Image courtesy of Michal Marcol

     Last night, my goal was to get home from work, set my laptop up in my office away from distractions and sit down to write.  Despite my determination to get a significant amount of writing done, I didn’t get a single word written.  I know you probably think I got distracted by the internet, but that’s not the case at all.  Instead, I got brain freeze, literally.  My apartment was so cold that I couldn’t focus on anything but how cold I was, my mind (and limbs) were numb.  With no control over the air conditioning, I opened the windows to try to let in some warmth, but to my dismay, it was the same temperature outside as it was inside offering no relief.

     I tried to push through and got so far as to setting up the laptop and changing into sweats, a long sleeved shirt and long slipper socks to try to thaw out.  That still didn’t do the trick.  So I then had to climb into bed and curl up under the covers.  I kept glancing over to my office, longing to be able to sit in there and write, but it was just so cold.  I even made an attempt to use my Nook and stylus to do some writing, but didn’t get very far.

     This got me to thinking, how big of a role does our environment play in our ability to write and how much of it is just another excuse?  Personally, other than situations like last night, where the conditions are to the extreme, I don’t have a “perfect” writing environment, one in which I cannot write unless everything is just so.  Sure, I would love it if I could do my writing in some tropical paradise while soaking up the sun on a beach or at a desk in front of a wide open window where the warm breeze carries the sounds and scents of the beautiful blue ocean just outside.  But let’s get real, the bills need to get paid, which means I need to be at work earning a paycheck so I don’t have time to be lounging on beautiful beaches.  And unless I marry rich, that is not a scenario that is likely to happen anytime in my near future.  In the meantime, I just need to suck it up and get my writing done anywhere I can.

     Naturally, I hit the internet in search of answers.  Do some people find certain environments more conducive to their writing?  If so, am I missing out on something that could potentially increase my word count each time I set out to write?  Or am I already doing what I can by just jotting things down anytime inspiration strikes, whether it be a five minute session or five hours?  There really weren’t too many articles out there on the subject as many dealt more with software related environments rather than actual physical environments.  But I did come across two blogs, with two very different opinions, each of which I can relate to for different reasons.

     The first is a blog by Chris Brogan, that debunks the “myth” of the perfect writing environment.  In his blog, Chris advises that writing can be done anywhere.  If you are truly serious about being a writer, you won’t let things like your surroundings or the tools at your disposal become an excuse for why you can or cannot write.  Much like the advice you find anywhere you look, Chris says, just write!  I know that from time to time, I personally fall into that trap, “I want to write, but I would get more done on my laptop, blah, blah, blah…”  There is a very real distinction between not wanting to write and not being able to write.

     The other is a blog by The Writing Whisperer, M. Shannon Hernandez (no relation), that describes how you can transform your ordinary writing space/office into your ideal writing environment.  She invites you to think about where you would feel most productive and visual that space, transporting yourself to that very place.  That shouldn’t be too difficult for a fiction writer, right?  I mean, that’s what we do.  We visualize people we’ve never met and create worlds and/or experiences that we have never had (or variations of ones we have) and put these visions together to create our stories.  So why not use that same power of imagination and creativity to envision ourselves in our perfect writing environment no matter where we actually are?

Can you picture yourself writing at a Parisian bistro?
Image courtesy of artur84

Or maybe in a secluded cabin on the snow covered mountains?
Image courtesy of Michal Marcol

      Do you have a specific environment that you find particularly conducive to your writing?  Do you agree with Chris that a perfect writing environment is nothing more than an excuse for why we don’t write rather than why we can’t?  Do you think The Writing Whisperer’s advice would help put you in the right mindset to write more?  Or do you have tricks of your own that help you overcome the distractions of your writing environment?

     Yes, that’s right, this week’s blog is named after a Journey song.  It was inspired by an article I read offering writing advice from Ira Glass.  

     In the Writer’s Circle article, the author advises that, “As writers, we set the bar high. It may seem that our best writing is always just out of reach. We’re debilitated by writer’s block, plagued by self-doubt, crushed by criticism from others. There’s a lot standing in the way between the story sketch in our heads and the polished, final draft we know we’ve got inside us.  Yet we push onward.” 

