The Writing Drought

After I finish a novel, (I’m using the term “finish” very loosely.) I have a writing drought. I fall into the bad habit of thinking about what to write next and then do nothing about it. Before I know it, the idea has vanished, and I’m drier than before I had the thought.

When times like this occur, I turn to something else creative. This weekend I dragged out my jewelry making supplies and put together a few more necklaces and matching earrings for a show on Sunday afternoon with a few friends. Sometimes stringing beads in lively combinations loosens the cobwebs for more serious tasks–like writing, but unfortunately, no inspiration cometh.

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Then it’s time to try my other passion, painting. I do so love smearing pigment on a canvas, even though I have no clue technically what I’m doing. My dear friend Marie who is a very accomplished watercolor painter, has told me, “Now that you’ve had a great deal of  fun, don’t you think it’s time to start learning what you’re doing wrong?”

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My answer was “no.” Not yet. I enjoy doing what I’m doing. When I learn what goes into a good painting, I will look for that purpose instead of just creating. When I started taking singing lessons to polish the edges off my voice, I never heard a soloist the same any longer, and I must say, I even lost a bit of joy in my own performances. Besides, I have no allusions about selling my paintings. I fill up the basement with canvas’ that are not so okay and many of the others cover the walls in my home. (even the bathroom).

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My worst fault is being prolific. No matter what I chose to do, I do a lot of it. Being prolific is a blessing and a curse. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s also satisfaction.

So far, my tactics to inspire myself have failed; the writing drought still exists. The kernel of the next novel is planted, but so far, no germination. I am struggling with where to start. I’ve even tried writing pieces that aren’t the beginning to save for later. This sucks.

I guess I’ll have to haul out the writer’s block bible — of which I have a few — and see if there are any more clever ideas to climb out of the trenches into the writing no man’s land.

If you have ideas for me, jot me a line. After all, with over 1300 followers, I’m sure each of you has a strategy for times like this. No?

A Pound of Preparation

Blog 3-31 003I’ve been home with my husband Ken, who has MS,  for almost four years now without a break. It’s not that I want to get away from HIM, but I’d like a respite from our situation. Little did I know that preparing for a weekend getaway would take so much work. Yup. I’ve come to realize nothing easy when the government is involved.

One thing I had to do was put my respite in “the budget.” Ken’s in a Medicaid program, which is supposed to be self-directed, but I must meet with our coordinator in order to do anything. I must have misunderstand “self-direction” when we picked this plan. At any rate, putting items in the budget is always Step One.

Step Two is to find a service or place that will take care of Ken while I’m away. Ken expressed he wants to stay home because he’s so comfortable here, plus he’d have the added companionship of our little pug, Ernie. Okay. After going through lists of private providers, agencies, and nurses which my coordinator provided, I screamed for help. How does one pick competent care from a list? I acquired an inch-thick pile of paper which caused me to hyperventilate!

There’s a well-known agency in our area that came to our house for two other reasons, so I made a call to them and learned I first needed to be received into their “system.” Really? I had dealt with them two other times and I wasn’t in their system? Hmmm.  I told them he needs help with meals and some companionship, but they didn’t take my word for it. The woman took my information, and I learned at the end of the call I would be hearing from them to set up an appointment with an assessor to determine how much care Ken really needs. Hmmm.

Step Three. We decided it was a good idea to order a “Life Line” device, so when I’m away, Ken can get help if and when he needs it. This part was easy. Our coordinator put the request for this aid into our “budget,” called the agency which provides the device, and the next thing I know, an appointment was set up for Saturday.

Today is Saturday, but I forgot the guy was coming — luckily, we have our doorbell Ernie that alerted me to remember the guy was coming once he was on our porch.

And now I wait.  And of course, should the assessment process take longer than I think it should, I have a plan “B”. NOTE: If you should ever have to rely on government agencies, always have a plan B. Just sayin’.

Will I get away on May 10th as I hope? You and I will just have to be patient (God, how I hate that word!) and see what happens.

I promise to write, if I should get lucky.

A Hint of Celebrity?

Now that Ken and I spruced up our home with a few pieces of new furniture, a washer and dryer, and new kitchen chairs, I decided it was time for a little Barbara upgrading. Yup. I spent some coins on myself, and I didn’t do it at the thrift store. :-)

The items I wanted included a pair of new glasses, some wrinkle cream and skin spot remover, along with a couple pair of new sandals. (I still think we may have at least a couple of days of summer in the near future.)

On Saturday, I went to pick up my new specs. For once the sun was shining, but little did I know in a few seconds it would shine on me. When the receptionist requested my name, I replied, “Barbara McCloskey.”

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One of the customers turned around with a surprised look on her face and said, “Barbara McCloskey? I know that name. Sure, there’s somebody by that name who is an author.”

I replied, “That’s me!”

The customer’s voice went up an octave as she said, “No kidding?”

I whipped out my business cards I got for such opportunities and gave  one to each customer in the store.

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For a couple of seconds, I felt like a big shot. Fame shown it’s fickle light on me and I smiled in the illumination. Even though I hadn’t been facially recognized, somebody did recognize my name.

