Happy Weekend

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The temperatures dropped into the 40s and 50s this week, which means I’ve been wearing my fall boots every day along with a wool coat and scarf. I am beyond excited. To go along with the fall weather, tomorrow we’re going pumpkin and apple picking like we do every year. Then we’re hitting up IKEA to look at a potential new sofa, then tomorrow night is the ballet! Sunday will hopefully look a lot like that photo above, from my Instagram.

How do people find the time to write or devote themselves to their creative pursuits with a full-time job? I only really have Sundays, when all is said and done. Sundays are my writing days. I’ve come to love them even more than I did before, it’s the day I look forward to the most, but it’s also a lot of pressure for one day. I tend to beat myself up a bit if, when I finally emerge for dinner after locking myself at my desk for the day, I haven’t written “enough.” I recently read that a first time author’s novel shouldn’t exceed 80-100k words, which is both a good end point and also insanely daunting. It took me a year to get to 31k, and that’s not an accurate representation because of all the sucky parts I’m going to have to cut. Does someone have a magic wand? Or perhaps a grant equal to my salary + benefits they can bestow on me so I can take a year off and work on nothing but this novel?

What are you up to this weekend? Make it a good one, kiddos!

What Makes a Good Book?

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A little book update: I’ve been writing this book for a over a year now (a whole year! my god that went fast!) (inconsistently at best, there were more than a few months when I didn’t touch it at all) and have only managed to eke out 65 pages, or 27k-ish words. Only. I know that’s an accomplishment not worth diminishing, but sometimes it feels like nothing instead of something. Why can’t it go faster? Why can’t I get it all out of my head and onto paper? I’m toying with the idea of joining a writing group this winter, for moral support alone. There are fits and starts to this whole process, and then periods of quiet so buzzingly loud it makes you crazy. The silence is the worst. I’ve been sleeping with my notebook and pen in bed next to me, just in case the all-too-frequent midnight burst of inspiration wakes me, and I can capture every word (even if they don’t make sense in the morning).

But I’ve been wondering: what makes a good book? Is it just relatable characters? A believable plot? Flowery prose? There is no universal equation, as everyone wants and expects something different out of the books they read, and it’s why some people love one author but hate another, despite that author’s mainstream popularity. What do you want out of a book? Do you want to recognize something inside of you within those pages? Do you want an escape? A nicely resolved, tied-up-with-a-bow ending? Or is it enough to read something and know someone wrote the very best book they could? Is that enough? Have I worn you out with questions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Story Coaster

storycoaster_gsniderGrant Snider for the NY Times

I saw this illustration at the back of the Book Review in this weekend’s paper and actually laughed out loud. I think I lost it at the “plot hole” loop-de-loop. Or the unicorns kissing and all the discarded garments of clothing outside the “tunnel of badly-written love”! The critical reaction playground? Dead. I love Grant Snider. Let’s not forget his Literary Consolation Prizes.

I don’t want to jinx anything or risk stirring the demons of writer’s block, but writing has been going REALLY, REALLY WELL lately. I broke my 25k word count goal over the weekend, which, while exciting and deserving of all of the awkward dancing around the house I did, interspersed with high-fives from Jamal, it’s still only a quarter of what I think I’ll end up writing. But still, progress!

I’m On Fire

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I keep a line of post-its on the bottom of my iMac with word count goals. It’s a good way to set tangible milestones when I sit down to write, especially when it doesn’t feel like I got anything done after a particular session. Writing is a lot of just sitting there, I’ve found, typing a few words every five minutes. Deleting them. Rephrasing them. Sneering at them. Starting over. But the post-its keep me on track, and thus far I’ve crossed off four: 15k, 18k, 20k, 22k. And then I set fire to 28k.

Literally.

I did not magically write six thousand words in a single session this past weekend, but I got to take down the 28k milestone post-it. Because while writing, I like to light a mini French baguette candle to ‘set the mood,’ and on Sunday I accidentally slid the candle too close to the bottom of my computer screen. You see where this is going.

