Wednesday, April 1, 2015

THE DOG ATE MY . . . [FILL IN THE BLANK]

Novelist Bonnie Schroeder shares some of her favorite excuses for not writing. Visit her Author's Page on Amazon.

Meet Thunder, the newest addition to my family. She is a Swiss shepherd, close cousin of the German shepherd. She blasted into my life on November 1, 2014. As it happened, I was working on the final act of my new novel, and I was stuck. I didn’t have a satisfactory, or satisfying, ending.

So I shoved the manuscript aside, having been handed the best excuse in the world: I had a new puppy. Housebreaking. Crate training. Socializing. Bonding. And generally enjoying the fun, excitement and disruption a new baby, human or animal, introduces to one’s life.

The trouble was, three months later I hadn’t picked up the threads of my novel, and by then Thunder had fairly well merged into the household routine. But, somehow, I still “didn’t have time” to work on my novel.

Normally, I am pretty adept at squeezing maximum usage out of my time. I wrote the first few drafts of Mending Dreams while working ten-hour days with an hour-long commute tacked on both ends of the workday.

So what was up? I avoided thinking about it as we started obedience school and I focused on training my puppy. Thunder, however, did some teaching of her own. Among other things, she made me realize I needed to curb my perfectionist tendencies. A six-month-old puppy will not and should not become an obedience champion overnight. She’s a work in progress.

That got me to thinking about my unfinished manuscript, and—duh! I finally figured it out. I did not have the perfect ending for the book. I was stumped. It wasn’t lack of time that kept me from working; it was lack of direction.

Somewhere along the line I’d forgotten a crucial fact about being a writer: you can’t fix what isn’t on the page. I’ve made enough false starts over the years that this lesson should have been permanently engraved in my brain. But it wasn’t.

So I took a deep breath and dived into the chilly waters of revision, crafting a new ending, better than the one that had left me stuck. Well, maybe “better” is an overstatement. It was different.

And something very weird happened, although I should have seen it coming. As I typed up my hand-scribbled draft, ideas began to float around in my brain. Hey, maybe instead of ABC, let’s try XYZ. Yeah, not bad. But maybe MNOPQ would make more sense? Try it. And try again, until you have something that kinda sorta approximates the vision in your head.

That’s how I did it, bit by bit, while Thunder was taking naps. Puppies sleep a lot, so I had many half-hours and hours to do what I thought I “didn’t have time” for.

Another thing Thunder taught me is that imperfections aren’t fatal. My puppy was born with a stubby tail, which some might consider a flaw. But to me she’s unique and special, and that little metronome tail is always wagging. Likewise, no piece of writing is perfect, and often it’s the flaws that give it depth and worth.

Thunder is flunking novice obedience—well, I’m flunking, and I’m taking her with me, but we’re learning a little. Next time around, or the time after that, we’ll do better. But if we didn’t start somewhere. . . Well, you know how it goes.

As I worked through all this angst, I came face to face with some truths about myself: I’m lazy. I like excuses. But underneath all that, writing is in my DNA. I may not be the world’s best dog trainer, but I am nothing if not persistent (some would say “stubborn”.) And, most important, I am a writer, and always will be.

So let me ask: what’s your favorite excuse for avoiding stumbling blocks in your writing? And how did you overcome it?


20 comments:

  1. Love Thunder! (I think you already know I haven't met a dog I didn't like). "I'm lazy," and "I like excuses." You were talking about yourself, and not me, right? (smile) Oh, how easily I'm distracted. Any and everything can be an excuse. Lately, working on not trying to change, but accepting, and being patient--the ideas, stories, books will come. Hard.

    Did I say, I love Thunder?! (smile)

    Excellent post!

    Madeline

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    1. Thanks Mad. Thunder would love YOU too!

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  2. Wow, so it's not just me.

    I'm busy
    I'm stuck
    I'm getting ready to travel
    I've just gotten home from traveling
    The laundry needs to be done
    I haven't called _____ in a while
    Let me check my email first
    Blah blah blah

    I need deadlines to keep me going, I have to remember to set them. And then take them seriously enough to follow them. Normally I spend two hours every Wednesday afternoon at my 'Just Write' group, writing for two hours. But I'm not home, I'm staying at an oceanside resort in Hawaii…think I'll get any writing done today?


