I’m Glad I Failed: How Rejection Letters Gave Me Freedom to Write Again

I’m Glad I Failed: How Rejection Letters Gave Me Freedom to Write Again

In college, I studied English. This probably made sense to all the people around me, as I’d spent most of every day in High School reading and writing. I suspect that I was probably called by people who didn’t know my name, “That girl in the mom jeans who writes all the time”. I’d dreamed of publishing a book of my very own for years.

But honestly, I’d fallen into my major more by accident than any kind of plan. I thought about going pre-vet, but I signed up for classes so late in the spring before my Freshman year that none of the critical classes were open, and I would have no choice but to spend an extra semester on it. I took classes in Forestry, but the focus seemed to be mostly on cutting trees down rather than protecting them. I spent a lot of time taking Geology (so much that I almost snagged a minor in it) but eventually wandered away from it, terrified of all the math classes I’d have to take to earn a degree there.

I had taken AP English in High School, and had so many credit hours in English already completed when I started college, that I figured I might as well major in it. And so I graduated, a little bewildered, with an English degree that included a concentration in Creative Nonfiction – nonfiction being another area I’d stumbled into entirely by accident, because the Creative Fiction class was never, ever open by the time I signed up for classes.

I spent no time asking my creative writing professors how I might establish myself as a writer. This wasn’t, after all, my plan. I was just letting the currents swish me to whatever end they might. I regret that I didn’t do a little bit more, because it would have been so very, very simple, but I just didn’t have a plan.

So, I left college with my BA in English (with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction) and managed to snag a job at a company that claimed not to be a call center, and was mostly not a call center, but I also spent an enormous amount of time on the phone, calling people. It was at this point that I discovered that calling people who I don’t know on the phone gives me horrible anxiety.

I retreated, and at about the same time my husband commissioned as an Officer in the US Army. He received orders to go to Washington State, and I went along with him. A little piece of detritus swirling along in the stream.

It was time, I decided, to write a novel. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. So, I got to work.

That first draft was a really strange collision of the principles I’d learned in Creative Nonfiction classes, and the sci-fi action that I loved the most. I figured that I could apply my freshly formalized literary sensibilities with the science fiction genre, and boom. I’d be crazy successful.

I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood yet, much to my detriment

I crawled through that first draft, and by the time I finished it I knew it was utterly awful. Demoralized, I put it away. Not only had my English degree failed to get me a decent job, it had also let me down in the writing of novels.

Eventually, I came back to it, shook out the dust and the spiders, and tore half the novel out. The other half, I rewrote. I edited everything. And feeling I could do no more, I submitted it to some literary agents.

The rejection letters poured in, and rightfully so. Passive voice and adverbs riddled my sentences. I disobeyed the law of “show, don’t tell.” And in my query letters, I couldn’t state the central conflict of the story. The package I sent out wasn’t my best work, and I hadn’t learned the industry nearly well enough. I retreated, and evaluated how to fix the problems that had resulted in so many firm “no”s.

At first, I didn’t make much progress. I felt like I’d been cheated in a million different ways. No one ever told me it would be this hard. My education had failed me. My skills had failed me. After years of work, I’d taken my chance, and I’d fallen flat on my face. I was bruised, and the idea of writing for fun, some days of writing at all, seemed like something that would only happen to other people.

But of course, I kept going forward, and very slowly I realized that all the failures I’d encountered belonged to me. Not to my bachelor’s degree, or my instructors, or agents, or the industry.

I’d placed too much of my identity on getting published – not on being a writer, not on telling stories, but rather on getting a book on the shelves of bookstores. I hadn’t had fun writing anything in years. I’d stopped crafting scenes that I liked, and started crafting scenes that I thought others would see as intelligent, as skillful. I’d lost my perspective on why I had started writing in the first place.

I realized that I had to start all over again. That I had to approach my writing in a new way, like I was coming at it for the first time. I had to learn to find what it was about writing that had made me start, and that had made me commit so much time to it.

So, I pushed out of my head all my ideas of getting published. I established some time to write during my days, at the same time every day, and didn’t worry so much about writing outside of that time. I took the pressure off, and I started writing for my own enjoyment again.

