ellen mcbee

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The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are. Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, …

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The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are.

Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, and three items for the band. Then of course I had my housework schedule, which I’m only halfway through.

On the bright side, I was done with the rest of it by 10:30.

I wish I could figure out how to put this energy into the book. Or maybe it isn’t energy so much as it’s dedication? The idea that I can do these tasks and then I’ll be finished? Some days I don’t even want to look at it. I want it to be done and I want to write the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. I won’t speak of how long it’s been since I did any research for the Polish Boy Scouts project. I’m serious about all of it, but some days there’s just no motivation.

And if there’s clutter or some kind of housework that needs doing? It depends. I get overwhelmed by housework easily, so there’s a schedule. Typically I try to spend half an hour or so on the house every morning. Make the bed, wipe down the bathroom, do the dishes, that sort of thing. If I don’t do it, I can’t write because I feel too guilty.

I think that might be the biggest part of this journey. I’m looking at Colorado Gold because I’d like to go; I have friends who are teaching at it. But it’s September; there will be band and kid things and leaving kids with husband. I love him, but feeding the kids something they will eat isn’t one of his strong points. Having my own tiny room for work, not having a full time job, a lot of writers dream about exactly this.

The space is here, but so are the obligations. And the things I feel driven to do that aren’t writing. I think this is what makes that “cabin” fantasy we all have so attractive. Mine is on Crete; it would be a small, sun-drenched space with comfortable seating and lots of windows to let in the ocean breeze. Well, of course it would be on the beach! And the colors would be bright, and food would appear by magic, and nobody there would even know my name, and I would turn out words and paragraphs and chapters and books and then I would call it Art.

Well, it’s a good daydream.

Okay, butt in the chair, coffee at the ready. A thousand post-it notes for my edits, and now I’ll…I’ll go pick up my fourth grade daughter and take her to lunch, the library, and dance. It’s half day Wednesday.

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How To (Re) Write

What a magnificent day it is! We’ve gone from snow and cold to sunny and clear in just a few days. I’m continuing to hope that my apple trees didn’t freeze. They did, though.

Yesterday I finally sat at my desk for the first time in three weeks. Dental surgery, swimming pool, elementary school yearbook, band uniforms, gymnastics meet…it all adds up. I’m hoping that things will be relatively clear for the next few weeks, because I’m deep into rewrites on “What You Stand For.”

After the retreat in Colorado Springs (which I TOTALLY want to do again!), I started thinking that I’m a more critical reader than I used to be. When I read other people’s work for critique, I’m very quick to point out bits of lazy characterization or a plot that skips around. And, my favorite–front-loading the backstory. I think I’m so sensitized to that because I do it myself. How many opening chapters of this book did I go through before I finally jumped into the action? I needed a sequence that explained what the sorority meant to these girls and how it was different from the others.

I read an article when I was in that process about how every chapter in the whole book needed that same kind of detail and polishing and thought. What is that scene accomplishing? Is this character the right one to say that? It seemed exhausting to think of going through twenty-odd versions of every chapter! Maybe writing wasn’t really worthwhile after all?

Fast forward to the retreat and I’m going to self-publish these books. I want to have them all up somewhere around the first of the year, and I’m hopeful I can get there because I’ve learned so much on this journey so far. Looking over the draft of “What You Settle For” helped me realize that I’ve gotten better at first drafts. Here’s hoping that will translate to getting better at third and fourth drafts, too.

Meanwhile I’m going over “What You Stand For” in detail. Yesterday I was doing a read through looking for a particular emotional moment and I realized that Chapter 12 wasn’t reading “tight” enough. There were passages of dialogue and action, but an awful lot of the action was from the outside. Getting in deeper, and as a result going bigger, are the goals now.

Someday, this book will be finished; I have high hopes for mid-May. Meanwhile, the rewrites are making it funnier and more immediate and it has more emotional impact. It’s like I’m pointing at it: “See? Here’s why you’re supposed to care!” I’m feeling good about where it’s going.

Of course, marketing is still terrifying.

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