Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday: On Hiatus

As it says in this blog post title - there is no WIP Wednesday this week, nor will there be one for the next few weeks.

This is because on this coming Saturday morning we are loading up the car and driving Northwards - to my family in Buffalo, NY to be exact. Whenever I go away I try and convince myself that work will be accomplished, but the truth of the matter is that I'll just be too busy catching up with family and friends to get anything done, and quite frankly, I get home so rarely that I'd rather have it that way.

In the meantime I'll have a few other blogs postings, so this space will not be left completely cold, and I'll still be obsessively following all of your blogs.

So, my work in progress is set to vacation mode - what about everybody else?

If you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blog Chain: Writerly Wisdom

It's my turn to post on the blog chain again. This time the topic was brought to us by Cole.

Your subject is writerly advice. (I just made that word up. Hee) Pretend you are addressing a crowd of aspiring authors eager to soak in your words of knowledge. The problem is, you've only been given a time slot of five seconds. In one sentence (no more than 20 words), please summarize the most important words of wisdom you can impart.

Okay, so not only do I have to think up words of wisdom, but instead of being able to ramble on in my usual way, I need to somehow say it all in 20 words. Wisdom I can fake, but the whole word limit thing - oye - that's rough. So, in the spirit of compromise, here is my five second speech, along with some asterisked notes (just in case someone else before me ran short) and I end up having a little extra time to fill.

"Hello.* Now forget this writing nonsense and go to dental school.** No?*** Well, then**** prepare***** for an endlessly****** difficult******* battle********."*********

*Eager writers here to soak up my wisdom and advice, or maybe you're just here because you need something to fill the time until lunch. Either way, thanks for coming.

**Yes, dental school. Or anything in the medical field would be okay, but dentists just really seem to have it made. The last few times I've been to the dentist the dental hygienist did all the work and then all the actual dentist did was come in at the end and say something like, "Yep, looks good. Any questions?" That seems like a pretty sweet gig. I would definitely look into it. And also, think how happy it would make your mother.

***Are you sure? Really? You also get to be called "Doctor" did I mention that?

****You are unreasonable and foolish.

*****I mean prepare like stock up on coffee supplies, but also mentally prepare in the way that my best friend in college used to do before an all day weekend shift at the Bon-Ton (it's a Buffalo area department store). She would say to herself, "This day is going to be endless. It is going to feel like forever. And it is probably going to suck. BUT, I will get through it."

******Yes, endless. It doesn't end with the first draft, the fiftieth revision, the agent hunt, the publisher hunt, the publications, the sales, or even the reviews - because if you really want to be a writer you'll have to go through most of those painful steps over and over and over again. I bet that whole dentist thing is sounding pretty good right about now, huh?

*******and intermittently rewarding. I mean unless you're a masochist you should be getting something out of this other than suffering.

********Did I say battle? Let me clarify. When I say battle, I'm not talking Gettysburg here. No, this is the freaking Crusades. Or the Hundred Years War. Which is to say some battles will be won, some battles will be lost, some might even such a bloody mess you can't make sense of them, but regardless you fight again and again and again and again.

*********Oh, and good luck.

For more writing advice you can find Rebecca's post before mine and Amanda will be up next.

I'd love to hear your advice as well - what 20 words would you share with an audience of aspiring writers?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

WIP Weds. and Multitasking

The topic of our current blog chain is multitasking, and so it seemed appropriate to do a little multitasking myself, and combine my blog chain post with my WIP Wednesday one.

Okay, so the question for this blog chain was brought to us by Terri.

Do you focus on one project at a time, or do you have many irons in the fire at any given moment?

My ability, or lack thereof, to effectively focus on more than one thing at once is why this post is being posted late Wednesday afternoon, rather than the early AM hours. You see last night when I was supposed to be writing this blog post, I was instead dealing with a toddler who had suddenly decided that rather than going to sleep, he would fuss and cry for several hours.

Now if I were a good little multitasker I would have been able to bounce him on one knee while simultaneously typing out my post, and just to make things interesting, I'd be mentally beginning to sort through my taxes for next year - sure it's only August, but one can never think too far ahead.

