Blogging the Novel

Trying to get into the habit of posting here regularly, even when I don’t have much to say. I’ve been reading a lot of writers’ blogs lately, and find them informative and inspiring. I think it’s helpful to provide people with a combination of resources, writing advice, and transparency about the writing process. For example, I never knew about a blank sheet rewrite until I started reading some blogs about writing, and have found that to be very useful in revising my novel. In fact, I think I will make it a post in and of itself.

Please bear with me as I muddle through and find a rhythm and routine for posting here. I’m tentatively planning to post something here daily, even if it’s just a brief progress report and word count, while occasionally posting more in-depth stuff on process, craft, and life.

Process & Progress

Here’s what I’ve been doing it the novel, tentatively titled Fool’s Children:

I printed out and read through the entire rough draft, which was 71,504 words in length (leftover from NaNoWriMo). The draft was a huge, incomprehensible mess since the only real goal during NaNoWriMo is word count. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a pretty solid kernel of a story there.

After some heavy cutting I got the draft down to 35,169 words. At first I balked at the thought of cutting the thing in half, but the story is much better for it. I now have a skeleton, whereas before I had a shapeless blob.

Since then I’ve written three more chapters, one at 3,868 words, one at 3,174, and another at 5,534.

Last night I finally reached a point where it’s time to do some research and flesh out an outline of the rest of the book. At first I was hesitant to stop drafting for fear of losing my momentum, but about 45 minutes of research last night really paid off. I now have a much stronger sense of where I want to go with the book and I’m very excited to start writing again.

Today I plan to do more outlining and then I will begin drafting again tomorrow.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my goal is to finish a COMPLETE rough draft of the whole thing by August 25th.

 

 

Dusting off the novel…

During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2013 I wrote about 70,000 words of a novel that I’ve been kicking around in my head for over ten years. I was proud of myself for “winning” NaNoWriMo, but knew that what I had written was a huge, lumpy mess. Not only is the novel not finished (I’m guessing that because of the pace at which the story is unfolding that the novel will ultimately be 100,000-150,000 words), but I also wrote myself into a few corners. In keeping with the NaNoWriMo philosophy, I plowed through and got my word count. I put the novel away for a month and tried doing a bit of revising in January, but I was overwhelmed by the task that I put it away again. After a busy semester and several strange dreams involving my persistent characters, I pulled the thing out, braced myself with a cup of coffee, and decided to take a close look at what I was dealing with. Could this hulking mass be saved?

It turns out that it’s not as bad as I thought. As I read through the opening scenes I found myself getting caught up in the story. I realized that it’s time to get this thing done, once and for all.

The first thing I did was read through it completely and cut a bunch of utter crap. Repetition, out-of-order scenes that have no place, and some useless stream-of-consciousness stuff that is incomprehensible to me. After chopping away gleefully, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still have a solid 60,000 words to work with.

The next thing I did was print it out. 222 pages! Not only is this a LOT of writing for me, but oddly the number 22 has significance in my story. I don’t attach much significance to this, but it’s kind of a neat coincidence.

Stuffed all 222 pages in a binder and now I’ve begun the sometimes fun, sometimes painful task of re-reading it again. I’m taking notes as I read. Once I’m done I’ll read it again and make an outline, then I will rewrite the novel from scratch. This may seem extreme, but it’s actually a pretty common process among the writers I know and those who write about their process in articles, books, or blogs.

My goal is to have a complete and coherent first draft that I can send out to beta readers by August 25th, which is the first day of classes.

I plan to write about the whole process here, including logging my daily work and word count on the novel.

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Web Logging: A Personal History

The original term for a blog was a web log, coined in 1997. The word blog started being used regularly in 1999. I discovered blogging in 2005 at the age of 34 and started my on-again, off-again relationship with reading and writing blogs. A few of my early attempts at blogging were lost in transition from one blogging client to another, so this blog only goes back to early 2009 and the birth of my son, Oscar.

I got really into blogging when Oscar was born and I discovered “mommy blogs.” Back then, blogging was very different, and mommy blogs contained daily stories, tirades, and confessions about parenting. Twitter was used for actual conversation instead of people throwing off pithy one-liners in a desperate attempt to get retweets. I wasn’t on Facebook back then, and Instagram didn’t exist.

