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May 2016



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Apr. 7th, 2016


Secret projects

Sometimes it's nice to have a writing project that you don't talk about.
You don't discuss it with anyone, so all your writing energy goes into the story, into moving it forward and making it better.
It's just for you. Maybe someday others will get to read it, but in the beginning it's just the two of you.
There's immense freedom in that, in knowing that nobody else's expectations will sway it. Nobody's criticism matters; nobody's approval is necessary.
Nobody else is awaiting it, so even if you stop dead in the middle of a sentence and never touch it again, it's OK. If you write 5000 words a day on it, it's OK. If you do just one draft, it's OK. If you do 71 drafts, it's OK.
Everything's OK, which is the really marvelous part. You are not worried about selling it. You are not worried about anything, really.

I have had secret projects, and they were fun. Maybe they're not for everyone; some people like to talk through plotlines and characters as they write. But this post is for the ones who hug a work-in-progress close to the vest, maybe not even admitting that it exists. For a while, anyway.

Have you ever had a secret project?

Apr. 5th, 2016


Procrastination, or rest?

I've long held that goofing off, time wasting, and procrastination may not be all bad. They may have a worthy purpose. There's something about those times when the mind is engaged in something light, frivolous, or easy that allows us to rest, or think, or plan. There's something about idle or semi-idle moments that kicks the creative mind into gear, behind the scenes.

Like anything, goofing off can be carried too far. But we're not robots who can fill every moment of every day with productive activity. Maybe the reason the brain often leads us down these distracting little side paths is that we need some distracting little side paths.
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Apr. 2nd, 2016



Spring is a good time to try something new: in our writing, in our lives. April is the month that makes me feel that anything is possible. Have you any plans for new beginnings?

Mar. 31st, 2016


Upcoming event

Where I (and at least 17 other authors) will be on Saturday, April 9: YAPA Book Con

The event will run from 10 to 4 and will include panels, a teen writing workshop, book sales, door prizes, etc. It's at the Fredricksen Library, 100 North 19th Street, Camp Hill, PA, 17011. Come by if you're in the neighborhood!

Mar. 27th, 2016


Mangled pronunciations

It's my day to post at YA Outside the Lines, where our topic this month is "words." I wrote about all the words I've been mentally mispronouncing.

Mar. 22nd, 2016


When to write

Working, exercising, doing taxes, hiking, eating, doing laundry, showering, picking out clothes for work, catching the train, checking email, explaining to the cat why it is too late to go out, going to the doctor, getting a haircut, looking up the weather report, looking up the latest delegate count in the primaries, cooking breakfast, going to the ATM, packing lunches, refilling prescriptions, sending cards, reading, making lists, crossing things off lists.

This is how I've been spending my time. Also writing, somehow fitting writing in there. There is never enough time, there will never be enough time, there will never be a lack of other things to do. I fantasize about having long clutter-free days in which to write, but in the meantime I write when I can and the words pile up somehow. And all that living feeds the writing too, and lines of writing come to me while I am doing other things. There will never be a perfect time. Or maybe this is the perfect time.

Mar. 19th, 2016


A strange business model

I had been doing some YA reading that hit upon a couple of my pet peeves. One of them is the part-time job with nothing to do. I've seen a lot of YA books where the main character has a job in a place that is constantly deserted, with barely any customers and little work, and I keep wondering: How does that place stay in business? And why haven't they laid off the main character, or why did they hire him/her in the first place? Sometimes this is explained by having the business owner or manager being an eccentric who is not overly concerned with profit, but most of the time it's just a mystery.

The only job I ever had with significant down time was baby-sitting: after the kid was in bed and the five million scattered toys were put away, you could read or watch TV. But at every other job, I've always had far too much work and far too little time to do it in. At the first minimum-wage job I held, the bosses were constantly watching us to make sure we were busy. They liked to motivate us with this stirring bromide: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

This pet peeve doesn't ruin a book for me, but it does take me out of the story a bit.

Mar. 16th, 2016


One nest

Once again, the pair of red-tailed hawks affectionately known as "Big Red" and "Ezra" are nesting at Cornell University, watched by an ornithological webcam and a host of birdwatchers, expert and amateur. For the past four years, this pair have successfully hatched three eggs and fledged three juveniles while we watched. (Today, Big Red laid her second egg of the season. The next egg is due March 19, if she stays true to her established pattern of laying three eggs three days apart.)

Every year, I follow these hawks and their offspring; I await the eggs, the hatching, the fledging, with bated breath. A community of online chatters follows the webcam, teaching one another about hawk behavior, trying to guess when the next milestone will occur, worrying whenever a fledgling is injured.

It's comforting to me to think that these birds' drama is being played out all over the world in millions of nests. Birds go about their business of mating, nesting, and raising young, unwatched by any camera, and I only know about it because I've been privileged to see it happen at a handful of nests on a handful of webcams. When one of the Cornell hawks first learns to fly, I know about it because one camera is trained on one nest. The camera's focus on this nest shows us a story. A story makes us care about a particular life, or small group of lives, but that story also stands for all the rest--all the stories happening around us, the stories we might not otherwise notice.

Mar. 11th, 2016


When you need a break

Today the best thing I can do is point you toward two blog posts by Becky Ramsey. The first is about what happens when we push ourselves too hard, trying to keep All the Things on our plate. Or, as Becky describes it, "Welcome to The Embarrassing Evening in Which I Was Taught My Own Lesson." The second is about refreshing ourselves and getting back in touch with what (and whom) we care about: "Sometimes I think we need mandatory thinking time. Back when I was teaching ... we had a mandatory reading time, twenty minutes every day, I believe. Everything stopped."

Here's hoping you can take your break when needed.

Mar. 8th, 2016


Finding your voice: an ongoing process

This post from Victoria Marie Lees on narrative voice in memoir made me think about my own foray into first-person nonfiction. "Writers need to think who is telling the story," Ms. Lees writes.

It's something I didn't think about much during my early drafts of Loner in the Garret. I thought a lot about what I was saying and what the reader might want, but not so much about how I was saying it. One critiquer of this book said she wanted to see more of my humor. She wanted me to commit more, not to hold back, not to be so mild and diffident. To let my unique voice out.

This honestly hadn't occurred to me until I read her feedback--that the "I" who was speaking in my nonfiction book was an important character, just as in fiction. That a first-person narrator not only can, but probably should, have a personality.*

Last fall, I took a memoir workshop taught by Beth Kephart. At one point, we students exchanged our work with another person in the class. We were only doing short in-class exercises, so we weren't seeing much of one another's work--a couple of pages at most. And for that reason, I thought the person who gave me feedback was mistaken when her primary reaction to my writing was, "It's funny."

But then I thought about how I had re-drafted Loner in the Garret to let in more irreverence, to express more of what amuses me about writing and publishing (along with what frustrates, intimidates, and elates--so much about this gig is absurd). I thought of how people had told me that my YA novels, as dark as they can be at times, were relieved by an edge of humor. I know my fellow workshopper didn't mean that I was joke-a-minute hilarious, but she saw something in my work that I have thought about cultivating more, ever since.

What are you still learning about your own voice?

*After reading nonfiction by writers with such memorable first-person voices as Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, Anne Fadiman, Richard Rodriguez, Sarah Vowell, etc., etc., this should not have been a surprise. But hey, I can't always connect the dots myself, which is why I need critiquers in the first place.

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