Monthly Archives: January 2012

Drifting House giveaway! (and a quickie interview)

Scarlet and Ziggy reading "Drifting House" by Krys Lee

My friend Krys Lee’s book Drifting House is up next for a giveaway. Drifting House, Krys Lee’s debut story collection, will be released on February 2, 2012 in the U.S., and has experienced quite a buzz, earning starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. It’s also had countless positive reviews and recommendations–most recently, The Daily Beast named Drifting House a “must read.”

I’m so happy to give away a copy of Drifting House! And stay tuned, because I’m interviewing Krys for the upcoming March issue of Kartika Review.

Opening lines of the eponymous story, “Drifting House”:

“The day the siblings left to find their mother, snow devoured the northern mining town. Houses loomed like ghosts. The government’s face was everywhere: on the sides of a marooned cart, above the lintel of the gray post office, on placards scattered throughout the surrounding mountains praising the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. And in the grain sack strapped to the oldest brother Woncheol’s back, their crippled sister, the weight of a few books.”

And Krys and I also thought it would be fun to do a quickie, James Lipton-esque, Proust Questionnaire-based interview via twitter (yes, this interview happened “in real time”). I’m hoping it will give you some insight into the writer behind the book and of course, we had a bit of fun doing it. So here we go…

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Krys Lee: A world where no one is in need, which is in theory a communist society, and we all know how that turned out.

2. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
KL: I think accomplishment and intelligence are overrated. Many an accomplished person has committed acts of atrocity. These virtues gain more value when paired with generosity and compassion.

3. If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
KL: I’d come back as a human rights activist, a park ranger in a wilderness area with elk and moose, or a sea turtle in a protected tropical cove.

Interested?

So let’s get to the heart of the matter: the giveaway!

I’m giving away a signed copy of Krys Lee’s short story collection. You can see a copy of the book in the photos of my “wiener dogs reading books.” The collection is debuting in hardcover (as you see here, though you will get a non-doggie copy) and it will be signed by the author.

Here’s how to enter:
1) Leave a comment below. You can say anything you want–e.g., you can choose to tell me why you want a copy of the book, or tell me something about your homebase/s in life, or write down your favorite short story collection. Do fill out your email address when you fill out the fields in the comment box (it won’t be published to the world, but I will need it in order to contact you in case you win)!
2) 1 entry per person
3) The giveaway is open worldwide.
4) If you win the contest, I will email you for your mailing address.
5) Winners will be chosen by a random number generator.
6) I will be announcing the contest winner on the blog. None of your personal information will be posted, aside from your first name and last initial (or the nickname you choose to list in your comment). If you see that someone else has entered the same name as you, please try to pick a different nickname to call yourself, so as to avoid confusion.
7) If you are below the age of 13, please ask your parents to fill out the comment field with their information.

The deadline to enter a comment is Wednesday February 8, 2012 1:00pm EST. The winner (picked at random) will be announced February 8, 2012 by 9:00pm EST.

GOOD LUCK!

Update: The winner is announced!

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Filed under Giveaway, Reading

“Bile”

ZYZZYVAFall03

About eight and a half years ago, I held out with trembling hand a story that I had written in secret. None of my friends knew I wanted to write fiction, but there I was, in a nighttime fiction workshop. It was the first story I’d ever written.

The workshop instructor said to send it out. And so I dumbly sent it out to ZYZZYVA. And that is how I was published for the first time in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2003 issue.

Much gratitude to Howard Junker for finding my story and finding me. And now thank you to the current editors for featuring my story, “Bile” (circa 2003) on their website, along with some kind words today.

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Filed under literary magazines, Publishing

One of those pessimistic days?

truth

Above: “When there is no solution, make one. That’s kind of what entrepreneurs do.”

I’m having one of those pessimistic writing days. I went to sleep last night with a little bit of a cough, and when I woke up, before I could peel my eyes open or try to speak, I knew that I was sick, that something had bloomed and raged in the night.

My throat was sore. That feeling you have when you get a first degree burn on your pinky? Except it’s in your throat? That.

My throat has nothing to do with my writing, I know. And yet it does. It’s from where I speak, and from where I project sound. I know writing doesn’t have literal sound, but it has figurative sound. Writing can whisper and it can scream. And my throat hurts.

It is more difficult than usual to write today.

I was on vacation all last week in New Orleans, where I feasted on all things shellfish, butter and fried and then more often than not drenched in some sort of cream (crawfish cream sauce!) or mayonaise-based (remoulade!) sauce. Oftentimes, these things were stuffed into each other (hello, stuffed flounder: flounder stuffed with crab drenched in crawfish cream sauce).

