A Room of My Own

Virginia Wolfe wrote, ““A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I am in the process of converting a small room upstairs into my office.

When we bought the house, the description counted this particular room as a bedroom. Supposedly our home is a 5-bedroom house. No way! A crib might fit in it, but there’s not room even for a twin bed and dresser.  It might make a nice office, though. We shall see.

Currently, my “writing room” is on the main level in what was identified as a family room when we bought the house. Dennis and I use it as an office-library. Against the south wall, the computer and printer sit. Dennis’ big roll top desk is against the north wall. The fireplace and built-in bookshelves on to the west and another book case is to the east.

In the room hangs a plaque on the wall above the space where the  computer sits.  The nurses on the maternal-child unit at University gave it to me after I was awarded the NCC Neonatal Nurse of the Year Award.  The award itself, a beautiful crystal that sits atop a gray marble base, is hidden away upstairs somewhere.  The calligraphy reads:

That Woman is a Success–

Who loves life and lives it to the fullest;

Who has discovered and shared her strengths and talents that are uniquely her own;

Who puts her best into each task and leaves each situation better than she found it’

Who seeks and finds that which is beautiful in all people and all things;

Whose heart is full of love and warmth with compassion;

Who has found joy in living and peace within herself.  Barbara Burrows

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As I sit down to write at the computer, the plaque is a reminder of what my colleagues thought at the time and it inspires me to seek meaning in what I do.

To my left as I sit, is the mantel and fireplace with bookshelves on either side of the hearth.IMG_3615IMG_3614A myriad of books stack the shelves–non-fiction, fiction, inspirational books, children’s books, large tomes, small paperbacks and the Bible.  Each of the eight shelves, four per side, holds at least 25-30 books, well over 200 books total.

Against the wall on my right is a tall 5-shelf book case.  The bottom two
shelves hold more books, primarily books on writing, a couple of dictionaries, some writing materials and papers and a big book with the title of “Just Do It!”  The top three shelves display family pictures, my grandmother Grady’s old marble mantel clock, and an antique anniversary clock on the shelf above.  A Madonna and child statue sits next to the anniversary clock and an old German barometer is on the shelf above.  The barometer is a red and white chalet with the little man in Lederhosen and the little lady in a plain blue dress.  The chalet is adorned with flowers below the little window.  Today the little people are both inside the chalet with their backs to me.

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I have many things surrounding me that offer inspiration, but also distraction at times. My digital speakers for my I-pod sits next to my computer screen, allowing me to plug in the device and listen to music, preferably Golden Oldies for writing and  Irish tunes for cleaning.  A 1-½ inch wooden rectangular token with the image of San Juan on the front sits next to the speakers.  On the back, it tells of San Juan (St. John) the apostle who is the Patron Saint of Writers, Editors, Publisher and Printers.   A souvenir of my trip to Colorado Springs with my friend, Deb, it remind s me that writers can shape the world and inspire others to seek the truth.

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As I ponder on my surroundings, I realize that this is my own secret space, my writing space, my thinking space, my prayerful space.  It is the space that connects me to the world as well as keeps the world out.  I can communicate with my friends via email or Face Book or I can focus on my stories, shutting everyone else out.

Time stands still here.  I can sit down to write and time becomes irrelevant.  Then suddenly, I realize that 4 hours have passed in an instant.  It is 12:00 in the kitchen, but it is still early morning in my space.  I want to stay in my space but I must go to the kitchen because the world beckons.

My space is a little cluttered and sometimes the world invades my space such as in March when Dennis chooses to use my space to do the taxes. If I would change anything about my space, I would remove all the non-writing parasites that creep in and start to take over—the amoebic bank statements, the overgrowth of committee work, the pestilent to-do lists.  What my space really needs is the Orkin personal secretary and DeCon killer organizer to take care of the pests that get in the way of my writing.

Maybe the little room upstairs will provide that bastion for “the writer only.” Stay tuned. I will let you know how the room conversion goes.

 

Davinci Syndrome

Have you heard of the Davinci Syndrome? It is the collection of signs and symptoms observed in creative people who have more ideas and visions than they can implement, making it difficult to complete a project before rushing off to the next.

