7.30.2011

shadow art


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








Happy weekend!

7.28.2011

who am i?


Ahh, one of life's fundamental questions, the profound mystery that everyone from Hamlet to Zoolander has tried to figure out along the way.  Everyone wants to know who they are at their core, the reasons they act and react the way they do.  And hey, it's great to discover that kind of thing about yourself.  (As anyone who has survived the turmoil of middle and high school knows - it's not always an easy question to answer.) 

While discovering the inner workings of your own mind can take a lifetime (and/or lots of therapy) there are some shortcuts.


I am fascinated by these tests.  We all know we're different, but it's usually hard to understand exactly how.  What makes us tick?  Why do some people respond to situations confrontationally, while others shy away?  Why is my head in the clouds while you've got your feet firmly planted on the ground?  Enter the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I've taken it.  I've made everyone I know take it.  It has repeatedly freaked me out with its accuracy.

Turns out I'm an INFJ.  (And am I ever: intuitive, conflict-avoidant, stubborn, a bit of a perfectionist, private, and consistently doubting that I'm living up to my own potential... yeah, don't you want to be best friends now?  Ha.)

I've also taken this test on behalf of my characters.  If you're bored with the same old character worksheets ("hair color?  eye color?  family situation?  best friend?") this can be a way to dig a little deeper and help you really get into the mind of your characters.  Not what do they look like, or how did they get here, but who are they?

And while you're at it... who're you?

Have fun!

7.26.2011

confessions of a time thief

There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait. Make the time now, even if it is ten minutes once a week.
NATALIE GOLDBERG


So here it is: I don't have any children.  I have a day job with reasonable hours.  I have what I consider a fairly normal social life - not out every night of the week, but enough.

I still find it hard to find the time to write.

I'm absolutely in awe of those people who balance their three kids and spouse and dog and job and social life and find the time to write novels on the side.  I've got half as much to do, and there are still weeks where I can't manage to fit in a single word.  And for a long time, I couldn't figure out why.  Why couldn't I make it work?  Where was all that time going?

It was like I expected to wake up with hours and hours set aside for writing, and when I didn't, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well... maybe next week."  I was waiting for my life to hand me time, as though my schedule were completely out of my control.  If there weren't blank spaces in my calendar this week, then maybe it wasn't meant to be.

I think I thought this way for a few reasons.  The first was practical: I wasn't used to making time for writing, and it took me a while to realize that I'd have to schedule it in if it was ever going to happen in any consistent way. 

But the second was emotional, and it was the more pressing issue, I think: I felt self-conscious about my choice to prioritize writing in my life.  As another writer once said to me, "People think we're crazy, you know?"  Who turns down time with friends to sit alone in a room and write down stories?  Who passes up adventures and food and fun to hang out with their imaginary friends?  And it's a choice that feels particularly insane when there's no guarantee that anything will ever come of those stories.  Writing is time-consuming, it's solitary, and it makes no promises.  Of course people think we're crazy.

But we do it anyway.

I can't tell you WHY you write.  But I can tell you this: if you've got a story in you, and you've made the decision to tell it, then you don't find the time.  You make the time.  You steal the time.  You write when your friends are out at the movies.  You write when you should be cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry.  You write before everyone in your house wakes up, or after they've all gone to sleep.

And you shouldn't feel ashamed of that.  If people think you're crazy - well, trust that you're in good company.  All writers are a little bit crazy.  Welcome to the asylum.

The thing is, time is going to pass whether you're doing what you love or not.  I finally reached a point where I knew I wanted to look back in a year and have accomplished something - have words to show for it.  That year is going by no matter what, and it's up to me how I spend my time, how I direct my energy.  I'm not saying I never spend time with my friends; I'm not saying my house is always trashed.  But when I make the choice to turn something down so that I stick to my scheduled writing time, it's a conscious choice.  Likewise, when I turn down writing to go do something else, I know what I'm giving up.  It's about a balance.  It's about creating a life that I can look back on with satisfaction.


Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do.

But don’t quit.

ANDRE DUBUS


What are you doing to strike a balance?

7.25.2011

.want.


