Where’ve you been?

IMG_0969

I haven’t been very active on my blog lately, and I have good reasons. Which doesn’t correlate into good reading for you, so I apologize profusely. You see, I’m a student now, and apparently that means that I must spend every waking moment at school or doing schoolwork.

It’s probably not supposed to be this drastic, but I’m having a little hang-up in Math. See, I’m an English major. I am not a natural number monkey. I have to sit and think about each problem, and usually I have to restart it a few times before I crunch the right answer. I failed my last quiz, although fortunately the first test I got a solid B. I can’t take this class over again… it would just hold me back from graduating, and I’ve got places to go and majors to ace.

I have to say that my biggest problem here is that I know that I will not be using Algebra II in my quest for author domination. I recognize that I will have to do math to get the accounting right, but that is not Algebra II. I could whine about my academic woe-is-mes all day, but I think you get the idea. Math homework time has become all-consuming, and has left me precious little time to blog.

Last month we managed to go on a family vacation to Whistler, BC. While I was there, I got to write up an essay that was a creation myth. I read it to both my husband and son, who both really enjoyed it. I’m getting pretty good at prompt writing.

January had its upsides and its downsides for my writing career. On the upside, I was invited back to the Oriental Excess team. Last year they published “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” and this year they want me to write the follow up to the story. I’m so excited to be a part of this process!

Also, there was an anthology that put out a submission all-call. I wrote what I felt was a fantastic piece for them, and just got the rejection letter a couple days ago. The good news about having a fantastic story and an imprint is that publishing is just a few keystrokes away. I do like having my stories published by other presses as well. There are perks either way. Right now Barely Salvageable is putting together a “pulp mag” that will feature work from my writing group. I happen to be fortunate enough to have fallen in with excellent writers, and I think the Hot Mess Mag will prove it.

So, that’s about all there is for me right now. School-homework-family time-sleep. I haven’t worked this hard in ages. The only thing I can say is that I refuse to stop writing, despite how much else there is to do. I decided to go to school so that I could get a career in writing, and so it’s silly to be stopped by school.

School Daze

2015-09-30 08.07.17

When I started school, I had an optimistic mindset. I remembered being an excellent student. Hermione Granger had nothing on me. I was confident about learning and absorbed facts quickly, while being able to organize the facts for easy access later.

Well.

That was all true, but when you’re a student at 17, you live at home, you don’t have to run a household. Your biggest concern is generally what you are doing on Friday night. Being a mother, a wife, and an author, becoming a student tore a hole in my nice, shiny set-up. My friends have often made comments about the way I Tetris my schedule to squeeze every last usable minute out of my day. Well, I did not compensate for the demands of the day, and nearly ran my brain over a cheese grater in the process.

Like a drunken pilot seized by a survival instinct, I blindly grabbed for the controls and brought everything to a halt. My clockwork precision in ruins, I had to scramble to bring it all back to a medium pace. Lesson learned.

Everything is riding on college right now. I spent six months looking for work, and I barely scared up a pre-screening phone call. I got a lot of nice rejection letters, which is better odds than the last time I was unemployed. That said, I’m getting sick of being unceremoniously dumped out the cargo bay when a corporate entity feels the need to lighten the load. I’ve topped out on my customer service skills alone. I need something with more depth and more challenge.

The irony in the swirl of all this change is that I had just come to a point where I’d accepted my lot with my ex-employer. I’d been looking for jobs and hadn’t caught any breaks. So, I decided that I could keep doing what I was doing – work all day, write all night, live in the margins. It wasn’t a month after I made that decision that I got the boot treatment.

Back to school. I love it. I still have the ability to absorb information quickly. I’m still good at taking notes, organizing them, and turning them back around. I’m not doing as well as I’d like, but just imagine Hermione pulling a ‘B’ in a class. There are stakes. I hold myself to a high standard, and anything less than an ‘A’ isn’t a good grade in my book.

Sadly, I’ve had to put that model to bed, because life. I’ve had to adopt a more realistic model of things, one that gives me time and space for family and writing and sleep. It’s been difficult to adopt that model instead. I’m a perfectionist at heart, but perfection is a state attained only in one’s mind. It’s better in your head, Tina.

