Setting a Deadline (& Sticking to It)

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“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

The beauty of grad school (well, one of them, anyway) is deadlines. And at Hollins, especially during summer term which only lasted six weeks, there was no time to procrastinate. Or, in my case, worry and stress over what I did crank out – is it good enough? Is it long enough? Should I start over? OMG, this is terrible! What was I thinking? This doesn’t even make sense!

My fellow weasels get what I’m saying here. Basically, during school, we’d write something, turn it in, and hold our breath. That’s all there was time to do.

And I really, really miss that aspect of school – having a strict deadline that was unbendable – that couldn’t just “whoosh” by like Douglas Adams said. Now that I’ve graduated, the deadlines that are set for me are set by myself. And I admit a lot of them have whooshed by and sheesh, were they easy to bend before said whooshing.

But I’ve recently set a new deadline on the horizon that I’m going to try my hardest to meet. In my last entry, I talked about revising my manuscript. Well, I got it printed at FedEx and I have no excuses now not to work on it. So, I’m posting this deadline on the interwebs so that I’m held more accountable: I will finish this draft by April 15th.

Notice I didn’t say “I plan to” or “I hope to” – I said I will. And even though this isn’t like with school and I do have time to worry about whether or not it’s good enough, I’m very lucky to still have in my possession another beauty of grad school that I didn’t have to leave behind at Hollins: fantastic friends/weasels who will both compliment my work and tell me the truth about what needs to be fixed. (Jess & Rach, I’m lookin’ at you!)

So, cheers to ALL deadlines – the ones made for us and the ones we set for ourselves. May we catch up to them before they whoosh past us.

And luckily, I don’t have to be in shape to meet this one. My exercise goals, on the other hand… they’ve been whooshing past with their tongues out, laughing their butts off at me for years.

Revising: a Writer’s Never-ending Story

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A few days ago, on Facebook I stumbled upon a quote posted to a fellow writer’s timeline: “How a novel finishes, is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done.” – Lorrie Moore

Recently, my friend & fellow writer, Rachel, did me a humongous favor and read my entire manuscript. I asked her specifically to read the ending, as I’m having trouble figuring out how it should end exactly; I know how it currently ends isn’t working. But, being the fabulous friend she is, she read the entire thing instead. Once she finished, she emailed me some global feedback from start to finish, but mainly for the last half (which I knew needed the most attention anyway). As soon as I read her email, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what all she recommended, while feelings of excitement swam through me. Why, you ask? Why would I be excited to give this manuscript – which has already been completely overhauled twice now (the latter time, I basically scrapped most of the previous draft. Ouch, I know, but it had to be done) – yet another go? That’s a question my past self would’ve definitely scratched her head over – the past self that thought she had finished this bad boy in the summer of 2012 and was convinced there was absolutely NO MORE EDITING needed. But, my present self knows better.

You see, it’s taken me a long time to realize this, but at least as far as my writing is concerned, there’s ALWAYS room for improvement. Sure, it can be frustrating when I want to move on to something new. But if I don’t edit and revise until I’m blue in the face my previous manuscript, all the past time and effort I’ve put into it would’ve been for nothing. And I love my characters too damn much to leave them hanging.

So, back to the quote. I know I’m not there yet, because as Rachel helped me realize, there are problems with my story that need fixing – and, thanks to her, I have a much better idea on how to fix them. That doesn’t mean I’ll fix every single problem, of course. But I’m confident I can now eliminate those that have solutions.

And that, my friends, is why I’m excited to tackle yet another editing session – because every problem I fix makes my story that much stronger.

Climbing Over the Brick Wall

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For those that didn’t watch last night’s episode of “Girls,” the main character, Hannah, started a new job at GQ. Her first day was fabulous – one of her colleagues showed her their “snack room” where all the food and drinks are free! Apart from one coworker who tells her on her second day he hates her face, her other coworkers love her and rave about the great work she’s already doing. Her reaction was priceless to me: though flattered, she tells them no offense, but that she’s a real writer. They each inform her they, too, are “real writers”; one even had something published in The NY Times. But the reality of it crushes her: none of them have time to do the writing they set out to do anymore because of their job.

