12.21.2011

merry merry!

I've had my nose buried in work and writing lately, but I'm emerging to send you all warm fuzzy happy holiday-type thoughts.  I'm a Christmas girl myself, but whatever you celebrate - or even if you don't - please know that I'm wishing you a cocoa-and-fuzzy-socks-by-the-fire kind of next few weeks.

(warm fuzzy christmas)



(warm fuzzy hanukkah)



(non-denominational warm fuzzy)


I may or may not post again before the new year, but feel free to begin preparing yourself for an inevitably sappy Resolutions post.  (Oh, now, don't pretend you didn't know it was coming.)

Merry merry and happy happy!

12.12.2011

the leaves, the wind

"It is a delicious thing to write,
to be no longer yourself
but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.
Today, for instance,
as man and woman, both lover and mistress,
I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves,
and I was also the horses,
the leaves, the wind,
the words my people uttered,
even the red sun that made them almost close
their love-drowned eyes."

Gustave Flaubert

12.01.2011

speaking into the frost @ gayYA.org

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Thing You are Doing with the following announcement: 

I have a guest blog up over at gayYA.org! 


"I could probably list one hundred reasons why I write, but one of the most important is this: we only have so many opportunities in our lives to transform bad things into good. We only have so many opportunities to take things that are muddled and angry and difficult and shape them into things that matter. We can choose not to lie every day of our lives, but we only have so many opportunities to say things that are very, very true."

I really enjoyed writing this post, and I'm delighted to get to share it with you, so please head over and read the rest

(And for anyone who's here from there - welcome!  Come on in, put your feet up, have some hot cocoa, introduce yourself.  I'm always thrilled to meet fellow writers, bloggers, and kindred spirits.)

11.30.2011

one thousand tiny moments

::sidles in::

Well, hello there.

After a holiday-induced brief bloggy-break (try saying "brief bloggy-break" 3 times fast, heh) I have returned, bigger and better* than ever!  *(okay, i cannot promise that anything here is actually bigger or better.  your mileage may vary.  void where prohibited.)

Since I didn't blog around Thanksgiving, I missed out on the timely opportunity to list all the things I'm thankful for.  Which is something you should probably be thankful for, since the list is long, and not likely to be terribly entertaining to people other than me.  It includes mostly snippets, wisps of ideas, tiny details that weave together into something warm and comforting.  Long, criss-crossed eyelashes.  Kitten tongues.  Misspelled words on pictures drawn for me by children.  The precise and comforting weight of my father's arm around my shoulder.

This



and this


and this



(For the record, I am also thankful for blog readers who bear with me when I say things like, "I'm not going to list what I'm thankful for" and then proceed to do exactly that.  I can only hope you will always be this patient with me, my friends.)

There are big things to be thankful for this year: that I am still breathing.  That I found an amazing person to marry who actually wanted to marry me back.  That I am surrounded by people who I love, and who love me.

But it's all these small things, these details... the twinkle of flame-lit street lamps against the sky at dusk, the way my sister's dimple curls in the exact same place on her cheek as mine, the thrum of the train as I ride into work every morning... that make up the whole of my days.  These are the things that I want to remember.  These are the things that I want to write about, in the hope that no one else misses them.

So happy belated Thanksgiving.  I hope yours, like mine, was full of one thousand tiny moments worth remembering.

11.17.2011

when it is part of making, how can you grudge it?

I have never understood why “hard work” is supposed to be pitiable.

True, some work is soul destroying when it is done against the grain,
but when it is part of “making” how can you grudge it?

You get tired,
of course, but

the struggle,
the challenge,
the feeling of being extended as you never thought you could be

is fulfilling
and deeply,
deeply satisfying.


RUMER GODDEN

11.15.2011

now with added exclamation points

A quick round-up of things I've been doing when I haven't been writing...
(Y'know, for posterity.)

Getting married!
(Yeah, that was kind of a big one.)

In early October, special awesome ladyfriend and I swooped into City Hall and officially tied the knot.  It was pretty much the most kickass day ever.







Carving pumpkins!

Every year for Halloween a few of my favorite people gather to eat delicious food, NOT watch scary movies (we prefer the Halloween episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in case you were wondering), and carve some pumpkins.  It is one of my favorite traditions.




Running a 5k!  And an 8k!

As you may recall, these were things I said out loud that I was going to do.  While I've been less successful at meeting my writing goals (a post for another day...) I did manage to complete both of these races without dying and/or completely humiliating myself.  Whee!


Hanging out at the Outer Banks!

For the aforementioned 8k, I flew down to the OBX and met up with my parents.  Good times were had by all.






And of course... working.





And you?  What have you all been up to?

11.10.2011

an incomplete list

I've been contemplating what inspires me, and the truth is, I'm not sure.

Well, alright - that isn't completely true.  When you think about it, there are two kinds of inspiration: the kind that gets you started, and the kind that gets you finished.  I find inspiration to get started all over the place: conversations I overhear, what-if questions I find myself mulling over as I drift off to sleep, movies, friendships, strangers sitting across from me on the train.  The place where stories come from.  There are a million reasons to start telling a story, because there are a million stories to be told.  It's the muddling through to the end that's the hard part.

It's not that I'm all that hard to inspire, it's just that... I'm fickle.  Sometimes a brilliant book... description...  sentence... word will move me, exhilarate me, and the ideas start coming - I want to do this, I want to make people feel like this - and my thoughts begin to take root like vines, twisting and lush and erupting into blue and orange flowers along the way: the world unfurls and everything is right there and I am just clutching my pen and widening my eyes and hoping I can get it all down.