The thing is, I'm not a very good multitasker. Even when I believe that I'm effectively multitasking, I'm usually just trying to do five things at once and ending up a spastic mess who walks into a room intending to grab my car keys, but by the time I reach the room have completely forgotten what I came there for in the first place.

And according to an NPR piece that I read several months back - no one is good at multitasking, or more specifically no one actually can multitask - in reality we just flip between different tasks very quickly.

So how does all of this apply to writing? Hmm... well, I don't know. Well, I did know - I was definitely going somewhere with this train of thought - but then I started rereading that NPR article and lost what I was going to say.

And maybe that's my point. Yeah, I'll go with that.

When I switch back and forth between writing too many different things, I lose track of what I was going to write next and I get confused and then my writing gets confused to the point where I might as well be typing in the wingdings font.

The real problem I have with multitasking is that when I have several pots bubbling away, somehow they all end up on the backburner and procrastination becomes way too easy. On the other hand, when I am focused on just one specific project it is easier to set specific goals for that project and keep myself moving forward with it.

Multitasking is why I haven't gotten much done this past week. I am right now querying, revising, brainstorming something new, and trying to work on some shorter writing projects on the side. And at the end of the week when Wednesday rolls around (as it always inevitably does) I feel like I haven't accomplished much on any of these.

So what about you? Are you better at multitasking than I am and do you find it an effective way to work on your writing?

And to follow this chain you can go to Rebecca's post before mine, or tomorrow find Amanda's post when she has the last word on this topic.

If you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Flip Them

If you regularly read about or follow anything movie, food, or book related then you have undoubtedly within the past week, read about the movie that opened this past weekend based on the memoir Julie and Julia. The media just cannot seem to get enough of this story whether they're covering Nora Ephron who adapted the script (and did an amazing job), Meryl Streep playing Julia Child (and did an amazing job that will almost certainly earn her another Oscar nod), Julie the blogger who wrote the memoir the book is based on (and then in her upcoming new book talks about cheating on her husband - gasp!), or finally the food in the movie (might qualify for a supporting Oscar nod because it is so amazingly amazing).

However, one of the articles that I came across in all of this media hoopla really struck me. This NY Times article was written by Michael Pollan, who I've named checked on this blog several times before because I love his book The Omnivore's Dilemma and the different ways it made me think about the food I eat (like the amount of corn product that is in almost everything).

The article isn't really about the movie Julie and Julia, but rather how Americans have substituted cooking food themselves to watching others do so on their television sets (He kind of gives the Food Network a hard time, which I don't necessarily think is fair, because I actually often DVR shows from FN just to get different recipe ideas. Of course, I also have been known to watch Iron Chef America and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives just to drool. Anyway, the article itself is interesting and whether or not you agree with all of his points - it is, like all of Pollan's work, thought compelling.).

To begin the article though, Pollan talks about Julia Child and how she influenced what his own mother cooked and served his family when he was a child. According to Pollan, Julia Child encouraged woman who had before been making mostly casseroles with potato chip toppings (full disclosure: as a child I regularly ate my mother's Tuna Noodle Casserole and the potato chip topping was the high point of that wretched dish. She must have missed the Julia Child revolution because we never had an Beef Bourginion nights to balance things out.) to try something a little more... French. Julia Child didn't inspire women by being a Martha Stewart type who taunts us with her own endless perfection, but rather someone who wasn't afraid to try and fail - and who encouraged women within their own kitchens to do so as well.

Michael Pollan writes this anecdote while discussing an episode of Julia Child's show, "The French Chef":

The episode has Julia making a plate-size potato pancake, sautéing a big disc of mashed potato into which she has folded impressive quantities of cream and butter. Then the fateful moment arrives:

“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining: “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”

Okay, so you knew I was going to bring this back around to writing - didn't you? Of course, you did.

As I mentioned in my last post I've been doubting myself, my writing, and more specifically my poor book.

Did I write it in the wrong tense? Did I start it in the wrong place? Did I inject monumental amounts of suckitude into every last page?

When I get into these bad places I tend to keep it all inside, which is bad. Really bad actually, because my internal voice's answer to those three questions was: "Yeah you did, Duh, and Ye-ep."

