Archive | May, 2010

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 4

30 May

This week, in terms of my Creativity Workshop writing goals, was pretty void of progress.  I was going to say abysmal, but that would be just a bit too harsh.

My project of choice involved fluffy, innocent sheep who turn up tail-less in the field.  Oy.  Perhaps I should have considered what that would mean, in terms of a story, before I chose it: it means that somehow, someone needs to sever those little tails.  Poor, poor, fluffy sheep.

My problem with this week was not a lack of ideas.  It was not a lack of ability, or time, or even writer’s block.  My problem?  The idea I came up with rattled me a little bit, because it’s totally not something I would normally write.  Yes, yes, I know that’s what the workshop is for — to get out of my comfort zone, to try something new, to push myself, for fun and for practice.  Eeeeek.  Schizophrenic Bo-Peep?  Innocent sheep, harmed by their own trusted shepherdess?  Um…not completely my scene.

Still, once the idea snaked into my brian, it coiled up and would NOT move.  I was intrigued by it — I just wasn’t so sure I wanted to write it.  Something about it was off-putting, and I hid from it for a few days.

It scared me, but I did not ditch it.  Friday morning, I took a deep breath and faced it.  And you know what?  I like it a lot better than I expected to.  It’s colorful and vivid and dizzying, intense.  I still feel like I’m sort of closing one eye to it, not going as deep with it as I could, but the eye that’s open thinks the story’s pretty intriguing.

Though I didn’t finish it, and I only worked on it those two days — one for planning, one for facing the plan — I’m satisfied with the fact that I didn’t ignore the things that scared me.

This week, hopefully, will be better.  My inspiration for the new story the nursery rhyme “Sailing, Sailing,” and it will deal with love interrupted by nature and time, and waiting for someone to return home.  I have a smattering of social plans this week — holiday on Monday (YAY for pools and lakes), friend coming to visit on Friday, taking another friend to the airport, a reunion with my old roommates — so the challenge this week will be a busy schedule.

I can’t believe this is already the last week of the first set.  So far, I have one completed story that I like, one idea I’m SUPER-EXCITED about, and a half-written idea I’m still somewhat unenthused about.  I’d like to add another completed story to the list this week!

Happy creating, everyone!

PS: If you’re new-ish around here and have no idea what the Creativity Workshop is (also known on Twitter as #CreateWS), click here for a post about the workshop itself, and click here for a post about my goals for the workshop.

10 Things I Learned From First Graders…

28 May

Well, since you’ve all been dying to find out whether or not I got eaten alive by a den of hungry first graders the other day at my event as a guest speaker, today’s post is about that.  (About the event, rather — not about me getting eaten alive.)

Thank you, everyone who gave me encouragement and advice and ideas!  The event went well, especially considering I don’t baby-sit often and the only kids I see on a regular basis are the ones who treat the Starbucks café like their own personal zoo.

These kids, though?  These kids were adorable.  Maybe it’s fun-aunt-slash-kind-grandmother syndrome — they were adorable because I had no responsibility and was only around them for a very limited amount of time? — but whatever.  It was fun.

I’ll spare you the details of what I said, since I did pretty much what I told you about in the last post.  Instead, I thought I’d give you a fun list of the stuff they taught me.

(As usual, I feel I should advise you to click over to the actual post, rather than attempt to read it on the main page — the list below is much less cramped that way.)

