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On Conflict

30 May

My grandmother nearly died at our family reunion yesterday, but did not want any medical attention. Three of her four children were present, along with five of her six grandchildren, her husband, and everyone who has either married into or been born into our family.

My grandmother is an incredible woman.

We all love her. We all express that love in different ways; we all feel passionately about caring for her in the ‘best way possible.’ We disagree on what the ‘best way possible’ actually is.

This sort of passion, and love—even with the best of intentions, and especially focused on issues of life or death—can lead to some intense conflict. It can be exhausting.

Perhaps it’s weird that, at the end of the day, my thoughts turned to my novel-in-progress. Or, perhaps it was just a way to think of something else. Whatever the reason, I drifted off to sleep with thoughts about the following:

My novel-in-progress: Emotion, and the various ways people express themselves, is at the heart of this new story I’m writing. I know that sounds übervague, since emotional expression is a huge part of any story, really—but I’m exploring it more heavily than usual for this idea.

As excited as I’ve been about this new project, it’s hard to start from scratch after investing so much in Speck Hawkins. Lots of my heart and soul went into that novel, and this new idea…well, so far, it’s just been a good idea to pursue.

Yesterday made it personal; themes and thoughts that were merely hypothetical somehow made their way into my real life. As exhausting as it was, now I know: my heart and soul WILL be in this new project. I feel more closely tied to it now. For a big idea like the one I’m exploring, I think I needed to have that connection in order to push past the rush of merely starting it.

On conflict, and writing it: I have decided the following are true: 1) conflict—especially the intense, exhausting sort—is not fun to experience, and 2) if you must experience it, at least that means you can come from an honest place when writing it.

Also: how odd is it that we writers put ourselves willingly into the position to create (and, therefore, experience vicariously through our characters) conflict on a daily basis, even though it’s such an exhausting thing to actually go through, you know? There must be something therapeutic to it.

I don’t usually tread into waters so personal here on the blog, but I know I’m hardly alone when it comes to family drama—I think it’s safe to say that any person, with a family or without one, has been affected by it at some point. Prayers for my grandmother’s health, and for any lingering tension certain family members might feel, would be greatly appreciated. ♥

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The Blank Page

29 Mar

Oh, the blank page. At this point, I’m so, so familiar with it. And, in many ways, I’m starting over with a blank page right now.

You may have noticed that March pretty much turned into a month-long hiatus from blogging. This was mainly intentional.

It’s been a season of transition for me. The time off helped me to focus on a few larger-than-life areas—especially the fact that I was finishing up my first trimester of pregnancy and feeling like utter junk for most of the time. I think it’s getting better. Finally.

That’s not the only reason I took a break, though. In majorly exciting news, the novel I’ve been working on for most of this blog’s life? I finished it. And by finished, of course, you know I mean that in a relative sense—mainly, I mean I feel satisfied with the work I’ve done on it, to the point that I feel it’s ready for agents’ eyes.

Also? That tiny little word I just used—work? It seems small. Way. Too. Small.

Those four letters represent years of discipline and heart, poured into every page.

They represent countless lattes, post-it notes, index cards, and hours spent at Starbucks.

They represent four drafts started from four scary blank pages: the one where I started with nothing more than the name of my character; the one where I re-envisioned so much of the story that I couldn’t simply weave in the changes; the one where I was satisfied with the story and structure but knew I could make the writing itself stronger; the one where the first third got completely re-worked.

And that, my friends, is why I took a month off. Transitioning out of that much work and jumping into a new blank page? Not easy. (Especially when there are three compelling ideas begging me to write them.) But! I’m pleased to say I’ve chosen (with much difficulty) which project to pursue next, and that I’m making good progress on it already.

Thanks so much for being patient while I disappeared, and for checking in on me to let me know you missed my regular blogging. Now that I’m past the hump of bad baby sickness (hopefully) and have transitioned between projects, I should be back to posting on a regular basis again.

Happy writing and reading to all of you!

xoxo

Commitment v. Desire

18 Jun

COMMITMENT

[responsibility, obligation, duty, liability, task]

DESIRE

[wish, want, aspiration, fancy, inclination, impulse, yearning, longing, craving, eagerness, enthusiasm]

I don’t know about you, but to me?  One of these sounds way more appealing.  In an ideal world, the things you desire and the things to which you’re committed would be the same things.  Too bad the world isn’t always an ideal place.