It took a long time, I’ll admit, to get out of that “must-get-published” mindset. It’s a strange tight-rope to walk, to strive for enjoyment in what I write, knowing that if I don’t enjoy the process no one will enjoy the reading, while simultaneously striving for improvement in my craft. Some days I still lean too far one way or the other. Some days I grow anxious and annoyed if I don’t get enough work done. Some days I obsess a little too much over my e-mail, waiting to see if my next word from an agent will be a rejection letter, a request for manuscript, or that dreamed-of offer. And some days, I don’t work hard enough to make sure that the writing time happens.

And gradually, I started enjoying my writing time again. It wasn’t just something I did because I had to do it. It was something I did because I enjoyed it. I stopped feeling stress every minute of the day, and I started to feel like I had a life again.

My writing became a place where I explored my thoughts about the world around me, where I took off on the impossible adventures that I love experiencing in the books that I read. I’m still not quite where I used to be, but I’m getting closer all the time.

What helps is knowing that if I keep working, and I keep writing what I enjoy writing, then someday what I’ve written will speak to someone. Even if it’s just a tiny group of people, then that will be valuable. It’s for them, this imaginary, tiny following, for whom I keep to my schedule as much as possible. That I keep sending queries, that I keep working to improve.

It’s for myself that I keep writing. Because getting words on paper, telling stories, taking journeys with my characters, is what I love to do above almost anything else.

 

Personal Life Update: I recently started a class on JavaScript. This is a very new thing to me – I’ve never done any programming beyond a little bit of HTML when I was in High School, which feels like forever ago. I definitely won’t be having as much time to post here for a little while, which is sad, but I’ll be learning brand new things, which makes me very happy.

Hopefully, when I get back into my regular rhythm of writing and blogging, it will be full of new and helpful knowledge. In the meantime, thanks so much for reading.

The Writing Habit Returns

The Writing Habit Returns

So, I might have mentioned how important it is to write every day about twenty times per post. That’s because I absolutely know from experience that consistency is the only real way to progress in your writing. When I’m writing regularly, I get more done, and my work is better. There is not just comfort in a scheduled window, in knowing that during a certain block of time I will be able to sit with a pen in my hand, but it also helps my brain know when to kick into creative mode.

As a bonus, I tend to be a much happier person when I write regularly. There is just something about writing a really engaging story that makes me feel like a real human being.

The problem is, I haven’t had a good, consistent writing habit recently. Not even close. I’ve been shoving writing into random places in my day, here and there, and that means that sometimes I get it done, and sometimes I get into bed without having scratched down a single word. Basically, at the rate I’m going I’ll finish the first draft of my next novel in, oh, about two years.

That is no way for a writer to behave.

I’ve had a lot of very good reasons (and a few not-so-great reasons, I’m looking at you Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) for why my writing habit has fallen to the side. I learned a few years ago that I’m the kind of person who simply cannot go without decent sleep. With Little Dude and Little Miss going through one cold after another all winter, I stopped waking up early to make up for all the times I got up at night to wipe drippy noses and administer Baby Tylenol. Sleep, and by extension my mental sanity, take precedence over the early morning writing. I know my limits, and that’s a good thing.

And then of course there has been the new job that I may or may not start at any moment, and which I spent several weeks preparing for. Getting together a wardrobe for a job in a real office, that I actually have to drive to, required a shocking amount of my brain power.

But my itch to write has been growing all this time, and now seems like a good opportunity to get back on track with my writing habit. A real, scheduled, planned into my day, happens no matter what kind of habit.

Bright Ink Writes
Yes, I need this hour of time, where it is just me and my notebook.

As long as no one gets any more colds, of course.

I started this morning by getting up at 6:30. Little Dude woke up about five minutes later, so it turns out that’s not quite early enough. I’m thinking, and I quake to write this, that my alarm will have to be set for 5:30. An hour is actually a lot of time, especially if I can get better at writing in the evenings, too.

But oh, 5:30 is obscenely early.

I also added a little habit tracker back into my monthly bullet-journal setup. I’ve found that sort of thing both encouraging and helpful for establishing a daily habit. I just love shading in a box on the days I accomplish my goals. I feel like Hermione Granger would appreciate this about me, although she and I would probably spend way too much time trying to outsmart one another to really get along well. Maybe just swapping planning methods would have to suffice.

