Tag Archives: creativity workshop

Oktoberzest, Revisited.

1 Oct

So, uh, wow.

I have it on good authority that October has arrived.  How is this possible?  This year has flown by.  FLOWN, I tell you.

Last year at this time, I was in the early phases of rewriting my first draft.  Now, I’m about to start actively crafting a fourth draft.  (As opposed to the past few weeks, where I’ve taken no concrete action on it, but have been mulling over crits received and changes to be made.)

  • Somewhere along the way, I developed two systems that worked well for my writing habits.  One was for adding meat to a WIP and re-writing it from a blank page, the other was for tightening a WIP based on the basic structure already in place.  (Here and here.  Both links are for the tightening phase, not the total re-write.)
  • I entered the beta-reading world, both as reader and as writer.
  • Over the summer, I participated in Merrilee Faber’s creativity workshop, which sharpened my coming-up-with-ideas skills, produced several ideas for new novels, and even resulted in two YouTube videos where I covered songs by Patty Griffin and Lennon/McCartney.  (Here and here.)
  • I read a tall stack of novels.
  • I figured out how to use Twitter to my advantage (as opposed to letting it rule my day and destroy my writing time).
  • At the end of the summer, I finished the third draft.
  • In the interim between finishing and starting the fourth draft, I started writing a pressure-free first draft for a totally different novel.

So.

That brings us to now.  Sorry to get all I did this, I did that on you.  It can be easy to forget just how far we’ve come, especially when we’re focused on how far we still have to go.

Where have you been, and where are you going? Specifically, where are you going this October?

Personally, I’m headed into somewhat uncharted territory: the wow-my-betas-have-given-me-some-awesome-feedback-now-how-on-earth-do-I-deal-with-it? territory.  This territory, I hear, is sharpening.  And by sharpening, I’m thinking it’s like an arrow: you have to whittle away at it so it has a sharp point, and will therefore pierce the target with precision.  Unfortunately, the whittling may be painful. That said, precision seems to be worth a bit of temporary pain.

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop, Final Update

27 Jul

Is it really possible that the Creativity Workshop is coming to a close?  Has summer really flown by so fast?

Yes.  Yes it is, and yes it has.

Though my workshop participation dropped to dormant-volcano-level¹ during the last half, I took away some valuable lessons from this experience.

one

Ideas?  Are everywhere. This workshop trained me to notice them so well that I got overwhelmed by all the ideas that started popping up.  Currently, I have ideas for a follow-up to my WIP, a separate trilogy, a totally separate book that may or may not lend itself toward a sequel or two, and a handful of on-paper-but-not-quite-started ideas for short stories.  This is the primary reason my participation level dropped — I had to slow down before I let the ideas eat me.  Which brings me to…

two

Shiny ideas are fun!  But dangerous. It’s great to have ideas.  What’s not so great is to try to work on them all at once.  For me, anyway.  My so-major-it-needs-to-be-in-all-caps-MAJOR project of the summer has been diligent effort towards completing this third draft of my WIP.  It’s my priority, and it’s rocking.  (It’s challenging.  And still needs work.  But rocking, nonetheless.)

However: what with my pursuit to hone my idea-catching skills, shiny things keep distracting me.  And not shiny as in crumpled-up-aluminum-can-on-the-side-of-the-road shiny — rather, gems-in-a-J.Crew-necklace shiny.  Which is to say, enticing and nearly impossible to avoid.

I spent one long, enthusiasm-laden Saturday night organizing the HUGE ideas I had.  Even with the intent to a) merely summarize the ideas so they’d be waiting on the other side of the MAJOR project, b) not be distracted by the shiny, and c) be chill about it so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed, I so totally got overwhelmed.  It wasn’t physically draining², but it was mentally draining to try to think about three separate (volcano-sized) ideas simultaneously.  Which is why people probably don’t try to write three separate (volcano-sized) ideas simultaneously (even simple outlines) in the first place.

three

Snail, but steady. I started the summer as a snail — steady and slow.  I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept the steady, but ditched the snail speed in favor of something more akin to waddling-goose speed.  (By this, I mean faster than a snail, slower than a puma.)  The major area of growth that contributed to this?  My much-improved ability to focus when I sit down to work.  Conquering distractions took work, but after weeks of working on it, I’ve become SO. MUCH. MORE. PRODUCTIVE. so much more often.

At first, I took the command-Q-to-Twitter-and-all-browsers approach.  Um.  That worked out about as well as that time I tried to give up lattes.  And we all know how much I love my lattes.

