Month: April 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Recapturing my zen place

Late last week, I hit a snag. Not in the plot, but in my attitude. I was feeling low, impatient, inadequate. Truth is, this happens all the time, to every writer. Sometimes just for a second, sometimes for a day, a week, a month, or (god forbid) a year or more. It’s one of those lesser-known truths, an occupational hazard of the writing life that we prefer to ignore or forget. But why do you think so many of the greats turned to alcohol and drugs?

Fortunately there are other coping mechanisms, and most of us take advantage of them now. One of the best remedies available is your writing community, whether in-person or online.

• Ex: the Intern’s “frightful confession.” (Bloody brilliant.)
• Also: encouraging emails from your crit partners.

Another remedy is writing itself.

• Ex: my guest post today at Writer Unboxed, “The hardest part of being a writer.” (Writing this helped me sort out my own feelings and move on.)

Those are places I turned last week, and now I’m back in my zen place. I know I’ll leave it again, but I also know I’ll find it again. Over and over, because that’s how this writing life goes.

(And really, any creative life.)

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THE JOY OF DOING THINGS BADLY by Veronica Chambers

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

The Joy of Doing Things Badly: A Girl's Guide to Love, Life and Foolish BraveryI probably never would have picked up this book if two of my best girl friends hadn’t recommended it. It’s nonfic, which isn’t my usual fare, but it’s got a lot of heart.

We think we have to be perfect for other people to love us, when in fact the opposite is true. We are loved for our imperfections — for our funny faces and walks and dances and songs. (28)

The funny thing is, love creates a sort of perfection. God knows our parents, our friends, and our significant others are far from perfect. But don’t they seem that way to you sometimes? Don’t their faces seem slimmer, their laugh lines less prominent, their quirks more endearing?

(Frankly, this is one of the reasons I hate when the love interest in a novel is described as “perfect.” YA novels seem particularly prone to this. It’s one thing if the protagonist comes to view their love interest as perfect, but it’s quite another thing to think that from the outset.)

I do not want the objects I own to outlast the friendships they sprung from. (37)

The stuffed pig still sits on my dresser, and there’s a box of photos, dried flowers, and ticket stubs in the closet of my parents’ house. Then there’s the red elastic bracelet in a box next to my desk, the pin that reads “prose before hoes.”

Even the people that I’ve let go of… Well, I guess I kept a few pieces. Sometimes I wonder if they have too.

People always ask me if I write in a journal every day. They imagine that because I’m a writer, writing in a journal must be like a pianist practicing. My lofty answer is that writing is only a small part of my job, the bigger part of my job is actually reading, observing, and researching. (56)

I hate when I goof off, wasting time that I could be using to write. But almost as much, I hate when I’m not goofing off, and someone assumes that I am. Reading, thinking, blogging — they’re all part of this.

We map the cities we love with landmarks: our favorite shops, schools we once attended, the addresses of men we once loved. (82)

I think that’s what homes are to me: an amalgam of personal landmarks. Houston, Taipei, Pittsburgh, Madrid, Cincinnati. I might not know all their histories, all their roads, or even all their languages. But in each of these cities, I can show you where I felt something. I can show you where I lived, and it will have nothing to do with a building.

When I am insecure or self-critical, my friends are both mirrors and crystal balls. They reflect all the good things about me I cannot see, and they assure me that my future is as bright as I want it to be. (192)

I don’t think this means that your friends verbally reassure you. At least, that’s not what I take it to mean. It’s more like… Your friends say (figuratively) a lot about you. They show what kind of person you are, and what kind of person you want to be. That’s why it’s important to seek out people who challenge and motivate you. Who are doing things you respect, who have qualities you admire.

For the record, my friends constantly amaze me.

Success surely means surrounding myself with loving people who bring me joy. (194)

Everyone has their own definition. This is definitely a part of mine.

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Who I write for

A couple days ago, I found Christine Lee Zilka through Meghan Ward’s blog, and I was touched by her post about whom she writes for. (Spoiler: her dad.) She ended the post by asking who we write for, and this was my response.

I don’t write for just one person… I write for myself first and foremost (which makes me feel guilty after reading a post like this, lol, but oh well) and then for my mom and dad. And then my close friends. And then maybe the teachers and mentors along the way who said I could do this, who tried to help me succeed. And then for my (nonexistent, yet) children, who I want to teach to follow their dreams. And then of course for my (nonexistent, yet) fans, lol.

Yes, all those people are in my head every time I sit down to write. It gets a bit noisy, though, so I ask all of them to shut up. And then I write for the characters.

