Art, Life, & Writing the Hard Stuff

maya angelou, bearing an untold story, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Being a writer – particularly one who writes novels about love, family, and relationships – is a double-edged sword. Though I wish I could say it’s not always the case, sometimes my best writing comes through pain and heartbreak. I know I have some fellow writers that follow my blog. Can I get a witness? There are times when I write something that doesn’t fit my situation or experience exactly. That’s very true. But often, the richness and depth in my writing just wouldn’t be possible without heartbreak and loss.

Writing about grief, in a novel about losing a child, came from a few different experiences for me. But the bottom line is, that when I wrote Chasing Hope, a novel about grief and family – I couldn’t write about grief without experiencing it. I can’t write about heartbreak, without experiencing it. If there could be a little less of it, however, that would be cool. Ha. I wrote a novel that isn’t my story, but I certainly know how to write about the protagonist’s heartache. The new novel I’ve started (temporarily being called Sea Glass Hearts), is probably a little closer to my story than A Thousand Years.

Nonetheless, writers can be known for being a dark sort of soul. While not all of us are empaths – I think many of us probably are – even if we’re closeted empaths :). We can easily put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We can feel what they feel and we take on their experience. As an artist, I sort of live in places like that, in order to keep writing. Which is rough when then you go through your own painful experiences, losses, or heartbreak. Not everyone writes novels that have painful or dark themes of course. I wish that was true for me. But no matter what I write, it will always factor into my writing in some form or fashion.

I’m feeling it today, folks. I don’t want to write today. Today, I want to focus on what’s happy and good. Because in my real life, my heart is taking a beating. It’s hard to focus on what I think makes my writing better, when personally I am bearing the agony of an untold story and trying to be okay with hurt I can’t make sense of. It sucks. In one of my favorite movies of all time, Something’s Gotta Give, Diane Keaton – a playwright – famously writes her greatest work, while heartbroken and literally crying every step of the way. It’s one of my favorite movies. But she’s also one of my favorite actresses and I adore her portrayal of the life of a writer. And while the crying scenes are utterly ridiculous, they crack me up. I might relate a little is what I’m saying.

As I gear up to enter a writing related contest – with a deadline that’s just a week away – I’m struggling ya’ll. I don’t want to dig into this now. But in my heart of hearts, I know I must. For my writer friends, what do you do, to work on and keep up with self-care and healthy habits if you’re writing the nasty shit that’s just hard to face? What about those of you who write really dark stuff? How do you find yourself able to balance what you write with real life?

But here’s the thing, the agony of not telling the stories is far greater. So here I go . . .

Creating a Space to Write

I made a little writing nook for myself last weekend. I knew creating a space to write would help me focus a little more on doing just that. Confession though – I’m currently writing from the comfort of my big, cozy bed (but whatever). But my mini-office will be where I write most of the time. For the longest time, I’ve put off creating a nook to write – because, well – I’m not a fan of apartment living (at least not in the city I live in). I kept telling myself I’d move soon enough. But here I am, 18-months later, still in my apartment. Going from a 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment was a big adjustment. As such, my spare room has been filled with boxes all of this time. I decided to create some space in my “dining room” to write. Folks, my dining room is big for an apartment. And it’s now the space I’ve created to write.

If you’re a writer following me, what’s a must-have for your writing space? One thing my nook is missing is space for a large white board that I’d like to use for mapping out dates and timelines and some inspiration. I’ll use a small corkboard for a bit of that now. But the novel I’m currently editing has a lot of moving parts and spans a 20-year history between my protagonist and her long lost love. I’d like to have a better visual of that than my Scrivener notes.

I keep some of my favorite books (and my first book) around for inspiration. The black notebook was my Grandpa’s. He used it to write his memories of growing up in upstate New York. We have all of his writings in a binder (that each of his daughters and grandkids have copies of). He was actually quite the writer – but didn’t know until he was at the end of his life. These scribbled words are treasures to me. I hope someday to have one or two of these handwritten notes replicated and blown up as posters I hang up in my future office.

I have all sorts of thoughts about what I’d like my someday office to look like. This isn’t that. But it’ll do for now. When I run across images on Pinterest that fit, I save them. Someday, I hope to write full time with a real office. My absolute favorite writing space comes from the movie Something’s Gotta Give (one of my favorite movies of all time). Diane Keaton writes from her bedroom, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. Keaton, a screenwriter in the movie, is hilariously writerly (Dramatic, artistic, a little neurotic, and adorable – I don’t think we normally call writers adorable. But I’m a writer and I’m adorable, so there you go.) and her home is a dream. You can see an example of her writing space, here. In the movie she writes her next big Broadway hit, crying and furiously writing, after a break-up. It’s a ridiculous series of scenes as she furiously writes her new screenplay. It’s also very realistic. 🙂

The photo below, of LOST show forerunners, is what it’s in my head for plotting out this novel, by the way. I’d love to have photos and all kinds of stuff plastered everywhere as I change all kinds of things around in the book.