However, over time things changed, and I abandoned most of the blogs I read. Many of my favorite bloggers because popular, and once that happened, their blogs were riddled with ads and most annoying of all, click-through posts. Click-throughs are what you do when you rely on ad revenue, because they generate more page views. As a reader, they are annoying as hell. Basically, they give you a line or two of a post (or just at title) and make you click through to read the rest. The popular mommy blogger Dooce took this to a whole new level of douchery by making even her photos click-throughs. That’s when I stopped reading her blog.

The next two things that happened to blogging were Facebook and Instagram. Unfortunately, I found myself a bit besotted by the high level of interaction in Facebook. When I post a blog post, I get about 5-10 views and on rare occasion, a comment. When I post a comment or photo on Facebook I get hundreds of views, sometimes as many as 50 likes, and quite a few comments.

Personally, I haven’t been able to get into Instagram, although I know many people love it.

I feel that blogging, at least, what I used to love about blogging and reading blogs, has changed to personal branding. Now it’s all about product placement, sponsored posts, and mostly staged Instagram photos of people’s fabulous lives and fabulous shoes.

I find it all very boring.

Thankfully, there are a few blogs that I still read and love. None of these are mommy bloggers. Most of them are writers, none of whom are famous. My favorite blogs do the following:

1. tell stories

2. make me laugh

3. make me excited when I see a new post

4. don’t have ads

5. aren’t on Instagram

6. don’t have click-throughs

7. generate quality content on a regular basis

My new goal with blogging is to emulate these blogs. Not to go viral. Not to get famous. Not to increase page views. Not to generate ad revenue. But simply to give people something I love: good writing and storytelling.

Parenting from the Trenches

I’ve been having a bad case of the comparisons lately. When I see how much other people do with their kids (witnessed by social media but also personal conversations) I ping back and forth between a variety of emotions, from jealousy to anger to anxiety to frustration. I want to be super mom, but I also want to be realistic. I also resent the fact that what I do with my kids is compared to mothers who don’t work full time. There are plenty of people who claim these comparisons don’t exist, but they’re kidding themselves. I get comments from family, friends, other mothers, and my own kid.

It prompted me to write this post on Facebook. I’m always deeply comforted when other parents admit to their struggles and shortcomings, because social media is full of pictures of family outings on beautiful summer days, kids participating in all kinds of enrichment activities, parents out on the town at all hours of night (how can people afford to eat out AND hire a babysitter?), and perfect marzipan birthday cakes as the centerpiece to huge parties with homemade decorations, games, costumes, etc. Every single kids party that I go to resembles something from Pinterest. Every. Single. One.

But enough complaining and bitterness! This is what I always teach my education students about observing other teachers or reading about teaching theories and methods: take what works for you and your students and leave everything else behind.

What works for me? A combination of listening to my kids and drawing on my own experiences. As a kid I hated being behind my peers in all things physical. So I’m encouraging Oscar to learn to ride his bike with confidence and I’ve enrolled him a series of swimming lessons at NAU over the summer (Another comparison: everyone else in Flagstaff goes to a place called the Aquaplex, but I am baffled as to how people can afford it–another instance where I feel like I’m wandering hopelessly lost in a foreign country). In addition to biking and swimming, my son has expressed interest in some science-y things, like planets. We are indulging these interests with planned visits to the observatory and various museums in Flagstaff and Tucson, along with visits to the library.

In contrast to planning activites, it’s very important to me to give my kids plenty of time for free play and downtime. In all my years of babysitting I saw MANY overscheduled kids, and I still do, and there is nothing more depressing than small children being dragged to activity after activity. As a family, I want us to find a balance.

It helps me to focus on prioritizing the things that really important to me. Right now, having a nice house, throwing parties, and traveling extensively have to be set aside.

It also helps me to enjoy small moments of calm. These are almost always in the mornings–my new favorite time–when we make oatmeal or pancakes or eggs, watch cartoons, play, read books, and lounge around in our pajamas. I relish the calm and quiet of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, and my kids love it too.

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Another Day

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I like this picture because it is grainy and out-of-focus and imperfect and full of motion. Like life.

