Work Clothes


This happens at least once a week, but usually more. I drive my youngest to Chess Club in my slippers and pick up my older teens from their friends houses or school in my fuzzy pajama pants. Usually, I’ve got my work clothes over regular clothes when they come home from school. My ten year old says, “You really like that robe, don’t you?”

It might sound crazy, but this is how I work. My favorite days start with me up before dawn. Coffee brewed, wrapped up in thick pajamas and robe, and I sit down to the desk to write. And write. And write. When I’m working on a first draft or even a revised draft with lots of new details, I work best in the comfiest, frumpiest clothing you can imagine. I don’t shower, I don’t put on make-up or my contacts, and I don’t dare leave the house unless I’m summoned by a kid or have to buy food. If I’m in the middle of something, I keep going until it’s done. Usually. Life doesn’t always cooperate, and that’s precisely when I have to show up in public looking slightly homeless.

I sometimes feel bad about myself, like “Why can’t I just put on normal clothes to write? Is it really that hard to put on a pair of jeans and comb my hair?” And voices in my head tell me my neighbors think I’m a little eccentric when I go to the mailbox in layers of leggings, long tops, robe and winter hat. (The fact I just said I have voices in my head might prove them right.)

But here’s the thing.

There are actually good reasons I don’t get dressed unless I have to.

And it’s not because I am lazy. (Though sometimes I am just lazy.)

Writing is an intimate process.

Waking from dreamland and throwing myself immediately into another dreamland is a delicate transition. I try to do as few “real life” tasks as possible because it yanks me from that hazy, creative mind-space I need to be in to write and write well. Creatives call this “the zone” and when you are in it, be damned if someone tries to pull you out. The zone is an intimate connection between the lizard brain and the imagination and it’s like following a narrow path from bed to desk. I have to work hard to stay in that place until the words are freely flowing. Otherwise, it’s tempting to put on shoes and go to Target. Just like an actual relationship, if you allow yourself the distractions, the intimacy is lost. Robert Olen Butler has a wonderful book on this idea called From Where You Dream. This incredibly inspiring craft book talks about how to capitalize on your dreamstates. It sounds mystical and spiritual and may not be for everyone, but I do think it suits the creative life.

Writing is a vulnerable process.

I have a dear friend who confesses she loves to write naked. We get a good laugh from that one, but in reality I find it inspiring. I’m not going to sit at my desk in the buff considering I live in balmy New Jersey and I’d get hypothermia before I’d finish a novel. But being naked is about the most vulnerable state you can be in, and wearing pajamas and not putting on your real-world mask is just another step in that direction. Normally we reserve pajamas for the home where we feel the most safe and comfortable, and nakedness for our most intimate partner, where we feel loved and accepted. You must be vulnerable to write. You must be honest with yourself and your characters. It’s not just a matter of spewing words and plot on a page. To authentically craft a voice, you must question and explore so much psychology—and sometimes that can be difficult.

Writing is an emotional process.

If you have ever written a novel, or attempted, or even if you journal on a regular basis, then you understand what a crazy roller coaster ride writing can be. One day you think you’re writing the next big thing—Eureka! And then the next you couldn’t be drier, and will surely shrivel up and die. Then all of a sudden your character says something that makes you burst into tears and you think: Oh my god, I might actually have something here! If you’re a journaler, then you’re probably not thinking about publication, but you’re writing about your own life, or experiences, or jotting ideas down and so constantly accessing your deeper thoughts and emotions. This is hard work, people! Don’t take it for granted! Don’t worry if you’re not crafting the perfect sentence, or saying the perfect thing to change a reader’s life. Just write. Be comfortable in your own skin. Or in your pj’s. I am not all that comfortable when I’m wearing jeans and boots and sitting at the desk. Or worse—in a café! The waistband digging into my stomach, bunched up underwear, creases at my knees cutting off the circulation to my legs. No thank you. Hard to focus that way. Give me stretchy leggings and an oversized sweatshirt on my comfy couch and I’m an emotional fountain. I’m far more apt to access the depth of my characters this way, than dressed and made up and sitting in Starbucks.

That all being said, sometimes you must GET OUT. After a couple days of living in the zone, it’s time to shower, dress, and hit the town. Talk to real people. Smile at babies. Pet dogs. Observe life and fill the tank so you can start all over again. I have a day job that allows me just that and if you can believe it, I do not show up in my robe. They appreciate that. And I like to look cute from time to time, so it works for me too. But you can be sure that the second I come home, the boots go in the closet and out come the sweatpants.

My kids say, “Really, Mom?”

Yup. Really. Where are my slippers?


The Quest for Good Sleep, Good Art, and a Good Cup of Coffee

Sometimes things seem too far out of reach. Last night, sleep was one of those things.

I live in a neighborhood where it seems the power goes out when a leaf drops. In the four years that I’ve lived here, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the crazy Halloween Day Snowstorm aside, the weather in New Jersey has been relatively mild. I moved here from Pennsylvania, across the river and about an hour north at the base of the Appalachian Mountains and it was never mild. You wouldn’t think such a short distance away would change the weather all that much, but I’m sure it has something to do with living on one side of the mountains or another and in PA weather was fierce. Storms were always intense, power frequently went out. But nothing like it does here when, well, nothing happens.