Not liking these answers, I turned to my amazingly supportive husband who as amazingly supportive husbands tend to do told me all the right things. Mostly those things were: 1. go ahead and change the tense - you'll feel better once you do and 2. believe in your own writing, and believe in your own voice.

It made me feel better to hear those things - especially the second one. And when I was reading Michael Pollan's article and came to the part about flipping the potato pancake and having the courage of your convictions it just seemed to bring the point home. It also really made me want to find the recipe for that potato pancake, because that thing sounds pretty freaking delicious.

Have you ever doubted your own writing/voice/style? Did you see this movie or read the book it's based on (I actually bought it half off around Christmas time and made it about halfway through before losing interest) and have a review for me? Did your mother or do (gasp) you serve any dishes that require a potato chip topping? And does anyone out there have Julia Child's potato pancake recipe?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday #25

Last week my plan was to start writing my ever so bright and shiny new work in progress. That didn't happen though because my old WIP came tip-toeing up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Excuse me, but I don't think we're quite done yet."

It was so terribly polite that regardless of how much I wanted to tell my old WIP to take a hike - I simply couldn't.

So what prompted my old WIP to come out of (semi)retirement? Well, mostly it was the comments I received last week while taking part in the query contest over at Miss Snark's First Victim.

While the query itself received mostly positive comments, the first 250 of my manuscript didn't fare quite as well. The bulk of the criticism was focused on the use of present tense, and too many flashbacks. So, yeah, I had a problem with both the present and the past - not good.

The reason I used present tense was because while writing my first draft it just wanted to be written that way. At the time that seemed like a good reason to write it that way, but now I have to question whether that really was reason enough to write in a style that I now realize is HATED (like the kind of white-hot hate that I usually reserve for the synopsis) by many people.

Although I like the sense of immediacy present tense gave my WIP, it could also be restrictive - not allowing for a whole lot of foreshadowing, or "in retrospect" type moments. So, now I am considering going back and rewriting the whole 101,000 word manuscript into past tense.


The whole too many flashbacks was an easier fix - I just moved that info a little further back into the chapter, and think that it works just as well, if not better, having moved back slightly.

Of course, into this mixture I have also spent an inordinate amount of time endlessly obsessing over my firsts. The first sentence. The first paragraph. The first page. The first chapter.

In the space of a week, I have gone wwwaaaayyyyy beyond second-guessing myself. At a conservative estimate, I'd say I'm now somewhere around bazillionth guessing myself.

Anyway, since I am chasing my tail until I am dizzy, I am going to post a few two alternate beginnings here in the hopes of receiving a bit of guidance from some of my faithful readers out there.


I’m pushing a vacuum, trying to shake the hangover still lingering four days after my Christmas Day drinking binge, when I first see it.

It is the bracelet sitting on my employer’s dresser. As far as I’m concerned though, the bracelet might as well be underneath a tinsel covered tree, all wrapped up with a pretty bow and my name on top. I know immediately that it is mine.

Usually, I’m not much for Christmas. I guess you could say it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, which was maybe why I felt compelled to drink so much of the moonshine my uncles gave me as a Christmas gift. It was the only gift I received. And it wasn’t wrapped in ribbons and bows. No, it was just two mason jars tucked into a brown paper lunch bag and left on my front doorstep.


My uncles call it the Moby Dick rule, even though they’ve never read that book, or any other one. The rule is simple: always steal anything you can, except, never steal what your heart wants. Each of my uncles has his own story that proves the rule: a ‘69 Mustang Boss in metallic blue, a gold Rolex, and a pair of cowboy boots with a silver lightening bolt running down the side. Each item led down a different path of personal ruin.

Never one to obey my heart’s demands, I thought this rule didn’t apply to me - turns out I was wrong. I was pushing a vacuum, trying to shake the hangover still lingering four days after my Christmas Day drinking binge, when I first saw my own white whale.

Any and all opinions are welcome! I'd also love to hear everyone's thoughts on the use of present tense.

And work in progress Wednesdays are not just about me, so don't forget to tell me what you've been up to this past week as welll!

If you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!