For the last two years, Biff and Bash attended a pre-school (3K) two towns away. This meant a hefty commute, bunkering down in a book store to write–basically, lots of getting out of the house.
Now that Biff and Bash attend school in town, I can write in the comfort of my own home every day. Hooray!
Except some days I just want to get out of the damn house.
Yesterday was such a day. I had just finished another chapter of Beauty’s Price, saw the clock, and thought, Screw it. I am going to investigate those trees even if only for ten minutes.
You see, one of the beauties of Wisconsin comes with its trees.
They cluster, they watch, they stand steadfast behind the encroaching subdivisions. They erupt amidst the farmland, and farmers never seem to touch them. They hold together like a Roman phalanx, and like Hell will you take them down. Ever since I was a girl I’d look upon them and wonder: What lives in them? Hides in them? They’re a sanctuary, a prison, protecting a secret, protecting us from a secret…
One such cluster is near my daughter’s school. I parked, and entered.
Such a difference a tree-lined path can make for the soul! Sunlight in leaves will forever be Nature’s stained glass to me. A forest is divine, a place where the soul breathes deep that which has always been, and always will be. Churches rise and fall. Their air grows cold and stale as the outdated hymnals in their pews. But the birdsong heard since Creation, the leaves’ processional in the wind–that is always.
I had time for only one path; no concerns, I knew I’d be back for autumn’s transformation. One tree caught my attention:
A vine of some sort? Its roots jutted out like centipede legs.
My fantasy mind turned immediately to roots of dark magic. Possibilities blossomed.
Why else does a writer need sanctuary away from words? Not all stories come to us in the spoken word, but in the whisper of a leaf, the chatter of the twigs, the dance of light upon the stones in the bottom of a stream. Some stories hide among the brush, eyes invisible to the ignorant, waiting for the right imagination on which to pounce.
Today, I sit alone in my house.
Sunlight plays on the silver streamers left over from Biff and Bash’s fifth birthday. The breeze chills warm ground–Wisconsin, in transition. Life is still lush and damp with dew that never quite dissipates, yet some of the older trees have already given up their leaves to gold and red.
Today, the school year has truly begun. Today, and now every weekday, all three kids will be in school.
Some of the time, anyway. Biff and Bash have begun attending preschool (aka 4K) in the afternoon at my town’s public school.
Today, and many days beforehand, I’ve been asked with a smile and a laugh, “Well, what are you going to do with yourself without kids in the house?”
For the record, I have not responded with my fist, damn tempting though it may be. No, I just glare, and say: “Work without vehicles flying in my face.”
Awkward pause. “Oh.”
Today, and God-willing for many days to come, I don’t want this time to be sucked up solely by teaching. It’s a fine excuse for people who don’t know I write, but for you, friends and strangers, you know how precious quiet time is. Day care is expensive. Babysitters take their cut. Family members willing to “help” would rather just sit and chat and watch you do all the parenting instead of the job you were supposed to get done. And once every child’s in school all day, you know your partner’s going to give you that look: the “now you can earn more income” look.
I know it. I already got it. And only by breaking down the time frame with the kids’ school schedules did Bo see that me taking on a 2nd part-time job just didn’t make any logistical sense.
So I’ve got one school year to prove that writing can and should be my second job. That I can I teach for a [mostly] steady income, meager as it is, while I strive to create, research, analyze, and reach out with my words to others…and ye gods, maybe get a little monetary compensation.
So many writing manuals intend to guide you in making the most out of spare time: you can be a “night-time novelist”; you can “write your book in a weekend”; you can make more of mornings “without sacrificing the important things”; you only need help to “boost your productivity,” and so on. Let’s be realistic: with little kids, you don’t have a night-time, or a morning-time. Bash will get up as early as 5:30am and will sneak out of his bedroom long after bedtime to use the potty…and to talk. And sing. And wake his brother Biff, who gets equally ornery. Oh yeah, I have a daughter, too, she needs some attention. Plus I’m supposed to actually hang out with Bo at some point because of this whole “married” thing, so there’s my night gone anyway. Weekends are family time and when I teach my classes, so those are gone.
But today, and for every school day after, I have approximately 3 hours.
So, fifteen hours a week isn’t bad, right?
No, not even that.
Because we must, again, be realistic: I have to schedule appointments in those hours. I’ll have projects to grade in those hours. I’ll have to get off my sorry ass and do some walking or other exercise because writing ain’t exactly a move’n’groove activity.
So with the errands, the job, the drives to retrieve children from different cities, and the attempt to be healthy, I’ve got: eight hours a week for writing. At most.
And unlike that time before motherhood, I will not waste the time I’m given.
Perhaps you’ve been struggling with this time management thing, too. Well, feel free to let me know how you maintain productivity, because I’m all for ideas and options. In the meantime, I’ve plotted thus far:
1. No social media during writing time. No scrolling, no “just checking quick,” no responding to those little infernal dings my phone makes. Unless it’s the police, Bo, or maybe my mom (maybe), the phone and social media sites stay off.
Woops! My half hour is up. Time to work on a story.
I’m back! Let’s see, where did I leave off…Ah yes, my attack plan.
2. Have project objectives for each day. Nothing depresses like a pile of unfinished work. I’m notoriously good at not finishing things: half-done crocheted blankets, half-organized book shelves, half-completed baby books, and so on. I’ve got some WIPs that have been sitting on my computer for years. Enough already. We’re getting those suckers DONE.
