30 Lists

30 Days of Lists: Magic!

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Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job, Writing Tips

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

Creative Advice, Writing, Writing Tips

FINISH HIM!

Not too long ago, I asked a friend what he would be interested in seeing me talk about on my blog. And he gave me a very good topic. He asked me what I do when my inspiration runs dry mid-writing or when another idea comes along that captivates me despite being in the middle of something else. Do I shelve my current project? Come back to it later? Or what?

The answer to that is really that it depends.

It used to be that I would have multiple projects going all at the same time, but I found over time that it stressed me out. I would realize that nothing was finished – I couldn’t put any one thing out because they were all in states of incomplete-ness. I would find that I was generally just so easily distracted that I could go on and on and stockpile a million works-in-progress. I would have this on-again-off-again relationship with all of my work — I would love it one day and hate the sight of the next. Ultimately I found myself accomplishing…very little.

Now, I try to finish things. Or I at least try to get things broken down into pieces that can be ‘finished’ for a time so I can do a little bit of something else and then come back to it. Or, if absolutely necessary, I finish it even if it means it isn’t absolutely perfect. Perfect is an illusion anyway.

Mostly, though, I do try to balance. For example: I have a several things I’m writing while I’m also working on editing my novel from NaNoWriMo. I know that I cannot do this all in one sitting and I also know that I will lose interest if it’s the only thing I’m doing. So, instead of focusing on just that for as long as it takes, I’m doing it in chapter chunks. That way, I’m satisfied with my progress while balancing out my wandering interests.

My recommendation if you find yourself getting burnt out in the middle of something and getting drawn to something else is this: give it 24 hours. Make a note of this new fantastic idea and sleep on it. If it’s still amazing the next day and you want nothing more than to sink your teeth into it, set a date for when you are coming back to the project you’re currently on. Literally. Get a calendar, plot out how long you think this awesome new something will go and then say, “Okay, on May 1, I’m going to pick this other thing back up.” You’ll know two things by May 1: if that new thing was really as great as it seemed and if the original project is worth going back to.

Are you a starter or a finisher? Do you chronically collect works-in-progress, or do you try to finish anything you start, no matter how crappy it gets? Tell me about it on my Facebook!

 

Essay, Fiction, Personal, Writing

A Writer’s Nightmare

Oh God.

Last night, I had a dream of a lush storyscape. Full of characters and beautiful scenery. There were accents and glorious tension. There was physical attraction, and oh the dialogue: natural and unique, the likes of a Hollywood-Dickensian lovechild.

I rose from my bed, grabbing an old book. A library book, bought at a used book fair. I opened to the pages and started to write in the margins, over the words themselves. It felt dirty. It felt so wrong, but I was so happy. Happy that these wonderful characters and their wonderful-er world hadn’t slipped from my nocturnal fingers.

And as I watched the ink bleed through each aged page…as I studied it, relieved that I had it all down…

That, dear reader, is when I actually woke up.

I woke up, realizing that not only had I not, in fact, captured this tale from my slumber but…

It was just a Harry Potter knock-off.

Poetry

Mongrel

The muse is a mongrel
And if you try to exert your force on her,
She will hate you for it.
You don’t want a muse that sits outside on a line
Because too long and you’ll find she’s hung herself with it.
None of your guilt will save her.
It will end in a hole
And whether it’s her or you in it
Doesn’t really matter.

You have to want her there.

If you keep her by your side, if you make the time,
If you give her the things she likes —
Wet words to chew on, lots of space to play in,
She will love you. She will grant you every year she has in her,
And on the days that you’re empty,
She will at least stay beside you.

She will want to be there.

But keep the door open
For nights when the moon is full and a wind is coming in
Make sure you have a broom and a dust pan
For days when sandstorms come in
Because she will need to go out into the thick of it
And drag you with her
For no reason but to run in circles
And you’ll hate it
But the richness it will add to your stories
Will be nothing compared to the wonder that will be reflected
In your waking hours.

5 Things, Creative Advice, Writing, Writing Tips

You Might Think It’s Easy, But It’s Snot

jurassicpark_BIG

Since I got back on Sunday, I have been sick.

Husbando had had a head cold a few weeks previously, and I felt like I had somehow sneaked past without getting its attention. As if the cold were a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and I was Sam Neill with the flare. Little did I realize that in no time I would end up a bit more like…Jeff Goldblum. You know, where he spazzes out and people start dying.

As a result, I’ve been floundering trying to be productive. And you’d think, “Oh, you can just blog while you’re lying in bed.” But it’s not so easy. Because that requires thinking, and that’s no simple feat when your brain is drowning in mucus.

Ew.

Here are a few things you can do if you, like me, get sick and feel like a worthless sack:

1. Catch up on some research — Take a look at some of those places you’re going to feature in your next book. Or search for inspiring images on Pinterest to motivate you to get a better sense of your characters.