“Nothing” made the power go out three times last night. For some, like my daughter, they will awake and never know anything happened. I envy that child. Me and my boys shuffled through the kitchen feeling like we’d been ripped back and forth on that Whiplash ride. I’m a notoriously bad sleeper to begin with. My poor oldest son has inherited this quality and my younger son suffers the consequences of hearing his older brother stomp around the kitchen when he’s pissed he’s not sleeping. The three of us all use fans for white noise. The fan is both a blessing and a curse. Without it, I’d have surely committed homicide on a sibling, roommate or spouse in my lifetime. But that’s exactly the problem–when the power goes out, the fan goes out. Sleep becomes unreachable.

Today is Day 6 of NaNoWriMo. Most know that this writing challenge involves daily immersion in words, at least 1,700 a day to keep up the pace to hit 50K by November 30th. Between Novembeard and NaNo, you can have some seriously bedraggled looking writers wandering out in the world this month. Throw in the lack of sleep and you better just step back. Yesterday, I hit 10K on my WIP.  Pretty significant milestone in the NaNo challenge, ahead of the word count game, 1/5th done, and well into the arc of the story. Potentially. The story was moving along relatively well, the words were obviously on the page, but it read like instructions for bicycle assembly or something. Just words, little punch. I kept telling myself–this is NaNo, it’s not about perfect art the first time through, it’s about getting the quantity of words down.

But is that really what I am about? Quantity of words?

Like sleep–quality is sometimes more important. Trust me, as a life-long sleep-challenged being, I know how great a solid hour nap can make you feel. Sometimes it’s the depth of sleep that is more important than the length. I have a close friend who never reaches REM sleep, the quality restorative sleep we all need to recover mentally, emotionally, and physically right down to the cellular level. Ten hours of sleep might as well be two hours of sleep. This is not acceptable, it’s not quality. This is how my 10K was feeling–empty.

People say: Don’t stop and go back when you’re in NaNo!  (This is beginning to sound like a sci-fi novel)  But I couldn’t go forward. The depth of my story was unattainable and to keep writing at that surface level would have just meant a month of emptiness. Like a month of bad sleep. It would hang on my shoulders, nagging me to please fix it or at least try! And the thing is I knew what had to be done: a simple change of POV. All the writers out there are laughing at me.

Simple. Ha.

Nothing in the art world is simple. Nothing in my sleep world is simple. Nothing in life is particularly simple–except when you go with your gut instinct, it no longer matters. Difficult becomes easier. Unreachable becomes possible. Change, on any level, is not for cowards.

So, I started changing the manuscript I’d so diligently punched out over the last week without looking back. Now I’m looking back. And it’s going to slow my word count a bit for a couple days, but suddenly my protagonist has a voice, my story has energy and depth. It doesn’t feel empty anymore; it found its purpose. It’s not perfect and it will require revisions as all stories do, but my feeling about it has changed. The story is no longer unreachable.

That’s more I can say about sleep, but hey, 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.

However, the power is back on. I have a few hours to work before I go to my day-job. And the coffee is brewing: one hot cup of motivation at a time.


NaNoWriMo: You Want Me To Do What?

Saturday is November. It may seem like just another weekend, but for many of us in the writing community, it’s the first day of a brand new novel. Or at least brand new work which can be put toward a novel, like banking words instead of cash. NaNoWriMo—or National Novel Writing Month—is a lot of fun and all it requires is that you write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Yep. That’s it!

Break it down and it doesn’t sound quite so scary. 1,666 words a day. If you’re an experienced writer, 1,666 words is really very little, but it does require that you sit down every day to accomplish that number, otherwise you will have to double, triple, maybe even quadruple your total if you procrastinate. And if you’re like me—jobs, kids, dog, bills—you can’t necessarily spend a Saturday writing 7000 words to make up for your week. Though I have definitely done that.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2010, so this will be my second time “competing”. I quote that because it’s not a competition between writers, it’s more a competition for personal achievement that you share with your fellow writing friends. The first question a lot of people ask is “How did you win?” As an honor system, it’s totally up to you if you want to upload 100 pages of the same sentence or 50,000 “the’s”. But what would be the point of that? A true writer wants to do as decent a job as she can with the time she has. Getting down the framework of a novel, even if she knows it will likely change, is important. And the time restrictions and word count requirements serve as guides and incentives to get the work done. I doubt many participants are looking for ways to get around that. One of the joys of writing is personal satisfaction. There is no personal satisfaction in cheating.

The 50,000 words I wrote in 2010 ended up being fairly competent. In fact, a more developed version of it won 2nd place in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award the following year. While I couldn’t sell it at that time, I set it aside for safekeeping because I was in love with the story and unwilling to give up on it. Little did I know, a few years later, I’d pull that file from the dusty corners of my hard drive, that it would get me into Vermont College of Fine Arts, and that I’d end up rewriting it for my Master’s thesis. It is now a brand new novel and I’m confident it will eventually sell. And those NaNo bones are still there. I’d say November 2010 was well worth my time.

