Please change your bookmarks and update your feeds. My new blog home is at http://www.caryncaldwell.com/blog (Yes! I finally have my own domain. Yay!) My new feed address is http://feeds.feedburner.com/booklady.
Note: I’ve moved, so if you’re reading this through an RSS feed or at http://booklady.wordpress.com, then please change your links. The new RSS feed address is http://feeds.feedburner.com/booklady, and the new website is http://www.caryncaldwell.com/blog. Thanks!
As anyone who’s ever tagged me for a meme knows, if I don’t answer right away then I never do. And to be honest, I never answer right away, usually because I can’t think of what to write. By the time the words would have come to me, I’ve usually forgotten the assignment. (Incidentally, this is not very different from my middle school years, when I procrastinated on my homework until long past the expiration date. Of course, back then I could blame it on friends, lack of motivation, and an unhealthy interest in a certain few boys who, in turn, had no interest in me whatsoever.)
But when my friend Robin Bielman awarded my blog — and six others — the lovely badge to the left, I knew I couldn’t ignore it. Sheer terror had much to do with my dutiful response, since Robin knows where I live, she could totally take me in a fight, she knows several of my more potent secrets, and she critiques my writing. There was more to it than lack of courage, however. I loved the spirit of this award, which was designed to acknowledge bloggers who tirelessly entertain near-strangers with regular, good-quality content — and all for free.
It’s deciding which worthy bloggers deserved the honor next that gave me the most difficulty, of course. How is it possible to narrow down my favorite blogs to just seven, even when accounting for those who had already received the badge from someone else? And how could I do that without hurting the feelings of those who were left? After all, I think everyone on my blogroll is deserving of recognition. And so I grabbed all of the eligible names from my sorely outdated list of links, shuffled them in a high-tech fashion, and chose the top seven. If you have the opportunity, please take a few moments to check out the following blogs, as well as the ones from my blogroll that ended up later in the randomized list and so didn’t get chosen this time around. I bet you’ll find some fun new reads that way.
And now, without further fanfare, I hereby present the I Love Your Blog badge of honor to:
- Katie from Cactus Kate for her gorgeous photographs and awe-inspiring gardening abilities
- Courtney from Five-Second Dance Party for her unflinching honesty and warm-heartedness
- Sandi Kahn Shelton for writing posts that never fail to make me laugh and, on some occasions, tear up
- Alyson Noel from Tales from the Real OC (Really!) for her fun updates, insights into the life of an author, and many cool website recommendations
- Chemical Billy for writing drop dead gorgeous prose that makes the world around her come alive for her readers
- Eileen Cook from Just My Type for finding the most random, bizarre, and entertaining links to pass on to the rest of us. I don’t know how she does it!
- Emily from The Sassy Lime for being such a sweetie, and for her cheerfulness in the face of near-constant pain
Thank you, ladies, for your inspiring, entertaining, and always-interesting posts! Please pass on the blog love by putting the badge of honor on your sites and awarding it to seven other deserving bloggers.
To the average reader, it would seem as if I have been neglecting my bloggerly duties. After all, I haven’t posted in, oh, a while. And what more is there to blogging than posting?
The average reader would, however, be deeply incorrect. In addition to beginning an astonishing number of posts that went nowhere and arranging a special surprise for next weekend, I have been wandering around, lost and blindfolded, in the land of web design. Turns out when you value quality control (or, okay, are an anal perfectionist) like me, web design becomes an obsession, creating hollow-eyed zombies out of (fairly) normal people. Even now I find myself fighting the urge to tweak one more line of code on my shiny new homepage, add a tenth widget to my brand new blog, or install yet another show-offy plugin on my radically improved photoblog. I could also change the fonts. Or perhaps the link colors. Or the wording on the welcome page.
