Category Archives: Musings

The opposite of NaNo

So, we’re heading into the last week of November, which for many people means holiday food and fun and shopping. For many writers, it means either agony or triumph over NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month). Personally, I have mixed feelings about NaNo (as it’s called). Sure, lots of writers finish–or at least start–a novel this way. A few of those novels end up published.

It can spark a love for writing. It can be fun. The sense of community can inspire. But I think it can also discourage. Never mind the writers who pen a 50,000-word novel in November and start sending it to agents in December (yes, it happens). I get the (completely unscientific) sense that for some people, NaNo is the complete opposite of what they should be doing. By November 30th, if not sooner, they end up discouraged. They may end up thinking they can’t write.

The thing is, writing 50,000 words during one month during the year probably won’t make you a writer in the same way running during one month of the year probably won’t make you a runner. And there’s plenty of proof this sort of binge writing may not be the best for you or your writing career.

From Script Magazine: Get A New Story: Binge Writing Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be. Click through and read the whole thing. It’s worth it. But I found this study they cite very interesting:

In a 1999 study by Robert Boice, “Which is more Productive, Writing in Binge Patterns of Creative Illness or in Moderation?” the findings showed that:

“Binge writers (a) accomplished far less writing overall, (b) got fewer editorial acceptances, (c) scored higher on the Beck Depression Inventory, and (d) listed fewer creative ideas for writing. These data suggest that creative illness, defined by its common emotional state for binge writers (i.e., hypomania and its rushed euphoria brought on by long, intense sessions of working—followed by depression), offers more problems (e.g., working in an emotional, rushed, fatiguing fashion) than magic.”

You don’t need big blocks of time to write. As this other fabulous article (Get A New Story: Why You Don’t Need Big Blocks of Time to Write) points out: it’s a trap. You can get an amazing amount of writing work done in fifteen minutes a day. This is what Rosanne Bane calls Fifteen Magic Minutes.

Thing is, I’m pretty sure nearly everyone has fifteen minutes they can devote to writing three to five times a week. It sounds kind of like an exercise schedule, doesn’t it? I think the practice of writing has a lot in common with daily exercise. It’s not glamorous. It can be lonely. You don’t “win” anything at the end of those fifteen minutes.

But what happens when you work out at a slow and steady pace for twelve months out of the year? What happens if you only work out for one month during the year?

Apply that same logic to writing. Where might you go and where might you end up if only you took a few steps (or wrote a few words) per day? My guess is farther than you might think.

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Five years later and George Clooney still hasn’t moved in

Once upon a time, I TP-ed George Clooney’s house. On paper–and not even toilet paper. I wrote a short story called TP-ing Casa de Clooney. When the Long and the Short of It review site posted it as their free read, I made mention of it here.

That resulted not so much in people reading the story (I think maybe three people have done that), but an avalanche of people searching for Mr. Clooney’s house. Amused by this, I wrote a post a month later about the impossibility of George Clooney living in my blog. I even included some photos of Mr. Clooney’s charming abodes.

This, as it turns out, was a mistake. The hits on that particular post, the one with the photos? Skyrocketed. It comes in waves, based, I assume, on spikes in celebrity gossip about Mr. Clooney. Does he have a new girlfriend? (I don’t know; it’s not my week to watch him.) Break up with said girlfriend because she used the word “marriage” in an interview? (You’d think they learn, no?)

So, just as I know when it’s high school book report season (hits on my review of Tamar by Mal Peet also skyrocket), I know when it’s open season on Mr. Clooney.

I suspect I’ll regret writing this blog post as well. Still, I’d like to make one thing clear:

It’s been five years and George Clooney still doesn’t live here.

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Blogging as part of Classics Carnival: Why Pride and Prejudice is not a love story

Pride and Prejudice

My guest blog post is up at Book Angel Booktopia. Go read why Pride and Prejudice is not a love story.

No, really. Go see why. I’m not going to tell you about it here.

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Brother turning 16 prompts (minor) existential crisis

So, yesterday was Andrew’s sixteenth birthday. As we were driving to dinner, I overhear this conversation between him and his sister.

Kyra: Andrew! Promise me you’ll get married someday!

Andrew: ?????? Why?

Kyra: I don’t want you to die alone!

Andrew: ????? Uh, okay.

Kyra: And I’ll make sure you’re buried next to your wife! And I’ll visit your grave every week!

Andrew: ?????????

Kyra: And be sure to have kids!

Andrew: Mom …

Yeah. Not really sure what that was all about. Of course, it’s not every day your brother turns sixteen. But then we arrived at the pizza place and that seemed to make everything all right.

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Of clothes shopping and BLTs

So yesterday after work, I headed to the mall with my fashion consultant (AKA Kyra) to buy some summer clothes. Somehow every pair of capri pants I own has disintegrated or mysteriously vanished. And dude, it’s nearly 100 degrees outside. I CANNOT wear jeans, even lightweight ones.

