31 October, 2010

Let the Insanity Begin

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow so don't expect to hear from me for a while.

For those of you unfamiliar with this event, National Novel Writing Month is a writing challenge -- a seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. Over 120,000 world-wide will participate this year. But how many will finish? And let's be honest, the aim here is quantity not quality.

Since I generally write between 500 and 1,000 words per day, the 1,667 words/per average is going to be more than slightly challenging. Thankfully I have a plot in mind, mixing a Victorian Inn with psychics, food, and, of course, murder.  Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.

In the meantime, I won't have time for much cooking, so I'm sharing the world's easiest soup recipe. It's delicious and makes a huge amount! A mug of this will keep you typing all afternoon.

Pumpkin Soup
3  10-oz. cans cream of chicken soup  
3 cups canned pumpkin (or one medium can)  
3 cups half & half or milk  
2 cans low-sodium chicken broth  
2 Tbs  minced parsley  
1 pinch sugar  
1 tsp dried basil  
1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds  (or more to taste)
3/4 tsp  salt  
   pepper to taste  

 1 Combine all ingredients in sauce pan; mix well. Simmer 3 minutes, adjusting seasonings and/or liquid as needed.
 2. Garnish with chives, if desired.
 NOTE: DO NOT use seasoned pumpkin pie filling. Make sure the only ingredient in can is pure  pumpkin.

20 October, 2010

Never Give Up

There are days when I just want to turn off my computer and never turn it on again.  Days I wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer.  Days I wonder why I didn't learn a nice trade -- like blacksmithing.

The process of writing is far harder than I imagined when I started out, several years ago, to write the next great mystery.  I had time, an idea, and the reassurance of friends that I had a knack with words.  What more did I need?

I can hear the groans, sniggers, and laughter out there. 

Like anything else worthwhile, good writing is a lot harder than it sounds. A lot, lot harder. Writing is not for the weak, the faint of heart, the quitters.

About the same time I took up writing, I started yoga - for relaxation.  I started with the usual Om Shanti, repeating it over and over.  Now I have a new mantra:  Never give up.

I'd like to take credit for this brilliant philosophy, but like most plots, it's been said before:
Never, never, never, never give up.”  (Winston Churchill)
and perhaps slightly less elegantly:
“Nobody ever drowned in his own sweat.” (Ann Landers)
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” (Michael Jordan)
“Never consider the possibility of failure; as long as you persist, you will be successful.” (Brian Tracy , training & development guru)
“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” (Thomas Edison).

Could all these people, famous or otherwise, be wrong or self-deceiving?  The answer is, they're not.  Look at what they've achieved.   And why?  Because they never gave up.

Every day, my writing gets better (I hope), even if there's only one way it can go.  Every day I try to apply something I've learned from a class, a book, or a better writer friend.  Every day I get just that much closer to something I'm proud of having written. Every day I have a chance at writing the one that will sell.

This post is a message to me -- a kick-in-the-butt  reminder to stand up and proudly (and repeatedly) chant my mantra.  But I'm willing to share.  So, for everyone out there who is having a rough day, whether it's writing or something else; everyone who is questioning whether the goal is worth the sweat, work, pain, tears, frustration, fatigue, dedication, and sacrifice that's part of the package, just remember: 

No matter how much drivel you write, never give up.
No matter how many rejections you get, never give up
No matter how many mistakes you make, never give up.
No matter how many times you fall, never give up.
No matter how frustrated you feel, never give up.

Never, never, never, never give up.

12 October, 2010

Things I took for granted

It dawned on me this morning that I take a lot of things for granted.  One of them is undisturbed quiet.  You know what I'm talking about - that lack of kids asking where their [fill in the blank] is, TVs blaring, phones ringing.  I am (mea culpa) incredibly spoiled.  I have the luxury of a quiet office, with few distractions, where I can write whenever my muse strikes.  Up until yesterday, I took this all for granted. 

Yesterday the work crew arrived to clean/remodel the attic and basement.  At this very moment, I'm listening to furniture and boxes being dragged across a bare plank floor over my head.  Every so often a loud thud punctuates the annoying buzz of a high-powered vacuum.  This is not, really not, conducive to writing.    Was that crash the box of  antique bone china? 

