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Time Out

18 Feb

It’s a Tuesday. That means I need to post.

See the verb I used there? Need.

That’s because I’ve said from the start of this blog – 2.75 years ago – that I’d post every Tuesday. And I have.

Every single Tuesday for almost 3 years.

And suddenly I’m tired. Suddenly I’m irritated. Suddenly it’s an obligation. Suddenly I stopped feeling guilty about my terrible track record for visiting other people’s blogs and started feeling cross and resentful about it all.

I have needed the discipline of knowing that I had to post every week. But now the discipline feels less like self discipline and more like parental discipline…i.e.: punishment.

I am not quitting. I have tons of ideas and topics for future epiphanies! (Hmmm…planned epiphanies…no comment.)

But I need a break.

Mondays come along and I find myself thinking, “Shoot. What am I going to blog about tomorrow? What do I feel like posting? Bother.”

I don’t want this blog to be a bother.

I feel like this is controlling me.

I have less time to write my book because I need to write a post.

And the whole point of beginning the blog was to support the book. Not the other way around.

I am beyond thankful for what this blog has brought me. I have made virtual friends who have become real friends. I have been introduced to worlds and to people I knew nothing of and I have benefitted from that tremendously. I am so thankful for all of you – bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

Because of A Fine Day For an Epiphany I was asked to begin The View From My Window – my second blog over on a network supported by my local newspaper – and because of that blog I am now a for-real free-lance writer for my local newspaper and even have a monthly column with them.

In other words, I’m getting paid.

I LOVE THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED.

But that job, in turn, takes its own share of time – time that I do NOT resent because it’s paying off – but there, too, it means I have less time to write my book. Or books. The one that I can’t find an agent for because, in part, I have no time to look for one. And the other one that I’ve begun which will be more like this blog in tone/feel/topic.

In short, I need more time. And taking a break from this blog is going to help with that.

No, I am not quitting. And part of me feels like I’m copping out by posting less than once a week. But see, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. And I don’t want to post less-than-perfect posts…which I’ve been doing lately. I did this in part to improve my writing…not just to throw stuff out there.

Also, I need to define my focus for this blog. And I think that getting this new book idea into shape will help with this.

I hate good byes. Or, even though this isn’t really good bye, I still hate to say, “See you later.”

But I just have to.

I am planning on taking the rest of February, all of March and possibly even April off.

Who knows, maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll say, I WAS CRAZY! I MUST BLOG! I don’t know.

I do know that in March I’ll be traveling to London for a week and that I will blog about that when I return.

So I won’t be gone entirely…just taking a break.

I am not sure how I’ll feel when I hit “publish” today. Relief? Regret? Sadness?

I don’t know.

I think I’ll just hit it now and see…

“Hang it All!”

14 Jan

I recently finished reading a book. It was a good book, well-written, kept me interested all the way through. But then I got to the last page. Only I didn’t realize it was the last page. I was reading on my Kindle and so there was no thickness of the remaining pages to clue me in. I knew from the “% read” at the bottom of the screen that I was nearly done. Knew too, that there was no Glossary or Tolkien-esque appendix that took up half of the book, but I assumed, as I pressed the “Next Page” button, that there would be an epilogue if not a short final chapter.

I read to the end of the page. I turned to the next. And the book was done. And I did what I have never done before. I shouted,

“You jerk!”

as if the author could hear me.

I am a person who likes her loose ends tied up. As a writer I keep a list of loose ends that I must not forget about. As a reader I do this too, only they’re mental lists and not separate files on my computer.

Loose ends Drive Me Bananas. And the loose ends in this book I read were HUGE.

I suppose you’re all dying to know what the book was. I debated telling you or not, but I guess I will because I’m not saying she is a bad writer, or that I disliked the book…I just HATED being left hanging!

I know, I know: it’s a writer’s prerogative. She or he can do whatever they like and if they like leaving their readers unfulfilled, well, fine. They have a right. For whatever reason, she wanted to leave the reader wondering, pondering, considering her book as we drive down the road to pick our children up from school. She wanted us to think. She wanted us to have lively discussions at book club – which I know we will! She wanted us to blog about it.

