Archive | September, 2010

On Being Productive…and Those Days Where You Really Aren’t.

27 Sep

Inspired by the last week of my life¹, here are two lists: How to Ensure You Will Get Nothing Done and How to Get EVERYTHING Done.

Here goes.

How To Ensure You Will Get Nothing Done

  1. Sleep a LOT. Fall asleep on the couch, don’t set your alarm, and proceed to snuggle your pillow until your cat bites you into consciousness.
  2. Click EVERY link that looks interesting on Twitter. Don’t hold back.  Read everything immediately, leave novel-length comments, and generally peruse the internet at the speed of a poet in a field of dandelions.
  3. Once you’ve finished reading all those interesting posts, check Twitter again. Proceed to click every new link that looks interesting.  Rinse and repeat ad infinitum/ad nauseum.
  4. Say yes to everyone. When people ask you to do things, just say yes!  You have to eat lunch/have coffee/relax sometime, right?  Why not do it with someone else and double (maybe even TRIPLE!!) the time you would have spent doing those things alone??!
  5. Watch as much TV as possible. I’m talking Lone Star, Glee, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and The Amazing Race. Side note: I did NOT watch all of these shows this week.  But, I like them all, so I was tempted.  Of those that I did watch, this clip from The Amazing Race is SO HILARIOUS and worth sharing.  Painful, painful, painful—but hilarious.


  1. Don’t deny yourself: just be wise. It kind of hurt me to write the above list because it’s so extreme.  None of those things are bad, in and of themselves.  It’s GOOD to get a healthy amount of sleep, to read links on Twitter and make new friends, to spend quality time with people, to watch some TV at the end of the day.  Denying yourself things you enjoy won’t make you more productive—you’ll probably just end up procrastinating with things you enjoy less.  Do things you enjoy, just try not to let them eat your day.  How?
  2. Have a clear idea about WHAT you need/want to accomplish. When you’re not sure where to begin, it’s easy to waste your own time.  Figure out what, specifically, you need to do.  A list of specific goals is a concrete thing to wrap your mind around and is essential toward making progress of any kind.  In my experience, it’s much easier to pull my head out of the clouds and get to work if I know where to begin.
  3. Have a clear idea WHY you need/want to do whatever it is you’re doing. Worthwhile goals usually take time and discipline to accomplish.  They are not always fun.  They are not always easy.  The WHY is your light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s also the steam for your little engine.  It’s the truth you come back to when things get hard and you forget why you started a project in the first place.  Know why you get up before the crack of dawn to write, why you allow yourself two TV shows per week instead of every show on the air, why you sacrifice like you do for your goal—you can come back to the why when things get hard.  When things get hard, it’s too easy to give in to what’s merely fun, while putting off the thing that’s a little more difficult, but worthwhile.  The WHY is essential.  Know yours.
  4. Pay attention to the clock. Not obsessively—just be aware of it.  You’re human: you have numerous passions and priorities, and like all other humans, a scant 24 hours/day to nurture them.  Know your priorities, know yourself, and get a feel for how long it takes you to do things.  Work hard, rest hard.
  5. Then (and this is the thing that seems easy, but isn’t always) DO. I realize this is a revolutionary concept and all—to be productive, you have to do stuff.  Stuff that helps your goal(s) move along, I should clarify.  It really is that simple, and it really is that difficult.  Silly brains, always convincing us we need to do the exact opposite of what’s on our agenda.  Go back to the WHATs and WHYs if when you feel stuck.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. This is pretty much imperative in being productive.  Some days your focus will just be ornery.  You’ll have things on your heart and mind, or you’ll just be exhausted.  You try and try, but still—nothing.  Or, maybe you don’t try, and you ride the procrastination wave until it dumps you in the sand.  Some days will just be this way, and that’s okay.  The quickest way to have a more productive tomorrow is to just move on and try again, sans self-inflicted guilt trip.

Okay, I think that’s it.  I now raise my coffee mug in a toast to making the most of your time, whether we’re talking ten minutes or ten hours.  Happy productivity, y’all!

¹Which, if you’re new around here, has been completely out of the ordinary for me.  I’m taking a brief break before starting the fourth draft of my WIP, and my usual routine is all messed up.  I pretty much thrive on productivity, so being out of my routine feels very strange.

Advice You Really Should Take To Heart. (Not That It’s Easy.)

21 Sep

Things you don't really WANT to know, but kind of NEED to know. (See also: advice you really should take to heart.)

