Tagged: writing

Sep 10

Pushing the Stone


The cardinal rule: don't sit in front of a window if you don't want to be distracted.

I just completed my Week 8 assignment for the Writer’s Digest online course, Build Your Novel Scene by Scene. It was brutal. Not the scene, but the process of drudging through miles of sticky mental muck to actually write. To demonstrate my fragile mental state, I shall be relating a story about squirrels. But first, oh look! The cardinals are strutting outside my window. Aww, pretty birds…Where was I?

Mr. Squirrel thinks he's stealthy.

Oh right, my deep-seeded emotional struggles to persist. There I was, researching in circles on my laptop again as righteous justification for not writing, when I spotted the enemy: I named him Mr. Squirrel (further evidence of my creative angst).

Mr. Squirrel likes to eat the bird seed. This distresses me greatly. It leads to a long, annoying game whereby I run outside to chase away Mr. Squirrel, he waits until I am back inside and in front of my laptop again, and then he boldly returns, laughing at me through the window. Repeat the scene another dozen times.

As with many of life’s great trials, however, I found a solution at Lowe’s. See the dome underneath the feeder? It’s called a–get this–squirrel baffle. This was going to be good.

I installed said bird feeder protection device and went inside. In my excitement, I may have actually typed a few sentences of my scene while I waited. Then he appeared, making sure I was watching him. Time and again, he climbed up the post of good hope but could not round her cape. Mr. Squirrel was baffled, indeed! (Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh.)

"Watch and learn, Mrs. Human."

Perhaps I accidentally wrote another sentence or two before the next event; I can’t remember. But not long after my sweet victory, he was back. Mr. Squirrel approached my window yet again. As you can see from this third picture, he stared me down straight on, one searching creature to another. Then he turned from his stance on the ledge and leaped, hairy toothpick arms and legs flailing wildly in slow motion, landing on top of the baffle.

He proceeded to feast with abandon on the bird feed. I watched him for a few minutes, allowing him to enjoy the fruits of his labor, the spoils of his conquest, the prize of his chase. He had persevered. Even though the birds on top seemed to mock him; even though some other squirrels had tried but given up after a few attempts; even though he himself was baffled and frustrated by his repeatedly thwarted efforts–Mr. Squirrel kept on trying. He did not. Stop. Trying. (sniff, sniff)

My 11-year-old daughter summed up this lesson for me a different way last night. It was my low point for the writing week, when I actually let slip the words, “It’s just too hard. What am I doing this to myself?” Seeing my frustration, she told me: You have to push the stone if you want it to move. I think her Padawan training is complete.

As for my squirrel story, it ends happily. I ventured to Lowe’s once more, this time for a hanging block of corn feed. Mr. Squirrel earned it. And so will I, one baffling try at a time.


Jul 18

The Publish Driven Life


An impromptu book signing at a friend's baby shower. Yes, I always keep copies in my car!

“It’s not about you.” That’s the memorable first sentence of Rick Warren’s spiritual bestseller, The Purpose Drive Life. It’s a message worth repurposing for those of us who would like to call ourselves writers but still aren’t sure we’ve got what it takes.

The foundation for Julia Cameron’s groundbreaking The Artist’s Way  is the same; it’s not about us or what we, from aspiring to accomplished artists, do or don’t do. Rather, it’s about who our all-powerful creator, the Great Artist, shaped us to be. Cameron contends that creating is our gift back to God. It’s a liberating mindset, this powerful extraction of one’s ego from one’s art.

So then all that remains to be vanquished is our fear. At every turn and dark alley, shooting off even the most scenic streets, it lurks in the shadows telling us we’re not good enough, attacking pieces of us that we are working so hard to put together. With its intended fatal blow, fear tries to convince us that what we want to create is too difficult. It’s too hardour fear tells us. I just can’t do it. Or there’s the even more insidious lie, I just can’t do it now.

My personal procrastination, however, recently received a grande battement in the derrière. After hurdling over past creative blocks and working hard to complete two YA novels in less than a year, my fellow creative Chick Vivi Barnes–a.k.a. ticklingthemuse–landed an awesome literary agent! I was so inspired by Vivi’s efforts and success I even wrote her a victory theme song.

Suddenly the reality had hit really close to home: hard work is really all that’s standing between me and finishing the novel I’ve been chasing for so long. Hard work is the only wind that can blow the sails of any story. So I enrolled in a Writer’s Digest University online workshop, Build Your Novel Scene by Scene. And it starts tomorrow!

This exciting 90-day intensive course is exactly what I need. I’ve always worked better with the urgency of deadlines, the feedback of a teacher and the overall structure of a school-like setting. For starters, it will force me to outline the entire book in detail before being “allowed” to write. The latter is my favorite part, but in neglecting the former I’ve floundered at sea, drifting this way and that.

