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Why dogs are like writing

My kids once argued that they could never be bored if they had a dog. You can probably guess how that worked out. But I feel the same way about writing. I can never be bored when I have a story to work on.

Writing’s been keeping me engaged for three years now. In fact, if you ignore the complete lack of pay, this is the longest I’ve held one job, um, ever.

I’m not lazy. I just crave constant mental challenge. Once I master my work I’m ready to move on, but writing is the one thing I can never fully master. Even if I were flawless in all aspects of craft—oh, if only!—there would always be a new story to challenge me, new plot points and characters to work through, research to be done.

Writing has held my attention over the last three years, but each year has had a different focus or feel to it. That keeps it interesting.

2009 was all about the joy of writing, happiness at finally finding something to keep my brain engaged, and getting to know other writers. I started learning how the industry worked, and began to see that it was changing rapidly.

2010 was the year of craft. I read as many books, blogs, and articles as I could get my hands on. I took online classes, attended my chapter meetings, worked with a critique partner, and entered contests. I attended my first national conference and volunteered at the national level.

2011 was the year I hit my stride as a writer. I got the Golden Heart nod and placed well in several contests, and I started getting requests for my full manuscript, rejections with feedback (including one revise-and-resubmit from an agent), and requests for my future work.

I took a leap and started teaching my online Scrivener class, getting back to something else I’ve always loved. But the other thing that happened in 2011? I faltered as a writer. I got too caught up in the craft and structure and forgot how to just write for the story first. I focused too much on my process, my stories’ publishability, and other people’s visions for my work. I got too involved in volunteering, email loops, and social media.

I went off track.

So, 2012 is the year I take back my writing. I’m scaling back my commitments to more manageable levels. As for my writing, this is the first year where I feel like I might actually be ready to deal successfully with a publishing offer. I even got my first revise-and-resubmit from an editor.

Now that I have all that craft swimming in my head and know (better) how to layer it in during the revision process, I’m focusing on the writing joy again.

Maybe this won’t be the year of the contract. And that’s okay too.

People who’ve never written before wonder how we can stand to wait three, four, five, or eleven years to get published. Sure, the anxiety and impatience are there, but the longer I’m in this game, the more I realize how ill-prepared I was in the early years, and how much more I still need to learn.

I have to believe that persistence will pay off. So, until I get the call, I’ll be happily working on my future backlist.

Besides, I have a dog, so I can never be bored.

A manufactured life

Until I started writing, the absolute best job I ever had was working as a manufacturing engineer. While I don't miss the hours, I miss the great people, and being surrounded by really cool machines that turn raw materials into something (usually) useful. In fact, my favorite part of grad school was the factory tours and working with local manufacturing companies on class projects.

So when our family took a tour of the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama on Monday, I was back in my element. I don't honestly know much about Hyundai, but the three year-old factory is impressive. It's clean, highly automated, uses Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery of parts, and spits out a new car every 50 seconds.

No, this is not a sales pitch for Hyundai…

While I was on the tour I kept thinking how much I miss being part of the manufacturing world. Maybe after we move this summer I should consider working again, I thought. But then, by the end of the visit, I realized that as much as I miss parts of my old job, I'm happiest writing.

I'll always have a soft spot for lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, Six Sigma, and the like. Heck, I may even find some way to get involved in it again. But not at the expense of writing or time with family.

It's good to go back and visit that world, but I no longer want to stay.

The Daily Squirrel: soda

Maris looked down at her white shirt, now covered in diet soda. It just figured. If she'd been wearing red, she wouldn't have spilled anything. She should have known better on her first date with Josh.

She felt her cheeks heat as she looked at him, and choked back her tears. He was so handsome and nice. Now she looked like a spastic twelve year-old. All she needed were pigtails and braces and the image would be complete.

“Hey,” Josh said playfully. “Didn't your mom teach you to share?”

What was he talking about? Her jaw dropped as he picked up her half-empty glass and poured it down the front of his own shirt. Then he winked and gave her a smile that made her head spin. At that moment Maris knew.

She was in love.