If you’ve been reading writing blogs for any decent amount of time, you are probably aware that your (somewhat) finished WIP comes with a warning label:

Once you finish your (first, second, third, thirtieth) draft, DO NOT PICK IT UP AND TRY TO EDIT IT UNLESS YOU’VE LET ENOUGH TIME PASS.

If you’re like me, you proceeded to ignore said advice.

And then you proceeded to promptly throw your beautiful horrible draft as far away from you as possible so it wouldn’t bite your face off.

Oh, wait.

You haven’t done this?

Well.  You must not have given it to six different readers, all of whom have incredibly sharp wits, kind hearts, and the invaluable willingness to tell you exactly what you need to hear in order to turn your sort-of-kind-of-almost-but-not-quite-there-yet manuscript into something BETTER.

The good thing about this?  I love, love, love, Love, LOVE that their feedback is going to strengthen the work I care about so much.

The hard thing about it?  It really IS true that objectivity requires distance.  Without distance, the manuscript is THE thing you’ve poured your heart into, THE product of all those difficult hours, THE accomplishment you’re proud of.  And it makes it really hard to hear that it still needs work, EVEN THOUGH YOU ABSOLUTELY, 100% AGREE with most of the feedback you’re getting.  You know it’s not perfect, and yet it’s still hard to deal with the fact that it’s not perfect.

Another hard thing?  Not everyone agrees on what works and what doesn’t.  One reader thinks a character was particularly effective, while someone else thinks the same character wasn’t very fleshed out at all.  Another character rocks someone’s world, while at the same time confusing another reader.  One says cut that element, while another says that was one of my favorite things!

Getting conflicting feedback when you’re thisclose to the manuscript is like being on a rollercoaster.  Your work is being challenged (in a good way and for the better), and it’s tempting to take every single thing to heart as it comes in.  Either that, or only listen to the things that make you feel good (which are NOT always the same things you and your manuscript NEED to listen to).


What does a person do in this situation?

The hard thing.  Which is also the best thing.

  • WAIT. Even though it’s not easy, and you’re passionate about doing more–wait.  Wait because you’re passionate.  Passion will stand in the way of doing hard things you might need to do.  And because you’re passionate, you want the very best for your work.  Waiting counts as hard work, so don’t let yourself feel lazy.  It. Is. Hard.
  • LISTEN. Listen to everything, even the things that make you angry or want to cry.  Chances are, those things are problems you know need to be dealt with.  Dealing with them will make your work stronger.  Listen to your trusted friends.  (I suppose it’s possible that even people you don’t trust can give you useful feedback.  I wouldn’t know, though.  So far, the only readers I’ve had are people I trust and respect.)  At the end of the day, listen to what best serves the story YOU set out to tell.
  • HANDS OFF. Do not touch the manuscript until after a) you’ve had enough distance to be objective, and b) all your critiques are in.  I didn’t come up with this piece of advice.  I read it, among other helpful things, here and here (Oh, Natalie Whipple, you rock.) and here (You rock, too, Merrilee Faber.).   I read all of these posts just in time to pry my eager little fingers away from making changes too early.
  • MULL IT OVER. A lot.  This, too, can look like laziness to those of us who thrive on typing, scratching things out, making manuscripts bleed.  Mulling is anything but lazy, though.  Mulling can happen in the shower, in those first few minutes when you wake up, the last few minutes before you fall asleep, while you’re in line at the grocery store, while you’re sweating in yoga.  It’s not as tangible as diving in and fixing things, which is what makes it hard.
  • WAIT. Yes, again.
  • DO SOMETHING ELSE THAT IS PRODUCTIVE WHILE WAITING. Why?  Because waiting can be incredibly draining and annoying.  We are writers.  It’s what we do.  I was feeling particularly impatient over the weekend, so I spent several hours working on an idea that’s been lingering in my head for months.  Nothing like a no-pressure first draft to defuse the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed with that one VIP (Very Important Project).
  • THINK. On paper.  On computer.  On Starbucks napkins.  On the palm of your hand.  In your head.  About the easy fixes and the ugly truths.  About how much you love your crit partners for loving you enough to be honest with you.
  • THEN EVALUATE AND FIX. The light at the end?  It’s still there.  You just might spend more time in that dark tunnel than you initially expected.  Be patient and do your best work.  (For example, read Merrilee’s take on Creative Revision.)  Hold out hope that your hard work will be worth it.