LOST = Favorite TV show of all times.

When I was at Home Goods not too long ago, I found this glittery, shiny thing and brought it home. I couldn’t believe – of all the things to find in a home decor store – a print of typewriter (that says “write on”). I mean, it was made to come home with me. I don’t see things like this too often.

I also made sure to add some things to the walls that (totally don’t match) but I love just the same. I have spots for a couple more things that I hope to add this weekend. And yes, this is also where my bar is. To the left of my Grandma’s desk is a cabinet I store my mid-century modern glassware.

Except for the cookbooks (that somehow made it to the wrong place), I’ve tried to keep this bookcase favorite novels, writers, or writing references.

In addition to adding a space for me to write, I’m also continuing to make some adjustments here on my website and blog. In the near future, there will be a single static page and then links to blog content. I have a lot of different interests and I’d like to keep them more organized into separate categories instead of having everything on the main page. My goal right now is to focus on my writing as much as humanly possible and to make this space part of that. At one time, I was a very active blogger (on another platform). I miss those days, regular commenters, and the community I developed there. I stopped consistently writing almost 11 years ago in that space and I’m making it a priority again. In addition to the writing space for working on my fiction, I’ll be transforming this space a little more too. Hopefully it will be more user-friendly after organizing into various categories.

So, writer friends – I know you’re out there – what are your writing spaces like? Share here or on your own blog/website and send me the link so I can see! I love being inspired by what inspires others!

The Trouble With Wanting, Is I Want You

It’s Tuesday and I’m feeling all sorts of feelings today. I’m also diving into another freaking re-write of A Thousand Years. Sometimes I think it’s torture to be a writer {can I get a witness?}. This would be the third reincarnation of this love story. Maybe the third times the charm.

Here are some random musings & three four of my favorite songs this week:

  1. Feeling resigned to my fate, today. I’m learning to be at peace with this. Maybe my new adventure needs to cook a little while longer? Perhaps it will come when it’s good and ready?
  2. I am enjoying a glass of cheap cabernet sauvignon {Winemakers Selection} tonight. I haven’t bought wine in a while because my old lady metabolism needed some drastic help to get working again {getting older as a woman, is just plain rude}. I’ve lost 10 pounds so I’m having a little treat. Also, for a cheap wine, it’s pretty good.
  3. Below are three of my newly discovered favorite songs for the week. Into the Mystic by Van Morrison is an honorable mention. I’d forgotten how much I love this song “I wanna rock your gypsy soul…” How do I get a hold of the man that will rock my gypsy soul? Also, why is Van Morrison so good? Oh! The second honorable mention goes to the stunning Joy Williams with The Trouble with Wanting. Oh shoot, maybe that’s my favorite this week? I just added it. “The trouble with wanting is I want you/And I want you all the time.”
  4. I love planning events. I’m currently in the process of planning two – with a small get-together happening this Friday {the first of three}. It gives me such joy. I’m an entertainer & hostess at heart. I don’t know why – but it truly brings me joy.
  5. I’m currently procrastinating starting the third re-write of A Thousand Years. Someone tell me to go write.
  6. Okay, I started working. But I’m easily distracted. I think I might as well formally set up my “office.” Perhaps that will help me stay on target? I’m currently lounging on the couch like a bum. Not the most conducive for writing. Maybe that’s my project for this weekend?
  7. I promise this post has taken me quite some time to write. I am actually accomplishing something.
  8. I think that’s the end of the random, this evening…

Writing a Novel – Reaching a Word Count Goal

Last night, I reached my NaNoWriMo goal for November 2020 – by writing 50,000 words on my novel A Thousand Years. I actually wrote 51,486 words in the month of November. It’s the first time I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo though I’ve participated on and off since 2009. On November 2nd, I wrote this post, wondering if I’d really be able to do it this time.

It’s not the first novel I’ve written. But writing a novel isn’t easy. It takes time, it often requires an emotional investment or takes an emotional toll. Last month I made a decision to write quickly and to get it all out – as quickly as possible, not editing or changing anything I’d written on the first go round. So while it’s not the first I’ve written, it is the first that I’ve been so single-minded and dedicated to writing.

The novel is definitely longer than 50,000 words – which I mostly expected. I don’t think I’ll actually finish the novel in the next two days because that’s another 30,000 words I expect to write. I may, however write the final chapter before moving onto the second draft which will add the additional words and chapters I’m missing.

This experience has been a huge accomplishment for me personally. I’ve written so much – so many words in my lifetime – fiction and non-fiction. But I’ve yet to be able to dedicate time nearly every day to furiously reach a goal in such a short amount of time. My first completed novel took a ridiculously long time to write and it’s not what it could be.

So excuse me while I pat myself on the back for accomplishing this word count goal. This book holds a special place in my heart. I hope I can do it justice as I begin working on the 2nd draft in December.

For a few vignettes that can be found in the novel, go here, here, or here. Or the one that started it all, here.