This part really spoke to me, as I’m sure it did most viewers. I consider myself a “real writer” with unwavering dreams of publication. But in life, there will always be things that keep me away from my office, hammering out a new story, especially now that I’m a mother. Along with the fictitious character of Hannah on “Girls,” I’ve come upon my own brick wall of other responsibilities pulling me in other directions.

But then, one of her coworkers – the one that showed her the amazing snack room – gives her some wise words of advice: she can still write. She just has to make time for it when she’s not working, such as on nights and weekends. Hannah asks him if that’s what he does, too, in which he replies yes, that he did…he’s let it slip, but wants to get back into it. For me personally as a writer, these are the two different phases you can be in at one time: either writing religiously or, well, not at all.

And now, at this stage of the game, I’m choosing the first one. I’m making a pact with myself to write as often as I can, whenever I can. Because if it’s going to happen for me, I can’t let myself get comfortable in the stalled position. I have to keep going… and going… and going.

Did anyone else picture the Energizer bunny just now? No? Just me?

“About Time”

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This past Monday, I did something I’ve never done before – something I’ve always been scared to do: I saw a movie alone. I’m sure to most this will seem like a silly accomplishment to brag about, but that’s not the case for me. For some reason, I’ve never desired to do this in the past. Whether because I didn’t want my fellow movie goers to judge me or because I just always assumed it’d be a really lonely experience – probably a little bit of both, if I’m being honest – I never did it. And more than that, I never had to – until now.

You see, a month and nine days ago, I became a mother. My husband was kind enough to watch our beautiful baby girl so that I could go to the movies solo. And I gotta say… I didn’t hate it! Quite the opposite, actually. When I got there, I ordered a popcorn and drink, and chose the very middle seat in the very middle row (I lucked out and was the only one in the theater). It was relaxing, mindless, and exactly what I needed. And the movie was good, too!

I never use my blog for anything personal; I always just assumed if and when the day came that I wanted to blog about my family and what-not, I would simply start a new blog for that purpose. But then, as I was taking in the adorableness that is Rachel McAdams on the big screen in the movie “About Time,” it hit me: writing and parenthood aren’t so different after all.

My daughter, Arya, is the main character. It’s safe to say the whole story revolves around her needs and demands. Will and I are the supporting characters, both metaphorically and literally. Ernie, our Westie, is more of a tertiary character – sometimes he’s a part of the scene (mainly to sniff the face and/or butt of his new sister), but usually he’s off lying around by himself, not part of the dialogue; and right now, the dialogue consists of a lot of grunting, crying, and new to the past couple weeks: cooing. For the most part, the setting doesn’t really change from our house, specifically the living room, her bedroom, and our bedroom.

But the plot itself – now, that’s the unpredictable part. I’m not talking about the day to day plot of eating, pooping, and sleeping (not necessarily in that order), but rather the more extended plot of Arya’s childhood. In the movie, “About Time,” the two main characters spoiler alert marry and have three children. The dad is a time-traveler who can only travel backwards in time. Towards the end of the movie (again, spoiler alert), he realizes that he has no need to travel backwards anymore – because really, we’re all time-travelers, moving forward, one day at a time. I cried at the ending because it made me realize something about this special time with my daughter: just as every other year and time period before this one, it won’t last. She won’t be this little for long – and even on the days when I’m stressed, she sneezes and somehow it gets in my eye and/or mouth, and she poops on me (which has happened more than once; I’m almost immune to it now) like every good story, I need to enjoy it. Because sometimes, she does something that totally makes up for the bad; yesterday, that came in the form of two huge, gummy smiles, reserved just for her mommy. You better believe I cried when she did that – happy tears, of course. And unlike with writing and time-traveling, I can’t go back to revisit and revise this part later – all I have is now.

And right now, I have a beautiful, happy almost 10 pound baby girl who looks like a combination of me and my grandmother. I’ve been away from her for an hour now and I already miss her. How crazy is that?

I’m still writing. In fact, somehow in my sleep deprivation, I came up with a new idea I can’t wait to start on. I’m lucky to have a husband who both supports my dream and encourages that I find “me” time away from our baby. So I’m going to make more time to pursue writing, querying, and blogging.

But I’m also going to enjoy my time with baby Arya. She was another dream I had, too.