It’s true. And I didn’t even know until I started typing it all out.

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Writerly Wednesday

  • I’m doing another giveaway, this time of 3 books: CASTING OFF by Nicole Dickson, ORYX & CRAKE by Margaret Atwood, and FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES by Min Jin Lee. So far only 2 people have entered, lol, so the odds are ridiculously good. Doesn’t anybody want free books?!
  • Fellow writer Amanda Kendle runs a great little travel blog called Not a Ballerina. (Aussies really embrace travel. They could teach us uptight, workaholic Americans a thing or two.) In her latest post she gives a lot of love to my Galapagos write-ups! Check it out.
  • In her post “3, 2, 1 … JUMP” Shari describes with perfect idealistic joy the way I feel about writing. Oh, some days when bad news or self-doubt creep in, it’s hard to remember what this is all about. But that’s exactly why I love her post. She reminded me.

“Look, writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub,” he said. “Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t.”

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SOMETHING BORROWED by Emily Giffin

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Back in the day, I used to think of books as sacred. Not to be creased, dog-eared, underlined, highlighted, nada. Then again, I also used to buy beautiful pens — fountain, feather, etc. — just to have and admire. Now that I’m older, I believe even the most beautiful things are meant to be used. I still treat my books well, but I’m not afraid to underline favorite lines (or mark them with Post-it flags). If the book is borrowed, I will type the best bits into an email to myself.

Now that I’m older, I believe our imprints on our things are what make them sacred.

Anyhoot, this is all a roundabout way of saying that I mark/save my favorite lines, and sometimes I want to share them — along with the thoughts, feelings, or memories they stir up. So I’m going to start doing that here, and maybe it will become a regular feature. (Maybe not. You never know.)

Something BorrowedFirst up is SOMETHING BORROWED by Emily Giffin. (Who, btw, I am not at all jealous of, noooo. Just because she’s a NYT bestseller, has a great figure and gorgeous hair, famous friends, and an adorable family. I mean, pssh, who cares, right?) My friend Grace recommended BORROWED, and its sequel SOMETHING BLUE, and since the movie drops in like 2 weeks, I figured I better get on it.

(PS: I’m totally not doing an intro for every Reading Reflections post. Normally it’ll just be quotes and accompanying thoughts. In other words, normally these will be brief.)

“Well, be patient with her. You’ll never regret being a good friend.”

I consider this gemstone from my mother. One would be hard-pressed to disagree with it. In fact, it is the way I have lived my entire life. Avoiding regret at any cost. Being good no matter what. Good student. Good daughter. Good friend. And yet I am struck by the sudden realization that regret cuts two ways. I might also regret sacrificing myself, my own desires, for Darcy’s sake, in the name of friendship, in the name of being a good person. Why should I be the martyr here? (163)

It’s true. There’s such a thing as being too good. Not in a moral sense, but in a self-sacrificing way. Always putting others before yourself isn’t noble; it’s destructive.

Learning to say “no” has been one of the most difficult but also most beneficial and empowering lessons in my life.

“Maybe if you quit your job, you’d figure it out more quickly,” Julian says in his calm voice. “Poverty, hunger — these things help you think more clearly.” (197)

HAH. Yes and no. Quitting my job was the right move, and it’s certainly pushing me to up my game. But there’s a healthy dose of panic mixed in here as well, and panic isn’t exactly helpful for clear thinking.

In short, I have no real faith in my own happiness. And then there is Darcy. She is a woman who believes that things should fall into her lap, and consequently, they do. They always have. She wins because she expects to win. I do not expect to get what I want, so I don’t. And I don’t even try. (247)

The last bit isn’t completely true for me — I have faith in myself, I do “expect to win.” (Eventually.) But there’s a bigger attitudinal implication here: some people are bold, some people are not.

I have a friend who got a job offer from a good company where she wanted to work, but she wanted more money. She had no leverage, but her gut said, “You’re worth more.” When she asked my advice, I said she should just be grateful for the job and work hard to earn a big raise at the end of the first year. Lucky for her, she didn’t listen to me. She asked for more money, and she got it.

She was bold. I am not.

Dinner will not be perfect, but I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it. (317)

Another difficult but liberating lesson. More applicable to my writing than anything else. In the past couple years, I’ve come to see that the forest is more important than any individual tree. And conversely, one scraggly pine won’t ruin the whole woods. Crafting a perfect sentence is pointless if it’s not part of a larger, well-told story.

To be perfectly honest, that revelation is what led me away from literary fiction and toward the world of commercial/genre. Now I hope to combine the best of both.

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