And so I say to Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, yes, you’ve made me think. You’ve made me consider Easter’s fate and the narrator’s future and the crotchety doctor’s wishes as I wash the dishes and fold the clothes and do other things that I’m too proper to write about.

And you’re driving me nuts.

So my question for you all is this: do you like loose ends that make you think? Or do you wish that all authors would tie their loose ends up in pretty bows that don’t stress you out and cause you to call them names when you reach the last page and discover THE END written in nasty, bold letters?

As my children like to ask, “Which would you rather?”

Seasonal Writing

3 Dec

This year I took on a seasonal task that I have avoided for the past few years. No, I never stopped shopping, (though my husband probably wishes I had) nor have I quit baking, decorating, or watching Dr. Seuss’ version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. What I’ve avoided is writing the Christmas Program for my church.

I have written our program a few times in the past, but for the past several years we’ve bought our scripts. Buying a pre-fab script is not a bad thing, but every year we have to tweak it for our particular setting and group of kids and by the time I’m done doing that, I might as well have spent the time writing it from the beginning.

Last year's whole cast.

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So this year I did. It was a blast sitting at my keyboard with the list of kids in our church and my page of hand-written notes, taken when inspiration hit one afternoon in October. I laughed out loud as I gave the silliest part to our silliest boy. I grinned as I pictured one girl performing a line I wrote just for her. I was inspired by their personalities.

In the past when I have written programs people have said to me that I ought to try and get them published, but I never have. Maybe this year I will. I’ll see if I can find the other old scripts (since the old computers they were written on are long gone) and I’ll spend a little time looking them over, rewriting, and rethinking.

At least I will if I get my butt in gear to actually pursue this idea. It will take some research into proper style, publishers, etc, but it will be worth it if it pays off in the end, yes? I give you all permission to bug me in a couple months and ask me if I’ve done anything about it yet!

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In the mean time, rehearsals are about to begin for our December 22nd performance. I know that my patience will be tried over the next few weeks and I will ask myself yet again why I ever agreed to direct this pageant – the writing is easy compare to directing – but I know that I too, will love, love, love seeing the kids that night, belting out the songs and shouting out their lines.

I adore Christmas pageants. Here’s my favorite photo of my favorite bored little angel a few years back.

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My Stint As A Journalist

22 Oct

For the past several weeks I have been filling in at my local newspaper, the Daily Globe. They’ve been a little short handed so they called in their second string. I’m okay with this moniker. I don’t want to be first string. First string would mean that I have to get up and go to work every day and, as I told my husband, bringing home a paycheck is hard work!

Ah, but it is rather nice to get paid for one’s writing.

On the other hand, I’ve had zero time to work on my book. Which to this point is showing no signs of generating a paycheck whatsoever. So I guess I’m okay with the occasional stint as a journalist.

I started out at the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) as a Journalism major. I planned to study Russian as well, and then go to Moscow as a foreign correspondent and uncover fabulous spy stories of the Cold War.

Only the Cold War pretty much ended before my career started. But, really, that’s not what ended my journalism career. It was J101 which did that. Grammar For Journalists – the class that every journalism major had to take – and pass with a “B” – in order to be accepted into the J School.

And so fall term of my freshman year began. I leaped into J101 and Russian 101 full of confidence, a smile firmly upon my face.

Four months later I waved goodbye to my dream. I didn’t pass that stupid grammar class – oh, I passed…as far as the University was concerned – but not as far as the precious J School was concerned. It was, in fact, the worst grade I ever got in my entire educational life: K-12, college and graduate school combined.

I could have taken it again. But I’d discovered something else during that term. I hated journalism.

I wanted to write creatively, free as a bird, with no strings attached, no rules, no horrid grammar police breathing down my neck.

Plus, I stunk at Russian, which, after failing to enter the coveted J School, seemed kind of like a waste of time anyway.

“I’m not competitive enough to be a journalist,” I told people when they asked me why I’d switched majors from Journalism to English.