But sometimes the same experience sends me reeling in exactly the opposite direction - I want to do this, I want to make people feel like this, but argh, I will never write like this - and I am crushed under the weight of all I want to do and be and the uncertainty of whether I'll ever live up to my own expectations.  And there are no leaves there, trust me - just dust and splinters and stale mildewy smells.

(What, you thought I would get my feelings of writerly inadequacy out of my system in one post?  Ha!)

So although I read a lot, other people's writing is an uncertain source of long-term inspiration.  In fact, reading has become sort of a dangerous endeavor (for my psyche, in any case) since I've become more serious about my own writing.

So what does keep me going, then? 

Hmm.  Bear with me as I ponder.

1: Success.  This is the one you're not supposed to say, but you know what?  Sometimes, when I don't feel like writing, the thing that gets my butt in the chair is the idea that my New York Times Bestseller isn't going to write itself.  No author has ever become a well-respected world-famous billionaire without writing a book, right?  Yes, it's insanely unlikely.  Yes, I'm more likely to be struck by lightning while being attacked by a shark than end up a world-famous billionaire author.  Still: it could happen.  But only if I write.

2: Failure.  Sara Zarr summed this up a million times better than I ever could in her guest post on Nova Ren Suma's blog.  To wit: "[E]very book... lives most of its life as a failure.  The creative process, and the creative life, is mostly full of moments between the idea and the being done, the spark and the blazing fire, the shimmering magic and the finished piece. We’re always living in the gap between our vision of what could be and what might be, and what is.  [...]  In a way, 'failure' is just another word for 'the journey,' for not being there yet but on the way. It’s the road we walk on to get wherever it is we’re trying to go."  OH HELL YES SARA ZARR.  (Now go read the rest of that post.  DO IT.  Come back when you're done.)

3: Growth.  Now where were we?  Oh yes.  So, I'm an INFJ.  And I mean I am really really really an INFJ.  Which means, in part, that I am "a perfectionist who doubts that they are living up to their full potential. INFJs are rarely at complete peace with themselves - there's always something else they should be doing to improve themselves and the world around them. They believe in constant growth, and don't often take time to revel in their accomplishments."  If you, like me, are driving yourself crazy because you have an unrelenting nagging feeling that you should be doing more, then you, like me, probably get a soothing sense of satisfaction when you sit down to write.  You're doing something.  You're learning and growing and moving in a direction.  Voila: instant inspiration to keep going.

If you do not have this unrelenting nagging feeling, congratulations: you can skip that part in therapy.  Instant inspiration savings!

4: Community.  Seeing others persevere, work hard, support one another, and take their own work and the work of their fellow writers seriously is in-freaking-credible.  Even though I am more frequently a blog-lurker than a commenter - though I'm trying to change that - it has been invaluable to skulk around and soak up the writer-love.  Knowing that we're all in this together means something.  And when I am stuck, or miserable, or bored, or just don't wanna, sometimes all it takes is an "#amwriting" tweet from a fellow writer to get me going.

... : I wish I had a 5th thing because lists seem more complete when they end on a number like 5.  But I can't really think of anything else right now.  (Still, a List of 4 Things isn't so bad considering I started this post saying I wasn't sure what inspired me at all.)

Nonetheless - help!  I'm in the market for a 5th thing.  What inspires you to get to your own finish line - whatever it might be?

10.31.2011

hunted and haunted

Once you put something in your brain, you can't get it back out again.

It's something my mother used to say to me.  She was concerned more for my moral health than my mental health, I suspect, because she's no stranger to scary movies.  But scary movies are what I can't seem to get out of my head, so that's where her lesson has really resonated.

I don't get it.  I don't get it.  Why do people watch this stuff???

I blame most of my complete and utter terror on accidentally walking in on my parents at the age of 4 as they watched Hellraiser.  (Yes, there are many things you could walk in on your parents doing that could potentially scar you for life, but let me throw out there that seeing THIS:



IS PRETTY HIGH UP ON THE LIST.)

The thing is, I have an imagination that won't quit.  And I don't mean that in the "ooooh, girl has legs that won't quit" kind of way.  I mean I can't turn it off, even when I want to.  I mentally write characters into every television show I watch.  I craft dialogue for movies that will never be filmed.  I live and re-live scenes from my own life; I rehearse telephone conversations I'll never have; I have long, detailed conversations with people I've never met.  This is my default.  Sometimes it's exhausting, but this is how my mind keeps itself occupied.  (In case you couldn't guess, I am the world's worst at meditating.)  But what this means is that once I see something scary... it multiplies, becomes something else.  Something bigger.  It takes up residence, digs in its claws, and fills my brainspace with its rotting breath and shining eyes.

It wasn't just Hellraiser that invaded my mind.  When I was... I don't know, maybe 12 or so, my brother and cousin and I watched Scream.  Now, I know the cool thing to do here would be to scoff and say, "And I mean, that movie wasn't scary at all," but uh... it was.  It really, really was.  The three of us were huddled up together in the dark, in a trailer, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of NOWHERE, in rural North Carolina.  As we watched the movie, I realized with a jolt that the light from the television was glaring blue off the windows, and I couldn't see outside.  As the night went on, I became sure - absolutely certain - that someone was standing out there, watching us.  Waiting.  And then the movie ended however it ended, with gore and terror and room for a sequel, and it was time for my brother and I to leave.  We had to.  We were staying at a house about a half-mile away, and our parents were expecting us back, and that meant we were going to have to cross a wide expanse of field in suffocating blackness while being chased by the knife-weilding sociopath who was standing on the other side of the window, stone-faced and merciless and just waiting for us to come out so he could torture us to death.