There are tons of directions I could take this topic — relationships, work v. rest, budgets of all sorts, social responsibilities.  For now, because it’s a recurring theme I’ve seen at least three times this week, I’m pointing it in the direction of writer-sees-sparkly-new-project-and-wants-to-drop-everything-in-pursuit-of-said-sparkly-new-project.

As writers, we have more freedom than most to commit to the things we desire — if you’re writing a novel, a short story, even a blog post, it’s probably about a subject that appeals to you.  Right?  I hope so.

The hard part happens when new becomes old, dull replaces sheen, and our eye lands on a new desire.  There’s temptation to drop the current commitment and follow the sparkly thing, the pretty thing, the oh-this-would-be-SO-fun-RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE! thing.

Usually, that temptation arises when the current commitment becomes difficult.

So, what are you to do?  Stick with the commitment, or follow the new desire?  Or, find a way to stick with the commitment and follow the new desire?  Well, I hate to disappoint you if you were looking for a hard and fast answer, but a) I don’t have one, and b) I don’t know if anyone does.  I have been thinking about this, though, so I’ll give you my thoughts.  Then, you should give me yours.

The way things are today, it’s become normal to do what we want, whenever we want to do it.  It feels unnatural to spend valuable time on a project we don’t always feel is valuable.  There’s the problem.  Feelings aren’t always reliable.  You have to go on truth, too.

Truth #1: Shiny new things will, inevitably, get dull and old.  Truth #2: Most worthwhile things take work.  Truth #3: Work is often hard.  Truth #4: If you’ve committed to it, you committed for a reason.  Truth #5: Nothing will ever get completed if you stop working on it when it gets hard.

However.

Misery isn’t exactly the goal, either.  I don’t think it’s wrong to want to enjoy life, or to want to enjoy the work you do.  So, when is it okay to drop a project in favor of a new one?  Here’s what I’m thinking.

[Click over to the actual post if you’re on the main page & the bullet list is scrunched/impossible to decipher.]

It’s not okay to sacrifice Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • Someone else is counting on you.
  • You are legally obligated to follow through.
  • Your financial health depends on you upholding the commitment.
  • Your reputation or your integrity would be tainted because of it.
  • You’re acting purely on emotion, rather than truth + emotion.

It’s reasonable to ditch Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • No one else suffers negative repercussions from it.
  • The reason your current commitment is hard is because the idea is lame, will never work, and you’ve spent way too much time already trying to force it into something it’s not.  You had high hopes for it, and it is still hard to let go.
  • You are overcommitted, others end up having to pull your weight, and you are hurting more than you are helping.
  • You genuinely believe, after much thought, that the new project is a more valuable use of your time.
  • It’s a commitment for an undefined length of time, one which will never end unless you end it.
  • You don’t have a jumping-from-project-to-project-and-never-finishing-anything track record.

These lists are, most likely, not exhaustive.  Also, there are probably circumstances where exceptions happen.  And, like I said before, I don’t have answers — these are just thoughts, opinions based on (a slew of sometimes painful) experience.

To sum up: commitment is good, difficulty is not bad, misery is not preferable.  Emotions can blind, and are not reliable if unmixed with truth.  Overcommitment is a draining cancer.  Doing things you know are healthy — even if they’re not particularly enjoyable — can lead to wonderful, surprising results.  And, there are times when dropping commitments can be the best decision.  (Not a lot of times, but they do exist.)  Other times, you can keep current commitments, but still try to get a marginal amount of work done on the sparkly project in time not already devoted to anything.

Okay.  Enough of me.  What do you guys think?  How do you decide what to work on, when to work on it, and when to move on?

[tweetmeme source= “olsonkayla” only_single=false]

10 Things You Never Knew You Always Wanted To Know

30 Apr

When I first started this blog, I wasn’t sure what it would become.  Rants about parking lot villains?  Sure, why not!  Recounting my horrible customer service experiences?  Yes, sir.

Naturally, I decided to go anonymous.

Soon after I began the blog, though, it became less of a place to rant, and more of a how-’bout-I-chronicle-my-novel-writing-project? sort of place.  Now that I’ve built a community of amazing, supportive writer friends — and because I don’t rant much anymore¹ — I decided to attach my name to it.  And a picture.  See the sidebar.

