The Writer in the Words

The Writer in the Words

“But I will tell the night

And whisper “Lose your sight”

But I can’t move the mountains for you.”

-Mumford & Sons, “Timshel”

 

For a very long time, I’ve been a lonely writer. I have worked in isolation, making what I’ve wanted to make, editing my own work, reaching for the bookshelf and finding whatever I could on my own. In some ways, this has been a comfortable way to write, and it’s given me a rare opportunity to create things that are, down to every detail, the product of my own mind.

With this comes a loneliness that’s impossible to ignore, and a tendency to spiral ever inward on my own ideas. Or to spend years making the same mistake over and over again.

Recently, however, I’ve landed in a place where I’m surrounded by other people who like to put words on paper, people who are willing to read what I have. It’s been a downright giddy experience, to lean out of my cubicle and find myself talking to someone who also spins tales. And earlier this week, one of these fellow word geeks offered some feedback that brought me to a halt, and then sent me into the wilderness, seeking some dark piece of my own soul I’d hidden, and hidden well.

“You built up this scene, and then you just let the pressure off too soon. It needs to build more, it needs to be a bigger moment.”

It wasn’t just good advice, it was a thing that had been gnawing at me for a while, and something I’d done many times. A lot of moments in my writing that I’d meant to be really big had, in fact, fallen flat when I finally got them on the page.

I spent the rest of the day asking myself why.

***

I could see in the scene pointed out to me that it didn’t have all the tension it should because I hadn’t allowed my character a moment of uncertainty within it. She follows a beastie down into its lair, she creates a plan, and then she executes it, both figuratively and literally. The moment feels choreographed. Safe. There is no question, from beginning to end, that she’s going to deal with things just fine.

Considering the amount of time I’d spent building up to the confrontation, it made no sense. And yet, I had never changed the way it played out.

Why couldn’t I let my character stumble, struggle, spend even a few seconds thinking that she might fail, might fall?

Was I trying to spare the character? Was I trying to spare the reader?

No, I decided, none of the above. I was sparing myself.

I didn’t want to drop my character into that kind of uncertainty, because within my writing I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to have a sense of control that I couldn’t exert in my own life. I desperately wanted that feeling of choreography, of planned moves, of knowing that everything is going to turn out just fine, all under control.

But that’s not what writing is for.

***

For several years, my life felt under attack from outside forces. I seemed to constantly be standing on the edge of a crumbling cliff, stepping backwards more and more as the ground in front of me vanished.

I miscarried my first pregnancy, and subsequently lost faith in the religious beliefs that had guided me all my life. Short behind came the birth of Little Miss, a blessing, but also a high-needs insomniac. Then my husband’s second deployment, during which I left the place that felt like home and the support network I’d built there, to return to the place I’d once called home and the support network that needed patching. Just when I thought I’d found my place, my grandmother, the beloved matriarch of my family, passed away. Then at last, when my husband returned home, he was not the same as when he’d left, and we spent the next few years struggling to get a diagnosis for an autoimmune disorder. All the while, rejection letters from agents rolled in.

That’s a hell of a list, and I spent a lot of time feeling a bit like the universe’s favorite punching bag.

So I came to my notebook, my pen in hand, and I made the lives of my characters a little bit cleaner. Sure, there were baddies to take down and moments of peril, but never too much of a mess. I didn’t feel like walking up to the cliff and dangling my feet over. I just wanted to take a peak, and then go safely back home, where I could shut the door, bake some bread, play nice music, and rest assured that there were no monsters under the bed.

My life was a whirlwind, a place of all questions and no answers, and I couldn’t let that mess creep over in my writing. I had to cling to at least the illusion that somewhere a world existed where plans could unfold carefully, one step at a time, where even the occasional deviation didn’t mean disaster, just detour.

I made my writing an escape, a little bubble of denial. And in doing so, I crippled the tension in my own narrative, and set back the very dream to which I sacrificed sleep and sanity and normalcy. Some of the things that happened during the years of chaos were nobody’s fault. There were so many tragedies and shiftings and falls that came on my household organically, a simple consequence of the unpredictable nature of life. But there is one mistake that I made, which I still feel today.