It was a great trip, one involving lots of walks down unfamiliar streets and architecture involving Creole cottages, shotgun houses, double-gallery homes, and Gothic mansions, the sun filtering through magnolia blossoms and overgrown vines, warming my bones for the first time in months.

I only wrote one day out of the whole week–with Jamey, at a cute little cafe-that-once-upon-a-time-was-a-bank. And what a writing day it was! I wrote and wrote a great number of words, forging a path in novel territory that I’d found difficult in days past.

But I didn’t write the rest of the week. I was either eating, or having unhealthy obsessions about weight gain and walking and walking (more on this, in a later post). In the back of my head, I felt even guiltier about not writing.

I expected to launch straight back into my writing this week.

But no. I’m sick. I’m paying for the blessings of last week. And my body’s sickness is going to my head. I’m feeling pessimistic. A novel is so hard to write. My novel feels impossible to revise and finish. I wish I could quit. I wish to do something that brings me happiness. But then I realize, writing this dark novel of mine makes me happy. Which then makes me wonder what went wrong in my childhood that draws me to this brand of twisted, difficult-to-earn happiness.

So I lay on the couch, competing for prime real estate with my two wiener dogs, sipping meyer lemon + honey + a pinch of cayenne in hot water, waiting for a turnaround.

p.s. in other news..I’ve decided to write those 30 snail mail letters on my 2012 To Do List over the next month or so. I’m going to mail a letter out to friends everyday.

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“How’s your novel coming along?”: talking about my novel-in-progress part 1

“How’s your novel coming along?”

When non-writers people ask me this question, no matter how sincere the intention, I hear it spoken in an impatient or mocking tone, ala Stewie from the Family Guy (so painfully hilarious). [1]

Non-Writers People ask me about my novel a lot these days. Of course they do–I quit my tech job last summer, and I’m on sabbatical from my teaching job (yes, I had two jobs for awhile), and my life is to now write/revise my novel everyday. It’s clearly my passion, and they’ve no idea what else I must be doing.

This question is asked of me every time I’m at a cocktail party. As a conversation opener. And about 30 seconds after I’ve crossed the threshold of my former office (and my husband’s current workplace). They ask about my novel, even before they ask how I’m doing.

“Hey Christine! How’s your novel coming along?”

My non-writer friends, when they hear me whine about this, say, “At least people care.” As in, “It’s a normal question.”

Do you really all care? Will 100% of you really buy my book when it’s published? Do you know what an agonizing query this is? One that makes me feel tired and self-doubting and judged and scared and naked? One that then makes me feel guilty, because I do understand you ask out of good intentions, even though it makes me wince?

Do you know that instead of asking me “How’s your novel coming along?” you could say any of the following things:

  1. “I can’t wait to BUY and read your novel when it’s done!”
  2. “I know your novel will be amazing.”
  3. “I think it’s so exciting that you’re taking a leap and writing your novel.”
  4. “I support you in your novel writing/revision.”
  5. “May I bake you some cookies or raisin walnut bread to eat while you rewrite your novel?”
  6. “I hope your novel revision/rewrite is going well! Would you like some chocolate?”
  7. “When will you be finished writing the novel?” OHWAIT. Don’t ask that, either. I have no idea. I thought I’d be finished by now. My friend, when pregnant with triplets was understandably HUGE by her fifth month of pregnancy. People would ask when she was due, and when she stated a date four months into the future, their eyebrows would raise and they’d say things like, “Oh wow! You’re HUGE.” And another friend, who is pregnant with twins, gets the same things. Needless to say, they HATE the “due date” question. Same here. I think I’m having novel quintuplets, and I’m about four months pregnant with this novel in “novel-time.” Yah, it’s going to take awhile.

My writer friends know that “How’s your novel coming along?” is an agonizing query. It’s like getting asked how your fetus is doing–an intrusive question at best.

So here’s how my novel is coming along…

It gives me heartburn. Sometimes it kicks me from the inside at an inconvenient moment, or perhaps close to my liver and it gives me pain. Other times, the kicks delight me.

I felt my novel quicken and kick me last year, after I finished the first draft.

Now I feel it swirl and dance.

My novel makes me feel bloated.

My novel makes me nauseous.

My novel makes me crave certain foods.

My novel makes me feel alive. My novel has a heartbeat.

I often fear that this novel won’t make it. That somewhere during the creative process, I’ll lose my grasp on it. That it will just wither and die. And that it will all be my fault. And that you’ll all ask me how it’s going, when in fact, it died inside of me.

I want this novel to be amazing. I am putting all my hopes and dreams into this novel.

I fear this novel won’t be amazing to anyone but me. That I will send it out into the world, and no one will like it.

