Month: August 2013 Page 1 of 2

Blind spots

My laptop screen has a row of dim spots along the bottom left edge. My kitchen faucet has to be stopped slightly left of center, or else it drips. My air conditioner can’t get lower than 78 in the summertime.

These are the little “quirks” we learn to live with in the things that belong to us. We understand and accept their imperfections. Sometimes we become so accustomed to them that we actually forget they exist, and we certainly don’t think of them as problems.

But for most people, they are. Most people would call my laptop screen and my kitchen sink and my A/C broken. Or at least damaged. They would not want to buy these things in this condition.

Manuscripts can be like this. We writers spend so much time close-up in our stories that we don’t see the problems anymore. The blemishes, the quirks.

That’s why we need good crit partners and trusted readers, people who can act as fresh eyes and give us the truth: Your screen is damaged, your sink is leaky, your air conditioner is pathetic.

That way we know what needs to be fixed.


People ask me about that too, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. Yes? No? Sometimes? It varies?

I think my ideal day goes something like this: Wake up around 7 AM. Check emails, read blogs — ease into the day. Take the dog for a walk, and then work until lunch. Break briefly for internet stuff, house chores and whatnot. Then work until it’s time to walk and feed Riley again. Have my own dinner, and finally, relax with Andy and a good book or TV show until bed.

In theory, that’s my routine, but in reality, random stuff comes up all the time. (Also, I’m easily distracted, so even if I try to follow the schedule above, the proportion of time spent on each activity isn’t always what it should be…)

I go through phases, too. Maybe it’s due to weather — because my wrists hurt more in the heat and humidity, and when it’s cold out, I have to delay Riley’s walks until the sun has been up for awhile. Or maybe it’s just due to needing change from time to time. Things work until they don’t, you know? At one point I was working from midnight until 3 or 4 AM and then sleeping in until 10 or 11. Not exactly a sustainable lifestyle, but productive while it lasted.

And that’s the thing: it never lasts. No matter what it is. We’ll go on a trip that throws everything off-schedule, or I’ll have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of my preferred work hours, or a whole lot of laundry will pile up and demand to be done, or I’ll just… run out of steam.

(I can only imagine how much more chaotic things must be for writers with kids or jobs, or authors who go on book tours.)

Even knowing this — even knowing that the writing life is completely mutable — I still find myself wondering: What is your writing routine?

I love when other writers are asked this. I love hearing their responses and comparing their days to mine. I admit: When I was younger, I believed (or at least hoped) that I could copy another writer’s routine and it would work for me. It would be some kind of secret key to a successful writing life. Now I know better. Now I know that we’re all just doing the best we can, trying to find what works for us, what works for each new project.

But still, I like the question, and I like the variety of answers. I like trying things that other writers are doing, or feeling a kinship if we’re already doing the same thing. I like that there’s no right or wrong.

Stuff worth reading

“Writing Is Magic” by yours truly

I don’t have a muse; GPS doesn’t recognize “the zone” as a destination; and my words definitely do not materialize from thin air like fairy dust. Every day is a grind. I have to sit at my desk, place my fingers on the keys, and force myself to try and give shape to the thoughts and stories in my head. Usually they come out quite muddy on the first go-round, so I read the lines over and over and over, tweaking here, deleting there, until they get close, and closer, and finally close enough.

I’ve been writing this way for years, but only recently did I realize: Oh hey, that actually IS magic.

Jane Catherine Lotter’s self-written obituary

May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.

 “I need terrible female engineers” by Amy Nguyen

I don’t want to combat misogyny by showing people who hate women that there is absolutely nothing to hate. That’s not how you garner acceptance for women  —  that’s how you put some women on a pedestal and put down anyone who isn’t perfect, who doesn’t want to be perfect. This trend of glorifying brilliant women is great for the short-term, but it’s not going to create lasting acceptance for all women.

June and July in photos

Lucy's hoping for some dropped graham crackers. Sleepy nose. #grumblepup
Tiniest. Deer. Ever! Belated bday dinner at Orchid's.
Taiwanese breakfast with Albert at House of Sun! Pretty. #flowers
A gift from a 6 y.o. sweetheart, who I am going to miss so much when she moves to England. ann arbor 071
ann arbor 032

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout

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

Olive KitteridgeDuring our recent safari, I actually created a new summertime reading memory of my own, one that I think will be a favorite for years to come. Thanks to digital library lending, I had pre-loaded OLIVE KITTERIDGE onto my iPad, and each day during our afternoon siestas, I would lie on the cot in my tent, or sit outside under the shade of a mopane tree, and enjoy a story or two.

Elizabeth Strout’s writing was dense and delicious. For some reason I hadn’t expected this book to be so … small-town, and yet universally relatable. Strout really transported me to this place, made me care about these people. And in telling me their stories, she taught me about myself.

She also inspired me to reconnect with my love of writing short fiction. Reading this book planted a kernel of creative energy that I’ve been doing my best to nurture and grow.

Here are a few of the lines I loved.

You get used to things, he thinks, without getting used to things.

He had thought more and more how provincial New Yorkers were, and how they didn’t know it.

Hope was a cancer inside him. He didn’t want it; he did not want it. He could not bear these shoots of tender green hope springing up within him any longer.

You couldn’t make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn’t go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.

Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee.

The appetites of the body were private battles.

Lives get knit together like bones, and fractures might not heal.

“All these lives,” she said. “All the stories we never know.”

I think that’s the essence of why I love to read and write. Because I want to know everyone’s stories. Whether people tell me, or I make them up myself.

Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology.

I wish this was more true of myself. I’ve made a conscious effort in recent years to be more confident, less concerned with others’ opinions. And I’ve made big strides. But I think I can go even further.

“‘Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.’”

I don’t remember the context of this line, but I believe it’s about passion. About taking that leap of faith, trusting in yourself, your gut instincts. There are all sorts of reasons to take (or not take) certain paths in life, but I think fear is probably the worst reason.

Everyone thinks they know everything, and no one knows a damn thing.

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