I didn’t write the truth. I wrote what made me feel safe.

***

When Little Miss and Little Dude were tucked into bed, and The Hubs was fully engrossed in a TV show, I pulled out my raggedy notebook and my pen. I read myself into the offending scene, and at the critical moment where I’d betrayed the narrative, I began re-writing. I would start again, rebuild from the ground up.

I went into it, expecting that it would be a difficult task. After all, it had taken me years to come to terms with my own failing. Surely the writing itself would be hard.

It wasn’t. I actually found it thrilling to throw my character off her game a little. I watched her confront uncertainty, stumble, feel her feet go over the edge of the cliff, and then I watched her rise up and come back from it. I admired her more than ever. I hadn’t cleared the way, and yet she’d survived. And the narrative was all the stronger for the doubts I’d thrown in.

***

I’ve always nodded sagely at the metaphors writers use when they talk about their craft. “It’s like dancing on the rooftop naked.” “It’s like fighting your own demons in public.” “It’s like throwing your dirty laundry onstage for everyone to see.” I always interpreted these quirky images as a way of saying that writers must be willing to tell their personal stories, put down on the page their true experiences. And perhaps that’s part of it.

But so often the very craft of writing is a game of overcoming mental barriers. We must learn to have our precious stories critiqued, and then cut and change with a smile. We must be willing to acknowledge that our work ethic sucks, and it’s time to set ourselves a schedule and just slog our way through a daily word count. We must learn to roll with rejection letters, though they sting like hell, and then some.

This week I found that we must walk through the hells of life, and still come to the page willing to write what is real, no matter how much it frightens us, no matter how much it hurts. It is important, so very important, that sometimes our characters fall, and even we the writers think that maybe, this time, they won’t get back up. So that if they do scramble back to their feet, our relief and our admiration will be well earned.

And if they don’t, we will be reminded that when the worst happens, the story goes on.

 

 

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Short Stories Are A Go

Short Stories Are A Go

Hello Bright Ink readers! I’m very excited to tell you that I’ve figured out, with the assistance of my tech team (aka The Hubs) how to make a page for short stories!

If you go to the menu, you’ll now find a link to short stories, and on that page you’ll find a link to my first work of fiction to go up on this site, In-Spiral.

Or, if you don’t feel like doing that, I’ve provided a link to the whole short story page here, and a link to In-Spiral here.

I’m so happy to start sharing my fiction here, and I look forward to sharing much more.

As always, thanks for reading!

Where I’ve Been and What’s Coming Next

Where I’ve Been and What’s Coming Next

Hello, Bright Ink readers!

I haven’t posted in quite a while, and I’m going to take this space to briefly go over why.

Most recently, and most memorably, I had my wisdom teeth extracted. Let’s just say that the subsequent trials, tribulations, and exhaustion have limited my productivity. I’m just proud that I was able to take care of kids’ baths a couple of times this week. As of today, I’m grateful that the swelling in my face is down enough that I no longer look like one of those goldfish with the giant sacks under their eyes.

Just before that I joined some of my coworkers for a writing group, with goals and everything, which has been a wonderful way for me to start generating new ideas.

Coworkers, you might ask? Do you mean your kids? You’re writing with a five-year-old?!

First of all, writing with a five-year-old is not the worst prospect. Just the other day she created a picture book about an alien who visited a family and asked them for a bowl of soup. I’ve certainly heard adults propose much less interesting plots.

But in fact, as of a month ago I started a job. A real job, with training, assignments, coworkers, and a dodgy water cooler. No computer yet, but I’m eagerly awaiting the day that one is finally acquisitioned on my behalf. It’s going to be great. And that, you might think, would be the biggest challenge I’ve dealt with that was keeping me away from my blog, my camera, queries, and writing at large.

Close!

The last big thing, which I just finished today, was photography for my little brother’s wedding. Editing those wonderful photos has consumed most of my free time since I took them a month ago. And as truly happy as I was to take them, sort them, and edit them, I am very glad to be done.

