I love bookmarks. My favorite bookmark has a picture of my older son, age 1, on one side and a picture of my younger son, age 2, on the other. I’ve used bookmarks for as long as I can remember–but I’m never paid any attention to the way I place it in my book.

My husband places his bookmark in his book with the “front” of the bookmark facing the page he is on. Very clever! Since learning this, I have never been able to do it. If I remember to face the bookmark the right way when I close the book, then I don’t remember to look at it when I next open the book and remove the bookmark. I guess I don’t learn new things as easily as I used to!

About six months ago, my younger son stopped using bookmarks. He was so tired of his bookmarks falling out, that he decided to just memorize page numbers. So far, it seems to be working well for him. I can’t imagine that working for me. My memory is far too weak (see paragraph 2).

The Impossible Pitch

My novel Charlotte’s Inheritance is nearly impossible to describe well and makes writing a good pitch difficult. I’ve just read about a contest that I want to enter, but I need a good pitch. I’ve written a new one, but I’m still not completely satisfied. What do YOU think? Would you want to read it? Have you already read it? Offer suggestions! Help me! Here’s my pitch:

What happens when a Jane Austen heroine finds herself surrounded by Darwinian men? She takes notes about the mating habits of the common dunnock and attracts a mate of her own.

Charlotte’s Inheritance is the coming-of-age story of Charlotte Wasseaux, born in nineteenth century England and raised in an Anglican convent. Her father is an ornithologist, a man of nature and logic in this pre-Darwinian era. At seventeen, Charlotte is re-united with her father and brought to live on the family estate, Endersley. Charlotte is quiet and insecure and wants only to please her emotionally-distant father. Because she has a talent for painting, he allows her to help him in his work. Charlotte attempts to break down the barriers her father erects, not suspecting the secret he holds about their past, and how that secret is hidden in her prized pocket watch.

Charlotte must decide what sort of person she wants to be, what sort of road she wants to walk. She has many role models to choose from: her father, the cold, logical naturalist; Theodore Drell, the affable, atheistic scientist; Mrs. Pearson, the wise Quaker; Lucien Bonaparte, the patriarchal Catholic; Lucy Gibson, the hard-working governess; Reverend Farrell, the generous romantic; Angelina Handley, the selfless nurse; Morton Greenwood, the clumsy explorer. From each of these friendships, Charlotte gains knowledge, confidence and direction.

Charlotte’s Inheritance is a story about a young woman, finding herself, in a world re-defining itself.

Writing without Mom

I went to writers’ group last night. I knew it would be a hard night, and although I didn’t feel it during our meeting, it hit me pretty hard afterward. I’m still reeling a little this morning.

The scene that I brought to read and get critiqued at writers’ group, I’d printed out the week before Christmas. I’d emailed the scene to my mom right after finishing it, and we’d talked about it on the phone. She had a few comments, and I said I’d see what my writers’ group thought. I made copies of the scene and was all ready to go to writers’ group on Dec 20, when I got the call about my mom’s stroke.

I didn’t go to that meeting, but I took those same copies last night. It’s the last scene my mom got to read. Anything I write from here on out, she won’t get to read.

After writing a scene, I always emailed it to my mom to get feedback from her. She’d email me with comments within a day or two. Often she’d telephone. She loved the story I’m working on now. She was my first and best reader.

I am hoping to write a new scene today. It is the day I don’t go into work. It is my writing day.

My writing is so entwined with my mother, I’m finding moving on with my story incredibly difficult.

I don’t want to stop writing. I want to produce something new today. I’ve been doing a lot of editing and re-organizing of the story, but I need to write a new scene now. I need to see how that will feel—to move into new territory in the story.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Goal Orientation and Process Orientation

A number of years ago, I heard a speaker at a workshop talk about how some people are goal-oriented and some people are process-oriented.

Goal-oriented people work steadily until they achieve their goal. Their motivation is the finished product. Their sense of satisfaction lies in a well-done, finished product. Goal-oriented people tend to work quickly, sometimes to the detriment of the finished product.

Process-oriented people are motivated by the process of a project. They are interested in the planning and development. They receive their satisfaction in the work itself, and the completed process is secondary to the process. Process-oriented people sometimes have trouble finishing a project. By the time they near the end, the process is winding down, and their motivation and interest are lost.

I learned this in terms of teaching. Most academics are process-oriented people (hence the reason so many take so long to finish their PhDs). Unfortunately, most students are goal-oriented people (hence the reason they ask questions like “Will this be on the test?”) . Understanding and working with these differing orientations can help lower frustration for both teachers and students.

Although I teach at a university, I am a goal-oriented person. I like to finish things. As a writer, I work toward that completed manuscript. If I spend a day writing and I don’t have anything to show for it, I’m terribly frustrated. If I finish a scene or a chapter, I feel exhilarated.

There are many goal-oriented writers: you know the ones. They write a book a year for thirty years: Stephen King. Agatha Christie. You can name some of your own, I’m sure.

There are a lot of process-oriented writers too. A former colleague of mine wrote a fantasy trilogy over about a twelve year time period. He sent it off to agents and publishers for several years and finally it was accepted for publication. The first book came out and was an enormous success. The second book in the trilogy is about to come out, four years after the publication of the first. It took him four years to finish something that was already “finished.” I don’t know him very well personally, but I’m guessing he’s a process guy.

That last paragraph made it seem like I think it is better to be goal-oriented. Not at all. A lot of the time, I wish I were process-oriented. I wish I could be satisfied and fascinated by the process. Being goal-oriented, I sometimes go too fast, push things too hard, give up because the road to the finished product seems too long.

I started thinking about all this last week because of a parenting situation. My husband is process-oriented, and he sometimes handled our children in ways that I found unfathomable. For example, when they were little he would sometimes argue and get a tired child all emotional just before bed, when the goal should have been to get the child to calm down and fall asleep. Last week, I realized that he wasn’t looking at the goal, he was looking at the bedtime process and trying to make it a logical, efficient one. The unfathomable became fathomable. It was an epiphany for me.

I think our differing orientations are fortunate for our family. My husband and I have different strengths, and we are adept at learning from each other.

As for writing…. if I could sell a book and afford to work full-time as a writer, I think I could be one of those people popping out a book every year. Doesn’t that seem enticing to you publishers????