This was my 6th Mother’s Day since becoming a mom myself, and each year the holiday becomes more layered and nuanced. I think about my own mothers (my lovely mom, my step-mom, and my mother-in-law) as well as my sister and my friends who are mothers. But I also think about the people I know who have lost their mothers or lost their children. I think about the women I know who still struggle to become mothers and those who have decided that motherhood is not for them. For millions of people, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of something. For millions of people Mother’s Day is just another day.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a nice holiday and that we shouldn’t go out of our way to celebrate mothers. I will always cherish the little drawings and gifts my son made for me and the extra hugs and kisses he gave me. I will always cherish memories of time spent with my own mother (who is very much alive and we plan to make lots more memories thank you very much). For many people, Mother’s Day is a chance to honor their mothers, to gather, and to celebrate.

But the thing that bugs me about holidays in general is that they are a double-edged sword. There is so much pressure. MUST CELEBRATE. MUST MAKE IT SPECIAL. Since it’s one of the only days out of an entire year that mothers are “allowed” to be pampered, they have to figure out how to balance some alone time with spending that time with their kids and families making memories. It’s a lot to pack into one day. Why can’t we all just take a day for ourselves whenever the hell we want to without permission?

The pressure works in the opposite way too. Because the day must be SPECIAL, women feel like crap if they have to be alone, if they don’t yet have kids, of they can’t be with their own mothers.

I think I’m just a hopeless Grinch, but I feel like holidays have a tendency to segregate feelings of celebration to isolated days on the calendar which occur but once per year, which in turn limits those days and sometimes spoils them.

Instead of living for holidays and SPECIAL days, let’s build a sense of celebration and appreciation into our daily lives. Let’s make more room for it to happen all the time, so that we don’t have to worry that the ONE DAY we are allowed to celebrate (Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, our birthdays, etc.) will be “spoiled” because we are alone, because we are sick, because we are busy, because we didn’t get the kind of day we wanted, because everything wasn’t perfect.

I had a lovely Mother’s Day, but when I woke up this morning I thought, Thank God that today is just another day.

 

Nobody Blogs on a Saturday Night

This is my first post of 2014! I had so many big plans for posts: Christmas Tips for Lazy Parents, How to Alienate Family and Friends in Ten Easy Steps, 2003-2013 The Years in Review, My New-Years UnResolutions, etc.

I think I’ve lost my blogging mojo. It’s hard to work up the enthusiasm to write long, well-written tomes with good photographs that get about three page views (Hi Dave!) when I can toss up a pithy one-liner on Facebook and get 37 likes.

But, oh blogging, I can’t quit you. You are my first love. I started blogging before I was on Twitter, before I was on Facebook. And blogging is mine. My posts belong to me, not Mark Zuckerberg (I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but all of your Facebook posts are the intellectual property of Facebook).

And while I enjoy the pithy one-liners, and while I can work a classroom like nobody’s business, blogging is the real window into my soul. A glimpse into my heart and my sick and twisted and confused little mind. I tend to think I’m blogging into the abyss, and then someone I barely know comes up to me and grabs my arm and says, “Thank you for that last post.”

We live in an age that is polished as hell. I was feeling pretty damn proud of the simple little birthday cake I made for Oscar’s 5th birthday when another woman who I follow on Facebook posted a picture of the Pinterest-worthy, flawless, marzipan-covered cake she had made for her daughter’s birthday. I admit it, I seethed with jealousy and rage. Then Oscar said, “This is the Best. Cake. Ever!” and I thought, if it’s good enough for Oscar, it’s good enough for me.

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The key to making a five-year-old happy is sprinkles. Lots and lots of sprinkles.

People post pictures of their lattes, their shoes, their sushi, their 3-year-olds who play the piano and recite French poetry, their cats, their clean kitchens, and their delightfully retro and ironic baby nurseries. I know I’ve whined about this before, but my babies never had nurseries, damn it. And I own like two pairs of shoes that you will  never see pictures of.

So I’ve decided that I have to keep this blog alive for one and only one purpose: to give you a glimpse into the life of someone who does not live a perfect and polished life. I eat whatever the hell I want, read the most random assortment of crap, and spend ungodly amounts of time on the internet. I try to be a good mom and a good teacher and sometimes a good writer but mostly I fail miserably (please don’t tell me in the comments that I am good at any of these things. I’m not fishing for compliments. Really. I DO NOT WANT COMPLIMENTS). Cuz see? It’s okay to fail. I kind of like that about myself. I like that when I was complaining about being tired and disorganized one of my students said, “You are the only professor I have who acts like a real person.” I like the idea of becoming the poster child for the unpolished, the uncool, the frantic and the hopeless.