So, off to the mall it is! I only shop at one store there, so this cuts down on the angst and decision-making. I figure if they don’t have what I want, it doesn’t exist. Upon entering the store, I went immediately for the earth tones, Kyra gravitated toward color. She wove her way through the displays, selecting outfits for me.

I know what you’re thinking: You shop with your nine-year-old? Here’s the thing: She’s really good at it.

We lugged our armfuls of fashions into the dressing room, where, amazingly, everything fit. I know. I saved the Kyra-selected outfit for last. Once I had it on, she spent about five minutes adjusting the drape, and so on.

Me: You’re really good at this.
Kyra:  Well, you know, I’m probably going to be a fashion designer.

This, of course, is when she’s not being a scientist, a veterinarian, or painting all her pets’ portraits.

Then she tried to get me to pose, hand on hip, the other arm just so, head tilted at a particular angle. No matter what I tried, it didn’t work.

Me: I’m not a very good pose(u)r.

Note: Only I found that funny.

So, not only did everything fit, it was all on sale, and I bought the lot. I’m set for summer. And we did it all in forty minutes. At home, I made BLTs for dinner. Kyra took her first bite and let out a Mmmmm most people reserve for Godiva chocolate.

Kyra: Mama, you may be plain when it comes to clothes, but you’re awesome at cooking.

Yes, when it comes to toasting bread, I know no rival.

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Filed under Clothes, Cooking (disasters), Kids, Musings

Life on the Plateau — an extended metaphor about writing

When you traditionally publish a novel, you enter into a tacit agreement. You can no longer speak of wanting more. Millions of unpublished writers would love to trade spots with you. They yearn to have your one agent, your one published book, your one award nomination.

And, you, published writer? It’s unseemly to want more. So you bottle up your writing/career frustrations, mentioning them only to other authors, in back rooms, in the dark–and only on the third Sunday of every month.

It’s only after the long, dark haul that you can bring these frustrations into the light, and then, as an afterthought: I’ve achieved this new thing–and here are the struggles I went through to get there.

Thing is, shedding light on the dark times, while we’re in them, might help all writers. Whether it’s a matter of craft or career–or both–anyone can hit a plateau.

My story:

I reached this particular plateau with my writing partner Darcy Vance on May 19, 2009. That was when The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading was released. But on the last leg of the climb up, I hurt myself. So while Darcy danced around the campfire and other writers sprinted past and scaled greater heights, I nursed my injuries inside my tent.

(In real life, right after our book launch, I got terribly sick, lost twenty pounds in less than two weeks, and couldn’t leave the house for a while. Eventually I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.)

Darcy would circle around, pausing in her joy of being a publish author, to check on me. My mom worried too. I plastered my perky YA author smile on my face and pretended everything was okay.

Three years later, and I’m still on the same plateau. Oh, sure, I’ve left my tent. I’ve tried on some new equipment. I’ve taken a few test runs, explored a path all of us (me, Darcy, our agent) knew might result in a dead-end. Eventually it did. But I haven’t left the plateau.

Some writers settle here, seemingly happy with where they are and what they’re doing. Others sulk in their tents, bitter, resentful, and cold. A few find their way back down the mountain.

Some of us take on that cliff wall, skin scraping, fingertips bloodied, only to fall off at the slightest bump against our shoulder. A rejection hurts more than it should at this point in our journey; a casual comment meant to help derails us for a week.

Here’s the thing about scaling this writing mountain: At first, you run so fast. Sure, you might stumble and skin your knee, but you’re up again quick, ready to tackle the next foothill. It feels great, like you never want to stop running. Then the slope gets steeper. Sometimes the path isn’t so clear and you run straight into a cliff wall.

There’s a first plateau where, I think, a lot of writers get stuck. They run up to it quickly, stop to catch their breath, then never continue. Or they circle back around, running up and down that part of the mountain–starting and stopping, starting and stopping. Their battle cry is usually, “This time I won’t let real life get in the way.”

But real life–or something that resembles it–always does.

But there are things–good things–you can do while stuck on any plateau:

Get a resupply from base camp: You can only subsist on reconstituted freeze-dried meals and trail mix for so long. In writing terms, remember to refill the creative well. Read (not just fiction, but rich and varied nonfiction), watch movies and documentaries, go to museums. Take a walk; take care of your body.

Weigh all options: The well-worn, obvious path may not be the one for you. Maybe you need to go around instead of over. Or maybe you need to tunnel through. The publishing landscape is changing and shifting all the time. What’s impossible today might be standard procedure tomorrow.

Heal and rest: Sure, you might be able to continue to the next level, but if you’re injured or exhausted, stop for a bit to rest or heal. Otherwise, you might find yourself tumbling back down and landing hard–maybe too hard to get back up again. Besides, the race isn’t always to the swiftest, and it isn’t really a contest to begin with.

Lend a hand: If you’re on a plateau–any plateau–you can see things writers below you can’t. Don’t kick rocks at them. Instead, lean down and offer your hand. They may do the same for you someday. And if that particular writer is the sort who kicks rocks at others? Not your concern. It’s why avalanches exist.

