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Life in Non Sequiturs and (Trying) to Get My Writing Groove Back

In a New Yorker article (September 13, 2021), author Amia Srinivasan made this observation: “[…] the Internet, […] has simultaneously given us too much to read and corroded our capacity to read it.” The context was feminism and what we think we know about it, but her description of how the Internet has impacted reading applies far beyond her subject.

It’s something I struggle with every day. So much to read, especially online, but also on my Kindle and my bookshelves, the dining room table and the living room desk where magazines pile high. And yet I’m supposed to be writing.

I know I’ve been going through a stressful time. Which requires a couple of updates:

  • My sister’s cast was removed last week and she was fitted with a walking boot. She’s still at the facility, but she’s been having more good days lately than bad days. The facility change was definitely a good move. Still, the uncertainty as to when she’ll come home and what kind of help my brother-in-law will given as he continues care for her subdues my efforts to be positive. We all just keep saying, “One day at a time.”
  • Maxine, our feline dowager, has been more her old self lately. Spunky, willful, and talkative. She’s been handling our handling of the twice daily antibiotic injections and every-three-days subcutaneous fluids quite well. My husband has even been able to give her the antibiotic injection by himself, that is, without me having to hold her still. Unfortunately, she has “good” days and “bad” days: good days are when she limits her pee and poop output to a litter box or a potty training pad; bad days are when she and Junior get in a tussle and, in her excitement, she poops on the kitchen floor (this morning) or when she sits on the potty training pad but still pees on the floor (also this morning).

I’ve been working through my stress not by writing, but by gardening (healthy activity) and binging on a podcast call Casefile (maybe, maybe not healthy). If you enjoy true crime stories (is enjoy the right word?), check out Casefile by clicking here. A few things I like about the podcast:

  • The narrator is anonymous. He wants the audience to stay focused on the survivors and victims in these stories; however, his fans call him Casey.
  • The podcast has no dramatic reenactments, no roleplaying, no editorializing, no aimless, mindless banter. Casey narrates in a steady, calm voice. Occasionally he narrates dialogue, which can sometimes be humorous with his Australian accent.
    • I say no editorializing, but Casey’s empathy toward survivors and victims is real. At the beginning of each podcast, he cautions the listener in case the crime is of a particularly disturbing nature, such as crimes against children. For example, I chose to not listen to the episodes on The Moors Murders because Casey admitted he had to stop recording a couple of times because he was so disturbed by the abuse done to the children.
    • He has, on occasion, expressed frustration with law enforcement responses (or lack thereof) to violence against women. But he doesn’t rant, he doesn’t rail. He just points out when injustice is being served.
  • The episodes do not focus gratuitously on details of crimes. Casefile only shares what is necessary to understand the seriousness of a crime, which doesn’t require a second-by-second account of an assault or a murder.
  • The podcast often includes interviews, audio clips and other materials, providing a deeper context of the crime.
  • The effort Casey and his team put into their research and production is impressive. Links to their sources are provided with each episode.

My most recent binge from Casefile was several episodes on crimes committed by the The East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Golden State Killer in the late 70s to mid-80s who happen to all be one man–Joseph DeAngelo. The best episode was the last one where Casey read or played clips of survivors’ impact statements at DeAngelo’s sentencing hearing. It was the best episode because too often, justice is not found. In this case, it was. A little late, but that was due to the limitations of forensic testing at the time, the fact that DeAngelo was a former cop and knew how to avoid capture and identification, and lack of communication among the various law enforcement agencies involved.

Finally, if you write crime fiction, this podcast will teach you a lot about crime, the justice systems in the U.S. as well as other countries, and how law enforcement, even with truly dedicated officers, can be hampered in their efforts to find and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Now, what about my novel, which is about a murder?

I don’t consider myself a gardener really, but I might allow myself to wear the label of amateur gardener. I am thrilled when one of my plants starts to bloom. Why, hello there, Georgia Aster! I’m so grateful to have a fall-blooming plant.

Georgia Aster. Photo by Marie A Bailey.

My red penta is still going strong, and I’ve planted a lavender penta and a red-yellow lantana in the front yard. Fingers crossed that I can keep them safe during the winter. The following Ruellia or Mexican petunia was an impulse buy.

Ruellia simplex. Photo by Marie A Bailey.

We had gone to Home Depot to order a new dishwasher (a whole other story, but let me just say that we’re never buying GE appliances again). I needed a couple of pots so we went to the gardening section. This lovely purple plant caught my eye. We’ve seen it around our city so, hey, let’s get a pot and see what happens.

What happened was I did some research since the pot only said the plant was Ruellia. Well, according to the iSeek app, this is Ruellia simplex, a highly invasive plant.

WTF.

Through my research (and panic … what does one do with an invasive plant and why was it being sold at Home Depot????), I found the distributor (Costa Farms) who claims:ย “We sell sterile Mexican petunia varieties that don’t spread by seed. However, these are often vigorous plants and can colonize quickly in gardens and landscaping beds and borders — especially when grown in rich soil.” Okay, fine. The Ruellia I see around town seem well-controlled, but I’ll have to think long and hard about this. It’s so tempting to plant just this one in the front yard, yet perhaps I should keep it in a container.

