On writing every day and staying creative while the world burns

I started my first week of writing every day and I have to say I am excited enough about it to keep going. I started on Monday and averaged about 1,000 words a day in a short story I started about werewolves to submit to an anthology. At first I thought the hour I had set aside in the evenings for writing would be mostly spent tweeting and staring at a blank page, but then an idea clicked and the words just started flowing and I was furiously typing away.

I skipped Thursday and Friday because they weren’t good mental health days. I tried to sit at the computer at Thursday and wrote about 100 words, but I couldn’t sit for the whole hour. Just wasn’t happening. I felt guilty, but some days need to be like that. On Friday I had a headache all day so I didn’t even try. I’ve been struggling with everything going on in my country, a duality between wanting to be more actively involved in fighting systemic racism and dread and inability to act while watching my world burn. But we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, so I don’t feel comfortable marching on the streets, even wearing face masks. These are stressful, heavy times all around. I have, however, decided to research other ways to get involved. I don’t want to only apathetically rage-tweet any more.

But I got a little more sleep, so this morning I just put in a power writing session. I was also inspired to do some real work, so that helped. Sometimes you shouldn’t try to write through it when your head isn’t in the right place. I finished the werewolf story, which came to just under 4,000 words, and submitted it to a lycanthropy-themed anthology. However, their reading period is not until January, so that piece is pretty much dead to me, even if I did enjoy writing it. Six months to wait for a rejection… time to move on to the next idea.

I wanted to submit to something else, preferably something with a faster turnaround time, but then I found an anthology on Duotrope with a theme of feminist bicyclists in space. I mean… I was immediately inspired. The concept was so weird, and so absurdly millennial, that I couldn’t help but be enchanted. I submitted a story that was about 1,500 words for an upcoming issue that focused on witches, feminism and bicycles. I would expect the editor is an avid cyclist. The upcoming reading period is not until September, so another long wait for yet another rejection, but I am beginning to see that anthologies might be like that. A lot of waiting around. I wrote a story about a single mother in a family of witches who owns a bicycle repair shop, and her disgruntled college-student daughter, a Buddhist, who is staying with her for the summer.

I find myself writing a lot about young women in suburbia. When I was 20, I didn’t think my life was that interesting to write about; I actually quit writing fiction for awhile because I felt like I needed to have more lived experience in order to write authentic stories. Now that I’m 38, however, I find I am more fearless in writing what I know, even about a time in my life that I thought was boring. I know families, and mother-daughter relationships, and suburban life, and those themes are all ripe for good stories. I realized that it’s not what you know that matters; it’s your perspective on what you know. You’re a writer because you have something interesting to say about even seemingly boring topics.

I bookmarked a few other markets to submit to that I found on Duotrope. I decided I will have to start keeping a journal just for my ideas. The Idea Journal. I keep getting ideas the more markets I look at and the more I write consistently. Every time I see something interesting happen, even if it’s just in my backyard garden, or if I’m going through an emotional reaction to an event, the muse leads me to a story. But I don’t want to forget my ideas. I never used to have this problem. I used to buy all these pretty notebooks and never write in them.

With that, I thought I’d show you my Duotrope submission tracker. Ignore the first part of the year; that was just… well… not worth mentioning.

In other writing news, I have started doing my research for my WWII idea. This project will take me the next six months. Many of my novel ideas have fallen by the wayside, as I really only have the discipline and stamina for short stories this year. But I am hoping I can work on my chops for the short stories and my writing will improve by the time I am ready to write a novel. So I cannot promise that this WWII novel will actually come to fruition. It is just sitting there, in the Idea Jar, waiting for the right moment.

But the research is interesting, anyway. I am reading about WWII bomber crews. I was inspired by my boyfriend’s father, who was a radio technician who flew 36 bombing missions in the war and survived. Bomber crews had some of the highest death rates of any soldiers in the war. They were basically suicide squadrons. The British Royal Air Force, for example, only had a 24 percent survival rate. That is good potential for drama and a story that needs to be told about these brave soldiers flying dangerous missions. The gritty, dark reality of war, not the glory.

