A Flashing Sign

Another short story inspired by what’s going on around us:

She had always considered herself a true American. A patriot. A law abiding citizen. She sang the National Anthem with as much gusto as anyone.
But today she had stopped to think about the words she was singing. She was struck by the ones that came at the end: “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”

What was happening around her this spring didn’t feel like freedom or bravery. She drove through the deserted streets of what had once been a busy shopping area. She knew many of the owners well. She had shopped in most of these small stores often.

It was the middle of the day. A work day. Or at least it should have been a day for businesses to be open. But where there should have been a row of “Open” signs, there was now only darkness. Every storefront had a sign saying “Closed” and she wondered yet again if many of them had been open for the last time.

Her heart hurt as she drove. Who had decided that these businesses were “non-essential”? Non-essential to who? Certainly not to their owners! Nor to their customers. She didn’t like to shop in the big box stores. She preferred to give her business to the local shops. But that choice had been taken away from her.
The insanity of it all. She could “safely” go into Walmart or Lowes, where dozens or hundreds of people were shopping, but not into one of her friends’ stores, where there were seldom even a dozen people at a time. She couldn’t wrap her mind around the insanity of it.

No, this did not feel like freedom at all. When and why had her country become so un-free?

And bravery? No, that was gone too. She had been shocked by the number of healthy people she knew who were refusing to leave their homes, some even to walk outside and smell the fresh, spring air.

It was a sad time to be an American. Though from what she was hearing on the rare occasions she turned on the news, it wasn’t any better in most of the rest of the world. But the lack of freedom here in her own country was what hit her the hardest. We really had been “the land of the free and the home of the brave” at some point in our history, she thought.

She had stopped her car momentarily, needing to compose herself when her thoughts had become so melancholy. It wasn’t like there had been a shortage of places to pull over, every parking space on the street stood empty.

But she was ready now. She would continue her tour of the deserted downtown for a little longer before heading back to her lonely home. Well, to be honest, the street wasn’t completely deserted. She had seen quite a few people out walking. She had shuddered at how many of them were wearing masks as they did so, since hers was NOT one of the states that had gone that far in their strict requirements.

Turning the corner, she expected to see more of the same on the next block. After all, this was just another street of businesses that her governor had somehow determined were non-essential.

But the block wasn’t deserted. There were cars everywhere as people tried to find their parking spots. What was going on? What had she missed? Then she saw it. The flashing sign. There had been plenty of those on the previous street. But this one was different. It was not flashing “Closed.” It said “Open.”

As she stopped to let an unmasked pedestrian cross the street in front of her, she realized which business it was. It was the local gym. She was confused. She knew it had been closed the last time she had come this way, locked up as tight as all the others.

What had changed? She didn’t remember hearing gyms on the governor’s newest list. She pulled into the last available parking spot and hurried across the street. She had noticed another sign in the window next to the “Open” sign and she was anxious to see what it said.

She had to grin as she read it: “We are an essential business. We exist to help people become and stay healthy. We will not comply with any more government orders that keep us from doing that work. Please join us if you feel safe in doing so.”

Smiling, she crossed the street back to her car. She was going home to get her gym clothes and her checkbook. It was high time she joined a gym.

Through the Window

I made a more upbeat post a couple weeks ago. I will apologize in advance that today’s is more melancholy than the last one. But it’s what I felt led to write on Mother’s Day. This one is a fictional story, but it is based on what several women I know have been going through.

She sat down on her bed slowly. Of course, she laughed to herself. She seemed to be doing everything slowly these days. What would be the point in doing anything quickly? There weren’t enough things to do in a day as it was, so there was no rush to do any of them, now was there?

She stared out the window again, but couldn’t see anything different outside. She wondered why she bothered to look again and again, since the view never changed. Slowly she moved away from it. Something had made her look out the window earlier that day but she was having trouble remembering what it was.

Slowly, it was coming back to her. Her daughter. That was why she had gone to the window earlier. Her daughter had been there, waving at her, and holding a lovely bouquet of flowers. Her daughter’s mouth had been formed in the shape of a smile, but she had seen the tears flowing down her face.

She remembered being confused by that. Her daughter shouldn’t have been smiling and crying at the same time. And she certainly shouldn’t have been crying while holding those beautiful flowers.

She had wanted to go outside and hug her daughter and make the tears go away. But for some reason she couldn’t do it. That bothered her. But again she couldn’t remember why.

Her daughter used to come to visit her regularly. She did remember that. It was always sometime around lunch time, she remembered that too. Sometimes her own lunch had already been eaten, but sometimes it came while her daughter was visiting.

She smiled again. She could remember those meals the best. She liked it when her daughter sat in the chair and talked to her while she ate.

Slowly she turned and looked at the chair. Was her daughter sitting there now? No, the chair was empty. Again. It seemed like it was always empty these days. Why wasn’t her daughter sitting in it anymore? She had known at one time what the reason was, but now she couldn’t remember. It seemed there were alot of things she couldn’t remember these days.

