Tag Archives: Merrilee Faber

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.

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).

So.

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!

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 5

6 Jun

Merrilee Faber, when this trilogy in my head gets written, revised, bought, and published, I’m going to mail a big thank-you to Australia for your brilliance in running this workshop.

That’s right.  Trilogy.  Sort of a far cry from short-story.  Not a word of it is written yet, except for page upon page of ideas, but OH MY.  It’s epic.  It’s adventurous.  It’s currently all in my head.  I want it out.

But, I digress.¹

Oh, boy, the Creativity Workshop this week.  Perhaps I should begin with how last Sunday suddenly morphed into Saturday night, and six full days mysteriously slipped through a black hole?  To be fair, time passed at warp-speed because I was furiously devoted to novel edits, but the result — as far as #CreateWS is concerned — is the same.

Notebook.  Blank.  Ideas, existing only in my head, curled up to sleep beside my good intentions.

How lame, I thought.  Lame, lame, lame.  Must fix. Not at all content to tell you guys, “Hey, guess what?  I didn’t do one single thing toward the workshop this week, and I’m okay with it because of (insert some valid excuse here),” I set to work on it.  Last night.  At 10pm.

Yeah, so that didn’t work too well.  Sweet husband and I got invited to a concert, and though we did not go, the invitation itself distracted me.  Plus, I made us some tea, and found myself distracted by the boiling, the steeping, the drinking.  We somehow ended up tackling four loads of laundry instead, and my notebook remained blank.  (Wait.  Lie.  Not totally blankI managed to transcribe the entire three lines of my nursery rhyme inspiration, “Sailing, Sailing,” before giving up.)

This morning, I woke up with the sun, while my husband and the two cats slept.  I brewed a fresh French press, ate some toast, and tried again.

Um, this time?  MAGIC.  Magic, magic, magic.  Epic magic.  In my head, on the page, frantic scribbles in my little green notebook.  Ideas.  Characters.  Twists, lies, hope, jealousy, love, loss, bitterness.  Adventure.  A quest.  Mystery.

Pretty soon, I became fairly certain this would not a short story make.  It would a LONG story make.  Like, maybe three long stories.  Complications, twists, motivations snaked their way out of my pen and onto the page, building upon each other to weave a surprisingly coherent, intriguing, tight idea for a plot.

Moral of this week’s story?  It is SO worth it to at least try to do something on these workshop stories, even if it’s at the last minute.  To give it time, real time, along with real thought.

Worth.  It.

I desperately want to vomit my ideas onto the screen, but that sort of thing tends to jinx me until the story is at least somewhat underway.  Sorry to be all, YAY FOR IDEAS and then, NO I WON’T REVEAL ANYTHING.  I plan to pursue this project, so stick around and I’m bound to tell you more at some point in the future.  If you really want to know, email me, and I’ll probably be too excited to hold back, once pressed.

So, the plan.  I’m pressing on with the workshop.  The next set is all about stories inspired by song lyrics about birds, and I’m excited.  I have a surprise in store for you guys, so check back early in the week.

As for my trilogy idea, I’m trying to figure out when is best to do something on it.  On one hand, I’m thigh-deep in revisions for my WIP.  I’m determined to finish that one, and finish it well.  So, that remains priority.  Also, the workshop has given me great new inspiration, many new tools, and I have committed to it, so I’m going to keep that as a priority.

I’m thinking I’ll try to write for fifteen or thirty minutes a day on the trilogy idea, something short and consistent to both a) get my writing juices flowing, and b) maintain a connection to these ideas I’ve had.  Once the workshop is over, I’ll focus more energy on the new project.  Once I’m done with edits and in the querying phase for my current WIP, I’ll focus even more energy on it.

As if I needed more stuff to do.  The good thing, though, is that I’m SO EXCITED about all of it.  No, I didn’t write a short story this week, but I have my next novel project lined up.  What I need now is patience, and the ability to focus my enthusiasm.  No deserting the current projects, no sacrificing the almost-finished for the not-even-started.

This post is long enough.

¹I have ALWAYS wanted to say I digress, but I think this is actually the first time I ever have.  Just FYI.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Out of the Box | Creativity Workshop Goals

2 May

Mr. Cat and I have something in common: we like our boxes.

He likes to curl up inside them, get comfortable, maybe play a little while, and only exit said box if provoked.  Like I said, we have some things in common.