I’m hoping that with these adjustments college will be a smoother ride. Ah, platitudes. How would we manage without them?

Work It

Image

Recently I told a friend of mine I was living at 125% capacity, and I wasn’t joking.
This was a feat I was capable of at the tender age of nineteen, when all the world was a stage and I was quite a player. I would spend every evening in the company of a bevy of witty, savvy, brilliant friends who delighted in games both on and off the field. I agreed to nearly every invitation – nearly, because I had accepted every invitation for a while and made a habit of double and triple booking myself to the point of annoying those same witty, savvy, brilliant people who were my friends. I fell out of favor for being flaky, and had to climb my way back into good graces.
I did learn that lesson, but not before I tried a myriad of ways to stuff my days full of activity. The sound and fury that signified nothing, unless you happened to be a teenage girl poised on the steps of being twenty.
Quite some time beyond that, I have learned a whole new set of business. I am writing and learning the additional requirements of being an author – tending a blog, attending conferences, doing public readings. Add this to a schedule that is packed to the brim, and you can guarantee nervous collapse is at hand.
I have also desperately been trying to put off the decision that is so obviously in need. A few weeks ago I emailed four of my girlfriends, asking them what their normal social schedule looked like. They ranged from a bi-weekly lunch with a friend to once every six weeks. Even my single friend, who has less family obligation than I do, still only saw people an average of once every couple of weeks.
At this point I can only pull back. I must disappoint people and turn down invitations and stop being so busy. I have to let go of the limelight to let me finally get something done. The problem with writing is that it is time consuming. For every word that goes on the page, many are altered, experimented with, attempted, and then discarded. Much like movies, novels have ‘original scenes,’ enough to probably eke another book or two from. Much like movies, there are only some deleted scenes that are worth showing off.
It will be productive, certainly, but I can’t help but wonder what I’ll think about my decision come November.

 

Learning

The CEO of my company called a meeting in which I was required to attend. What I learned while I was there had nothing to do with software. It had to do with decision making speeds and failure recovery times.

 My CEO is a charming, intelligent, intense man. He led the meeting, taking control of the whiteboard at once. He started giving us scenario rundowns. As soon as he concluded that the scenario was no longer pertinent, he discarded it, changed gears, and picked up the next case. Not one moment lost to the fact that he worked it out to that point, not even an explanation behind his motivations, just an about face, forward march.

 His decisions were just as lightning fast, and unforgiving. It was quite scientific, for being so ad hoc. He split down ideas to their tiniest parts, unrelenting in his direction.

 I have been agonizing over a manuscript since 2009. I have rewritten it eleven times. I spent money on a professional editor to clean up and improve the quality of my work. And I then last night, I sat down and talked to her about my story.

 Nothing about my stories is particularly well thought out. I’m a pantser – I ride the waves of my imagination and fill in everything as I need it. This doesn’t allow for certain basic tricks – foreshadowing foremost among them.

 I have a good story, I believe that. However, to make it a great story, would require me to bust back down to scraps and rewrite it AGAIN. This time, with a goddamn plan.

 Now, here’s my decision. Go forward and spend around a year once again reworking a story that has eluded my grasp for almost four years? Or abandon a work that I’ve invested a few hundred dollars and a lot of hours into?

 My decision came to this: I’m going to walk away. I have been working on this work for a long time, and it was my practice run. It’s a fun story, I feel it can be something. But, if I choose to put it down today, I can come back to it in a year or two, and look at it with fresh eyes. I can take what I’ve learned and apply it to fresh stories that haven’t worn grooves in my head, and keep it moving.

 My editor gave me something that I never had before – her undivided attention and professional know-how. I have had my work edited before, by friends with talent of their own, but they were doing the work for free, and consequently everything had priority over what I’d written. Working with her went far beyond me handing her money. She gave me feedback, perspective, and an education. A one-on-one teacher just for me.

 Now, though, I feel the pressure to produce; pressure from myself, pressure from my friends, and from my readers. I want to put out a book a year, but I don’t have the skills quite yet to churn out that kind of product. I feel the loss of this work, even though I have a get-out-of-jail free card and can change my mind at any time, and it makes me sad.

