Thursday, December 01, 2016

Fresh Starts

It's nearly 2017. Yep. In 30 days it will be New Year's Eve, an event celebrated around the world. For many 2016 has been a difficult and challenging year that they want to see left behind, forgotten. For some it has been a year of enlightenment and growth.

I have been working on a particular novel off and on for a number of years. I just didn't seem to be able to get control of it, or to figure out how I wanted to present the story, or how to set it up. Should it be one huge novel? (Have you ever read The Far Pavilions? Hmmmm. Maybe I should read it again. That was a long-ago read for me.) Or should it be a series of stories covering the lives of several generations in the family. (A saga.) Then 2016 NaNoWriMo came along and I knew what to do with it.

One day as I walked down the stairs ahead of my husband I said, "I don't know how to get everything done. I can't finish anything because I'm so busy jumping from one thing to another to another." In the simple way he is known for he said, "Why don't you try doing one thing at a time."

Well, for a man that makes a lot of sense, right? But we women, we have to do so many things at one time that we are constantly shifting gears and just doing what we can before we have to jump to the next thing. But like my husband's suggestion about doing one thing at a time, NaNoWriMo asked for a commitment of 50,000 words of a novel. No, 50,000 words doesn't necessarily a novel make. But it managed to get me focused on one part of the complete tale. I titled it FOURTEEN. And it will be part of a series. But it starts with a young woman who has reached the age when the workings of the world become clearer, not the "everyone is equal and accepted" stage of childhood. The realities of her world become harsh and come thick and fast as she seeks to find the person she was born to be.

As I worked on NaNo (and I did not write everyday. I may have written 15 of the 30 days because of other commitments and Thanksgiving.) I kept a notebook in which I put my notes. As author Carter Sickels said at the workshop in July,  the only things that goes into that notebook are the things that pertain to the novel you are working on. If I had a question, that's where I wrote it down. If I had references that will have relevance in future stories in the series, that's where I wrote them down because it's all part of the saga. It's just going to be broken down into digestible parts.

So, if you're struggling with your novel, maybe you have too much going on and you need to take another look. If you had 30 days and 50,000 words for that story, what would be the most important points of that story? What would you focus on? Give it a shot.

(c) 2016 Cathy Thomas Brownfield
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New year, new start

So, I had this "motto" I used for two years. I was supposed to start my master's in creative writing but $42K in student loans at my age just wasn't my cup of tea. So, I resolved to do what I have to do on my own. (Did you know there is a DIYMFA?) And the motto? "For a new me in 2014." 

Well, I did learn a lot of things in 2014. But as the year wound down and I did not have a novel finished I told myself it was a year more about learning more about myself. I don't want to tell too much. That gives away the mystery of me and eases the tension that might keep you coming back to read my blog. LOL! The best thing I learned: I can now focus on my goals. I've cleared away the guilt my family causes when I fail to meet their demands aka needs. I've come to the realization that adult children know how to find me when/if they need me. And just because The Man (cradle robber that he is) retired doesn't mean I did. He will just have to adjust.

I write regularly for a local agency, articles that appear in the newspaper. My client asked me to list the topics I have written about over the last three years. (I've written for them for 15 years.) Well, did my eyes fly open! There are 50 articles per year, minimum, a variety of topics, representing my writing skills and talent. My client was impressed when I submitted the list to her. As I compiled that list I had to open up the old laptop that hadn't been used in a couple of years. It's very ssssssssllllllllooooooowwwwww. But I started to look at some of my fiction. Really? I WROTE THAT??? ME??? And I'm holding myself back WHY???

I get a regular email from author Kristen Lamb ( If you click on that link it will take you to today's (1/28/2015) blog entry. And the words couldn't have come at a better time. Not only that, but I clinked the link for an earlier entry that was on the same topic. And those words are also helpful to me as I revise this WIP and make sure that my characters are doing what they need to do. After all, if this is going to be the first novel to represent my authorial abilities, I want to make a good and lasting first impression.

Maybe Lamb's blog will help you, too. It never hurts to hear from those who have mastered their craft. 

And it's a new year, a new day, and I'm making 2015 mine. Remember my name ...


