Boredom promotes creativity

I am more than mid-way through my sixth day of my retreat and I have not yet started attacking door with an axe a la Nicholson in The Shining. So I’m feeling pretty good about that. Of course, I don’t know if there is an ax handy but nor have I looked.

Took a short walk and photographed bored looking small lizards that didn’t like how close I tried to get to them. Colors didn’t come out very well—too much sun here so everything ends up looking washed out in photos. Gloriously green grasshopper appears sad brown.

Writing notes: Finished reading over and making edits to 328 pages of my own writing. Most painful thing imaginable, other than anything involving actual physical pain. Still some things to look back over but I’m pleased to have gone through the thing. Also am now harboring delusions that I can write funny essay type things. Brace yourself, McSweeney’s—there may be some gems coming your way. And yes, I do mean gems with little quotation marks around the word.

Reading notes: Finished Broken Monsters. Thought it was wonderful. Am now bouncing between The Empathy Exams and The Best American Short Stories of 2014.

Retreat

It was raining in Chicago when I left on Wednesday. Here, it is warm and dry and there are mountains against blue sky. I am trying hard not to get distracted too easily, and this place accommodates this effort by not providing too many distractions. I can get access to the internet but not a strong enough signal to stream video, which helps keep me from diving into a hole of new television shows to escape what I’ve actually came here to do, which is write.

Boredom is useful for creativity. Growing up, I drew a lot. Painted even, albeit very badly. I wrote, sometimes. I made things because I wasn’t particularly popular and the internet wasn’t really a big thing, and while I read a lot of books, I didn’t want to read all of the time. Then for a long time, I didn’t make anything. I’ve started again, been pretty consistent about it for the last two years but it has been squeezed into a pre-existing scheduled. Having just all day to fill, for days at a time, isn’t something I’ve had since before college and that’s how it is for most people, I think.

Writing notes: So far, I’ve been productive. I haven’t kept perfect track but I think I’ve done about 6-7 hours of writing a day, which is more than I expected. Partly this has been fueled by a realization of how long it takes me to make any real progress, and how I just have to throw time at my project in order to get where I want, or at least close. I miss being able to measure productivity in word count because that feels so tangible but I’m editing and the math is different there. I actually get nervous when the word count creeps up too much because I worry that I’m bloating sections, spinning them out longer than necessary.

Reading notes: Reading Broken Monsters. I wasn’t sure if I should bring it because it is a hardcover book and heavy and took up precious bag space. It has been totally worth it—a dense book in all the right ways, not some oversized book that proves to be an annoyingly quick, fluffy read. I read in chunks, as a reward for putting in good amounts of writing time.

An experiment

This is my 50th post. And I’m nervous. Not about it being my 50th post but because on Wednesday I am heading off to the desert for two weeks to write. More specifically, to a small artsy retreat in a little town in New Mexico where there will be not much else to do other than write. And that makes me nervous. Full-time work is a good excuse for not being as productive as one would like to be. One can be snotty about it even, acting like, of course, if one didn’t have to work then one could be churning out beautiful prose and stunning well paced plots left and right. Easy, peasey, just this silly work stuff weighing one down.

But now I’ll have a solid block of time to write and it is freaking me out. Because there are no excuses, and I’m afraid I’ll just end up eating waffles and napping the whole time. Which actually sounds pretty amazing on its own merits but isn’t really the point of the thing. In a sense this is a way to pretend that writing is my job for two weeks and I’m afraid it will turn out that I’m not really cut out for it. That time won’t cure my plot problems and my, at times, saggy prose. That instead of emerging triumphant, I’ll emerge disappointed in myself and feeling like maybe I should shuffle back in time to when I didn’t write at all and just stay there.

Writing notes: Oh, I don’t know. See above.

Reading notes: Changing it up and reading a graphic novel: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. It is so beautiful it hurts. All the drawings are stunning, even the little tiny ones that are the size of a thumbprint. I’ve also been buying a lot of books for my trip and trying not to start reading them early, which has been difficult. Fortunately, I have the discipline of a very disciplined person and I have contented myself with only drooling on their covers.

Mint M&Ms

Mint M&Ms are really good and today I had my second bag of them. While I wouldn’t say that the experience of eating them was life changing per se, I can and will say that between the dark chocolate mintiness of the things and the fact that they are, for some reason, much rounder (fatter? bulkier?) than regular M&Ms, they made me very happy. So, if one of my zero readers happens to be an advertising person looking to promote mint M&Ms and you are looking for a genuine liker of your product please feel free to contact me with a proposal to pay me millions of dollars to quote me on my love of the things. I’ll even pose, in a dignified way, near a bag of the things and smile. Tempting, yes?

Writing notes: I’ve heard that by the time people finish their dissertations, they usually hate both the topic of their dissertations and themselves, and wonder why they ever thought that they should do a dissertation to begin with. Which has nothing to do with my emotional state about writing at all, of course, just a thought that I decided to randomly share.

Reading notes: I’m about half way through Threats, by Amelia Gray. It is a coincidence that I am reading something written by someone with the same first name as myself? Or is it instead that I get weirdly excited when I see someone with my first name and feel that I should support my brave name sisters in all of their creative endeavors? If you think that the second option must be a joke, then we will never be friends.

Neither here, not there

I went to the Young Adult Literature Conference in Naperville this weekend. It was a good experience but also a strange one. Good because the talks were delightful and the panel discussion was very interesting and they had a pretty amazing line up of people. Strange because I didn’t really fit. Because I’m a librarian but not a school or pubic librarian, and I write but I’m not a published author. Fish out of water. Flop, flop.