Let me just pause here to say a HUGE part of why I went ahead and did this was to impress my software-engineer husband with taking the initiative to learn a little HTML to make it happen.  That was just the thing that pushed me over the edge, though.  Most of you already know my name, I just hadn’t officially added it to the blog yet.

Okay.  So, in honor of that, I thought I’d do a little personal post today.  What the heck, right?  It’s Friday.  I’m editing.  It’s a good little break from revising, so here we go!

(Side note: for a less-crammed version of the stuff that follows, make sure you’ve clicked on the actual post and are not just on the home page.  It’s more spread out that way.)

10 Things You Never Knew You Always Wanted To Know

(Or, Maybe Not. But Whatever.)

  1. I get my hair from both of my parents: curls from my dad, color from my mom.  The picture I posted makes it look darker than it actually is.  For a decade, I had fear of phobic proportions of getting my hair cut.  Finally, I found something that works.  Want to read more about my hair trauma?  Here you go.
  2. I LOVE artichokes.  Load up the plate, please, with as many as you can give me.  Please do not forget, especially if we’ve ordered take-out, because my poor husband has to see me get all dejected over it.
  3. I can say “You smell like cheese,” in five languages.  They include Japanese, Norwegian, English, Spanish, and sign language.  I can also say my fair share of “I love you” to much of the world, though that phrase doesn’t work too well with the first one.  I can sing “Jesus loves the little children” in Norwegian, and also recite a random Bible verse in the same language.  Perhaps you can tell that I had a Norwegian roommate in college?
  4. I love rain.  Hate lightning, but love rain.  I think this is because some of my favorite memories happened in rain storms — I remember watching storms with my dad from our front porch when I was little; also, I rode a bicycle for a couple miles in the rain, alone, in Shanghai one night, a memory that brings back feelings of independence, confidence, and complete surreality.  Rain inspires, rather than depresses, me.
  5. I only went to two weeks of first grade, then skipped to second.  I often wonder what my life would be like if things had been different.  When I wonder these things, I’m thankful things happened the way they did.
  6. I learned how to sing on a steady diet of Mariah Carey and show tunes.  My mom is a music teacher, so I grew up around it.  I play the piano and the guitar, and played the bassoon for seven years all through school.
  7. I’m a Bible-believing Christian.  Some of you believe the same way I do, some of you believe the exact opposite.  Some of you are in-between, or don’t believe in anything.  I love you all.  Oh yeah, and I collect Bibles in all sorts of languages: some of the more unusual ones include Icelandic, Dutch, Russian, and Chinese.
  8. One of my favorite cookbooks is huge and yellow, and it’s from Gourmet magazine.  I love to try recipes from it — it has the best instructions, and backstory, of any other cookbook I own.  Everything I’ve tried from it has come out perfect, with the exception of the gingerbread pancakes, which I’ve attempted — and failed at — no less than four times.
  9. I want to live near the ocean, or the mountains.  Probably would choose oceans over mountains, if given the choice.  I live near neither.  Even the lakes aren’t exactly inspiring around here.
  10. Once upon a time, my idea of working out was defined as such: walk a single lap around the trail at the park, twice per year.  These days, I actually enjoy running, weight training, yoga, and even doing planks and side planks and all those other things that hurt.  I continue to learn discipline, daily, whether it’s at the gym, or writing from my computer, or being wise with finances.
  11. BONUS!  My favorite movie is Waiting for Guffman, and it’s one of the only movies I can remember quotes from.

And so it ends.  Time for me to kick Mr. Cat out of my chair and get back to revisions.

¹And, because when I have in the past, I tried my best to take a make-the-best-out-of-it approach, rather than a please-hate-me-once-you-read-this approach.

Shadows, Sun, Stillness

21 Apr

Peace.  Today seems like it just might be full of it.

Unlike yesterday.

Yesterday, I learned that for some people, nothing goes better with 8:30am sun and breeze than a good, loud dose of rap music.  Bonus points if said music echoes through the entire courtyard when others are trying to concentrate.