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Back Burners

                It’s happened again. I pushed my writing WORK to the back burner for drama within the family. Why do I do this? I guess the first step is recognizing the problem so I can proceed to the next step, changing the behavior.
                As “D” told me, my husband is an adult, my children all are adults. They all should be able to make their decisions and live with their consequences, and I should focus on my life, my goals and my challenges after raising my family and caring for my parents while they were living.
                That’s a pretty stiff order for someone who was raised to be so conscientious.
                “I think your mom worked a little too hard to make you responsible,” D said. And D is right, even though D never met my parents. D is very wise.
                I’ve always heard that Catholics master guilt and carry it always. I have to tell you, I am not Catholic, wasn’t raised Catholic, but Catholics didn’t corner the market on guilt. Is it because Mom would say, “I see guilt written all over your face” whether I was guilty or innocent?
                So, here I am at a juncture where I am setting boundaries and detaching myself from business that is no longer mine. I have taught my children what I know. I have assured them I will always be around when they need me. But I have some irons of my own in the fire and I’d like to work on those things, even if it now means I will be a Grandma Moses in literature. I don’t have time for any more back burners. As they say, “I’m burning daylight.”
                Look at Clint Eastwood. He’s the same age my mother would be if she was living. He is still active in his career, presenting important stories about life. Have you figured out yet that his spaghetti westerns also were political statements? Peel away the layers of the onion until you get to the core of it and you will see that everything is political in some way. Each artist presents his or her interpretation through their own skills and talents.
                So, today I am setting boundaries to prevent interruptions to my skill building and use of my gifts and talents given to me by God who created me. Whether the people in my life understand or not.
                Today I am detaching from others’ responsibilities and tending to my own.
                How about you?

©2014 Cathy Thomas Brownfield ~ All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Write, write, write...and write some more

A friend has talked about writing a historical novel for as long as I've known him. He said he doesn't want to start writing it until he knows exactly what he wants it to be, as if the first draft will be the final draft. I have said many times, "Just start writing scenes, the ones you know. You can figure out what to do with them later." But he wouldn't. Or maybe he couldn't. Maybe he was afraid. Are writers really afraid???

Am I afraid to write my novels? Or is it something else? What could that something else be? Well, I'm thinking it COULD be that I don't know the whole story when I start writing. So I get to a certain place in the writing of a novel and, in a panic, I think, "Oh, no! I don't know where this story is supposed to go!"

This was a real issue for me for a long time. Then I read Stephen King's book, On Writing, where he talks about The Stand. He had written a lot of it when he got to the point that he just didn't know what to do with it, where it was going. He said he nearly trashed the whole thing. Then one day it hit him where it needed to go and he finished writing it.

I will tell you that I read the unabridged version of The Stand. I knew exactly where he started foundering and wandering in circles trying to pick up the thread to continue with the story. I had a really hard time reading that book! It took me a few weeks here, a few weeks there, to actually completely read it. Over a period of a year! I would read a while, then set it aside and go read some other things. Then go back and read some more. I have NEVER read a book that way before or since. But it surely gave me some insight into writing my own stories.

So, maybe J is correct and he needs to know the whole story before he starts to write. But sometimes the story comes through the writing. You have to start somewhere, even if the place you start ends up not being the starting point of your story.

What are you writing today?

(c) 2014 Cathy Thomas Brownfield ~ All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

More fear of revisions

The Man said again, “I find it hard to believe in all of these years you still haven’t published one book.”

I stared at him, still unable to conceive how Mr. Drama can say things like that. He doesn’t see all of the accomplishments I have achieved. He sees the one I’ve always wanted but haven’t completed. He doesn’t see that he has done everything in his power to make sure my every minute had a claim on it so I would be forced to back away from my work. 

My English prof said, “Authors don’t work on just one project at a time.”

I thought, “That’s true enough. But if they want to be published I think they must need to focus on just one at a time.”

A while back I told you I had discovered a way to write a rough draft with a beginning, a middle and an end. Every time I go shopping I look for inexpensive (OK, cheap) journals with pretty covers. If they have 120 sheets of paper that means 240 pages of handwritten story! And I’m getting that pretty down pat, in my opinion.

Now I am at the next hurdle: editing/revising/rewriting. Why am I so afraid of this?

More than 20 years ago I wrote a children’s picture book for our twin daughters. My mother read it. She thought it could use a little tweaking. This sounds familiar. Did I already talk about this? Long story short, what if I can’t edit, revise, rewrite? What if I’m not smart enough to do it?

This morning I devoted 2-1/2 hours to working on a new story in a new journal. When the time went off I set it for 20 minutes more to wrap up the day with my characters in that story. I plan to do the same tomorrow and each day after that until it is finished.

After lunch I worked on the article for my paying gig. The executive director that I report to at the agency emailed me yesterday to say she was thinking as she finished reading the most recent article in the newspaper. She noticed on her Rolodex that she hired me March 16, 2000. At 50 articles per year she estimated more than 650 articles and other publicity could be credited to me. The articles have directed a lot of people to seek assistance to find their way to a healthy lifestyle. She said she hopes this will continue.

I told her about once a year I think, “I don’t want to do this anymore and I need to tell Eloise.” Then I am past the moment and good to go for another year. I don’t make a great deal of money doing this job but I don’t want to let go of it, either.