My box is not made from cardboard; it’s made from routine.  I write where I’m used to writing, what I’m used to writing, how I’m used to writing, and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to discipline or hard work — it’s just that these efforts, thus far, have been focused on one project, and one project only: my novel.

Something has provoked me to poke my head out of the box, and that something — as I mentioned the other day — is Merrilee Faber’s Creativity Workshop.  Both because we’re supposed to, and because I want (need) to, I’m setting some goals here.  By my calculations, each of these goals has to do with shedding and shredding my cardboard boxes, in one way or another.

Box #1: When I write, I write one thing: my novel.

Boxbuster Goal #1: Work on my ability to switch gears; make quality progress on two projects in the same week. I’m editing the second draft of my novel, and I don’t want to take a fourteen-week hiatus from it.  Thing is, though, I’ve been working on this novel for a while now, and have never tried to write anything on the side (other than blog posts).  One thing I want to get out of this workshop is the ability to switch gears from one project to the next, which means a) clear focus on each in its time, and b) quality progress made on each.

Box #2: I work on an über-flexible schedule.  This is comfortable.

Boxbuster Goal #2: Make a tighter schedule and stick to it. If I’m going to effectively break out of Box #1, this is imperative.  Having a flexible schedule works just fine for what I’ve been doing.  However, if I’m going to make quality progress on two different projects, I need to be a bit more specific in the way I plan my writing time.  This may include earlier wake-up calls or a few midnight-oil-burning sessions — early mornings and late nights are two times of the day I rarely use for writing.  It would be good to stretch myself to work in times other than those I’m accustomed to.  Specific application of this goal looks like making a weekly schedule on Sundays, with specific goals for each block of writing time.  Then, obviously, try to follow it.

Box #3: I don’t write short stories.

Boxbuster Goal #3: Learn how to write them and turn out some good ones. So, it’s not that I don’t like short stories, or think I can’t write them — it’s just that I’ve never focused any energy on learning about them, or trying to write them.  I’m in that writing-my-novel box, not the come-up-with-several-shorter-things-that-are-fresh-and-totally-unrelated-to-your-novel box, and frankly?  The idea of the second box sounds kind of scary.  That said, I’m excited about crawling inside, because it sounds like a worthy (and fun) challenge.

Box #4: Coming up with fresh ideas has never been my strong suit.

Boxbuster Goal #4: Write interesting things, from fresh ideas, that mean something. I can come up with fresh ideas for stories, but a lot of times, they either take forever to occur to me, or just don’t feel special enough.  I want to train myself to think out of the box when it comes to writing fresh ideas.  This includes everything from the plot itself, to the characters, to descriptions, to settings, to scenes: I want to make something special, something that cannot be labeled cliché.  I want to write not my first idea, but maybe the fifth.

The key to this goal is the phrase “train myself” — I want to devote time to working on ideas, to be more intentionally observant in everyday life, and to think away from paper.  What I mean by that is, I’ve noticed it’s hard for me to think through ideas while jogging on the treadmill, for example, or while doing anything where I can’t physically write/type my thoughts out.

Box #5: I like to make general goals instead of specific ones.  General ones aren’t as painful to fail.

Boxbuster #5: The first four goals were pretty all-encompassing, so I’d better include some specific goals that pertain to the writing itself. I tend to write about generally non-controversial issues; it would be a challenge for me to write something outside this comfort zone.  My current WIP stars a young male; I’d like to write about a young female (I’m thinking anywhere from five to thirty-five).  I want to write at least one piece that’s been inspired by song lyrics, and at least one piece that takes something extremely clichéed and puts a fresh twist on it.  I want to write something inspired by my experiences in Shanghai.  And, I shall give myself the freedom to make these inspirations manifest themselves as either an invisible top-layer of lacquer, or as the more in-your-face splash of red paint.

So, there you go.  This is going to be a lot of work, but I’m excited about it.  Also, just so you know, part of the workshop includes writing updates about our progress.  We’re to post every Sunday, so expect that here.

Other participants from around here include Linda Cassidy Lewis, Melissa, Cassie Hart, Chibi Doucet, Amber Dawn WeaverAshley Nava, and (of course) Merrilee Faber — I’ve linked to their blogs from their names, if you want to check out their goals (which should be up soon, if they’re not up yet) or their progress along the way.

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