Don’t Drop that Chainsaw; Put it Gently Away for a While

My husband has this analogy (metaphor?) he uses frequently—juggling cats and chainsaws. I think, to him, this activity actually sounds like fun. To me, it’s just a great image for those days when you feel like you not only have too many balls in the air at once, but that most of them have claws and teeth, motorized and otherwise.

Yes, you do know the days I’m talking about.

It’s so easy, maybe too easy, to keep adding things to our calendars. To our lives. Books to read. Movies to see. Workshops to take. Fun trips with our families or friends. Writing projects.

Writing projects we really want to do.

And pretty soon, we’ve got chainsaws flying, along with a Siamese, a Tabby, and a Manx we sure hope started out without that tail. We only have two hands, but the sky is filled with a half-dozen felines, way too many bright-yellow power tools, and…watch out for that electrical cord!

The other morning (aka the wee hours of the night, just past midnight), I took one of those chainsaws from my list and turned it off. It was a project that, I hoped, was going to get me started on a new learning curve. As I lay awake, I had one of those moment of clarity that you really wish came to you at noon, or even dinnertime, but never do. I said to myself, “Oh, yes. And when, exactly, do you have time, right now, for a learning curve?” You can guess what I answered.

I didn’t lock the chainsaw away. I just wound up its cord neatly and tucked the whole thing into its plastic case, then latched it shut. And I put it on the shelf. Not too high–I can reach it easily. And those latches are so lightweight; I can flip them open any time I want.

Just not, you know, this month.

Guess what? I went back to sleep. Was there disappointment? Sure, a little. Was there relief? Oh, you bet. Because, by taking one of my chainsaws out of the air, I get to keep the others running and save all those kitties that I love so much. Nothing’s going to come crashing down around me, nothing’s going to hit me on the head, and nobody else is going to lose a tail.

What about you? Are you juggling just fine, catching flaming torches easily between your teeth? Or is there one item you want to take a second look at, catch it gently and see if maybe, just for a while, it doesn’t belong in your routine? We each run in our own personal circuses, and I toast your act—whether it’s tossing two beanbags back and forth, or catching swords as you ride bareback on a pink-feathered horse.

Just, if you’re waking up too many hours before dawn, consider sliding one of those swords into its scabbard. 🙂


Taking Risks…Come On, Just a Few

I am by nature an extremely cautious person. I’m also not so good with change. 38 years later, I’m still not so sure my family needed to sell our smallish tract home and move to the much bigger house, on the top of a hill, with an ocean view and a bedroom for each kid, that my parents had designed and built just for us. Really.

‘Cause you know, why swap out the old for a new? Why take the chance, when where you’re headed might be worse than where you are?

Well, obviously, because it also might be a lot better. Or just really, really good and mesh in beautifully with the happy life you already have.

The last few years, I’ve taken more risks. Nothing huge, from a lot of people’s perspectives, but from Little Miss “Okay, Mom, I’ll get nine books I’ve already read from the library and one new one,” some of the choices I’ve made have been a big deal. And they’ve gotten me to some very good places, including the writing and soon-to-happen publication of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

So, this week, with school starting, more time to focus, and a year ahead in which I want things to be different, I’m putting myself out there. I’m digging deeper into my WIP, reminding myself how important this story—and my fiction—are to me. I’m working on a couple of basic pitches for two nonfiction projects, to send to my agent. I sent an email off for some consulting work. I’ve got a list o children’s nonfiction-book publishers that I’m going to contact.

You can see where the risk comes in. These are all projects I’m qualified to do, and they’re all things I really love doing. But, yes, it’s a lot. The old me would say I was insane, diving head first into all these options, instead of maybe sticking a toe (or just the tip of a toe) into that water. The new me takes a look at the possibility of insanity and does some reassuring. Here’s what I tell myself:

  • You can do these.  You can. [Sigh.] Yes, honestly.
  • None of these are sure bets. To be realistic, some—if not many—are longshots. The odds of you getting to do all of them—get real. You’re not that good. (Yes, sometimes, a big of ego-deflation is actually necessary these days. When did that happen?!)
  • They won’t all happen at the same time. Projects take weeks, months, even years to come to fruition. You’ll probably be bored, waiting for anything to do.
  • A full, exciting life is better than a quiet, dull one.
  • “Yes,” is better than “No,” much of the time. And for your writing path, just about all of the time.

Do I still get nervous? Of course. Do I let that stop me, as it would have when I was young, from reaching out, from stretching myself for the things I really want. Not any more. I may not race ahead and grab it at full-speed just yet. I do, however, hold out my hand and say, “Please.”

What about you? What risks have you taken, or are you facing, that can add to your writing path, bring you more of the happiness that it already gives you?

Spring & Writing: What’s Growing with You?

Yes, Spring is here. I know, it was official a few weeks ago, and some of you are still dealing with cold rain and snow, but the green things are trying. And out here, they’re growing and blooming.

My son’s spring break was this last week, and we took off for a couple of days of camping here and hiking here and here. It was perfect. Well, maybe not absolutely perfect for my son, who doesn’t really fitto sleep on the floor of the Vanagon anymore, but he didn’t complain, and we didn’t step on his head getting in and out, so, really, it all worked fine.

Tomorrow, school starts up again, and we head into the end of April. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a break of pretty much nothingness. Even with the sore muscles, I’m feeling seriously rested and refreshed. And ready to look at Spring with welcome. Ready to face my writing projects and say, “Bring it on!”

What will I be doing, with the sunshine bouncing off the greenery into my office window?

  • Revisions on The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. I’ll be getting feedback from my Writer’s Digest editor and digging back into the book. After this weekend, I feel ready.
  • Getting ready to write the first draft of my historical YA (feeble “working” title: Caro’s Story). Several writing friends are sort of getting to that place where we need to write, and we’re talking about pulling out all the stops in June and blasting through our first drafts. On one of our hikes this week, my husband and son helped me brainstorm some story problems (hey, you NEED something to talk about when you’re trying to climb 3,000 feet in 3 miles!), and, boy, their help was HUGE! I had several recordings on my cellphone with ideas about the ending AND the middle. So I’ll be more than ready to go in June. (I know, that’s officially summer, but prep will happen in May!).
  • Going back to the picture book I started this month. I did some basic plotting of the beginning and end, and wrote a few hundred words of early ideas. Next step: figure out some problems my heroes can face across the middle.
  • Start getting organized for my RESEARCH TRIP to Chicago this summer. My YA is set there in 1913. My sister lives a couple of hours south, and the plan is to take a couple of days in Chicago to hit museums, visit neighborhoods, talk to historians. We think we’re even going to go by the apartment where our grandmother lived as a little girl. I am so excited about this–it’s going to be better than the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland. And, you know, that’s the best.

It’s been a tough, long winter. Not for us, thank goodness, but for so many people all across the country, and the world. I want to face this Spring with optimism. I want to stay open to whatever new things may come along.

What about you? What projects–writing or otherwise–are you gearing up for this Spring? What’s calling to you?