FlowerGirlInATree M&R June2017
Little Miss in her flowergirl dress, climbing a cape myrtle.

So yes, life has been busy, but there seems to be some prospect in the coming weeks of things quieting down and falling into a rhythm. Which isn’t something that’s often been on my horizon, so I’m definitely looking forward to a bit of quiet, even boredom.

That said – I won’t ever be too bored, because I have plenty of projects that I can slide off the backburner and onto the front.

One upcoming project that I’m super excited about is my Wonder Woman armor. As soon as I saw the costumes in the new movie, my urge to craft some of my own became too powerful to resist. That Grecian style skirt, that breastplate, those greaves! There, at last were women, and entire cast of them, wearing real armor. Made sleeker and more stylish, yes, but at its core, what I saw was more like something worthy of being worn in combat than I’d ever seen before.

I did try to talk myself out of the project. I’ve never made my own EVA foam armor before, and it looked like an enormous undertaking. And of course, the fact that Wonder Woman just released means that I risk being one of many. But the opportunity is too good to resist, especially when I searched the internet for any character who wears something remotely similar and came up dry.

I decided to dive in, and I’m so glad I did.

Within a matter of days, I’d wrapped my torso in plastic, covered that in duct tape, and created a pattern.

Duct Tape Pattern
The beginning of my Wonder Woman armor.
Armor Pattern
Making foam armor is surprisingly similar to making a fabric garment. At this step, anyway.

Then I sketched out all the detail pieces on butcher paper.

The details
This was time-consuming, but also lots of fun.

And I cut my EVA foam pieces with a very sharp craft knife. Then I burned up my hair dryer trying to heat the foam pieces enough to shape and glue them, so there was a temporary pause on the whole endeavor while I ordered a heat gun – and a new hair dryer.

Cutting EVA
Yes, that’s a foam floor tile.
Future Armor
Hopefully these will all go together!

It’s been so satisfying to work on something that has a physical end product. And to dig into something so utterly, unabashedly geeky lends its own thrill.

In more writing-related projects, I’m wrapping up a short story that I hope to post here on Bright Ink, with hopefully more to follow.

So, for now that’s it! Hopefully this post will be my return to regular blogging. I’m definitely glad to be back at it, and look forward to keeping you updated on my progress with Wonder Woman.

Thanks for reading!

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.

When I Met Princess Leia

The first time I met Princess Leia, I was in fourth grade. My little sister’s third-grade class was on a huge Star Wars kick, so she picked up A New Hope at the local video rental shop. On a Friday night, she popped the cassette into our VCR, expertly fast-forwarded through commercials, and hit the ‘play’ button right at the opening scroll.

I don’t know at what point I got hooked. It might have been John Williams’ opening fanfare. Maybe it was just the fact that A New Hope threw me right into the action. There was no need to explain who The Galactic Empire was, or The Rebel Alliance. They were fighting, and look, there goes a spaceship! The film was filled with strange creatures, intriguing characters, terrifying enemies, and awe-inspiring weapons. That first viewing launched an obsession that has stood the test of time.

By the time I was in fourth grade, I was already pretty jaded about gender roles. I didn’t play with any of the girls in my class, because acting out real-life scenarios, like cooking dinner or sweeping floors, felt a whole lot like work. The boys might let me re-enact the most recent episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but Catwoman usually took a backseat to the fights between The Dark Knight and The Joker, and within minutes I was a forgotten figure, practicing cartwheels in the grass.

The first sight of Princess Leia in A New Hope didn’t inspire me. Ah. A pretty girl in a white dress. Other than her earmuffs-on-steroids hairstyle, she could have stepped right out of the type of movie where the ladies break out into song about how great it would be to find a nice prince and settle down on a planet with a good education system and live happily ever after.

I probably should have noticed that she was sneaking around on a ship that was under attack by the fearsomely dressed Darth Vader, but hey, I was a fourth grader.

I started to reevaluate my opinion when she shot her first stormtrooper.