See? I am now a crazy person. CSS did that to me. Robin and Pam do share part of the blame, though, since I was forced to watch longingly from the shadows while both of them obtained pretty new websites. In the meantime, I languished here in the land of free hosting. And so, yes, when I obtained the freedom that came with setting up my own webbly home I went a little nuts. On the blog alone there will be footnotes! And polls! And cool subscription options! And many other unnecessary frills to astound and delight! I’d like to think it’s worth it. And if the universe is willing (please make it so!) this will be my last big move ever. Yeehaw.
And now, without further segue, the boring, practical stuff…
If you already subscribe to this blog using an RSS feed, you may or may not have to change your subscription. If you use the Feedburner feed, no modifications are necessary. I can take the feed with me, so for a few days it will still show information for my old blog. When I have a new post up, I’ll switch it over to start displaying info for the new blog. (Feedburner is cool like that. If you don’t use it for your own blog, I recommend it.) And, of course, if you subscribed using my regular feed address then click here to change to the Feedburner subscription. Or you could just get email updates. Your choice.
If you have blogrolled this page, I thank you from the depths of my soul. In a while I’ll put up a redirection from this blog to my new one. However, if you’re feeling kind, changing the links would be great.
Hope to see you over at my new home on the internet!
good any home: Three moon-drunk felines weighing a total of thirty pounds. Can be separated, but extra vocalizations ensue when two youngest are apart. Special skills/talents: pitiful looks, persistence, precociousness, curiosity, ability to jump long distances, enthusiasm, admirable dedication to chasing computer cursors and wrestling each other. Disadvantages: same. If interested, please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background, in the name of disclosure: These cats are prone to the night-crazies, and have been known to keep household members awake long into the the early morning. Last night’s exhibitions were particularly severe, and have prompted this limited-time offer. For example: The Basil sat under the window and howled at the visible moon. He and Rosemary, both friendly sorts, set up a wrestling tournament on my prone body. Someone threw up. Someone ate it. Someone pooped on the master bathroom floor. Someone attempted to bury it with linoleum. Someone got locked out, and then pawed and meowed at the door until let back in. Someone sat on my head. Someone walked on it. Someone chewed the cat kibbles so loudly the breaking food echoed throughout the room.
And now three someones are in trouble.
This morning came way too early for forgiveness. If they let me sleep tonight, I might allow them to live. I may even keep them, in which case this offer is null and void. But I’m a little cranky, so you’re probably in luck. Anyone? Anyone???
For the past several years I have volunteered at the local high school, advising a number of very talented students in the creative writing club. This year I mentioned NaNoWriMo to several of them. Word spread, and now we have a large group of students who are all determined to write an entire novel this month. Only problem? Some of them had no idea where to start. Since I’ve dealt with this same issue, I made up the following list for them. Since many of you write — books, term papers, blog entries, thank-you notes — I figured I’d share the list with you as well. Have favorite ways to jump start your writing? Please share!
- Go back to when everything last worked and to see if you went off-track.
- Skip ahead to what you do know and write that. Sometimes you’ll find that the scene you agonized over really doesn’t need to be there, or in the meantime you – or your subconscious – could think of a good way to fix it.
- Think of ways to make your characters’ lives worse, then implement them. It’s hard to have a book if you don’t have conflict.
- Make a list of all the scenes that have to happen in your book. Good. Now you know where you’re going, and you have a goal. Start figuring out how to get from your current scene to the next one.
- Read what you’ve already written to get back into the groove. Danger: Don’t let this lead you to edit too much; it’s possible to spend all your time polishing the first three chapters and never get anything else written. You’ll have a great beginning, but you won’t have a book.
- Write with someone else. This can often be inspiring; when others around you are being creative and productive, it’s hard to keep your own pen off the page.
- Writer’s block is often caused by fear. It may be fear of writing something imperfect, fear of what others will think, fear of rejection, or even fear of success. What are you afraid of? Sometimes just knowing will help you conquer it.
- Remind yourself that this is only a first draft. Most books go through many, many revisions, so if it’s not perfect the first time around that’s normal. You don’t have to show anyone until you’re ready.