What I ended up with was the how-many-cupcakes-can-start-and-STAY-on-my-counter approach to Twitter/blogs/you name it.  (As opposed to the eat-all-the-cupcakes-right-now-and-what-the-heck-make-my-latte-a-breve approach.)  This ended up working well.  I learned how to keep Twitter open, but not give in to its wiles.  Now I have a nice, friendly, have-a-cupcake-but-keep-the-figure relationship with Twitter, and it’s awesome.  There are writers and resources at my fingertips, along with a manuscript that’s all the better for it (instead of suffering a death by sugar overload or neglect).

This post is long enough.

I learned a lot.  Things are going well.  Now, I’m working on being productive AND being a consistent blogger again.  As of today, my third draft is 47.8% finished.  Perhaps I’ll bore you with my (geektastically awesome) progress chart system someday soon.

The end.

And a beginning.

¹I had tons of ideas bubbling, lava-like, beneath the surface.  But to an observer’s eye?  The last few weeks probably looked kinda like a dead mountain.

²Okay, so confession, it kind of was.

Lemons and Things

25 Jun

So, uh, hey.

This is the part where I awkwardly tell you about my inadvertent, week-long blogging absence.  That’s what I get for breaking up my every-other-day-or-so routine last week.

Note to self: oops.

Rather than spelling out things you already know¹, I’ll just skip to the juicy parts.  Let’s pretend my life is a lemon (a before-I-made-lemonade-from-it version of lemon).

The juicy part?  My absence was inadvertent² for a reason: June has been more productive, in terms of novel revision, than both April and May combined.  This is rewarding and awesome (not to mention difficult and tiring).  I crawl into my cave³ and re-emerge hours later, only to realize time has, indeed, continued to pass.  And not at a snail’s pace, either.  Unless said snail is propelled with rocket-boosters.

The sugar in the lemonade, while not technically part of the lemon itself, would be the oh-so-fun distractions I’ve had in the past week!  Namely, I got to play the guitar and sing at church for all three services on Sunday.  This involved, like, an all-day commitment, plus a rehearsal.  It was a lot of fun, and it went well, but my poor hands are not used to that much guitar-playing.  I ended up with fingers full of blazing sore calluses-in-the-making.  (Needless to say, typing was a blast for the next few days.)

And now, for the seeds.

Obviously, the seeds represent the more annoying part of the week.  I’ll lump the pith in there, too, since bitter white nastiness isn’t anyone’s idea of tasty.  Right?  (I hope no one thinks pith and seeds are the epitome of yum.  That would just be sad.  And confusing.)

Moving on.  So, my week had its share of seeds and pith.  Like seeds in a lemon-raspberry tart which, otherwise, is the picture of perfection, some emotionally draining stuff keeps popping up where it’s least expected.  Responsibilities and commitments to think through, advice and support to give, random frustrations to deal with.  Nothing terribly terrible on its own, just a lot of it all at once.  Plus, I’m getting a cold.  In June.  Weird.

Rather than carry this lemony analogy full-circle (“My attitude has been…so…ZESTY!”) — mainly because I now have a wicked craving for lemon-raspberry tart — I’ll end it there.

In case you’re wondering where my Creativity Workshop end-o’-the-week-assessment is, it was eaten by snails.  Don’t worry, though, you didn’t miss much.  I took an inadvertent break from that, too, so there wasn’t much to report.

Also, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t post a new music video this week, in the tradition of the last two weeks (see here and here) — see my aforementioned blazing fingertips.  I may have also had some bad hair days in there, and did not want to frighten anyone.  (Give me some blue dye, I become Thing One and Thing Two.)  I’ll do a new video next week, provided my fingertips and hair do not go on strike.

Aaaaand, last but not least?  I get to hang out with THE Melissa Williams again tomorrow.  Hello H-Town, hello humidity.

Hello, awesome weekend.

Hope things are going as well as a seedless lemon-raspberry tart for all of you!

PS: Here’s the recipe for the lemon-raspberry tart — just in case you’re now craving it as much as I am!

¹Things like: time, these days, has a way of making a girl feel like she’s been sucked into a time warp and spit out six months in the future.  Or the past.  Or somewhere else entirely.

²It would appear that the opposite of inadvertent is not the word advertent.  This is inconvenient and somewhat illogical.  Just a thought.

³Also known as my living room, with no lights on.  Or, my favorite Starbucks.  Or, my new favorite library.  Who knew writing caves came complete with lattes and strange patrons?

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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.)

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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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Bird By Bird | Concrete Creativity Workshop Goals!

6 May

I don’t know if it’s the French press of coffee I drank this morning, or if it’s due to my zesty little green Moleskine notebook, but the ideas?  Are flowing.  Flooding, even.  (I prefer to imagine this flood is made of Fiji artesian water, FYI.)

Guess that just goes to show that with a little time and a little thought, ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be acknowledged.

As many of you are already aware, I’m taking part in Merrilee Faber’s Creativity Workshop, which began this week.  (If you’re in the dark on this, click here.)  A few days ago, I set some general goals — now, it’s time to streamline them into measurable (and thus, achievable) goals.  That’s where this whole idea flood comes in.