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    1. Ooooh, "I'm in Hawaii." Must add that to my excfuse list!!! And no, Miko, it's not just you. We're all experts at avoidance.

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  3. I think it's the odd writer who never procrastinates. He probably doesn't even exist. It's the uniqueness in each of us that allows us to find different ways to do it. And it's those breaks that allow the juices to flow and the creativity to grow.

    As for me, I just pulled some weeds, sprayed Round-Up on the cracks in the patio, picked up dog poop, put out the flag and poured a cup of coffee before checking my e-mail. Now I'll get to work on the last edits of my second spy novel. God, I love being a writer. I get so much done...

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    1. Your post made me feel like a slacker, GB, but then so does your prodigious output. I shiver to think how many books you'd publish if you didn't procrastinate! GIven our creativity, no wonder we find unique excuses.

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    2. Ooh, I feel so much better: you mean it's not just me? I am constantly guilt-ridden as I clean out the fridge, rush out to an urgent meeting to try and save the World, or stop and deal with a friend's emergency. 'I should be writing' I keep muttering. But my big problem is, as you point out Gayle, I LOVE writing. So I feel I should put everyone else's need before my desire to write. When I have a publisher's deadline I do so much better.But I am improving: even though it's usually after midnight by the time I get a few minutes relief - I am now writing actual paragraphs; I progressed from single lines. So line-by-line I am getting my current Lottie Topaz novel together. Maybe we should start a Procrastinating Writers Anonymous?

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    3. PWA! I love it, Rosemary. Isn't it reassuring to know this is a common affliction? So glad you've progressed to paragraphs!

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  4. You had me at "Meet Thunder"! If we were all perfect out of the box then we wouldn't have anything to do all day! Loved the analogies.

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    1. Thanks, Jack. Yeah, I sincerely believe perfection is over-rated.

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  5. Thunder is beautiful, but I love dogs. Period. Mine often provide me with an excuse to get out of my office. Husband, emails, blogs, friends -- these all give me excuses. Guess I'd better stop and go write. Oh, one of the dogs is barking at the neighbor dog. Better go check it out.

    Marja McGraw

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    1. Thanks, Marja. As GB pointed out, we do need breaks now and then to replenish the creativity well. It's interesting to see how many excuses we writers have in common.

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  6. I always think I have too much to do. It's not true, of course. So I decided to make myself write every day, even if it's just a sentence. So far, so good.

    Excuse me. I have a sentence to write.

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  7. Great tactic, Petrea. When I was working full-time I set a goal of 15 minutes a day. Some days even that is a challenge. But a sentence! Anyone can do a sentence!

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  8. I didn't know about Thunder's tail, Bonnie, but what a "character tag!" A reminder to give our story characters flaws as well as strengths to enrich them and help them triumph in some way in the story. (You really MUST use her in a book or short story!) I too procrastinate and need deadlines. (A true character flaw for me!)
    I admire you for digging in and and "re-crafting the ending." It's hard to get rid of our darlings, even when we know they don't work.

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  9. Thunder doesn't know she's "different" which is a good lesson too. I am noodling around ideas for her best role in my next book or story; right now I just savor her cuteness

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  10. Thanks for such an interesting post :-) I even enjoyed the comments...! I am not a writer ...only a reader and a blogger ...so don't require excuses for not writing...! But I am a human being so sometimes do use excuses in my daily routine. "Sorry couldn't wash/clean/laundry... our small daughter needed my attention...!" was one of the excuses used at least 4 to 5 times a month these past 3 years...! :-) By the way, Thunder is very cute :-) Will send the link to this post to my mother as she adores animals ...especially dogs...!

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    1. Ramla, I'm glad you enjoyed the post--and bloggers ARE writers! Yep, Thunder is pretty cute, and she knows it, too. Hope your mom enjoys "meeting" her.

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    2. Thanks for considering bloggers as writers ...I am truly honoured...! :-) I also wanted to inform you that I thought others might enjoy 'meeting' Thunder too ...so I shared a link to this post in one of the discussion threads on Goodreads ...which is an online book club of which I am a member.

      If you like then you can check it out by visiting the following link:

      https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2286220-links-to-posts-about-books

      Thanks again :-)

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    3. Thanks, Ramla, for sharing the link on Goodreads. I am a Goodreads member, too--it's a great site.

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