I head into this year’s competition with confidence that I will win again. I have quite a bit less free time than I did in 2010, but since then I’ve earned my MFA and if grad. school teaches you anything it’s that free time can always be found—that it MUST be found if you intend to be successful. Writing demands time management. There is no way to succeed in the publishing business without it. This may be one of the most valuable lessons of NaNo as well. It forces you to set aside expectations of perfected work and just write your heart out. Say no to social life for a month. But have fun. Be creative. You never know, you may just get a brand new story out of it.

And who knows where that story will take you.

Happy writing!


Sometimes inspiration is hard to come by. There are times when I’m pulled out of a dead sleep with some kind of genius idea that must be put to the page before I even think about closing my eyes again. Or on my way to work, I’ll scribble on gas receipts that are left lying all over my car. (You don’t want to be driving behind me in those moments.) Or while out on a walk and I’ll have to run home before the idea fades like a wisp of a dream. But the truth is, these moments, while precious gifts to any artist, are sometimes very few and far between. Life is busy. Days are simultaneously long and short. There are needs to be met and chores to be done and bills to be paid. Sometimes inspiration seems like a myth I once believed in that has since been debunked.

Writing is work, I remind myself. Inspiration plays a part, of course, but more often than not my inspiration is simply the desire to write, so when that desire is lagging, it can be crushing. Life piles up around me as I work and I begin to feel suffocated by responsibility and often writing is the first thing that goes. Over the last two years, I’ve been working on my MFA, so writing couldn’t be set aside. There were due dates and expectations and monthly goals. Although my classmates and I would sometimes bitch and complain, I’m fairly certain we all clung to those deadlines like lifelines. I know I did. They were “excuses” to not have to finish the dishes, to skip the lacrosse-mom meeting, to send someone else grocery shopping. I loved these excuses; they validated me and my work. Now I sit down to the computer and think–What is keeping me here?

I knew the end of a program such as mine could feel like being tossed off the edge of a cliff. I thought I was prepared. I’d hoped to be further along in my manuscript, closer to an agent, and therefore ready for my next set of deadlines, aka: lifelines. But it didn’t happen. Too many factors to juggle, never enough time, changing expectations from month to month and it just didn’t add up quite the way I’d hoped a year ago. This, however, is life. You really can’t be prepared for much of anything, you can only work hard, make your choices, and keep going.

My daughter had her eighth grade graduation dance this weekend and because she’s in such a tiny school, parents are in charge of planning just about everything. My inbox quickly filled with thousands of emails from the other moms. I kept myself in touch enough to know what was going on, to help out wherever needed, but I remained on the fringe, didn’t put a single idea out there as the planning began and only sent emails to thank people for their work. I knew my creative energy was better spent elsewhere and for some of the other moms, their creative energy only went to such activities as their kid’s dance planning. The event was a huge success because of those moms, no doubt. And it reminds me how much the variety of personalities is what keeps things going. How inspiration strikes in a multitude of ways and is no less important for those moms as it is for me.

The dance theme was The Red Carpet. Absolutely perfect for my dramatic daughter, who brought a cardboard standee of a Walking Dead character as her date, and who is one of the most creative individuals I know. She inspires me on a daily basis. I have always been creative as well, but filled to the brim with insecurities left over from a difficult first couple decades of life. But she has had a stable childhood and is still highly creative and that fascinates me. She’s proud of her art, she’s not afraid to say and do and dress and how she wants, and her inspiration is purely the desire to create. I’d love to bottle some of that confidence. I know it will take her far.

Anyway, at the dance, we hung movie posters all over the hall. Some were photo-shopped to have the kids’ faces, which was hilarious and well-loved, some couldn’t be re-worked with the kids photos and remained untouched.  One such poster caught my attention. It was a soon coming movie that is sure to be a hit with teenage girls (and a lot of their mothers) internationally. The book is a NYT’s bestseller. The author, one of my very favorites. Although I”m often pretty quite about my love of YA fiction and even quieter about the fact that I write it, I asked the woman who got the posters if I could have it if none of the kids claimed it, thinking there was no way this poster wouldn’t get claimed by the end of the night. A hall full of 14 year old girls–I didn’t stand a chance. But the movie-poster mom must have gotten a kick out of my request and she said: Consider it yours.

Call me crazy–I am. I hung it up in my bedroom like any of those kids–including my own daughter–would have done. But my reasons are different. I’m not enamored with the actors, nor the love story, although it is perfectly melodramatic and lovely, it’s the source of this poster that inspires me–the book. The fact that a book can circle the globe, touch millions of readers young and old, and become a household name. As a writer, I don’t seek super-stardom. In fact, the idea of that actually terrifies me–though, don’t get me wrong potential agents–I’d never turn it down!  I’m just completely enamored by story and how this story will sit in the hearts and minds of so many people. That’s pretty damn inspirational. And so now, I work.

photo (19)