She stood back up, slowly going back to the window. It was a big window and she was glad about that. It let in lots of sun on sunny days. But lately it seemed to be raining alot. Or was that her tears? She was having trouble telling them apart.
She found herself standing in the window again. Her daughter wasn’t there now, but she could see the spot where she had been standing earlier. Standing there holding a big bouquet of beautiful flowers.

She turned around slowly again, looking at her dresser across the room. Those flowers, she thought, as the smile on her face came back. Those were the flowers her daughter had been holding outside earlier today.

She crossed the small room again, carefully going by the empty chair and then reaching the dresser and the beautiful flowers. She thought she remembered seeing a card with the flowers. But had she remembered to open the card? She didn’t know.

She found the card and carried it carefully back across the room. Sitting down in the empty chair, she opened it. It’s beautiful, she thought. There was a rainbow splashed across the card. And in beautiful letters she saw the words “Happy Mother’s Day.” She smiled at the rainbow. I think I saw one of those recently she thought. Didn’t I?

Slowly she opened the card. She recognized her daughter’s handwriting. Her daughter hadn’t written much, just a few beautiful words, “I love you, Mom. I look forward to giving you a hug.”

She read the words again. A hug. I haven’t had one of those in a long time, have I? Why not? Is there a reason she can’t give me a hug like she used to? I know she told me. But I don’t remember.

She heard the rain starting outside her window and she glanced that direction. I haven’t felt the rain in a long time, have I? But I don’t know why. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been outside this room in a long time.

She sat trying to remember what she had been told. There were reasons her daughter wasn’t sitting in the chair anymore, reasons that she couldn’t go outside anymore, reasons that she missed the hugs, but she couldn’t remember what they were. She hoped they were good reasons, at least.

She sat for a long time, looking at the beautiful card and the lovely rainbow and listened to the rain. She like the sound of rain when it was like this, not too hard and not too loud. She wasn’t fond of the loud noises that sometimes came with the rain, she remembered that. She did like the bright lights that sometimes accompanied it. They lit up the sky like a show, and she enjoyed watching them out her window.

Carefully she put the card back with the flowers, hoping she remembered it was there. She would like to look at it again someday. She stood in front of the flowers for another long time, enjoying their smell. And their pretty colors. Her daughter made sure they were each a different color, just like she liked them.
Her daughter? Was that who had brought the flowers earlier today? Yes, her daughter, she was sure of it.

She walked slowly back to the window, looking out at the spot her daughter had stood with the flowers. Every day she stands there. At least I think she does. I sort of remember that. But she doesn’t have flowers for me every day. Just on special days. So today must be a special day.

What was special about today? Did she know? Did she remember? Yes, that’s right, the card had told her. It was Mother’s Day. A special day.

She looked out the window again. The rain had stopped and the sun was starting to shine. As she gazed again at the spot her daughter had been standing, she saw the rainbow. The beautiful rainbow peaking out from behind the clouds.
She smiled again. A rainbow. Just like the one on her daughter’s card. No, on her card from her daughter. The card that promised her a hug. That was something worth remembering. One day, at some point in the future, hugs would come back.

Lights on the Horizon

I had planned to write my next blog post on what the first two years of retirement had been like, or maybe even one on the joy of writing with writing prompts (something I’ve been doing alot of lately!). But as often happens, my plans this spring have been in a constant state of flux. So, instead, I break my fast from blogging with a short “story” I wrote yesterday as I celebrated the beginning of my 64th year.

I wrote it as a third person account, because that’s how it developed in my mind. After sharing it with several family members, I was encouraged to change it to first person, because it really is my story of how the last six weeks or so have affected me and those around me. But I just couldn’t get it to work as well in the first person, so I’ve stuck to third. Have no doubt, though, it is very much my thoughts on this current craziness:

It had been a dismal start to the spring. All was doom and gloom with the predictions about a virus taking over the world. Politicians had jumped at the prospect of not wasting a good crisis and had pulled out all the stops on taking people’s liberties away from them in the name of “keeping them safe.”

The virus didn’t scare her. Her neighbors didn’t bother her. But the idea that a country could be turned upside down inside mere days and weeks, based on few facts, many assumptions, and countless fear-mongering, that worried her! She lived in one of the greatest countries in the world. But she was beginning to doubt that it could stay that way.

Fiction masquerading under the guise of facts had scared people into what only months before would have been unthinkable: Trips were being forced to be canceled, stores were being closed, jobs were being lost, and activities were being called off at alarming rates.