10 Things I Learned From First Graders

  1. Six- and seven-year-olds are way more articulate than I thought they were. They expressed themselves with confidence and clarity when they spoke.
  2. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, and they asked some really good ones! Among the questions: Is it hard to write a novel? (Yes and no.) How many books do I plan to write? (Several, since I’m hoping this will be the first in a series.) Am I going to be rich? (Hahahahahahahahaha.) Where do I write? (Starbucks, or home, or anywhere quiet.)
  3. While many questions were surprisingly articulate, there were a few that were so adorably first-grade: “What is the cover made out of?” Not, “Who gets to design it?” — but what is it actually made out of? Um…thicker paper?  Thin cardboard?  Cardstock?  (Forgot to put that on my list of answers to prepare.  Silly me.)  Also adorably first-grade: “Do you have to write a lot of books when you write a book?”  Translation: “How do so many copies get printed?”  The sweet girl thought authors had to make, by hand, every single book that makes its way to a store.
  4. First-graders, these days, are not sheltered kids. They were all already familiar with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, which totally surprised me.  Like, not just familiar with the names, but they recognized the cover from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Plus, at least three of them are currently reading the third Percy Jackson book.  Huh.  Good thing I didn’t bust out Dora the Explorer or Magic Schoolbus and expect them to think I was cool.
  5. They like to talk.  A lot. It’s probably more like they just enjoy the attention, but that meant lots of talking.  They were well-behaved, though.  The talking made things easier for me, because they were neither bored nor disinterested, and the Q&A time went on for longer than expected.
  6. I learned that I do, indeed, have a catchy title/main character name. I’ll call him “S.H.” for now, because at the rate my edits are going, someone might be able to whip up something with his name before I get the chance, and that?  Would not be good.  I didn’t even mean to bring his full name up, but I opened my notebook to the title page and they all read it out loud!  From then on, it was, “S.H. this,” and “S.H. that.”  Something about hearing his name said over and over again by strangers just warmed my little heart.
  7. Along with that, they are idea generators! My book is geared more towards the YA audience (though with first-graders reading Harry and Percy, I guess anyone could end up reading it one day), but if I ever decide to write for six-year-olds, I am now well-stocked with ideas.  “Miss Olson!” they exclaimed, “You could write ‘S.H. and the Missing Eyeballs’!” [giggles] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Cheeks’!” [cue adorably freckled kid covering his cheeks as if they've fallen off] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Freckles’!!”  I guess, to six-year-olds, all it takes to make a hit is a good name and something that’s missing.
  8. They’re perceptive without really knowing how perceptive they are. I asked them, “What tools do you need to write a book?”  Among the usual — pencil, pen, paper, computer — I got an interesting answer: an eraser.  That was fun to work with, because it led to a conversation about revision and multiple drafts.  I learned how to explain revision to them on the fly, and it was part Stephen King and part luck: “When you’re writing, you want to share the ideas in your head with someone else,” I told them.  “After I finish writing them down, I read them.  If I look at what I have and go, ‘Nope — other people won’t see the ideas in my head like I do,’ then it’s time to write it again.  I change it until it’s able to make other people see what I see.”  They got it.  Miraculously, they got it.
  9. In case there was ever any question, kids ABSOLUTELY DO CARE if their parents show up for things. After the Q&A time, the kids were herded to the library, where they got to read the books¹ they’d written in front of guests and family.  It’s a great idea, actually — very bookstore-book-signing-esque, where they get to be the author for the day, complete with refreshments and flowers.  Anyway, I had to console a little girl whose daddy told her he was coming, then didn’t show up.  Sigh.  They notice.  Yes, they do.
  10. The tenth thing I learned?  Even though it didn’t take much to impress these kids, their enthusiasm was contagious and motivating nonetheless. “I’ll buy all your books, Miss Olson!” one kid said, with the others nodding.  “Will you let us read it when it’s published?”  Count on it, babes.  You may be in fourth grade by the time it’s out of manuscript form and covered with whatever a cover is made from, but when that day comes?  Heck yes, you can read it.  Your library will get the first signed copy.²

All in all, you can probably tell I had a blast.  Who knew I liked interacting with kids so much?  Not me.  Maybe one day I’ll have some of my own.  (Sigh of relief heard from my parents, in-laws, and husband, I’m sure.)

Now: on to writing!  I’ve got ambitious goals for the day, to accompany my heightened motivation (and to make up for my less-than-stellar rest-of-the-week), so here goes.  How’s the writing going for all of you guys?  We’re several weeks in to the Creativity Workshop — are you guys hanging in there, or are you discouraged, or somewhere in the middle?  How’s the writing going for those of you not participating in the Workshop?

¹Illustrated non-fiction books about sea horses, starfish, octopi, and sharks. (When I saw these books, it became clear where the “What’s the cover made out of?” question came from.)(Construction paper, in their world, FYI.)

²By the way, nothing after the part about them being in fourth grade when it’s done actually met sound waves.  Kept the rest in my head.  Didn’t want to frighten them with happybabble.

Who, What, When, Where, Why

26 May

Well, today should be interesting.