If no one likes this novel, I will have to put it in my closet, where it will live to the end of its days, visited by no one but me.

I project all my fears onto my novel.

I project all my hope onto my novel.

My novel is getting heavy.

My novel gets bigger every month.

My novel’s features are beginning to sharpen.

My novel looks a little like me, but not really like me, either.

My novel takes everything I have.

That’s how my novel is doing. It’s not done. It will be done. It cannot, at this point, live without me as a host. The only people who get to “see it,” are people who can read a rough draft manuscript, which is the “ultrasound-equivalent” of writing. I love my novel. I hope you will love, it too.

The second question is “What’s your novel about?” And I”ll talk about that in a subsequent post.

[1] Stewie’s monologue on “How’s that novel coming along?” used to be my cellphone ringer.

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Filed under Novel, Revision, Writing

Juice Cleanse 2012: drinking the juice, clearing the head, revising the novel

Here we go!

Done with the BluePrintCleanse juice cleanse!

I learned a few things from the cleanse, which I began with the intention of resetting my eating habits:

1) Drink more water
2) What I’m feeling is often thirst, not hunger
3) Eat more vegetables
4) Abstinence from chewing was a revelation.
5) Consider decreasing dairy in my diet, because during the prep, which excludes dairy, I felt tons better.

The juice cleanse wasn’t easy, but at no point did I feel hungry. I felt energized throughout. I fast (no food, no water) every year for Yom Kippur, and this was EONS less difficult to execute, because at no time did I feel hungry or listless. In fact, there was so much juice that most days, I “fell behind,” and wasn’t able to get every juice down. In fact, on two out of three days, I didn’t have time for one juice, and so I either excluded the beet juice or opted to only drink half of a beet juice (drink #5).

Really, I just missed CHEWING.

In sum…
Day 1: I found half the juices disgusting, but my energy level was amazing! Food cravings through the roof. No headache or any other physical discomfort. Lost one pound and one inch off my waistline since the cleanse prep. Walked 3.82 miles according to my fitbit.

Day 2: I found half the juices disgusting, but my energy level was through the roof, and I gained an incredible clarity and focus. Food cravings completely absent. The best day. Lost three pounds since the juice began, four pounds total since the cleanse prep. Walked 5.12 miles according to my fitbit.

Day 3: I found all the juices drinkable. I could drink the green juice without pinching my nose, and even the beet juice was kind of yummy. My energy level wasn’t as high as Day 2, but I found my mental clarity exhilarating. I also went to yoga at the end of the day and my fitbit says I walked 7.5 miles on Day 3. Lost five pounds total, four of it during the juice cleanse.

So would I do this again? I think I would. My cravings were reset. I’m sitting here on my first post-juice morning, eating pineapple, and wanting rice, but not much more.

Though I lost five pounds, I’m 110% sure it’s all water weight. The one inch I lost off my waistline happened during the prep for the cleanse, during which I eliminated meat and dairy. (Update: Though I gained a few of the pounds back over subsequent, post-cleanse days, it appears I lost 2 pounds from the cleanse process).

And I got a burst of energy in my writing. Which is always a good thing. I even wrote a draft of a short story.

My juice cleanse live blog after the jump…

Continue reading

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Books I cannot wait to see released in 2012

Writers Room cake

My 2012 To-Do list includes reading. Reading is the best thing a writer can do. I think reading tops eating. Though I really do like to eat, which is probably why my writing suffers at times.

I have a list of books I cannot wait to read in 2012, and I’ve listed them below. What are your anticipated books?

Update:
A good friend of mine asked, in the comments below, “How do you choose what contemporary books to read…So when I ask ‘how do you choose,’I mean less the mechanics (friends’ recommendations, the number of stars on Goodreads, Atlantic reviews, etc.) and more the personal definition of what books are worthy of three weeks of your life? How do you grant permission for a book to potentially change your life?” (Scroll down to the comments to read the entirety of his question).

Great question, and I realize, an answer that was absent in my introduction of this list.

So instead of making you crawl through the comments below, I’ll post my answer here in the post, too:

A huge writing mentor of mine once advised us to read more classic books, and to hold off on reading contemporary books (she also said we shouldn’t read anything written by someone under the age of 30). I think her advice (about reading the classics) holds merit. I try very much to read a book that’s survived scrutiny/time for every book that is a new release. HOWEVER…

I want to support contemporary writers. It’s important to support new voices and read new voices and usher them into some level of awareness, even if it’s just little old me doing it.

Also–I just love particular themes and writers and voices. There are stories I’ve wanted to hear from childhood but could not find in books.