Signs may include:davinci

  • rewriting, especially as the book is being written
  • editing the first chapter eight times before going on to the next chapter
  • procrastination, sharping pencils instead of writing
  • forgetting what was written in chapter 3 and ending up with your character living in Chicago in 1974 instead of in Iowa in 1969 in chapter 11

Apparently, Leonardo Davinci had so many ideas, he left some incomplete. Not only that, but some historians believe Davinci was a perfectionist and never truly believed his creations were done. Can you imagine thinking that the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper still needed work?

mona lisaBesides being a painter and sculptor, Leonardo Davinci was an architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. Talk about multi-tasking!

I often feel like I suffer from the Davinci Syndrome. I am basically a short-story writer, primarily non-fiction. I am currently working on my first novel and find myself stuck as I rewrite and try to perfect my characters or plot.

IMG_1910With short-stories, it is much easier for me to write the story and move on to the next idea quickly, With a novel, I find I need a storyboard so I didn’t confuse the time or place in my story.

It is fortunate (or maybe not) that I am committed to my novel. It is near and dear to my heart. I will plod along, writing and rewriting, and maybe someday actually finishing it. I have a new group of writer-friends who are encouraging me and keeping me on track. Could they be the “therapy” I need to overcome my Davinci Syndrome?

My short story, “I Have the Coffee On” is in Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul (2000) page 169. It is the story of the North Platte Canteen during WWII.

Castles in the Air

Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundation under them.” 

How many of us write in our minds before we put ideas down on paper?  I often “write” in the shower.  I get some of my best ideas while getting ready for work in the morning.  It can be frustrating because I want to write immediately, but I have to leave and go punch the time clock.  So, instead, I jot down a few words to remind me for a time when I can sit down and put my ideas into words.  I sometimes fear I will forget, but usually it comes back to me as I sit and scribble words. 

As a kid, I was told to “Pay attention!”  “Stop day dreaming!”  “Stop doodling!”  Recently, I read that doodling is a good thing and that the mind actually remembers better when one doodles during meetings.  If my shower ideas aren’t as clear as they were in the morning, I start to doodle and they come back to me.

Daydreaming is underestimated, in my opinion.  Have you ever had an “aha moment” while daydreaming?  Daydreaming helps clear the clutter from your brain so creativity and imagination can work (or play.)  Slow- cycling brain waves called theta waves are active when you daydream. 

Dreaming, super learning, creativity, daydreaming and deep meditation manifest in the theta waves. These brain waves are also evident during emotional times, while making modifications, or changing ideas and during spiritual experiences. By spending more time in theta thought, a person can become better at problem-solving, be more spiritually connected, imaginative, calmer and relaxed physically.

Alpha or beta thought is a better state for concentrated, focused mental activity. Boredom makes it almost impossible to concentrate on your work. In the theta state, a person has to shift back to the normal waking beta state in order to focus. Most of us have no trouble shifting from theta (daydreaming) to alpha or beta (focused) when we need to concentrate

Daydreaming has been dismissed by many as a waste of time, but by slowing down the brain activity and letting go, a person can come up with wonderful ideas.  Daydreaming increases the ability to:

1.) problem-solve

2.) increase creativity

3.) self-motivate

4.) innovate (“What if…?”)

5.) provide hope and options

So, the next time someone accuses you of “daydreaming,” tell them, “Thank you!” 

Excuse me.  I was busy daydreaming.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

What prevents us from writing?  Why can’t we write at times?  We come up with all kinds of excuses.

Excuse #1  “I am too busy.”

Being too busy means you don’t want to do it.  If we really want to do something, we make the time; we prioritize.

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Excuse #2  Children and other distractions.

I have a friend who has 11 children and has managed to write three novels in the past couple of years.  Her advice? Write when you can, even if for just a few minutes before bed or after getting the children off to school and the baby is sleeping.  Keep your workload expectations low, but be persistent in writing every day.  Some days writing is squeezed into 5 minute intervals.  Other days longer periods are possible.

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Excuse #3 Fear of failure.

Sometimes our expectations are too high so we don’t write because we are afraid we will “fail.” Maybe we think we aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve to be a writer.  When we let the fear of failure stop us, we are focused on the end product, not the process of creativity.  We have forgotten how much fun it is just to write.  Overcome fear by doing.  Sit down and write just for fun and see what happens.

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Excuse #4 “I am not inspired.”

What are you waiting for?  A cloud to open up and the sun to shine down on you?  By thinking you are uninspired, you are missing the things that could be inspiration for you.  Clear your head of the negativity and look around.  There is inspiration everywhere.  Erma Bombeck used to write about mundane things like cookie sheets.  Use your imagination.  Try some writing prompts and see where they lead.  Image

Excuse #5 “This is not the right moment.”