     Mr. Glass reassures that this happens to all writers.  The difference between good writing and great writing?  Perseverance and “persistence”.  If writing is truly your passion and you can’t imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t write, then despite whatever roadblocks hinder you, don’t give up.  

     Like with anything else, practice makes perfect.  You can’t expect to be born a “great” writer or to become one overnight.  The more you write, the better your writing will become.  I know from experience, that sometimes an idea will sound brilliant in your head, but as soon as it is written out, it fails to read brilliantly.  If this happens enough times, it can be discouraging, causing you to question whether or not you possess the talent needed.

     Do you think your favorite authors woke up one morning and thought, “I’m going to write a book today” and did so in one go on their first try?  Writing a novel is a long and painstaking process.  It takes drafts and edits and rewrites before it is even fit for sharing, let alone publishing.  And once it has been shared with another person (family, friend, editor, etc…), it is inevitable that they will point out mistakes that you failed to see.  This doesn’t mean that you are a failure.  It simply means that you are human.

     As the article points out, “That feeling of inadequacy that gnaws at you after completing a first draft– it’s normal. It’s part of your growth process as a writer, and it proves you have something Glass likes to call ‘taste.’ In other words, you have high standards for the work you produce, and you’re unwilling to settle for less. Hold onto that feeling, and let it drive you to create more.”

     As we continue to learn and grow in the craft, we continue to strive to be better, to do better than before.  It is this drive that bridges the gap between good and great.  With persistence and perseverance, you will not only be able to build that bridge, but to cross it as well.  So, despite the nagging self doubt, the cringing inner editor or whatever else makes you want to throw in the towel, don’t stop believing that you have what it takes to create that polished novel you have been dreaming of.

Journey – Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
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     Last week was Teaser Tuesday and I shared a snippet of a short story WIP that was titled Big Red.  I have since completed the story and thought I would share it with you for this week’s blog post.  For those of you that were good and teased last week, here is the full story with its new title.

The Clearing

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev

    By the waning light of the moon and instinct alone, I make my way through the thick woods until I reach my favorite clearing.  It is my haven from the helter skelter, transporting me to another time and place where the hustle and bustle of the chaotic world melts away.  A thin veil of mist shrouds the clearing as the cool rain dances across the sun baked earth.  No longer sheltered by the intertwined branches and lush summer leaves, I tilt my head back, relishing the feel of the rain against my face.

  Away from prying eyes, I slowly peel off the shorts and t-shirt that cling to my clammy body.  Once I am down to nothing more than my bra and panties, I move into the center of the clearing.  The rain glistens in the moonlight like hundreds of microscopic sprites floating down from the sky.  I close my eyes and stand with outstretched arms, welcoming the tiny rivers that run down my body.  Laughing gaily, I throw my hands over my head and begin to twirl and dance in the rain.  Lost in my own world, I don’t hear the approaching footsteps or see the figure lurking at the edge of the clearing, watching me.

    It’s not until I feel a hand slide across my throat and an arm wrap around my waist that I realize I am no longer alone.  Unable to move, my body tenses and my heart begins to pound in my ears.  A panicked cry gets lost in my throat, beneath his grip, and nary a sound passes my lips.  I can feel my uninvited guest’s breath caress my earlobe before his lips glide across my cheek.  The heady aroma of his aftershave travels along the warm breeze and instantly puts me at ease.  I reach behind me, grabbing a handful of curly hair and sink into my captor’s embrace.

    “How did you know where I was?”

    “I followed my heart.  It always leads me to you.”  His cinnamon scented breath tingles my nostrils, while his silky smooth voice reverberates through my core.

    “So you thought you’d give me a good scare?”  I give his curls a playful tug before lowering my arm so that it traces down the curve of his neck.

    “Not at all.  But who can resist joining a forest nymph when they find one dancing in the rain?”  He turns me around so that we are face to face and I gaze up into his green eyes.  “God, you’re beautiful.”  The words are barely out of his mouth before his lips are on mine.  What I expect to be a quick, sweet peck, turns out to be a toe-curling, heart-racing, lip lock.  His kiss tastes like the Big Red that he is always chewing; the residual flavor numbing my lips ever so slightly, enhancing the sensations coursing through my body.  When he pulls away, it takes a moment for me to catch my breath and I rest my hand against his chest to steady myself.