The biggest hurdle in establishing a habit like this, though, is building up the mental fortitude. I am not a morning person – not at all, not even a little bit. Having kids has forced me to get out of bed at times I’d much rather be sleeping, and to get up before they bounce awake, ready to spread chaos everywhere they go, is even more of a challenge. I love nothing more than staying buried under my covers as long as possible. So it’s going to take some serious will-power to drive myself out of bed in the mornings.

It helps that I know how important a daily writing session is, and getting the work done first thing in the morning is such a satisfying thing. I’m counting on that to keep me going.

Because really, who can write any kind of book while their toddler is on their lap, driving a little plastic red motorcycle over their notebook? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tried that, of course, but it’s definitely not the right condition for amazing work. Especially when the writing is totally illegible when it’s time to revise.

This is perhaps the trickiest thing about juggling a writing habit and parenting: the constant change. I’m sure this is at least partly my fault, because I’m pretty terrible at creating a daily schedule for the family. It’s difficult to plan for writing when one morning I take the kids out on a walk, and the next we read books and do crafts. When some days Little Dude takes his nap at 11:30 and the next he doesn’t sleep until 1:30, if he ever takes his nap at all.

We do have mealtimes very regularly. I do not miss breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, or supper. Not ever.

But there is a problem of not always quite knowing where writing time gets in there. Last autumn, I fit in a couple of hours every day during nap time, no problem. But as Little Dude’s naps get more unpredictable, so does my word count.

Rather than fight to lock everyone into a specific schedule, I’m more inclined to stay flexible and work out a new method. So, trying for an hour of writing time in the morning is going to be my first salvo in the battle to reclaim a higher word count. I’m reminding myself that even though it will mean sacrificing some sleep, it will also mean that I can get a lot of words done before anyone in the house even wakes up. To a writer who is also the parent of small children, distraction-free writing is a miraculous thing.

I can already imagine the satisfaction of getting Little Dude out of bed, and making breakfast knowing that I already have three or four pages done. Of watching whole chapters pile up around me at a steady rate, rather than in little spurts. It will so be worth getting out of bed that early.

Although you might need to remind me of that at 5:30 am a week from now.

Here is the thing that gives me confidence going into developing this new schedule: I’ve done it before. I have found ways to fit in my writing, even when everything around me is chaos. Even though things have changed recently (again) I know that I can find a way, and I can make it stick. And when things change again about a week from now, then I will figure that out, too. It’s one of the great challenges of being a writer, finding that secret, personal time when the words can get on the page.

If it means getting up super early, then so be it. I’ll make some extra coffee, and it will keep me company in that quiet morning hour.

So, when do you write? And what have you done to establish a writing habit in your life? I’d love to hear all your tips for making it happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep you updated on how I’m doing at getting up early.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Craft Talk: Ancillary Justice and Too Like the Lightning

Craft Talk: Ancillary Justice and Too Like the Lightning

Gender and Science-Fiction

So far this year, I’ve read four science-fiction books, and of those, two have dealt pretty heavily with gender norms. Those two books were also recently published. It seems that this is a topic on a lot of writers’ minds right now, and though these two novels dealt with gender in very different ways, there was definitely a challenge underlying both of them to view the topic from new angles. Both books surprised me with the depth of their impact on my thinking. Those two books?

Ancillary Justice, and Too Like the Lightning.

Both of these are well-crafted novels, and worth reading for a variety of reasons. But in this post, I’m going to specifically focus on how they treat gender. One of my favorite things about science-fiction is the way it can push readers to think outside the confines of their learned standards and norms. We come to science fiction with the expectation of seeing the world in a new way, so altered social norms are much easier to accept than in many other genres. Sometimes, science fiction is even able to lift aside illusions and show us, in a very stark way, what those norms look like.

I would argue that both of these books are successful in the way they ask readers to look at gender in a new way.

 

Ancillary Justice

In the case of Ancillary Justice, the twist on gender norms is simple, but has a dramatic effect. The ruling group of aliens in the galaxy, the Radch, do not have a separate pronouns for male and female members of their race.

