Active Daydreaming: When do your thoughts fly?

So today I was working out– running and listening to music– with a new book idea in the back of my mind. At some point, I started thinking about that book. I started thinking about the main character and who she was and how she behaves and what’s in her past and these scenes, these tiny glimpses of her life just began to reveal themselves to me. I started seeing relationships between things, characters, picturing events. After a while I looked up and was stunned to see 30 minutes was nearly up. I had totally tuned out my music, though my body was still running in time with it. I had been in THE ZONE.

One of my biggest rules for idea development is to spend time in places you can hear yourself think. This invites the mind to wander, to slip into domino thought streams and envision and invent, but I must admit, getting into active daydream mode (where your ideas freely leap from one to the next for any real stretch of time) is something I find much harder to do on command than not. Near impossible to do before a word processor.

The reason I wanted to share today’s experience (other than sheerly marveling that wow, that actually happens sometimes) is that to ask other writers: Do you notice any pattern about when your mind seems to open up the most (e.g., when you do dishes, exercise, read, etc.)? When parts of the story come at you of their own volition? I once read that Stephen King walks for three hours every day, thinking about his books. Maybe there’s something to it.

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Write, Doubt, Write, Repeat

Doubt is such a funny, fickle thing.

One day I know that boy, I have a lot of work to do, but I’ll figure everything out eventually. Another it’s WOOOOP WOOOOP EMERGENCY THIS IS NOT A DRILL PROBLEMS ABOUND AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SOLVE THEM TAKE SHELTER AND PREPARE FOR IMPACT NOW.

The next I’ll come up with a fix. It’ll take me totally by surprise and reassure me to the moon.

The day after I’ll be sitting with my finger poised over send, biting my lip and sweating and second guessing everything because oh my god, someone else is going to read this, and maybe it seemed decent yesterday but it actually isn’t and I’ve read it so many times I can’t tell anymore and ahhHhHhHHhh I don’t know I just help?!?!????! (Eventually reason kicks in: This is why I’m getting outside feedback. I get the feedback; I make it better; life goes on.)

Here is what I’m coming to see: Doubt is a part of the process. But it’s not a one time step, knock it out of the way and you’re done; it’s a thread. It weaves through everything you do, every step of the way. It can come at any stage, at any strength, for any duration of time—and evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Being a writer means confronting your doubts again, and again, and again. It can be scary. It can be nerve-wracking.

But it can also be incredibly rewarding.

So the next time doubt swamps you, give yourself some credit and keep writing.

You’re right on track.

LOOK WHAT I BOUGHT TODAY

THE RESEARCH MAGNIFICENT, by H.G. Wells, author of The War of the Worlds. Published 1915. Not only is this book a first edition; it is a ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD first edition. One hundred years! This book has been around longer than most people alive today! It is a crazy and wonderful and thrilling thing to me to hold this artifact from another time in my hands, to inhale the smell of ink and yellow pages and think of those who may have read it before me. And best of all: I found it secondhand for $2.99. $ 2 . 9 9 !11!1!!1!!!!! </end geekout>

Well that was unexpected.

Whittling away at my To-Read List, my three most recent reads were this:

  1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka [depressing]
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green [more depressing]
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath [MAIN CHARACTER TRIES TO KILL HERSELF.]

I don’t know if you’re familiar with these books, but if not, let me break it down for you:

The Metamorphosis is about a guy who wakes up one morning as a monster– something like a beetle– and becomes totally useless and repulsive to his family.  They keep him locked out of sight in his room, feed him scraps and crumbs, and when he gets out he tends to upset the guests. (It’s unclear whether Gregor has had a mental lapse or is actually a bug. Some scholars think the story is a metaphor for the life of a writer. HOW ENCOURAGING.)

The Fault in Our Stars is about children (well, okay, mostly snarky teenagers) with cancer.

The Bell Jar is about a woman who loses interest in life and tries to kill herself, only to be sent to shock therapy and later institutionalized. NOT FUN FACT: author Sylvia Plath struggled with depression herself, and ended her life shortly after the book was published.

Now, while The Fault in Our Stars admittedly also made me laugh aloud more than any other book I can remember, isolationism, cancer, and mental illness are all pretty depressing subjects. Stack the three back to back and add several chapters about the violence-ridden dealings of an organized crime family (my latest beta reading which, despite its dark nature, I am very much enjoying) and you’ll get something close to the DOOM CLOUDS OF MISERY AND DEVASTATION brewing over my head.

Anyway, as I was finishing up The Bell Jar, I got an email saying that my latest library reservation was in.

Me: Oh thank god. Finally I can end this sadness.

*Opens email to see what book is in*

Me: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The Good News: despite the morbid nature of the title and the fact that there is a dismembered arm on the cover, I’m 61 pages in and can safely report that the book is HILARIOUS. Turns out David Wong, the eponymous main character and listed author of John Dies at the End, is the pseudonym of Jason Pargin, the editor in chief of Cracked.com.

THANK JESUS.

End of the World Top 12: Literary Edition

It’s the end of the week and soon the end of the year. This Forum Friday, seven days before the infamous 12/21 lock-up-your-daughters, grab-your-torch-and-pitchforks, oh frabjous day, callooh, callay, Mayan calendar termination bonanza I’m welcoming nominations for literary favorites of 2012.