Every writer has his/her perfect environment -- real or dreamed.  If you're an author, you understand the need to have a special area that stimulates your creativity.  Early in my career, I worked as a reporter, in a cubicle in a noisy newsroom (back in the days of Selectric typewriters.  Yikes, I'm old!).  I didn't have to be terribly creative - I wrote about software and computers - and I could mentally block out the racket.  Later, when I commuted to New York, I created my "space" by popping on earphones to drown out the noise of my fellow travelers.   I found Handel's Water Music particularly inspiring.  The hour-long trip on MetroNorth was MY time.  Now that I'm (unwillingly) unemployed, I rise early in the morning, grab my coffee and settle into the peace of my home office.  Just me and my 12-year old Golden Retriever who is more than happy to do nothing more than doze all day.  Are you jealous? 

Every writer needs -- make that deserves -- a place of their own.  "Borrowed" space just doesn't cut it.  Even if you have an incredibly small amount of space available, you can turn it into your dream writer's paradise.  Commandeer a large closet, add a desk, your laptop, some shelves and you're there.  A large "QUIET - WRITER ZONE" or "ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK" sign helps, too.

I know I'll be thrilled when the remodeling is done.   But now, after only two days of blank pages (I'm afraid to contemplate how many more there are to come), I'm wondering if I couldn't have lived with the clutter for a few more years?  I miss my quiet.

09 October, 2010

Writer Overload

I'm suffering from writer's overload -- a genetically-based affliction affecting only a select part of the population.  I realize that all women (and some men) are super beings, capable of multi-tasking from dawn till dark, but there are limits.

In addition to all the little mundane things like, job, laundry, shopping, cooking, dog, elderly mother, yard, major attic and basement renovation and fall clean up, I am presently:
1.    working on my only-half-finished manuscript
2.    taking an on-line course on improving my first five pages
3.    participating in Krista's BlurbX exercise
4.    working on my flash piece for CrimeBake
5.    writing free-lance articles for a dog rescue group.
6.    editing a short story I hope to SELL.
I'm exhausted and it isn't even lunch time.  And I desperately need a haircut and manicure!

In the good old days, when I was a project manager overseeing 3 projects, I thought I had time management down to a science.  Now I know better.  There simply isn't enough time for everything.  Which is why I get up at 5 a.m. so I can sneak in a measly 60 minutes of writing before the day begins, and why I'm still up at 11:30 p.m. answering email, reading on-line blogs, and still writing.

If only I didn't love writing so much...

05 October, 2010

Comfort Food for a Wet, Rainy Day

I don't know where you're sitting at the moment, but I'm in a cold, wet house (too early in the year to turn on the heat), watching the rain drizzle down.  Last week we were 4 inches below normal for rainfall, this week we've made up the shortfall and pulled ahead by two inches.  Need I say more.

This kind of weather makes me thing of one thing: soup.  So here's my cure for the rainy day blues.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup  (Serves 8 generously)
You can vary the spices any way you like.  If you don't like heat, start with just 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cumin with black pepper to taste.

2 Tbs    unsalted butter  
1 1/2 cups    sliced leek, white and pale green parts only  
1 Tbs    minced garlic  
6 cups    peeled and roughly diced butternut squash  
3 cups    peeled and roughly diced apples  
1/2 tsp   cinnamon 
1/2 tsp   cumin
1/2 tsp   curry powder
1/2 tsp   adobo chili
6 1/2 cups    low-sodium chicken broth  
Creme Fraiche  (or sour cream) and chopped chives for garnish  

1 Melt the butter in a large pot over moderate heat and cook until it just starts to turn a light nut brown. Add the leeks and sauté until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté briefly -- until you can smell it.
2 Add the squash and apples, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices and cook briefly -- a minute.
3 Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and cover partially. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the squash and apples are tender, about 40 minutes. If you have a hand-held immersion blender, go ahead a puree the soup right in the pot.  Otherwise, transfer in batches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat to serving temperature, and season with salt to taste.
4 Divide the soup among warmed bowls and garnish each portion with a dollop of creme fraiche and chopped chives. Serve immediately.