Instead, everyone is referred to as “she”.

In Ancillary Justice, “she” can be male or female. “She” is an emperor, an officer, a wealthy citizen, a soldier, a doctor, a parent, a musician, a criminal, a farmer. Everyone, in the language of the Radch, is a “she”.

At first, it felt strange, to read the female gender pronoun being attached to everyone. As I read, I constantly tried to mentally correct it when the narrator referred to a character who I knew was male. My brain wanted to know, as soon as a character was mentioned, what gender to assign them. As I built an image in my mind of this person on the page, that was one of the key pieces of information, the thing that usually comes first in any other book, on the screen, even passing someone on the sidewalk.

In our world, it is coded in hair, the movement of the body, clothing, shoes, and accessories. Those who defy the codes stand out, sometimes are ridiculed. In Radch society, to distinguish by gender goes against their culture.

Eventually, my brain adapted. After a few chapters, I stopped caring, from the moment a character appeared, if she was male or female. Within the pages of this book, that didn’t matter so much. It became far more important to know what the characters did, how they behaved, what they wanted. There was a certain purity to them when they could exist without the heavy constraints of gender expectations.

By the end of the book, I still hadn’t determined the gender of some characters, and I didn’t ultimately mind. Nothing that any of them had done, none of their struggles, relied on the kinds of constraints that we typically see in our society. There were certainly questions of class, and questions of the ruling race exerting authority over the rest of the galaxy, but the idea of gender had been lifted away.

Not so say that gender was left entirely neutral by every character in the book. The protagonist does move through cultures where male and female are distinguished by their appearance, and in fact, when this character moves back into Radch society, she finds the gender neutrality of Radch appearances a little disconcerting. The signifiers that the Radch mix and match in their dress with wanton abandon seem confusing to those who are accustomed to the symbols being used with purpose.

Ultimately, Ancillary Justice spent a lot more time on other questions of identity and morality, with this twist on gender running through the background. The way it was embedded so deeply in the language of the book, however, made it a very effective way of dismantling notions attached to the pronoun “she”. Just reading the book is a confrontation of one’s own expectations.

 

Too Like the Lightning

Too Like the Lightning is a book that takes on a variety of subjects in a very direct manner. It delves into philosophy, as well as futuristic science fiction. Here, a network of flying cars (controlled by people whose brains have been shaped to work as computers) exists comfortably alongside a faction that serves people’s spiritual needs when religion has been outlawed.

Like Ancillary Justice, Too Like the Lightning imagines a place where gender identifiers have been reduced to almost nothing. Instead, most people dress to express their allegiance to a particular mindset. The Humanists wear boots with treads that leave an unique imprint wherever they go, and engage in risky, thrilling behavior. The Utopians wear coats that display ever-changing images of the world around them as they wish or imagine it to be, while reaching for impossible-seeming ideals.

Unlike Ancillary Justice, though, the narrator of Too Like the Lightning talks about gender all the time. He calls his good friend Thisbe a witch, claiming she possesses dark arts and mystical powers available only to females. In a society that attempts to maintain a level of gender neutrality, Mycroft regularly points out how a person’s behavior makes them male, female, or puts them somewhere in between. He even makes a point of discussing some around him who are anatomically one gender, and yet because of their dress or behavior he identifies them as the other gender. And he spends an enormous amount of time making his arguments for doing so.

Mycroft definitely gives a reader the sense of speaking with a time-traveller. He is at odds with the society he lives in, a society that is striving to remove the indicators of male and female. He constantly points out identities, explaining them to the reader, while also explaining the enormous impact when antiquated gendered clothing is worn. Mycroft exists in both spaces, the place where male and female aren’t supposed to matter, as well as the place where it is coded in every part of a person’s appearance.

If Ancillary Justice frees the reader almost entirely from considerations of gender, then Too Like the Lightning is more of a challenge to the reader’s thoughts of gender, no matter what those thoughts are. It is almost impossible to follow Mycroft without asking questions about why certain standards are in place, while also questioning what the detriments might be of leaving those standards behind. Too Like the Lightning presents what might be considered an ideal world, and simultaneously dismantles it.