Then she went toe-to-toe with the baddest bad guy I’d ever seen. Held captive, diminutive compared to the armored man towering over her, she stood defiant. She responded to his booming voice with courage, and even sass. Didn’t she know that he’d just strangled one of those guys in the funny white helmets? I was scared of Darth Vader, and I was separated from him by a TV screen. Princess Leia, though, seemed more irritated than anything else.

Over the course of A New Hope, Leia kept defying expectations. When threatened with Alderaan’s destruction, her fear was palpable. She mourned her people, her culture – everything that had once been her life.

Han Solo’s reaction to her, as she takes charge of her own rescue mission and orders him to jump down a garbage chute, is perhaps most fascinating. The self-assured, universe-weary rogue stares in wonder. A damsel, yes. In distress, not so much.

I think it’s really easy to forget how revolutionary Princess Leia was, how revolutionary she still is. How many other characters, male or female, dare to rage across the screen as she did in anything other than a moody drama? A million copies have been tried, and a million copies have failed to capture the spirit of the original. Princess Leia stands alone, driven by an inner fury, a singular purpose.

I’ll admit that I didn’t appreciate Princess Leia throughout my Star Wars drenched youth. I wanted too much to identify with the Jedi. The idea of The Force was intoxicating, the buzz of a lightsaber like music. That was what I wanted, and so Princess Leia fell into the background. It was Luke Skywalker I followed most closely, and later, as I delved deeper into the canon, Mara Jade. Anyone who didn’t wield a lightsaber or connect to the power that bound together the fabric of the universe seemed far less interesting to me.

And yet, always Leia was there, and as I got older, I came to appreciate her more and more. Of all the primary characters in the Star Wars universe, she has by far the greatest leadership skills. She commands armies that fight incredible odds against the encroaching darkness of the Empire. She never backs down when she is called on to lead. And she’s never afraid to make bold choices or take risky shots.

She calls upon a friend of her father’s, whom she has never met, to help combat a weapon capable of destroying planets. She jumps down garbage chutes, refuses to abandon the base on Hoth until the last possible moment, disguises herself as a bounty hunter to rescue Han Solo from Jabba’s Palace. She does everything with admirable courage, as well as cunning reason. Maybe Luke Skywalker wasn’t the best choice to be trained as the last Jedi Knight after all, though I suspect Yoda would have found a much more infuriating student in Leia.

These days, as excited as I am to see Rey on the movie screens, as thrilled as I am to see a Jedi Knight of my gender wielding a lightsaber and The Force, I am equally excited to see General Organa Solo. Still commanding armies in the fight for galactic freedom, still dealing with the drama of being a Skywalker with her head held high. It is Leia who, of all the characters in Star Wars, seems the least escapist, the most grounded in a life that looks familiar to me. Yes, she is a high-level politician, but she is also a decision-maker, someone who must face reality as it is, and find the best way through. This can’t be said for many of the characters in the galaxy, who constantly retreat for training, or to recover from massive mis-steps.

I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker.

 

I think it’s the rage, honestly. When I was younger, I was an idealist. Among my friends, I was the most likely to bewail, “But why can’t we all just get along?” I was most likely to quietly explain my Zen point of view when everyone else raged about the difficulty of one of our teacher’s quizzes.

Somewhere in the midst of my young adulthood, I lost my grip on that Zen, and when I did, I found a well of something hot and, to me, terrifying and uncomfortable. I found myself angry at the fact that things hadn’t worked out the way I’d thought they would. The universe, it seemed, had turned on me.

But I shoved that anger down, because it makes people uncomfortable. It didn’t take me long to recognize that. Yelling was not appropriate, was not cute, was a little bit scary. So, as much as I could, I swallowed it. I learned to work through it, to look at things differently, to adjust my expectations.

Now I wonder – would Princess Leia have done all that, or would she have fed her rage and used it to power through, until she set things back on the course she wanted? Probably a little bit of both.

Leia rises up above the title of Princess, and becomes something else. A woman willing to lead, willing to take risks, a woman who refuses to run or back down. More than perhaps anyone else in Star Wars, she fights, unceasingly, for what she believes in. And these days, it is Leia whom I admire most.