Meanwhile, there’s that novel I should be working on.

One of the joys of gardening is discovering critters who like to eat my plants. I have three Black Swallowtail larvae on my Rue which is fine because that’s what Rue is for.

 

I’ve also been knitting. Finally finished this wool lap blanket so I can put it away in my cedar chest since cold temperatures won’t be arriving down here anytime soon.

Teal and purple wool lap blanket. Photo by Marie A Bailey.

I’ve started crocheting granny squares for a larger blanket in a desperate effort to use up my stash.

I have a punch needle kit and a cross-stitch kit as well as three knitting projects waiting for my attention. And sewing? Did I mention sewing?

And then there’s my novel. Oh, boy. You see what I’m doing here?

I’m avoiding my novel because I’m intimidated by the idea of writing from the POV of three narrators. My instinct (these days anyway) says to stick with one, that it will be enough of a challenge to write in first person. I’m trying to work through that. I’m trying to get my writing groove back. But I’m a bit overwhelmed.

Going back to the quote at the beginning of my post, I am realizing that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to being distracted and drowning. I need to develop some discipline if I’m ever going to finish my novel.

So what do you all do? You publishing writers out there: How do you organize your time? I see a lot of you engage in social media. How do you manage to do that AND work on your writing? Is it just a trick of the Internet that you all seem to be out and about on social media all the time? How do you manage to stay engaged and yet productive?

Thank you for reading, and thanks in advance for any advice you wish to share.

Bonus cat photo: Junior, the green-eyed bully who harasses Maxine until she poops.

Junior, green-eyed monster. Photo by Marie A Bailey

Categories: Writing

Tagged as:

Marie A Bailey

Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.

19 replies

  1. So much to say. First, I love Junior’s photo. It’s like those “drop a photo of yourself that could be an album cover” for Junior. Second, I saw that photo of Mexican Petunia and thought, that’s that stuff I just saw that had taken over the Mockingbird Cafe’s side yard. So then I saw the WTF moment. It reminds me of spiderwort, which is native down here and invasive. Finally, my novel has 3 narrators, cut down from 5 originally and 4 for a long time. It’s challenging, and I did it the hardest way–where they all keep the main narrative going, rather than each having only 1 narrative line that they contribute. But I couldn’t write a novel about this major lawsuit in MS and tell it from one perspective for a lot of reasons, one being that it would too easily veer into “white savior” territory. So. I wrote it with 3, and I spend way too much time on social media, and I have zero writing schedule, but if I’m not on social media, I’m writing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ellen, and for sharing what’s going on with your novel. Revising is so much harder than just writing, which is what I really miss. I need to reduce my time on social media. Even my husband is wondering if I’m addicted … eek!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely post, Marie. The only way to write on a steady basis is to set a word goal and stick with it come hell or high water. Let’s say the goal is 500 words a day. The average murder novel is north of 80,000 words so in 160 days you will have a rough draft. 1000 a day gets it down to 80. The key is to do your goal and no more each and every day. You will soon get into a groove and before you know it you will have the book done. When you reach your goal quit even if you feel like going on. It is the long term that makes the win. Short bursts cause continuous delays. Hope this helps (BTW 500 words can take no more than an hour so there is plenty of time for other things )

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m happy to hear your sister is having more good days than bad, Marie. As for your writing, I agree with John’s words of wisdom. I would also add that the internet is a huge time suck. Find a time during the day that works best for you, turn off the internet and commit to writing 100 words the first day. You’ll write more, so the next day you can commit to 200. Each day, up your word count and like John said, you’ll get into a grove. I write no less than 500 words every day. It’s just part of my day, like getting up and going to my day job. It’s all a matter of developing that habit. Once you do, you’ll feel guilty if you don’t do it. Last Saturday, I was really busy doing things around the house that I’d neglected. I looked at the clock and it was almost 6:00 p.m. I hadn’t written and I went into a panic. I took my portable word process machine out on the patio and in 45 minutes, I had 515 words. I relaxed and hung out with Derek. It’s so easy to find reasons not to write, but trust me, once you get into the habit, it will come second nature. Sorry to ramble, but I know you can do whatever you put your mind to, Marie. Oh, our red penta is still gorgeous too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill, thank you for supporting John’s suggestion. It’s also a relief to know that it is possible to get some writing done AND enjoy life’s little pleasures (outside the internet, that is ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

      And aren’t those red pentas amazing?! I have a couple of cuttings (unfortunately a branch partially decapitated it during a storm) and they are blooming, too!

      Like

  4. My personal method is to just do small amounts, but consistently. I finished my first novel on a diet of 250 words a day. That carried me through my third manuscript. Nowadays I’m up to 500โ€“700 words a day minimum, thanks to constant practice.