I’ve emblazoned this scene in my mind with the exception someday I will be facially recognized, and my “fan” will have read all of my books.

I truly believe this is the first step to fulfilling my dream–to become a successful author. This first step is simple, but necessary.

Here’s the bottom line to this tale. I don’t believe dreams happen. Having a clear vision of what we want to achieve is key, then we must share it with others. In the meantime, put your nose to the grindstone and work, work, work. In my case, I need to read and write everyday. Persistence is key–you can’t give up even when the ugly face of writer’s block crosses you path. Then grab opportunities when they come along. Do radio interviews. Get your name in the local paper. Pass out business cards advertising your genre and titles. Get your book reviewed. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket — no one can shine hiding. Perhaps you might even get a little “luck” as you go through the actions of working toward your goals. No one can turn down good luck, right?

My only caution is to be careful what you ask for. . . there’s a good chance you will get it.

Getting out of “Dodge”

travelI hope some of you noticed I took a hiatus from blogging. Being missed by someone is a compliment, so I guess I’m also being presumptuous you’re glad I’ve returned.

Grounded No More,” my seventh historical novel has been keeping me away, but this morning I put the finishing touches on it to go to my editor. I so enjoy historical fiction. I love researching other time periods to catch a glimpse of the people who lived those years. I’ve zeroed in on the World War II era because I find the sacrifices and hardships people endured amazing. I enjoy how people faced their fears and carried on in the face of adversity–particularly the women who were expected to become someone else in a blink of an eye. Through propaganda campaigns, they entered the workforce in all kinds of jobs, including some very dangerous ones.

The other fact that has kept me away from blogging is personal. I’ve been soul searching for some answers. Being a caretaker impacts a person in ways you never expect. As you might imagine, Ken’s Multiple Sclerosis can be trying at times. I must continually remind myself what he does is the disease and not him, but sometimes I drown myself in something artistic to put down my emotions of losing him bit by bit.

The winter has kept us both in the house longer than usual, so I haven’t been outside to start my spring clean-up and plant my flowers. We’ve been together 24/7 for over three years, and I need a respite, but going on such a journey has turned into an overwhelming task.

Because Ken would rather stay home than go to a care center, the quest is more difficult. I need to find him a qualified person to provide 24-hour care. When I expressed my frustration with the woman who acts as our coordinator, she said she’d work with the nurse and help me get this done. I guess it helps to whine once in a while.

Another part of my challenge is myself. My heart needs to stay home, but my head realizes without a break sometime in the near future, I might snap. My patience will wane, and I’ll do or say something I will regret. I equate the emotion to putting my little girl on the bus for kindergarten, only this time I’m the little girl.

My ordeal now boils down to letting go. When I must release my hold on something or someone I love, I need to take small steps, so when a girlfriend invited me to go “up north” with her for a weekend, I could consider her offer. I realize baby steps will be best for both Ken and me, so we’ll muddle through this first short separation, and if things go well, perhaps then I can plan a trip to Florida to visit my dear friend Kay–which was my original intention when I began this respite quest. I’m simply not ready for such a long separation.

Ken and I are lucky.  Through our relationship of nineteen years, we enjoyed many wonderful trips together. Timeshares in different parts of the country. A couple of cruises. Weekend getaways in quaint Bed & Breakfast places or swanky hotels. I am thankful for all of the good times, but I’m sad we will probably never travel together like this again.

 

Looking Back and Going Forward

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I spoke with my brother Mark this morning. I hadn’t heard from him in a week, so I was concerned. During the course of our conversation, Mark told me he had taken my first book, “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” to the Veteran’s home where he works, and according to Mark, the book is a big success. Veteran to veteran pass the book around, and I guess the book is probably well accepted because its time period is when most of these people were young.  I’m curious about what they think about what they read. I’d like to hear their experiences at the time, and I wonder how close I came to the truth of the time.

“Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” was my first published book, and like all “first” works, I wish I could revisit parts of it and write it again. Since its publication, I’ve learned so much about writing. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I need help with editing and proofreading. Writing in a vacuum doesn’t produce the best product. Oh, I believe the “yarn” (as my Scottish friend calls my stories) is good, but some of the techniques and writing style could be better.

Growing is all about getting better at what we do. The first time we do anything will never be as good as subsequent attempts. I remember the first time I drove a car. I had to think about every move I made. I gripped the wheel with white knuckles. I made wide right-hand turns, and I nearly took the mirrors off the side of the car as I attempted to put it into the garage.

Now, I get in a car and drive. The maneuvers are easy. I don’t think about what to do as I weave through traffic, and I can park in the garage without worrying about knocking off the mirrors.

When we write, we constantly evolve. We learn in school “writing is a process,” but do we believe what a continuing process it is? I doubt it. It isn’t until we look back and review our prior work with critical eyes. Doing so may be a learning experience, but being too critical of early work really isn’t fair. We did the best we could with the tools and experience we had at the time we put pen to paper. Going back is all right, but going forward is what is important.

Chance Encounters

City scape 002Yeah, I know. You’ve all seen this painting before, and I truly am not bragging by any means, but I included it because it’s central to today’s post.