    “And you have on far too many clothes to be dancing in the rain.  Not to worry, my devious little dryad, that can easily be remedied.”  I glide my fingers over the buttons on his shirt and along his throat until my hand comes to rest at the nape of his neck.

    A devilish grin spreads across his face.  “You don’t say.”  I watch as a drop of water beads and drips from the tip of his nose.  With a gentle plop, it lands on my cheek and he uses the pad of his thumb to wipe it away.  Despite the humidity in the air, the caress causes a chill to run down my spine and the flesh on my arms erupts in goose bumps.

    “Come dance with me, Derrick,” I shout, swinging my arms out and backing away from him, hoping the distance will be enough to stop my heart from pounding so profusely.  With slow, deliberate movements, he unbuttons his shirt and I freeze, watching him through rain soaked lashes.  My breathing is ragged as I inhale deeply.  He doesn’t have six pack abs or rippling biceps, but his body is lean and defined and I can’t help but admire its beauty.  Stripping down to his boxers, he pulls himself up to his full height, casting a shadow over me.

    Like a predator after his prey, he takes a determined step forward.  Instinct kicks in and I take off running towards the opposite edge of the clearing.  Knowing that he can easily cover the distance between us anytime he wants, I dance around the perimeter of the clearing, just out of reach.  I can feel his eyes on me, watching my every move.  Little puddles have begun to form on the ground and I splash through them, sending water flying everywhere.  He makes a few half-hearted attempts to grab me, but I slip through his fingers time and again, all the while laughing and enjoying the chase.  Our game of cat and mouse comes to an end when he makes his move and swoops me off my feet.

    The rain has slowed to a mere mist, but we are both already drenched.  He carries me over to a semi-dry patch of grass, laying me down under the cover of the trees.  His sandy brown curls drip water on me as he leans in for a kiss.  I can feel the heat radiating off of his body, he is so tantalizingly close.  Craving the feel of his skin against mine, I arch my back, lifting myself towards him.

    “Alexandria…”  His tongue caresses my name, while his hands caress my body; the combination overwhelms my senses.  I reach out to pull him closer to me, unable to stand even the smallest of spaces between us.  “I’m caught in your gravitational pull; drawn to you by some unseen force.  I couldn’t resist you even if I wanted to.”  He covers me in kisses between words.

    “I hope you never want to.”  The words come out in a breathless whisper and I’m not sure he hears me.

    “Never.  I love you, Alexandria.”

    I cling tighter to him, wishing it was possible for our bodies to meld, for our souls to become one.  “I love you too, babes.”  I almost forget that we are lying on the forest floor.  The world around us falls away and nothing exists but us two, me and the man of my dreams.  And therein lies the problem.

    A loud, obnoxious buzzing sound pulls me from a deep sleep.  Reluctantly, I open one eye, taking in my surroundings.  With a grumble, I hit the snooze button and turn my back towards the clock, bringing me face to face with an empty pillow on the other side of the queen-sized bed.  Unconsciously, my hand reaches out to the empty space beside me, searching for something and finding nothing.

    The alarm goes off again and I fight the urge to hit the snooze button once more.  Instead, I shut it off completely and throw back the blanket, dragging myself out of bed and down to the kitchen to get the coffee started.  While it is brewing, I head into the bathroom for a quick shower.  Standing under the steady stream of hot water, I try to recall my dream, but as usual, I don’t remember anything specific.  There is only a lingering sense of the overwhelming feelings that it has stirred.

    An hour later, I am heading out the door, on my way to work.  My nose is buried in the latest e-book I’m reading and I navigate down the block using my peripherals to guide me along my routine path.  The further I get, the more foot traffic I encounter, but my nose remains glued to the story I am reading.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure walking towards me.  I pay him no mind until I catch a whiff of his aftershave.  There is something strangely familiar about it, but I can’t place where I might have smelled it before.  I lift my head slightly to sneak a peek and find a pair of stunning green eyes looking me over.  They are breathtaking and I audibly gasp.  His gaze has me squirming until I note the way he is looking at me.  Just before he passes me by, he stops and I lift my head the rest of the way to look him square in the eye.