I have never run so fast.  Every footfall was a heartbeat was him; every star reflected the glint of a knife; every shadow kept pace.  Every breath was a reminder that there was no escape.

I suppose some people find that sort of terror exhilarating.  I just felt hunted.

So, unless you count The Sixth Sense - and I seem to be the only person who does - I haven't seen a scary movie since.  (I still have moments of complete terror that I'm going to round a corner and a kid with half his head blown off is going to ask me if I want to check out his father's gun.)  I don't read scary books.  I squinch my eyes shut and mute the commercials for scary shows on TV.  I can't let that stuff in.

Because the scariest part is, once it's in, I can't get it out again. 

The scariest part is: then, there really is no escape.

Happy Halloween.

10.25.2011

there is no Shangri-La

"I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief
that if you run carefully enough,
hitting each stepping-stone just right,
you won't have to die.
The truth is that you will die anyway
and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet
are going to do a whole lot better than you,
and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."
 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


I know, it's cliche to write about writers feeling inadequate, but I'm doing it anyway.  Because everyone - or everyone who isn't a raging narcissist - has that voice, that voice, skulking around in the backs of our brains, that sleek silky whisper purring that all of this is stupid, it's pointless, you're making a fool of yourself, you're wasting your time, it is never going to work, never, and oh, you poor thing, you poor, poor thing, you're to be pitied, honestly, because you are pathetic and silly and sad for thinking it ever could.

(Y'know, until I wrote that out I didn't realize how condescending my creepy self-doubt voice is.)

Anyway.  This isn't just a writer thing - I think everyone has moments when they're wracked with self-doubt.  But for the record, I think writers have to spend more time than most fighting it off.  For one thing, writing is a pretty solitary activity, and self-doubt is made for quiet moments.  For another, it's our job to poke around inside our brains all day.  When 90%* of your life is lived inside your head, you're bound to trip over your neuroses fairly frequently.

Over time I've come up with a lot of strategies to defeat The Voice.  One fairly obvious thing that makes a huge difference is having supportive friends and family around who can remind me that it's never crazy or pointless or pitiable to do something you love.  (Growing an online group of writer-friends has helped too.  Uh, brace yourself for sappy squeeze squish love time... but really, I'm fairly new to this blog thing and already I'm developing some budding friendships.  It's AWESOME.  Love love love.) 

Another strategy is to take lots of deep breaths and remind myself over and over that there is no Shangri-La.  The work had better be the happiness, because the goal is always moving and never guaranteed.

But that's big picture stuff.  This week's strategy has been a little more ground-level - trying to think my way out of demanding the perfect first draft.  And here's what's working for me right now: writing a body.

There are a million metaphors for what it's like to write a novel, and this one definitely isn't new, but it's working for me right now, so I'm going with it.  When the self-doubt begins, I tell myself that I'm just writing the bones.  It isn't perfect, and it doesn't have to be, because no one sees the bones.  When they're all in place, laid out in their approximately correct places and shining white, then I can go back.  There's time after - all kinds of time - to rearrange them, to join them together in new ways with tendons and muscle, to layer them with flesh, add organs - brain, heart - and probably some tattoos and piercings for flavor.

The work is the happiness.

There is no Shangri-La.

I'm just writing the bones.


And so I make it through another week...

So, I'm really interested to know: how do you tame The Voice??


*No?  Is that just me?

10.17.2011

scrivening with scrivener

So here's a question I got through the Ask Me Anything tab:

Scrivener's in your Things I Love. How'd you learn to use it? And do you use the Mac version or PC? (I'm halfway through the PC tutorial, and wondering how I'll remember it all and how to put it to use.)

Love this question!  Okay, first of all, for those who don't know, Scrivener is a fabulous program that helps writers organize content in a lot of different ways.  It's primarily helpful for people who are working on long projects - like novels, obviously - but I've also heard of people using it to write things like a thesis or other major paper.  It serves as both a word processor and and repository for your research and ideas, so everything is right there in one program.


It also has about a catrillion features.  To put that into context, here is a picture representing only one one-thousandth of one catrillion:


So as you can see, we're dealing with a lot of features.

Which brings me to the first part of our Questioner's question: how'd I learn to use it?

Um. 

I have the Mac version.  I started with the tutorials, but like you, Dear Questioner, my reaction was something along the lines of "EGADS THIS THING HAS LIKE A CATRILLION FEATURES SERIOUSLY HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REMEMBER ALL THIS?!?!!?"  Also I was chomping at the bit to just get writing.  So, I confess that I ditched the tutorials and I've mostly learned by just... playing around with it.

I know that this means I'm probably missing out on the vast majority of the Fancy Feast Features (i'm sorry, i'm not sure when this post developed a cat-themed subtext) but even without knowing how to ring every bell and blow every whistle, I've figured out how to do everything I've needed it to do so far, and more.