2. Write some poetry — Don’t think too hard on it. Just let it flow out onto the paper.

3. Make a list — I love lists, if you couldn’t tell that from March’s 30 Lists. But they really are a good way to collect your thoughts in a short, sweet way. Think about what you’re going to blog about, what topics you want to write about, what books have inspired you.

4. Go easy on yourself — If you push too hard, you’re going to wind up sicker for a longer amount of time. Take frequent breaks. Keep hydrated. Get plenty of sleep.

5. Catch up on other writers’ blogs — We’re always telling ourselves not to fall down the blog rabbit hole, but in truth, when you’re having a hard time getting anything done, you can draw strength from awesome writers around you. Indulge and take a look at, say, Terrible Minds. Or The Cult.

Now you’re all set to feel better about not doing anything because life is currently a snotty mountain of tissues. Huzzah!

Art, Personal, Writing

Freakin’ Weekend

This weekend I drove from Pittsburgh to Annandale-on-Hudson to Maryland and back to Pittsburgh.

In Northern PA, I passed alternating signs for rabies clinics and llama farms.

I stopped in Scranton to go to the Mall in Steamtown, hoping for an interesting small-town experience that would make me think of one of my favorite shows. Not so much. But it’s a story, and that is what counts.

I saw Neil Gaiman talk to Laurie Anderson about art and personal experience and creativity. I talked to people from Bard College, and I was struck by their kindness and their welcoming campus. The talk ended with a question I had submitted for Q&A; I had asked for Neil and Laurie to talk about their creative processes. I was expecting something about their day-to-day creativity, but instead listened as Laurie talked about her next project, how it was born out of tragedy, and how she was trying to push for legislation that would help soldiers decompress after active service. It was amazing and moving and very, very real.

In DC, I saw Amanda Palmer laugh and cry and sing about how fucking scary it is to face life. I didn’t get a chance to tell her how much I get scared of becoming boring, too. I didn’t get to tell her how much it meant for me to hear her admit that she was terrified of what lay ahead. I didn’t get to tell her how grateful I was for her music, for her experience, for her strength. I just told her that she was going to be an amazing mother. And she smiled tiredly and said, “I’m going to try.”

I stayed with my amazing aunt who I feel closer and closer to every time I see her. I drove home in beautiful, glorious spring.

It was amazing. I’m so happily exhausted.

Uncategorized

On Getting Bit (And Still Sticking Your Hand Back In)

It’s tough going from owning guinea pigs to owning mice.

Guinea pigs are sort of like big, furry bricks. You can pick them up, place them in your lap, pet them and then return them to their habitat. That’s the big draw to those big-lipped bundles: you can handle them with relative ease. Wanna cuddle and watch TV? Cool. Snuggle in bed? No problem.

Not so with mice. Even domesticated mice are running on 110% fleeing energy, operating under the fair assumption that anything and everything is trying to end their short lives. When I first got my two mice last year, I thought that I could at least enjoy their presence in the tank they shared. One day, I reached my hand down with a few pieces of food. Virginia – the more sociable of two at the time – was cool with that. Milk-and-cream-colored Sylvia, however?

“She freakin’ bit me,” I told my husband, showing him the red pinch mark on my hand.

“Yeah…what did you expect?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but I expected some White Fang shit. I expected some initial wildness that would melt to warm love between me and my tiny furry friends. But after a few more times, I got tired of the itty bitty bites, so I left them alone to their happy, mousey lives.

Fast-forward about fifteen months. After a brief bout with a dime-sized tumor, Virginia passed away. I struggled with the idea of getting Sylvia a friend (“You’re going to end up the crazy cat lady of mice if you get into this cycle,” I was warned) but she was mostly pleased with having the tank to herself. However, I didn’t want her to get depressed or bored, so I decided I would try once again to make our friendship work so she could stay stimulated.

Everything I read explained that to win the trust of a mouse, you have to make sure they have a strong sense of security. How do you do that? By slowly getting them used to you. How do you do that? Sticking your damn hand in the tank again.

“This isn’t going to work if you keep taking your hand away,” my husband explained as I pulled my doughy digits out of Sylvia’s line of bite. I hated the thought of the little bugger getting her teeth on me. Again.

I read a topic in a book on rats about using soft foods to keep the rat engaged as they become accustomed to your presence. I decided to give this a try. Why not? Turns out Sylvia loves peanut butter, and she quickly got to liking it being given to her on a spoon.

It took a lot of courage to get to the next step: putting peanut butter on the tip of a finger. Every voice in me was like, “This is not going to end well. You know that, right?”

But as that little mouse came up and happily started licking my finger without so much as a pinch, I can report that no bad happened.

How often do we pass up opportunities because we’re afraid of getting hurt again? It’s easy to just say, “I’ll find a better way to occupy my time.” The things that really matter, though – the things in life that bring real joy – may require taking a risk and defying everything that tells you it’s safer to stay back.

I’m glad I tried again. Wouldn’t you?