These are the things I’m learning from other people who have been there.  Waiting is HARD.  Harder than it seems when you’re merely reading posts about it.  I’m itching to work on this manuscript, but am forcing myself to wait a little longer.

If you didn’t already, click on the links to Merrilee’s and Natalie’s blogs.  These are excellent posts about what to do with feedback once you get it.

PS: That ALLIGATOR LIVES IN CANAL sign is from a rental car place in Florida.  Can I just take a minute to tell you how glad I am that I didn’t feel a pressing urge to frolic in the canal? (Not that such urges are the norm for me.  I prefer to frolic in private places like my living room.) An alligator bite may have put a bit of a damper on an otherwise incredible vacation!

Bite My Pillow

19 Sep

If you know the movie reference for today’s blog post title, CONGRATULATIONS!!  I think you and I are alone on this, judging from the comments on my last post.

I don’t know what you win, but YOU WIN!!!!

As for the rest of you, well…I imagine it must have sounded pretty strange to read, “I’m just going to go bite my pillow, that’s what I’m going to do!” in my last post.  Alas, I thought someone, anyone, might know this fantastic movie without first Googling the quote.

Since you don’t, you get this post!  With answers!  And links to YouTube videos!  And exclamation points!!!!  And a semi-strong urge (okay, fine, a pleading request) for you to drop what you’re doing and Netflix this movie today!


It’s one of those Christopher Guest mockumentaries (like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), and therefore people seem to either love or hate it.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you which side I’m on.  Feel free to disagree, but know that I stand firmly on the side of love.

Basically, here’s what it’s about: There’s a tiny Missouri town called Blaine, and they’re celebrating their sesquicentennial (read: 150th anniversary of their town’s existence).  To honor this momentous occasion, they put together a musical about the town’s (not-so-exciting) history.  Everyone, from the quirky director to his less-talented-than-they-think-they-are cast, believes this show is A.MAZ.ING.  Corky St. Clair (the quirky director) sends out invitations to head honchos on Broadway, inviting them to come see their show.  One (Mort Guffman) responds, and they get excited about the possibility of going to Broadway.

There are so many quotable things from this movie, so many huh?! moments (in a good way), and much of its beauty is in the subtle details.  I see something new to love about it every time I watch it, and I’ve watched it countless times.  Perhaps I enjoy it so much because I’m from a small town and grew up doing musical theater, and therefore am biased toward laughing at all the true things it pokes fun at.  I don’t think it’s just that, though.

So, here are a few of my favorite clips:

The one where Corky freaks out because he’s asked for $100,000 to make this show better, and the city council has just laughed at his request. This is the one where the “bite my pillow” quote comes from.  (The clip I included is his reaction to them saying things like, “Our entire town budget for the whole year is $15,000, and that includes swimming!”)

The one with “A Penny For Your Thoughts.” First, there’s a brief intro by a guy who is just SO impressed with the show Corky’s produced.  Then, a musical number from the show itself—”A Penny For Your Thoughts”—where Christopher Guest and Parker Posey sing and ‘dance’ (no, those ‘quotes’ were not a mistake).  Oh, man.  This is so purposefully bad it’s fantastic.

The one with the UFO expert. This is one of my absolute favorite clips from this movie.  Before the auditions for the musical and the show itself, we are treated to a bit of history about Blaine.  Apparently that history includes a UFO sighting.  And, yes: for all you Arrested Development fans out there, that IS Dr. Tobias Funke in this clip.

Okay, I’ll stop with the clips now, because seriously?  I could tag the whole movie if I was out to tag every funny thing about it.

Then again, you might not like it as much as I do.  It might be one of those acquired taste things.  My husband never liked it until yesterday (I credit this change to all the Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, and The Office episodes we’ve been watching lately), and I’m pretty sure my sister doesn’t like it.  So feel free to not like it.

Wishing you all a week where no one makes you want to bite your pillows!

Why You Should TOTALLY Compare Yourself.

17 Sep

At long last, heeeeeere we go!

FINALLY, right?

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m writing a series on writers, the tendency to compare ourselves with other writers, and how we can use that tendency to our advantage.  You can click here to find the first post (“Comparison: The Writer’s Knife”) and here to find the second post (“Why you should NEVER Compare Yourself.”).

Today makes post number three.

Throughout this series, I’ve been comparing comparison to a knife: it’s only a helpful tool if you know how to use it.  If you don’t know how to hold it right, it can be useless at best and dangerous at worst.  (There’s your little recap.)