And I adore being her mother.

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A New Skill I’ve Learned: Juggling

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3d Penguin jugglesAnd no, unfortunately I don’t mean that kind of juggling. (But how cool would that be?)

I’m actually referring to juggling when it comes to writing. Not only am I juggling two different novel ideas (one, I’m editing and the other I’ve only written a few chapters on that I’ve set aside for now), but lately I’m learning more and more about how to juggle revision ideas. Focusing in on the manuscript I’m trying to polish/edit/change, I’ve slowly become accustomed to figuring out what parts of my last draft are usable and what needs to be redone from scratch. For example, the beginning (save for a quick scene at school), has been overhauled completely. I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, too.

But now that I’m close to 50 pages in, I’m tapping the brakes and shifting my writing brain into reverse so to speak, to try my best to weave in sections and scenes from my last draft. This is where the juggling gets more tricky.

There was an author that came to speak at Hollins one summer while I was still in school that said once she finishes a first draft of any manuscript, she locks it away in a drawer, doesn’t look at it again, and starts completely over. This, to me, always sounded insane. I mean, seriously? You spent all that time writing these characters, creating their story, wrapping up the conflict, etc., and now you’re not going to use any of it?

But now that I’m in a somewhat similar boat, I’m starting to see the point a little more. Don’t get me wrong, any of my last draft I can still use, I plan to – although I also plan to edit each section reused, too, so maybe that cancels each other out. But to me, what I couldn’t wrap my brain around until now is how I felt the author simply wasted the time she spent crafting a first draft. Those countless hours, days, weeks, months – BOOM – gone.

Last year around this time, I was finishing my first round of edits for the manuscript I’m re-doing now. I was confident then that it didn’t need that much work anymore, which I think is the white lie we as writers have to always tell ourselves: This novel is amaze-balls. Seriously, bravo. Expect only teeny tiny minor edits from here on out!

Because think about it: if we didn’t tell ourselves this lie – if we actually realized the editing process has really just begun and we’ve only taken the first step – wouldn’t that be so much more daunting?

So, even though it does sadden me that a huge chunk of my last draft won’t make the cut into my new one – including all of the beginning, a good deal of the middle, and probably not even the same ending – I’ve made peace with it. I know my novel is only going to get better than it was with each juggle session of revising and writing I change. So all that time I spent last year writing and revising this manuscript wasn’t for nothing at all; it was just the beginning of what lies ahead with these characters.

Who, in my humble opinion, are still pretty damn amaze-balls.

Slacking: Contagious as the Common Cold

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Last week, I got a sore throat. For the first couple days, it would only hurt for a few hours then go away. At that point, I chalked it up to some sort of allergic reaction. But then, that sore throat decided to set up camp for good. Of course, this had to happen during my Weasel reunion with two of my very favorite people, Jess & Rach, but I sucked it up and dealt because I hadn’t seen them in forever and it was so great to catch up, get pedicures, eat, and most importantly, chat about writing. But once they were both gone, my attention refocused on my throat situation, who decided at that point to bring its friend, congestion, into the mix as well.

Now, the sore throat’s gone, but congestion is hanging around like the unwelcome guest it always is. And being sick for the past few days served as the perfect excuse to lie around, watch TV, and not do what I should always be doing: writing and revising.

Which brings me to slacking. Today I got to thinking how it’s not so different from a cold in that it’s easy to be lazy and procrastinate, even though deep down you know you should get your butt off that couch and into your computer chair. But sometimes, it’s impossible to make that argument against slacking, when you’re so comfy and hey, you don’t even remember the last time you saw that rerun of “Seinfield” and oh, a snack might be nice and ooh, this Snuggie is so toasty and…

You get the gist. But fellow slackers, I’m here to tell you that you can break out of this sickness. All it takes is a little push.

And in my case, that push came today from my lovely friend, Jess, who served as the reminder I needed that if I want to finish revising my manuscript, it’s time to get off my butt and do it. I’m proud to say I got back to work today, and I have some ideas on what I want to work on tomorrow, too.

Now, if I could just convince my pal congestion to get lost, everything would be peachy.

