Feeling like marmalade on toast.

I’m spread soooo thin. I need to… I don’t know. Stop freaking out about the workload.

I have to have mentioned this somewhere in a previous post, but man, I have a lot of projects running at once. Here’s a glimpse of what we’re dealing with here:

  1. Doing research for a doc.
  2. Multiple (!) novels, the most highly prioritized ones being the following three: a) SJL, my oldest and most complete one, despite being far from finished; b) 485 Days (that’s the shortened title actually), with the unintentional author-insert protagonist I mentioned a couple days ago; c) Funny Little Man, about a twenty-something guy working to get his life together (oh look everyone, I think I’ve got a theme going).
  3. A probably-never-going-to-happen webseries that I’m wholly and inexorably smitten with. I can’t stop thinking about it even when I know I should work on other stuff. (UGH, I love these characters to death.) This is what’s eating most of my work time.
  4. One screenplay, and a couple of screenplay-esque something or others.
  5. A handful of short stories (some finished, most in progress) that I’d eventually like to put together in a collection.
  6. A partridge in a pear tree (I know you saw that joke coming, but it would have been disappointing if I hadn’t made it, right? Right?).

It’s ridiculous, I know. Ridiculous and unsustainable. “Do it all at once” is not a good way to approach anything. Ever. In life. At all. Ever.

And amazingly, that list is actually still excluding a lot of material that I intend to get back to eventually.

I spend a lot of writing time just clicking through my folders, thinking, “Well, they all look good. In a list.” But they’re all unfinished, and it drives me nuts. I can’t concentrate on one project at a time because I’m thinking about all the other unfinished stuff I’ve got in the queue. I click and fiddle around doing a little here, a little there, but not a whole lot anywhere.

Several months ago I sat down and made a weekly chart. I worked out days and times to work on every single piece. I tacked it to the wall beside my computer. Then I ignored it completely.

Does anyone have any good advice for learning to take things one step at a time and to focus?

And for not screwing up bullets/numbers/indents in the post editor, because seriously guys, why did formatting that list take me at least twenty minutes to get right?  It’s still not quite how I wanted either.

Next post, surely: anyone have good advice on how to stop complaining? here, have more complaints

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Venn diagram snippet, AKA just a circle.

I never do this. It’s a tiny, jumbled sliver of material I’m working on though, so it doesn’t make me twitchy.

I went to bed late last night, as is the trend. Words in her voice popped into my head before I turned off the light.

I wrote this for her:

What is this? I mean, really. What? What is this? How did I get here, and how do I get back to where I started? Someone hand me a walkthrough. Seriously. 

Can I have these last eight years back? Let me— let me just start over from there. I don’t know what I’d do differently. Maybe I’d just get more sleep. Scratch that, actually. I spent too much of those years unconscious anyway.

and realized– or fully admitted, perhaps– that my Everyday and my protagonist’s Purgatory had become one and the same.

Usually I try to make a distinction between Me and Me-Shaped Characters. This time? Nooope.

I don’t know how I feel about that.

In other news: I learned that music sounds better when you’re getting things done.  My theory, anyway. I mean, yesterday was almost fun.

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Peace and quiet, or lack thereof.

I don’t live alone, and so I have little time and space to myself.

When I listen to music, I use headphones. The others, not so much. On weekends, there’s often music going, out loud, from as early as 8 am to well into the afternoon.

I have a desktop computer located in a shared room. I used to have a laptop, but it exploded. Long story. Anyway, you can imagine the complications this results in. I think this is part of the reason I became so much of a night owl over the last seven or so years of my life. It’s the only time when I’m, in one way or another, alone. It’s dark and peaceful. The rest of the world seems to stop for a few hours. I don’t have anyone or thing to answer to.

I have a plan. A fantasy, really. Someday, when I’ve got the free time, I’m going to check into a hotel for several days, someplace far out of the city. Someplace scenic. I’ll check in. Hide the clocks. Take the tv remote down to the front desk and tell them to keep it from me. Then, I’ll lock myself in the room and write for as long as I can. I’ll stop to eat. I’ll stop to take walks. I’ll stop to sleep at night, or take a brief siesta in the afternoon. That’s about it.

I know I’m not the only writer to do that. I’m just wondering if it really works. Maybe it’s something I really need to look into. At the moment I feel like my concentration’s been shattered, like I’ve got all the focus of an anxious squirrel.

I’m curious as to how the need of and search for quiet time and private space affects other writers. Just how prevalent is this feeling? Is it possible that I’d be a lot further along if I could just get some time away?

I’ll continue to tell myself that…

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Real life changes the plot? Also, Nanowrimo!