We’re to write three sets of short stories, four stories in each set.  That’s one story per week, for twelve weeks straight.  Knowing myself, I know this pace could flip from stretching to breakneck in an instant if I’m not prepared.  So, I went ahead and outlined some concrete ideas to work with for each set.

PS: If you’re reading this on a reader with a white background, there are a few lines of light green, under the lime green, that may be easier to see on mine (which has a dark gray background).

Set #1

Weeks 2 – 5

Powerlessness over irreparable circumstances

In the first set, I decided to write about people who find themselves in circumstances over which they have no power, but nonetheless make futile attempts to fix things.  I plan to use nursery rhymes as inspiration.  In each story, 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.)  Here’s the breakdown for each week, with the irreparable aspect listed first, followed by its nursery rhyme inspiration:

Week #2 | A shattered egg | “Humpty, Dumpty”

Week #3 | Something that has burned to ash. | “Ladybug, Ladybug”

Week #4 | Severed tails. | “Little Bo Peep”

Week #5 | Love interrupted by nature and time; waiting. | “Sailing, Sailing”

Set #2

Weeks 6 – 9

Stories inspired by songs about birds

One of the goals I mentioned in the last post was that I want to write stories inspired by song lyrics.  Well, there’s no shortage of good material there, so I decided to narrow it down a little bit more.  Even so, I’m having trouble narrowing five choices down to four, so I’ll list the four I’m 97% sure about, and then put the fifth idea last.  I chose these songs because I think they’ll work well in a set together.  Other than the bird theme, they deal with broken wings, hope despite adversity, captivity, and freedom.  To challenge myself, I’m choosing two I never heard before this morning, though the rest are old favorites.  Here’s the plan for Set #2, with song title/artist followed by its general theme.

Week #6 | “Blackbird” (Lennon/McCartney) | Spreading broken wings

Week #7 | “Top of the World” (Patty Griffin) | Wings broken by someone else

Week #8 | “Two Birds” (Regina Spektor) | Love, but tied to someone who won’t fly

Week #9 | “Bird of the Summer” (A Fine Frenzy) | Letting love fly away, hoping it returns

Possible Option | “Still Fighting It” (Ben Folds) | Wants to keep love, but sets free with no expectation of it returning

Set #3

Weeks 10 – 13

Grimm Fairy Tale, “One Eyes, Two Eyes, Three Eyes”

My first two sets, you may have noticed, have the potential to be kind of heavy.  I don’t plan to make them all heavy, but nonetheless, the potential is there.  For the last set of the workshop, I’m going to gear things more toward FUN!  (Yes, an all-caps, shouty version of fun.)  My mother is an expert at story-telling.  When we were little, she’d make up versions of “Little One Eyes, Little Two Eyes, and Little Three Eyes,” coming up with some crazy plots on the spot.  They were entertaining, and were usually about how spoiled Little One Eyes and Little Three Eyes ganged up on their ‘perfect’ sister, Little Two Eyes.  Her version is a universe away from Grimm’s original, and I’m thinking mine will be a universe away from both of these.

In this set, I’m going to try some new things while I have fun.  This whole set will focus on these young sisters.  I want to do futuristic/fantasy/mystery here, and experiment with other POVs.

Week #10 | Tell a story in 3rd person omniscient

Week #11 | Write in first person, from the perspective of Little Two Eyes

Week #12 | Write in first person, from the perspective of Little One Eyes

Week #13 | Write in 3rd person limited, focusing on Little Three Eyes

Task List

Though I have specific starting points for each set, and even for each story, I’ve hardly given any thought toward what each will actually BE when it’s time to sit down and write them.  Between that, and my all-encompassing goal to make a schedule and stick to it, my task list is the same for each week, unless I discover the need to amend it along the way.  If I need to amend it, I’ll wait until the end of the current set, then make new ones for the set that comes next.

Weeks 2 – 13

Spend one hour, five days per week, devoted to that week’s project.

Days one and two: use ideas I already have as inspiration, come up with actual characters, plot, setting, and other necessary details.  Begin writing on Day 2.

Days three through five: Write, without distractions, for the entire hour.  No Twitter, no blog, no browsers open.  Aim for 750-1,000 words each day.

Devote extra time as needed on Day 6 if I have not completed the story.

(Wow.  Long post, dudes.  Now that I have ideas in mind, I’m even more excited about this workshop.  Thinking about it in concrete terms is a bit overwhelming, so I’m not going to think about The Big Picture right now.  One day at a time.  “Bird by Bird,” to borrow the title of Anne Lamott’s book, which — I’ve heard — is fantastic.)(Perhaps I’ll read it, oh, fourteen weeks from now.)

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