 

Writing on Issues

A lot of books attempt to discuss the weightier topics facing society, with a broad range of success. At one end of the spectrum are those books that do more harm than good by bashing at an idea with little sensitivity or understanding. At the other end are the books that are so blindly enthusiastic about a topic that they ignore all the little snarls and complications. Somewhere in the middle are the works that dig in and really bring to light all the nuances, subtly weaving the truth about our world into the story.

These kinds of books are rare, but I think the skills behind them are of benefit to every author – really, to every human being – and worth cultivating.

I think one of the primary things on display in works that achieve that balance is self-awareness on the author’s part. The writer of work like this must know how other people think, yes, but even more they must know their own thoughts and prejudices. In order to treat the characters on all sides fairly, the writer has to be aware of when their own feelings on a subject might cause them to make a villain out of someone who is, in fact, a complicated human being.

One of the other vital pieces at work in successfully discussing issues in fiction is a connection to the subject. If the writer doesn’t have a personal interest in capturing the nuance of a topic, then it’s likely to be misrepresented on the page. Without thought or consideration, something like the discussions of gender could easily get distilled in ways that don’t contribute anything useful to the subject. Or even in ways that are harmful.

This connection to the subject is important even when the writer isn’t delving into some serious modern-day issues. If a book is going to have soul and life, the author has to care, and has to keep caring for hundreds of pages.

 

Language Shifts

I remember discussing in one of my college creative writing courses the use of pronouns, particularly attempts to speak in a way that was gender-neutral. In a lot of formal writing, the use of the phrase “he or she” when talking about some theoretical person feels stilted, but not too much so. That same “he or she” phrase in fiction is so unnatural that writers avoid it at all costs. Many students in my class confessed to using the grammatically-incorrect “they” to refer to a hazy person of unspecified gender. The professor did not give an opinion as to whether this was right or wrong, and at the time it felt entirely theoretical.

I figured, “let’s just use ‘he or she’ and move on with our lives!”

But the world has changed a lot since then, and increasingly we as a society are confronting the spectrum of gender identity in an open way. Also increasingly, I think we find that language fails us, which is why it’s not only interesting that science fiction like Too Like the Lightning and Ancillary Justice are tackling the topic, but also vital.

Too Like the Lightning, by the way, takes the stance of many of my fellow-students, and refers to most characters as “they”. Ancillary Justice applies “she” to every character. In one case, a plural pronoun has been hijacked to cover the singular in a gender-neutral way, and in the other, every person regardless of sex is given the female pronoun. Both tactics work within the context of the story in which they appear, but in the outside world, they both feel inadequate.

I think both of these books demonstrate just how important science fiction is to the broader conversations that we, as a society, are engaging in. The futuristic worlds allow all of us to examine the questions that we face now – in these two novels, we get to see two very different treatments of gender, both of them tackling the effects of gender roles in our society. As these conversations unfold in fiction, they help advance our language and our understanding of how deeply gender is woven into our society, influencing and enhancing the nonfiction work on the same topic.

This, in my opinion, is science fiction at its best.

The Pen and the Keyboard

The Pen and the Keyboard

Talking to my fellow writers about our craft is always a learning experience. The many different methods, reasons, and styles reveal just how personal and creative the process of writing is. Some people like spiral notebooks, some people write on legal pads, some people like old-school typewriters, some love their sleek Macbooks. I, for one, only lend out one of my precious pens if I’m given a solemn oath that it will be returned intact.

In this land of varying opinions, however, some things have been subjected to scientific study. That’s the controversial water that I’m going to wade into today.

 

Defending Pen and Paper

You might think that putting a pen or a pencil to paper is the same as tippity-tapping your way over a keyboard, but research suggests that these are two very different activities. Or at least your brain thinks so. This article at the Huffington Post talks about research into how the brain processes handwriting differently than typing. The short version: when you write by hand, more of your brain lights up than when you type. Even children generate more ideas, and college students remember more from lectures.

