The Chocolate Pyramid

choco pyramid pink polka dot

At the corner of Halloween and getting an agent, it seemed an appropriate time to bring this out.

Reposted from my tumblr.

When I learned that my manuscript made a reader I’ve never met or spoken to laugh and cry multiple times — in GIFs

First I was like:

image

Then I was like:

image

and:

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and:

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and:

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I’d say “My work here is done,” but it isn’t. Cause revisions.

And that whole publication thing.

But still.

–Reposted from my tumblr.

Word Counts vs. Balance

I recently mentioned that with my WIP (my shortest yet) I have had some difficulty hitting my previous daily word counts. While in top form (i.e., during Nanowrimo when I am pushing myself) I can write upwards of 1,700 words a day, with my current project I am rarely making it over 1,200, and usually call it good after 1,000. So lately I’ve been asking myself: What is this? Is there something wrong with me? Am I settling for less? Am I lowering the standard? Why aren’t I pushing myself to do more, and should I be?

The answer: Perhaps– but I also think word count isn’t everything, and that there is merit in dividing my time more evenly between Writing and Things That Are Not Writing, because the latter feeds the former.

To arrive at a more conclusive answer, let’s examine some of the other ways I’ve been spending  potential writing time during the first draft of this novel, and whether those ways add to or detract from the writing experience.

Non-writing ways I commonly spend potential writing time:

  1. Exercise. Physical health is hugely influential in mental and creative energy. Use of time: GOOD
  2. Social activities. Recreation is fun, different environments are stimulating, and the meeting of minds invites new ideas and innovation. Use of time: GOOD
  3. Netflix. Stories on the screen. It’s like visual reading? Use of time: SUSPICIOUS
  4. Reading. Writing is a language and a craft, and studying it is how you learn. Use of time: GOOD
  5. Tumblr. It’s, er, author social media. And I get to see what my favorite authors are doing! And book news! And agent advice! And clever GIF sets! GIFs = laughter = soul medicine OKAY OKAY OKAY, Use of time: MORTIFYING
  6. Art projects. The right brain wants its turn, too, and there is little more spiritually nourishing/creatively regenerative than music + colors/pens/magazine scraps to paper. Or, you know, Photoshop. Or, uh…learning to make GIF sets for Tumblr… Use of time: GENERALLY GOOD

In the end I feel it is a game of balance. If you push yourself too hard, you will burn out and close up and struggle to get any words on the page. Conversely, if you spend too much time on Netflix or in Tumblrland, you will never write anything.

CONCLUSION: I could probably be getting more writing done. Since timed sprints (particularly 45 minute ones) have been working for me lately, I am going to try to fit in at least one more of those each day. I think we should be mindful of our distractions, but at the same time not give so much of ourselves to our writing that it ends up being counterproductive. Balance is key.

From Chaos Comes Order, or: This is How You Write

This is something I have come to realize recently. I mean, really realize:

Writing is messy.

There’s simply no right way to do it. (There are, however, plenty of wrong ones: baking cookies, watching Dexter, and checking your email every seven minutes to see if Mr./Ms. Agent has finished reading your manuscript among them.)

You start with an idea. Probably a half-baked one, if even. We may be talking quarter or eighth or sixteenth-baked here.

The good (or stress-inducing, depending on your perspective) news is that you’ve got another fractionally-baked idea to pair it with. Yay! A salt and pepper set!

And then there are all those other little fragments of something rattling around in your head like broken filaments or a pick stuck inside a guitar. They want to be part of your story, too.

You shake all the pieces out, line them up on the carpet. Really, it’s a bit like emptying one of those $19.99 Everything jars from Goodwill onto the floor and looking at all the Legos and buttons and friendship beads and Canadian money and googly eyes and plastic dinosaurs and popsicle sticks with the jokes on them and stale candy and God knows what and saying, From this I shall build a DeLorean. A sane person would answer: You’re off your rocker and halfway to the moon.

But somehow you string the pieces together. Somehow your choking hazard avalanche of disparate ideas and disorder becomes an outline, then a draft, and then a novel. Give or take 3-300 revisions between.

How do you get from Chaos to finished product? It’s a mystery to me, and frankly some kind of miracle. But there are a few things that do seem to help:

  1. Time. Ideas need to steep. Suggestions need to sit. Parts need to come together. Most of which is outside the actual writing.
  2. Effort. Sometimes the only way to find the path that works is to try all the ones that don’t first. Multiply x 3,756 for all the individual challenges/creative problem-solving issues you might encounter in a single novel.
  3. Determination. Just keep showing up. And showing up. And showing up. You have to work and work some more until it’s done.

Those are the bases. Your ideas are the flavor.

What you make (and how) is up to you.

 

A Good Writing Day (A Second Person Adventure)

It might begin around mid-morning or noon: You notice that you’re still in pajamas, or perhaps that you haven’t any pants on. No matter; you’ve brushed your hair and your teeth and are therefore not a total disgrace. You’ll dress when you finish this passage. Keep writing.