Which possibly was true. But, the real truth is, I’ve learned a thing or two since then. One thing is that a major which actually provides a job when you graduate is a nice thing. Another is that forcing oneself to do something difficult in order to reach a goal is actually a good thing in the long run – and maybe, just maybe, majoring in English was a cop out. I tell people it’s a good thing I married an engineer ‘cause otherwise I’d be the proverbial starving artist living in a drafty garret somewhere.

Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t actually hate journalism. Especially when I’m filling in and the expectations upon me don’t include me knowing when to say, “He said” or, “He says”. I have frequently heard writers thank their editors…now I totally understand why.

Over the past month I have learned more about insulation than I ever hoped to know. I have learned that not everyone will return a phone call, and not everyone wants attention brought to themselves or their situation. I have also learned that people are eager to thank others in print – which is lovely – and that they’re eager to share their story if it’s something they think others will benefit from. I have smiled during interviews, and shuddered (to myself) and marveled at the human spirit.

And I have to say, I really liked it when a person who makes his living off of speaking in front of vast crowds said to me, “You’re the writer. I trust you to make me sound good.”

“I’m a writer?” I thought to myself as I hung up the phone. “I’m a writer!”

The next day I introduced myself in a meeting as a writer. And my lovely friends in the crowd smiled and patted me on the back, and whispered, “Yes, you are.”

That was actually a rather marvelous moment in this flunked-out-of-J-School student’s life.

I have learned one other thing. I have learned that just as I tend to talk too much, I tend to write too much. There is beauty in brevity.

I’m still working on that one.

PS – Yesterday I posted this same basic post over on my other blog The View From My Window, which is connected with the Daily Globe, and is more local in focus. Audrey over at Minnesota Prairie Roots – who is a lovely friend and encourager – commented on it and said, “I find it difficult to believe that you would not do well in a grammar class when you went on to major in English. That’s pretty contradictory.”

This made me think (I love that about Audrey) and here was my response: I think that my problem with that grammar class was that it was so technical – it took the joy out of writing and made it stressful. I think I truly am a bit Bohemian in my approach to writing and all the rules and regulations were horrid. I have never liked or known the technicalities of grammar – I just use it properly and don’t care what it’s called! Taking apart sentences to name all the different parts just seemed – still seems! – sacreligious! But as an English major I just had to read and write – all of the technical stuff was left behind!

To that I add this: ever since 9th grade English class, when we had to diagram sentences and suddenly my “A” in English was threatened, I have found grammar to be irritating and suffocating. Yes, it’s vital that the basic rules of grammar are followed…but why do I have to know what a gerund is when I can use it properly without knowing the proper definition?!! (I know, I know, it’s an “ing” word…I do actually remember that one!) Here’s the deal: as a kid I read and read and read…and that taught me my grammar. Not Mr. L in 9th grade, and not professor whoeverhewas in college. If you want to be a writer, read, read, read. It’s that’s simple.

One more thought: I am NOT advocating not teaching grammar in our schools. American’s are bad enough with grammar already and it IS being taught. (If I see one more person on Facebook write, “I like that to,” for example, I am going to scream!!) I guess I’m just venting. Can you tell that I really, really, have issues with grammar?!!

Oh, and also this: I know that I use too many commas.  And also that I’m not perfect, grammatically speaking.  I figure, that’s what editors are for.  :-)

I’m Done

12 Mar

So the story goes that J.K.Rowling, when she finished writing her seventh and last Harry Potter novel at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, wrote on the base of a bust of Hermes, “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

I have no statues or heads of statues nearby, nor do I have sufficient clout to assume that anyone would even want me to write on their statue should there be any around, so I am choosing, instead, to write to you, my blogland friends:

I, Gretchen O’Donnell, have finished editing my children’s novel, tentatively titled, “The Children of Eel Pond Island” on this day, March 12, 2013, in BenLees Café, in Worthington, Minnesota, at 2:00 in the afternoon.

I am full of caffeine.

I am heady with joy.

I am scared to death.

I am done.