Anytime I’m writing new material, it goes into a notebook. For me, the process of scribbling my own words on a piece of paper is radically different from sitting in front of a computer and typing. It’s slower, even for a snail-paced typer like me, but that’s the point. The ball of my pen rolling over the smooth surface gives each character, each word, a visceral meaning. The ideas in my head take shape gradually, the amorphous images carved into solid characters, feelings, dialogue, and actions by my hands. Sometimes as I write through a scene, things take a very different shape than I originally imagined. New ideas weave their way into the plot. Ideas that I hadn’t even put to words start to appear, made real by the solidity of my own handwriting.

The scientific evidence suggests that this is because writing by hand actually reaches more parts of your brain than typing does. Ideas come forward that you might not have found any other way. There’s a reason that I often come away from writing a nonfiction piece with a new awareness of how I think about something. By scratching down my words with ink, I’m finding thoughts that I didn’t even know were there.

There’s a romance, too, to sitting down with a blank piece of paper and filling it up. For hundreds of years before the invention of the typewriter, this was how the process worked. The ancient philosophers did this, kings and queens have done this, Jane Austen, and Stephen King, too. There’s a strange magic to putting pen and paper, knowing how many have done it before.

 

Don’t Toss the Keyboard

You might think me a hypocrite when I say this, but I still use a computer to write. I do so love pen and paper, but that doesn’t mean typing has no place in my life or my writing.

In fact, this entire blog post was written on my computer. I don’t think that typing is inferior to handwriting, it just has a different place.

When I want to get an idea out fast, then a keyboard is where I turn. My fingers can fly and my thoughts can, too, arriving on the page unfiltered. The end result is a little rougher, but that can be a good thing. There have been some scenes that I struggled to write using pen and paper. When I switched to typing, when I could see the scene marching up and down the page, when I didn’t have to spend so much time ruminating on the individual words, everything fell into place.

From a more practical perspective, a manuscript is almost impossible to share when it’s hand-written. I had some very patient friends in high school who read my cursive stories, but I’ve learned that as much as I love my own lettering, not everyone appreciates having to sort out my ‘b’s’ from my ‘l’s’. After hand-writing my first draft, I type the second.

I know that this seems like a cumbersome  process, but considering the many, many drafts that most pieces go through before they are finished, it’s a small time investment, with big pay-offs.

The Diverse Writing Process

Research suggests my brain works in different ways when I’m handwriting versus when I’m typing. My own experience (and the experiences of much more renowned writers) aligns with studies. Which has convinced me that the best thing a writer can do is exploit this fact, and write using both methods.

Story time.

Right before my daughter was born, I finally (finally) got serious about finishing the first draft of my first original novel. To speed up the process, I pulled out my laptop and typed away. I was on a deadline, and it just had to get done.

At last, the draft was finished. I hit the print button and stuck the stack of papers in a box.

When my daughter was a few months old and I’d finally caught up on sleep (or given up on sleep entirely) I pulled that draft out. I read it. It was terrible. I realized almost immediately that the majority of what I’d typed was going to have to be cut if the novel was ever going to work. It was a disjointed series of scenes, that while interesting on their own, would never work together. Sentences and paragraphs rambled across the page, taking up space without moving the plot forward, or saying much at all. Worse, every sentence, every character, every location, was flat and dry. I had spit out scenes with very little sense of place, without any depth.

Pen and Keyboard Vertical

So I cut. And every scene that I cut, I rewrote in my notebook. The result was so much more lively and cohesive, because I had to go slowly and put thought into crafting each word.

Then I retyped those scenes. And as I retyped them, I refined them. This kind of process is much easier on a computer screen than on paper. If I don’t like the order of a paragraph, it takes seconds to cut and paste the sentences into a new sequence. Whole scenes can be moved around this way, even whole paragraphs. Highlighting an entire chapter that’s dragging the piece down, hitting the ‘Delete’ button, and watching it vanish, is downright thrilling.

Those scenes that started in a notebook and moved to keyboard were far stronger than the scenes that started out typed. I discovered the method that worked best for me, the way of writing that resulted in the most evocative sentences.

It makes sense, as a writer, to approach a piece from as many different perspectives as possible. I care a lot about how my writing impacts other people, and I want others to be able to read the most cohesive, cleanest story possible.  Drafting in multiple methods is the best, and I have found, most efficient, way of doing this.