You’ll notice most of the writers above are female. The canon is very female-light. And I like reading the voices of women, so of course I”m attracted to contemporary lit for those voices.

You’ll notice that writers above are from largely underrepresented ethnicities. How many books in the canon are written by Muslim writers? Or even though East Asian Americans have had a foot in the door for 20ish years now, how many books in the canon are written by writers of Asian descent?

I can’t rely on “The Canon” to find these voices and stories.
It’s up to us to form our own canon.

And yes, I love Fitzgerald (after all, The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time), and I love Graham Greene. But as important it is to read novels that have survived the test of time, it’s important to me to read new voices, especially those that have been underrepresented in our history. In my reading history.

Also of course, there are just writers I like! Who are alive! And writing books. And I’m there when the book hits the shelves.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
Growing up Muslim in (Midwest) America. Maybe this theme reminds me of a lot of East Asian American books, circa 1988, but this is a door through which new voices come.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
My adult life was spawned with Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue at its nucleus. Of course I want to read this.

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung*†
How excited am I to hear this book is coming out? I’ve been waiting for Catherine Chung’s book, one that focuses on folklore and immigration and identity, to come out, and I can’t wait to read it.

In One Person by John Irving
John Irving. Whom I adore. His first “political book” since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer For Owen Meany, two books I adore. So buying this.

Suddenly, A Knock On The Door by Etgar Keret
I love Etgar Keret. He gets it. His stories are bizarre and always tunnel under my skin. It’s quite pleasurable, this tunneling.

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour*
Yes, I read YA. Nina LaCour’s fiction is the kind of fiction I wished existed when I was fourteen years old.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
Hello, I loved Victor Lavalle’s Big Machine (sorry, I say that whenever possible). I am such a fan of his work–and did you read his defense of the National Book Awards? The Devil in Silver is going on my shelf.

Drifting House by Krys Lee*†
I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of these stories in their fetal state, and now they’re in a collection! Krys Lee’s prose is quiet–tiptoes into a room and then delivers a knockout punch.

Home by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison. Has. A Book Out. Nuff Said.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Of course I am going to buy and read Wild–I want to know more about the writer who wrote Torch.

Dora: A Head Case by Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch always tells it like it is. And then makes you like it.

*Books I will be giving away on 80,000 Words in 2011.
†Authors I will be interviewing and who will be featured in Kartika Review’s March 2011 issue

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Juice Cleanse 2012

Here we go!

I’m doing a juice cleanse.

It seems like everyone does a juice cleanse because they’re a bunch of hippies for weight loss, but that’s not my game plan.

I have a massive sugar addiction. I love sugar. I am like Buddy the Elf! Like him, I would put sugar on EVERYTHING if socially acceptable. Buddy doesn’t care whether or not it is socially unacceptable to eat gallons of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup! He carries around a small maple syrup bottle in his sleeve, which is the Raddest Thing Ever.

This sugar addiction has been in my life since I was a kid, when I would dip boiled hotdogs into (take ahold of your gag reflex) SUGAR (but since I’m a sugar addict, I don’t find it gross at all).

I’m doing this juice cleanse to reset and rid myself of a sugar addiction that has me adding 6 packets of sugar to a decaf coffee. It’s so shameful–I add two packets when the barista turns his head, and then I add another two when he turns his head again, until I get all 6 packets of sugar into the coffee.

You see, I don’t want to hurt his feelings. His coffee doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s delicious. It’s the best coffee I’ve found in NYC. But I love sugar.

Truth be told, I’d add more sugar packets if I could. But by the time I get all 6 packets in, the coffee’s already lukewarm.

Other sugar addicts will understand. When I told one of my door(wo)men to look out for my juice delivery, she asked, “Are you juice cleansing?”

Yes.
I told her about the sugar thing. She smiled and then reached down below the desk and brought out…a box of sugar. It’s her personal sugar. She told me, “Six sugar packets isn’t a lot at all! Try TWELVE!” I wanted to hug her tall and lean body (not all sugar addicts look the same). I wondered if she had a special maple syrup bottle in her sleeve.

You see? We’re out there, sneaking our boxes of sugar to work, snacking on our fruity mentos, carrying bottles of maple syrup in our sleeves, and pouring honey straight into our mouths (oh, did I not mention that yet?).

I totally understand. You’re my tribe.

So I’m hoping the juice cleanse will help me tone down my sugar addiction. I don’t think it’ll ever go away, but I’d like to work myself to a place where 1-2 sugar packets in a decaf coffee’ll do it for me.

Because I admit–eating too much sugar isn’t healthy.