I'm pretty sure every good dream I've ever had started in this room.



(Strahov Theological Hall - Prague)
(from here)

7.21.2011

write or die

For those days when you just need to get. it. written. but you're typing so slowly that spiders are seriously considering spinning their webby little homes between your curled and frustrated fingers: 

When you click on the link, scroll down a bit and look in the right sidebar for "Write or Die Online" - it'll let you choose a word/time goal, a consequence, and a grace period.  

The idea is that you give yourself a goal ("I'm going to write for 20 minutes" or "I'm going to write 500 words") and then you start typing.  As long as you keep typing, you're fine... but if you stop, you have a grace period of only a few seconds.  Wait too long and your consequence kicks in.

The consequences range from gentle (a box popping up to remind you to keep writing) to kamikaze (your words unwrite themselves - eesh).

Sometimes I don't need much of a push to get things going, but other times it helps to have a little added incentive.  Sort of... free-writing with a twist. 


So, what do you think?  Useful, or too stressful?  How do you power through?



Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with anyone on the other end of that link.  Just sharing it because I found it useful!

7.19.2011

million-word apprenticeship

So.  Let's talk failure, shall we?

The first novel I ever wrote was - well, it was a first novel.  It had a massive outline filled with characters I didn't know all that well, which didn't bother me in the least.  So what if my main character wouldn't ever actually say that thing he just said?  I needed him to say it, because then Secondary Character Who Exists for this Very Purpose could respond just so, and the plot would move forward like I'd planned.  DUH.

I had an outline.  Those characters had places to be.  I didn't have time to sit around waiting for them to react organically; if I just let things just unfold, they might surprise me... and then what would happen to my story?  Improvising wasn't part of the plan!  I have a plan for you, characters!  Trust me!  IT ALL MAKES SENSE IF YOU READ THE OUTLINE!  STOP WHINING!  THIS ISN'T THAT HARD!

That was my philosophy the first time around: keep your head down, ignore your characters, and stick to the outline no matter what.  Shockingly, that first draft was... terrible.  Terrible.  The characters were one-dimensional, the writing was flat, the pacing was way off. 

"Ah.  Must have been the outline," I thought to myself.  I nodded sagely and got back to work.

Attempt number two was a complete re-write of the first.  This time, I was armed with a new-and-improved monster outline, a couple writing classes, and a ton of books and blogs on setting and character and plot and pace.

I got through re-writing about a third of the book before I realized, with a growing sense of dread, that it still wasn't working.  *gulp*  Things just weren't coming together.  The thing is, the farther I got, the clearer it became that this manuscript was going to need at least one more major overhaul to make it work.  I'd arrived at one of those forks-in-the-road that makes for such good drama in fiction, and such awful angst in life: should I keep fighting the good fight, or was it wiser to know when to say enough is enough?

Finally I made what was, for me, a really tough decision.  I stopped.  Put the manuscript away, told my characters we needed a break, said a quiet little goodbye to them.  I intended to come back - I still intend to come back.  But I just... couldn't make that manuscript work.  That was not the story I was meant to tell at that moment.  And the idea of plowing through it - for the third time - was enough to make me forget why I loved writing in the first place.

As you might imagine, this was not a very happy time in my brain.  It felt like failure, walking away from everything I'd been working on.  It seemed like such a colossal waste of my time and energy.  After all, what had I gained?  All those hours, all that thinking and writing and gritting my teeth, and all I had to show for it were thousands and thousands of useless words.

Except.

Except when I picked up a pen again... something had changed.  This time around, my brain was all: Wait a minute!  I've done this before!  No sirrie, not going to make those mistakes again!  How about instead of that, we do this?  Try that!  Plan for this!  Nope, not that - let our characters figure that out!

It wasn't like I'd turned into an expert overnight, but it didn't feel like I was fumbling around in the darkness anymore.  I'd built myself a lantern out of all those useless words.

