Stuck on writing

I have finally started writing the actual text of my current story. Sort of. I’ve only managed a page and a half.

One weird thing that I find with my writing is that I have to start the story just right. If I start writing and I don’t have the right tone, I can’t just pick it up later. Tone, to me, is just so crucial to get right with the very first words I put on the page.

The result is that I sometimes rewrite the first page or two of a story over, and over, and over. It also makes it hard for me to start a story over for other reasons, even when absolutely necessary, because then I lose that tone that I captured and it can be hard to pick it up again.

So. My current story, I’ve tried starting a few places. My first start was at the chronological beginning of the story. The problem was that this meant the first chapter was basically a prologue. It was written from a different POV than the rest of the story, and it happened 13 years before the rest of the story. Right. So eventually I realized that perhaps it was best if I didn’t do this, and instead I had the information told to my main characters later in the story. Doing so also helped keep the reader from figuring things out too soon.

So I tried again. This time I switched to the 13 years later part, but for some reason I started at the beginning of the day, so that I could have the main character wake up with excitement. Of course, since the next exciting part happened that evening, that meant that I had to tell the story of her day, which, while it allowed me to show her family life, her conflict with her mother, etc., it wasn’t really the most compelling place to start.

Finally, thanks to an off-hand suggestion from a friend, I’m starting in the right place, the first truly compelling part where the girl’s life begins to change. And, of course, it’s now that I’ve finally got the most compelling place to start the story that I’m having the worst trouble hitting the right tone. So, I’m a bit frustrated, but I’ve got two pages of writing that is adequate enough, I suppose, to make myself move on. It’s a bit hard to feel inspired about it, though, honestly. And while I don’t necessarily depend on inspiration to get writing done, I certainly tend to expect it at the beginning of a story when I’m all excited about the new one I’m starting! I’m still resolving a few minor plot points for later in the story, but the plot outline is generally done, so I thought it was time to stop procrastinating and get some words on paper.

In other news, both little ones are being completely insane today. I think they’re both overtired. Whining, fussing, tantrums, etc. At the moment I’ve just put them both down for naps, and I’m hoping they’ll *both* actually sleep. I think they need it. I’d like to do some writing, but instead I’m going to finish my lunch, then clean the living room and the bathrooms, so I can vacuum after they wake up and then maybe we’ll try the park. *If* I finish all the cleaning and they’re still asleep… writing time! If not, then I’ll have to find myself somewhere to hole up this evening away from the TV (Seth likes to watch) so that I can get some serious stuff done. A plot outline and 2 pages are not really much to show for 2 weeks’ work, even if there are also 30-some pages of discarded writing and I have two kids to take care of and a third on the way!

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The best use of time

It’s quiet time, and I’m hit with my daily choice. How to use quiet time? I could clean. I could nap. Or I could work on my novel. Hard to choose.

I spent a few productive afternoons writing, but lately I’ve been doing other stuff instead, I guess figuring that I could write in the evenings. Problem is that Seth is enjoying the fact that we have cable temporarily, and getting his fill of Law & Order reruns, Holmes on Holmes, and various Discovery/History channel types of shows. I’m not as interested as he is, and yet I find it pretty distracting. I could isolate myself and sit at the kitchen table, but then it feels sort of… antisocial. And of course I end up staying way too late.

Last night, after three hours of sitting with my file open resulted in 2 paragraphs of plot summary, I decided I should really try to write a bit during quiet time instead of waiting for the evening. So I might try to get at least a *little* writing done this afternoon, especially as I’ve come up with an idea that would make some pieces fall together in my story. Trying to figure out how to implement it. But I suppose I should make some effort to clean first, huh?

My idea is that I should have talking animals in my story. It makes certain things work better, along with adding an element of interesting fantasy to a land that is supposed to be full of magic. The next thing I’m trying to figure out is this: do all the animals talk? Or just some? If just some, what defines which ones talk? Is it animals that have increased contact with humans? Certain kinds of animals? Or is it just a mix of animals, like, some horses talk, some don’t? Etc.