There is NOTHING more rewarding than seeing your story in the hands of a reader!

My final destination is indeed PUBLICATION, that is, getting my story into the hands of readers. The once intimidating and paralyzing prospects of “breaking into the publishing world” are changing dramatically in this modern electronic age. Fear of not getting published is now invalid. Whether in physical bookstores or only in online bookstores and e-reader apps, the best stories ultimately win. My own positive self-publishing experience with Lulu.com–getting my first children’s book out there— has shown me that the only barriers left to becoming a writer live in the mind.

So my immediate goal and focus for the next 90 days is to FINISH. Whether or not I secure a traditional literary agent and publisher once I arrive at my intended port is (almost) a moot point. It would be great, of course, but if I finish this story in which I believe so intensely, writing it to the best of my ability, then I’ve already acquired the real prize.


Dec 13

What’s in a Pen Name?

No, Jane is not my “real” middle name.

My adopted writing name has three parts, each gifted to me by the most important influences of my life and representing an important part of who I am:

TRACEY is the first name given to me at birth by my parents. It means brave, daring, courageous. And while I wouldn’t generally attribute any of these adjectives to myself, they seem to be the very things I most need to work on. So perhaps the words may be more of a life goal than a description, encouraging me to act despite and amid my formidable fears.

Of course, the name can also mean war-like or fighter, which my husband might only half-jokingly tell you is more fitting. And although the “e” in my variant spelling is often omitted by others, I really do like having it there. For what is the first job of a writer but to literally trace the past? Indeed, those often fuzzy, retraced paths of memories, events and human emotions form the only well from which any artist can draw.

SMITH is my last name, the one given to me by my husband. Becoming one of the millions with this common surname was a big change from my maiden name–Fink–which drew a bit more attention in grammar school. Although a writer certainly “informs against another person”, too, I opted to use my married name. It’s the least I can do to thank and honor the man who has been my biggest, unfailing supporter for more than fifteen years now.

From the old English to smite or strike, I am reminded of the hard labor, sweat and perseverance required to successfully ply any trade, writing included. My husband is hands-down the most persistent, patient person I know. Let’s just say, we complement each other well. Once again, these are great characteristics for me to improve upon.

JANE is my middle name, the one given to me in between my others. I received this new name sometime in middle school by my most beloved teacher. To describe Judith Marsh as an amazing English teacher is woefully insufficient. While I am grateful to other teachers for sharing with me a thoughtful appreciation of literature, I can fully credit Mrs. Marsh with teaching me how to write, as can hundreds more like me. Her no-nonsense southern witticism, her precise mastery of grammar, her high expectations of every student (that sometimes resulted in erasers and books being thrown across the room)–these made every pupil at our school fear and eventually love Mrs. Marsh in equal measure.

The inimitable Mrs. Marsh taught middle school English and eighth grade at St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida between 1972 and 1987.

Now to be clear, I was not the only one rechristened. Many students found new tags after their names, as if a single startling word and always with an elongated question mark at their end.

JenniferAnn? Would you kindly show the class how to diagram this compound sentence?”

“Who would like to tell us why Mr. Miller might have named his character Willy Loman? BonnieSue?

TraceyJane? I KNOW you’re not talking when you should be listening.”

Why did Mrs. Marsh choose new names for some people? It could have just been her southern sense of humor and rhythmic balance. Or perhaps, it was for the same reason God chose new names for some people in the Bible. Maybe it was her was way of letting us know we were becoming something different, even if it was only more literate and articulate 12-year olds.

Whatever the reason, when it came time to decide on my pen name, I smiled at the perfect, simple answer. I heard Mrs. Marsh calling on me in her pointed, lilting voice. And although I have often felt accursed as a Jane of all trades and master of none, my new name is enough to make me feel like a slightly different person. As Tracey Jane Smith, I find myself with just enough courage to risk failure and accept rejection, as I walk down this dusty road to become a “real” writer.


May 26

Sail Away with Me

Fortunately I spotted this theme less than halfway through surveying the 1,300 or so free ones offered through WordPress. I wasn’t searching for a sailing theme, but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was a fitting metaphor for the various creative courses I’m attempting to navigate. And you might as well know now, I love metaphors.

The two big prizes on my horizon are: Addie and Ollie, my first children’s book due out late summer 2011 and my first novel, an historical fiction saga. I have absolutely no idea when that one will be finished! At any rate, without consciously intending it, both books are united by one theme. You guessed it–sailing. In fact, both of my heroines are drawn to the sea. Maybe this was an inevitable outcome of my growing up in Florida so near the ocean.

Yet besides this literal connection, I think the figurative one is even stronger. What are words, after all, but raw materials assembled as wood into these marvelous vessels we call books? Every author is a shipbuilder, every reader a captain, and the voyage of each is at once unique and interconnected.

Mine starts here. I hope you’ll join me.