Craft Talk: Beauty and Horror in The Handmaid’s Tale

Craft Talk: Beauty and Horror in The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood is an author who I’ve had on my to-read list for a long time, and I finally tackled The Handmaid’s Tale last month. I’m so glad that I did, because her writing is beautiful, but I also can see what took me so long, because it’s equally gut-wrenching. I’m glad I waited until a time when Little Dude was older and I wasn’t so sleep-deprived. That said, the concepts in this novel could be particularly poignant and horrifying right now, depending on your view of current politics. I’m reading and watching things from a really different perspective right now, so the book has a lot more impact than if I’d read it in college, thoroughly convinced that nothing like this could ever really happen.

Honestly, most of what I’ve read recently has felt really heavy. Except perhaps Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, so if you’re looking for some fun escapism, that might be your best bet.

If you’re looking for a worst-case-scenario to smack you in the face with disarmingly beautiful sentences, then The Handmaid’s Tale is a great option.

Truly, though, this book is one of the most well-crafted novels that I’ve read in a long time, and if you’re interested in studying up on really great sentences and structure, then you should read it. This is one of those cases where watching the TV adaptation just won’t be enough.

 

The Sentences

Sentences are the building blocks of novels – the next step up from words, anyway – and yet sometimes we ignore their importance. Especially when writing a first draft, it is more important that sentences march forward than appear beautiful. And some types of writing even call on the sentences to vanish into the background, to be more functional than lovely. There are times when writing should not call attention to itself.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, sentences are like songs. The way the narrator describes even the smallest things are unusual and lovely, and this builds a world that is very real, full of strangeness, beauty, and horror. The images, even those of death, have a lovely twist to them. Because of the care with which each sentence is crafted, we see very clearly who the narrator is. She doesn’t have to tell us a lot about herself, because we can see the way she thinks.

There is a grim humor in lines like, “It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.” Shortly followed by, “The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances.”

Every sentence in this novel works, and works hard. Building character, building the world, building a feeling, building the story. And building the beauty of all these things. The narrator sees humor in the world in which she lives, and this rises up from the way she uses sentences to tell her story.

I think one of the most important things about The Handmaid’s Tale is that even through the loveliness of the sentences, meaning is still clear. It’s very easy for a beautiful image to lack meaning, to muddle intent, but not here. The craft in the lines enhances the meaning and sharpens the intent. Nothing is lost for the beauty.

“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”

Through lines like these – thoughts that flash through the narrator’s mind – we are drawn into her world, and what is important to her becomes important to the reader.

It should be noted that some of the sentences in this book would be discouraged by some of the rules of writing style. The author breaks rules, but I believe that they are broken intentionally. Certainly, the way they are broken is effective.

The sentence, “My young mother, younger than I remember her, as young as she must have been once before I was born,” contains several repetitions of the same thought, with very subtle variations. Some would advise the author to carve this down to just one thought, just one image, on the precept that to have three makes the thought less effective. But in this case, the repetition of the thought with slight variations actually gives the thought deeper impact. The first image, “my young mother” is simple, basic, could be said by anybody. The narrator goes farther, “younger than I remember her,” connecting herself with the image. And then, finally, comes, “as young as she must have been once before I was born,” which is speculative, an imagining, connecting to her mother in a way that isn’t entirely possible. The narrator seems to slip into a time when she didn’t exist, and carries with her an understanding that she can’t fully comprehend what kind of person her mother was before having a child.

These chains of thoughts and the way they are expressed, though considered “wrong”, actually work very well in the context of a novel where all of the narrator’s old life is forbidden. She begins with a thought that is simple, could apply to anyone, a thought that is safe. And then she continues to a thought that connects to her past life, the life that’s gone now, a life she can’t even talk about with anyone around her. And then she ends with a step sideways, to a place she’s never been, a place where she could never possibly have gone.

 

Structure

The structure of The Handmaid’s Tale at first feels loose and disjointed. It bounces through several different time periods, the narrator’s life before everything changed, her time at the training center, and her life as Offred. Sometimes there are brief breaks in the middle of a narration, a little gap of white space in spite of the fact that the time being described hasn’t changed.

But underlying these shifts, the seemingly random bouncing, is a pattern. In the contents, the novel begins with the section “Night” then moves to “Shopping” then to “Night” again. The narrator exists in this world of constant swing between stasis and action, and all the while her old life intrudes on the present, sometimes when she seeks it, sometimes without warning.

Late in the novel, the narrator addresses the disjointed structure, the way several different times have been filled in, side by side. “I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force.”

This back-and-forth in the narration is not only tantalizing to the reader, who is always searching for clues about what happened before the narrator’s current circumstances, it also makes sense. Because the narrator’s life has been ripped apart, without ever being put back together. The present is unreal, and makes little sense. The past intrudes, and in the context of the present, it too seems unreal. Her time at the training center connects the two, and though it should be the most nonsensical time, it is in fact the most stable. Here, at least, the world the narrator is in acknowledges the past, and how bizarre it appears alongside the present.

Later, people move together through a present that they all know is strange, and yet they can never acknowledge that. And so every image is a little disjointed and broken. Through this, the reader can see how desperately the narrator is trying to hold herself together, when everything she once was has been blasted apart.

 

 

Character

This is a story rich with people who are complicated, diverse, and honest. Everyone the narrator encounters has wants, interior thoughts that the narrator can only guess at, but which are hinted at through her descriptions. Even the people she dislikes aren’t reduced to villainous caricatures. She has moments of sympathy, even for those who try to hurt her.

The narrator lays out even her worst weaknesses for the reader, and we can see her not as a flat hero, fighting to right the evil around her, but rather as a person, encased in difficult circumstances, trying to survive.

This book works because it lacks simplicity, because the people in it do not act like characters. They act with the broad spectrum of real people in the face of a radical situation. Some parts of them adapt to what has happened, and some do not. They risk their lives for what seem like meaningless indulgences, and yet live alongside atrocities that seem unthinkable.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be right for every story. Some tales of epic heroism require that the characters become archetypes, but even those tales benefit from a dash of complexity. In The Handmaid’s Tale, however, this complexity is everything. This story requires real people, because the reader needs to sink into the world, and feel that it is a true account. Without the horror of possibility, without that reality, the book would have much less meaning.

 

Application

Reading a really well-crafted novel like The Handmaid’s Tale can be equal parts enjoyment and discouragement. I know that I read something like this, and then look to my own writing knowing that what I do isn’t nearly as good. My sentences aren’t nearly as clean, my images don’t have that kind of impact. I know my characters aren’t that complicated or detailed.