Supper is behind me now. I’m going to set the timer for 2-1/2 hours and work on revisions/rewriting/editing Belle and Sam’s story. The first step is the hardest, right? Stephen King could make this a lot easier for me if he would offer to spend six or eight weeks tutoring me through this process, but I don’t think I will spend too much time waiting since he doesn’t even know I’m a writer!

It’s not likely that I will get done everything on my to-do list for today, things like planting tomato seeds, pepper seeds and soaking heavenly blue morning glory seeds. Nor will the dusting and vacuuming carry me past a successful white glove test. But today still will end productive. 

© 2014 Cathy Thomas Brownfield ~ All Rights Reserved. This blog may not be reproduced in any way without the permission of the author.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Revisions make me nervous

What’s a writer to do?

Fellow writer, Janet Elaine Smith, after publishing more than 20 books, still carries index cards around in her handbag. When she’s out and about and observes someone or something interesting, she jots it down on an index card to use in one of her stories. It might be an action one of her characters might do, or something he or she might wear, or even the character herself or himself. After all of these years, Janet still does the cards. It’s something I tried but I felt like it was slowing me down.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of story ideas. It’s that I haven’t finished a complete novel. Well, I HAVE completed several drafts, but the thought of editing, of rewriting, revising, is a scary one.
Twenty or so years ago I wrote a children’s picture book based on my twin daughters. I loved it. My mother read it. She said it needed a little work. When she read the revision she said I had overdone the editing and the story had lost its charm. I wish I would have submitted the original version. I should have submitted the story.

Did THAT cause my fear of revision? Or is there a terror for every unpublished writer? (I won’t say new writer because I’ve been writing for a VERY long time.)

Janet urged me to take one of my stories and just finish it, whatever it takes for me to do it. So…I am trying to do that. I HAVE to make it a priority so the people in my life will see how important this is and how vital they are to my achieving my goals.

(c) 2014 Cathy Thomas Brownfield ~ All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's holding me back?

                Here I am, January 2014, and everyone thinks I’m piddling around playing at writing. I recall a former supervisor who once told me my work never was stellar. It was a snide remark designed to hurt me. (I later decided she was envious of me. At the very least we had a personality conflict. We didn’t like each other very much. Mom always did say everyone wasn’t going to like me. Oh, well. I always have been a little independent.)

                Then yesterday a young man in our community said he didn’t want to be insulting but he wasn’t aware of any of my work being published. It was a post online so I interpreted him to be questioning my claim to being a writer. My own spouse says the same kinds of things. I look at the piles and shelves and drawers and boxes of papers and files of articles, research, stories, flash drives and floppy disks and can’t fathom how he can see all of it and ask, “How long is it going to take you to start that book you started 30 years ago?”  He really has no idea.

                Ah. Maybe the thing is, he’s trying to push me to write and sell so I can carry us financially while he…does what? He never has been much of a supporter of what I do. It’s hard to be a believer when you don’t understand a profession…and writing is a profession you aren’t going to understand unless you are one.

                The point I’m trying to make is that there are reasons (excuses?) that hold us back from achieving those dreams and goals.

                I was cleaning a bit in my office/study the other day, I found a story I had written a while back and asked someone to critique it for me. It was an important story, he said, but didn’t have enough action. (Or did it lack tension?) It needed work, he said. (Ah! Light bulb above my noggin.)

                When I submitted my thesis novel to a publisher he came back with “This is an important story that needs to be told.” Two men had made the same statement, a very important statement. This is an important story.

                So, what should I do with it?

                I wrote a children’s picture book when our twin daughters (now 26) were small. Mom liked it. I edited it. Mom said I had been too heavy-handed because I had taken the heart and soul out of it. I never touched it again.

                In November I found a rough draft technique that allowed me to write a complete rough draft. I used a journal and hand wrote the story from start to finish. I could see how many pages I had written, how far I was proceeding and when it was time to start to move toward the resolution.  I did it again with another story in December. If I hurry, I will have a third one for January. I have written “books.” The next hurdle is revising and editing. You have to start revising and editing sometime, that little voice inside my head says.

                Patti Capel-Swartz says editing is the fun part.

                Someone else – I can’t recall who it was – said it’s the worst part. I guess it doesn’t matter which it is or whether it is. If I’m going to publish a book, I have to do it, fun or not.

                2014 is MY year. I’ve been preparing for 2014 for two years. MY YEAR. So I’m going to put the polar vortex to good use, drink hot tea and cafĂ© au lait and write … write … write … And edit … edit … edit ... The words have to come from the heart and the hearts of my characters. What I say must be believable through the course of the story. And I need to follow Maureen’s advice, Just write a good story.

(c) 2014 Cathy Thomas Brownfield ~ All Rights Reserved.