Finding Balance

All writers have preferred writing methods, and we all have deeply held opinions about them. But if I’ve learned one thing from talking to my fellow writers, it’s that what works for one of us isn’t going to work for all of us. Often, the only way of discovering what works best for you is to try new things. If you usually plop in front of your laptop during writing time, then pick up a notebook and a pen next time, instead. If pen and paper is all you’ve ever known, then give a keyboard a chance. You might find, like I did, that there’s an important place for both methods in your writing life.

Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to just one way. And if your notebooks have been getting dusty, pull them out and see what happens. You might be surprised at how much more depth your writing has when it begins that way. And the research backs me up.

What are some strange discoveries that you’ve made on your writing journey? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

And as always, thank you for visiting Bright Ink.

Anticipation: Things on the Horizon

Anticipation: Things on the Horizon

Happy Friday! I know this is a day most people look forward to, so in that spirit I’m going to talk about some things things that I’m excited about.

Friday is not one of those things. When you’re a stay-at-home-parent, Friday actually doesn’t mean much. I am not going out tonight, you will find me home cooking dinner and bathing children. There will be no sleeping late in the days to come, no reduction in responsibilities. If anything, I’ll probably pile on some extra projects.

My special treat on the weekends is the chance to go on an extra-long walk while The Hubs stays home with Little Dude and Little Miss. There might be a Starbucks run and a trip to the bookstore. This weekend in particular, I’m going to get soil to fill my garden beds, so I guess that is something to be excited about, even if I won’t be sleeping in.

So here they are, some other things I’m looking forward to, and why.

 

Rogue One

The whole world conspired against me getting to the movie theatre to see this. There was an ice-storm, travelling for Christmas, and then a nasty stomach bug, followed by a string of colds that kept me tied up at home for weeks. Before I knew it, Rogue One was out of theatres, and spoilers flooded Pinterest.

So for months now I’ve been just about the only die-hard Star Wars fan who hasn’t seen this film. I’ve been over here losing nerd-creds on a daily basis. I think I might be in the negative now, and that’s pretty bad for someone who would willingly participate in a lightsaber duel to make Mara Jade canon again.

Seriously, Mara Jade is my hero, and I will always be in denial that she’s not flying around the universe, regularly calling Luke Skywalker to tease him about being a farm boy.

I was sold on Rogue One as soon as I saw that clip of AT-ATs stomping down palm trees. Jyn Erso and friends all look like a classic Star Wars crew of improbably heroes. So yes, I’m getting this movie today, and I’m finally going to settle in and watch it. I will probably squeal when I hear that classic TIE fighter scream.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

The TV show, or the book? It turns out, both.

So, I might have mentioned before that I went this really long stretch of time without reading any science fiction. I had Margaret Atwood on my to-read list, but never touched any of her books. I have no good reason for this, I was just very comfortably making my way through every single Terry Pratchett book.

Yesterday, I finally bought A Handmaid’s Tale, and I’ve already started.

Handmaid's Tale and Jonathan Strange
Also in my bookstore haul is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

By the way – it took me forever to find this book in the store, because it was in the fiction section. I know it’s dystopian science-fiction, just from the little bits I’ve gleaned of the plot, but like a lot of really excellent science-fiction it’s not hanging out with the robots and space ships. I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing, which maybe I’ll discuss later.

I’m a couple of chapters in, and I’m already hooked. As I’m sure the entire universe already knows, Margaret Atwood’s writing is amazing. She’s one of those writers who has that way of hinting at things, who can build a feeling of oppression and fear without direct images of violence. I know the kind of world her character is living in from just a few, carefully-crafted images.

Then, the advertisements for the show, coming out April 26 on Hulu, have me intrigued. Elisabeth Moss will be playing Offred, and I love her acting. We will see if I make it very far into the show, because it looks intense, and I’m known to cover my face during fraught scenes in shows and movies. I have skipped more than one episode of Game of Thrones entirely.

 

My Garden

I’ve tried to grow food in the past. One year, I even had a little four-foot square raised bed, with carrots and radishes planted, when all of a sudden we moved and I had to leave it all behind. The next summer, we had just moved into a different house, and I didn’t have time to plant anything in the middle of the kitchen renovation. This summer, though, it is on.