I’m breaking from my usual routine of get-up-drink-latte-write-blog-write-workout-and-so-on and am merely drinking black coffee from a French press, preparing to go do something I’ve never done before.

A friend who is a first grade teacher invited me to come speak to her class for Author Day, and I’m this mix of nerves-meet-excitement about it.  When she invited me to speak, I warned her that I’m not technically an author, yet — that while I’ve made significant progress on my novel, I still have a long road to travel before that word applies to me.

Eh, she didn’t care.  “They’ll love you,” she told me, “They’ll be excited just to meet someone who’s writing a novel, published or not.”  Alrighty, then.  Speak I shall.

I’m going to do my best not to bore the little darlings with my (exciting-to-only-me) array of colored pens, my myriad notebooks, my stacks upon stacks of post-it notes, and the minutiae of what goes into a novel.  Most of that will stay hidden away in my tote bag.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the basics: what is a story, and how do you write it?  Can you do it as a first grader?  Does a book have to be a certain length? (Cue my dear visual aids of A Wrinkle in Time versus Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix.)  Where can you get ideas? (EVERYWHERE.)

After some attempts at engaging them, I’ll bust out my (totally geeky awesome) notebooks that represent the process — I have one with pictures of my villains and loads of brainstorming, a tattered first draft, a three-ring bindered second draft, and an example of some pages that are bleeding orange, purple, pink, red, and a couple of neon highlighting swipes to boot.

Before all of this, however, I need to tame my mane of hair so I don’t scare them away when I walk in the door.  Seriously.  I’m not exactly sure what a banshee looks like, but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of how my hair looks this morning.

Deep breath.  It’s only a twenty-minute guest visit.  Twenty minutes.  Not hard, right?

Right.

It’s too late for me to fish for ideas, but out of curiosity — what would you guys say to a group of first graders about being an (aspiring) author?

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 3

24 May

As you might imagine, on the morning after the Lost series finale, my head feels like popcorn popping in a microwave.  (I won’t spoil anything, promise.)  Ben Linus.  Smoke Monster.  Time.  Death.  Life.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer.  Locke.  Flocke.  Lemon-raspberry tart, jungle plates, apple crisp.  Guacamole, cabernet.  Vacuum.  Dishes.  Seating arrangement for nine in a tiny apartment living room.

Now that all the planning is over, the processing of what just happened? has begun.  Thus, I’ve already succumbed to the distractions of message boards, EW.com, and a let’s-discuss-this! phone call with my mom.  Finally, I tore myself away for productivity’s sake.  For now.

You might have guessed it already, but I, um, didn’t quite meet my Creativity Workshop goals this week.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I blasted off with a full tank of fuel back on Tuesday, when I posted about the flamin’ ladybug story — trouble was, much as I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted (and still want) to spend time on it, it was an altogether strange week.  Admittedly, the most I did on my story this week was to plan it and get way excited about it.

Though party-planning and general I’m-so-excited-yet-sorta-sad-that-I-get-to-find-out-how-Lost-ends bubbly feelings dominated the weekend, that’s not the only reason I was unproductive.  A few of the weekdays were just plain difficult, in terms of some personal stuff going on, and my willpower lacked its usual oomph.  On the days where the oomph was alive and kicking, I made some great progress on my novel edits and at the gym.  I was thisclose to completing a section of the novel, so when it came time to work, I gravitated toward that.

The good thing?

I’m not discouraged.  Still excited, actually, and encouraged that I made progress with the novel and the gym.  It’s really tempting to write the ladybug story this week instead of doing the third story in the set, but: no.  That would put a bad habit into motion, I think.  As excited as I am about it, I shall shelf it for now, knowing I have a great idea to come back to in the future.  Instead, it’s time to press on.

It’s especially tempting to write the ladybugs when I look ahead to this week’s project: Little Bo Peep and severed tails.  What in sideways world am I going to do with that?

No.  Clue.

(Yet.)

Okay, dudes.  I’m feeling that good old oomph right now, so I should strike while it’s hot.  The first goal of the rest of this week: get writing stuff done before I allow myself any more Lost message-board perusal.  Then, I’ll tackle the rest of the week.

PS: That picture of Benjamin Linus and his #8 bunny is a limited edition screenprint made by Todd Slater.  I want this.