News – and a short poem by a real poet

19 Feb

Well, it seems that hard work pays off – giving you more opportunities to work hard and keep busy and not get the dishes done. I’ve been asked to write several articles for an upcoming special edition of our local newspaper – and I’ll be paid!

I’ve written for the paper – a daily with a healthy circulation despite the hard times that papers have come across in recent years – several times since moving here, but I’ve never been paid for it. A year ago January, they asked me to begin a blog (which I call The View From my Window) on their “Area Voices” server, which was quite nice. Every post appears on their homepage and, in addition, about once a month they print one of the posts in their actual physical paper.

So now I guess I can call myself a real free-lance writer!

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I’m realizing that this means several things: 1) Deadlines; 2) Interviews and not just “out of my own head” stuff; and 3) A pay check. I’ll put up with the first two to get the last one.

In light of this time crunch and additional writing stress, I’m giving you something not entirely original this week and possibly the next couple of weeks as well. I might even have a guest blogger join us!

For today: this poem, by Jane Kenyon. I think this is my favorite poem in all creation.

LET EVENING COME

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
Let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Wa Hoo! They Like Me, They Really Like Me!

5 Nov

I have a confession to make (it’s been awhile since I’ve confessed anything on here, so it’s about time): My e-mail inbox has 4042 messages in it.

Now all of you efficient/non-procrastinating/tidy people can pick yourselves up off the floor (or pat yourselves on the back) and know that I wish I was you.

It is possible that, were my inbox emptied on a regular basis, I’d have noticed the lovely e-mail hidden in all the clutter much sooner. As it was, upon checking my blog on Saturday morning, I noticed something rather extraordinary: I’d had over 50 views already that morning and it was only 9:00.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “How can this be?”

I “refreshed” the page again. Just to make sure.

“Yes! It’s true! And I have a bunch of “likes”, too! What’s going on?” I said not a word – barley even acknowledged the thought – as I clicked over to WordPress’ homepage.

“Could it be? Really?”

YES! IT IS!

I shouted to my husband, sitting not two yards away, “I’m FRESHLY PRESSED!”

His blank look did nothing to deter my happiness.

“That means that I‘m featured on WordPress’ homepage! It means they like me! They really like me!” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Sally Field.)

(By the way, I’m on page two now, if you want to joy of seeing my photo and link in person.)

THANK YOU SO MUCH and WELCOME to my new readers. I am so glad to have you along on the journey! I am still working on visiting all of your pages so thanks for being patient!

I also have to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who’ve been along for awhile, too! I love getting to know you all.

Here’s a fun stat: WordPress chooses TEN new blog posts a day to add to their homepage. This is out of 31.7 million new posts a month. Here’s the link to prove that. And here’s another useful link: So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.

But here’s the truth of the matter: This post was not my best-written post, not my funniest or most emotional or most educational, interesting or sentimental. It’s just that it happened to get noticed. They do say that a catchy title is hugely important so I guess I had that going, at least. (Note, however: my previous post had the same title…and it didn’t get chosen! So titles aren’t everything…it’s a group effort!) Interesting photos are good, too. They also say that having links included in the post is good as it emphasizes the fact that blogging isn’t all about you, the blogger, it’s about world-wide connections.

I find this to be both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because ANYONE can be Freshly Pressed. It doesn’t take a perfect writer or an impeccable blog. Discouraging because hard work on a fabulous post does not necessarily equal “success” – if being Freshly Pressed is a measure of success. I think that the encouraging trumps the discouraging in this scenario.

I know that I have found with my other blog – the one that is through my local newspaper – that they are more apt to print (in their physical paper) timely/seasonal/human interest posts. I know I have seen that play out on the Freshly Pressed list, too, which is another thing to remember if striving after such a thing. For the Love of Vinyl wasn’t any of that, however! They liked it because it was nostalgic.

And, in this day of hurricanes and political stress and terrorism, people like to be reminded of simpler times. So, if you have a turn table, “go, put your records on….” You’ll be glad you did.

PS – my inbox now has 4050 messages. Time to get to work.

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