My (Writing) Threesome Role: Sandwich Maker

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A few days ago, a coworker lent me the latest copy of “Cosmo” to peruse while it was slow. I can’t even remember the last time I read this magazine. Probably not since freshman year of college.

After scanning the cover interview with Miley Cyrus, I flipped to another article that caught my eye in the table of contents: one concerning threesomes. I believe the title was something to the extent of, “So you’re considering a threesome…” and the picture was of three bare feet curled together at the end of a bed. At this point, I was already laughing. So when I read the article further – it offered five “real” experiences to help one decide whether to give a threesome a whirl – I started laughing even more. I only had time to read one of the experiences. In this particular confession, one girl and her roommate fool around for her roommate’s boyfriend to watch, the roommate leaves the room because she’s uncomfortable, so then the girl has sex with her roommate’s boyfriend.

I laughed even harder because the whole thing reminded me of the “Friends” episode where it shows what would’ve happened if Ross stayed married to Carol, Rachel had married Barry, etc. During the ep, Ross brags to Joey about having a threesome with Carol and another woman. At first, he’s all excited to share the story, but towards the end he reveals he was sort of the odd man out, creepily watching on as Carol got it on with Susan. He was so left out, he had enough time to go make himself a sandwich. Once he describes what he put on the sandwich, Joey commends him and says that sounds really good, and Ross says something like, “You know, it really was!”

To me, neither of these stories sounds like an actual “threesome.” And who knows, the roommate from the Cosmo confession probably had some time to kill while her boyfriend banged her roommate and may have made her own sandwich (or some other sort of yummy snack). Which leads me to the title of this randomly wacky blog entry: my writing threesome role as sandwich maker.

Lately I’ve lost a bit of my writing mojo. And for once, it’s not because I have nothing to write about. It’s because I have two different stories competing for primary attention in my head.  While I’ve only written one chapter (that I plan on scrapping and rewriting) for one of these stories, I’ve written a few more for the other. However, both have made pretty convincing arguments why they should have the spotlight right now. So in a way, I’m involved in my own sort of threesome – a writing threesome, if you will. But I know I can’t give them both equal attention (as I’m sure happens in most threesomes!) so I need to just pick one and shelf the other. But since I can’t decide which right now, I’m going to do the most reasonable thing to pass the time: make myself a metaphorical sandwich.

Actually…I think I’ll go make a real one. 😉

Stick a Fork in Me…I’m Done

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On Tuesday, I finished (that’s right, I said FINISHED) editing my manuscript. A couple days before, I had this epiphany of how I should rework and change the ending and epilogue. For those that aren’t writers and can’t understand what an unbelievably FANTASTIC feeling this is, if you’re a gymnast, it’d be the equivalent of nailing a back flip or aerial or…whatever else is pretty difficult to do in gymnastics.

I’m not saying my ending is perfect (when is a book EVER perfect?), but I’m really proud of how it all wraps up now. And this is all super exciting alone. But yesterday, something else amazing happened: I stumbled upon the perfect song for a big subplot of my novel. Seriously, as soon as the lyrics first began, I immediately pictured different parts of my work playing out in a montage through my mind and this song was in the background. What song, you ask? “Arms” by Christina Perri. And if you happen to be in the same tiny boat I was in and haven’t heard it yet, check out the video below.

Editing & Snow Removal: More Alike Than You Might Think

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This morning while I was in the shower, I started dreading driving to work today. Not because I don’t want to work or anything like that, but because of the potential snow storm moving our way and the fact that my trusty Hybrid isn’t the best at driving through snow/ice.

Which got me thinking about how snow and writing aren’t that different. Apart from my mom, I admit I’m in the minority among my circle of friends in that I absolutely DESPISE snow. Unlike most people who think it’s beautiful and fun to watch come down, at the very first sign of the white crap, I want to scream. Why? Because in my opinion, most of what snow accomplishes is negative. It makes the roads slick and, depending on how much you get, sometimes undriveable, which leads to being stranded at home, which then leads to cabin fever, and so on and so on. It’s a vicious cycle. Honestly, I think once the snow starts to really accumulate, the only people that truly benefit from it are teachers and students that are awarded with snow days. (Which, if you think about it, could eventually lead to cabin fever, right?)

