Small things

We’ve all heard it before and know that it’s true.  Small things make a difference.  I know that if I write one chapter every weekday, I’ll have a book sooner than later.  But not everyone can do that.  I read a blog by Stuart Danker (whom I met on my blog), and he wrote a novel by writing 250 words a day.  I’ve met writers who are weekend warriors who only write on Saturdays and Sundays and end up with novels.  We all have to find our own path to writing.  And no one thing is right for everyone.  BUT, small things add up to bigger things.  Of that, I’m sure.  And it doesn’t just make a difference in writing.

My youngest sister is trying to clean out my sister Patty’s house to put it up for sale.  I mentioned my sister’s death a while ago.  Patty loved THINGS.  Cleaning out Patty’s house is a . . . chore.  Her house made me border on claustrophobic.  Every inch of wall space was filled.  Knickknacks were everywhere.  Pictures hung everywhere. It was almost overwhelming.

But on Saturday, I put on my crappy work clothes and met Mary there to start sifting through the big stuff.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m only small time help.  Mary’s doing all of the day to day, ugly stuff.  I’m just there for heavy labor.  BUT, Mary hates to cook.  Since we were meeting at one, I said I’d bring lunch.  Mary loves spaghetti, so I made a huge pot of that.  Enough for leftovers.  And, it made Mary so happy, it made me feel bad.  I take her and my cousin Jenny leftovers every other night, so that Mary doesn’t have to cook right now, but it made me realize what a small thing made so much difference to her.  That, and having a body show up so that she didn’t feel so alone.

It made me think about what makes the biggest impact in everyday life.  Sure, I have big goals that I’d like to reach.  But those goals come one step at a time.  Sometimes, one increment at a time.  And there are plenty of failures to make me feel that I’m not making any headway at all.  But what sustains me?  The small everyday joys of life.  My HH.  Friends.  Family.  Pets.  Anything that offers hope and sustenance.  When my rankings go up on Amazon.  When I get a good review.  Small things make a big difference.

In the very beginning of my writing endeavors, I was happy when I got a “good” rejection from an editor, when someone took the time to write a personal note on why they turned down my manuscript.  (And I will forever love Richard Chizmar from Cemetery Dance because of his nice rejections).  Ruth Cavin ALWAYS wrote a personal note when she rejected one of my novels.  And as weird as it sounds, those rejections made me feel like I was making progress.

So much of writing is impersonal.  (And that might be a good thing.  I don’t think I could stand facing down a choreographer or director to have him tell me I didn’t make the cut).  But one rejection after another beats the heck out of your writer ego, so any glimmer of hope helps.  Every ‘yes’ makes a difference.  Every “you almost made it” helps you carry on.  Well, it’s just the same with everything in life.  I watched Face the Nation this morning and listened to the many people talk about John Lewis, “the conscience of Congress.”  He had lots of setbacks, lots of “someday.”  But he carried on.  Because he had HOPE.  He believed in himself.  And he believed in America.   Hope’s what got me through.  I hope you have lots and lots of it.

Happy Writing.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and all that

Struggles, they say, make you stronger.  It’s true, I know.  When I was young, I didn’t have the experience to write some of the things I do today.  I could empathize with other peoples’ problems, but I’d been raised pretty sheltered with boringly typical growing up angsts.  Life took care of that in one way or another.  Bumps and bruises leave lasting internal marks.  They made me grow, so that the characters I write now have more depth.

I’ve known a few people–only a VERY few–who sailed through life mostly unscathed.  They don’t carry the baggage most of us do.  Now, I’m not glorifyng misery.  If I’d have had a choice, I’d have passed on some of life’s more demanding moments.  I’d have gone to a beach and played in the sand instead.  But that’s not the way Life works.  You get what you get, and some people live through burdens that would flatten me, nightmare childhoods and traumas that scar.  More surprisingly, some people get multi doses of awful and still stay positive and generous.  I don’t think I got that gene.

I know there are times when you’re just emotionally wrung-out, too.  When you don’t have the energy to put words on paper.  All you can do is cope, the most you can manage is to endure.  I’ve watched friends go through grief or illnesses and their stories stop speaking to them.

Struggles with writing make us stronger writers, too.  Not that I’m a fan of rejection, but it comes with the territory, doesn’t it?  When I look back at some of my earlier efforts, I cringe.  What if someone had accepted them, published them?  Would I have tried as hard to improve?  Actually, some of those stories were published, and I shake my head when I read them.  What were the other manuscripts like in that slush pile if mine stood out?  I don’t want to think about it.

Having to change genres has improved my writing, too.  I didn’t think so at the time.  After my kazillionth rejection that said, “Love your writing, but NO ONE’s buying cozies now,” I told myself it was time to give up my dream of becoming my generation’s Agatha Christie and move on.  (I’ve always believed in aiming high and seeing where I ended up.  Sometimes, it’s a long fall:)  After cozies, I tried my hand at writing serial killers, but that market was glutted, too, at the time.  And then an editor asked if I’d try writing urban fantasies.  It took me a minute, but I learned to love writing those.  And they made me think about battles and building tension until the ultimate battle at the end of each book.  Then my agent asked me to try romances, and I reeled.  They seemed impossible to me, but I learned to love them too.  They made me think about smaller missteps that build tension and have an emotional impact.  And finally, my editor at Lyrical Underground asked if I’d like to try a cozy mystery for their line.  And I was back to writing mysteries again.  But I really believe that all the twists and turns have made me think about ALL of the elements that make a strong story, not just plotting.

I doubt that many of you who read this are whistling happy tunes and skipping through the park every day of your lives.  And I hope that when you look back, after the fact, that your trials and disappointments were worth it.  So just in case, hang in there, and happy writing!