You resolve, as tasks fleetingly cross your mind, that today you will 1) update your blog 2) call the eye doctor/dentist/other professional 3) practice French, play guitar, and exercise 4) sew that button, write that letter, do the laundry, etc.  …When you get to a stopping point.

It occurs to you the mail’s arrived. Meh. It can wait.

The phone rings. You don’t answer it. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

Cat claws the door. Okay, must break for cat. You know, being a diva, that she’ll just jump up on the desk and wedge herself between you and the keyboard until you adore her, anyway. Take this opportunity to save and backup MS via Dropbox. She’ll lose interest in T-minus five.

(Five minutes later) Why are clothes so hard to choose? You kick yourself for not being dressed yet, but can’t stay in front of the closet long enough to pick out things that match. Every time you try to think of what you’ll wear with C shirt another sentence comes to you and you have to write it down before it slips away. Ms. Muse so rarely whispers; to ignore her would be like ignoring a hummingbird, or the harvest moon, or a diamond that washed in with the tide.

Your phone blinks with notices: new message, low battery, missed call. You turn it over and return to your dialogue.

At some point you glimpse your pajamas strewn across the bed. You suppose that means you are dressed now.

You don’t eat lunch until 3:00 and don’t eat dinner at all, even though your stomach reminds you every hour on the hour after 8:00 that you’ve forgotten something. You run out of water but can’t tear yourself from the word document to refill your glass. You won’t even leave to go to the bathroom. Who knows when you last went?

The room is suddenly dark. You realize the sun has gone down. That can’t be good for the eyes. You flip on a light and sit back for a little refresher, reach for a drink. You remember your glass is empty. Your bladder, however, takes the occasion to remind you that it is not. Still, you’re on a roll. If only you could finish this paragraph and transition to the next scene…

The chair grows rigid and uncomfortable. You remember reading somewhere that people who sit for more than three hours a day have a shorter life expectancy. You shift and adjust and straighten and slouch and put up your knees and put down your knees and still the cursor and blank space mock you. Blink. Blank. GAH!

You get up. Pace. Glare at the computer and spin away again, hold your face in your hands. Deep breath. You’re going to finish this scene, dammit. You exhale, look hopelessly up at the ceiling, then–

Breakthrough!

Back in the chair. You’re clicking keys like a demon now, unstuck and ravenous. Ooh, this is good. Oh my god, why didn’t you think of this sooner? THIS IS PERFECT! You’re on fire! Clackity clack clack clack…

Finally, with sore wrists and an aching back you crack your neck, sit up straight, and review what you have written. It isn’t perfect, but it isn’t unhandsome, either. You pick up your glass and find it’s still empty. You set it back down and keep writing.

At last you hit save. Dinner (bread and a cookie, or something made in a mug) is eaten; one of ten things you planned to do today plus a shower are achieved.

You collect your pajamas, still strewn on the bed, and slip back into them. You then slip into bed, pull the covers up, and sit. You take a long drink from your refilled glass of water; check your email, or your phone, or the things you didn’t get to in your planner. You’re tired but not sleepy. You might read a while.

…Then again, the shower knocked a few ideas loose. Why not try them while they’re fresh in your head?

You open your MS and write.

On Buying Used Books…With Inscriptions

I love secondhand shops. Bookstores, boutiques, or Goodwill– doesn’t matter. A) I love a good bargain and B) You never know what you’ll find. Every visit is a treasure hunt. That’s half the fun!

Well, last weekend my exploits turned up this journal:

book of kells_0001

Um. GORGEOUS, no?

It’s a Paperblanks hardcover journal. If you’ve ever browsed among the blank leather and hardback volumes at your local bookstore, you know how ridiculously lavish these can be. This one is 128 lined pages, measures 9.1 x 6.6 inches, and weighs about a pound. The uh-MAZ-ing cover– what first caught my eye– is an illustration from the Book of Kells, a manuscript from the Middle Ages whose real and historical counterpart resides at Trinity College, Dublin.

The book was in excellent condition, and all of its pages were blank. Even if half the pages had been scribbled in, for the right price I still probably would have bought it. The illustrations enchanted me from the moment I laid eyes on them and when I read the description on the inner back cover I knew the book in my hands was high quality–probably worth at least $25-$35 new (Fact: It retails on Amazon from anywhere from $65 to $539.80.)

So why the devil was it only $1.99?

I opened the front cover.

book of kells_0002

Oh.

Well, obviously I bought the journal anyway. My thought process went something like this:

  1. Oh.
  2. Well, that could be papered over.
  3. Hang on– inscriptions are cool. I like inscriptions. They add a sort of richness, a historical presence; a story beyond the story. I mean, “wuv” is not the most decorated of all prose, but still. It’s the principal.
  4. Yeah, but what if somebody picked up the journal and read the inscription and was like, “Hey Julie, who’s this Mate (Maté?) person? You don’t know any Mate. What is this? You shrewd bargain-hunting, journal-snatching weirdo, you.”
  5. Psh. That’s not gonna happen.
  6. Probably.
  7. But what if the reason the previous owner never wrote in the journal is something bad? A death, a falling out with this Mate person? Tragedy?
  8. All the more poignant. Such is the human experience. Is that something to be papered over?
  9. They could have just been bad at keeping a journal.
  10. Whatever. $1.99.
  11. Iiiii’m going to blog about this.