Here's the thing.  Writing is a craft, and it's something you can only learn by doing.  You can read about how to write (and you should), you can listen to what other people do and try it out for yourself (and you should) - but ultimately, you don't begin to understand how to spin stories out of nothing until you put pen to paper and do it.  And you know what?  Your first attempts might suck.  Hard.  Because it takes practice to make words fit together like joints, to make stories flow like streams.  It takes attempting to write a novel to figure out whether you're a plotter or a pantser.  It takes totally short-shrifting your characters to realize that they're the ones running the show.

They say it takes a million written words to turn you into a writer: that each word, each attempt at creation is inevitably better than what came before.  And so I refuse to see that first manuscript as a failure.  It wasn't a failure, or a waste of time, or anything I ought to regret.

It was just another step in my million-word apprenticeship.

The truth is:

There is no such thing as a wasted word. 

The truth is:

You can't fail. 

...so what are you waiting for?

7.12.2011

after you read this blog post, you'll feel as awesome as someone who has read this blog post before

Ah, metaphors and similies.  Never underestimate the power of these tools to add flavor to your writing, much like the Spam in a mini Spam nacho burger.  When done well, they can make complicated or intagible things feel real and understandable to your readers, like a refreshing mint that their brains can suck on.  And don't you want your readers to have minty-fresh brains?

But when they go wrong... well, let's just say you don't want to be caught dead mixing metaphors with a ten-foot-pole.  And sometimes, instead of making things more clear, they just distract from what you're trying to say, the way a cooked pig face distracts you from enjoying your pulled pork at that backyard BBQ where your dad insisted that it would be "so cool" to roast an entire pig and all you really wanted was to hang out with your friends in a setting that didn't give you PTSD flashbacks to SAW XIVVIXVI.

But alas, similies and metaphors are difficult things to master.  Without further ado, I present to you a short list of the best (er... worst) of their kind:

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
(Jack Bross, Chevy Chase)

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
(Joseph Romm, Washington)

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy!" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
(Roy Ashley, Washington)

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
(Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
(Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid 55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quid \aaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
(Ken Krattenmaker, Landover Hills)

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
(Barbara Fetherolf, Alexandria)

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
(Malcolm Fleschner, Arlington)

The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
(Paul J. Kocak, Syracuse)

They were as good friends as the people on "Friends."
(Katie Buckner, McLean)

Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.
(Barbara Collier, Garrett Park)



How about you?  Any faves from this list?  Any particularly bad ones that your minty-fresh brain has invented?


(Examples taken from The Washington Post Style Invitationals, here and here.)

7.09.2011

well hello there!

Blog, meet world.

World, blog.

HIYA!

So, since we're just getting to know one another, here's something you should know right off the bat: I make stuff up.  I make stuff up in my head and I write it down, and that's one of my favorite ways to spend my time.  I used to do it a lot more - all through my childhood and into high school, I wrote and wrote and wrote.  Poems.  Short stories.  Half-formed attempts at very odd little novels.  It was a rare moment when I wasn't scratching something in a notebook or typing something out when I should have been doing other things.

Then I went to law school, and... here's the thing.  I once heard someone compare law school to boot camp: they break you down so that they can re-build you into the person they want you to be.

Um.  Yes.  That sounds about right.

So by the end of my third year, I could craft a Motion to Dismiss that would BLOW YOUR MIND,* but I had given up writing about the people floating around in my head.  In fact, I'd almost forgotten about them entirely.  Everything was property law and bar prep and contracts and briefs, and there just wasn't a lot of room left (in my brain or my day) to hang out with my imaginary friends.  That's not to say that the law doesn't have its own kind of creativity - you take this story, you take these laws, you figure out how to fit them together and make an argument out of them.  But let's face it: lawyering does not feel like writing.  Not even close.  Not to me, anyway.

But.

If you love writing, you can't leave it alone  it won't leave you alone you write.  You just do.  Within the last two years or so, the stories starting banging on my brain more and more insistently, and finally I had no choice but to listen.  Poems started eeking out, then ideas for longer stories.  I got back to my writerly self.  And now I'm steeped in words.

You guys.  I have never been happier.

So that's what this blog is about: this newish journey of mine, which is really just the process of getting back on a path I never meant to leave in the first place.  It'll probably be a few parts life, a few parts writing... who knows.

I'm just going where the words take me.




*Yeah, okay, probably not.