Start from scratch: Give yourself permission to try something new and unrelated to your main goal of scaling the mountain–hang-glide, rappel. Or in writing terms, take a poetry class, write a screenplay, try flash fiction. It will remind you of what it’s like to have that beginner’s mind, where nothing is impossible.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be capable enough to leave this plateau I’m on. Sometimes I think not only don’t I have the skills to climb higher, I’ve lost the skills I had to reach this place. My pack feels heavier. It’s filled with expectations (mostly my own) of what I must do.

But there’s one more thing you can do while waiting on a plateau:

Enjoy the view.

(And don’t kick rocks.)

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Filed under Musings, Reading & Writing, Writing

Life less creepy: The Janesville Baby

I’m trying to remember the first time I saw the Janesville Baby. I was in elementary school (pretty sure) and I think it was a field trip, although whether it was a school field trip or one for Girls Scouts, I really don’t know.

I wasn’t prepared to see it, I do know that. I’d never heard of the Janesville Baby before. But there she was. A doll. Hanging in an upper window. In an old house. Glimpsed briefly, through the smudged window of a school bus. I think I cried out:

“There’s a doll hanging in that window!”

Some of the kids saw it; others didn’t. It did generate much speculation, as only a doll handing in a window could among elementary school children.

It was the right kind of creepy.

I saw it several times while growing up in southern Minnesota. Even better, the Greyhound bus I took to the University of Wisconsin-Madison passed right through Janesville. No one at school ever believed me about the Janesville Baby (unless they hailed from southern Minnesota). So every time the bus drove through Janesville, I’d crane my neck to look and confirm:

Yes, yes, the baby is still there.

It’s not my imagination.

And it’s still creeping me out.

No matter what people say on the video or in the comments, for me, the Janesville Baby invokes the same visceral response as clowns or those movies about dolls that come to life in the middle of the night.

That being said, I’m glad this piece of my childhood is still intact, that it’s inspiring stories and wonder and–with a little luck–creeping out a new generation of elementary school children.

More about the Janesville Baby (article no longer online). I think my favorite comment is:

Only in the ridiculously reserved state of Minnesota could someone do something like that and not ever be asked about it for 30 years.

To be fair, I think people have asked. Mr. Wendt simply isn’t talking.

So there you go. Your dose of creepiness for the day. You can thank me later, say at 2 a.m., when you can’t fall to sleep.

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You can find anything at Macy’s

The other day I was strolling through Macy’s*, enjoying the (Frango) mint-scented air, when the woman in front of me stopped so suddenly, I nearly crashed into her.

She stared at the display bed. I stared at her. For a moment, I couldn’t tell the two apart. The pattern on her dress matched the one on the display bed’s comforter almost exactly, right down to the same flowered print and the colors.

The woman gave the bed a withering glare, then continued on. Curious, I peeked at the price tag. Let’s just say I have electronics that cost much, much less. To be fair, the set did include sheets, comforter, pillowcases, bed skirt, and enough pillows to outfit a brigade.

Really, I was beginning to think it was one of those credit card commercial moments: Coordinating your wardrobe and bedroom? Priceless. For everything else (like the Frango Mints) there’s MasterCard.

It was a very nice bed set. I’m not sure the woman’s glare should’ve been quite so withering.

No Frango Mints on the sample table however?

Now that’s worth a glare. Or at least a harrumph.

*By “strolling” I mean cutting through Macy’s on my way back to work in hopes that they were handing out samples of Frango Mints.

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11-11-11

I’ll return to 25 Days of Debs later today. First, I thought it important to quietly observe this day.

That is all.

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In which Haruki Murakami describes my (almost) perfect day

It seems improbable that a total stranger can capture your perfect day*, but here it is. In The Creative Brain on Exercise, an excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running does just that.

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit, and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long–six months to a year–requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

I was struck dumb for a few moments after reading that. How on earth could a stranger describe my perfect day? Exercise? Writing? Reading? A little music? All wrapped up in early to bed and early to rise?

Almost perfect.

I say almost perfect, because I would love an extra hour of sleep. Back in the day, when I was in the Army (and specifically, Airborne School) I swore that if I didn’t have to, I’d never get up at four in the morning.

I remember standing there, in formation, bleary-eyed, already sweating, since this was Fort Benning, Georgia in July. The black hats would walk up and down the chalks, deeming us unworthy. I remember thinking: when the halcyon days of civilian-hood finally arrive, I am NOT waking up at four freaking a.m.

Guess what I do now? Yes, I wake up at four in the morning. At least on week days.  I would love to wake up at five. Five would be awesome.

And I’d have to move the exercise part around. I’m a morning workout kind of person (see above re: the Army). I might even be radical and split the day–some cardio and weights in the morning and karate in the evening with the kids.

Yeah, I know. Radical. Then I might go home and drink some green tea, because I’m crazy like that.

I do suggest that if you create (and who doesn’t) that you check out the article. Barring illness (and a time I was really sick in 2009), I exercise every day. It’s as important to my writing as my actual writing time is.

* No, really, this is my dream day. Does anyone have a duller life than I do?

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