But this is exactly why it’s good to read writers who are further advanced in their skills. There is no way to learn that kind of skill, no way to even envision it, without reading it first. As usual, the first step in applying these techniques to your own writing is to read in the first place. Read as much as possible (I know, it’s not always much, but every bit counts; at least that’s what I tell myself) from as many different areas as possible. Read the things that make you laugh, read the things that make you stop and think. Read in the genre where you write, and outside it, too.

I find reading a book twice, or more, can be the best way of identifying all the components that make the piece work. Sometimes techniques aren’t apparent until you’ve fully absorbed the plot.

Then, when you read something that feels out of the reach of your own skill, remind yourself that the author probably worked long and hard to achieve what you’ve read. Books that are well-crafted might be easy to read, but they are not easy to make. When a novel is beautifully done, down to the level of the sentence, remember the hours of reading and writing that came before the writer even sat down to craft those sentences. Remember the messiness of the first draft, and all the challenge of turning that mess into something beautiful. It’s a process that every single book goes through, even if it’s not apparent from reading.

Next, practice your own writing. Sometimes, when I’m feeling discouraged about what I’ve written, I like to remind myself that no word is wasted. And that’s true. Every sentence that you write is practice, even if it will never be read by anyone else. It doesn’t matter if the sentences you scribble right now hit the cutting-room floor later, it doesn’t matter if that happens to entire chapters. Everything you write builds your skill, and advances you forward. Or at the very least, keeps you in practice.

It should be noted that Margaret Atwood does not only write novels. She’s also the author of many works of poetry, and the kind of writing and thinking required for poetry shows in The Handmaid’s Tale. Even if your poetry turns out to be complete crap, the economy of language and the type of thinking that poetry demands will force you to learn how to craft good sentences.

I imagine that Margaret Atwood’s poetry is probably not complete crap, however.

As to writing richly-fleshed characters, this requires deep observation of the world, and a really challenging level of honesty about oneself. In order to create characters who feel and behave real, a writer has to be able to look at the people around him or her and see them as rich and real. This is not always easy. It can be very tempting to villainize those who make life more difficult for us. It is, in fact, a built-in part of human nature to look at those who are remarkably different from us and see them as ‘other’. But this is one of the most essential parts of character-building, to set that aside, and acknowledge that maybe those others who annoy us aren’t all bad, and that often our own actions can create pain for others.

This is another thing that takes time and awareness, and I’ll admit that I’m not a master of it. I am, however, constantly working at it. Reading things like The Handmaid’s Tale certainly helps advance my understanding.

As always, I’ll conclude by encouraging you to keep reading and keep writing, and do both thoughtfully. Try not to get bogged down in an attempt to make every single sentence lovely, of course. You could spend your whole life staring at a blank piece of paper if you do. Keep getting sentences down, one after the other, and then revise and edit them, always getting closer to the ideal result. Every ounce of practice that you can carve out of your day is time well spent.

 

 

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Armor for Queries

Armor for Queries

When I wrote my post on mistakes I made the first time I sent queries, which you can find here, I talked a lot about the technical things I got wrong, and touched very briefly on how my thinking made the whole process harder. In this post, I’d like to go a lot more into how I wished I’d mentally prepared for the query process. This isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of people talk about, and I know for sure it’s something that would have helped me on my journey. So, if you’re a writer who plans on querying agents one day, or you are a writer who still HATES the query process, then this post is for you.

 

The Advice

“You’re going to get a lot of rejections, so get used to it.”

“This is just part of the process, so try to relax and enjoy it.”

“Agents get a ton of queries every day – it’s not personal when you get a rejection letter.”

Before I sent my first query letter, I’d seen all these phrases floating around in one form or another. I read them, and nodded sagely. Rejection letters happen to every writer, they’re part of the process, got it. I had been in writing classes, I’d dished out and taken critiques on my work, I knew how to roll with the punches, so rejection letters would be no problem.

But also, in the back of my mind, I didn’t quite believe that rejection letters would happen to me. Not many of them, anyway. Because I also saw the hints of writers receiving multiple offers of representation from agents, and then they had to pick. So that meant that some writers were rolling in a pile of “Yes, please, let us represent your book!” I imagined that I might be one of them.

I also got the sense from all of the “Put on your armor when you query” advice that it was a bit tired. I saw the same phrases over and over again, referring to rejection letters like they were some sort of big, awful thing. But they felt so cliche and tired after a while that I just started to brush the advice off. It didn’t mean much, and so I figured that a rejection must not be that bad, otherwise people would have more to say about it.

I suspect that a lot of writers and agents aren’t very descriptive when it comes to rejection letters, because they don’t like talking about how really gut-wrenching rejection letters can be to someone who isn’t ready for them. After all, hundreds of writers receive them every day. It’s much nicer to focus in on the success stories, on the books hitting the shelves right now, than on the thousands of hopefuls clutching their unpublished manuscripts, sending out e-mail after e-mail, only to get back no after no.

If that sounds grim, that’s because the process can be really brutal. But with the right mind-set, it becomes much easier to take on.

 

The Armor

Sometimes we hear instructions to don our armor so frequently that we forget what this actually means. Putting on armor is not like putting on a sweater. It’s not a thing you slide up over your arms then throw over the arm of the couch when you get too warm. Armor is a massive pain to put on. It has to be buckled and strapped into place, which takes hours. And once it’s on there, you sure aren’t taking it off unless you really must.

The mental armor needed for the query process is like this. It takes work to make it, and ideally it should be part of your daily life. If you put some effort into it and keep refining it over time, then you’ll be so glad that you can go into the query process confident that it won’t reduce you to a pathetic puddle.

I have been a pathetic puddle, trust me, you want to avoid this if you can.

To avoid that, I’ve built up a system of many components. You may find that some of these strategies are great for you, or you may find you have to tweak them, or try something else, but these are good places to start.

 

Prepare

I talked about this in more detail in my post on query mistakes I made, but this really is an important component of getting ready for querying. Don’t allow yourself to have little doubts about the condition of your manuscript wriggling in the back of your mind when you get rejection letters. Make sure you’ve revised several times, and edited. Get some beta readers, and listen to what they say. Learn to write a good query letter. Basically, make your manuscript shiny, then wrap it up with a bow.

That way, when you get a rejection letter, you will know for sure that it’s not because your manuscript is in rough shape. You will really know that your work just wasn’t right for the agent you queried.

 

Control Your E-mail

There are a lot of things in the query process that you can’t control. You can write a masterpiece, send it out to a hundred agents, and still get nothing but rejections if none of those agents think there’s a market for that book.