The thing is, while a lot of the features are incredible - and while it's good to know they exist - you probably won't need most of them on a day-to-day basis.  The majority of your time in Scrivener is going to be spent hanging out in the manuscript part of the binder and just, y'know, writing.  In my experience, a lot of the fancier options are most helpful either before you're writing, to set up a good foundation with your research and plotting/planning, and after, when you're editing.

So as for how to put it to use, I can only tell you what I do, which may be completely useless to you.  We all have our process, and that's why Scrivener kind of rules - because there are a million different ways to use it.  (No, they're not paying me, I swear.)

But, useless or not - here I offer you:

my tutorial-free guide on how to get not-even-close-to-the-most out of Scrivener, but still come away happy, organized, and novel-ed

So.  When you start a project, it defaults into giving you a few folders - one for the manuscript, one for research, one for trash, etc.  (At least, that's what happens in the Mac version - I assume it's similar, if not the same, in the PC edition).  I immediately create a few more: for characters, for setting, etc.  If I was an outliner I'd probably have one for my outline, too.  (Also, Scrivener has an amazing outliner that lets you arrange and re-arrange things, give items statuses, etc.  Again, I'm a pantser so I haven't really taken advantage of this, but it looks cool.  Though maybe more useful for non-fiction projects?)

The features I use the most in the planning phase are attaching photos and importing websites.  As I'm thinking about world-building, I'll often attach pictures, maps, wikipedia entries, etc. to my notes so that I'll have all my research in one place.  Pictures of characters, too, if they correspond in my head to real-life people.

So, once I have a world and characters to put in it (ha! It sounds so easy!) I'm ready to start writing.  I break up the manuscript into chapters, and each chapter into scenes.  I used to just number the scenes, but that was totally useless, so now I give them brief names so that I can see what's-happening-where in the binder as my plot moves forward.  (Kind of a "duh" moment for me.)  The features I use most often when I'm writing are:

Full Screen mode: a super-simple feature that is surprisingly helpful in keeping me distraction-free.

Split-screen mode: this is particularly useful when I need to refer to an event/conversation that happened earlier in the manuscript, to a picture when I'm trying to describe something, or to a piece of research.  I can keep typing in one window, and have my research/other scene open in another on the same screen.  So much better than switching back and forth between windows.

The notes bar on the side column: which I mostly use to make simple scene outlines, to remind myself of things that need to happen in the near future, or to help call to mind character motivations as I'm writing the scene.  It's just nice to have a little place to jot notes as I go.

The word count target: I have used this less lately, but if you know how many words you want to write - per document, per day, whatever - you can tell Scrivener and it'll keep track of how close you are to your goal.



I haven't had the opportunity yet to do a ton of editing in Scrivener, but features I've found useful are:

Snapshots: If I want to try something out but I don't want to lose the original version, I take a snapshot of the document.  Then it's saved, and I can revert back to it - or grab old language - if I decide that, y'know, making that character incontinent is actually gross, not funny.  Phew.

Scrivenings Mode: I can highlight several chapters or scenes in the binder, and then click "Edit Scrivenings" - that lets me see them as one large document, instead of as individual scenes.  It's a good way to make sure things are flowing.

Status Stamps (in Corkboard): I love the idea of the corkboard, but I haven't personally found it to be that useful (mostly because I write from beginning to end and there isn't generally a ton of shuffling that I have to do after the fact).  But one thing I do like are status stamps when I'm editing.  You can mark every scene's notecard with a stamp that shows whether it's in first draft, revised, or final draft mode.  You can also mark documents as "to do" or "done," and you can make your own stamps, if you want.  (Kind of fun to mark a finished document with "BOOYAH!")  It's an easy way to see where you are in your editing process, and to quickly define and select scenes that need to be edited.

I also haven't updated yet to the newest version of Scrivener, but I'm digging the idea of collections, so I might have to do that sooner than I anticipated.

Anyway, so that's my super super long answer to your very concise question.  As you can see, I don't do a ton with meta-data, and I hardly touch the corkboard or outliner.  Even still, having the ability to have all my research and writing in once place, to organize my writing into chapters and scenes that are easy to see and access, to view documents in split-screen, and to keep track of my editing process is no small thing.  And everything I use is simple enough to have been discovered through accident or trial and error.

I hope this was helpful!  Any other thoughts on Scrivener, from those who use it?

10.15.2011

home on a saturday night

...writing.

Been doing some serious, serious world-building these past few days.  The actual scenewriting has ground to a halt, but wow are things happening.

And so this is my life: 11pm on a Saturday and I'm hanging out with my imaginary friends.

(Is it wrong that this makes me really happy?)


PS - got a few questions in my Formspring form today - I answered the first one but it published strangely, so I deleted it, but I guess it'll still show up in my feed.  (Apparently they're right: the internet is forever!)  Fixing the bugginess and getting to the other questions soon...

10.14.2011

it is work; art is work

If you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing,
perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing.

And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem,
perhaps writing is not your forte.

I mean,
what is the problem?

If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal.

If that is not the case,
but you find that it is hard going
and it just doesn't flow,
well, what did you expect?

It is work;
art is work.

URSULA K. LE GUIN

10.05.2011

the ongoing poem

I'm pretty sure 2 weeks is the equivalent of 200 years in BlogLand.  Oops. 

Sooooo, where've I been?  What've I been doing? 

Short answer:  ALL THE THINGS.