    Our daily pursuits don’t need to be huge. They just need to move the needle forward. Wishing you all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Stuart! It’s kind of you to read my rambling post and leave a comment. And you are in such good company as John and Jill have made the same suggestion. I think I know how I’ll get my groove back ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  5. So much to comment on, Marie.
    I listen to podcasts when I can’t walk outside, or I want to do more walking/running inside. I’ve heard of Case Files. My favorite podcast is Ghost in the Burbs. It’s different from other horror podcasts in that it’s told by Liz Sower as tales people in the neighborhood of Wellesley, MA have told her about hauntings, etc, in their homes. You have to start from the beginning.

    Good news about your sister and Maxine (mostly). ๐Ÿ˜€

    I can’t keep up with all the social media, and I also wonder how some do it, and I can’t keep up with reading articles either.

    I probably write something every day. I don’t have a set number of words because I’m not writing a book, but that does seem to be the way to do it. I’ve done it with writing chapters and articles where I’ve had a deadline, even though I’m researching at the same time. Perhaps find a way to give yourself a deadline, or sign up for National Novel Writing Month?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Merril. It does seem that with a novel, it’s helpful to set a daily word goal. I’m getting some excellent advice here ๐Ÿ™‚ I think part of my problem is that, before I retired, I visualized sitting at my desk writing for several hours a day and being happy about it. But as soon as I retired, I wanted nothing to do with my computer. Some of that was probably because I had been working at home for about a year, and my writing space was “tainted.” Rearranging my space has helped, but I really needed the advice that you all are providing. Rather than beat myself up for not writing for hours at a time, I will instead pat myself on the back whenever I complete 500 or more words … which I’ve already done today!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. All of the preceding comments say it better than I could, so, I’ll cite one of the best expressions of the experience of writing that I’d love to have been the author of, ‘I hate writing. I love having written.’

    That said, momentum is our friend. I fear not writing far more than I fear writing badly. In fact, I find it helpful to remind myself of the old saying,
    It’s far easier to edit a page of bad words, than to begin the process of filling a blank one.

    PS. I’m a fan of word-prompt bloghops… easy to stop in with a bunch of spare wordage and hear from other writers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Clark! You know, I wrote about 600 words before giving myself permission to check comments on this post, and I don’t know how many of those words (if any) make sense. But this saying that you provide–Itโ€™s far easier to edit a page of bad words, than to begin the process of filling a blank one–is perfect, exactly what I need to remind myself. Thank you!!

      Like

  7. Great question, and great answers from your readers. I think I like John Howell’s the best. If only I had more will power. Social media is addictive, and easier than writing. So I try to write first thing in the morning. That’s when I’m most fresh. I also teach creative writing classes, and I encourage my students (and myself) to just write 10 minutes a day. That’s all! Because once we sit down and say “I can find 10 minutes for heaven’s sake,” we end up writing on and on and it’s time for dinner. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pamela! Yes, I agree that John pretty much nailed it for me. As for social media, I still need to rein my impulses. At least, if I write earlier in the day (instead of late afternoon like today), I’ll have less of a guilty conscience when I do other things ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is chockful of goodies, especially the one that keeps surfacing: writing your novel!!! Why are you trying to write it in 3 POVs if that is what is keeping you from working on it? Is this the same book I read before? Because I liked that book as-is hah. You are a prime candidate for the group I am involved in via zoom. Unfortunately, we’re trying to keep it to local in case we go back to in person meetings. It’s where we studied The Artist’s Way, then we moved on to another book, and this month we’re starting yet another! It really forces you to examine yourself as an artist of whatever type and what keeps you from moving forward. Not that you aren’t doing a lot of amazing stuff. AND maybe you need this time to prime the pump since you only just retired and need to nurture yourself for awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bet it would be fun to be part of your group, but I totally understand about keeping things local. There’s a local writers group here but I haven’t yet decided whether I want to join (it costs a bit of $ to be a member, not a casual group). I think they’ve resumed face-to-face meetings so that will put me off for a long while yet.

      If you’re thinking about Clemency, which I excerpted on my blog years ago while I was participating in NaNoWriMo, that’s the one I’m still working on. I’ve decided to just write one POV all the way through for now. My summer workshop impressed me with two ideas: (1) As a group, they really liked the first-person vs third-person narration; that was their gut reaction, so I’m going with it; (2) first-person or a limited third-person POV would keep the mystery going as the reader will know only as much as the narrator. But this is where I get stuck with the 3 POVs. In my original version, one of the POVs knew everything and Kevin (who did a beta read for me) said that keeping her knowledge a secret didn’t fly well. So I either limit what she knows in order to keep the mystery intact, or I limit the number of POVs. We’ll see. It’s a process!

      And thank you for your supportive comments! I’m feeling a bit better as I manage my time better and thus feel less guilty playing around with other activities ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, no guilt, please! I totally understand what you are saying about the POVs. Ann Cleeves does that, at least in some of her books. I wish I had paid more attention to that. Sometimes when she does it I feel as if she must be withholding too much from the reader (i.e. cheating) LOL. So I find it interesting that Kevin said that. Hmm. Best of luck!

        Liked by 1 person

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