Agents are also human beings with moods, and who knows how they might be feeling when they get your query? You know how you have those days when your favorite movie just doesn’t sound good, and you’d rather watch re-runs of Modern Family for six hours straight? Agents are people, too, and the kind of day they’re having can affect what they say yes and no to.

Don’t let this lack of control totally freak you out, though. I know it’s tough – I write books because I like to have a say over every little detail, and letting go of that need to make things go the way I envision is hard. That perfectionism is a benefit when I’m translating my vision to words on a page. But it doesn’t serve me well when I’m in the query process.

So, if the chaos of the query process gets to you, shift your focus to something you can control. AKA: stop refreshing your e-mail twenty times a day.

One of the worst reactions I’ve ever had to a rejection letter happened early on in my first round of queries. I opened up my e-mail right as I sat down to have dinner at a restaurant one night. For some reason I was the only person at the table, I was waiting on everyone else to arrive, I opened my email on my phone, and there they were. Two rejections. Both form letters.

Then I had to sit and chat through dinner while those rejection letters gnawed at me.

Don’t do this to yourself. Set aside a time when you check your emails every day, when you can be ready for them. When you have time to react and respond to them, whether the news in them is good or bad. You can’t control if and when those rejection letters come, but you can control when you see them.

Use that locus of control to your advantage, and when those rejections come you will be much better equipped to deal with them.

 

Set Aside Your Ego

I’ve heard a lot of agents say this, and it bears repeating, as well as some expanding. Rejection letters aren’t personal. They do not reflect on your writing ability. They do not signal the end of your writing career.

This is not about you.

Really let that sink in. Rejection letters are not about you. They aren’t about your skills, they aren’t about your value as a human being.

When you send out a query, you are presenting agents with your work. One piece of your work. And agents aren’t offering to represent projects they don’t believe in. Agents only say yes if they are willing to stick with your manuscript for the long haul.

Have you ever read a book, and you knew it was a good book, but it just wasn’t your favorite? You enjoyed the time you spent reading it, and you put it down satisfied, but you didn’t find yourself gushing to your friends about how awesome it was? I know that describes the majority of the books I’ve read. They were good, I liked them, but I’m not going to go back and re-read them five times.

Then there are the books that I treasure, that I read over and over. I practically throw them at my friends and beg other people to read them.

You want your agent to feel that kind of enthusiasm about your book. You want them to feel like your book should be in the hands of everybody in the world, because they love it that much. And not every agent is going to feel that way about your work. In fact, most of them probably won’t. So, when agents say no to your project, it’s because your manuscript really, truly, is not right for them. Take that as a sign they respect what you do – especially if they take the time to write a personal response instead of a form letter.

Then keep searching. The right people for your book are out there. You will find them, if you keep looking, and if you remember that the people who say no didn’t do it because they dislike you.

They did it because they didn’t love your project enough to spend hours and hours of their time telling publishing companies how great it is. And that’s a good thing. You want your work in the hands of someone who loves it as much as you do.

 

Start A New Project

You wrote your manuscript, you revised it, you edited it. Then you researched agents and wrote a stunning query letter. So, you send out query letters, and then you relax. It’s about time, right?

Five days later, you’re refreshing your email twenty times a day, and spending the rest of your time chewing your nails, wondering which agents are reading your query, what they think of it, and when they’ll respond.

The best possible distraction? Working on a new project. It’s impossible to sit in front of your laptop, drumming your fingers or clicking the refresh button if you’re creating an outline or some character sketches. While you’re querying is a great time to start on your next manuscript. That way, if you get a rejection letter, it’s really easy to point out that your entire writing career doesn’t hinge on that one project. You have more material where that came from.

The more fun and exciting this project, the better. Maybe work on a genre you’ve never tried before. Write some poetry or a short story. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that lifts your spirits and reminds you why you wanted to become a writer in the first place.

 

Treasure Direct Responses

The first time I queried I took every rejection letter as a blow. It didn’t matter if it was a form rejection, if it was personally written, if it was just no response at all by a certain date. Every single one hurt.

With time, however, I’ve learned the value of those rejection letters written just for me. Even if it’s just a couple of lines, I know that the agent liked my work enough to spend valuable time making a message. For most agents, it’s a sign of respect, a way of acknowledging the writers who have stood out from the crowd.

If the direct response contains specific reference to something you’ve done well, then that is a real treasure. Take those compliments to heart – most of the time they’re not just nonsense sent to make you feel better. If an agent who sees hundreds of queries a month says that what you’ve written is creative, then there’s probably something to that.

If you aren’t getting any direct responses at all, and you’ve received more than a handful of rejections, then that might be a sign you need to look at your query letter or your manuscript, and ask yourself if you’ve expressed the core, driving forces of your book clearly. Sending queries is a learning process, and you definitely have to be willing to revise as you go if you aren’t getting much response.

And if you do get even a small tidbit of praise from a very busy agent, remember how valuable that is. Don’t class it with the form rejections and the no-responses. Let it encourage you to keep going, because you’re on the right track.

 

Celebrate the Victories

It’s really easy, when I’ve worked on something for a long time and it’s become vitally important to me, to see only what I’ve done wrong, and forget all the things I’ve done right. But when I forget to remind myself of how far I’ve come, I turn every minor roadblock into an insurmountable mountain. And this mind-set can make querying especially difficult.

Victories.jpg

Every rejection letter is like a drum-beat: wrong, wrong, wrong.

So, before I even get those rejection letters, I try to remind myself of the obstacles I’ve already overcome. I keep in mind the things I’ve learned along the way. And I make lists of all I’ve done right. From the perspective of all my victories, the little setbacks don’t seem so enormous.

For me, I don’t just keep a mental tally, either. As part of my schedule in my bullet journal, I spend some time every week making a list of my successes from the last seven days. And when I hit a really big milestone, I take time to savor it. When I finish the first draft of a manuscript, I don’t fret over how long I spent writing it, I congratulate myself on a job well done. When I get a request for a full manuscript from an agent, I cheer and tell everyone I know. It might ultimately lead to a no, but even that is a victory.

If you want to survive the rejections with your mental sanity intact, don’t forget to throw yourself a little party when you achieve something good.

 

Find Your Community

Without Sam, Frodo never would have made it to Mount Doom. Without Hermione and Ron, Harry Potter never would have survived long enough to defeat Voldemort. And Batman would have fallen to The Joker quite a few times if not for Robin. Every journey is easier when you have comrades by your side and at your back.

You might need writer friends who can help you revise or show you the ropes of querying. You might need non-writer friends who will cheer you on through pure faith in how awesome you are. You might need people who will go with you every step of the way, and offer perspective when things look bleak. You might need family who don’t understand what you’ve written at all, but love you, anyway.