When is the “right moment?”  Waiting for the bus, sitting in the airport, taking a coffee break at work–consider all the times you are doing nothing.  I tend to “write” in the shower.  Some of my best ideas come to me in the morning as I get ready for work.  I mull them over in my mind during the day, then come home and put them down on paper.  Sometimes I make little notes throughout the day so I don’t forget a particular scene or dialogue that I have thought of in the course of my work.

Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Show up in your moment and write.  Worry about the rewrite later.  Get it down on paper.

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Excuse #6  Writers’ Block

I may be an exception, but I haven’t experienced writers’ block, unless I don’t have a clear idea of what it is.  I have had times when I didn’t know what to write next, but it soon passed as I relaxed or distracted myself momentarily.  I have written scenes where suddenly I don’t know what happens next, but I keep writing through it, producing many poor images and sentences until finally, my writing breaks through.  I think the answer to writers’ block is to relax and don’t put expectations on your writing at that point.  Your story will come back.  Don’t give up.  Keep writing.  “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison) Instead, dress your writers’ block in a frilly pink princess dress and top it off with a sparkly tiara.  Relax and enjoy the ride.

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Excuse #7 “My idea isn’t original enough.”

“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Yet, everything is new when seen through different eyes.

One day I told a friend that I felt like I was regurgitating ideas that others had before me.  I didn’t feel like my material was “fresh.”  Other people had written about the same topic. (I was writing a non-fiction piece at the time.)  My friend, a photographer, listened and put it in perspective for me. “I can take a photo of the Grand Canyon that hundreds of other photographers have taken, but mine will be unique.” She explained that we all have a “different eye” or take on things.

Our ideas may seem similar, but unless you plagiarize another’s works, your writing is original.  So what if we both write about a big red barn in the middle of Kansas?  The words we use, the images we create, will be slightly different.

Excuse #8  “I need to do more research.”

Whether you think you need to do marketing research or content research, don’t let it stop your writing.

I love to do content research and it shows in some of my non-fiction pieces.  When I write non-fiction, research is my favorite part.  There are times I find so much material for a story, I get lost in the research and forget about writing the story.  I enjoy learning new things or finding more depth in a subject I am familiar with.  I have to force myself to stop and write the article or story.

As for marketing research, I don’t care for it.  About the extent of my marketing research is looking at a Writers Market now and then.  I have friends who frequent the book stores and look up books in their genre, study the book, checking who published it, reading the first line of each chapter, then going home and googling the author(s).  I feel guilty for not doing the same, but I find it tedious and uninteresting.  It may hinder my “success” to a certain extent, but not enough for me to change my behavior.

It seems the best thing to do is to set aside time for both writing and research.  One author I know spends one day a week doing marketing research and the rest of the week she writes.

I attended a writers’ workshop once in my early years where the speaker said, “Getting published is 40% writing and 60% marketing.”  Unsure where he got his statistics, I preferred not to pay attention to those numbers.

Maybe I’m like my writer-friend in Chicago who believed her writing was “channeled” to her and therefore couldn’t be edited. Maybe I am living in Lala-land, not accepting that I need to do more marketing research.  For now, I will stick to writing and let the chips fall where they may.

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Excuse #9 “Paying the bills is more important than writing.”

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”  ―     Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We all need an income in order to live.  Many of us have regular jobs.  I, for one, am fortunate at this stage of my life that I have the freedom to work a flexible schedule, only working a couple days a week, allowing time to write on my days off.  (Of course, I also have errands to run and household chores to do like everyone else.)  The trap is–“How much money do I need?”  I can work more often if I choose, but that cuts into my writing time.  It’s a double-edged sword.  Nursing pays much better than writing, but I am more passionate about writing.  I am blessed to have these options.  I enjoy being a nurse, especially in the NICU with the tiny babies, but writing is my addiction.  There have been times when it has been busy at work and I have been asked to come in.  Rather than turning them down, I have thought about the paycheck and it has trumped writing that day.

The key here is priority.  If you have a healthy attitude towards money and don’t think you need all the gadgets with the bells and whistles, then your writing will not suffer.  People who have full-time jobs still manage to find time to write.  It is important to them, so they find the time.

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Excuse #10 _____________ (Fill in the blank)

What is your excuse for not writing?

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