PSA 

A quick announcement to tell you about another announcement:

Specifically, “Public Service Announcement,” a short speculative fiction by yours truly, is now available for you to read on The WiFiles. You can click here. I’d love it if you’d do so. 

Thanks! 

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One Lovely Blog Award

I’ve been nominated for the One Lovely Blog award! 

Nobody seems to know where it started, but it’s been brightening bloggers’ lives and carrying messages of support across the internet for years.

Here’s how it works:

  • Post about the award
  • Thank the person who nominated you and leave a link to their blog
  • Share 7 facts about yourself
  • Nominate up to 15 people
  • Tell your nominees the good news

Blogging can be lonely. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of us all flinging our ideas and dreams, our joys and sorrows into the cacophonous void of the internet. Some days we wonder whether the world really needs one more blogger. 

That’s why the unique friendship and support among us is so important. Only other bloggers understand the occasional feelings of futility, and only other bloggers understand the occasional elation of recognition and encouragement. 

So a huge thanks to Becca and Kate for passing some of that encouragement my way!

In accordance with the rules, here are 7 fun facts about me:

  1. I prefer to be barefoot but have also walked across Manhattan in five-inch stiletto heels. 
  2. I prefer British spellings but American punctuation, especially as regards the Oxford comma. 
  3. I spent chunks of my childhood engaged in the philosophical consideration of whether I liked pink because of ballerinas or whether I liked ballerinas because they wore pink. In a plot twist of life, I no longer like pink. (Ballerinas are still great though.) 
  4. I own a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Russian but haven’t gotten past the third chapter. 
  5. I read The Lord  of the Rings five times in sixth grade.  
  6. I don’t like cheesecake. 
  7. I’m fascinated by the effects of memes on our culture and communication—we’ve developed an impressive ability to convey huge amounts of meaning in a few sarcastic words. Hit me up if you want to discuss/rant about how interesting that is. 

I’m nominating these lovely people, and you should all go check out their blogs if you haven’t already:

  • Amy, for always making me laugh and think at the same time
  • Maggie, for her adventurous spirit and impeccable sense of humour
  • Sara, because I can’t imagine anyone has a more beautiful smile or soul (or voice) 
  • Cece, who challenges me with the lessons she learns and the love she shares with (super cute) kids in Zambia

Why Writing Is Like Yoga

“Remind me why we’re doing this?” I grunted. I was upside-down, one leg flung high enough in the air to hurt muscles I didn’t know I had, most of my weight pressing against my shaky arms.

“It’s good for us,” my friend gasped beside me.

And then, as I tried to count my breaths and come out of the position without collapsing onto my face, I thought, It’s just like writing.

TheFaulknerPortable

I imagine flattering activewear and graceful poses—as if, after one session of yoga, I’ll suddenly find myself hiking mountains, drinking lattes on beaches, and playing acoustic guitar. Like yoga, writing seems fun—exciting, even. I dream of cozy blankets and poetic lines—as if, after one rough draft, I’ll suddenly find myself autographing novels, reading in an idyllic personal library, and giving TV interviews.

But my muscles ache, my joints pop, my body stinks; after the third chaturanga, I consider quitting. Like yoga, writing is not romantic. My imagination falters, my motivation wanes, my vocabulary disappears; after the third paragraph, I consider quitting.

Both seem simple. How hard can it be to balance on one foot? How hard can it be to string one word after another? And yet it is hard—nearly impossible, sometimes. Every inch is agony; every verb is torture. Breath after breath drags by, the beating of my heart counting the time from eager beginning to final resignation.

Pain, exhaustion, disillusionment… but I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

Because, like yoga, writing is worth it. It forces you into uncomfortable positions, shows you irrefutably your own limits, demands dedication and strength you didn’t know you had. It slows you down, teaches you the infinitesimal eternity of every breath, the impossible vitality of every comma. Up close, you see that every moment of life is movement—always rising or falling, straining or relaxing. Nothing is stationary; even the most perfect point of balance is motion, a hundred tiny muscles pulling furiously to maintain the position.

Every ending is a beginning, a cycle of constant change: A handful of letters repeated in endlessly shifting patterns to form meaning. A handful of motions repeated in endlessly shifting positions to form yoga.

Like yoga, writing will never be easy. Each time, I conquer one difficulty and discover another. The difficulty is what makes it worth pursuing over and over again. Each time, I come with a different motivation—a pain I’m desperate to ease, a challenge I’m eager to overcome. Each time, I wonder whether I really can do this—and each time, I finish spent, amazed to discover that yes, I can.

Yoga

Easy Ways to Survive Writing a Novel

My memory extends back as far as, oh, about two minutes ago. And it’s J-Term, so I have no routine. And I never know what day of the week it is.

clock2
Okay, let’s be honest–I’m not even sure what time it is, much less what day it is….

Actually, I can’t remember how many weeks it’s been since I wrote a blog post.

(I have a really great one worked up — it’s all about pottery and clay and how I’m a perfectionist and totally terrified that I’ll make things explode in the kiln — but I’m saving it for next week, when all the pieces come out of their last firing and I know for certain whether anything of mine blew up or not.)