Bright Ink Gardens
Grow, my little plants, grow!

Every day, I go down into the basement to water my seedlings. There are Johnny-Jump-Ups, lettuce, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers sprouting under a long grow light. As soon as I have my soil, I’ll be planting carrots, radishes, beets, peas, and beans. I’m so looking forward to summer sun warming my garden, crunching peas right off the vine with Little Dude and Little Miss, and having home-grown heirloom tomatoes.

As long as the squirrels don’t steal everything I grow. That has happened. But even one tomato from my own garden will be worth it.

 

Wonder Woman

So, I’ve been a geek for a long time. When I was in the first grade, Batman: The Animated Series was by far my favorite show. In fourth grade I picked up all things Star Wars. In Junior High I discovered The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

And everywhere I looked in the things that I loved, I found women and girls in short supply. I had Catwoman, and the aforementioned Mara Jade. And even though they stood toe-to-toe with the men in their universes, they were still mostly love-interests and side-kicks. They certainly weren’t the leads in the books or shows in which they appeared.

To say the very least, I’m grateful that Little Miss is growing up in a world where a woman can be a superhero, and get her own movie, too. I have high hopes for Wonder Woman, even though DC so far hasn’t blown me away with their last few superhero movies. Come on, people, make this one worth my time, please!

Wonder Woman Funko
You can’t get Wonder Woman wrong, because she will get you with that Lasso of Truth.

Other geeky places where females are finally getting a chance to lead: Star Wars, Supergirl now on CW, and the upcoming Captain Marvel. It’s happening in more books than I can name. In fiction, these are good times to be a woman.

Hopefully, the real world catches up eventually.

 

Applesauce Granola

Earlier this week, I was just chilling at the doctor’s office, waiting for Little Miss’s five-year checkup. I picked up a Better Homes & Gardens to flip through, and I just happened to find, between a recipe for Thanksgiving turkey and an article about what to do with leftovers, a photo of some amazing-looking granola.

If you know me, you will know that I have a thing for homemade granola. I make a batch almost weekly.

And this granola looked magical. I scribbled the recipe down into my bullet journal, because I’m not the kind of person who tears pages out of waiting room magazines. That’s just cruel. Especially when you can take a picture with your phone.

I wrote it down, though, because it looks that good.

When I have my next grocery-store run, I’m picking up the ingredients, and I’m making a batch. It might become as coveted as that ginger-peach granola recipe. I have no idea. That’s the exciting thing about new recipes. It could be a dud, or it could be your new favorite.

 

A New Book

I started on a new project this week. It began, as it usually does for me, with the characters. Stephen King says this is wrong, but his advice that writers should start with a compelling idea, and then build the characters in later, is one that I ignore. If I’m not interested in the people I’m following around over the course of the story, then I won’t get very far. My interest will dry up about two chapters in, and then I’m left with this beautiful skeleton that has no flesh.

So, the characters come first. In this case, it was two people with a complicated and interesting relationship. I wrote the first two pages, and then stopped to find the core conflict of the book. I think I landed on a pretty compelling idea – I’ll only know a few months from now when I finish the first draft what it’s really about, though. I do know for sure that I’m excited to spend a few years with the characters I’m following. And the setting leans further into science-fiction than anything I’ve written in a while, so I’m getting to invent about five things a page, which is equal parts fun and terrifying.

I definitely plan things a little bit more than I used to. Once upon a time, I started into a novel with no idea what the end would look like. I spent years wandering in the wilderness of the narrative trying to find the central conflict, the thing that was happening beyond the character relationships. It was a mess. I’m still a pantser, but now I pick a goal before I begin my journey.

It’s good to know where you want to go, even if you don’t know how you’re going to get there.

 

So there you have it, my list of random things I’m excited about, in lieu of Fridays. Do you have any projects you’re working on that are especially compelling? Movies coming up that you can’t wait to see? I’d love to hear more about it – especially if it’s something geeky that’s not on my radar yet!

Or food. I will always get excited about food.

I hope you have a great weekend, and thanks for reading Bright Ink.