So now I have, and I turn the question to you: What are your thoughts on buying used books with inscriptions in them? Does a personalized note with strangers’ names add value to the book for you, or detract from it?

Words of the Week 3/12/2014

This week’s words:

ineffectual adj. not producing the desired effect

apostate n. one who renounces a principle or belief; one who forsakes a cause

barbarous adj. savagely cruel, brutal; uncivilized (much as it sounds: barbaric)

dissimulation n. deception; disguising or concealing one’s true thoughts, motives, feelings, etc.

pullulating adj. swarming, teeming, sprouting with ~

In use (Hey! I made a short story this week!):

“Is it supposed to do that?” asked John, poking at his and Greg’s pullulating science project with a ruler.

Greg watched the Jello bubble and froth, beginning to panic. “‘Course it is,” he replied.

Thinking their strawberry lava volcano a failure, the pair had gone ahead and emptied the box of baking soda inside it. At first nothing happened; it appeared ineffectual.

Then the mass had started to swell.

“I don’t believe you,” said John, not fooled for a moment by his friend’s dissimulation.

Greg said nothing. The Jello was rising.

“Crap!” said John, and began to run in panicked circles as strawberry gelatin bubbled and spat. “Crap!” he said again. “My mom’s gonna kill me if it gets on the carpet!”

“Told you we should’ve done it in the garage,” said Greg.

“You did not!”

“Did so.”

John stopped spinning and clutched his head.

“Oh, stop,” said Greg. “It’s just Jello. Nothing a little Tide-To-Go can’t fix. Besides, you’re exaggerating. Your mom wouldn’t kill you over a carpet. A Persian rug is nicer than your average flooring, I’ll admit, but surely the gentle lady would not be so barbarous as t– “

“OH GOD,” said John, voice breaking as the Jello began to spurt out the volcano’s top.

Seeing no other option, he snatched the board it was mounted on and sprinted for the nearest door.

“Hey!” Greg yelled after him. “You’re messing up the results!”

“AHHHHH!” John replied, Jello spewing after him.

Apostate!” Greg called.

John didn’t answer.

Lame,” said Greg, sadly shaking his head at the globs of Jello strewn over the coffee table.

A rug! A rug! Their project for a rug!

This Is Madness, or: Julie’s Outline Process of DOOM

I’m currently preparing to write my third novel, and as I go I find myself marveling at the madness of the process.

I don’t know what it looks like when other writers set out to develop a book idea or draft an initial outline, but for me it’s a bit like watching a star form out of Chaos. First two random hunks of rock hurtling through space and time and life collide (Idea!) and then there’s this magnetic pull: slight at first, and then strong, stronger, and finally berserk. The gravity that’s been ignited is the initial idea drawing other pieces, fragments of the story to it. The pieces fly to one another and fuse, arranging and building on themselves with unstoppable electric energy, and the gravity of the gathering mass increases until the particles whooshing toward it fly so fast they could shatter bones. And then, when the parts have gathered and shaped themselves and the dust has settled, there it is: Your Story.

Or rather: Outline #1.

That’s right. Everything I’ve just described– the forming of a microcosm unto itself–

Yep, “Eyjafjallajökull,” about accurately describes it–

is what I see happen whenever I go about planning a book.

To understand me, one has merely to refer to one of the sprawling documents that is my starting outline. I sometimes save these documents as “Book Title – Master doc,” but “master” could not be a balder misnomer. The first outline is sheer madness.

What Julie’s initial outline for a book looks like:

It starts with a single detail or a vague idea. A few main events follow. Perhaps a series of details I think I’ll need to refer back to: the phases and dates of an MC’s rotating art class, the items she has with her when she stumbles into another world. After that a numbered list; a collection of sentences that begin with the word “maybe”; a handful of homeless puzzle pieces.

And then, oh, I don’t know, a 74-itemed working list of all the story’s events in haphazard chronological order? But only if said list is replete with dozens of sub letters, highlighted sentences, half-written passages and dialogues, snippets of text turned blue or pink or green or in brackets. And ah– let’s not forget times and dates, where applicable.

After that disorientation, another two pages of questions, backstory, orphaned details and yet more sentences that begin with “maybe” should follow. Insert bullet list for good measure.

Finally, after a few nonsensical equations (Cat = Lulu) and at least one BIG REVEAL!, a portion of text near the end which is bolded and then promptly forgotten.

Then: When all this is achieved, work should be done exclusively from the document’s middle.

This is an approximation of what past and present starting outlines have looked like for me. Like I said, chaos.

And yet somehow, out of this mindstorm of confusion and debris and disorder within disorder, a story is born. It might take a few drafts– hell, it might take a few outlines– but eventually that initial groundwork translates into a single, coherent, easily-read and satisfying novel.

Your Book.

If that’s not a human miracle, I don’t know what is.