- Perhaps you’ve lost sight of your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. What would your character would do next in order to reach his/her goal? Now prevent him/her from it.
- Watch a movie or read a book for inspiration. Sometimes the creative well just plain runs dry.
- Brainstorm with someone.
- Or, the reverse could be an issue: Perhaps you’ve talked about your book too much and now it doesn’t seem fresh or fun anymore. If that’s the case, try going in a new direction to freshen it up a bit, and keep it all to yourself for now.
- 90% of all people who begin a novel never finish it. 85% of all those who began NaNoWriMo last year never finished. Beat the odds no matter what, even if means writing utter crap. You can always revise later.
- Reexamine why you’re doing this in the first place. Write your motivation(s) on a sticky note and post it next to your monitor.
- Sometimes having too many options can cause a block. For example, should the character be an architect or a plumber? Should his/her parents be divorced or still together? It’s difficult, but make a choice and stick with it. If you still can’t decide, write each choice on a piece of paper, fold up the pieces, throw them in a hat or bowl and draw one.
- Set a timer and tell yourself you’ll write for this amount of time, no matter what – but that you’re allowed to stop after that if you want to. Anyone can write for 15, 30, or 60 minutes if they put their minds to it. Take a break to eat or do something fun, then set that timer again.
- Develop a writing routine – light a candle, write at the same time each day, choose a special writing chair, etc. Just going through those motions can tell your brain that it’s time to write.
- Shake up your writing routine. Write at a different time or place.
- Allow yourself some awful first sentences each time you begin a new writing session. After all, quite often the hardest part is just getting started. Once you’ve warmed up, it usually becomes much easier.
- Next time you write, try stopping in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. This way you’ll know where to begin when you come back to it.
- Write daily. Make it a habit. Often the longer you go between writing sessions, the harder it can be to get back into it, and the more time you’ll have to psych yourself out.
- Tell everyone your goal so that you are held accountable. Then you have no choice but to get something down.
- Start with success: Do something important but easy, such as finding a good last name for your character or doing some simple research. This gets you back into your story, and the success is often motivating.
- Sometimes you just have to get yourself out of your own way. Take a shower, do the dishes, knit a scarf, take a long drive, play a computer game, hike, run, swim…Do something that keeps your hands and body occupied but your mind free. Then assign your brain the task of thinking about what to write next.
- Disconnect your internet, so if you’re ever tempted to conduct another email check you have to get up and walk over to the modem to plug it back in. Quite often your willpower will return before you set aside your laptop or notebook.
- Think of what you could be doing that you want to do even less – homework, cleaning house, writing that thank-you note to your Great Aunt Pearl, whatever.
- Give yourself silly goals such as finding random words in the dictionary and having to use them, or starting the first sentence with the letter A, the next with B, the following with C, etc. The challenge can help get your mind off your fear and spark your creativity.
- Open a new document or turn to a clean page in your notebook. Anything goes when you’re starting fresh. If you like what you come up with, you can always add it in later. Sounds silly, but it’s actually one of my favorite — and most effective — methods.
- Type with your eyes closed. This can remove inhibitions.
- Begin a free-write with, “I don’t know what to write,” and go from there, writing whatever comes to mind but slowly working your way into examining your book and then, perhaps, starting to write it again.
- Interview your main character, or write a monologue from his/her P.O.V.
- Keep a notebook by your bedside, in your car, in the bathroom – wherever you’re likely to get an idea. When one comes to you, take a moment to (safely!) write it down. Next time you’re stuck with your writing, look through your notebook for ideas.
- Maybe you’ve gone the obvious route with your writing, and you’ve ended up boring yourself. Throw something big into the works to change things radically: someone new (dead or alive) turns up, your character finds out a devastating secret or is suddenly faced with what s/he most fears, the hero fails at an important task.
- Make a list of 20 things that could happen next. Cross out the first 10-15 since those are often the more obvious choices, then consider implementing the last few.