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No one should ever leave me home alone. Jamal left that morning for Colombia for a business trip, and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my privileges with matches from now on. The best part was I wasn’t even in the room when the fire started, so the likelihood that our entire house went up in flames was pretty high. Thankfully, the smell of fresh baguette quickly turned to burning paper and adhesive, and I came back to find a singe mark on my computer (which thankfully came off) and bits of hot pink post-it floating in the candle. And that: that sad, burnt milestone.

Adulthood!

Exclamation Marks

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This was perhaps the single most hilarious sentence I’ve read in years (with the exception of a passage from Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” on libeling someone in your story: “And the best advice I can give you is to give im a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forth.”) and if this doesn’t pique your interest in reading a book about punctuation, I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends. Yesterday, I had the urge to use an exclamation mark in a scene I was working on, but realized that if the dialogue was good enough and the writing was good enough, I didn’t need to. I shouldn’t have to sound a large foghorn to let the reader know a character yelled something. “In here!” vs. “In here,” he called. Though that last bit goes against another writing tip I try to live by.

File “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” under “Books I Adored.”

Writing Down the Bones

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As I mentioned yesterday, I promised to share what I thought about “Writing Down the Bones,” the book on writing by Natalie Goldberg, a Zen Buddhist Jewish woman, published the year I was born. There are just so many thing right with that equation that I knew going into it it was going to be good. And it was. There are 67 chapters, each a page or two long, and each can be read individually when you need an extra dash of inspiration or encouragement, or all together. I tackled them all together, in order, over the course of a few days. (PS. Theresa, I’m totally sending you a new copy and keeping this version, since I dented the cover accidentally by carrying it around in my bag with me everywhere. Sorry!)

As with ‘Bird by Bird’, there were parts that were so relevant it felt like the author was writing specifically to me. That is one of the most magical feelings every possible, because it makes you realize you’re not alone; someone else felt the exact same way as you about something and was able to articulate it. Especially with something as big and scary as writing. Here are some passages from “Writing Down the Bones” that I found particularly poignant and mentally earmarked to come back to:

It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. p. 26

And because I needed further validation that Paris is the best place in the world for a Delicate Artistic Soul like me:

In Paris, I was astounded by how many cafés there were. It is considered impolite to hurry a customer. You can order one coffee at eight a.m. and still be sipping it with no pressure at three p.m. Hemingway in ‘A Moveable Feast’ (it’s a great book! read it!) tells of writing in cafés in Paris and how James Joyce might be a few tables away. When I arrived there last June, I understood why so many American writers became expatriates: there are probable five cafés to every block in Paris, and they are all beckoning you to write, and writing in them is very acceptable. p. 101

 

There is no perfection. If you want to write, you have to cut through and write. There is no perfect atmosphere, notebook, pen or desk, so train yourself to be flexible…If you want to write, finally, you’ll find a way no matter what. p. 110-111

And Goldberg is completely right. The other day at work, I was walking back to my office from a neighboring client’s building, and a line of dialogue popped into my, so perfect it had to have been placed there by some divine intervention. I repeated it out loud a couple of times while I rooted around in my bag for a scrap of paper and a pen, and I quickly scribbled it down so I wouldn’t forget it. I probably looked like a lunatic. All the days I spent hunched over my computer, willing the words to appear on the screen in front of me, and nothing. And then! Out of nowhere (and I’m giving credit to the book for this one, which kept insisting you are a writer even when you’re not actually, physically writing) words!

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past weekend was an extremely productive one for me: I wrote over 3 thousand words in the matter of five or six hours. I had been hovering a few under the 18k mark for months (a shameful admittance: when I saved the document, I noticed the last save date was January 19, exactly four months ago from the day. Oops.) and after crossing that milestone, I just kept going. And going and going and going. Sure, I’m maybe less than a fifth of the way done the book overall (and I’m still struggling to figure out how everything fits together), but I was so happy after being able to cross off those post-its that hung from my computer monitor, I went around high-fiving everything in my house. Walls, Jamal, myself, Fitz, my computer, etc. I’m letting go of the fact that it took four months between spurts, and instead focusing on the next 20,000.

Thank you for lending this to me, T! I loved it. What are you guys reading these days?