The View from Right Here

The View from Right Here

It’s really easy, as an unpublished author, to get caught up in dreams of the future. My goal for a long time now has been to find an agent, find a publisher, and get my work on the shelves. It’s something I’ve imagined since junior high, something I’ve worked towards for years, now. I want to tell my stories to other people, to hear that they’ve enjoyed the journey, or best of all, that it made them think. Or even that they hated it, though that is less desireable.

I want more than just to write. I want to be read. And more than to be read, I want to have a conversation with people. I want them to know my characters, I want them to go on this adventure with me. I want to know what they think might happen next, how they relate to my story, whether or not it has any meaning to them.

So, in some ways, it’s a bit like torture, to have written so much (I’ve finished one novel in a series, and the first draft on the second novel, and I’m working on a third and totally unrelated manuscript, now) and still have only a few readers among my close friends.

But, this is no way to live as a writer, constantly querying and waiting for responses, waiting for that chance to move on to the next step. It’s a recipe for complete frustration. So, I’m trying to cultivate an appreciation for where I am right now. I’m trying to learn to appreciate the view from right here.

 

It’s All Mine

What good is there, in being an unpublished writer? What good is there in existing in this state of longing, without any idea of what might happen next?

First of all, I can write selfishly. I can work on making exactly the kinds of stories I want to make, without the expectation of an audience. No one is standing over my shoulder, anxiously waiting to see the next page, the next paragraph, the next novel, filled with ideas of what it might look like. I can explore every little side path on the way, I can indulge in the kinds of writing I like the best, and no one can tell me that I should do otherwise. I am my only critic and I am one of a very small group who is attached to my work.

If a scene wanders off into strange territory, I am still writing to an amorphous, imagined audience. I don’t have to question what they might think. I don’t have to worry if they’re going to find that scene or that character’s actions difficult to believe. Because I know when I start thinking about that, the way I write will change, and the paths I decide to take will be different.

If what I want to write is a long, dialogue-free scene about a character wandering through the forest and contemplating the meaning of her choices, I can. I can appreciate how beautiful a scene like that is, without worrying that it doesn’t fit the overall tone of the book, or that it isn’t what my readers expect. I might have to cut it later, but for now I can write it, fully invested, because it’s what I want to write. I can describe it down to the pebbles in the creek where she stops for lunch. I can detail everything she eats, and never wonder if perhaps it’s a little silly.

So, there is undoubtedly a freedom to being an unpublished author. I’m under no obligation to please a large audience. No one is investigating my work, seeking minutiae to critique, the places where my voice rings false, the grammatical errors, the plot holes. It is only my own criticism that matters, at this point, mine and the occasional beta reader.

 

Room to Fall

Then, there are the mistakes. For now, I’m allowed to make them in front of a small audience. When my writing is very bad, when I put on paper a character who isn’t as rich and complex as I’d like, it’s a small audience that witnesses my errors. When I write something downright confusing, I still have time and space to go into my manuscript and make improvements.

I can take risks, without concern about what my critics will say. I have room to learn new techniques, with no agent, no editor, no publisher, no audience to tell me what direction I should take, what makes for a good voice or style. There is a place in my writing for falling down and getting back up, unseen.

Yes, this means there are very few who can tell me exactly where I might be going wrong, or exactly how to fix it, but it also means I can learn for myself. There is a frustration in that, but also joy, and ownership of success when I get it right.

I like writing without the burden of abundant criticism. Yes, those critiques are necessary to making progress in writing, but some of them are just plain wrong. Like that time I was told by a critique partner that I ought to read George R.R. Martin to learn how to build descriptions.

Yeah, I’ve read George Martin, and while what he does is incredibly good, it’s not my style, and not what I’m aiming for.

It’s tough, though, to sort out the useful criticism from the bad, and even knowing that some of the critiques I’ve gotten have been way off track, it still stings a little. I’m not trying to write Game of Thrones, but the fact that someone found my writing lacking, even if their suggestion for fixing it was awful, isn’t so easy to deal with.

So yes, being able to make mistakes in my own time, and being able to correct them as I prefer, is a huge advantage to being a writer without an agent, without a publisher, without a paying audience.