No blog posts does not mean no writing. I’ve been writing a lot, and it’s been terrifying, and I’m going to tell you about it…

See, I tried doing NaNoWriMo this year, and last year, and the year before…and you know what? November is a horrible month. November is Thanksgiving and final projects; it’s last-minute Christmas plans and last-minute registration; it’s reworking my four-year plan for the fifth time in two years. I gave up on NaNo because I spend the whole month feeling guilty–guilty for not writing whenever I’m doing other things, and guilty for not doing other things whenever I’m writing. It’s a lose-lose situation.

But January is J-Term, and J-Term is only two classes and almost no homework; it’s too cold to go outside and too quiet to be distracted. J-Term is endless pots of tea and supportive friends who do things like researching chemistry for me so I don’t overdose my characters and reading my awful first drafts and still telling me to be a writer. This is the J-Term of Actually Submitting Essays and of Resubmitting Rejected Things.

And it’s the J-Term of monomaniacally writing 50,000 words of a novel. This is a scary experience, but a few things are helping:

First of all, tea. Tea is not just about “oh Elizabeth is an addict.” (I am.) Tea is about putting your mind in a place that knows it’s writing a thing. Dieticians say (I know, because a dietician said to my mother) that if you build up a habit of eating something at a specific time or during a specific activity, you always feel hungry at that specific time or during that specific activity. Conversely, specific foods can make you think it’s time for a specific activity, like how that one spicy candle scent always smells like your grandma’s kitchen at Christmastime. I have taught my brain that when I sit down with whole pot of tea, it means it’s time to write a whole lot of words. This is not a guaranteed Writer’s-Block-Away, but it’s a definite help. (As a bonus, sipping at tea while staring intently at the last sentence you wrote improves your Wise Writer Appearance and looks impressive.)

Tea
The croissant is optional. The chocolate is not.

 

Second, Scrivener. I guess this isn’t really a tip of any kind, but I’m excited about it. I got the free trial over the summer, and I ran out of my free trial last week and bought the full programme. As an organisationally-challenged visual planner, it’s a lifesaver. It allows me to see my whole novel at a glance, to know where I’m going, to see tangibly how long or short the space is between an element’s introduction and climax. Plus, having spent money on it, I now feel compelled to use it regularly to make it worth the investment.

Third, attraction. Now, this can backfire, as I discovered. I’m spiralling into a depression because my favourite character is fictional and therefore not in my life, and I had to stop writing and go to bed the other night because I felt so guilty over breaking his wrist that I couldn’t focus. On the plus side, though, the more attracted I am to my characters, the more I want to write about them. When cranking out 50,000 words in a month, it helps if you want to be writing. And if you’re attracted enough to your character to want to write about him, you might also want to spend a while stalking celebrities scouring the internet for a playby–someone who looks similar. Snag a photo, keep it with your story, stare into your character’s beautiful eyes glance at it for inspiration when you’re not sure what your character would say or do at any point.

Fourth, prioritising–otherwise referred to as “stopping trying to change all the things before the whole draft is done.” Every time I start working, I remember some detail that will be important later and hasn’t been brought in yet. I remember some character who’s going to die and isn’t yet likeable enough to make the readers grieve. I notice that I called it a “wrought iron fence” in the first chapter and a “cement wall” in the sixth. I realise that Alex’s tell–the one Helen mentions a lot but never expounds on–only actually happens once. I realise I’ve mentioned Helen’s hair in every chapter and never said that Alex is blonde. But…I don’t fix these. Instead, I use the wonderful comments feature and leave a note to myself. “At some point, this needs to become important.” “Maybe we could make this consistent. Later.” “The second draft should probably include this way earlier.” And then I move on. It’s really hard to get words written when you’re busy trying to tweak other words. And a novel is kinda like one of those connect-the-dots pictures–until you’re finished connecting all the dots, it’s hard to know which lines you should have curved which direction. So I’m leaving the lines alone till the whole picture is done.

Fifth–no deadline. This is a personal project. I gave myself a goal to see if I could meet it. I told myself to finish during January because I have time during January, and in February I will not have time. But if I don’t finish by the end of January, nothing horrible will happen. I will not have an irate publisher or professor sending me angry emails or marking me down. My goal is 50,000 words by the end of January. If I get 40,000 done–or only 20,000 done–that’s still 40,000 or 20,000 more than I had at the end of December, and it’s still an accomplishment. Turns out I like soft deadlines. Not feeling panicked about the impending cutoff date clears my mind to think, to create, to critique. Turns out it’s easier to write when you don’t feel guilty.

Maybe I’m not a genius, and maybe you were hoping for a much deeper blog post–and maybe you’re a writer who’s feeling guilty about not working on a project, and today you needed me to give you permission to drink tea and search for playby photos instead of cranking out another few hundred agonising words.

I give you permission.

In fact, come by. I’ll make a pot of tea, and we’ll drink it together.

Books and tea