Meanwhile people were being told to stay home and stay safe, while no allowance was being made for how to keep them sane at the same time. As the time stretched on, she started hearing stories that made her want to cry: people living alone who were slowly dying inside as a result, kids who couldn’t go outside anymore, even as the spring weather was becoming more and more beautiful, people with so much time on their hands, and few good ways to fill it, folks who had lost their jobs and wondered where the money for their next meals would come from, never mind the rent or the mortgage payment that could never be paid. Small businesses were closing their doors, some in hopes that it would be a temporary closure, but many knowing this would just be the beginning of the end. She had owned a small business once and could too well imagine what even a month or two of forced closure would have done to her bottom line. It was painful to think of the harm being done.

She was personally faring fairly well during all of this, at least in the short run. Her health was good, she lived in a home with someone else, rather than alone or in a tiny apartment, she had family members close by that could still come for visits, and even had a backyard she could go into anytime she desired. And as a retiree, at least for now, her finances were in pretty good shape. But her heart ached for all those she knew and knew of that were suffering greatly through all of this. What were the uncalculated damages being done to family, friends, and strangers throughout this shutdown? It made her heart hurt to think on it.

But then slowly, just as it seemed that all would continue to spiral downward based on lies being touted as truths, she began to see small lights of hope appearing on the horizon. They were small and infrequent at first. There had been the lone representative that had dared to speak out against the socialist “stimulus” bill that had raced through Congress at the end of March. But that light seemed to go out almost as soon as it had been lit, and she was back to wondering where and when this would end.

Then there was the epidemiologist from a prestigious university questioning the assumptions being made in the doom and gloom models. Followed by a professor (also from a well known university) who came out and dared to analyze the facts and point out the fiction that too many people had been accepting as reality. Listening to them, hope had welled up temporarily once again. But each time someone came out with such good news, it seemed that those peddling darkness were stepping up their attacks.

And then, wonder of wonder, she saw the group of doctors from a small southern state who had risked discussing the false “facts” that were being used to scare people into accepting this scenario, followed within two days by two doctors in California raising similar points. In both cases their analysis of facts versus fiction had really made hope rise within her.

So as the second month of craziness was speeding towards a close, she could almost smile again. Almost hold out hope that the lies would be revealed and that freedom might actually not be gone forever. She considered the fact that so many were pushing for more testing, when the reality was we didn’t need to know how many had already had the disease. Enough tests had been done to show us that the number of people who had gotten the virus and recovered from it was much larger than we had ever suspected. To her that fact alone had done more to disprove the doom and gloom prophets than it had done to prove them right.

She wanted to shake those who kept pointing at these numbers as if they were evidence of a big, almost insurmountable problem. Of course the numbers were rising, the number of tests were rising! How could people not see that? But as long as political figures at every level were allowed to use those figures to frighten people in their county, state, or country, we would not be making forward progress.

She didn’t know what blinded some to the realities, but she was ready to stop focusing on what had been being thrown at her from so many directions for so long. She wanted to start watching the horizon for more lights. Surely more would come, little by little, and eventually the sun would rise again and put an end to all of this! And that was where she would need to keep her focus in the days and weeks to come. God help her country if the lights did not continue to shine brighter on the horizon!

Celebrating “Retirement”

Changing Directions – Again

As happens so often, I have changed directions on this week’s blog post. Hopefully, my previously planned topic will appear in a future post, but not this week.  Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post, Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life, on my other blog, at www.CreativeLearningConnection.com. I did not expect that I would be writing a follow up post here on my author’s blog, but that’s exactly what I’m now doing.

Last Year’s Surprise

Last year’s post came as a result of a video my children surprised me with for my 60th birthday.  The video was unexpected, to say the least, and was an amazing blessing as my children shared some of their favorite memories of growing up with me. (They were kind enough to leave out any unpleasant memories they may have.)

This Year’s Surprise

I would really have thought they couldn’t top that surprise/blessing. But they managed. This year, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, when I thought a dozen of us were going out to an early Mother’s Day luncheon, I found myself at our church surrounded by a very large group (about 50, by my best count) of family, friends, students, and former students, to celebrate my “retirement.” The brainchild of one of my children, “Saying Thank You to Catherine Jaime” was like the previous year’s video on steroids.

My daughter had managed to interview dozens and dozens of people I had interacted with during the last three plus decades as  I homeschooled, taught class after class, and coached team after team of mock trial students. As I watched the audio/visual presentation she had so carefully put together, I was brought to (happy) tears yet again.

The Upcoming Reunion

And the timing could not have been better. In less than a month I will be attending my husband’s 40th reunion at MIT. (I attended MIT also, but my 40th isn’t until next year.) I have been to numerous reunions over the past 40 years and have always enjoyed getting together with our friends there. But, sometimes, I have to work hard to make sure I’m not falling prey to second thoughts on how I’ve spent the last (fill in the blank, depending on the reunion) years.