Ladybugs Aflame!

18 May

So, I know I just posted last night, but I’m too excited about my next short story to not write about it rightthisveryminute.

Seriously.  Just an hour ago, I had zero clue where I was going with my ladybug story.  In case you’re not familiar with the “Ladybug, Ladybug” rhyme at the foundation of my story for this week’s Creativity Workshop project, it goes like this:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home

Your house is on fire, and your children shall burn.

There are several different versions of this rhyme, all of them depressing, but this is the one I remember from childhood.¹

Anyway.  The creative juices weren’t quite flowing when I first sat down to think this morning, and I was worried this idea would end up looking way-too-similar to the nursery rhyme itself.²  Lo and behold, after a little time spent scribbling in my awesome lime green graph-lined notebook, some actual (non-ladybug) characters popped their heads out of the (soon-to-be-burning) woodwork.  Damaged, hurting characters who crave love but aren’t quite sure how to get it.  Characters with multi-faceted motives and cavernous hearts I totally want to explore.

Now, I have on my hands something that has potential to be exciting, adventurous, and action-packed yet full of depth.  Also, the ideas came loaded with a structure I’ve never experimented with, so I’m looking forward to that.  Oh, ladybugs, you’re going to be quite the challenge, yet if you work out in my favor?  Quite the satisfying accomplishment, too.

Alright.  Random excited outburst over.

¹For many, many years, I wondered, “Was that seriously a real song, or did I just imagine it?  Seriously?  And why did I like it so much?  Who was the weirdo who thought those lyrics were appropriate for a tape of children’s music?” Lo and behold, yes.  It is a real song, from a real nursery rhyme, and my little toddler memory preserved every strange word of it.

²I’m talking literal ladybugs here, people, and I was just not convinced I should go that direction.  I couldn’t erase cartoonish images of Strawberry Shortcake and the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak (with a ladybug and a fire tossed in here or there), and…well…that felt a little too on-the-nose.  Not to mention cartoonish, when I think the rhyme needs more depth to do it justice.

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 2

17 May

Well, well, well.

Just like that, and the first two weeks of the Creativity Workshop — one intro week, one actual writing week — are over.

Despite the fact that I’m an exhausted shell of myself today, thanks to four days of hosting out-of-town family (plus one impromptu day trip to Austin¹), the first week of actual writing was pretty much a success.

The Story

My first story for the workshop was loosely based on the Humpty Dumpty rhyme.  It turned out much shorter than planned (1,251 total words), but it felt whole at that length, so I didn’t press for more.  I enjoyed writing this story as much as possible, given the fact that the theme (irreparable brokenness) was sort of difficult and lent itself to a not-so-happy ending.

The characters popped into my imagination fully-formed.  On one hand, we’ve got Humphrey Dempsey, a forty-year-old man who is ridiculously obsessed with breaking eggs and gluing them back together, 3-D puzzle-style.  On the other hand, we have his wife Farrah, who is tired of seeing him waste his life on something ridiculous, stupid, and — in her opinion — pointless.  Hence, conflict.  That, I expected.  Lots of little surprises arose along the way — thoughts about being satisfied with appearances rather than truth, thoughts about throwing stones while in a glass castle, thoughts about selfishness versus love, thoughts about futility and hope, thoughts about pretense, thoughts about vicious cycles.

All in all, the story itself is a blinding glimpse into this world.  It’s short, but (I think) substantial.  It could probably be better.  I look forward to reading it after the workshop is over, then making changes to strengthen it.  This was, after all, the first short story I’ve ever written.  I’m betting it could definitely be better.  That said, I like what I ended up with.

The Story Goals

One of my specific goals for this set of stories was:

I want contrast to be essential in my character development: characters who have similar motives, yet manifest opposite actions. (For example, two characters who both feel love, but show it in completely different ways.)

Specifically, this was at the very heart of my story.  Humphrey and Farrah are both trying to fix something irreparable: Humphrey has his shattered eggs, and Farrah has, well, Humphrey.  The manifestations of this are absolute opposites.  Humphrey isolates himself, Farrah presses him for interaction.  Humphrey is unburdened, for the most part, by what others think of him, while Farrah is obsessed with ‘normal’ appearances.

