Archive | July, 2009

Navy Shirts & Zebra Skirts

30 Jul

Confession:  In the past week, I’ve watched Coraline more times than I’ve done the 30 Day Shred.  My husband said the movie was great – I wouldn’t know, since I fell asleep a third of the way through.  I tend to do this (accidentally, of course).  Just goes to show you how great Lost is, since I never once fell asleep while watching it.

Anyway, back to my confession.  

The negative?  All those posts ago, I was gung-ho about making it through thirty straight days of pain.  Now, here I am, having to admit I abandoned the Shred after the delicious massage I got on our anniversary.  It would have just been wrong to put all those knots back in my neck after she worked so hard to dig them out!  Right?

The positive? After eight long months, the LA Fitness opened in my town.  Finally.  I repeat, finally.  I’ve been going there, instead of doing the Shred.

Everyone I know was beginning to wonder if the fabled gym would ever actually open its doors.  They promised a December opening back when I signed up last November, and, well, it’s almost August now.  For months, it loomed desolate on the corner, bricks in tact but with a jungle for a parking lot.  When I saw a sign that boasted “LA Fitness opens today at 4pm,” I texted my friend, Ha.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  

Lo and behold, the myth was true after all.  

I’ve been there every day since.  Seven minutes each way beats thirty, for sure.  Right off the bat, I noticed two distinct differences between the new gym and the old one.  

First: it’s so nice to see a variety of people working out.  At the old gym, it seemed like only the fast and the super-fit frequented it.  Not so, at this one.  Just as a church is not for the perfect, a gym is not (only) for the in-shape.  Everywhere around me, I see people learning how to lift weights or do crunches for the first time.  Not everyone has proper clothing to work out in, and it reminds me of the days when I’d walk the track in my jeans.  It’s kind of like watching The Biggest Loser in real life, and I hope we all stick around long enough to see some real transformations.

My second observation is not so heart-warming.  However, it is inspiring: it inspires me to talk some sense into one of the sales-people who works there.  Who on this planet works at a gym, and wears the company’s standard-issue navy t-shirt with a zebra print skirt and red heels?  Or, tucked in to a black skirt that goes higher than the belly-button and is paired with gold gladiator sandals?  I thought maybe it was a one-time offense, but no.  It is an everyday thing, apparently.

So, I abandoned my shredding goal.  Truthfully, I don’t feel that bad about it.  The shorter drive leaves plenty of time for a solid workout and time to get a lot done on my novel.  Now, the novel?  That is a goal I will accomplish.  

I’ll keep you posted on the novel (and perhaps on other outrageous outfits worn by the sales girl).  In the meantime, don’t spoil Coraline for me.  I plan to rent it one morning or afternoon, drink a lot of coffee, sit in an uncomfortable spot, and not fall asleep.

Oh, Tuesdays…

28 Jul

Meh.

It is neither cloudy nor sunny today, and I can’t seem to wake up!  I’ve been up for hours, but the bed keeps calling my name.  So, instead of writing at my cozy desk, I’ve migrated to the Starbucks café.  

Hopefully today’s endeavor will be without incidents such as the snooty coffee woman from a few days ago or an hour-long sidetrack conversation with the guy who doesn’t read fiction novels.  Side note: the guy who doesn’t read fiction novels is a young, eager-to-be-trendy-with-his-red-Macbook guy, and seems to live at Starbucks these days.  I’ve heard reports that he’s there as early as 6am and sometimes doesn’t leave until 9:30 at night.  There is suspicion that he is taking showers in the men’s room, since puddles of water mysteriously end up all over the floor every time he locks himself inside.  

But, anyway.  

My headphones are in, and now that my writing brain is sufficiently warmed up, I shall get to work.  This jaunty Starbucks music keeps cluttering itself with my thinking music, but I’m just gonna have to get past that, I suppose.  Time to focus!

I wish you all a happy – and non-sleepy – Tuesday afternoon!

Pat Benatar’s Coffee Slave

27 Jul

Attention, Snooty Blonde Woman who wiped out the entire pastry case at Starbucks:

Riding here in a limousine does not give you the right to treat the employees (namely, my friend Wanda) like dirt.  Don’t deny it – I was behind you in line, and heard every word while starving to death.  Okay, not to death.  But starving.  

So what if you are Pat Benatar’s* coffee slave?  It’s not generally considered nice to order the staff around, then ask, “Have they started my cups** yet?”  First of all, the “they” of whom you speak is Wanda, who is currently bagging your two trillion pastries, so no, she has not started your cups.  And when she replies it will take four years (ahem, minutes) for your coffee to brew – since you need gallons of it – realize that Starbucks was not warned they would get hit by Hurricane Coffee Slave today.  