Sleeping and eating and going on jogs and planning parties and attending parties and writing but not enough and working and catching up with friends and accidentally on purpose ignoring twitter and answering emails and getting rained on and preemptively buying new winter coats... things have been busy.

I've been doing this thing for the past month where instead of keeping a journal (which I have tried and failed to keep up on numerous occasions) I just make a brief list of every important thing I did during the day each night before I go to bed.  It's not detailed, at all, though sometimes I add little pictures or commentary. 

At first it felt like a cop out - if I'm going to bother keeping a record of what I'm doing, shouldn't I at least take the time to write out more than the barest minimum?  Am I really going to care that I "Was late to work (train late, someone jumped on tracks?) / Morning break with the crew, talked politics - eesh / Long day, worked late / Pandhandler on train got "Sweet Home Alabama" stuck in my head / Home to write and finally got my characters out of that tree / S cooked dinner, I burned the bread of course / Actually to bed at a decent hour"?

Turns out, yeah.  That's a pretty boring example (that I made up off the top of my head, ha) but what I'm finding I love about this way of keeping track of my time is that it distills my day down into little snapshots.  What were the most memorable things that happened today?  Often the things that come to mind aren't what I'd expect - little moments with strangers jump out at me, or small things someone said in passing seem to stick.  Sometimes it actually takes me a few minutes to remember so-called "big, important" things.  (Ahhh, perspective, there you are.)

So instead of a 3-page journal entry analyzing every minute detail of every day (which I know I won't keep up anyway - it's just too much!), I end up with something more like an ongoing poem of my time.  I also like this way of keeping track because I find myself looking for the small moments, now - not inventing them so much as finally noticing them for what they are.

So, that's where I've been.  Working on the poem. 

And you?  What have I missed?

9.22.2011

what life turns into

When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into:

‘House burned down.

Car stolen.

Cat exploded.

Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.’

NEIL GAIMAN

9.20.2011

yes, and yes












(I created/composed this as part of literary agent Janet Reid's most recent contest.  If you don't follow her blog, you should!)

9.18.2011

the most beautiful thing i keep


I think I understand why people compare their novels to children.  You cradle this thing inside of you and you nourish it and you ache and you help it grow and you love it while it's yours and you worry about it when you give it to the world.  It requires your time, and it simply cannot be without you.  It exists because you created it.

But I don't have children, and maybe that's why that isn't the way I think about my writing, not really.  Instead, I think of my work as something precious and shining and secret that I get to carry around and pull out to look at whenever I want.  And I don't mean the manuscript, I don't mean pulling the words up and re-reading them, though of course that's something I often do.  I mean the idea.  I mean that I am never bored because I always have some plot point to work through, some twist in the journey to map.  I mean that I am never lonely because I always have access to any number of characters, and it is infinitely interesting to spend time with them.  I mean that I have something for which I am exceedingly grateful: something that feels like a calling.

There are days and weeks and sometimes months when it drives me crazy, but right now I am madly in love with my story.  (This is a very self-indulgent post, but I have to write it down now so that I can remember it later, when we're all fighting and the words won't come and I'm pretty sure the plot makes no sense.)

Note to self: you have something beautiful that you get to hold inside your heart.  Don't underestimate how happy that should make you.

Revel, rinse, repeat.

9.16.2011

today is made of awesome

And I will tell you why:

1. It's Friday.
2. It's payday.
3. I wore a scarf today because IT FEELS LIKE FALL OUTSIDE!
4. I ran 5k at the gym yesterday and slept like a baby last night.
5. I have exceeded my writing goal for the week.

Let's just say that there's a little bit of THIS happening right now:




I hope you, too, are having a day worthy of a Liz Lemon dance party.  Happy Friday, friends!

9.13.2011

things you need to say out loud

I am a really wonderful goal-setter.  It's one of my greatest talents, really, identifying big exciting things I'd like to do and then writing them down somewhere.  Generally I make checklists and purchase fancy equipment to help aid me in achieving them, because yup, I am just that dedicated.

But you know where this is going.  Even with my fancy equipment and my checklists and all my good intentions, I have a pretty lousy track record with following through on my goals.  It's partly because I set so many of them, and partly because they're often unrealistic.  For some reason, whenever I decide I'm going to do something, I get this... rush.  I feel like I'm Wonder Woman for a few minutes.  (Actually, I'm not that into comics, so I feel more like Buffy, but you know what I'm saying.)  I forget that I have a job, and a life, and that I tend toward sleepiness and snugliness and Grey's Anatomy marathons in my free time.  So I fail, over and over.  Which is, uh, not my favorite thing to do. 

But!  Every day is another day.  So right now, my goal is to set three achievable goals, and then actually... do them.  Whatever it takes.  I just want to do what I say I'm going to do.

I read a quote once that really stuck with me (alas, the name of the person who said it did not, but whoever it was, they have my thanks):

There is power in doing what you say you're going to do.  You become a prophet in your own life.

Uh huh.  THAT.  Yes.  I want THAT.

So. 

GOALS FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR:
(yup, giving myself a couple months)


  • I want to run a 5k by the end of October, and an 8k by the end of November.
This one shouldn't be too hard.  My running buddy friends and I are planning on doing a 5k in October, and I'm already signed up to run an 8k in November.  But again: do what I say I'm going to do.  Time to start training in earnest.