The Process Goals

As far as the process itself went, last week was a learning experience.  I already touched on my difficulties with balancing discipline with patience.  Flexibility in my schedule, as opposed to sheer rigidity, helped get me into a more creative place, and thus helped me to be more productive.  One of my goals, also, was to shut down TweetDeck and all browsers.  This was good and bad.  Good, because I didn’t get as distracted.  Bad, because it encouraged that rigid mindset.  I experimented with both ways, and in the end found that as long as I am disciplined² to not go on rabbit trails whenever interesting tweets pop up, I actually feel more ready to work with TweetDeck open — it’s motivating to see others being productive and tweeting about it.  I’m going to keep experimenting with this, though.

In the midst of the short-story-writing, I managed to get some (not a ton, but some) quality edits done on my novel.  I’m encouraged by this, and ready to tackle more of it.

Generally speaking, I’m on track, but not completely on schedule.  I haven’t done the get-inspired-by-these-pictures assignment yet, and have avoided most posted thoughts about them, because I still want to do it.  Also, this very post is a day late, and I have yet to read the latest Merrilee post on organization.  Last week was an anomaly, since we don’t often take spontaneous trips to Austin or have people at our house for half a week, so I’m not too banged up about being slightly off-schedule.  At least the short story got done, and I’m mainly up-to-date on the other stuff.

Alright.  Long-overdue date night is about to commence³, followed by some intense vegging in front of Glee and a smattering of NBC comedies.  Or, maybe substitute some Curb Your Enthusiasm instead of the smattering…we shall see.  Yes.  Tonight I rest, tomorrow I’ll work.

May your notebooks be delightfully scrawled-upon, your ideas plentiful, and your shattered eggs perfectly cooked to your liking.

¹For those of you not familiar with Texas, you can drive for eight hours and still be in Texas.  Fortunately for us, Austin was a mere 3.5-hour drive away from us.  Out of sheer youthful ambition (ha) we tackled a there-and-back trip in one day, complete with eight hours of let’s-do-fun-stuff in between.  Yeah.

²Italicized, because it is quite the conditional statement.  Makes all the difference in the world.

³Why, hello, little buffalo wings and beer.  You look mighty tasty indeed.

Patience + Discipline = REALLY HARD.

13 May

So, as I’ve been writing this week, the same struggle has been popping up over and over and over again: it’s REALLY HARD to balance discipline with patience.

Seriously.

I can be Czar of Productivity, or I can be Girl Who Puts Thought Into What She Does.  It’s not easy to be both.

On one hand, we have the Czar¹of Productivity version of me.  Give me a calendar, and I will whip up the most ambitious color-coded schedule, complete with alarm alerts that sound like submarines.  I’ll even follow it, and be excited about following it.

On the other hand, we have Girl Who Puts Thought Into What She Does.  Though this girl loves discipline in theory, she also loves freedom.  Freedom to write what she feels like writing, when she feels like writing it.  Freedom to write for another hour past that stupid submarine alert (which then begins to remind her of the Jin and Sun Tragedy).

What I’m learning this week is that the Czar has the tendency to be a bit more dominant.  This leads to a feeling of go, go, go, Go, GO! in me, an unsettled get-everything-done-NOW! feeling.  This feeling lies to me, telling me that I must produce, and produce a lot.  That words are the fruit of each hour, and the less I have, the worse I’ve done.

That.  Is.  Not.  True.

Just because I’m devoting more hours to writing, and devoting more hours to different projects, it does not mean the writing itself will automatically go faster.  That, at the end of the day, just because I’m in ‘productive mode,’ I’ll end up with pages upon pages to show for it.

To remedy this, here’s what I’m doing.

First, I’ve realized that hour-long blocks of time make me feel too rushed.  The time flies too quickly, and I try to cram too many hour-long blocks of different tasks into the same morning/afternoon.  This produces that unsettled bubbly feeling in me, and it makes me write fast instead of write well.  Therefore, I’m doing things in 1.5- to 2-hour blocks, instead, and I’m putting them in different times of the day instead of back-to-back.  Making, and sticking to, a schedule does not mean that schedule has to be tight, tight, tight.  Kind of like a financial budget, it needs to allow for real life tendencies, not just the ideal.

