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