress)

Novelists create characters. We give them names and personalities, families, backgrounds, and histories. We give them motivations and core values, often based on what they learned from their families or what’s important to their heritage, so they have reason to make the choices they do in our narratives.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Ancestry that individual Americans actually know very little about their heritage.

Ancestry commissioned a survey from OnePoll, which canvassed 2,000 people in the United States. They found that many Americans don’t know or are unclear about their family origins.

  • 25 percent don’t know from what countries their families came to the United States
  • 40 percent of Americans polled are not certain from what country their last name originates

Continue reading

Kay: Why I Write

In 1946, J.B. Pick and Charles Neil, editors of Gangrel magazine, published an essay by George Orwell called “Why I Write.” Orwell’s essay became famous, and when I first read it, it was a revelation, from his early life that shaped his mind, to his military service and early jobs that focused his point of view. His thoughts and opinions are, shall we say, bracing. So, whenever I want to think about why I spend so much time by myself in a small room, I look to see what other people who do what I do think about it. Continue reading

Elizabeth: #LiveIt

As often seems to happen, I had a completely different post planned for today, but then I attended a leadership training class with presentations chock-full of inspirational and motivational quotes, images, and sayings, and my plan changed.

Normally those motivational things don’t particularly resonate with me, probably because they are often cliches or things that I’ve heard/seen a thousand times before, but occasionally one catches my attention.

The image above, a variation of “Just Do It,” did just that (despite, I’ll admit, the fact that I was multi-tasking at the time).  For some reason, this is just the nudge or kick-in-the-pants that I need right now to start moving forward.  It may be a little early to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and 2020 plans, but I’m pretty sure #LiveIt is going to be my motivational tagline for the year.

So, what’s inspired you lately?

Michaeline: Enjoying the Process for NaNoWriMo

Just a quickie today, but I saw a good video (10:47) last week on YouTube that really rang a bell with me. It’s called “How I Tricked My Brain to Like Doing Hard Things”, and it’s not about writing, but rather getting to the gym. But a metaphor is a metaphor, and I think his points apply well to writing.

Enjoy the process was the biggest thing. What do you love about actually writing? I love it when the writing gods drop a fantastic idea down in the middle of my process – a cool character, or just the right word in a very good sentence. I feel a physical “click” when that happens, and it really is awesome!

Take a look. Point after point could be applied to writing, or any creative endeavor – whether it’s creating a story, or creating a better body.

Michaeline: A Writing Staycation

“My goodness, this might actually be pretty decent!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been on Twitter an awful lot since I’ve gotten my new phone; I set up an alt account called “fooling around on my phone” and instead of trying to be on-brand and promote my writing (at this point, my only public writing are these blog posts and some earnest advice on obscure Reddit subs), I lurk on other writers’ threads and enjoy some weird bots that tweet famous authors’ works. (When Gilgamesh, Sappho and Vonnegut line up on my screen, I get some pretty amazing reading.)

I should probably quit spending so much time on the internet, but I have to admit that Twitter is quite inspirational. I’ve almost put down the phone and started writing MANY times; I have screenshotted some amazing ideas to use later.

This weekend, I’m finally taking action. At least two people have shown up on my Twitter feed saying, “Going off-line. Writing retreat. See you Monday!”

So, I’m inspired. I won’t go off-line (ha! As of this writing, I’ve already scrolled through about 50 tweets, watched three YouTube videos and texted my mother, despite my best intentions). But it’s a beautiful weekend to have a writing retreat at home! Here’s how I’m doing it. Continue reading

Michaeline: Autumn is Calling

Two young women gathering grapes in a Grecian setting

Not quite summer, not quite fall — something delicious in between. (Image via Wikimedia)

Autumn is coming in! I know, I know, equinox, blah-blah-blah. But modern people tend to jump the gun a little – perhaps we’re more attuned to the marketing cycle than we are to the actual season, but that’s OK. A lot of us are sick of summer, anyway.

How do I know it’s autumn? Well, I suspected it last night when Randy Rainbow sang to me of pumpkin spice on YouTube. That’s the first whiff of autumn these days – the cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg get re-branded as pumpkin spice, and jazz up any number of delicious, non-pumpkiny things – the real pumpkin being saved for Thanksgiving, I think.

This morning confirmed things. Nearly the first tweet I read said: “WE ALL HARD AGREE THAT HALLOWEEN SEASON BEGINS SEPTEMBER 1, RIGHT?” Lisa Marie Basile, you are ahead of time, I thought. And then I remembered . . . thirty days hath September, and that means August has 31. We were at the end of summer.

At the time, there were 2,080 tweets in the past hour for Halloween costumes, and 910 tweets for hashtag Halloween. I’d say Halloween season has begun.

This summer has been such a bubble of confined space for me. I’ve been getting by, concentrating only on the stuff right in front of my face, and barely paying any attention to the passage of time. When I managed to get enough water, I felt I’d accomplished enough for the day. When your focus is so tight on the next five minutes, there’s also a strange feeling that time will go on forever.

Autumn is a lovely season, but there’s that bittersweet haze of “ending” that hangs over it. Winter is coming, and so are the short days and long winter’s naps. But, it’s good reading weather, and good writing weather.

The thing is, I’m still behind. People serious about publishing are already knees-deep into their Valentine’s Day offerings, and already starting to think about summer stories. So, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I linger in summer for just a few more weeks. Either way you look at it, I’ll get caught up to the seasons, or the seasons will get caught up with me. Time goes on, and there’s writing that needs doing.