Second, I’m learning patience.  Patience to allow myself the freedom to think, and to think deeply, about the words I put on the page.  Patience to sit in the chair and think, or write, hopefully both, during the whole time I’ve scheduled for the project at hand.  I’m reminding myself to slow down, to insert myself into whatever scene I’m writing, and not worry about quantity as long as what I’ve written feels like quality.

These fixes are already working well.  I finished revising a particularly stubborn scene this morning, one who’s been quite the diva.  That felt good.

Ironically, I’m on a time crunch right now — I’m about to go pick up my sister-in-law at the airport.  A few more things before I go, though: in case you’re wondering why I put a picture of my potted plants, it’s not just because they’re pretty.  I thought they were a good representation of discipline and patience, and planned to write more about that.  (Basically, just that you have to have discipline to water them, but you can’t force them to grow.  Helpful writing analogy, in my opinion.)

Also, to all you sweet new friends I’ve met through Merrilee’s workshop, I’ve given you a horrible impression of my ability to respond to comments in a reasonable time!  This week has been abnormally crazy, and I’m dying to write back to all of your comments.  Thank you for leaving them, and I plan to get better at responding in the future.

You people rock.  It’s off to the airport, and out of this freezing place they call a coffee shop.  I’m guessing they keep it below zero to encourage patrons to purchase more steaming mugs of awesomeness?  (It works on me.)

¹Czaress?

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 1

10 May

Excuse me for two seconds while I chase down my brain.  It’s running in six different directions at the moment — more like gleeful skipping than running, if I’m being honest — and where I need it is right here. In this chair.  At the keyboard, thinking.

If you’re new around here, or if you’re old and you forgot, I am a sucker for Mondays.  Fresh starts get me all revved up, ready to stomp all over anything that gets in my way.  Goals?  Watch out.  I’m ready to tackle you.  All of you.  All at once.

That’s where I am this morning, and it’s a little bit of a struggle to do one thing at a time.  To sit here, to focus, to do one thing well before flitting off to another shiny goal.  This is especially difficult because I’m so ready to start on my actual Creativity Workshop project, due to the numerous this-is-how-my-goals-are-going posts I read this morning.  Now it’s my turn to write one of those, before I proceed.

Last week, I wrote two sets of goals:

An all-encompassing set

and

A way-more-specific set

Since the way-more-specific set won’t get underway until today, I’m going to measure last week’s progress against the first set.  (In case you need a refresher for details, click the link, or just recall my adorable cat posing, top-model-like, inside his box of choice.  He’s smiling with his eyes, and Tyra Banks would be proud.)

The Goals & The Verdicts

Boxbuster Goal #1: Work on my ability to switch gears; make quality progress on two projects in the same week.

The Verdict: Even though we didn’t start writing our short stories last week, the Creativity Workshop itself took up a bit of time.  Crafting goals and posting about them was a project in and of itself.  I did work on my novel last week, though not as often as I intended to.  When I worked on it, I made some quality progress (meaning, I feel proud of the way I spent my time when I sat down to work, and what I ended up with is light years better than what I began with).  Therefore: goal achieved, since concrete progress was made on two different projects.

Boxbuster Goal #2: Make a tighter schedule and stick to it.

The Verdict: Um.  Yeah.  About this one…I succeeded 50%, and I bet it’s not too hard to guess which 50% was the winner.  In light of Goal #1, I’m glad to say I at least got a lot of great stuff done.  On the other hand, had I followed the schedule I created, I would have been even more productive.  So far, for today, I’m on track as planned.

Boxbuster Goal #3: Learn how to write them and turn out some good ones.

The Verdict: This one’s not quite in motion yet, since we’re just now starting on our actual projects.  Ideally, I would have read up on short stories last week in preparation.  I didn’t, so I guess we’ll call this one a fail.

Boxbuster Goal #4: Write interesting things, from fresh ideas, that mean something.

The Verdict: This goal, I’m excited to say, I’m gonna claim as a 100% victory.  Part of coming up with our specific goals, for me, entailed a scribbly page of brainstorming.  I actively made a point to look for ideas around me, I took notes as they came to me, and then I pieced them together.  I’ve got some ideas in motion, and what’s more, I’m super excited about these ideas, ready to dive in (hence the gleeful-brain-skipping I mentioned earlier…).  Training my brain to look for fresh ideas with meaning = victory.