 This was a big step for me, deciding to step away from the sheltering arms of my talent and walk into the light of learning a skill. The stories will always be mine, but I’m ready to take them as far as they need to go.

My final thought here is that I am learning from my CEO. Today I’m dropping my manuscript, tomorrow I’m picking up the pen again for a new project.

 

 

Full Circle

Once upon a time, I met a magical girl with a singular talent. My fairy godmother directed her my way, and when she approached me, she said, “I heard you write.”

A beautiful relationship was born. The magical girl was called, HG, and she could draw like no one I’d met before. She followed her talent into the arms of a kingdom known as Disney, but she liked having pet projects, and I was one of those.

Then, alas, like all fairy tales, the challenges mounted, and HG and I both had more and more come between us. Work, family, obligations, there was never enough time for our poor project and it slipped into the slumber of forgotten dreams.

This would normally be where the story ends. I have been a party to many projects that ended in a puff of smoke and a sigh. It’s how we learn. Projects are almost always ill-advised, and we try them anyway, learn what we can from them, and then take it with us.

In this case, that is exactly what happened. HG learned project management while she was drawing, and I learned how to strategize a story before writing it. It is not enough to be a writer or an artist any longer. In order to produce a product, there must be a plan.

Plans scare artists of every stripe. Plans are the bane of the creative mind. If you let them be.

Last night I reconnected with HG. We talked about how we’ve grown as artists in the past year. Almost as if this was part of ‘The Plan,’ we picked up our project where we’d left it, waking it up from its long sleep and getting it ready for the day.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Come Fly the Pants Skyway

I discovered recently that there are two methods of writing, and just like in any other faction, everyone insists that their way rules and the other way drools.

First, let me explain the two philosophies in brief, so you understand what I mean. First, there are the ‘Pantsers.’ Charmingly short for, “Flies by the seat of your pants.” These writers are riding the right brain highway, using their creativity as their sole guide through the process.

Next, there are the ‘Plotters,’ and as their name suggests, they like to plot and plan. They are the strategists, the types who use flow charts, character profiles, and a lot of pre-work to begin their story.

I am a pantser. That’s all I’ve really ever known how to do. I shaped the stories in my head and got them down on paper. There are all kinds of panters – poets, short story fiction, even novelists.  It’s a romantic notion, flying by the seat of your pants. The idea of creating an entire world inside your mind, and giving it life, is terrifying and delightful.

Having written two novels this way, I can also tell you it’s exhausting. Pantsers are prone to writer’s block and frustration when a character doesn’t stay consistent. Great ideas can be lost when one has to sleep or go to work, and not many of us have the luxury of being uninterrupted all day. Plots that sound great in your head often find ways of dissolving into unintelligibility on paper, as you scratch your head and wonder what exactly you wanted to convey.

So, I’m defecting. I’ve flown the Pants Skyway, and it’s hard.

Plotting is hard too, but it’s organized.  Time is spent examining the story from all angles, and jotting down notes so that later, you can go back and reference, and spark your memory about what the Bad Guy was supposed to do or what the Device is used for. It requires a lot of focus, but it’s also a creative endeavor. Writer’s Block and frustration can bedevil this process, as well, but having notes to riff from helps overcome those obstacles.

Of course, I have no idea whether this shift will be an improvement for my work, but I believe it will. I certainly think it’s worth a try.

Speaking of Mistakes.. a Retraction

Yesterday, in my post, I made joking reference to my dismal love life prior to my husband. And why not? In my twenties, my love life was infamous among my friends. Given who my friends were, none of them were shy about expressing their opinions regarding my stormy relationships. I got so used to these jokes that they became part of the backdrop, no longer questioned.

When I stopped to reflect this morning about what I posted last night, I realized that those jokes are as outdated as mullets and shoulder pads. There is no doubt that I did achieve notoriety for bad relationships, but the lens of time reveals that the guys I dated turned out to be wonderful men for the most part. The truth is I’m on good terms with a majority of those men now, even if I wasn’t then. And for the few that I’m not on good terms with.. the law of averages suggests that not every ex-boyfriend can be awesome.

So, while I can claim that mistakes were made in my relationships, I did not mean to suggest that all my past relationships were mistakes. Clearly, my worst mistakes in life were my own doing.