So, how do we use it?  How do we hold that tricky little tool and use it to carve our work into pretty things instead of stabbing it to death?  (Um, ow.)


I’m breaking away from the knife for just a second to give you another painful analogy: step class at the gym.  One day, I was 45 minutes in to an hour-long class.  I was a) sweating like crazy, b) about to fall over, c) cursing the freaking step that was only four inches off the ground, and d) all of the above.

The über-bubbly Miley Cyrus song to which I was sweating and suffering seemed ill-fitting.  I hated it almost more than the step of doom.  But, then it hit me: Miley would probably have no problem with such a class.  What if I pretended to be Miley or Britney or some other coordinated, energetic workout/dance bunny (i.e. anyone but myself) for the rest of the class?  What would Miley or Britney do in the middle of a show, after dancing non-stop for who knows how long?  Surely they wouldn’t fall over from exhaustion and kick the step and quit.

This sounds like the most stupid thing in the world, but I pretended I was Miley Cyrus performing for a crowd.  And you know what?  My entire workout changed.  The step seemed to be level with the ground, my legs stopped burning, my breathing evened out, and I even smiled.  Sparkled, you could say.  The other people in class probably thought I was a huge weirdo.  (They may not have been wrong.)

What does this have to do with writing?

It’s easy to get discouraged when you are exhausted, and see your novel as an obstacle too difficult or painful to tackle.  ESPECIALLY when you see examples of others who seem to do their work flawlessly and with ease, all while sparkling and not sweating.  (Note the word seem.)

But—BUT!!!  Sometimes all it takes to keep going is the belief that you can do it, too.  They do it—why can’t you?  The simple act of pretending you are someone who is competent in areas where you are weak can make you FEEL more capable.

It may or may not mean you actually are more capable, but what it does is this: it raises the bar for yourself.  It’s a challenge, a push out of your comfort zone.  The motivation to strive for your best and not settle for merely good enough.


What’s another advantage of comparing yourself to others?

YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s a fact, and it’s true for everyone.  There will always be people who know how to do things better, and you can learn from them.  If When you find yourself reading something that makes you go, I’d better just stop right now, because this author?  Is the epitome of everything awesome.  Everything!  I could never be that good.  Never, ever, ever!  I’m going to go bite my pillow, that’s what I’m going to do.¹ — flip it around.  Don’t despair over it.  LEARN.

Figure out what you think works, what makes it so amazing.  (This can work the other way, too.  If you dislike something, don’t leave it at that.  Figure out WHY you think it doesn’t work.)

Then—and this is important—remember that YOU are in control of your work.  If something about what you’ve written seems boring or blah or underwhelming and you feel like it’s total crap, DO something about it.  You can.  It will take time and effort and possibly some tears, but you can.

So, what?

So go forth and conquer, that’s what.  Take your exhaustion, your intimidation, your fear, and your despair, and forget it for a minute.  Look at what is possible.  Take a deep breath and know that you’re not the worst, you’re not the best, and those things are okay.  You’re you.  Now be the best darn you you can be.

Side note, I’ve been told a few times that I would make an excellent elementary school music teacher.  I have no idea why this might be.

Sunshine!  Rainbows!  Flowers!  Kittens!!!


Seriously, though.  I know some of what I’ve written today is a little cheesy, but whatevs.  Just because it’s cheesy doesn’t make it untrue.

And PS: I’m learning from experience here, and am no expert at these things.  Oh, and that whole me-pretending-I’m-Miley-Cyrus thing—that’s just between us, okay?

¹Movie reference, anyone?  It’s pretty much my favorite movie, so if no one knows it, expect a post extolling its awesomeness sometime in the near future.

One Ocean, Two Islands, and Three Theme Parks Later…

13 Sep

Ah, snowy Hogsmeade in September…

Well, hello there, lovely blog friends.  Silly vacation, tearing us apart for so long.  I’ve missed you.  Truly.

It would be odd and unfortunate if I didn’t share some of the ocean, the islands, and the theme parks with you guys, right?  Right.  I think so, too.

I made some observations over the past week.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for me to go an entire week without Starbucks.
  2. Right in line with popular belief, however, is the cold hard truth that an entire week without coffee or lattes? HA. I rather quickly made friends with Vanya, the barista onboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship. She makes excellent lattes.
  3. The flight from Houston to Dallas lasts exactly as long as it takes for me to do 16.5 easy sudoku puzzles.
  4. There does, indeed, exist a sunblock that works for my skin. After a week in the sun, I came out looking shrimp-pink rather than my usual lobster-red. (It was a Neutrogena something or other, FYI. Perhaps I should memorize it so I don’t go right back to lobster land? Yeeeah.)
  5. Yes, I am in this picture. I know, I know. You only noticed the castle. Me, too.