Boxbuster #5: The first four goals were pretty all-encompassing, so I’d better include some specific goals that pertain to the writing itself.

The Verdict: This goes hand-in-hand with the fourth goal.  In my outline of this goal in its post, the specifics I came up with were: female protagonist, write ideas inspired by song lyrics, put a fresh twist on a cliche, write something controversial, and write something inspired by my experiences in Shanghai.  Of these, I have definite plans to write around the first three ideas.  I haven’t outlined anything specifically controversial, though I expect I will work it in there somewhere.  Same goes with Shanghai — the idea is in the back of my mind, but I’m not sure where I want to use it yet.  Overall, I’m going to call this a success.

Sweet.  Not bad, not perfect — a good start, I think.

Before I head off to productivity land, I just wanted to let you know that the (high school one act) play my mom directed placed third in the state!  They were incredible. Her star actress — whose name, appropriately, is actually Star — won the award for Best Actress, and a couple of their other actors also won medals for their performances.

We also ate yummy food, stayed up way too late, and now I want to move to Austin, where there are lakes and trees and hills and quirky restaurants and way less ugly concrete than where we currently live.  If we can’t move to New Zealand, I guess Austin is a good second choice.

The end.  (Eloquent way to end, and totally not abrupt.  Right?  Riiiight.)

A New Queen

8 May

Oy.  It is a dark and early morning, that’s for sure.  A loud one, too.

With two five-thirty a.m. text messages and a veritable R&B concert directly over our heads, I’m finding it a little bit difficult to do what people do on Saturday mornings (i.e. not wake up at five-thirty a.m.).

The text messages?  Totally understandable, and welcome even.  They were from my sweet mom, whose play¹ competes today.  She’ll be busy all day, wanted to know when we’d get to town (it’s a four-hour drive for us), et cetera.  Plus, I know she’s not the most dextrous texter — between her lofty texting ambitions and (probably) a ten-minute internal debate before bothering us so early, the texts are more endearing than they are a nuisance.

As for the music², I can’t say the same: this new queen on the block has just ousted her previous contenders people-who-drive-and-act-like-jerks-in-parking-lots, things-spelled-incorrectly-on-purpose-à-la-Kwik-Kutz-or-Sassy-Katz³, and pounding-bass-speakers-who-take-my-concentration-and-dangle-it-over-the-edge-of-a-cliff from their comfy, coveted spots on the Throne of Pet Peeves.  (Those three have shared the Throne so long its velvet has worn down in a few places.)  Technically, what’s happening today is the third pet peeve after it’s had about eight fully caffeinated espresso shots, therefore I’m counting it in a category that’s wholly other, and am convinced it supersedes the annoyance of a mere pounding bass.

It’s starting to get light outside.

Sweet little birds are singing.  It’s impossible to tell whether they are trying to sing karaoke or drown out the noise.

Hey, wasn’t it just last week where I mused about the delight of not having much to rant about?  (Yes. Yes it was.)

On a brighter note (one not being melismatically forced down my ears) that’s totally unrelated to anything else in this post, Jen Lancaster’s book reading/Q&A/signing was a treat last night.  The excerpt she read was funny, as was the Q&A.  She then managed to stay personable and look genuinely thrilled to be there while she signed books for three hours (I know this because we got there late and were therefore relegated to Group H on a scale from A to I).  Tyra Banks would be so proud — Ms. Lancaster welcomed photos all night, and has perfected the whole find-the-light and smile-with-your-eyes thing they’re always trying to get contestants to do on Top Model.

I feel sufficiently unburdened by my loud morning, so I shall roll with it and get a head start on today.  Breakfast, latte, and packing, here I come.  Oh!  Before I forget, I should let all you #CreateWS people know, due to our weekend trip, my Sunday workshop post won’t be happening until laaaaaaate Sunday (which might actually turn into eaaaaarly Monday)(especially if my neighbor has anything to do with it).

PS: I’m experimenting with a Tweet button at the bottom — thanks, Linda! — not that I really expect you guys to go reTweeting this totally unhelpful little post.

¹She’s directing high schoolers in a one act play competition.  They made the state-level competition, which is a Big Deal in Texas because it takes stellar performances at three or four competitions in order to do what they’ve done.  I’m proud of her, and proud of her cast!

