Monday, August 30, 2010


Today was an amazing day. Started in it tears, ended it exhausted. My little girl had her first day of first grade. Six hours and 15 minutes of conformist brainwashing to make her one of the masses. I say that in jest but also in earnest. A German friend and I were discussing the educational system here and she couldn't believe how many hours American children put in and how little they achieve. It couldn't have felt too long as my daughter could tell me only the minimum. They did a craft. They had recess. They did a coloring sheet. And my favorite-- "We did a bunch of stuff we learned last year."

Today was also my first day of school, my fourth semester working on my second undergraduate degree. To complement my English/French studies my first time, and to augment my career in journalism, I am studying International Affairs (a blend of history, politics, business and foreign language).

(This will relate to writing, but in a round-about way.)

So, I went to my 100-level "History of the Modern World" class today expecting to be bored out of my mind. It's a survey class. Probably lectures. Boy, was I wrong! The teacher was young, a tad crazy, very energetic. I love her.

In my 200-level class on research methods, it looks like we'll be spending the bulk of the semester on one 12-page research paper, topic of our choosing. This should be easy. Especially since I think I know what I want to do.

Between these two classes, I met with my professor from my history colloquium last semester.


For "direction."

This is really no different than how we meander through plots as writers. As writers, one common comparison of writing styles pits those who plot (plotters) against those who fly by the seats of their pants (pantsers). I am 75% plotter with a touch of pants. In life, I am the opposite. I seem organized. I seem to know what I am doing. But the reality is, I'm flying.

Since I am also trying to slow down, have more fun and relax, this has led to some interesting conflict. I have financial resources that may or may not last now that I have been unemployed for five months. I have a child that has reached full school-age. But now my past industry (journalism) is dying...

And I want more education. Like a master's in French cultural studies and/or a doctorate in history (20th century French history).

Without getting into what my professor said, he said one thing really interesting which should apply to writers: "Tell everyone your aspirations." He meant everyone who could potentially help you. Reminder~ Network.

But he also caused me to look at my motivation. I love what I'm doing now, but maybe, by relaxing and enjoying the process I can keep talking to people and find something I enjoy doing (as a career) without immediately making that jump to graduate studies. Isn't that how our characters do it? They might say "I'm going to do BLAH."

But do they? They start to. They get distracted or diverted. They might eventually end up in the place they wanted to be, but we sent them on a dynamic journey to get from A to B. We didn't make it a straight line.

To consider this, I have declared this semester and next semester a time of exploration. I have 2-3 more years working on my degree. So the next one will focus on finding the options. Then I'll start choosing what items I need to do to fulfill some of them. I can take the GREs regardless of what exactly I plan to do. I can take a French class to improve my grammar even if it doesn't fit in my major. Theoretically I could take Spanish as I've always contemplated.

If I were a character, what would the author want me to have in my background, in my current life, to make me the person I need to be for the story about to be told?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cross the line

As writers, we all have passages that disturb us. Things we've written that chronicle the darkness in our own soul. Sometimes we hide these things. Sometimes we share them.

The characters whose argument gets violent.

The sex scene that turns intense in a non-standard way.

Hurting children.

Bombing civilians.

Exploring taboos.

Yes, I feel one of these coming.

Some writers write it as a purge and shove it in a drawer. Mine usually end up as pivotal parts of my dénouement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take a Journey

A good book is a journey.

Last week, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants took me to the circus. And while I thought the elephant was a severely underused character, to visit the circus was the essence of what I enjoyed about that book. The unsavory circus world... the grime, the animals, their abuse...

This week, Peter Mayle has allowed me a trip to Provence in his A Year in Provence. Eh oui.

So, if you're a writer, where does your work take people?

Does it allow them to connect with other people?
Does it allow travel to an exotic location?
Does it teach us something about which we are curious (a culture, an occupation, a religion)?

How do we feel when we get home?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Word counts as success

The more you write the better you get.


Write everyday if you "want to be a real writer."


A real writer is compelled to write when the mood strikes. It doesn't matter what else is happening. A two-year-old on the toilet who needs help wiping? 9/11/2001? When you have the deep writing bug, you write through things that move you and you write because the idea moves you. You can be moved by life to write. You can be moved by ideas to write.

Writing everyday improves your technique, makes you better, makes writing easier and makes you more professional.

When I am truly working hard, I write 5,000 words a day. If I lose interest and force myself to write anyway, I get 1,000. Or maybe 2,000 but 1,000 might be crap that needs to be edited out later.

Lately, I have written a sentence or a paragraph a day. This refers to my fiction project. I have still written in my journal, to my friends and on my blogs. I am still plotting in my head.