I like having all of those things. The bigger your community, the more people you’ll have to cheer you on when the rejection letters pile up.

So, reach out and connect with the people around you, whether on the Internet or in real life. You’ll find your journey much smoother when you have a fellowship to back you up.

 

These are the components of the armor I wear when I send out queries. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what works for me, but all the time I’ve spent working on it has been well worth it. Now, I can receive a rejection letter with joy, because it contains some small compliment that shows me how much my work is valued by the agent who wrote it. This is a radical change from where I started.

As you query, or even as you seek critiques for your work, remember to keep working on a system that helps you weather the difficult moments. It’s as much a part of the process as learning how to finish your first manuscript, and once you’ve constructed your own armor, you’ll find that putting your work out in the world becomes easier.

As always, thank you for reading Bright Ink, and happy writing!

Love & Anxiety at the Library

Love & Anxiety at the Library

I, personally, love libraries. So many books, all in one place, for anyone with a library card to read as they like. I love the shelves, the tables, the chairs. I love the way books seem to huddle all together, like friendly little knowledge storage devices.

There is magic in so many books in one place, which so many authors have tried to capture in their works. Everywhere I read, from Terry Pratchett to Jasper Fforde, libraries are places where space and time warp. Where books create pathways, where they speak to one another and change the very fabric of reality.

Of course, if you think about it, this is more than just a metaphor. Books don’t exist in a vacuum. Writers are inspired by other writers, by the world around them, and they send out messages in the works they create. Many books have had an impact on all of society. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair permanently changed food processing in the United States. Silent Spring may have led to the banning of some of the most harmful pesticides, saving many species of wildlife. Some books have an entire culture associated with them, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

And in a library, all these books live together. If there are places of magic in the world where we live, I’m sure they are in libraries.

Unfortunately, my time in these sacred buildings is limited these days. I often dash in for a terse visit, full of jangling nerves and whispered warnings. I don’t even dare tread into the adult section. Little Miss and Little Dude are not ideal library companions.

Fortunately, most of the libraries we visit these days are built with the smallest guests in mind. Not only does our haunt have a large children’s section with many comfy chairs and tables, it also has puzzles and craft tables, tablets and computers, and even bags of toys. Best of all, outside the library doors stands a playground, a huge lawn, trees, and even a pond with a fountain. Practically a paradise for those of us with high energy little ones.

Little Miss and Little Dude love books. It’s one of my favorite parenting activities, sitting with them for an hour or more, flipping through the pages of Go Dog, Go!, or The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation. But at the library, they are too distracted to sit and listen. They want to run up and down the shelves, pulling out volume after volume, while I try to carefully re-shelve them, during which time they’ve pulled down four more. I take pity on the librarians, and our visits only last ten minutes or so.

I like to imagine that it’s the power of all those books that makes them a little wild. Maybe seeing shelves crammed with stories, which they know can be pulled down and read, every one of them, turns them into little bundles of energy. Whatever it is that happens to them, I’ve learned the hard way what our limits are.

 

I used to take Little Miss to story-time at our old library, thinking that it would be a nice change from our usual outdoor activities. I hoped that the structure and activity would be enough to prevent the fearsome meltdowns that plagued our indoor forays. The first few times, it worked.

My daughter, not-quite-toddler, not-quite-preschooler, somberly walked up to the librarians at the front desk, and selected a name tag in the shape of a storybook character. Half-hidden behind my legs, she whispered her name. Then, her wide eyes trying to absorb the enormous wall mural – which represented the beasts from Where the Wild Things Are, swinging through trees – she followed me to the little tables where we could wile away the minutes until the story time began.

Her favorite puzzle at the time was a fairy surrounded by outfit options. She loved matching the fairy’s skirts and tops. She sometimes found it frustrating that the fairy had to wear one of the outfits at all times, because it meant when she was swapping in a new outfit, for a few seconds the pieces that were on the fairy didn’t match.

Working on the coloring pages that matched up with the day’s theme was entirely out of the question.

When the doors to the separate reading room opened, Little Miss rushed inside. This was always where the trouble began. The room was not a square, or even a rectangle. It was triangular, and for some reason the far back corner called to my daughter. As the other kids crowded around the front of the room where the books stood on display, my child ran to the back corner, slammed her hands against the wall, sprinted back to me, and then ran back to the corner.

I coaxed her back to the front of the room, using every trick I knew to keep her interested. I participated in all the songs with the enthusiasm of an actor in a musical. I pointed out animals in the books the librarian read.

For three or four of these tense reading sessions, once the books and songs started, she at least refrained from sprinting to the corner and back. She didn’t exactly participate in the songs, and she didn’t exactly listen to the books, but she at least deigned to sit beside me, with an expression as if she was being very tolerant of a tiresome activity.

Then the day came when she decided to tolerate it no more. The librarian began to read, and she began her sprints, from the front of the room to that magnificent back corner. Following her example, two other kids joined in, giggling and squealing. I felt the stares of the other moms on me, on my child. We were disrupting the peace, interrupting their otherwise wholesome outing. They had come here for songs and stories, not the shouting and raucous sprinting. Those things belonged on the playground.

My face burning, I hissed at my daughter that if she did not stop running, then we were going home. She sprinted away from me, grinning mischievously. So, we left the reading room, Little Miss glad to get away.

Out in the main part of the children’s section, the mischief continued. Rather than settle down as I’d hoped, my daughter grew even more rambunctious. She did not want to do the fairy puzzle, or color on a worksheet. She wanted to run through the Young Adult shelves, ripping volumes off and handing them to me.

Ashamed and overwhelmed, I took her from the library, quite literally kicking and screaming.

We never went back to that branch again. Contained to smaller libraries without enormous murals and without the constraint of a storytime, she stopped engaging in noisy sprinting sessions. I’ve also learned how to make trips to the library work for my kids. We keep them short and casual.

 

I’ve learned to tolerate the looks from other parents who frequent libraries. The adults with two-year-olds who can name every letter on the rug, while my five-year-old asks, “which one is this?” The grandparents with quiet toddlers who will gladly sit on the floor doing puzzles from the shelves while my kids play hide-and-seek in the aisles.

I’ve also learned to cherish those moments when they will both sit on a chair with me and listen as I read a story to them. I don’t even mind if it’s about a princess who loves to dance and twirl, or about trucks driving up and down country roads, topics for which I once held disdain. My standards are a little different these days.

I don’t try to take the kids into the adult section. If there’s a book I want, I check it out on my Kindle, and am grateful that’s even an option.