²(Noise.)

³Yes, it hurt to type that.  Hurts more to leave it in there and not delete it, knowing a good many of you may very well cringe upon reading it.

Everything is Neon Pink

7 May

I hereby interrupt this session of attempted productivity for a fun Friday post!

(Not that productivity isn’t fun.  It is.  It’s just that sometimes certain types of fun require me to take a little break and think about nothing.)

Can I just take a moment to say that yesterday’s goal-setting session pretty much lit an Olympic-sized torch in me?  Even after 3.2 miles on the treadmill yesterday and a strength-training session, I still had more energy than time to use it.  (This is not normal, and it may or may not have something to do with my new neon-pink running shoes.  They exude energy.)  Seriously, though — I’m even more excited than I expected to be about these workshop goals.¹

It just occurred to me that this whole day is bathed in neon pink.  New shoes?  Check.  Notecards for the scenes I’m revising?  Check.  The color I think of when I think of my plans for this evening?  Yep.

One of my favorite authors, Jen Lancaster², is in Dallas today!  She’s on tour promoting her new memoir, My Fair Lazy.  I haven’t read it yet, but I have a copy in front of me just itching to be read. (It’s taken some real strength to not drop everything just to read it, FYI.)  She’s hilarious, and I’m looking forward to hearing her speak at the signing.³

The idea of going to a signing is inspiring, especially as I’m working on editing this novel, and especially because of who Jen Lancaster is.  If you don’t know anything about her, here’s a little background: she was laid off from an high-level executive position several years ago, and the lovely economy was not very kind to her.  She job-searched like crazy, only to come up empty-handed over and over again.  So, what did she do?  She wrote her first novel (Bitter is the New Black), a memoir focused on this process.  Her witty-sarcastic-yet-not-off-putting perspective is fun to read, and I suspect that’s why she’s now out promoting her fifth memoir.

All that to say, the woman has determination.  I’m inspired by her.  If you don’t believe me, find a copy of Pretty in Plaid.  Read it all, at some point, but for now, just read the last few pages.  They’re about the first time she landed on the New York Times bestsellers list, and how surreal it was.  Here’s a little excerpt, though you really should read the whole chapter (and the whole book):

Here I am, on the New York Times bestsellers list, practically the greatest barometer for success an author could ever hope to achieve.  And I got here by telling my story my way.

Me.  A nobody from Indiana.  A random girl with a bunch of sorority dance T-shirts and old Jordache jeans stored in her mom’s attic.  Nothing remarkable about her except an unvarying yearning to be better…and maybe an unhealthy fascination with cupcakes.

I did it.

I made it.

That’s my name on the list.

But I recognize that I’m here right now living my dream because my audience connects with me, not because I’m carrying a Prada bag, but because we all have the same fears, insecurities, and joys.  Thus, they’re the ones who motivate me to be better.  And the notion of having an audience pull for me because I’m one of them is far more daunting than making a list ever could be.

— Jen Lancaster, Pretty in Plaid, found on the last few pages

Well, there you go.  Wow, right?  I like to swap out Texas for Indiana, and American Eagle jeans for the Jordache, and imagine that could be me someday.  (Also, swap out lattes for cupcakes.)  It could be you, too.  The one way it certainly won’t be me?  If I don’t get these edits done.

Happy motivation, and happy weekend, to all of you!  For those of you participating in Merrilee’s workshop, I wish you a peaceful last couple of days!  Back to this mess of neon and notes I go.

¹Don’t get me wrong, though.  This excitement is a nice little distraction from the oh-my-goodness-this-is-going-to-be-REALLY-HARD-and-what-did-I-sign-up-for? feeling that’s bubbling under the surface.  Perhaps you can relate?

²She’s written five memoirs.  Among them are my two favorites, New York Times bestsellers Pretty in Plaid and Such a Pretty Fat.

³In case you’re wondering where neon pink fits into this little picture, it doesn’t, really.  There’s pink on the cover of her new book, as well as last year’s Pretty in Plaid, so I guess my brain just turned normal pink into neon somehow?  Or, maybe it’s because she wore hot pink in her television interview this morning.  Still, hot pink ≠ neon.  Whatever.

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