Appropriate ways to treat your barista include the following: gratitude, in abundance.  A non-demanding attitude***.  Not taking ten minutes to order when you see Wanda is the only one available to ring people up, and that a line has formed behind you to the door.  While I’m on the subject of lines – next time, it might be a good idea to step aside when you wait for your order, too.  It looked like Wanda was having a hard time taking everyone else’s requests while you waited (impatiently) for your coffee right in front of her cash register.  Just a thought.

So, in case you’re wondering, everyone in the entire building watched your drama unfold.  Of course, I heard every word because I was behind you the whole time****.  Even though the lowly baristas didn’t look like you’d offended them, there is indeed a reason you carried your spoil back to the limo all by yourself: solidarity.

It’s a good thing I wanted oatmeal, since you took all the scones.   

In the future: be nice, and the world will carry your coffee for you.  You will spill less, and therefore become a happier person.

All my best wishes,

The Girl with the Growling Stomach

 

*Hearsay.  A woman in the drive-through told my friend Ann, who told me.  Pat Benatar, if your coffee slave is a charming angel, my sincerest apologies.  

**”Started my cups?”  For future reference, this doesn’t really make sense.  Do you mean, “Started making my drinks?” or “Did she get my order?”  How, exactly, does one start a cup?

***This means, you say, “May I please have…” instead of, “Give me this, that, and every one of those, at this very instant.  Please grow three more arms, while you’re at it.”

****Starving.

Snailwriter.

27 Jul

Today, Week Four begins.  Between the thunderstorm and my too-comfortable pillow, I’m off to a late start this morning!

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of last week while I was experiencing it.  

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you’re constantly working, but don’t feel like you’ve gotten very far?  That was my week, last week.  I spent a lot of time on my novel, but wasn’t quite sure how to judge my progress.  

The first draft came so quickly, and I judged my progress by my sky-rocketing word count. (Well, sky-rocketing on some days.  Kite-high, on others.)  I’d end the day with pages commensurate with my time spent, and I’d feel über-productive.

Progress is not so easily measured this time around.  You’d think that with knowledge of where the story needs to go, it would get written quicker – not so.  Writing better takes more time.  It takes more focus, more concentration.  It means making sure action, dialogue, and motivation are all fitting for my characters.  It means becoming a scene wizard, where I accomplish a few layers of things at one time.  And, it means condensing paragraphs of unnecessary, empty words into a few meaningful, accurate sentences.  

In short: lower word count, more time spent.  A paradigm shift in the definition of productivity.  

Friday morning, I typed the final line of a particularly difficult chapter.  Everything clicked.  The scene felt like it came together in just the right way, layered and not too in-your-face.  Suddenly, all those hours of fastidious focus exploded into this exciting sense of satisfaction.  No questions, anymore – it was, without a doubt, a productive week.

I might feel like a snail, but I’m finding the payoffs are higher with this draft.  Well-written scenes trump quickly-scribbled ones, for sure.  

PS: Thank you all for your feedback on my last few posts.  I’m loving the privilege of reading your stories, what drives you, and your thoughts on things.  Your blogs are fun to read, too.  So, thanks again.

Quirky Side-Effects of Editing

24 Jul

The editing process has officially seeped into every crack of my life.  Odd things keep catching my attention in day-to-day things like music and movies, sermons and conversations.  What makes this odd is that it’s not just the presence of things I’m noticing – it’s also their absence.

Weeks’ worth of work on my novel has made me start noticing the choices made by other people in their work.  No surprise, really – what is editing, if it’s not a constant series of choices?  

Editing presents seemingly limitless options: what to convey?  What’s the best way to show it – Action?  Dialogue?  Exposition?  Summary?  What do you leave out, so your focus shines?  

As I deal with these questions, I have begun to appreciate everything more.  While watching Harry Potter, I found myself analyzing the scenes, thinking, “What are they trying to accomplish here, and why did they choose to include that word/image?  How would I communicate this idea, if it was my choice?”  I noticed more details – Who decided they should sit on the floor while they talked, and why?  What changes were made to the soundtrack that made this entire film feel darker than the previous ones?  Things like that.    

Even on reality shows like Survivor, the editors’ choices make a big difference in our perception of the cast.  They take a load of film, sift through it, and choose a focus for each week’s episode.  There could probably be several different seasons made out of the same film, depending on who and what they choose to highlight.