I don’t freak out if they make a little noise, or if they’re a bit rowdier than some of the other kids. And if things start to get out of hand, we grab our stack of books and transition to the playground. Little Miss can check out the books these days without help, plopping them onto the scanner, then into our library bags while I keep Little Dude from running in the midst of the adult patrons.

The library is a lot different for me these days. It used to be a place of peace, where I hung out between my classes in college, reading textbooks and enjoying the presence of thousands more tomes. I remember savoring the puffy chairs and the quiet corners, where I felt very much at home, where I always felt a sense of mild disbelief that there could be so many books, all in one place. Shelf after shelf of them, with high, grand windows and long tables and gentle lights. In libraries, the whole world made sense.

I even liked wandering through the deeper parts of the library, where older books were stored on metal shelves, away from windows and people studying. On one rare occasion, one of my classes took place in my college library’s rare books room. There, we all donned white gloves and breathed carefully in the presence of magazines hundreds of years old, containing Charles Dickens’s novels in their original serial form. I was the student who, after class was done, asked what the oldest book in the room was, apparently with enough enthusiasm that the librarians didn’t just tell me about it, they brought it out to show me.

I stared in wonder at a prayer book, bound in leather, written in French, every letter and illustration drawn by the hand of a monk dead for centuries. But here the work still remained, somehow alive, propped on a wooden stand, handled only by white-gloved hands.

Perhaps this instilled in me too much reverence for libraries. Perhaps, when my messy, noisy, sometimes destructive little offspring enter a building which I know holds so much that is sacred and valuable, my tension rises to unbearable levels, and sensing this, they too become tense. Maybe that is why I must keep our visits so short. But I know that later, as they grow, these trips will become easier. They both love to have books read, and will sit for over an hour while I go through half the books on our shelf. Their love is already there, and as they come to understand the importance of the library, as they learn to read and the titles on every spine become legible to them, our experiences there will grow and change.

In spite of the trouble that we’ve had in libraries, I still love going. And my children, even though they spend only a few minutes inside, love coming home with new books. I know that someday their love of books will become a love of the library, and then we will go without breaking the magic.

Someday, I might even visit the adult section again.

How I Used My Bullet Journal to Set and Keep Writing Goals

How I Used My Bullet Journal to Set and Keep Writing Goals

 

I’m the kind of person who is full of plans for monumental projects. Just in the last few months I have started my third novel, scoured the internet for land to buy so I could become a farmer, and wrote up a plan for a wedding photography business. I am full of things that I think I can and should do. And when I’m working on those things, I work really hard.

The problem is that I tend to run out of momentum, and then I leap to something new before I ever finish something. Or, I have so many tasks to complete that I lose track and don’t accomplish any of them. I am a fountain of ideas sitting in the middle of a desert of finish-lines.

My loved ones have tried to help me. My husband tried to show me how to use several different digital calendars, but I found them inflexible and dull. My mother gave me planners and journals, but again – I craved flexibility. I wanted more space in some areas, less in others. A few summers ago my father remarked on a little book I’d started writing about my summer – a project he often assigned to his sixth grade class – by saying, “And as usual, Megan’s is beautiful, but unfinished.”

Ouch, Dad.

In this way, I have floundered towards my goals in haphazard, uncertain ways. To write a book, I knew I had to write, and so I did. And then I knew I had to edit it, so I did. But what about building a platform? Querying agents? Keeping up with reading in my genre? So many tasks necessary to becoming a successful writer went undone. And sometimes my random ideas intruded on my writing time, because I lost sight of  my ultimate goal, or simply got lost.

I needed to be able to check of tasks as I completed them. I needed to write down my goals on real paper, and break them down. I also needed lots of room to scribble down ideas as they popped into my head.

After many abandoned attempts at organizing, I gave up. It seemed that staying on task just wasn’t for me.

Until about nine months ago, when I discovered the Bullet Journal.

I’d seen so many people touting the benefits of their beautiful journals on Pinterest and Instagram, but I dismissed the concept as not for me. They looked so fancy and time-consuming, and I didn’t have room for all that nonsense in my life.

Then people in my Yoga group started talking about them, and intrigued by their conversations, I did some Google searches. As I looked around, I saw examples that were both elaborate and simple. And many of the bullet journals brought to mind the planners that I used in high school. Summer was wrapping up, and it was just the right time for some back-to-school nostalgia. I decided to give the Bullet Journal a try.

Now my little notebook is my constant companion, and my guide when I’m wondering what to do next. It hasn’t made me a different person, but it certainly has helped me become a more organized. I can confidently move from one task to the next, simultaneously working on a manuscript, social media, a blog, and querying agents, in addition to my normal life, without getting confused. I have the satisfaction of marking off very small tasks as I complete them, which helps me stay motivated when working on projects that won’t be finished for months, even years.

This is how I’ve done it.

Bullet Journal title

 

The Goal

One of the first things I did, after putting in my journal’s index and monthly calendar, was define my goals. Normally, I’m not very ambitious or specific about what I’d like to achieve with my writing, but on this page I went all out. I established that in the next ten years I want to become a profitable writer. Written out on paper, it looked a little scary and laughable, but there it was.

Goals
My goals page, spots, strange lettering, and all.

I was careful to pick a goal that I have some control over. I could have written out that I would like to become a New York Times best-selling author within ten years, but I have no control over whether or not that actually happens. That’s up to lots of other people, not me. I do have control over publishing my work, however, since self-publishing is increasingly an option.

Then I broke down all the things I needed to do in order to make that goal a reality. I included the tasks that I needed to tackle to get from where I was to where I wanted to be, like finishing edits and sending query letters. I also included building skills and creating a community.

When I’d made that list, I could move on to creating a more detailed break-down of my timeline. I set a five-year goal, a one-year goal, a half-year goal, one-month, one-week, and one-day goals. That gave me something to accomplish right away, as well as markers that I could check back with at different points to see how I was getting along.

Then I used my journal to make sure I was accomplishing all this.

 

The Days

For those unfamiliar with the bullet journal system, it allows for breaking down increments of time pretty much however you like. I keep daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly logs. Some people go for hourly – but that’s a bit much for me.

The daily logs are super simple. At the end of every day, I create a to-do list for the next day. And I like to include a lot of things, like making dinner, doing yoga, and writing. Filling in the little box beside a task is gratifying, so I try to include as many little things as possible.

Daily Page
That is my real life, there on paper.

This helps me stick to my routines when my days get hectic and unpredictable. Sometimes I don’t have time to write when I schedule it, but I can still give myself credit for doing it later in the day.