Why stress over the word count when I know without a doubt that once I get the plotting right, and I am ready to sit down and write, I'll produce the 5,000 words, probably in one sitting. So, why stress for a week trying to force myself to do something that will effortlessly take a day when I'm ready?

But, please not, I do open the file, read it and write anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph everyday to keep myself engaged and remember what problems I am supposed to be solving.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Recipe

I have tried to return to my habit of writing three blog entries a week, but I find myself uninteresting. I used to write newspaper columns. Deadlines do not scare me. The empty page does not intimidate me.

But if I find myself dull, you won't give me a second chance.

Could you be a tad more forgiving?

But, seriously, I have tried setting a thrice-weekly reminder on my iPhone. I have tried writing a blog before I commit to projects.

In the end, I failed.

In the last few days, I've noticed this blog has gone fallow, so to speak, and my recipe blog is growing. While the recipes have faltered with my lack of cooking as of late, the voice and the contemplation about what I eat, how I eat and why seems more reflective and creative.

Here are two recent samples:
Mac and Cheese Taste Test
Although I would like to believe Betty Crocker taught me well the basics of mac and cheese, I do have boxed, processed macaroni and cheese two to three times a month. My husband likes it (as he does my baked mac) and more importantly, it's something he's comfortable making.

As a family, we prefer Wegmans mac and cheese. The generic Wegmans stuff. The spirals. NOT the white cheddar. Not the elbows.

Kraft is yummy, especially that new formula they have out now, but I won't pay their prices. If I pay that for mac and cheese in a box, I'll go with Nature's Promise Cheddar or Anne's Organic. Some of that Anne's organic stuff includes significant vegetable matter.

Even Aldi's generic mac and cheese will do in a pinch. My husband often adds a touch of cheddar to make it more appealing. But it will do.

Tonight, we tried Target's Archer Farm. First off, it was more expensive than what I would normally pay. But we wanted to see if it was worth it. Sometimes it pays to splurge as a treat, and sometimes it just proves you aren't missing anything by buying the cheap stuff.

From "Monday Update"

"Carbohydrates. Not including the jam for the PB&J, two of the items in this morning's meals have lots of carbs. Bread, that's obvious. And yogurt, may not seem so obvious. When I had gestational diabetes, I was allotted 3 servings of carbs with my lunch, not including one fruit, and 4 with my dinner.

That's why to this day I make half-sandwiches instead of whole. Because each slice of bread counts as 1 serving, and 13 doritoes/potato chips etc is also 1 serving. If I wanted the chips, I usually skimped on the bread. And I learned that a half-sandwich is just as filling, and depending what's on it can end up tasting really thick, as if you put double meat or cheese on it. I still don't miss that extra slice.

Compare this to yogurt. Because yogurt is made with milk and lactose is a sugar, and then our American palate likes it sweet so we add MORE sugar... A low-fat yogurt that has that thick creamy pudding-like taste had 2-3 servings of carbohydrates. That's an entire lunch worth. For a diabetic pregnant woman (who, by the way, gets more food than your everyday diabetic). And fat free yogurt sweetened with asparatame STILL has 1 full serving of carbs. With that choice, I'd rather opt for a low-fat oatmeal cookie. Probably leave me more emotionally satisfied.

So that's my rant."

And then there's the entry about shopping at Target, another about saving money on CVS.

Once again, I think my intellect is trying to hard when my soul knows the answer. Write what you love and it comes easily.

Monday, August 2, 2010


When certain moods strike, I love to write the naughty parts in manuscripts.

They always start WAY too long, going through every motion of the encounter and get hacked to pieces. These scenes often research (or merely thought), and not necessarily the "is this position physically possible?" kind (although that happens). Things like if she's 5' 2" and he's 5' 8" does she have to stand on tip toe to kiss him? Can your hand physically bend that way?

The other important part of a love scene is to make sure you edit ALL IN ONE SITTING. Because otherwise, you can miss important details.

For example, I have this:

"Confusion flashed in Zélie’s eyes and her lips parted. She released him, her hand falling to her side. Étienne brought his kiss to her clavicle and then closer to her breast. He spun her..."

Now in the original version that line about her hand falling away was not there, nor was the release. This doesn't seem like a big problem until you realize her hand was in his pants, holding something important for this scene, and he spins her around without letting go.

The reader can assume she let go, but since she's confused, maybe she didn't... and depending, that could be painful or merely lead to some getting twisted up and falling over... You get the idea.

And after you hack the scene down to its essence and have what you like, read it out loud. You may blush, but it's the only way to check how smooth it is.