But again, reality here: nothing’s getting done at once. It’s going to take several hours to make decent headway on any old project. This doesn’t even include my current MG fantasy-in-progress Beauty’s Price, or the co-writing project “Eowain and the Boar.” Plus, I like writing here. And here takes time.
So let’s break the time up into wee snippets. I read in Writer’s Digest a while ago that 38 minutes is the ideal time to allot for anything; why that particular number I have no idea, but I’m really not far from that. By giving a project half an hour of the day, I can at least get somewhere on it before I move on to another task. So, I could write a little BP, work on the blog, send Michael some thoughts on E&B, and then edit a WIP for sending out. Nothing may get done in one day (like this post), but nothing’s getting ignored, either.
3. Experiment. Like the squeeze-your-arm-flab autumn sweaters I struggle with in a dressing room, I want to try on other styles of writing. They may also be equally pretty and irritate the bejeezes out of me, but how will I know unless I try? It’s been years since I attempted poetry. I’ve simply ignored flashfic. And outside of fantasy, I haven’t done much toe-tipping into other genres. Now I probably wouldn’t dedicate weeks to a poem, but half an hour? Sure, why not?
4. Be okay not writing sometimes. Aside from exercising, I do like getting out to take pictures when I can. I’m no professional, or even an amateur, but this place, this land where I live means so much to my writing state of mind: its hidden roads among the hills. The forests under siege by farms, and the farms under siege by suburbia. The marshes, the cities, the rock towers, the lakes. Together these elements make a world, rich and complete and all its own on the page. I want to share images of these places as best I can.
Day 3 on this entry. Yay, snippet-writing!
5. Start putting myself out there. In the past three years, I’ve queried all of three agents with an incomplete WIP. Yeah, not my smartest move. Repeatedly.
With these new hours, though, I’d like to both experiment and learn. One can’t be a published writer unless one actually, you know, publishes stuff. Traditional and online journals almost never take 10K-long stories, but essays and stories 1K and under would at least get a once-over before a refusal. During the school year I hope to get at least one short story published of my own creation. More would be awesome, but as I’ve learned the hard way, too many expectations promise derailment. I’m not making that mistake again.
I already have a story in the works to be published online with co-conspirator and fantasy author Michael Dellert. Can a pantser and a planner co-write successfully? “Eowain and the Boar” will be the experiment to find out.
Just as every moment with my children is precious, so is every moment I have to write. No more wasting. No more moaning. This is the time to create people and places. This is the time to explore and to chronicle. This is the time a Mommy can let her imagination run free. And unless the cops call that Biff and Bash are playing with chainsaws on the school roof, that’s just what what this Mommy’s going to do.
When I listen to the music flowing beneath a film, I search for tributaries. Could this music tell more than one story, or is its course reinforced with concrete, impossible to divert? Some scores are simply too entrenched to draw elsewhere, such as John Williams’ work for Superman and Jaws. Other scores tell the narrative their own way with music, and in that narrative arc flow many streams of story. One need only pick the flow to follow.
John Powell is one such composer, whom I’ve written of before, as well as Daft Punk. I still remember the excitement in me when I heard they were composing for Tron: Legacy, and knew that, if nothing else, the music would be amazing.
But the less said about that film, the better. No, I wanted to touch on Daft Punk because this year I felt that same excitement in discovering a composer previously unknown to me, one whose work I’m most assuredly going to dig through in the coming months:
So I’m a sucker for a good fantasy film. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its flaws with pacing and use of characters for plot propulsion, but there’s amazing aural storytelling to be found in this “175m music video.”*
In the first moments, you already feel a knowledge of old brilliance:
That lone violin pays homage to another master composer, Ennio Morricone, and his use of a music box to elicit feelings of love lost and revenge throughout the film For a Few Dollars More.
That connection sparked in my first viewing, and brought a smile to my face. I knew I was about to listen to someone who knew the power music has in cinematic narrative.
And I was right.
This theme blends period strings and electric guitar with such a gutteral heaviness that you can feel the weight of chains upon you. You’re being marched into a bleak land of little hope. Had Pemberton amped up the pacing here, he’d have something rather steampunky (rather like Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes, I’d say), but he didn’t, and I’m glad. The rhythm of trudgery emphasizes the setting into which Arthur is born and raised.
“Gutteral” is a term I use as a compliment because it’s so bloody perfect with Arthur’s character. Guy Ritchie’s film has Arthur orphaned and raised by prostitutes in a brothel. He’s a boy of the streets, doing anything and everything to make a little money and protect those who didn’t have to raise him, but did. Just listen to how the bows scrape along the strings to create almost-notes. The plucking and drums evoke a sense of dim lights, warm beer, and sly talk.
The human body itself is even an instrument in Pemberton’s score.
Breathing plays a role in a number of tracks, and for good reason: Arthur is a fighter, then literally on the run for his life. The breathing carries a determination to survive, but a desperation, too. He hasn’t the magical knowledge of the sage (the less said about her, the better), nor has he the confidence of his father’s knights. Pulling Excalibur out of the stone pulled him out of his own element, and he’s constantly catching up to understand just what the hell is going on. And as “Run Londinium” climaxes, Pemberton shows that all that frustration, desperation, and confusion is going to explode in the height of the fight to survive.
Okay, last one, I promise. I just had to show how, like Morricone, Pemberton uses the lone violin in the climax to bring this story full circle: from murder to vengeance. From child to hero.
Give Pemberton a listen. Watch your characters toddle, play, saunter, run. Fight. Survive. Thrive.
*A reference in Daniel Pemberton’s Twitter feed that made me laugh.