Because I make each part of the journal as I go, rather than having a layout all set up before I get started, I’m also able to include actual journal entries in my pages. I even have space to sketch and doodle if I feel like it. Best of all, my bullet journal doesn’t have a ton of wasted space, either. A day can take up as much or as little room as it needs to – or if I’m lacking in diligence, I can even skip a day without leaving empty boxes the way I would with a regular planner.

 

The Weeks

Every week on Sunday, I lay out my plan for the next seven days. This is where I’ll assign myself goals like querying, or make my editing and blogging schedule. I also have spaces on this page for getting down my blogging and general writing ideas, so that they don’t land on random pieces of paper that inevitably get lost.

Yes, I’ve lost a lot of really good ideas by putting them down on spare scraps of paper, or on random pages of a notebook holding a manuscript in progress.

I have the option, with the type of layout I use, of assigning a task to a certain day, or making it a more vague, “as I have time” kind of goal. For me, this kind of flexibility is really important.

WEekly Page
An example of a weekly layout when I used a ruler to make the boxes. I’ve had more productive weeks, but I wasn’t showing you one where I drew the lines by hand. I have some pride.

I also have a little box for notes, which is where I write down the bigger-picture tasks that I achieve throughout the week. Here, I put down the chapters that I finish, how much I revised, how many blog posts I made. It’s also a good space for capturing those “ah-hah” moments when things came together, and I realized how to make things work.

As someone who isn’t always very good at acknowledging my own progress and successes, recording these small steps towards my goal is important to keeping my momentum and motivation.

 

The Months

A lot of things happen in my journal when I move from one month to the next. At the end of a month, I use a page to analyze everything that has worked well in my bullet journal, as well as the things that aren’t working. Then I take that information to draw up a plan for the next month. I set small goals that will move me closer to my main goals.

Monthly Pages
I love this layout, so much!

I take that evaluation, and use it to set up my calendar for the month ahead.

As with my weekly log, I make goals that I can work on as I have time, and also write tasks that I want to accomplish on specific days. I used to keep a habit log, but I found that time-consuming – also, I frequently forgot to fill it in, so I let it go for now. Maybe someday it will come back when it’s needed.

 

The Year

The monthly logs are probably the part of my bullet journal where I do the most work and analysis. At the level of the year, things move slowly. But this is also where the large view of things becomes clear.

With the information that I collect in my weekly and monthly logs, I’m able to do a thorough analysis at the end of the year of what I’ve accomplished, and how that has moved me closer to my ultimate goals. This is an opportunity to celebrate the things that normally would get lost or appear insignificant in the midst of what I do every day. When I feel discouraged, it’s great to be able to turn to the page where I record all these things, and see just how much I’m getting done that I might not be able to see in the daily logs.

Then, as I do with my monthly log, I am able to establish goals for the year ahead. I can determine what I still need to learn and the tasks I need to tackle in order to get closer to my big goals. This year, for example, I’ve set a goal for querying fifty agents, and another goal of finishing the first draft of a new novel. These are tasks that seem completely overwhelming, but broken down into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks, they become very manageable, and I’m well on my way to completing them, in spite of the some unpredictable changes in my life and daily schedule.

 

Random Pages

I’ve mentioned that I love the flexibility of the bullet journal several times. It will probably come as no surprise, then, that my favorite, and probably my most useful pages in my journal are the ones that stand apart from the established layout. Because the journal has an index, I can use space anywhere in my journal to break down an idea or a problem that I’ve encountered.

Some of my random pages include fleshing out characters, analyzing problems with the narrative arc, describing what I want to accomplish with a manuscript edit, and ideas for posts on this very blog. My bullet journal allows me to step outside the march of the days and the weeks, without ever leaving those pages. This is a system that works very well for me: I’m not the kind of person who is able to keep track of multiple journals at a time, so I need everything contained in a single book.

When I’ve worked through a problem by writing down all its bits and pieces, I can then add the action steps to solving it in my daily, weekly, or monthly pages.

The Writer Considers the Journal
My journal, keeping me on track.

 

I imagine that if you don’t have much experience with bullet journals, all of this sounds way too complicated and unwieldy. I thought so too, once, but I’ve found in practice that a bullet journal actually simplifies things. That’s because it is taking all these complicated tasks, that often overlap with other complicated tasks, and breaks them down, makes them specific, tangible things.

If, like me, you find that there are times when you aren’t sure what to do next, and you find most scheduling systems don’t give you enough flexibility, then I encourage you to try a bullet journal. You don’t need anything fancy – when I started, all I had was an index, a calendar, and daily task logs. As I became comfortable with those, I added in my weekly pages, and then monthly as well.

For more information about bullet journals, check out the original bullet journal website here. And then, if you’re like me and you want some more visual examples, then check out Pretty Practical’s discussion on setting up here. Or this article at Buzzfeed. Or this very detailed guide on Tiny Ray of Sunshine.

Then give it a try! If it helps you get closer to your goals, then its well worth the effort. Or, if you have a different system of staying on track, I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

Spring

Spring

I’ll admit that spring has never been my favorite season. This transition from cold and snowy weather into the blazing heat of summer usually leaves me more sad than anticipatory. Packing up sweaters and coats and knitted scarves and leather boots is a ritual of mourning. Pulling out tank tops and shorts, with their washed-out or neon-bright colors, a disappointment.

I stubbornly refuse to swap my hot coffee for the iced version.

I prefer autumn. Give me bright leaves over delicate flowers, any day.

The past couple of years, though, I’ve learned to start appreciating this change in the seasons, because in the last couple of years I’ve had a vegetable garden. This is an exciting time of the year for people who plant things. Right now, peas and radishes are sprouting in my beds, sending up miniscule leaves and shoots, bits of green poking up out of dark earth. Tomatoes and broccoli plants grow under lights in my basement. Now is the time when all the plans I made in January and February become action.

I assemble my growing light in a basement closet, spoon dirt into black plastic capsules, tuck seeds underneath. I add dirt to my garden beds, I evaluate the activity of perennials poking up. Every weekend seed packets rustle and watering containers spill out their contents. I can almost hear roots wiggling their way through the earth.

This is also the time when I start running into snags, and little unforeseen problems crop up. Sometimes seeds don’t sprout. Sometimes a hard rain knocks seedlings to the ground. Weeds sprout. Toddlers pull up plants.

I do not deal so well when things go awry. I’m working on it, though.

Pink and Thorns
Leaves, buds, and also thorns.