Very serious question I’ve been pondering: What do you do when a real-life personal tragedy mirrors the fictional tragedy occurring in the work you are composing?

For example: a character passes away in a very specific kind of car accident. Then, a close friend’s family member passes away in an eerily similar, if not identical car accident.

You can’t just change things, not now. Can you? Are you obligated to, out of politeness?  This sort of incident brings up tons of questions I have regarding showing sensitivity while depicting tragedy, especially if there’s a possibility that it could hit closer to home for than you ever anticipated. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no answers.

Also: today is the first day of November, which means a number of writers are embarking on the difficult task of finishing an entire novel by the end of the month. I’ve never participated in Nanowrimo officially, although as the tags indicate I’ve used it as an opportunity to try completing one of my novels. Go ahead and check those out if you’re interested in reading the chronicles of a writer slowly unraveling, you know, if you need inspiration in a vaguely schadenfreudey kind of way. This year will be much more relaxed. Since I’ve been writing everyday anyway, I’ll try to stay current and update on progress when necessary. Good luck to everyone participating!

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Staying focused. Or not really.

Last week was uncharacteristically strange, and as such led to a slowdown. Either way, I would have still tripped over my own gleefully flailing limbs and never quite picked up where I left off, as feared in a post from the week before last. Although the desire is still present, I feel back at square one regarding energy. How do you maintain momentum when executing personal projects?

One of the things that actually has turned out to be a hindrance is the effort required to write here every day. I spend huge amounts of time thinking about what I have to say, as for a long time I felt I simply had nothing to say– nothing that worked here, anyway. I don’t think that’s true anymore, and learning how to get back into the rhythm of writing daily– and accepting that writing for whatever it turns out to be– is healthy. Still, I struggle with splitting time between posts and other writing projects, which are the higher priority for me.

I don’t see this as the absolute end of my sudden burst of energy, but more as a reminder that it will require discipline and effort to stay on target. I won’t always feel like doing it. I knew this already, but it’s always easy to tell yourself that you’ll never slack again when you’re itching to write and still coming up with ideas at 4 am.

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Daggers, or puppies.

I often find myself sitting uselessly in front of my computer with one or several of my manuscripts open and waiting.

I’m often excited, at the potential of the work. Excited about where the story will be going. I’m also anxious. I’m worried I’m not getting enough done. Worried I’m not doing the story justice, and that I could never do it justice. There’s a huge spectrum of feelings I travel along when I sit down in front of my work in the morning.

I’m noticing a shift in my default reaction, though. Before, I would look at them and in a way those words would look back, and I’d feel vaguely taunted. “Wow, have you got issues. You may never get this done, at your rate.”

Now, we are both older, and the taunting has given way to something else. Something more sympathetic, or pitying maybe, and fatigued. The story longs for completion as much as I long to complete it. Instead I hear, “Look, we’ve been at this dance long enough. We’ve seen every corner of this ballroom. My shoes pinch and my feet are tired. It’s four in the morning. Can we just be done with this already?”

Yes. I’d like that too.

If only I could stop staring at you. Just. Staring… at you.

Really, I don’t know how to stop it. Sitting down and getting started for the day continues to be the hardest part. Might be the pressure. I’ve always been one to duck my way out of high-pressure situations, opting to throw on my headphones and pretend the high stakes don’t exist.

I’ve been working on my longest and oldest in-progress piece for almost eight years. It’s gone through rewrites, four restarts, a couple of major plot changes, three different names for my protagonist (third time’s absolutely the charm), one Nanowrimo attempt, and a loss of over 100 pages worth of progress.

So how long? I mean, really?

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Eliminating the fear of one’s voice.

Imagine with me: you’re making home movies with a video camera, or maybe playing with the little doohickey on your laptop. You get wrapped up in the fun of goofing off with friends and/or family. You laugh boisterously. You are loud, to keep your sister from making a point that would jokingly embarrass you. You interrupt. You cram brownies into your mouth with ferocious intensity. You squirm out of playfully constrictive hugs. The conversational tone veers into the somber, and you speak your mind honestly, earnestly, unfiltered, and without concern for judgment because you are surrounded by accepting ears.

Later you review the footage and you are horrified.

“Is that me? That’s what I sound like? That’s my voice?”

Your sibling nods. If you have no siblings, imagine your companion animal. If you have no companions, imagine your mail carrier.

“No. No. No it’s not. Shut up.”

Oh, keep watching. There’s more.

“Why hasn’t anyone told me I flail my arms like that? I didn’t even know I gestured when I spoke, I swear I didn’t. I look like I’m attempting flight. And what is this—is that me laughing? Have mercy.”

There is no end to the horror of discovering yourself as others see you, or at least your perception of how they see you.