  • I want to write 2,000 words per week.
Actually, I want to write at least 3,000 words per week, but in the past that hasn't proved to be realistic in the long term.  Things get busy, my word count goes down, and there goes my goal.  I know there are people who dash off 2,000 words a day, but I'm not one of those.  I'm slow.  Hitting 2,000 a week shouldn't be hard, but for me it is.  That said, if I dedicate myself to setting aside the time, it should be managable.  And if I hit 3,000+, well, more dance parties for me!



  • I want to call at least one of my siblings at least once a week.
I have two younger brothers and a younger sister, and I love them all like mad.  We're incredibly close and loving when we're together, but unfortunately we're not together very often.  I think about them all the time, but we don't talk that much.  So I want to start reaching out more, and making it a habit to be a part of their lives even when we're apart.


So those are my goals.  I'm saying them here because I mean them, and I want to be held accountable for them. 

If you have any you'd like to share with me, feel free.  Putting them out there is a powerful thing, and I am happy to hold, as well as be held, accountable for the things we say out loud.

9.08.2011

trying so hard to be

Writers aren’t people 
exactly. 

Or, if they’re any good, 
they’re a whole lot of people 
trying so hard to be one person.

It’s like actors, 
who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors.

Who lean backward trying – 
only to see their faces 
in the reflecting chandeliers.


F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

9.06.2011

paranoid parrot

So.  A whole bunch of people from my past - people I haven't spoken to in years - have randomly contacted me within the last two weeks.  Don't get me wrong, this is awesome.  I love hearing from old friends, and it's always great to find out how they're doing, and to let them know what I've been up to. 

When my first old friend got in touch, I bounced up and down in my chair.  "Ooh!" I squealed.  "Yay!  Old friend!"

When my second friend got in touch, my eyebrows went up.  "How funny!  Weird coincidence.  But awesome!"

When my third friend got in touch, I turned to my girlfriend.  "Um, do you think I might be dying?"

"What?"

"Me.  Dying.  I just had three old friends get in touch with me in less than 2 weeks.  Do you think the universe might be telling me that I'm dying and I need to be reaching out to old friends?"

(I should note that she is used to these bizarro questions from me, so she didn't immediately try to have me committed.) 

"No," she said, shaking her head.  "I do not think the universe is telling you that you're dying.  And why would that be your first thought??"

I just stared at her blankly.  "Have you MET me????"






 All photos from here

C'mon, I am Paranoid Parrot.  What did she expect?

8.30.2011

because we are here

By day, I'm a lawyer. 

(I know.)

As part of my job, I read medical evidence.  Actually, I spend about 80% of my time reading through people's medical records.  These people are strangers, they're people I will never meet, but I sit down every day and rifle through their lives, their secrets.  I know how tall they are, how much they weigh, their eye color.  I know how they're feeling about their marriages, the concerns they have about their children.  I know what medications they take.  I know that their backs ache in the cold, that their skin burns too easily in the sun, that they grow tearful at the mention of their mothers.  I know that they sleep too much, that they won't sleep, that they want to sleep but they can't.  I know the contents of their dreams.  I know about the nightmares.




My job is not fun, exactly.  On the contrary, it's often depressing and tedious.  And on top of that, for a while I succumbed to that predictable first-year-med-student-esque freakout, where I self-diagnosed myself with all sorts of crazy things because - well, because the diagnoses are everywhere.  No matter what I was feeling, I finally had a language to pathologize it.  This was not a good thing: it's like my brain turned into WebMD.  (Hint: the answer is always "cancer.")

Eventually, though, the diagnoses all started to run together, and there was only one thing that remained, one thing that wound like a thread through all the doctor's appointments, all the prescriptions, all the hospital intakes and surgeries and discharges, pulsing like a heartbeat:


we are all so fragile
     we are all so fragile
we are all so fragile
     we are all so fragile
we are all so fragile
     we are all so fragile


We are.

The world is big, and scary, and we are small and precious and easily-broken things: THAT is what these records say.  And some days I come home and I try to forget everything I just read, to forget that we are one car accident or one rogue cell or one tired heartbeat away from everything we know. 

(These are my panicked days.)

And then there are the days when I come home and I am shining, glowing with gratitude and inhaling deeply and feeling dizzy with happiness.  Because we are all so fragile, but we are here.  And this is it.  And every moment of this, this joy, the endless sky and the gold-flecked eyes of the person you love and your own two hands connected to your body connected to your heart connected to your whirring, whirring brain: it's not to be missed.

And that is another reason why I write. 

Because there is so much.

Because there is just so, so much.




8.25.2011

friendly reminder

When was the last time you backed up your work?

There is nothing worse than finally getting down that perfect scene... or chapter... or novel... only to have it be devoured by a nefarious computer monster.

I save my work on an external hard-drive, and I also use Dropbox, which is is a file sync/backup service that automatically saves your files to some sort of magical internet cloud, from whence you can later retrieve it using ANY computer (once you've downloaded Dropbox onto it).  In other words, if I'm working on my laptop and I save my WIP to my Dropbox folder, I can open it on my friend's computer when I go to meet her at the coffee shop down the street. 

Or, perhaps more importantly, I can open it on my NEW laptop when the hard drive on my old one is eaten by the aforementioned nefarious computer monster.

Ah, technology, you are at once so terrible and so glorious.

8.23.2011

yup. still overwhelmed.

What is it about summertime that makes everything so... busy?