I noticed this about myself shortly after graduating college. That was when I started to work on my novel. I had a beautiful vision in my mind of how it was going to go. I had epic scenes and complicated relationships all ready. My main character was awesome, and she was ready to conquer anything that stood in her way. The ending was hazy, but I figured that would work itself out when I got there. No problem.

Around the fourth chapter, things started getting messy.

Based off my conversations with people on airplanes, this seems to be where most novice writers run into trouble when they start working on a book. It’s always, “Oh, you’re a writer! I started a book once, and I just couldn’t get past that fourth chapter.” So I guess I’m not the only one.

When things got complicated and I felt myself getting stuck, I skipped ahead to a scene that seemed clear to me. And so I wrote my first novel, hopping around through the narrative, filling in the bits that were the most fun and about which I was the most certain. Then one day, I ran out of fun, easy scenes, and I found it was time to connect them all.

This was not a good time for me.

Forest Floor
The green is there, and soon the flowers will be, too.

I used to think of spring as a time when rains fell, and all the dirt and muck of winter washed away. It was a time of brightness, of renewal, of new things.

But with new things, with all that vigorous growth, comes chaos. Vegetables and flowers aren’t the only things to spring up out of garden beds. Weeds are often the first characters on the scene, and they are remorseless. They spread before many plants have a chance to get started, covering the earth with their pernicious runners, spreading seeds into any spot that the gardener hasn’t had a chance to fill.

Renewal doesn’t necessarily lead to a positive outcome. Sometimes the change of all that growth can be overwhelming. Sometimes what all that freshness and renewal does is show us just how much we still need to learn in order to deal with all that change.

Star Flower

I wrestled with that first draft for months. My book had to be perfect, had to combine literary technique that I’d worked so hard to learn with exciting plot. I forced the pieces together, made everything I had fit into place. I swelled with pride when, after all those months, it was done.

Then, a while later, I started to read. And what I read was not good. It turned out that by keeping every scene that I’d enjoyed writing and wedging them all together, what I had was a chaotic, meandering mess of a novel. Some parts were good, but they were being choked out by all the extraneous bits. I had a garden, but it was mostly weeds.

I couldn’t believe, after all that work, that I could end up with such a mess. Clearly, I was no writer. My masterpiece was, in fact, nothing more than a scribble made by a grade-schooler. I shoved the papers in a box, and swore I was done trying to be a writer.

Forest Flowers
These delicate guys didn’t give up.

A garden in spring is chaos. But it is also hope.

Weeds spring out of the ground as soon as the snow melts, threatening to claim all the territory as their own. Some perennials from years before never grow at all. Sometimes a late snow threatens the kill back any new growth. A snowstorm can wipe out trees. A cat might decide that the patch where carrots are growing will make a phenomenal litterbox.

Yet a skilled gardener can pull out the weeds, carefully prying out roots so they don’t grow back. The wanted plants can be separated from those that are unnecessary. Soil can be enriched with compost. Sun-loving plants and shade-loving plants can be moved to their proper places, where they will thrive and become abundant.

Floral Branch

I had to learn how to be a novelist. This, it turns out, is a distinct skill from being a good writer. I had long practiced crafting beautiful sentences, spinning exciting scenes, and so I thought I already had all I needed. But in a novel, the story as a whole must work. A writer can create the most beautiful scenes in the world, but if they don’t work well in the story she is trying to tell, then the book will fail.

After some time away from my novel, I returned, ashamed at my vow never to write again. I picked up a red pen, and I learned new skills. I researched how to edit. I cut the scenes that didn’t work without mercy. I found the thread of the story, the thing that would hold the characters and the narrative together, and I shaped new scenes that made that narrative cohesive. I created a plot where once there had been chaotic meanderings and happenings.

Most of all, I learned how to stick with the task in front of me, even when the job seemed overwhelming. I learned how to sit at my notebook and work on scenes that weren’t my favorite thing to write, but were necessary to the story.

Chaos can be tamed, but it takes time, skill, and patience. It takes the wisdom to sort what is necessary from what isn’t. Like a gardener, a writer must learn to tell weeds from productive plants. Which is especially tricky, because what might be a weed in one garden could be desireable in another.

Beautiful Things

Spring is not so bad, although I’m not buying that it’s a time of blank pages and renewal. This season is a beginning, but like most beginnings, it is chaotic, full of all the trouble and challenges of new things. Beautiful things come forth, but not all of them are worth keeping.

As I write a new novel, as I plant my garden, I keep in mind all the work ahead. It doesn’t overwhelm me, anymore, because I have learned how to meet these challenges after years of wandering in a confusing, chaotic wilderness. This ability to keep the final vision in mind, and work towards it, is a skill that I have earned over years of work, and it is a skill that I constantly refine.

Sometimes, I would give a lot to have a time machine, to go back and tell myself that the mess of a novel that I hold in my hands will be better if I’m willing to let go of the parts that don’t work. That the skills I need to tame the weeds are not inborn, and that I can learn them, with time. That I will learn them. And that the time I have spent crafting this first draft, though it is clunky and cumbersome and full of unnecessary bits, has been well-spent.

Of course, I can’t go back. But I can go forward, and I can enjoy the chaos of this season.

A Message to Myself When I Tread Rocky Paths

A Message to Myself When I Tread Rocky Paths

With every fall of every foot, you will sing this song to yourself. And it will keep you going, even when the air grows thin and cold. It will push you forward, even when the mountain peak rises high above you.

Persist.

When the pages trickle by, when you have no time to put your pen to paper, when you are dehydrated and covered in the unspeakable substances that issue from your own offspring. When all your stories lie locked inside your head, with seemingly no hope of ever getting out. When you stumble in a haze of sleep-deprived weariness. When you are unsure of your own name, let alone what that word is for someone who demonstrates a lot of knowledge. (It’s ‘erudite’ by the way.)

Persist.

When even those measly paragraphs that you do eke out feel more like dry bones than the living, breathing story in your mind. When you know you will revise all this, and take out more than you keep, and re-write it all again. When you aren’t sure that you can even write at all, anymore.

Persist.

When you see your own mistakes laid out, bold and clear in front of you. When you know you have so much further to go, and so much more to learn than you ever imagined.

Persist.

When you are drained and filled with self-doubt as you grapple with yet another revision. When you must rest, so that you can take care of yourself and the people you love, know that the next morning you will rise and whisper the song to yourself.

Persist.

When the feedback is good. When the words rise up, one after the other, certain and true and right. When you see all your ideas falling into place and everything fits better than you hoped, sing your song aloud.

Persist.

You may rest. You may work. You may despair. You may feel like your heart is hollow, or like it is clad in iron, or filled with sun-warmed air. No matter how you feel –

Persist.