Following A Different Path

I didn’t follow the same career path as the vast majority of my college classmates, choosing instead to primarily stay home and raise/homeschool my children. Of course, as our little party on Saturday showed, my version of staying home and raising my children probably didn’t look like most other people’s version for several reasons:

  1. I did LOTS of writing during that time.
  2. I did LOTS of traveling (with and without my children).
  3. And I taught LOTS of other people’s kids while I was at it.

Traveling More and Writing More

In fact, last year when I was closing down my homeschool resource center, Creative Learning Connection, I often heard the “What will you do now?” question. I usually answered: “Travel more and write more.” People that knew me well often questioned how I could do more of either, but I have!

So, just like the last 40 years of my life didn’t fit most people’s expectations, it’s likely that my future years (how ever many God blesses me with) will not look much like that of most of my peers (but why should I start now!).

Retired Government Club Advisor

I have officially passed on the mantle of Government Club Advisor/Coach/Mentor to family members for next fall. (Scheduling two cruises for that time of year sort of forced the issue.) And I’m more or less retired from teaching classes now (though I’m not sure the students who will be at my house in a couple of days for Shakespeare will believe that).

Favorite Memories

But I’ll settle for the fact that I’m semi-retired for now. And as I move into this somewhat new phase, I will be looking back on Saturday’s event with great pleasure. In fact, the real fun of watching and listening to the presentation was seeing how many people gave similar answers on how I had impacted their lives – most had to do with travel, or Mock Trial, or both, with some general homeschool encouragement and Shakespeare thrown in there for good measure. And considering my favorite memories of the last 40 years revolve around pretty much those same things, it was cool to hear others sharing my sentiment.

I think the saying in the little plaque I received as a gift, says it well, “I’m not retired. I’m just getting started.”

Now, off to help at a homeschool graduation, and then back to trying to finish that Michelangelo book I’ve been trying to write since the beginning of March!

Happy traveling and learning.

Cathy

Making and Revising Goals

I’ve been a big goal setter for as long as I can remember.  In fact, “To Do Lists” are some of my favorite things. (Though sometimes they only seem like space holders for the ever-increasing number of tasks that seem to go onto those lists faster than they come off.)

I try to keep in mind that my goals are not written in stone – whatever I plan to do has to be tempered by what life throws at me.  One of my mantras from my days of homeschooling is “Plan, but be flexible.” That applies to almost everything I tackle, but in particular to my life as an independently published author.

But if I want to consider myself a full-time author, and I do, then I have to make sure my writing doesn’t get pushed aside by less important things. So, like so many others, I spend much time trying to find the balance. Another one of my mantras!

So, as the first four months of 2018 are coming to an end, I thought I should go back and look at the goals I made earlier this year and see if I am on track, or if I’ve been flexing a bit too much!

In early March, in the blog post, “Dealing with the Winter Blues,” I had given myself a few goals, including

  • Getting back into my swimming class and starting to swim laps again. I am happy to report that I have not only gone back to swimming four days a week, I’ve added Saturdays and Sundays to several weeks. Last Thursday I celebrated my 61st birthday by swimming a half mile again. (First time since last October.)
  • I wanted to get at least 31,000 words written on my Michelangelo novel. I did accomplish that goal – in fact I wrote at least 1,000 words per day for every day in March and the first several days of April.
  • I wanted to start using Scrivener. As I mentioned in the “Writing with Scrivener” post, that actually went better than I had expected. To say that I am now a HUGE fan of Scrivener would be an understatement.

Sadly, April’s goals were not met quite as well.  In my blog post, “My Nine Tips for Novice Novel Writers” I wrote that by the end of April (as in, today!) I hoped to be far enough along on my Michelangelo novel that it was ready to be sent out to Beta Readers for feedback. Alas, I have not quite met that goal. I’m close, but my best guess is that I’m at least two weeks from that spot. (Which shouldn’t sink my desire to get my next three Leonardo da Vinci novels written by this time next year, but I’m quickly using up the margin that I had built into that goal.)

But, that’s where the flexibility comes in. As we move into May, I cannot get angry with myself for missing that goal. I can only revise the goal and move forward. So, new goals: Hopefully, by the end of May, my sixth da Vinci novel will be published. It is so close! And Michelangelo will be in the hands of my initial readers.  If I haven’t started da Vinci #7 by the end of May, I hope to be lined up and ready to begin it no later than the beginning of June.

So that’s how I end this month. Old, unmet goals have been revised, and new ones are being made.

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

Four More Travel Tips

As someone who travels often, I am always on the lookout for travel tips  that will make the travel portion of my life just a little bit easier.  In 2017, with the exception of October, I managed to go out of town at least once every month for the entire year.  (And that exception  was only because I gave up several travel opportunities that month in order to  intentionally spend a month at home.)

I said before I retired that I envisioned retirement to involve LOTS more travel and writing – and so far that’s exactly what “retirement” has been like for me. So it should come as no surprise that 2018 is shaping up to be another year with frequent trips. And since I spend a lot of time traveling, that means I also spend a lot of time preparing for those travels.