Editing has even seeped into my thoughts while at church.  Last Sunday, it occurred to me that one of the songs might be more powerful if its lyrics touched on not only Jesus’ sacrifice of death on the cross, but the resurrection which completes it.  While I liked the song, a better edit might have conveyed a more complete message.  

Crafting my novel has made me so much more aware of these things.  I’m learning how not to settle for the mediocre, but dig in and try to make it the very best it can be.

Instead of taking things at face-value, I’ve started thinking more about the behind-the-scenes.  Of all the stories in the world, why did they choose this one, and what compelled them to tell it in this way?  I love being more observant, and I can feel my work sharpening because of it.  

In what ways has your work as a writer affected your everyday thought life?  Do you feel more critical of everyone’s work since you’re so used to finding ways to make your own work better?  Or, maybe, are you more appreciative of everyone’s work since you know how much time, thought, and effort went in to craft even the smallest things?  Maybe a little of both?

When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed

22 Jul

I want to be remembered as someone who did the very best with the talent she was given.

- J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life

Motivation: we all need it.  Some of us have it.  It’s sometimes easy to lose, in the face of difficulty or after hard work that seems to go unnoticed.  It’s definitely easy to lose in the face of hard work that will never get noticed.

I’ve been thinking about my novel’s characters a lot lately, and why they do the things they do.  It occurred to me to ask myself, the author, the same question: why is it that I do what I do?  Why do I love this work so very much, why does it feel so satisfying when I complete something that may never get appreciated by someone else?  I hope it gets noticed by someone else one day, but there’s no guarantee of that.

So why do I do it?

The quote above resonated in me when I heard it.  It’s no foreign concept to me – for a while now, this has also been one of my main reasons for writing.  What struck me about it is that it was THE answer she chose – not to be remembered for her uncanny knack at telling a great story, not for her rags-to-riches story, but for doing the best with what she had.

About a year ago, I was on my knees, scrubbing coffee from the undersides of the tables in Starbucks.  I spent countless days, not making the lattes, but taking orders and handing drinks out the window.

The years before that, I cashed checks and made deposits all day, most every day.  My cash drawer always balanced, and it was perfectly organized.  I got yelled at (um, cursed at, rather) for asking for ID.  I got yelled at for things I didn’t do and couldn’t change.  

I did those jobs as well as I could, though.  I learned how to craft great drinks.  I scrubbed the tables vigorously (more from annoyance than from love of scrubbing, I have to add).  I smiled at the people who yelled at me.  

I did the best I could, but I felt a gaping chasm where I should feel at least a little satisfaction in the work I got up every day to do.  I tried to push my pride aside when the (evil) man in the Starbucks drive through said, “Oh, your parents paid for college? I bet they’re really proud of you working here.”  I tried, but I was truly, deeply unfulfilled.

Why, though?  People do these jobs every day.  We need people to scrub tables, we need people to deal with the money.  Goodness knows I need my lattes!  I rationalized myself into staying with them, because they are good jobs and I am not above them.

One day, though, it occurred to me:  these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me.  They use my people skills and my ability to be responsible with money, but what about my brain?  What about my passion to create?  What about thoughts about life, love, morality, spiritual things, and people?  What about my heart?  Where does being project-driven fit in jobs that have no end and make no progress?  

It’s not just about doing the best you can – it’s about doing the best you can with the talent you are given.  

For me, writing is where I feel myself blossoming.  Hours and days fly by before I know it.  Writing a novel seems to be the perfect combination of using my brain, my creativity, my discipline, my organization, and working in all sorts of things I care about.  I get to explore so many avenues of myself just by sitting down to write.  Therein, I find motivation.  

Doing the best with what I’ve been given might lead to some great side-effects – publication, success (whatever that is), and seeing my printed ideas in the hands of other people.  But it might not.  Whatever happens, I love what I do every day, and it is satisfying to exercise all, not half, of me.

How about you?  What was it that motivated you to write in the first place?  What drives you to keep going, especially through times when you feel like nothing you’re doing is making a difference?  

 

PS: J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life is a documentary put together by James Runcie, a novelist/filmmaker.  There’s an article about the documentary here.

PPS:  I notice, often, that people find this blog by searching for “When my hard work doesn’t get noticed,” and other similar things.  If this is you, I hope your situation gets better soon.  Under-appreciation is never fun, and boy do I understand.  Please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I love hearing from new readers.

Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  

 

PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.

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