Okay, back to writing. I realized this morning that a first draft is like the first snowfall of the year. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption to say the majority of people get excited when they spy the snow start to come down, blanketing the grass and roads with sparkly snowflakes. The same can be said when you start a new manuscript: at first, you’re thrilled when a new idea hits you and pours onto the page. But after you finish the first draft, at least in my experience, you start to wonder if your story moved in the direction it should, if the plot makes sense, if the characters are believable and appealing, and if it ends in the most satisfying way possible. Chances are, you won’t be able to answer yes to each of these. In fact, you’ll probably say no to at least 3 of the 4 questions – and you’re probably kidding yourself with the 1 yes.

The same goes for snow. Sure, at first, it’s pretty and fun to see. But after it keeps piling up, and the roads get slicker and slicker, and (God forbid) your power goes out and you try not to freeze to death as you scarf down the rest of your bread and milk you got to weather the storm (which makes you wonder why the hell that food combo made sense to begin with), your original favorable opinion of the snow might shift completely. All you want at that point (besides your electricity to come back on, so you can charge your smart phone you’re practically dying without), is for the snow to STOP. But even when it does, you’re still left with another problem: shoveling it up, maybe even salting your driveway, so that you can clear your path.

When it comes to writing, editing is like your snow shovel: you get rid of the parts of your manuscript that are holding your story back. Then, you sprinkle in NEW parts (i.e., salt) that steady your pathway and melt away the slick “ice” (read: unbelievable or boring subplots/characters) away. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – one use of the snow shovel isn’t going to completely get rid of the icky snow blocking your way. In fact, even while you “shovel” (edit), the snow might start falling again (your additional words may not be up to snuff either).

But the important part is to not give up shoveling. Because if you believe you really have something in your story, bundle up and keep salting. Because even if you can’t SEE your sidewalk/driveway through the snow, you have to take comfort in the fact that you know it’s there.

Happy 2013! Yay, the world didn’t end!

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It’s crazy that another year has come and gone just like that. Seriously, it feels like it was only a month ago that I was coming up with resolutions for 2012! While I didn’t exactly meet all four of mine, I did manage to accomplish two of them:

  1. I completed a new manuscript and sent out a batch of queries.
  2. For the most part, I enjoyed life much more.

There were several factors that went into the successful completion of #2, and I have to thank my rheumatologist first and foremost for helping me feel SO MUCH BETTER. Seriously, once my arthritis was under control and my pain was gone, it made a world of difference in my happiness, energy, and all-around attitude!

I also did my fair share of one of my favorite activities in 2012: traveling! Within the year, I managed to squeeze in trips to Austin, TX for a pitch conference with Jess; Wilmington, NC with my BFF, Sara; a trip to see Phish 4 nights in a row in Noblesville, IN & Alpine Valley, WI with Will, Tara, & Bill; NYC with my mom to see Madonna; DC to see Madonna for a second time with Sara; Atlanta with my boss & lovely coworker, Hayley, for market; AND another trip to NYC to ring in the new year with Phish and great friends.

Apart from traveling, I also did something else exciting in 2012: I graduated and received my MFA from Hollins! 

I may not have read nearly as much as I hoped to this past year and I obviously didn’t follow up with my resolution to blog more, but I’m hoping to fix that in 2013. Hey, better late than never, right?

*Switching gears, let’s go back to #1: yes, I did complete a manuscript and yes, I have queried it. However, I think I’m going to fine-tune it a bit more. But I’m still really proud of it and myself for bringing it to fruition! It’s a great feeling.

Now, let’s talk goals for 2013:

Apart from maintaining my previous goals of reading more and blogging more, I also hereby challenge myself to:

  1. Finish a first draft of a new project as well as continue to edit my previous one.
  2. Not sweat the small stuff anymore.
  3. Keep my desk area/work space organized. (Seriously, this’ll probably be the hardest resolution for me to follow. Just ask my husband.)
  4. Stay in better contact with my close friends. Sure, we’re all busy, but I want to put forth more of an effort to stay in the loop with my buddies this year! Especially my weasels. 😉

I could keep going, but to be realistic, I’m stopping there.

Cheers to each of you in 2013! Happy reading, writing, traveling, and anything else you may enjoy! May the new year treat you well.

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