My concern is in getting too close to what others have done, especially, if not all animals talk, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. He has two “levels” of animals, the sentient, talking ones, and the “dumb” animals. In “The Magician’s Nephew,” it initially seems that a single animal or a couple from each animal species is chosen for sentience. In the later books, though, perhaps because of breeding, there are multiple animals of each species that talk. Until the lost time, when animals have forgotten. Anyway, if I have some but not all of different animal species talking, I’m afraid I might appear to copy too much. There are dozens of book series with talking animals, but I know his the best, because talking animals are generally not a type of fantasy that I like very much.

I took the girls outside to the park for a bit today. I’m glad I poked outside before we headed out; it’s really cold today! Sunny, but cold and windy. I took it about as long as I could, then corralled everybody inside for lunch and naptime/quiet time. It looks so temptingly pretty, but it’s definitely not!

“Reading” preschoolers and talking babies

Today, Beth “read” the Little Mermaid book to me.  Okay, so she didn’t read the words on the page.  But it truly astounded me how often she was literally telling me, word-for-word, what the pages said.  She has a good mind for remembering phrases or the expressions I use when I read.  Phrases like, “you’re not getting cold fins, are you, Flounder?” or “You’re not the one I’m after, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”  I doubt she has any idea what that expression means, but she remembers it.  Page for page, she went through the entire book, either quoting it word-for-word or summarizing the events from that page.  I was impressed.  As soon as I can figure out where Seth plugged the camera charger in, I’ll have to take some video to preserve this for posterity.

Since I decided to give up my 30 pages of writing and start over, I’ve been trying to do a tight, detailed plot outline and some character worksheets before I start.  I’ve pretty much finished the heroine, but having a bit of trouble with the hero.  He just has too much story that happens outside the confines of the book.  I need to finish figuring out where it intersects with the heroine’s (right now he’s dragging around the villain and needs to ditch her somewhere), but the main thing I’ll need to figure out is how to fit his part of the story into the narrative.  Does he tell the heroine his story as a whole?  Does it come out in bits and pieces where pertinent?  I’m rather hoping that something will become obvious as time goes on.

Josie started saying a new word yesterday, “apple.”  Interestingly enough, it was my very first word.  Neither of them has said it particularly early.  Josie is also really enjoying “uh-oh” and saying it a lot.  I’ll admit, it’s a cool “word.”  She’s getting good at identifying body parts.  She knows where her head, ears, tummy, hands, and feet are.  Nose and eyes are touch-and-go… she’ll sometimes blink her eyes (her way of indicating “eyes”) when you ask where her nose is.  But we’re getting there.  She said “up” clearly today, but she hasn’t really started using it frequently yet.  She has a lot of signs that aren’t actually ASL, too.  She’ll bring you a bowl for food, a cup for milk, a shoe for “I want to go outside,” etc.

And Beth still thinks she ages backwards.  She’s always telling me about the princess movies she used to watch when she was five, or a grownup, or whatever.  Or the things she’ll do when she’s a baby.  It’s  cute, a little sad, in a way.  In some ways she seems to want to be any age but the age she is.  Babies are cute and get attention.  Big kids get to watch scary princess movies.  Grownups get to do all sorts of things.  Etc.  Poor thing.  Whereas I’m pretty happy where I am.  I’m not scared of the upcoming big birthday, but I’m not anxious for it, either.  Life is good.

Washing diapers and writing a novel

I noticed that somebody found my blog with the search “wash diapers.” Funny. I guess at some point I must have made reference to washing cloth diapers. So many people are weirded out by the general idea. My mother has the attitude that, she did cloth diapers with me when I was little because disposables weren’t available (or were really expensive?), but when they were available for my brother, she used them and couldn’t imagine using cloth diapers *voluntarily*.

They’re easier nowadays, of course. You’ve got all sorts of options. I go with the cheap option, I buy prefolded diapers at Target and pretty-colored diaper wraps from http://www.monkeybuns.com. The wraps are Velcro, so no need to worry about diaper pins (although I used them along with the Velcro for a while with Beth once she got old enough to take her diapers off, so that she couldn’t).