I’d posit that the same thing happens when you step back and take a good look at your own writing. In fact, I touched on this subject in a previous entry when I detailed the first time I had such an experience. There’s a difference though, between watching your image captured in moving pictures and “hearing” your literary voice captured in static letters. A crucial difference, even.

Quirks are quirks, tics are tics. Crooked smiles and asymmetrical eyebrows and spaghetti noodle arms make you you, and they neither can nor should be changed. But the fluidity of one’s written essence, the nuance and richness with which you approach the process… these things convey skill, learning. Discipline. They have meaning, on a computer screen and in the real world. And so, even the simplest of musings can become a scale on which your intellectual heft is measured, even if others judge only subconsciously.

What this can then boil down to is a paralyzing fear of writing in ways that reveal fundamental shortcomings in one’s understanding of the craft, the human condition, the world—feel free to fill in the blank there.

I (we? All of us?) don’t want to sound ridiculous. Or uneducated. Or stupid, at worst, because really, how many people are above calling someone else stupid for any reason? Someone thinks I’m stupid.

Unlike noticing that your eyes blink at slightly different times or that you are doing a far worse job concealing your carb-fiendishness than you ever imagined, ignorance of the mechanics of life can and should be changed. Some of this is accomplished just by being alive I guess, but the rest probably requires the active, constant exposure of actually living, and wanting to know what “being” means for other people. This is especially true if you write. Right? Right. How else would you write about people?

But what, then, to do with the reality that we have gone this far with these words only to learn that the foundation of authenticity on which those words rest is so unstable that they crumble beneath the weight of our naïveté? What do you do with the burning of that embarrassment clawing at the surface of your skin, at the knowledge that your art betrays you? How am I supposed to move forward when I know I sound like that? Like I’ve got as much of a handle on the gravity of this material as I might have on, say, a working fire hose?

Congratulations! you say to yourself. You are poorly informed. You are arrogant. You are a little naïve. You are young. You are in some ways socially inept. You didn’t do enough research before you wrote that. You weren’t emotionally honest with yourself when you wrote that. You won’t really experience what you’re describing for another couple of years. You are forgetting what you learned in 11th grade U.S. history. You are forgetting to set the DVR to record Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Yes, we’re still speaking hypothetically. Hush.

So the “what to do” thing: maybe… just kind of be okay with it? I guess? Maybe?

Maybe there’s an art to learning to live with being seen, and likely being judged, for everything you are, actually are, and not the things you’ve carefully constructed as you grasp at the heels of the complexity and sophistication you aspire to. I say that because I just realized that the title of this post is unintentionally misleading. “Eliminating” fear. I don’t know if this is a fear you can really eliminate. If I knew how to do that I wouldn’t have written about it. I’m just typing to myself, thinking aloud on paper on screen. I think I’m learning that you can only learn to let go, accept that what you’ve produced is all you (and hopefully the best of you), and stop sweating the inevitability of plainly not knowing something. Do your best, and appreciate your psyche, place in life, and who you are in that moment for what it is.

So yeah, uh, I’ll let you know when I figure out how to do that.

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When is finished really finished, anyway?

A couple of days ago I wondered if displaying my work in progress was a good idea. Almost immediately, I began to wonder how much of my work was really in progress. (The truth: a lot of it.) Sometimes I write things and sit on them. Whenever I open up an old piece, I always find things about it that can be changed. I hear this isn’t uncommon, but I’m under the impression that most writers can at least find a certain amount of approval with a piece once they reach its end. For me, nothing ever feels finished, or at least good enough in its finished form.

How do you know when a piece really still needs work, and when you really just need to step away from it, and let it be whatever it’s become? Do I keep tinkering away because it really isn’t finished, or because I can’t stop editing and nitpicking what I’ve completed, and as a result remain perpetually dissatisfied?

There’s probably a little of both happening, but the nitpicking/editing-while-writing is easily among my most crippling tendencies. I won’t have anything to work with if I can’t stop hindering myself before I ever get it done. The editing can come after I have a complete product. I know this, but that doesn’t seem to change the habit.

I am getting better about it, though. Awareness of the problem helps tremendously. I guess we’ll see how much I improve over the next few weeks, as I work to reel it in.

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Two times I felt helpless.

1. There was a point in time, not all that long ago, when my mom and I lived with my sister, brother-in-law, and my then-newborn niece in their condo.

I don’t remember if the sound woke me up, or if I was already awake, but I heard it. It sounded distant, maybe a few blocks away in any direction. “Help!” It was a man’s voice, probably, elevated in a gut-wrenching shriek unlike anything I’d ever heard with my own two ears. “Help!”