 

Writing in Shadows

Then, there is the wonder of possessing a secret, a secret that most of the world doesn’t even know to ask about yet. I hold my books, all the events in them, and all the places where they might go, in my hands and in my head. It is in my power to talk to my friends and family about the story that I’ve written, but I don’t.

This is mostly because I’m a writer, and not because I love keeping secrets. I am actually a terrible secret-keeper, under most circumstances. The only reason my stories aren’t bouncing out into the world is because I can barely string together the words to describe the plot without a piece of paper in front of me. I write better than I talk, and so for the most part what I’ve written is locked away.

Still, it is all my secret. Every word, good or bad, still belongs to me and no one else. And there is something special, rare, and wonderful in that knowledge, even as I experience the frustration of being in a fandom of one. All the rough edges and all the beautiful moments lie in the dark, known only to me. They are mine, as wholly as an unborn child belongs to its mother.

 

The Mundane

Finally, there are all the obligations of being a published author – a successful published author, anyway. The public appearances, the book signings, all the I-don’t-even-know-what. I can see, even from where I stand, that being an author is about a whole lot more than just writing whatever you like. There are other people to please, and many places to go.

Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, typing up my meandering thoughts on what I like about my current writing life. I’m wearing Yoga pants, my sweater (a blanket with sleeves, if we’re being really honest), lunch beside me, my kids playing nearby. It’s not ideal for concentration, perhaps, but it’s comfortable. Far more comfortable than having to go out in the world and convince other people that my book is one they want to put on their reading list.

I’m more than willing to do all these things when the time comes, but for now, it’s nice that I don’t have to.

 

Going Out

I look forward to that brave and wonderful moment when a book that I’ve written goes out into the world. I don’t think I will ever stop seeking that achievement. I’ve certainly pursued it longer than I imagined I would when I started on this journey.

But I also am trying to savor where I am right now. I’m enjoying the freedoms that I have, the comfortably obscure corners in which I write. Because the view from right here isn’t so bad.

Quick Meals for Busy Days

For most of my life, I ignored the daily task of cooking. It seemed like a dull job, and one that I didn’t care to spend much of my time on. Other people threw pasta into boiling water, broke ground beef into bits, and baked potatoes, and I was fine with eating whatever resulted.

This sounds a little snooty, I guess, but the truth is that cooking wasn’t something to which I gave any thought. Food happened, I ate it, and that was that. When I needed to make food, I usually dumped it out of a can and threw it into the microwave. I went a long time surviving on ramen noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, spaghetti, and Campbell’s soup.

This is a radical change from the way I eat, now. Right this very moment, the smell of baking bread is wafting through my house, a loaf that I made from scratch. I can roast whole chickens; make my own broth; whip up cookies, cupcakes, and ice-cream; and even serve up fresh, home-made pasta noodles. If I have a recipe for it, I can make it, and sometimes I can make it even if I don’t have a recipe.

It turns out I love delicious, complicated food.

Of course, as much as I would love to have hours every day to work on cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, the reality is that I don’t. There are diapers to change, books to read, walks to take, letters to learn, laundry to do, a job to prepare for, and stories to write. Sometimes I look at the clock, and I can’t believe that dinner time is fast approaching. And if I’m in the middle of an intense writing sprint, then I definitely have to cut down the time that dinner takes.

When life gets busy, though, I have built up a list of recipes that I turn to that are super quick while still satisfying my foodie needs. And now, I will share those recipes with you. Also, so I can look at this page when I’m trying to remember all these amazing meals.

First up are a few recipes from the site Half Baked Harvest. This is my go-to site when I want a recipe that is rich and flavorful, and Tieghan Gerard has never let me down. I’m eagerly anticipating the upcoming cookbook, which is guaranteed to be packed with delicious food.

A lot of recipes here are longer and complicated, but a few of them are so ridiculously fast, and these are the ones I go to when I’m busy.

15 minute Bangkok Peanut Mango Pasta is low in ingredients, really fast to throw together, and also delicious. I’ve even substituted soba noodles for the pasta, which makes it even faster, and it came out great.