In a previous blog post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I shared some of my favorite travel tips (including using packing  cubes, packing light, and choosing a good carry on). Today I would like to share several other tips which you may find useful in your travels.

1. Trip Specific Items

With so much time spent traveling, I own a lot of things specifically for traveling – the packing cubes I mentioned in the last post, the travel  size extension cords, and a variety of European plug adapters, to name just a few. I certainly don’t want to have to go looking for those every time I need to pack. So, most of my travel specific items reside in specific drawers in my dresser. (I started with one drawer and have slowly made it up to  having three of my six dresser drawers now designated to those travel items.) It’s very easy to find those things every time I need them and I make a special point of returning them after every trip.

I need an extension cord so often that one of those actually resides in the case for my CPAP machine – always ready to go, without my even thinking about it. (It resides there permanently along with a travel sleep mask.)

2. Pre-Packing

The second thing that has meant alot in keeping my stress level down with all the packing I do is a systematic amount of pre-packing. I have a conveniently placed horizontal surface in my room that I actually manage to keep fairly cleared off between trips. That surface becomes my collecting place for items that are joining me on my next trip. Depending on the  length of the upcoming trip, at some point anywhere between two days and two weeks in advance (the longer the upcoming trip, the earlier I start), I make sure my horizontal surface is cleared of anything that has found it’s way there “temporarily.” And I start collecting items there that I know I’ll be packing, but don’t need between now and then. Maybe a book I’m taking to read, or my travel hat, or some other particular item.

Well in advance of a trip I try to pack the supplements and prescriptions I’ll be taking along (one of the most critical things to NOT forget on any trip). My first vacation out of the country, about ten years ago, resulted in a $100 mistake when I had to have a family member express mail my forgotten blood pressure medicine to Panama. I can easily replace almost anything else I might forget, but those  items are critical – so the sooner they have been prepacked the better.

I usually find myself doing laundry a few days before a trip and the clean clothes that I’m going to pack from those loads go straight onto my pre-packing surface. The more decisions I can make in advance, the happier I am.

3. Using Packing Lists

Speaking of decisions, I cannot even imagine preparing for my constant trips without my ever present packing lists. I have a generic list that I have been tweaking over the last many years. For most major trips, that generic list gets copied and then modified to fit that particular, upcoming trip. If I’m I’m traveling in January, I seldom need to include any capris. If June or July, I may only need a pair of jeans. For cruises, I generally pack my preferred “dressy skirt and blouse,” and for almost any other trip, it’s just some version of casual.  Because I always prefer to pack light, even the amounts don’t change much – maybe I’m only taking four tops on an upcoming four day trip instead of my usual five – but the basics are fairly standard from trip to trip.

By now I’ve packed and repacked my suitcase often enough that I can do most of it without the list, but I still find it’s a good idea to confirm that I’ve not forgotten something important. (Like the pair of pjs that were among the very last things to be packed on a recent trip to Texas!)

4. Dealing with Last Minute Stuff

In spite of my constant travels and my preference to do things in advance as much as possible, there are always things I have to do at the last minute. Things like packing the CPAP machine, and charging the electronics one last time, generally have to be done the day before or the day of departure. Because of that and my amazing ability to forget more things these days than I remember – I almost always have a list (often connected to an alarm) for the “last minute stuff” I have to pack and to do. As long as I can remember to check the list, things are generally in good shape!

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Feel free to share anything important I’ve left out of this post and the last one with travel tips.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

My Nine Tips for Novice Novel Writers

My Tips for Novel Writers Start With

  1. Write about something/someone you are interested in
  2. Set goals
  3. Write daily
  4. Plan to go back and revise often
  5. Repeat until you’re happy with the length and the story
  6. Have multiple people read and give you feed back
  7. Revise as necessary
  8. Get your book published
  9. Celebrate and plan to start the next novel soon.

And Here’s How That Looks For Me Right Now:

My Novels

I write short novels that are family friendly and tend to emphasis the historical part of historical fiction. They are based on the types of books I like to read and often have difficulty finding. As opposed to many authors of historical fiction, I work my stories around what really happened, not the other way around.

Typical Main Character – Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve been writing novels on Leonardo da Vinci for a number of years now, and hope to finish the series by the 500 year anniversary of his death (Spring 2019, so time is not on my side!) My sixth novel is currently in steps six (being read by several beta readers) and seven (being revised based on their feedback), and at the beginning of March I moved on to my next novel. I’m taking a quick break from Leonardo to write one novel on Michelangelo (at the request of a dear friend), and then I’m back to the da Vinci series. I’m currently in the midst of step 3 (writing daily), and will need to get on to step 4 (revising) fairly quickly.

New Character – Michelangelo

I shared last month that I was hoping to end March with at least 31,000 words written towards my new Michelangelo novel. I am happy to report that I made and exceeded that goal – ending the month with 36,000 words in my rough draft. And as of today, I have written at least 1,000 words per day for 33 days and counting, even while on vacation for almost a week of that time.

