Month: January 2012

Writerly Wednesday

This morning completely went out the window because I had to finish reading The Night Circus. Normally I’m not one for “luxurious” (i.e., slow and descriptive) books, but this one was magic, truly. I’m so glad I was patient with it.

Speaking of patience…

“25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right F—ing Now)” by Chuck Wendig

The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle. Stories are like wine; they need time. So take the time. This isn’t a hot dog eating contest. You’re not being judged on how much you write but rather, how well you do it. Sure, there’s a balance — you have to be generative, have to be swimming forward lest you sink like a stone and find remora fish mating inside your rectum. But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality. Give your stories and your career the time and patience it needs.

That’s #5 on the list. The others that particularly spoke to me were #7, 14, and 15. (Thanks goes to Ben L.J. Brooks for tweeting this.)

“It Looked Good On Paper” by Boys Don’t Read

It took me more time than most (20+ years) to realize life doesn’t always conduct itself by the rules of the The Hero’s Journey, or confine itself to Syd Field’s three act structure. That these predetermined pillars of climax – Valentine’s Day, the senior prom, the first kiss – aren’t necessarily anchored to anything meaningful, and when they are, they tend to pale against the sparkling ruler of Hollywood…

In my life, I’ve made peace with this. Mostly. But it’s a battle I fight every day in my writing.

Once again Jeff and the BDR crew make it on my list, due to their potent mix of humor, insight, and real-life resonance. I have a feeling you may see them here often.

“When You’re Bad at Something” by Natalie Whipple

I can’t tell you that if you work harder than anyone else you’ll be on top. If that were true, I would be way further ahead than I am. But alas, I’m still up against some people who have honest-to-goodness talent. It’s hard to deal with sometimes. I won’t lie and say I’m totally fine when someone who has put in half the work and time I have gets twice the reward I do. It’s hard to accept — important to accept — but hard.

But on the flip side, there are some comforts in all this sucking at stuff. For one, I do believe with all my heart that anyone can improve in something if they want to. It doesn’t matter what it is — you can go after it and do it well. It might take twice as long. You may never be as good as a prodigy. But you as a human being have the potential to succeed. It is part of all of us.

I’m not sure where I fall on the Talent vs. Hard Work range. They’re not even opposite ends of the same spectrum, are they? Regardless, this post was a great reminder that just because something doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it will never come.

Patience. Again, it seems to be the key.

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Learning to think before I speak

In this post I talked about my childhood nickname, Chatterbox, and how my dad tried to train me to tell a story succinctly.

In this post I talked about the repetitive strain injury I get in my wrists, and the dictation software (a.k.a. Dragon) that Andy bought me to help relieve/avoid the pain.

A week before Christmas, I attended a work holiday party with Andy. I was nervous for a variety of reasons. (We would be the youngest couple there, people were going to ask about my writing, etc.) But one person managed to put me completely at ease: Andy’s boss’s wife. I’ll call her C.

Only a few years older than us, C made the best first impression of anyone I’ve met in a long, long time. Born and raised in Spain, educated in America, the daughter of a pilot, and an avid reader, she was worldly, warm, and well-spoken. When I told her that I write “books for teens,” she said, “Oh, you mean Young Adult?” I think my girl crush started right then and there. We talked at length about books, culture, and travel, and by the end of the night I pretty much wanted to be C when I grew up.

(This is all related and going somewhere, I promise.)

Part of what I admired in C was her eloquence. She didn’t hurry to speak, she didn’t add unnecessary thoughts, she didn’t stumble over her words. I’m kind of the opposite. I speak before I think, my jokes and anecdotes come out all jumbled, and sometimes I even forget what I’m trying to say in the middle of saying it. Because it’s fueled by enthusiasm, sometimes it can come off as cute. But I’m 26 now and (unfortunately) only getting older. Cute won’t work forever.

Part of what my dad was trying to get me to do — besides just not annoying him — was to arrange my thoughts ahead of time. Figure out how to say what I wanted to say in an interesting and effective manner. That was probably too much to ask of someone who still played with Polly Pockets, but it’s a skill I would very much like to have — or at least develop — now.

Enter the Dragon.

Dictating e-mails, blog posts and comments, etc. isn’t so weird. I just kind of pretend that I’m talking to whoever is on the receiving end, as opposed to my shiny MacBook. But stories are, well, a different story. I don’t naturally think out loud. Or rather, when I do, my thoughts come out rather clunky and rambling. Not exactly the words you want applied to your manuscript.

But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe using my Dragon more will not only prevent my RSI, but also teach me to think before I speak. To be able to edit my words in my head as well as on the page. Maybe I too can seem as worldly, warm, and well-spoken as C.

Or maybe I’ll just look like a crazy person talking to myself. Only time will tell.

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Crazy brown sludge

Last year I resolved to bring new pages to my critique group every week. Out of 50 meetings, I kept my resolution about 45 times. Sometimes I only brought 1 new page; sometimes I brought 20. (Okay, once I brought 20…) Point is, I was fairly successful, because it was a reasonable goal — one that pushed me to work hard and grow, but also one that I was able and wanted to accomplish.

This year, I have 2 resolutions in mind that I believe fit the same criteria.

1. Finish my manuscript.

This is self-explanatory, right?

Feb 5 will mark the one-year anniversary of quitting my job to focus on writing full-time. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected hoped to have an agent and maybe even a book deal by now. But life never goes to plan — and this process is notoriously slow — and I am not a quick writer — so I really should have known better.

But not succeeding yet is not the same as failing. My goals — awesome manuscript, agent, book deal — haven’t changed. They’re just on a different timeline. What exactly that timeline is, I don’t know, and I’m not going to make estimates anymore. First of all, I’m bad at estimating, and second, it’s not in my control anyway.

What is in my control is finishing the manuscript and polishing it to shine. So that’s what I’m going to do. And when I’m done, this book will be so damn shiny you’ll see your reflection in it.

(That’s sort of the point of a story after all, no?)

2. Encourage/stretch my imagination.

This goal is less tangible but just as important, IMO.

I’m generalizing here, but as kids we gave ourselves a lot of freedom. Sure, we couldn’t talk to strangers or cross a street without holding someone’s hand, but in our minds, there were few limits. A talking paperclip? Sure. (That was the heroine of one of my earliest stories.) A veterinarian movie star? Why not. (That’s what I used to want to be.)

But somewhere along the way, “reality” seeped in and turned all those fun, wild dreams into soggy mush that we were embarrassed to hold onto. We started judging our ideas. We said “no” to those bright, twinkling stars before we even let ourselves reach for them. We had to focus on what was possible. We had to be realistic.

I want to undo that.

I want to say “yes.” I want to re-learn that “childish” playfulness and ingenuity. I want to believe in the impossible again.

Side story: One of my cherished childhood memories is “cooking.” I used to take out this big blue plastic bowl and mix in whatever I could find. Water. Flour. Salt. Vinegar. Soy sauce. Food coloring. It made me feel so grown-up, working in the kitchen, making something.

But it wasn’t grown-up at all, and the result was a crazy brown sludge that no one in their right mind would eat/drink.

Of course, that’s not what I saw when I looked in the bowl. If you asked me what I had made, I would tell you, honestly, chocolate cake. Or maybe macaroni and cheese. Clam chowder. French toast. That crazy brown sludge could be whatever I wanted it to be.

And that is the whole point.

So there you have it. My new year’s resolutions, and a bonus memory to boot. 2011 was not always an easy year, but I’d say it was good, overall. I suppose I can’t ask for much more than that from 2012.

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