Fast Recipes for Busy Writers - Peanut Mango Pasta
Oh so tasty.

If hearty Italian fare is what you’re craving, then Crockpot Tuscan Sausage and White Bean Ragu with Buttered Gnocci just cannot be beat. It takes a little planning to get everything in the slow cooker in the morning, but then in the evening you just need to cook up some gnocci (or if your family hates gnocci like my very strange family, any other kind of pasta) and scoop the sauce on top. This meal is ridiculously decadent, good enough for guests, hearty enough to serve a crowd, and just plain delicious.

Then, there’s Crockpot Salsa Verde Chicken Pozole, which is not only fast, it’s also fun to make. You need a food processor for this one, or you can cheat and buy canned salsa verde. I do recommend trying it as written at least once, though, because that fresh-roasted salsa verde is awesome.

If you want to explore some more, then here’s a whole listing of all the quick recipes from Half Baked Harvest. Just try not to drool all over your keyboard as you scroll through.

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Okay, I’m back from scrolling through all that beautiful food photography.

If you’re looking for something even faster that you also want to eat on a hot summer day, then the Greek Tortellini Salad from Two Peas and Their Pod is great. It is also a huge hit with my kids, once Little Dude has picked out the tomatoes. The Hubs picks out the cucumbers. He says the smell reminds him of copperhead snakes, which I say is weird.

Some other basic recipes that come together super fast, but are still satisfying include baked potatoes with toppings (I always follow Alton Brown’s method, and my potatoes come out great every time), veggie and cheese frittatas, and lentil beans over rice with naan on the side. All of these recipes are incredibly versatile, adaptable to a wide range of flavors and ingredients, and are also satisfying. When I’m cooking for my family, these are all necessary qualities.

As for that bread I talked about earlier, I often follow standard recipes because my stand mixer does such a great job taking care of the kneading that I don’t expend much effort. But, when time is lacking, I love using the recipes in the book The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The theory is that one can stir together a huge batch of very wet dough, let the yeast go to work for a couple of hours, and then throw the dough into the refrigerator to use at any time in the next two weeks. I’ll admit that I was skeptical of how bread would come out without at least a little bit of kneading, but the results so far have been great. In the last week I’ve used a rye recipe to make a loaf of plain rye, a loaf of muesli bread, a loaf of granola bread, and a loaf with cranberries. Being able to pull some dough out of the refrigerator, add in a few extra ingredients, and then throw it in the oven is addictive.

Oh, and using the dough for a pizza crust resulted in the best pizza I’ve ever made at home.

fast meals for writers
This pizza was ridiculously fast and easy.

And finally, my number one resource for fast, gourmet-tasting recipes is Sheet Pan Suppers. This is the cookbook on my shelf that sees the most use. I pull it off the shelf at least once a week, which is a ton for me. Most of the recipes are incredibly quick, and the flavor they pack for the time they take is on a whole other level. Some of my favorites include the Curried Chicken with Califlower, Apricots & Olives; Warm Tuna Nicoise Salad; Soy-Mustard Salmon & Broccoli; Cilantro-Lime Steamed Halibut & Spicy Coconut Rice; Fancy Tuna Melts; Thick-Cut Pork Chops With Warm Apple-Cabbage Slaw; Pepperoni French Bread Pizza; Hearty Ratatouille with Goat Cheese; and Smoked Cheddar & Apple Grilled Cheese.

Yes, I love this book. It introduces some really great techniques that make for delicious results. Seriously, you can’t beat making six grilled-cheese sandwiches at a time in the oven.

When I’m busy and hungry, then these are the recipes that I turn to. They all satisfy my desire for flavorful food, fit my family’s tastes as well, and come together fast. They are basically the perfect NaNoWriMo recipes for my fellow foodies. To say the least, I’ve tested all of them extensively, and they’ve never let me down. So, if you’re looking for some satisfying meals during your next writing sprint, then I recommend you try some of these.

Plus, I’m always on the lookout for more recipes. Do you have a list of favorite meals for busy evenings? If so, I’d love to hear about them!