Writing Through Travels

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep it up while I was traveling and visiting with family, but I did. In fact, I found that my two travel days were two of my most productive days of the entire month.  Those two days made me very appreciative that I am happy to write both on and off the computer. (Something that many other authors have told me is often not the case.)

Writing With or Without My Laptop

I find that I enjoy writing on the laptop, since I can see my word count as I work, and I don’t have to “waste” time typing something I’ve already written. But I also find plenty of times when it just isn’t convenient to write on the laptop, and then I’m just as at ease with a good pen and a notebook (or a legal pad, or, when I’m desperate and unprepared, even scratch paper).

Flying Home

I flew to Texas on a Thursday and found myself in a small seat with even less elbow room. (Is it my imagination or do the seats and the spaces around them just keep getting smaller on these airplanes?) There was just no easy way to pull out the computer, even as small as my laptop is. So, instead, I brought out my handy notebook and spent most of the hour long flight to Charlotte working on Michelangelo. The gentleman next to me slept most of the flight and I’m fairly certain paid no attention to what I was doing.

When I got to my gate, I had plenty of time before the next flight, and the seating area was still fairly uncrowded. So I was able to spread out a little, and type up what I had written on my way to North Carolina. By the time we boarded my second flight, I had typed up over 1,300 words. Since I had written so much, I allowed myself the pleasure of reading a new book on my phone. (The newest book in one of my favorite series had been released that morning, and I had been holding off starting it until I had my own writing done for the day.)

My Goal – 1,000 Words/Day

Most days that I was with family I managed to get my 1,000 words knocked out fairly early in the morning, so that I didn’t have to worry about when I would fit it in. (In fact, during the entire month of March, I only remember one day that I was heading towards bed without having started that day’s writing –  I sat in my recliner that evening and knocked out my 1,000 words before I actually went to bed.)

My travel day to return home from Texas was supposed to be a shorter day of travel, since I was switching planes in Dallas this time, rather than in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had thought I would be boarding the first place at 9:00 am, be home by 3:00 pm, and in between there, surely find time to write at least 1,000 words.

Weather Delays

But, alas, the airlines and the weather had other ideas. I awoke to a text message saying my flight had been cancelled and they would contact me with details on a replacement itinerary sometime later that day. Eventually I got the email saying I was now booked on a 6:00 pm flight and scheduled to be home slightly before 11:00 pm.

So, with my plans for the day turned upside down, I decided to spend the extra hours of time in Texas to do some additional research. I had spent all of February doing research on Michelangelo, and that had brought me this far. But I was in need of more information on a variety of things, including how he actually went about sculpting his masterpieces. It was a good day of research and by the time I left for the airport at 4:00 that afternoon I felt like I had learned much more about my subject. But, as of yet, I had done no actually writing for the day.

One Delay After Another

The first flight from Austin was delayed, and then delayed again. When we finally took off, on the very short flight from Austin to Dallas I found myself next to a young woman who was very distraught at the fact that she had already missed one flight that day, and now was probably going to miss her flight out of Dallas. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done while I sat next to her.

Fortunately I had originally been scheduled to have almost a two hour layover in Dallas, so even with our tardy departure, I arrived at my gate 20 minutes before we were due to start loading. That wasn’t going to be enough time to write my entire 1,000 words, but I could at least get started. I began writing quickly, feeling the information I had gleaned from the earlier research bubbling up inside me, wanting to be added to my story.

The 20 minutes turned into 30 and then into 40. I think by time we finally boarded I had actually been sitting and writing for almost an hour. Because I had kept thinking I would be loading soon, I had once again written my words long hand instead of typing them out.

Finally Flying Home

This time our flight was over two hours. I found myself next to another young lady, this one was heading home, and was scared to death as we got tossed around by the bad weather we were flying through. I spent much of the first portion of the flight helping her keep calm. When she finally fell into a fitful sleep, I took out my notebook and continued my writing. We arrived home that evening after midnight, so I didn’t type of that travel day’s words until the following day, when I discovered that I had written 2,000 words between the airport and the airplane. A good day’s work indeed.

Revisions

In writing my past novels, I’ve usually done a lot of the revision as I’ve gone along, and I had certainly thought I would do that with this novel. But I’m enjoying using Scrivener for the first time, and so far have been focused almost exclusively on the writing portions. My current plan is to wrap up writing the rough draft of this novel sometime in the next couple of weeks. At that point I will print the entire thing and do some hardcore editing. (I prefer to do serious editing on paper, and my new laptop won’t talk to my old printer, so that is part of the motivation to just wait and do a lot of editing at once.