I also learned that my idea of proper laundry room etiquette doesn’t exactly line up with everyone else’s.  Seriously, just because I got up early to use the four washing machines, it doesn’t mean I might want to dry my clothes right after that, you know?  It’s perfectly fine with me if you disregard the usual order of who-got-there-first and dump your own wet laundry in the dryer right when I’m about to use it.  Perfectly.  Fine.¹

But, whatever.  It was a sunny day, albeit a loud and laundry-filled day, and I did my best to be patient.  The music stopped, eventually, and my clothes are dry and folded.²  Even though my DVR somehow managed to not record Glee, it was still Tuesday: Lost-day.  Plus, my friend brought me a free non-fat latte and some Shiner for our midnight Lost-viewing refreshments.  (Public Service Announcement: there’s a reason Starbucks doesn’t make Grande Non-Fat Beer Lattes.)

Today, though: aaaaaahhhhhhh.

I can smell peace, and it smells like green grass and potted plants.  It sounds like breeze in the leaves, and the on-going conversation between the two little red birds who sit in those leaves.  It’s sun and shadows, and the fact that they’re shifting slowly.  It’s stillness.  This day will not escape me like yesterday did.

I’m fully aware that inner peace and circumstantial peace are two separate things.  Sometimes, though, circumstantial cacophony has its way of drowning out inner peace’s calm voice.  Today, the two peaces are having a nice little conversation.  I hope it’s a long one.

Better take advantage of this morning, so I’m off to start reading the last few chapters of Linda’s novel!  (PS: Go read Linda’s latest post, and not just because she says nice things about yours truly.  It’s full of honest perspective on rejection and the often discouraging querying process.)

I wish you all a peaceful day of sun, breeze, and birds.  (Singing birds, as opposed to creepy Alfred Hitchcock birds.  Also as opposed to the visually challenged kinds of birds who nosedive into windows, or birds who mistake big hair for their nests/toilets.)

¹I guess I should add, in her defense, that she cleaned her clothes in her own washer and they happened to need drying at the same time as mine.  Being dryer-less, what else was she to do?  Wait?  Though I understand where she’s coming from, it had a frustrating effect on me nonetheless, due to the way I had scheduled my day.  (Got up early to do laundry, only to have it take way longer than expected due to Dryer Girl.)  Add rap music to the mix, and the frustration was turned all the way up to eleven.  (This Is Spinal Tap, anyone?)

²As for dry, folded, and put away?  Not so much.

Somewhere, Over The Rainbow…

17 Apr

Well, what have we here?  Gorgeous gray skies, peaceful rain, and…a new post?  What? What?!

Close those jaws, friends.  That way, despite the hum of the computer and the whirr of the fan, you might — if you listen hard enough — actually hear me saying I’m sorry for being such a lame blogger as of late.  I know there’s at least one of you who cares. (See Melissa’s all-caps comment on my last post, if you don’t believe me…)(Side note for Melissa: Thanks for the kick in the butt, my friend!  It worked.)  Sorry, y’all.

So, anyway, those lame days?  Are over.  I don’t want to be lame.  (Who does, right?)  I hereby announce my plan to blog on a regular basis again!  Blogging is fun and I love all of you sweet blog-friends, so it won’t be too hard.

The hardest part, actually, was figuring out what to say after two meaty posts in a row.  It’s kind of hard to let myself switch gears from posts like “Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about my editing process” and “Here’s my treatise on beta-reading,” and go back to mundane minutiae.  Gone are the days where I write about butter knives.  (Yes. That day did, indeed, exist.  No link for you; if you really want to read it…well…have fun on that little scavenger hunt.) Butter knives aren’t interesting or relevant to much of anything — this blog has totally become more “thoughts on writing” than “thoughts on things.”  Back in the early days, I wasn’t sure what it would become, and I’ve got to say: I like being writing-focused.

That said, I need to allow myself to hang out in the deep-ish part of the pool, too.  I don’t have to pressure myself to be in diving board territory every single time.  (Don’t get me wrong, though: I don’t plan to hang out in three-year-old territory, either.)

So, I was totally going to write a whole post about Patty Griffin — my favorite musician, whose concert we attended last night¹ — and what her music has taught me about writing.  This post has morphed into something longer than I planned for, though, so I think I’ll save that for tomorrow or Monday.

Not to get all sappy on you guys, but thank you so much for being faithful blog-friends to me, even though I’ve been…you know…not so very present as of late.  You guys rock.