I don't have time to write this post.  I'm behind at work, behind in my writing.  There've been guests in my house for the past week and a half (lovely, wonderful guests, but guests nonetheless) who left yesterday, so last night was the first night I've had to myself in quite a while.  I worked late, rushed home, went for a jog, cooked and ate dinner, and spent the rest of the evening organizing scenecards onto the enormous bulletin board that my (lovely, wonderful) guests gifted to me.  So now I have... not an outline... but an assortment of scenes and images in some semblance of order that will hopefully help light the path.  (I am currently so anti-outlining that even this kind of makes me nervous - but a novel is the size of a universe, and you can't hold an entire universe in your head for very long.  Or so I am discovering.)

All of which is to say: I am looking forward to a little winter hibernation.  Something about winter and snowstorms and tea and snuggling up under blankets just seems to do wonders for my ability to get things written.  It's just too pretty outside to be productive!

(I know, I am the only person in New England wishing for winter right now.  Feel free to tell me to shut it.)

Tonight I have a writing date with a friend who is trying to make more time for what he loves, too.  We're going to sit on my back porch and enjoy the gorgeous weather WHILE getting things done.  How's that for cheating the system, eh?

Wish me luck.

And in the meantime, I will leave you to hang out with this guy.  Tell me those eyes don't inspire you.

8.16.2011

the things that will save us

I mentioned last week that I was feeling overwhelmed by life lately, which is true.  Part of it is just Normal Life Stuff, the things we all have to deal with, the things that, with luck and practice, we all eventually figure out how to balance.  For a while I felt like I had everything under control, but I'm having some trouble with that balance lately.  There are days when I wake up as the sun is rising and spend all day at work sitting in front of a computer and I get home as the sun is setting, eat dinner, fit in those small things that fill my evenings, then suddenly it's bedtime and one day blends into the next that way and before you know it weeks have passed and I haven't done a single thing that means something to me.  Not a single thing that feels like it adds something important to my life.  And that provokes a deep anxiety, because how many lives are we guaranteed, really?  What am I doing with what I've been given?

This isn't new.  I think we all go through periods where we have to try and re-focus, re-prioritize.  But in my case, right now, it feels bigger than that.  It feels like things are moving, like deep-seated things in my life are in transition.  Which is odd, considering I'm in a stable relationship, working a stable job.  I am well-cared-for, well-loved.  So what is all this churning aching upset about?

I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, but I feel it swirling everywhere around my writing.

Writing is unsettling.  Not always, and maybe not for everyone.  But for me, it moves things around, rearrranges things in my head and forces me to confront parts of myself that are sometimes difficult to acknowledge.  And that's what I feel happening now: I am being unsettled.  Displaced.  Disrupted.

The feeling is there in the thinking about writing, the planning to write, the actually sitting down and writing.  There is the disappointment at my procrastination, at my paltry wordcounts; there is the fatigue, the constant fight to carve out space for myself, to enforce quiet so I can think.  There is the shame of having to confront the person I want to be - the peppy early-riser who finds time for everything and never sets a goal she doesn't keep - with the person I am - the girl who's stumbling from one activity to the next in a haze, who can barely keep up, who sets goal after goal only to find herself falling short.  There is the discontent of knowing that I should be nicer to myself, and failing at that, too.

There is the very different disturbance that comes with actually writing, those brilliant sacred moments when I sit down and create a scene out of nothing, out of dreams, and suddenly my characters are asking me unsettling questions like, "Why am I here?  What is my purpose?"  There is the struggle to answer those questions, of how to do my characters justice, how to give them meaning, and the fear of not knowing what those questions mean for my own life.  Am I living - really living?  Am I a good person?  Am I focused on the Important Things, or am I just going through the motions?  How do I feel about the answers to those questions?  What am I going to do about it?

And then there is the uncertainty of existing in two worlds, the world in my head where I am a writer and maybe, one day, someone will pay me to do this work, and the world that actually exists, where I am still me, still me.  There is the discontent of not trusting that my dream will ever be realized.  There is the fear that maybe I'm lying to myself, maybe writing isn't in my future.  There is the feeling of never being assured.

In other words, the act of writing forces me to confront my weaknesses, to contemplate my place in the world, and to re-envision my life's trajectory.  Heavy stuff, for something that I do in my spare time. 

So why keep doing it?  Why not just stop?

Because the poison is the medicine.  Growth is painful, yes, but it's a teeth-grinding pain that gets you somewhere.  It's easy to say that I want a life that has meaning; it's easy to say I want to connect deeply with myself and other people, that I want to study and investigate and experience and know.  It's easy to want wisdom.  It's another thing entirely to do the hard work of engaging.  Grappling.  Struggling.

Writing tears meaning out of my bones.  It makes me grow, it makes me confront, it makes me question.  It makes me angry and uncomfortable.  It scares me.

And it should.

These are the things that will save us, these things that grab us by our shoulders and force us down the path.  These are the things that are worth doing.

And so I write.  And I keep writing.

I write into the discontent.

You?

8.12.2011

you have every right.

Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is.

Who am I?
What right have I to speak?
Who will listen to me if I do?


You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell,
and you have every right.

If you speak with passion, many of us will listen.
We need stories to live,
all of us.
We live by story.

Yours enlarges the circle.


RICHARD RHODES

Happy weekend!

8.11.2011

do more with nothing

The world is big and vibrant and beautiful and there are ten thousand things vying for our attention at any given moment.  And as writers, part of what we do is take it all in - it's our job to notice the details so that we can use them later.  We evoke what it is that we absorb.