My Goal for the Next Twelve Months

I hope to have the story to step 5 (happy with the story and the length) and ready to get feedback on (step 6) at least by the end of April. At that point I will have approximately 12 months to write 3 more books on Leonardo, and will have to keep this pace going. It should prove to be a busy (and hopefully, productive) year!

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

 

Writing with Scrivener

Being a new convert to writing with Scrivener, I thought I would share a little of my journey to getting here and my new excitement in using it.  I’ve been writing for a very long – more than twenty-five years in fact. Along the way I’ve gone through a couple of different desktops and a variety of laptops and netbooks. In fact I just bought my third laptop in three years (sad, I know) and can think of at least five I owned before this one (though I’m very likely forgetting at least one in there somewhere). Here’s hoping this one will last longer than the last several!

I bought this book before I got the program. It’s somewhat useful, but experimenting has served me well!

A History of Using Microsoft Word

But through all the different computers I’ve used there has been one constant – I wrote with a word processor. And for at least twenty years of the last twenty-five, that word processor has been Microsoft Word.  Every time I bought a new computer, getting Microsoft Office installed was one of the first things I had to accomplish. (I did try Open Office once, but I admit that was an epic fail for me. I think if I would have started with it, it might have been fine, but I had been using Word for so long I just couldn’t make the transition easily enough, and I quickly went back to what I knew.)

Transitioning to Scrivener

Now, at long last, I have branched out a little. It’s not that I’ve gotten rid of Word or have any plans to get rid of it. I’m writing this blog post on Word in fact. But I am now more than two weeks into writing my next novel – and it has almost all been done on Scrivener. I would have started it on Scrivener, but I started writing on March 1, and my new computer didn’t arrive until March 5, so I had to start on Word. (There was absolutely NO memory space on my old laptop, so downloading a new program there had been out of the question.)

I had been hearing about Scrivener for a while, mostly from other authors who were using it. When it first started coming up in such conversations, I kept wondering what the fuss was all about. I had written dozens (no, make that hundreds) of books in Word just fine. So why did I need to learn a new program? I just couldn’t see the advantage – and I’m stubborn that way!

The Word Count Tracker is a small but nice feature.

A Steep Learning Curve?

It sounded like it might be a useful tool, though it also sounded like it had a steep learning curve, and that was the part that particularly concerned me. It already feels like my head is spinning with the other things I’m trying to keep up with, could I really handle learning a complicated program? And did I really need to?

But, then a local writer friend of mine got Scrivener, and she was telling me more about it. At that time I was just a week or so away from starting my next novel, and I thought, okay, why not? Maybe I should just give it a try. I had nothing to lose – Scrivener has a thirty day free trial period. And, if I liked it, it only costs $45.

So, once the new computer arrived, Scrivener was probably the second program I installed. (I still had to start with Microsoft Office, since I use Excel for my budgeting AND I had started my novel in Word the previous week.)

To Tutorial or Not to Tutorial?

When I got the new program installed, I did make my way through part of the tutorial that came with it. But I think after 15 minutes or so, I was bored and I wanted to get started actually USING it.  So I set up my first project. (That was easy, I just had to find the pull down tab for “New Project.”)

In the past, I had always written my books in one long Word file, but knowing that I was going to transition to Scrivener, I had actually made five different files for my new book on Michelangelo, a new one for each “chapter” I was working on. The first thing I had to figure out was how to import those files into my project. That did take me a bit to get right, but I persevered, and within ten minutes or so, I was up and running.

My Various Files After 18 Days of Writing

Steep Learning Curve or Intuitive?

As I said before, I had heard A LOT about the steep learning curve for Scrivener. And I will be the first to admit that I am not using it to anywhere near its capacity. But as far as just getting started with it, I have to say that I found it very intuitive. In fact, I could not figure out why this had scared me so much.

So, now every day, I open up Scrivener and figure out where I want to start writing. I absolutely love the fact that I can work in these different small sections (more or less the equivalent of chapters, but I don’t have to make that decision yet).  I can reorder them so easily, I can see what I have going on, leave markers for sections I want to come back to, and on and on. Those options alone would make using Scrivener the right path for me!

This is one of the views of the “subdocuments” that is very useful from time to time.

Fun with Scrivener

I always start writing my stories more or less in a linear fashion, but it seems that more and more often I have to move things around (oh, that really happened before this, not after, that type of thing), or skip things (I know I want something here, but I have no idea what it will be), etc. I’ve done all of those when writing in Word, but never as easily as Scrivener makes it.

More Fun to Come

I’ve heard from others that assembling the final book (paperback or ebook) will be easier in Scrivener, too. I’m not even to the half-way point of writing the rough draft of this novel, so I won’t be experiencing that aspect until later this spring. But I’m looking forward to trying that too. In the meantime, I’m very excited to have jumped on the Scrivener bandwagon, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Happy writing!

(And thanks, Jennifer, for giving me the final nudge towards this extremely useful program.)

Cathy

Dealing with the Winter Blues

Explanations or Excuses?