Mr. Cat says hello, by the way.  He’s missed you guys, too.²

¹Eeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

²As for Mr. Dexter the Kitty, he doesn’t know what’s going on.  He’s made a recent habit out of scratching paint chips from the windowsill and scarfing them down like kitty treats.  Paint chips + terror kitten = a really spazzed out alarm clock for us on some mornings.

To Fall and Crash and Break

22 Feb

Before I update you all on Phase Two of Project: Edit, perhaps I should begin with a little story.

I’m the sort of girl who offers to make her sister’s 250 wedding invitations.  The sort of girl who, when the choices of print shop suddenly become print-shop-with-wonky-discoloration versus print-shop-with-insanely-ridiculous-prices, decides to go with neither print shop and opt instead for make-each-invite-and-response-card-with-her-own-two-loving-tender-hands.  I’m that sort of girl.

Fortunately, my sweet husband is the sort of husband who says, “Look here! I can turn the espresso-and-white maps into black-and-white maps, and squeeze eight onto a page.  This will cut costs and eliminate the issues with discoloration — then, we can do all the color copies at print-shop-with-insanely-ridiculous-prices!  Then you’ll only have to make the RSVP cards by hand, and the original price you quoted will stay about the same!”

Bless him.

So — all that to say, I (sometimes) bite off more than is comfortable to chew.  Not that I can’t chew it.  It’s just uncomfortable.  (See also: my withered hand when I finished the RSVP cards. If I had done everything by hand, in one weekend, as was my original insane solution, I’d probably still be in pain. And that was last June.)

This week has been annoying and discouraging and overwhelming.  Note to self, and to everyone who’s up to speed on what I’m working on these days¹: when taking handwritten notes in a spiral notebook, if the plan is to enter them into the computer in an organized fashion, do it in small chunks at the end of each daily session instead of all at once.  The notes themselves aren’t all that intimidating; the system in which I’ve organized them isn’t the problem, either.  The problem is that it’s tedious.  Worth it?  Almost certainly.  Fun?  Certainly not.

I’ve also felt the tendency to compare myself to others this week, in a way that’s not necessarily healthy.  Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading² and while that’s inspiring and all, it’s also a wee bit discouraging.  It’s so easy to pick up a book and forget that it didn’t just magically appear, in polished-and-published form: no.  These things took work.  Just like mine is taking work.  I keep forgetting that this is my first time to edit a novel and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning how to do it.

So.  

Perhaps now is a good time to mention that thanks to the Olympics, I am in awe of snowboarders.  I spent an entire afternoon watching the girls’ halfpipe competition, marveling at Torah Bright, at Gretchen Bleiler, at Hannah Teter, at how easy they make it look.  Also?  I marveled at how insanely painful it must be to mess up, to fall and crash and break.  

I’ve been airing my snowboarding awe to my husband all week.  On Saturday night, when all my little frustrations about editing surfaced along with my ridiculous snowboarding dreams, he just listened patiently and reminded me of some truth: those snowboarders didn’t just hop on a board, jump into a halfpipe, and proceed to nail their switch backside 720’s³.

No.  They practiced.  A lot.  Like, a lot a lot a lot.  And, even gold medalists and their toughest competitors fall at the Olympics, because they’re giving everything they have.  They don’t play it safe, they take risks that may or may not pay off.

You see where I’m going, yes?  Huge goals require huge risks, lots of practice, lots of patience, and the understanding that sometimes, you just might crash in the snow while you’re trying something amazing.  Oh yeah, and to remember that everyone has to start somewhere and learn along the way.

I’m learning.  This novel is a huge project, overwhelming sometimes, uncomfortable sometimes, but not impossible.  Not impossible at all.

Revision Update, Phase Two | All notes have been entered into pretty little spreadsheets.  Still have more work as far as prioritizing them goes, but on the whole, it’s coming along.

¹If you’re not up to speed, click here and here

²FINALLY finished The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) and Bright Lights, Big Ass (Jen Lancaster).  Had to read them concurrently so as not to fall into total, time-travel-tragedy-induced despair.

³I looked this up.  According to this NYTimes article, this is the cherry-on-top move from Torah Bright’s gold-medal-winning run; it’s “a perplexing double rotation with a blind landing that flummoxes all her competitors.” (I’m loving the abundance of the letter in that sentence, BTW.)