But I have to say, personally, I've been feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed by our big beautiful world lately.  Between my family and my friendships and work and writing and writing classes and email and Twitter and Facebook and blogging, I'm starting to feel emptied out rather than fulfilled by everything on offer.

So, today, I am giving myself a break. And I think you should do the same.

Do Nothing For 2 Minutes

(Two minutes, I know... but it's a start!)

8.09.2011

where stories come from

I never know what to tell people when they ask me where I get the ideas for my stories.  I mean, the easiest answer is... my brain.  The more complicated answer is, I don't know and I'm not sure how much I have to do with the creation of those ideas, and also it's a lot of work.

(That second answer is a contradiction, but that doesn't make it any less true.)

But the answer that I'd like to give people, when they ask, goes more like this: the stories come from places inside of me that are odd and ferocious and beautiful and strange and calm.  I wish I could show you those places, but I can't.  If I could, though, I think they would look something like this.












8.05.2011

what i'm reading

I keep a running list of what I've read this year here, but I don't provide any sort of commentary, just the list.  As you may have noticed, I'm having a Summer of YA, so I've been devouring lots of titles I've been meaning to read for a while, as well as anything else that strikes my YA fancy.  My intention is just to keep a record, in case anyone wants to say "Hey, yeah, I read that - what did you think?" or something of the sort.  I'm not really one for writing reviews; I'd rather have a conversation.

But I just needed to throw this out there:


I just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and it was amazing.

Seriously.  I cannot explain how much I loved this book.  The world-building is superb, the characterizations are dead on, the plot is fast-paced and, frankly, brilliant.

It's not a new release (published in 2008, I think?) so maybe there was hype around it when it came out and I just missed it.  But I'm re-hyping.

If you love YA: read it.  If you don't: read it anyway.

Honestly.  Just read it.  Thank me later.

(Happy weekend!)

8.04.2011

pom-pom(odoros)

Apparently I have a procrastination problem, because 99% of my favorite writing-related links have to do with ways to keep me focused and on track.

(Obviously it's not just me.  Blame the internet, it's re-wiring our brains and turning them to mush.)

Sooooo, maybe it's silly that I'm about to link to a website, of all things, that might help de-mush you.  ...What can I say, I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.*

Okay.  Raise your hand if you've heard of the Pomodoro Technique.  Now put your hand down, because I can't see you anyway.  Now put it back up.  Now back down.  (Just making sure you're still paying attention.)

Now high-five a million angels, because this technique is awesomesauce.



The Pomodoro Technique was created by some guy named Francesco Cirillo (yeah, I'd never heard of him either) and the gist is that you work in 25 minute increments (a "pomodoro") with 5 minute breaks in between.  You pick a task before you start, and then you just. do. that.

You don't answer the phone during a pomodoro.  You don't check your email.  If you think of something you need to do that's off-task, you jot it down and deal with it on break or during another pomodoro.  And what's cool is, it's easy to stay focused for 25 minutes when you know you get a break at the end - it's like you trick your brain into it by saying, "Hey, we just have to get through this one thing, then PARTY TIME!!!!!(There's also apparently some kind of pseudo-scientific-ish brain-rhythm thing going on, but I don't know much about that.)

The original technique calls for a kitchen timer, but I've found something even better:


Register and behold: productivity abounds.

You like?

8.02.2011

do what you have to do

I love to hear about successful writers' habits - particularly the weird ones.  (Weird habits, that is, not writers.  Well, okay - weird writers too.)  A friend of mine passed along this article recently - it's older, from the WSJ in November of 09, but worth a look.  It talks about what some published writers do to get the words out...

Most days, Nicholson Baker rises at 4 a.m. to write at his home in South Berwick, Maine. Leaving the lights off, he sets his laptop screen to black and the text to gray, so that the darkness is uninterrupted. After a couple of hours of writing in what he calls a dreamlike state, he goes back to bed, then rises at 8:30 to edit his work.
 (For the record, I LOVE THAT.)

Booker-prize winner Michael Ondaatje's preferred medium is 8½-by-11-inch Muji brand lined notebooks. He completes the first three or four drafts by hand, sometimes literally cutting and pasting passages and whole chapters with scissors and tape. Some of his notebooks have pages with four layers underneath.

When he's in the middle of a novel, Colum McCann sometimes prints out a chapter or two in large font, staples it together like a book, and takes it to Central Park. He finds a quiet bench and pretends he's reading a book by someone else.

Whatever it takes to get it done, right?  My own writing habits are boring compared to these, though.  (For the record: it doesn't really matter where I am, as long as it's quiet.  I like to type in Scrivener, in Full Screen mode, so that I'm not distracted by other windows, and so that I have to make a point to exit if I want to, say, research something online - helps keep me from disappearing down the rabbit hole.  I always carry a notebook with me for jotting down ideas, but I try not to get bogged down in planning ahead.  And... that's about it.  YAWN.)  Maybe I'll know I've finally made it when I'm only able to write a novel in pasta sauce across the tile of my kitchen floor.

How about you - what secret strange writing habits are you hiding from the world, hmmmm?  *wiggles eyebrows*

8.01.2011

what you read when you don't have to


It is what you read when you don't have to
that determines 
what you will be
when you can't help it.

Oscar Wilde

7.30.2011

shadow art


I'd never heard of shadow art until I stumbled onto these pictures.  So, so cool...








Happy weekend!