- Let your subconscious do the work. Long before you sit down to write, give yourself a problem that needs to be solved, anywhere from “What should I write next?” to “How should my protagonist react when s/he finds the dead body?” Think about it from time to time. By the time you write, a solution will often present itself with minimal effort.
- Eat, go to the bathroom, and do any urgent business before writing. That way you have no reason to get up from the keyboard once you start. Just make sure you don’t put writing dead last, or you may never get to it.
- Whatever you do, don’t delete! If you really don’t think it’s worthwhile, cut it from the manuscript and paste it in a new one so you can put it back in or use it in something else. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective, and that can take time and distance. If you’re stuck, go through your file of deleted scenes for inspiration.
- What do you like about certain books/movies? How can you incorporate that into your own work in a creative way? What do you hate about particular books/movies? How can you write it better, and with your own creative twist?
- Work on something else for a while. Ever have several books going at a time, reading whichever one interests you right then? The same can work with writing.
- Remember that writing is hard. Just because it doesn’t always flow, it doesn’t mean you’re blocked. So realize that it might not be easy, and work through it. After all, things that are worth it rarely come easily.
- Examine your attitude before you go into it. Are you expecting to have a fun, productive writing session, or are you expecting pain and blockage? Your brain often delivers what you expect.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 4:54 pm (Let's Get Personal)
The bedroom door swings open, light from the hallway streaming in. The cats, who have been lumped on top of me, scatter, eyes wide and tails at half mast.
“Sorry to wake you,” says hubs from the doorway. He was not tired when I succumbed to sleep an hour before, and is still fully dressed and alert. “They said we might need to evacuate, so I thought I should warn you. Just in case you wanted to be ready.”
I am still fumbling my way out of sleep, and this intrusion seems less like reality than like an extension of the dreams that have already begun to evaporate. Nodding, I push back the covers, the motion peeling away some of my exhaustion. My brain begins to buzz and wake. A chilly breeze crawls along my bare arms, further rousing me.
“Why?” I mumble. My voice is dry from disuse, and I pause to clear it. “What’s going on?”
“Fire. Come on. I’ll show you.”
Barefoot, I pad after him through the house and out the front door. We stand side-by-side on the smooth flagstone path and watch. The sky to the west is a billowing pink plume, the cliffs around us awash with shifting shades of rust and salmon. The fire is giant, and spreading. Above is an infinite black sky strewn with a million stars. All around, neighbors have wandered onto their porches or into the street to watch the drama unfold. It is surreal to be pulled from the peace that comes with sleep, only to witness destruction in the dark with near-strangers.
The fire is close, a few miles at most, but all we can smell are the dew-dampened grass and the rotting leaves of autumn. This is good news; the wind is not blowing the inferno in our direction. We retreat inside to plan, in case it shifts. Plans are good. They make us feel in control.
The cats are our first priority. This does not require agreement; it simply is. After that, the computer with my writing. Our photos, wallets, journals. A few other things we’ve accumulated over the years. That’s it. All else can burn if necessary — not easily, but without such heart-wrenching loss. I am stunned at how few essentials we possess, and absurdly proud.
Later, once all is gathered, I try to sleep. It is barely possible. My limbs hum with adrenaline, my mind races with thoughts. When sleep comes, I flit along just under its surface, waking often. The cats, oblivious to the drama, doze on through the night. Hubs leaves to investigate and does not return for hours.
This morning the flames are contained, and those who live near are wrecked from stress and adrenaline and lack of sleep. Things could change, but for now all seems safe.
There is a curious kind of joy, a buoyancy, that comes with escaping disaster. It weaves through the building where I work, joining and then overtaking the smell of stale smoke curling in through the vents and window cracks. Although I think longingly of the sleep that escaped me last night, some of the mania flows through my veins, too. And somehow the mixture feels just right.