Washing isn’t exactly a lot of effort. Sure, it’s a bit gross having to shake the poop into the toilet when you change the diaper, and opening out poopy diapers and dropping them into the washer. But if you’re like most parents, you’ve dealt with worse. I just use plenty of soap on my hands afterwards.

I like this site for their washing instructions: http://www.diaperjungle.com/washing-cloth-diapers.html. I basically follow what they recommend. I use a full amount of detergent in the first, cold wash (All Free & Clear is the only one on their recommended chart that I can find in standard grocery stores), plus a cup of baking soda and a scoop of OxyClean. I then wash them a second time with hot water, half the detergent, and vinegar. I’ve been drying them in the dryer lately (no fabric softener) because you can’t use clotheslines in this military housing, and before this it was winter. But in summer I try to hang them outside so the sun bleaches them. And that’s about it. Putting them in the wash is a little effort, getting them folded and back in the drawers is a little, but neither is a big deal. It’s a lot cheaper than disposables, which is our main reason, and also a bit better for the environment (uses more water in the washing, but most of the gunk goes into the sewer system that’s designed for it instead of into the dump). So. That’s that. Plus the kids have these cute little plump butts when they wear cloth diapers. Makes their pants stay on better when they have no hips.

So, I’ve been working on my story a lot lately. I’ve gotten up to 30 pages, and it’s going pretty well. But I’m starting to think… maybe it’s moving too slow. I don’t know, somehow my stories always seem fresh and funny and exciting in the summary, but in the actual writing they move too slow and they lose some of the fun. Also, there’s sort of a secret that I’m contemplating whether it’s obvious or not (it’s not in the summary, but maybe in the writing). I’m considering starting over. I know, I know, I should stick to it and try to actually get somewhere. It’s not a huge amount, but 30 pages is a pretty good amount of writing to waste by giving up entirely. So, that’s the quandary I’m in. Don’t worry, if I do start over, it’ll be in another file so that I don’t lose what I wrote already.

I think one issue that I’m trying to figure out is this. In a book on writing that I was rereading recently, it talks about choosing the right place for your story to start, and avoiding prologues. Well, my story starts with a chapter that isn’t from the point of view of the main, limited narrator. It also starts 13 years before the main stuff from the book. It’s certainly a dramatic, crucial aspect of the story, but it also makes it a lot harder to hide “the secret” when you get to the main narrator’s bit. So I’m thinking about possibly doing things out of order, skipping the prologue and starting with the main narrator, then have her be *told* the events of the prologue, in a shortened version, later. It would allow me to hide the secret and make it less obvious once the prologue is told. It would allow me to keep everything in the limited narrator’s POV. I would definitely have to beef up the first part of “real time” story, then, though, because it starts a a bit slowly (which I thought I could afford, since it happens 10 pages into the story instead of at the beginning). But it’s a serious consideration. Looking for beta-readers to read both versions (once I try writing the new one tonight) and tell me if they like one or the other better.

It’s hard to find a good balance between “show” and “tell.” I realized that I was starting to “show” a bit too much in my story. For instance, the character is off to take a test. So she wakes up in the dormitory, heads off down the hallway, all the girls are sent into separate rooms, she and her best friend wave as they head into neighboring rooms. I then describe the room and the proctor closing the door (because she’s trying to do something furtively while he’s distracted). I realized I was boring even myself. Not a good sign. Need to do a bit of “tell” so that I can jump from where she was in the previous scene to her being in the middle of the test. Readers don’t really care what the characters had for breakfast or when they went to the bathroom, after all, unless it matters to the story.

I need to stop writing in the little “quickpress” section. It makes it hard for me to see enough of my post to edit it and see how coherent I sounded (and how much I babbled on). Note to self: actually use the regular “post” button next time.

The Philosophy of Disney Princesses

I worry sometimes about the philosophy expressed in the various Disney Princess movies (the originals and sequels). Some of it’s good, like obeying your parents and following rules, helping others, sharing, owning up to things you’ve done wrong and forgiving those who ask for it.