    If butterbeer—the frozen kind—was a Starbucks drink, it would taste like a butterscotch créme frappuccino.  Hear that, Howard Schultz?  I expect to see these in the spring.  You’d make bazillions off of them.  Not everyone can travel to Harry Potter World just for a delicious beverage, but most people (except for my beloved family in the Texas Hill Country) can easily get to a Starbucks.  And who doesn’t want to try butterbeer?

  6. Glamour magazine should come with a warning label that reads: DO NOT READ WHILE SITTING IN A BEACH CHAIR IN THE OCEAN.  BETTER YET, DO NOT READ, PERIOD, UNLESS YOU WANT EVERY PAGE TO FALL OUT (AND FOR YOUR FINGERS, LEGS, AND STOMACH TO GET SMEARED WITH BLACK INK THAT HAS RUBBED OFF THE PAGE).  Ahem.  Then again, if they printed that warning label—especially so shoutily—they might not sell magazines.  But then, at least, people wouldn’t be left in beach chairs in the ocean wondering where to put all the pages that have fallen out while simultaneously trying to figure out if the ink will wash off.

    An ocean to myself! I'm reading Paranormalcy here. (Not the falling-apart Glamour magazine.)

  7. September?  Is totally the time to go to theme parks.  We did Harry Potter World (at Universal Orlando), the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot, all in two days.  We rode everything we wanted to, and even on rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (you’d think Disney World was in the Rockies or something) we only had to wait for, like, five minutes.  The ride inside Hogwarts Castle was the longest line we had, and even that was only about 30 minutes.
  8. And PS: uh, the ride inside Hogwarts?  Very cool.  We even kinda wanted to stay in line longer because there were so many amazing things to look at.
  9. Nothing beats 7AM mornings on the upper deck of a cruise ship, surrounded by ocean, with a latte made by Vanya and a fresh blue Moleskine in hand.  I sat out there for an hour or so every morning and brainstormed ideas for Book #2, and I’m overwhelmed with excitement about the things that poured onto those pages.
  10. Contrary to what I’d hoped, the construction and crammed street outside the window of my favorite Starbucks?  Did not suddenly morph into an ocean while I was away.  Bah.  I miss the ocean.
  11. Massages on the beach are expensive.  And so, so, so worth it.

Amazing, right? The sunrise over the ocean, dark and early, from the top deck of our ship. No wonder I felt inspired enough to fill a zillion(ish) pages in my Moleskine.

Also notable: for the first time ever, I came back itching to work on stuff.  Perhaps it’s due to the wealth of ideas I got while brainstorming, or perhaps it’s because Linda and Melissa have been über-amazing, quick readers who have already given me some brilliant feedback on the draft I just finished, like, a week ago.  Whatever the reason, I’m inspired and encouraged and ready to set back to work.  Hope all is well with all of you!  I feel like I missed a ton from the blogosphere while I was gone.  What are you guys working on this week?


3 Sep

YAY. Draft three = FINISHED.

Well, relatively.

Who knows how finished finished actually is, you know?  But I do know one thing: the third draft is done.  Finally.



It was a major stretch to try to finish this week, and I am feeling it, physically.  My neck is tight.  My head aches.  Since I’m sore from so many hours of staring at my laptop this past week¹, I’m postponing the rest of my Comparison Series until I get back from vacation.  I hate to do that, because I am kind of huge on sticking to my word.  It’s for everyone’s own good, though.  You know you’d rather have a quality post than one that reads:


Right?  Because that’s about all I have in me at the moment.  And writing the last two posts of the series will be the perfect way to transition back from vacation.

The vacation which, at the moment, I feel is completely deserved.  Sigh. (No, really.  I actually did just sigh.)

See you guys in a week, or a little more.  Maybe before, if the ocean happens to conjure up an internet connection.

Until then: peace, sunshine, cool breezes, and happy writing.

¹And possibly because I have mountains of dishes and laundry to finish before tomorrow.  Side note: I stared at the mess last night.  It was, quite possibly, the only time I will EVER look at such a disaster and think, Wow. This tornado zone is not due to laziness but, rather, is a direct result of super-awesome diligent productivity!!!  I should totally take a picture!