Let this song be the only one you sing. Let it greet you in the morning, let it soothe you at night, let it be your constant companion as you go on this journey. It is a battle cry, it is a sustaining ballad, it is a weary hum. It will take you everywhere you need to go.

There will be writers who get published before you do. Cheer them on, knowing that this is their song, too. There will be setbacks. Take comfort, knowing that this song will get you through every challenge. There will be things you don’t know. Go out and seek the knowledge, from books, from those who are wiser, from your peers, from your friends, because this, too, is part of the song.

There will be victories. There will be moments when you progress forward in startling leaps, and this will be because you remembered, all that time before, to sing.

Persist. Persist. Persist.

Green Goddess Sandwiches & Musings on Writing

Some people like to get a manicure now and then. Some people go to Yoga class a few nights a week. Some like to buy really nice shoes, and some fly remote-control quad-coptors. There are, I’m sure, a million other little luxuries that people indulge in that I know nothing about.

As for me, I like to cook. It’s chopping, stirring, baking, and the drizzling of olive oil that soothes me, that feels like a special treat. And then, of course, the eating! I have always loved to eat delicious food, and then I learned how to make food, and I became obsessed.

Cooking is such a strange thing to consider a luxury. After all, anyone who has to eat must prepare food, or find someone willing to prepare it for them. And yet, there’s a certain type of meal preparation that seems to be gaining value and appreciation. Creating meals from raw ingredients, from scratch, is a cultural movement, and one that I gladly consider myself a part of.

Whole Sandwich
Food – I’m pretty sure this is as close to magic as most of us get.

 

I found this recipe for Green Goddess Sandwiches. Not only are the photos gorgeous, the ingredients are also just the sort of thing I like. Crunchy cucumbers, smooth avocado, crisp lettuce, and wheat bread – I’m sold. I added the ingredients to my grocery list, knowing that the sandwich would take a lot of extra time to make, but knowing that it would be worth it.

The day when I made them was warm, and the sun shone on our back porch. The kids spent most of their time out on the back porch, or down in the yard. There is nothing like a day nice enough for Little Dude and Little Miss to go out and get dirty, maybe sample a few insects, move rocks around, and stomp all over the strawberries. All the extra space minimizes fighting, and pulling up grass can entertain them for a good thirty minutes. That morning I particularly needed the mental rest this provided, since I’d had a job interview the day before, and I was preoccupied with wondering whether or not I’d get it, as well as what all our lives would be like if I did.

Definitely not so many mornings of drinking coffee and writing in my notebook when my household tasks allowed.

Just before lunch, I pulled out the ingredients. I’ll admit, I hadn’t bought quite everything, and I wasn’t going to make up the excellent-looking aioli used in the recipe. The kids wouldn’t eat it, and I didn’t want to have to wash out the blender after I made aioli for one person’s sandwich.

So, I made my sandwiches with cucumbers, avocado, mayo, a crunchy lettuce mix, and fresh basil leaves.

I made thin, thin slices of cucumber. I just love the way light shines through them when their cut, that magical pale green jelly around the seeds. Plus, the kids love cucumber. Little Miss always calls them pickles, even when they’re fresh.

Ingredients
Food in bowls makes me weirdly happy. Just look at all that potential!

It always amazes me how many different things my knife can do. It’s taken years to learn how to cut up different types of veggies for different types of recipes. But this one thing, depending on how I use it, can slice cucumber, and also break down an avocado. A slice around that giant seed in the middle, a twist to separate the halves, and then a whack to drive the edge into the seed. Another twist to pull it out.

I scooped the fatty innards of the avocado out with a spoon, and then sliced it. It was just ripe enough, which is such a tricky thing with avocados. I’ve learned how to pick them, for the most part, but sometimes I cut one open before it’s quite ready, and the flesh is the texture of watery plastic.

I sliced some circles of mozzarella, too, knowing that would probably be the kids’ favorite part. Little Miss and Little Dude can eat their body-weight in cheese, especially fresh mozzarella.

I love the part of cooking where all the ingredients are ready, and then it’s time to assemble the food. Ah, look, here before me is all this stuff. Now, watch as I turn it into a thing!

For the kids, I put mozzarella and cucumber slices between two pieces of bread. Even that seemed like it might not go over great, so I made it even more attractive by cutting it into a heart shape with a giant cookie-cutter. Then I hoped Little Dude wouldn’t throw all the cucumbers on the floor.

For my sandwich, I added everything, piled up in all these lovely green layers between some lovely, hearty wheat.

The kids, amazingly, ate their whole sandwiches. Not a single cucumber fell on the ground.

And I consider myself very fortunate that I could sit and eat my sandwich with a book in my hand. It was as tasty as it looks, and the textures were just exactly right. I felt like, for a few minutes, I sat in a little cafe, with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norris in my hand.

I’ll take some time with a perfect sandwich and a book over a manicure any day, but that’s just me.

Cut Sandwich
Perfect lunch.

 

Speaking of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norris, what a great book! I don’t understand how I didn’t know about this novel before, because it is everything that I like. It’s as if Jane Austen had decided to write a book about wizards.

It is also a gigantic book, rivalling even the last few Harry Potter books in thickness, and with dense paragraphs. It might take me weeks to read it, and then I probably ought to get back to modern-day science fiction.

I’m still looking for a published book that I can use as comparison to the book I’ve written. Supposedly the industry very much likes when an author can do this, because it helps narrow down the market where the book will succeed, and it also indicates that the author has read a lot and knows what he or she is talking about. Either I’ve written a really oddball book, or I just haven’t read enough yet to be able to find its place in the literary world.

***

Last week, I didn’t write much, but I cooked a lot. It doesn’t satisfy my need to make things in exactly the same way, but it’s sufficient, and it has the bonus of being something necessary. The family has to eat, and I can make them food.

Little Miss and Little Dude don’t get much from the writing I do, except perhaps a calmer, more centered parent.

In all the preparations for my new job, writing was definitely pushed clear off the stove. There was paperwork to fill out, meetings to attend, and clothing to buy. And if there’s one thing that crushes all the energy out of me, it’s shopping for clothes. Trying on twenty different pairs of pants, none of which fit, and none of which I even like, drains the inspiration right out of my body. Several days this week I returned home from the stores exhausted, and unable to write a word.

Those days, I was glad to make dinner. I savored the roasting of chicken and the rising of pizza dough. After a few good meals, I found my energies recharged. Today, I’ve been able to write again, to further my story while crunching on granola and drinking coffee.

I still haven’t found a pair of pants, though.

Sandwich and book
Can’t complain.