I took this abstract Cityscape to Michaels  craft store to have a custom frame made for it. A sweet young clerk waited on me and put up with me taking over half of the framing samples off the wall to put them on the corners of my painting. One thing that aided both of us was a software program that actually took my frame selections around a photo of my painting, so I could see what the finished product would look like. In twenty to thirty minutes, I made my decision, plus I almost stayed within my budget!

Breille asked me how I spelled my last name, so to make things easier for her, I pulled out one of my business cards. (I went to Vistaprint and designed a card that has pictures of my novels on the back side.) A business card is the cheapest advertising you can have for yourself–so if you don’t have one, it’s a good investment. Breille was impressed by my prolific collection of historical fiction, and it turned out she is a student at my Alma Mater. Of course, we spent a few more minutes talking about her present experience with her classes and professors.

Because my graduation was almost twenty-five years ago, most of my professors are either dead or retired, so I didn’t know any of the instructors she mentioned. I don’t even know if the Communication and English programs are the same as what I completed. You know, time changes all.  Yada Yada Yada.

Breille wants to become a media journalist, so I asked her if the University offered this type of major within the Communication, and she didn’t know. I asked her if her adviser was helping her, and she said no.

I encouraged her to find an adviser who would work with her, and then I shared my experience with my adviser and how she helped me achieve the goals I wanted. In the English department, a business writing major wasn’t offered, but through eighteen credits of internship, my adviser helped me graduate with a professional portfolio I could show potential employers once my sheepskin hung on the wall. The caveat was I graduated with a year of practical experience because I became a member of a professional writing team with a Fortune 500 Communication company.

Breille’s eyes lit up as I told her what I had done, and I encourage her she could get what she wanted, too. All she had to do was see the goal and work toward it with everything inside of her. I truly believe if you want to achieve you can.

The best part of this story is I left the store with a gift. Breille told me, “Meeting you made my day, Barbara.”

I love chance encounters like this one because perhaps something I did or said might make a difference for someone else. You never will realize the future affect of your actions or words because these moments are the cliff- hanger of life. The most important thing, though,  is connecting with another person in a special way for a few special moments.

Oh, and by the way, Breille made my day, too.

Who Misses Grocery Shopping?

grocery shoppingOur corner of the country is still in the grasp of this never-ending winter. Every night the weather man (who I am beginning to hate), forecasts colder than  normal temperatures and of course, snow. Yuck!

I’ve done my best to fight back with writing and painting, but honestly, the gray sights outside my window and the mounting bills of snow removal are getting to me. Enough already!

Ken and I have a fear of falling on the ice. I can’t pick him up. In fact, last week, I had to call 911 to get some help to pick him up off the floor after we struggled together for an hour. Having him fall outside would be tragic, and if I went down, we’d both be in hot soup.

So, winter has kept Ken and me in stasis. We work on our computers staring at each other across the room. He’s become a Spider Solitaire junkie as I entertain myself with reading, writing, and Candy Crush (as well as other FB games). To break this monotony we promised ourselves, on a good day we will leave these four walls at least once a week to enjoy a nice dinner/lunch together. . . even if we only go to Burger King.

Yesterday was our day.

Temperatures soared rose into the 20′s and off we went. It always amazes me a change of scenery has such a positive effect on both of us. In a restaurant we ponder over the menu to find that special dish that will send our taste buds into a happy place. We use our restaurant manners, putting napkins on our laps. We joke with our server. We take our time and make conversation about what is going  on around us. Best of all, when we are finished, there is nothing to clean up. We pay the check, put on our coats, and leave. Who would think such a simple outing would perk us up the way it does?

I share this snippet of our simple life as a reminder life can’t be taken for granted. Because life is in a constant state of flux, you never know what surprise waits for you around the corner. Ten years ago, Ken and I would meet for dinner after an exhausting work day because neither of us had the energy to go home and cook dinner. We would joke with a Greek owner of a family restaurant we were going to “let her cook” tonight. We satisfied our hunger and went home to “let it all hang out.” Going to a restaurant at this point in our lives was to fulfill a need; it was not a social event.

As Ken’s Multiple Sclerosis progresses, doing simple things have become exhausting for him. Taking a shower, getting dressed, and driving his wheel chair to the living room tires him. Having energy to go out and enjoy a meal has become rare.

As I watch him struggle everyday,  I wonder what will be left for us tomorrow and the next day. We have lost so many simple pleasures already. Even enjoying a hug and kiss has become difficult. Do you realize we used to enjoy grocery shopping together or going about our Saturday chores together? It strikes me funny I miss those simple activities. But I do.

If any of you learn anything from me by reading this blog, I hope you understand it is important to live in the present. Don’t take simple things like grocery shopping with your husband for granted. Make parties out of ridiculous things like “it’s Tuesday.”

Enjoy every minute even if you are in pain or feeling lonely. You’re present circumstances may be pleasant or miserable, but I assure you, they are temporary. Hopefully, the sun will come out for you tomorrow.  Find joy in every minute . . . no matter what.