Dear Friend / Employer / Charity / Business Acquaintance / Neighbor,
I regret to inform you that the answer to your recent request is a firm and resounding NO. I do understand the position that you are in, and that you would appreciate my: help with the move / coming in on my day off / making a generous donation / becoming a dues-paying member of your newly established professional group / walking your dog five times a day while you’re on vacation. However, due to a recently expanded work load in my personal and professional lives, as of this morning I have committed to saying NO to every request and offer, and you have the distinct honor of receiving this message first. Congratulations.
Please understand that this was a difficult decision, and one about which I deliberated for quite some time, but I find I must be consistent in my refusal, lest hurt feelings and resentment ensue. As this is a new program, it is subject to change at any time, so you may wish to renew your application in the future.
Once again, I appreciate the importance of your request and am honored that you thought of me. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the same manner in which you have done so previously.
a.k.a. The Chronic Yes-Woman
P.S. Hey, that was a good attempt, wasn’t it? I almost had you going! Anyway, for those who want my help, I’ll be over next Saturday — say, around eightish? Who needs to sleep in on the weekend, anyway? For all others, the check is in the mail. I should warn you, though, that next time I really will say no. I’m not kidding. Meanwhile, thanks for the chance to practice my rejection technique. I realize it needs a little work on the follow-through, but I think I’m onto something here.
P.P.S. I’m serious here. Next time, the answer is NO. Really. I promise.
Seems everything needed repairs this week. First there was an elderly but sturdy machine at work, which required my second-favorite set of instructions ever: the now-infamous page 36 from the vintage manual I keep in a nearby cupboard.
Raise your hand if you had to stifle a juvenile snicker when you read the title above. Raise both if you were unsuccessful. Very good. You get three points if you’re the first to spot the spelling error, and ten if you can identify the machine in question.
Page 36 also requires a trip to the following diagram, which I would argue makes their assurance that it’s only “7 easy steps” a giant lie. Like the photo above, click if you need more detail, but do so with care lest your brain explode.
Despite my near-uselessness when it comes to anything mechanical, I managed to muddle through and get the mystery machine up and running again — just in time to go home and spend another evening trying to fix my book. Alas, that task doesn’t come with an instruction manual.
Aren’t they pretty? Good thing I don’t use red ink, or these pages would look like they’d been murdered, and that would ruin the tone of the whole book.
Then, of all the luck, I needed repairs, too. Yes, the flu visited again, just a month and a half after it last stopped by. So much for my weekend plans. Instead of going into the mountains to take photos like the one below, which I snapped a few years ago…
…I got to photograph things around home. This is not nearly as exciting — or as pretty.
Unfortunately, alien creatures kept popping into the frame at the last minute. The blobby heads and tails were so big that even Photoshop couldn’t help me fix the results. Too bad. I do hate to leave things unrepaired.
On Friday morning steel gray clouds scudded across the sky and a restless breeze washed over the neighborhood, heralding bad weather to come. Hoping for rain, I ducked into my car and turned the key, then glanced over my shoulder as I sped down the driveway, later for work than usual. Then a thought struck me and I lurched to a stop a few feet from the road. My sunglasses, unnecessary that morning, were still in the house. It may have been too shady for shades, but the sun could break through later, leaving me to squint my way home again at the end of the day. I pulled up the parking brake, unclicked my seat belt, and threw open the door.
At that precise moment, the sprinkler in the front yard sprang into action. After the last cycle the head had come to a stop facing the driveway and now, with no warning, it burst on, hurling morning-cold water at my face, my skirt, the inside of my car. I spluttered, jumped out of my seat, and slammed the door, then sprinted onto our porch and out of range. As time ticked, I paused to wipe the drops from my face and watch the sprinkler sweep across the yard, dousing everything in its path.
I laughed, of course, and shook my head. I had to. It had been that kind of week, every day filled with miniature disasters, every night spent in tense tossing instead of sleep, every email and phone call left unanswered. This Friday morning comedy routine only added to it all with such perfection. I wanted to put it in a novel, down to the promise of rain hovering above the scene as if foreshadowing the whole event. It was, however, too well-timed to be real, too slapstick to be believed, and therefore too weird for fiction.