I haven’t done historical research in years though, not since college, so first I had to study up on how to do research, and I realized I need to develop a research question. Research will be more difficult with libraries and museums closed, but there is still a lot of material available online, even primary source material that has been digitized. I am still in the early stages. I started a research notebook to take notes, just a spiral-bound college-ruled steno pad. I hope to do a little bit of reading on that every day, too.

That means I need to spend much less time tweeting and more time writing. I don’t want to grow any bigger than I am right now on Twitter, at 1,600 followers, and the best way to do that is to not tweet every day. So I’ll just take a few days off every week. I keep getting addicted to it and then burning out on it; it’s a matter of finding that moderation. I think publishers do pay attention to your social media following, however, especially Twitter. I have no reason to suspect that they believe things like “I will publish your story only if you have 20,000 followers,” but I think they like to see that your exposure will help their exposure in marketing the magazine, which will ultimately help you both. This is what I have concluded from reading many types of submission guidelines, anyway.

In personal news, I have been trying to work out more. I only did yoga once this week, in the middle of a writing session to try to get my brain moving through the muddle. My goal is to do 30 minutes of yoga a day. However I have been working on my bodyweight routine. I end up doing something like 30 knee pushups, 30 mountain climbers, 20 burpees, 30 squats, 30-second planks, and then I mix that routine up with other bodyweight exercises. Maybe some kettlebell swings, maybe some lateral raises with 8-pound dumbbells. (I have noodle arms.) Takes about 10-15 minutes. I have also tried to walk almost every day. Surprisingly, given all the cake and potato chips I’ve been eating, I have actually lost a few pounds in quarantine. I did not expect that.

I bought a guitar and I have been learning to play. I also play flute, so I had a head start knowing how to read music, but playing a stringed instrument is very different and I need to develop callouses first. So far I know the notes to Ode to Joy, I know a scale and I have been working through a method book on my Kindle. Some days I am more into playing music than writing, but it all feeds the brain in different ways, while still staying creative. Here is my Yamaha.

With the new week, I hope to research ways of getting involved to help the Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps I need an activism journal, too. I will post any ideas I find in a future blog post. I want to get involved in something more satisfying than the demonization of the social media echo chamber. You cannot explain systemic racism in a tweet, either; it is not a topic that is designed for that medium. It is designed for conversations with people you know over several campfire sessions. But that is the medium we are stuck with, and we only want sound bites, and we don’t even read the sound bites. I think a little bit of that does help, though.

I answered a survey about who Joe Biden should pick for a running mate and naturally, my choice is Elizabeth Warren, but I am not holding out hope. I think that ticket would actually bring out young people, though. Everything going on these days has furthered my resolve to vote in November, come hell or high water. If you’re staying home because your perfect candidate is not running, then the next four years are on you. Do I sound bitter? No, just looking for hope, anywhere, in the cracks in between the tea leaves.

Politics are on my mind all the time, so they seep into everything I do these days, even blog posts about writing.

This weekend I’ll be doing a lot of writing and reading. I am reading a new book on writing called “Hooked” by Les Edgerton and it is all about beginnings, which is something I often struggle to get right. The pressure of the hook. For the week ahead my goals are to keep up with my research, investigate more ways to do activism around Black Lives Matter, write every day and keep up with exercise. I’d like to run, too, but I just haven’t figured out how to fit it into my schedule yet. I also plan to work in the garden as time and weather allow. We will be eating zucchini in a a few days and the lettuce is starting to ripen.

With that, thanks for hanging in there. Until next time.

(By the way, I have decided to get rid of the “Life as You Know It” line and just keep these as regular blog posts, and they’ll be a personal reflection every week.)

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Support my creative work? Donate $1 to my tip jars: http://www.venmo.com/denise-ruttan and http://www.ko-fi.com/fieldofstars

2 thoughts on “On writing every day and staying creative while the world burns

  1. Nothing wrong with being a binge writer. Maybe that’s how you operate best. Or if you find too much resistance in writing, have you tried setting a smaller goal? Like 250 words a day. I find that I often surpass my low targets much more often than I start on high targets. But of course, everyone’s different. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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