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:


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.


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?


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?


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?


home on a saturday night


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...


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.



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?