At the same time, there are also some pretty lame bits. I don’t blame Disney entirely. First, the fairy tales they’re working with are often to blame (I mean, what does Cinderella do to get herself a prince and a castle? Um… nothing? Be nice to others and work hard without complaining? Maybe, bit of a stretch.). And Disney is trying to impart morals without God, which is difficult on its own. You end up with things like Cinderella III talking about how Cinderella ended up with a wonderful prince and happy life “because she kept a beautiful dream in her heart.” Uh, really? What’s up with that?

This morning, Beth was wandering around talking to herself while I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes. At one point she parrots, “If I keep a beautiful wish in my heart, all my dreams will come true!” or something along those lines. Ugh.

So I said, “Wishes alone don’t make dreams come true. It’s not magic. But when you work really hard, you can make your dreams come true.” I didn’t think it would have much effect, but a few minutes later, I hear her traipsing around the living room, saying in a sing-song, “If I work hard, my dreams will come true!”

It’s nice that they’re so malleable, at least.

Adventures with Beth and Josie

So, Beth is becoming rather enthralled with the idea of Cecilia being “in Mommy’s tummy.” She likes to cuddle Cecilia at rather odd times. Which means that sometimes, spontaneously, even in front of people, she’ll suddenly decide that she wants to “kiss the baby” or “snuggle Cecilia” and she’ll lift up my shirt. Yeah. Not a good thing. Although cute.

At dinner this evening, we had pork chops, mashed potatoes, and corn. Josie loved the potatoes and corn but ignored the pork entirely. So, she’d finished everything else, and I speared a piece of meat on my fork and held it out to see if that would interest her. She shook her head. Oh well. So I ate it. Then I tried another piece, thinking, well, maybe now that I’d done it, she’d try it. Still no go.

But then Beth started to think this was a pretty funny game. So she spears a piece of pork chop from her bowl onto her fork and holds it out to Josie. And what does Josie, that traitor, do? She opens her mouth and reaches over to bite it off the fork. Beth thought this was hilarious, so she ate about half her pork chops herself and fed the other half to Josie. Josie loved it. I guess this shows exactly how early peer pressure starts, huh?

Then, at dinner, Beth was looking avidly out the window at the clouds. “Look, there’s a lion in the sky! God puts lots of animals in the sky, because he loves us and he loves animals. He always forgives us and loves us.” It’s a bit funny but also nice when she starts putting God and Jesus into her everyday conversations. I’m glad that He’s part of her life and that she’s starting to “get” Him. At the same time, sometimes her idea of Him steps into some pretty odd territory. But today was okay, and then she even started talking about how much He loves her: “This much!” with arms as wide as they go.

I got some kids’ CDs from the library, but they pretty much stink. I don’t like any of them and need to sneak them out of the car ASAP. One of them is nursery rhymes, sung in the worst way possible (by the way, when did “ashes, ashes, we all fall down” become so bad that they had to change it to “pussycat, pussycat, we all fall down?”). They’ve changed lyrics all over the place, possibly in an attempt to make them seem friendlier, but it’s just annoying. And Beth has this thing where, the moment a song starts, even if it’s the first time I’ve heard the song, too, she starts asking, “What’s this song about? What are they saying?”

Have you ever tried explaining what “ring around the rosie/roses” means? (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Black Death thing is an urban legend.) Or “hot cross buns?” “Black sheep, black sheep?” “Hey, diddle diddle?” They’re just nonsense words. But she wants to know what they all mean, what they’re talking about. It. Was. Driving. Me. Crazy.

It wasn’t until we’d been listening to some fun Christian CDs by “The Donutman” and I’d been answering this same question that I realized how much easier it was. “What’s this song about?” “Well, it’s about Paul, and all the hard things he went through in order to tell people about God.” “What’s this song about?” “It’s about how we should do good things for each other instead of ourselves.” “What’s this song about?” “It’s about how God created the world and everything in it.” I’m not saying that Christian songs are the *only* ones with content, even her Disney Princess songs are easier to explain than nursery rhymes. But it’s definitely true that sometimes I don’t *want* her to really understand what her precious princesses are singing about. And don’t even get me into the huge misinterpretation of American history that is Pocahontas.