(And does it really matter?)

I hadn’t meant to go almost two months between blog posts. But much of the last two months have not gone the way I thought they would. (Testimony to the idea that we can make our plans, but ultimately God is in control.)  I started the year thinking I would be having knee surgery on the 8th of January. Instead, in having lab work done for the surgery, I discovered that I had Diabetes. The past two months have included seven doctors’ visits, three trips to labs for blood work, and a surgery for a brand new issue that crept up in the midst of all this. So the past two months have primarily been about making the adjustments needed as a Diabetic, and recovery from all the various-related health issues. Which, needless to say, hasn’t meant much writing or traveling.

Improvements – Finally!

By the end of February my blood sugars were more or less stabilized where they needed to be, and my energy was slowly returning. During the difficult winter months of health-focused days, I did manage to finish the rough draft for novel #6 in the da Vinci series (hopefully it will be available to readers later this spring) and I took one small trip – returning to Montgomery with students for my last official event as a Youth in Government adviser. (For more on that trip, see last week’s Creative Learning Connection post here.)

Moving Forward

I also spent as much of February as I could manage doing research for my next book. I really need to get started on book 7 in the da Vinci series, but I’m taking a slight detour first – and writing one on Michelangelo next. A dear friend of mine from church has been waiting for me to write this book for some time. So here I go, at last. It’s not a completely different direction from da Vinci – Michelangelo even had bit parts in my last several da Vinci novels. But I have had to learn quite a bit more to write an entire book from his perspective. I still can’t say that Michelangelo has surpassed Leonardo as my favorite artist, but I have certainly come to appreciate more of his work through all this research. I think writing this book should actually be fun. Starting March 1 my goal is to write at least 1,000 words/ day towards that book – as of day 5 I’ve written more than 5,000 words. I’m still working out what directions parts of the story are going, but it’s definitely moving along!

March Goals

If March goes more like I’ve planned than January and February did, I might accomplish the following goals:

*Get back into my swimming class and start swimming laps again (after a two month absence)

*Write at least 31,000 words on the Michelangelo book (about ¾ of the goal total – what can I say, I write short novels)

*Start using Scrivener and get past at least the first part of the learning curve for it. (The new laptop arrived today, and Scrivener was the second program I downloaded onto it. So far so good.)

*Make some plans for several of the trips I’ve got scheduled for later this year.

But whether those goals are met are not, I’m sure it will be an exciting month!

Keeping on!

Cathy

Do Books Ever Go Out of Style?

As an avid reader and writer of non-fiction and historical fiction I do LOTS of research. Of course, these days I do much of that research on the internet, but I have found again and again that books are still the best way to go so many times. While  I am a big fan of ebooks and audio books for their convenience and portability, I find them of only limited use for my research. (It’s not uncommon for me to listen to a book, decide it’s going to be useful to me, and then order a paperback copy of it, so that I can underline and highlight it.)

Trying to Shrink the Library

As a result, my personal library contains thousands of titles. Before I retired from homeschooling our family library actually contained as many as 7,000 books. As my homeschooling was coming to an end, I tried to reduce the collection to just the books that I wanted to have around for my own enjoyment and education. Consequently, I think I’ve reduced it to somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 books.

A Monumental Task

Almost a month ago my oldest daughter, my youngest son, and I took on the project of changing out the shelves in the library from the built-in ones to matching bookcases. Today, after way too many hours of work, the final shelves went onto the new bookcases, and the process of re-shelving my book collection came closer to completion. (I would love to say that all of the 100+ boxes of books have been emptied, but we’re not quite that far along!)

Don’t worry – the empty spaces will be filled before we’re done!

How Would You Use Seven Bookcases?

As we were coming close to the end I had one of those “wow” moments. Early on in this process I had spent a couple of hours deciding the best way to utilize my seven new bookcases. I came up with the categories for each bookcase – Science/Bible, Government/Economics, Shakespeare/Writing/Education, Leonardo da Vinci/Art, World History, and last, but certainly not least, two bookcases for American History. (It’s not that American History is more important than World – I just happen to have more topics that I’ve studied within American History: the American Revolution, Presidents, Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, and Civil Rights, just to name some of them.)

My Favorite Topics – For Reading and Writing

Obviously, the fact that I could fill almost twenty linear feet with books on each of these main subjects gives an indication of where my interests lie. But it wasn’t until this weekend, when we were working on the American History shelves that it dawned on me – I have written one or more books on every one of those major subjects, as well as on the majority of the American History topics I’ve collected.

I guess that shouldn’t be a real surprise – I own books on these topics because they fascinate me. And that’s typically how I chose the topics for my writing projects. If I ever run out of book ideas on my “to do list” all I have to do is walk into my library and soak in some of the ideas that fill these shelves. It shouldn’t take long to find another interesting spark.

Happy reading, writing, and learning!

Cathy

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