    “I know this is going to sound like a bad pick up line, but, have we met before?”

    “No.  At least, I don’t think so.”  The more I look at him, the less certain I am, although I have no clue where I might know him from.

    He runs a hand through his thick crop of sandy brown hair.  I find myself mesmerized by the way his curls bounce back into place and I fight the urge to run my own fingers through them.  

    “I really can’t put my finger on it, but I swear I’ve seen you before.  But that can’t be right.  I don’t see how I could possibly forget someone so beautiful.”

    Normally, I would roll my eyes at such a cheap and blatant attempt to charm me, but instead, I feel my cheeks warm as I blush at the compliment.  “Thank you.  That’s very sweet of you.”  

    “Do you mind if I walk with you for a bit?”  I shake my head, close the case on my ereader and put it in my purse.  There is a sense of hesitancy about him, but he tries not to let it show.  He fumbles around in his pocket as though he is looking for something.

    “Would you like a piece?”  Taking his hand out of his pocket, he extends it towards me, opening it to reveal a pack of gum.

    My heart begins to pound and I get an overwhelming feeling that I have forgotten something important.  I stop walking and turn to take a really good look at my companion.  Noticing that I am no longer walking beside him, he stops to watch me, while removing a thin red strip of gum from its foil wrapping.  My lips begin to tingle and I could swear they have gone slightly numb.

    Bits and pieces of my dream start coming back to me.  I can practically smell the nonexistent rain, feel the dampness in the air.  And that’s when I know.  I know why this stranger has gotten under my skin.

    “You know, I don’t think I introduced myself.  My name is…”

    The sound of the traffic dies away, the air stills and nothing exists but us two, me and the man of my dreams.

Image courtesy of nirot

     I’m going to steer a bit off topic with this week’s blog because, well, it’s my blog and I can do that.  

     I come from a family of creatives, each in our own different way.  My daughter just turned 13 yesterday and we are having a party for her this coming Saturday.  The theme she chose for her party is music.  Like me, music is a huge part of her life and our radios, mp3 players, laptops, nooks, tvs, or phones are constantly blaring out something.

     My mother, The Crazy Craft Lady, as she has been dubbed, took on the task of coming up with the invitations, decorations, cake and goodie bags.  As always, she thought outside of the box and came up with some unique ideas that my daughter was extremely happy with.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden

     Now, the rest is up to me.  You would think coming up with a menu wouldn’t be too difficult, but I hate doing the same old tired thing.  Sure it is a bbq party, but does that mean I have to stick to the usual stuff.  I’m going to do the burgers and hotdogs for the start of the party, but I’m not satisfied with the usual chicken, ribs, steak, kebobs, potato salad and macaroni salad that we have every year at some bbq or another.

     For some reason, dessert ideas come quite naturally to me and we have come up with a few musically inspired ideas for the snacks, but I need to feed people.  Looking for inspiration, I did what I always do; I took to the internet.  What I found, a big fat NOTHING!  Thanks, but I don’t want to feed people Elvis’ fatty sandwiches and clog up their arteries.  Has no one ever before done a music themed party?  And if they have, have they never thought to carry the theme to the menu?

     I LOVE theme parties!  And a big part of throwing a themed party is to have fun and unique food.  For instance, take my Halloween party last year.  Dinner consisted of Mummy meatloaves, Swamp creature mac and cheese and bone shaped bread sticks.  The snack spread: ghost shaped cream cheese covered toast, pretzel and fruit by the foot witches’ broom sticks, brain shaped pink tembleque, frozen fluff covered banana ghosts on a stick, eyeball cake pops and candy corn infused caramel popcorn balls.  I had a few other ideas, but not enough time to execute them so I still have a few tricks up my sleeve for my next Halloween party, whenever that might be.

I need a few!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

     So here I am, trying to put together a grocery list so that I can have everything delivered tomorrow and prepared by Friday and I still have no clue what I’m doing.  I think my next step will be to go through my daughter’s favorite songs and see if any of them can offer some inspiration.  There’s nothing like a little time crunch to get the creative juices flowing.  Hmm, speaking of juice…