Reader, we can be friends because I’m never a threat. Your outfits will always be cuter than mine. Your parties will always be more fun. Your glasses more hip. Your coffee more expensive. Your house will always be bigger and cleaner and more ironically decorated. Your Instagram more instagramy. That’s okay. I like that about our relationship. I like that I can be a candle in the window for the secret and hidden imperfect ones among us.

One of my favorite concepts is wabi-sabi, which is a Japanese phrase that means nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. It’s supposed to evoke a sense of serene melancholy. That is my job. I will try to do it imperfectly and not very well.

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And now a picture of my daughter with her dolls and a random plastic bug.

Just because.

Find Your Joy

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Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.

We are surrounded by anger, fear, nastiness, and negativity. It comes from all walks of life, from all political and religious affiliations, from the haves and the have nots, from those who think they’re in the right to those who fear they are always wrong.

It’s my way, or the fucking highway.

Sorry for swearing, but I’ve really had enough.

Life has become a nonstop display of one-upmanship. I mean, are we all so freaking miserable that we have nothing else to do but go around pecking at each other like a bunch of diseased chickens?

If everyone had their way, you would NEVER:

Feed your kids crap (you’re poor and ignorant and you’re ruining their precious snowflake brains)

Feed your kids organic food (you’re a liberal elitist and never let your kids have any fun)

Shop on Black Friday (You’re part of the problem. Be like me and pay full price for your Mac you vile scum)

Eat at McDonald’s (It’s not real food! Jaime Oliver says so)

Take your kid outside without a hat (Because frostbite. And fashion)

Eat food that comes from China (They sneak arsenic into everything because they are both evil and stupid)

Eat bananas (They don’t even come from this hemisphere!)

Be liberal (You’re an anti-American terrorist-worshiping elitist who hates God and kittens)

Be conservative (Because George W. Bush)

Question anything (Because you always were so bossy)

Put too many pictures of yourself having fun on Facebook (You think you’re so great)

Avoid Facebook (What? Do you think you’re better than me?)

Play video games (Seriously? The Downfall of Civilization)

Watch sports (See above)

Dress fashionably and enjoy shopping (You’re so shallow)

Not care about how you look (You’re a dirty hippie who never has any fun)

ENOUGH!!!

Here’s a tip: life is really, really, really freaking short. It will be over before you have a chance to notice how short it is.

Figure out what makes you happy. WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?????

Your answer may NOT be one of the following:

  • Other people doing what you want them to do
  • Other people living life the way you think they should be living it
  • Other people paying attention to you
  • Other people not screwing you over
  • Other people not screwing other people over
  • Other people coming to you
  • Other people getting out of your way
  • Other people keeping neat and clean and saying nice words
  • Other people doing things that make sense to you
  • Other people saying things you agree with and understand
  • Other people not scaring you
  • Other people giving a shit about you

Here are some better options:

  • Make stuff. Create stuff.
  • Be active. Move your body.
  • Learn something.
  • Fix things. NOT people.
  • Focus only on improving yourself, NOT others.
  • Eat delicious food that makes you happy. Don’t pay any attention to what other people are eating.
  • Take pictures. Yourself. Don’t worry about the pictures other people may or may not be taking.
  • Read books. If you think they all suck, write your own.
  • Chocolate.
  • Good coffee.
  • Put on your favorite music and dance around. And don’t do it because you want someone to see you being joyous.
  • Makes lists of everything in your life that is wonderful and perfect. If you do this every day, the lists get longer and longer.
  • Watch awesome movies. Make popcorn.
  • Take naps.
  • Take baths.
  • Take walks.

When I taught eighth grade I realized that I would never have anything to complain about ever again. I had two students who brought their laundry to the school nurse because they lived in a car. I had a student who was horribly burned because his father set him and his sister on fire. I had a student who had no curfew because her mother went out partying every night. I had a student who told me that no adult ever smiled at her over the course of a day.

Get over yourselves people.

Whatever self-righteous indignation you may be holding close, tear it to pieces and flush it away.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

Be joyful. Be contagious.

A Letter to My Son Oscar

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A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”

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You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.

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I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.

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I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.

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I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.