Sleep is an impossibility with a sound that terrifying trickling into your ears, so I listened, thinking it would stop at some point. Surely someone screaming at the top of his lungs for help would eventually receive it— and in a hurry, one would assume.

But it went on. On and on. I have no idea how long, but it felt like at least twenty minutes. I wondered, Why won’t someone do something?

I actually got up and looked out of my second-story window, wondering if this person was anywhere nearby, in the condo complex maybe. The thing about the complex, though, is that the condos didn’t face the street. The front of the buildings were turned inward, perpendicular from the main thoroughfare, and faced each other. I couldn’t see anything except the shared driveway and the drawn curtains across the way.

Should I call the police? I thought. What could I possibly say? “Yeah, um, there’s someone screaming for help. Somewhere. Nearby. I have no idea where, though. I live off of Main Street. Does that help?”

Now, I don’t know. I’m guessing that there is actually a range of possible explanations and outcomes for this situation. It could have just been a drunken incident, though “help” is a pretty serious thing to scream. Maybe he stopped because he actually got some help. But I don’t know, and I never will.

I’ve always felt guilty about that. I don’t know what I could have done though.

2. I think it was the Fourth of July. It must have been, because I know it was a holiday in the summer requiring the purchase of barbecue vittles. My sister and I went to Safeway to grab some extra things we’d forgotten to purchase earlier in the week. She was also going to buy strawberries, shortcakes, and the whipped cream that she always leaves in our parents’ fridge to go to waste, every year. None of us eat whipped cream.

The store was packed, naturally. We wove in and out of the parking lot aisles, waiting for someone to pull out. Maybe 10 minutes later, a spot was in the process of opening up, closer to the back of the lot. Fine with us. We waited patiently as a petite woman popped her trunk and started transferring her purchases into it a bag at a time. She took her time, which for some reason seems to be the tendency when you know there are people waiting for you. Her cart stood somewhere behind her, with the long basket-end closer to her and the handlebar and toddler seat just out of her reach. Her purse sat in the toddler seat.

A few feet behind the woman was a man on a bicycle.

I’m sure you know what happens next.

The man idled briefly on his bike, and I thought he was just taking a breathing. For a second he eyed my sister and I. We both made eye contact with this dude. There’s no way to describe these moments without making them sound drawn out, but I swear, it all happened in a few blinks’ worth of time. While the woman’s back was completely turned to the cart, the man on the bike rushed forward and snatched the purse out of the toddler seat. He made a loop and pedaled away like he was out to win the Tour de France. Like it was the next thing on his To-Do List. Steal purse. Win race. Bake cookies.

You know when something so shocking happens that you can’t even get complete words out of your mouth for a couple seconds? Yeah. Complete disbelief. We looked at each other just to confirm that it had really happened. Amazingly, the woman had no idea what had just occurred. For a few moments the inside of our car was nothing but shouts and windmilling arms, all to get the woman’s attention. We had to honk before she finally looked at us, and then gesture wildly at the empty space in the cart.

I’ll never forget the hurt look on her face when the situation finally dawned on her. She burst into tears.

The police were called. We stayed, told the officer everything we’d seen. But that woman was never going to get her purse back, and the officer said as much from the word go. A simple holiday afternoon for her was now a day to be spent contacting the bank, canceling cards, and planning to replace her license, phone, and who knows what else. I felt awful. I wished I could have done something more. I wish I’d seen that man on the bike and done something before he even moved forward. We should have honked sooner, gotten the woman’s attention and scared him off. I should have known, I thought, seen it coming. I felt bad, but I can’t imagine how she must have felt.

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It’s for my benefit. Really.

Honest question: is it okay to put up a bibliography of work for yourself even if some (most? almost all?) of the work is still in progress, and none of the work is published?

Just wondering.

Anyway, last night I was agitated in much the same way I’d been the night/morning before. The only difference was that I acted like a big girl and went to bed at a reasonable time. Didn’t stop me from waking up at odd hours. Twelve, four. It’s like my subconscious was telling me, “Aren’t we usually awake at this hour? Wait, are you doing that ‘acting normal’ thing again? …Good luck with that.”

I’m in the process of channeling this frenetic energy into something meaningful, but the universe doesn’t seem to be moving as fast as my mind wants it to. I’m caught between an  uncharacteristic satisfaction with my material and a strange frustration in my inability to get it out fast enough. My page count, word count, words per minute are all just not enough for me. This means that next time I post it may or may not be something on the more fictional end of the spectrum. More likely, it might just mean that I’ll put up that bibliography, for purely motivational and/or self-indulgent reasons. Maybe if I make them visible, tangible in that way, then they’ll all actually kind of happen.

*cough*And because I’ve always been good at fantasizing about achievements I haven’t quite achieved.

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