Here’s how it works: below are twelve categories. Nominate your personal favorites (something that you personally read/experienced this year; not necessarily items published in 2012) for any or all of the categories by commenting below – or create and post your own list of favorites on your blog (but be sure to leave a link here so I can include your nominations!).

Next week I will publish the results, “winners” being items mentioned most – but I will also list all nominations each category received (unless I am swamped by a massive storm of response and/or I fall into a chocolate orange, eggnog-induced coma in the next several days) so we can all see what everybody else recommends!

And if there is little/no reader response…well then, I’ll just publish my own favorites, merci beaucoup 🙂

The categories for End of the World Top 12: Literary Edition are as follows:

  1. Favorite Word.
  2. Favorite Poem.
  3. Favorite Song. (Because a really good song is just poetry with instrumental accompaniment, right?)
  4. Favorite Short Story.
  5. Favorite Play.
  6. Favorite Nonfiction.
  7. Favorite Modern Novel.
  8. Favorite Classic Novel.
  9. Favorite Inspiration. Think author talks, TED talks, articles and videos.
  10. Favorite Literary Event. Did you attend a reading? A Shakespeare festival or a book-signing?
  11. Favorite Literary Spoof/Parody. Think Wizard People and Twilight fan vids.
  12. Best Personal Literary Achievement. Did you write 5,000 words in a day? Win a contest, NaNoWriMo, or get published in a literary magazine? Self-publish? Rave here!

That’s it! Chime in and come again next week to see the results!

Forum Friday: What Banned Books Have You Read?

This Friday, my fellow readers, writers, and bloggers, let’s get our hands dirty.

Let’s talk contraband.

This week (September 30 to October 6) is Banned Books Week in the United States. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this is an annual event among the national book community that celebrates the ability to read freely and aims to fight censorship by drawing attention to banned and challenged titles.

My Forum Friday question for you, then, is this: what controversial titles have you read? (And which did you like best? Which are you hoping to read next?)

If you need some ideas check out the following resources:

  1. The ten most challenged titles of 2011, according to bannedbooksweek.org
  2. The 100 most frequently challenged books (1990-1999), as listed by the American Library Association
  3. The 100 most banned and challenged books (2000-2009), again by the American Library Association

Your favorite contraband might be popular titles– children’s, young adult, or adult fiction, anything is game!– like these, which are banned novels I have read:

  • The Hunger Games
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird
  • Brave New World
  • Harry Potter (series)
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Killing Mr. Griffin
  • Bless Me, Ultima
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Kite Runner
  • Speak
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Julie of the Wolves
  • Goosebumps (series)
  • The Outsiders
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • Lord of the Flies

And finally, the one that made me say “WHAT?”, #87:

  • Where’s Waldo?

(I kid you not.)

Of those– oh, how could I choose a favorite?– I grew up on Julie of the Wolves, and then the entire Harry Potter series; but Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Flowers for Algernon and Catcher in the Rye are all literary gems and have haunted and stayed with me for many years (except in the case of Brave New World, which I am actually reading for the first time right now). I love them all.

One banned title that I really want to read (but I don’t even think has been released in the US– I read about it in The Guardian) is Julian Assange’s unauthorized autobiography.

How about you?

Writing Challenge, Day 8: Ghosts, Superhorses, and Sock Monsters

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 8: How old were you when you started writing? What did you write?

I started writing in grade school. To be honest, memories of my earliest work are vague, but here is what I recall:

1st or 2nd grade

I wrote a short story having to do with Halloween and ghosts. I found ghosts to be simply fascinating at the time and, along with writing about them on paper, may or may not have scribbled the occasional crayon illustration on my wall…

As would portend to much of my future writing, however, I grew frustrated with the piece and never finished it. Two hours is a LONG TIME for a six year old to keep her butt in the chair!

3rd grade

Although I didn’t know what it was until a good seven or eight years later, it was at this age that I first wrote fan fiction. I was BIG into Judy Blume and her Fudge books at the time and my favorite character from them was Sam. I remember admiring Sam’s mischievous genius—particularly the way he once pretended to dislike all his pajamas just so he could see, with each item he refused to wear, the looks of frustration on his parents’ faces grow crazier and more disgusted. He found it amusing. This scheming prankster was one of my childhood heroes and I determined to pen more misadventures for him.

I also remember envisioning (but never actually wrote) the first scenes for a book that would be comparable to Jaws. I resolved that people would read this book and be astonished a nine-year-old had written it. I imagine I was also proud that I knew what ‘astonished’ meant.

4th grade

Influenced by my favorite 2nd grade book Ghost Horse (which I have since searched for and been unable to locate—the author’s name was something like Jannie Lee Simner or Janie Lee Simmer…) and other horse adventure books, I started my very own story of a girl and her magical horse. NO JOKE. THEY COULD COMMUNICATE TELEPATHICALLY AND EVERYTHING.

4th-5th grade:

It was around this time that I made my first earnest attempts at poetry. I wrote about deep and meaningful subjects such as starlight, snowfall, and the laundry monster that ate all my socks.

Many years and many more writing endeavors have passed. I’d like to think I’m a little more grounded these days (none of this sock monster, superhorse nonsense) but I do still tend to begin many more projects than I am humanly capable of finishing. Three chapters into a novel I start a short story that takes me over a month to write the first draft of and then somehow, in the middle of that, I decide it’s a good idea to start an offbeat and possibly publishable third project. True story; this is my current predicament. Somebody slap me!