We went back to the park with the swings “where the kids with the bikes were!” today. That’s the park Beth and I walked to a few days ago, and all the kids were riding bikes/trikes/scooters around, and she couldn’t keep up and wanted her own bike. Well, this time, we brought her scooter. In the back of the stroller. And I pushed the kids in the double stroller to get there. Can I just say, distances are *so* much shorter when you have the kids safely strapped into a stroller, even if you have to push it, then when they’re walking along at a snail’s pace asking how much farther every 20 seconds? It didn’t feel like a long walk at all today.

There weren’t any other kids there when we arrived, but it felt a bit like arriving at Mesa Verde and wondering where all the people went, because they’d left their cooking fires and utensils and everything just as if they’d stepped out of the room. Except in this case, it was toys. The place looked like a messy child’s room for a television commercial. There were 12 bikes/trikes/scooters/ride-on toys strewn all about (yes, I counted). Half of them were lying across the path as if they’d been dropped in mid-ride. There were 5 construction vehicle toys in the one dirt area. There were My Little Ponies all over the picnic bench and the ground around it. There were pails and buckets and shovels through all the mulch area. Seriously, it was a mess.

And a frustrating mess, too. Beth had to push toys out of the way of the path for her to use her scooter. Josie was driven crazy by all the tempting trikes and ride-on toys, and threw tantrums when I told her she couldn’t ride on them because they belonged to somebody else. I found myself wishing that those “somebody else” would put their toys away so that I could take my kids to the park without worrying about them using other kids’ stuff.

The thing is, I doubt the kids who left their toys would mind, really, if somebody else used them while they were gone. Some other kids came to the park after a bit, and they were using the toys, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t theirs (because one mom, watching her toddler climb onto a trike, was talking about how he was so interested in trikes and she’d have to buy him one soon). But, I don’t want my kids thinking that it’s okay to use other people’s stuff without permission, even if they aren’t there. That mom came to that park frequently and lived nearby, so she might have an understanding with the moms of the kids who left the stuff around. Who knows. Anyway, I was glad when the wind picked up and I felt a couple of drops, good excuse to head back.

We made it just before the rain. Good timing, us!

Beth practicing on her new scooter

Beth practicing on her new scooter

A Day Gone Right

I have discovered that there are two major things that seem crucial factors in how my day goes. And, interestingly enough, they’re both chores.

One is getting the breakfast dishes done before lunch, which most often happens after I’ve finished breakfast and before I go upstairs to take a shower. It goes much better if I get it done either then or immediately after my shower.

The other thing is getting my bed made early, preferably as soon as I finish my shower.

I think it’s a combination of two things. One is the sense of accomplishment that I get when I feel like I’ve done something, especially when it’s still early in the day. It makes me more likely to go on and do something else to keep things going, and that’s a good thing.

The other main factor is simply having the house looking neat. This is more the dishes thing, because the bed is upstairs and I don’t go in there as much. But if I don’t get the bed done, I do feel guilty every time I walk in or by the room for whatever reason. But having the dishes done and the counter clear makes me neater when I’m preparing lunch (because I don’t want to mess things up), more likely to clean up from lunch (because I want to keep things neat), and more likely to go on and do something during the girls’ naptime/quiet time (because I start with the lunch dishes, and then I naturally move on to some other useful chore.

There’s also the fact that if the dishes aren’t done three times a day, after every meal, they become overwhelming quickly. Cleaning up after the girls is a major event. It’s not just collecting dishes and putting them in the dishwasher or hand-washing them (I’ve actually streamlined things so that there’s very little that has to be hand-washed, I wash almost everything in the dishwasher). It’s also collecting trash, scooping food off the floor, sweeping or wiping (or both) sections of floor, wiping down the booster seats, etc. Some of those things, if left undone, can be done once and save work. But most of them just add on top of each other and turn the dishes into a huge chore. And having the kitchen and dining room clean just feels so good.

Right now I’m going to sit playing on the computer for a few minutes, my “break” portion of the girls’ naptime/quiet time. But because I’m sitting at a dirty lunch table, it will nag at me, and sooner or later I’ll decide I’ve had enough break, turn off the computer, clean up, wash diapers, and get started on other stuff. It works for me.

So, why have I subjected you to an entire post on housekeeping? Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it’s, like, a 1/3rd of my job. And because I can.