Writing notes: Read through manuscript. I think it is getting better plot wise but some of the actual writing is pretty questionable. Umm…and by “pretty questionable” I mean, uh, super poetic and polished.

Reading notes: I really should stop buying books until I’m caught up. That won’t happen of course, but it is what I should do. Anyway, I finished Conversion. In what has been a bit of a theme recently, I enjoyed the writing but wasn’t a big fan of the ending. I’m currently between books, which makes me feel anxious.

Overcorrecting

The weather in Chicago is just careening all over the place. It got cold, coat cold, and then days later it wasn’t even sweater weather any more. I’m a bit like that with my manuscript at the moment—I love it and then I hate it and then I love it again. I think it just needs some small changes and polishing up and then I’m wondering if I should make larger edits that could rip the whole thing open again. I don’t want to be lazy and not do something that could really improve it but nor do I want to tear it apart for no reason and mess up the things that are actually working okay.

Writing notes: Trying to get back into a good schedule and to focus but having problems. See above.

Reading notes: Read Complicit which I mostly really enjoyed. Still not sure how I feel about the ending though, which seems to be a bit of a theme for me recently. Started Conversion, pretty great so far.

There is a special place in heaven for beta readers

Historically, I have not had the best luck with beta readers. I have had incredibly sweet people offer to read my drafts who then never, ever got back to me. Oh sure, you may think, that’s normal. Lots of people flake out, don’t realize how much time it is going to take/forget about it/get busy/whatever. Absolutely. And if we were talking about one person, that would totally make sense. Or even two. Or three. But no. Six people. In a row. And while logically I know that it was almost certainly not personal, a part of me was convinced that they had actually all read it and just been so horrified about how bad it was, and been so embarrassed for me that they decided it would be best to never speak of it again.

But my luck has changed. Over the last week, I have received back incredibly thoughtful and detailed feedback from not one but two beta readers. I love these two people so much right now–I want to make them cakes with their faces on them or present them with ice sculptures of their pets, or even do something slightly less weird and creepy and involving of technical skills that I do not actually possess.

Anyhoo…

Writing notes: Started reading through said beta readers notes and began playing around with some changes based upon them. I’m going to have to make some difficult decisions, I think, but it is so nice to have some focus to what I’m looking at.

Reading notes: Still reading The Maze Runner.

Beautiful day in Chicago

It has been muggy, disgusting and just gross for much of this week but today is perfection. It is sunny and warm. Not hot, warm. And there is no humidity. It is completely wonderful. I got all psyched and decided to go jogging with my dog, and I was worried that he was going to be darting around and tripping me up but he actually did very well. I mean, when I say jog, I mean going only infinitesimally faster than walking—kind of a bouncy walk really—but still, I’m proud of both of us.

Writing notes: I took my Nanowrimo manuscript and listed all of the chapters and then printed them out and cut them up and then played around with them to figure out if they should be reordered, and then tapped them back together and added little colored stickies representing when different characters are in a scene. I do like a good craft project—it is so satisfying (and doing this makes me feel like one of those brilliant but slightly unhinged detectives in a tv show where they have their weird bulletin boards with colored string and photographs). I think some plot reworking is needed because I made some major changes, and while I like a lot of what I’ve done, some of the emotional arc has been flattened, I think, so I need to mess around and try and get it right. Mostly though, I’m taking a bit of a break, which feels both good and necessary.

Reading notes: Reading The Maze Runner. Enjoying it so far. Finished Life Drawing—positively sobbed at the ending. I do have a soft spot for a book that makes me cry, I really do. Nothing is more disappointing than a book where sad things happen and it just doesn’t feel like it matters.

Thumb twiddleage

My dog was on the couch with me until a minute ago when he, in a most ungainly fashion, got up and jumped off so that he could instead flop down on the nice cool wood floor.

He has a good life, my dog.

Not that you would ever know it from the absolutely pathetic, despondent look he gets the second we aren’t playing with him—in his ideal world he would spend the whole day running around keeping his bone away from someone who desperately wanted it. The fact that we usually show modest to no interest in his bone is a source of constant sorrow.

Writing notes: I’ve been working on a short story and working on writing up a critique but mostly I am waiting for feedback/allowing my manuscript to sit in the corner and think about what it has done wrong for a while. It is nice to have a break, though I always worry that a break will turn into an elongated slothfest*.

Reading notes: Finished The Last Detective. Really enjoyed and plan to read the rest of the trilogy. I do have a soft spot for mysteries with an unusual angle. Started Life Drawing. I bought it because the writer was on a panel that I went to at Printer’s Row and I thought she had interesting things to say about creativity and identity, and I’m enjoying the book so far. It is a nice example of the tension of starting off knowing some things about where the story is going to go but not how it is going to get there.

*Spellcheck does not like this word. Too bad, Spellcheck. You ain’t the boss of me.

Siren song

If I could only start something new, it would amazing.
There would be no false starts.
There would be no hesitation.
Everything would flow from my fingers through the keyboard and it would be magic.
My new ideas are not like my old ideas.
Flawed and soggy.
They are triumphant. They are fully formed.

Writing notes:
Read over full manuscript. Reading over one’s one work is excruciating. Then started editing. Allowed myself 30 minutes to write out the beginnings of a short new thing. Then went back to editing.

Reading notes: Started The Last Policeman. For the second time actually, but this time in print which sometimes works better for me than the Kindle version.