I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve been prepping for the BluePrint Cleanse for the past few days–cutting out meat (not difficult), cutting out dairy (not too difficult), and upping vegetables and fruit (not difficult at all). And beginning tomorrow, all I will do is drink assigned juices for three days straight.

I will, however, continue revising my novel throughout the cleanse. I am going to finish revising this thing in 2012.

The facts thus far:

  • I’m doing the “easiest” BPC cleanse called the Renovation. The levels differ not in juice volume, but in green juice volume. The Renovation has the least amount of green juice. I’m not a big steak plus hamburgers plus processed foods kind of woman, but I’m also not big on being hard on myself for no reason. So, I’m going with the easiest cleanse.
  • I’ve been prepping for the past few days as I stated above. Not following it strictly (I had minestrone soup for dinner, and that does contain starchy vegetables, but whatever). So far, I’ve lost a pound, and I’ve been filling my gullet with all kinds of food.
  • I’m very excited about the juice cleanse.

Also, I happened to on an impromtu walk to the East River with a friend this afternoon. On the horizon was the Domino Sugar Factory/Refinery. The coincidence was…sweet.

East River + the Domino Sugar Plant

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2012 To Do List

Desolation Wilderness leap

I am a big proponent of yearly “to do” lists. In fact, I prefer making yearly “to do” lists to resolutions, because “to do” lists are actionable and they aren’t dependent on other people’s actions (i.e., things like “win a fellowship”).

Resolutions are, in the end, comprised of many “to do” items, anyway–so why not break them down into more reachable increments? A resolution to run a marathon involves training milestones and “to-do’s” just like a resolution to “relax more,” involves defining what it is that helps you relax, and then doing those very relaxing things.

Here’s my 2012 To Do List (and may this list lead to more amazing things).

Miscellaneous Pleasures

  • Send at least two friends baked goods whether by postal mail or in person. Thanks to my sudden “nesting” and manic baking, yes.
  • Cook a hot meal for at least one friend. I don’t remember if I did this! :/
  • Read a novel a month. Well, this ain’t going to happen (my brain went on vacation all first and second trimesters). but that’s ok.
  • Lose the baggy clothing and begin dressing in a way that does not scream that I am ashamed of my body. Because for the first time in my life, I am really starting to be proud of my body. Update: need to make this more concrete. So…buy at least one dress that hugs my torso & buy 4 body skimming tops. I did this. and then I got pregnant. and now I’m wearing body hugging pregnancy clothes. that counts, right?
  • Clean out my closet of clothing that no longer fits me. For real. As of March 2012: Done! A few of my friends are now recipients of some of my favorite designer clothing items that I can no longer wear. (Update October 2012: Now I kinda miss them, because I could use a few in the latter half of my pregnancy).
  • Learn to make perfect pie crust. happy dance of joy here.
  • Make a fantastic apple tarte tatin. Done. It was fabulous, and oh so pretty.
  • Make tamales. So did not do this.
  • Eat at Amada in Philadelphia. Thank you, Laurel! It was delicious.
  • Eat at Alinea in Chicago. Happily eaten.
  • Eat a Japadog. Mission accomplished.
  • Say yes to at least 5 things to which I would usually say “no.” Update: I need to keep track of this. I have no idea if I’ve done any yet!
  • Send out more snail mail. Like 30 pieces this year. Done.

SF/NYC/Travel

  • Can’t believe I didn’t do this in 2011, so I’m carrying this over: take a ferry around the San Francisco Bay. OMG, 2nd year running I haven’t done this!
  • Take “tilt” photographs on San Francisco hills. Want to do more of these, but yes!
  • In Berkeley, ride bike at least once a week for errands/exercise.
  • Kayak Lake Tahoe. So fun.
  • Hike past Grass Lake to Susie Lake in the Sierras.
  • Listen to Pacific Tree Frogs in Berkeley. It’s tree frog ribbiting season now. ;)
  • Go to the Jersey Shore. Done. With C. Went on one of the hottest days of summer, and it was awesome. Don’t you wish you were there?
  • Go to Disneyworld. Did this. Didn’t realize that at the time I was about a week or two pregnant!
  • Visit friends in Boston. Did this, too! Got to visit and see Andrew and Matt.
  • Visit Korea. Check out Cheonggyecheon and NamDaeMun market. Pregnancy threw a wrench in these plans! I had dates lined up and everything.

Writing & Fitness

  • Revise/Rewrite novel until I am proud of at least 100 pages. (optimally: revise/rewrite until I’m finished!).
  • If I find myself in a writing slump, “allow myself to write badly.”
  • Find a good writing cafe in Berkeley where I can write. Found a cafe, then got pregnant needed to pee all the time–but then found a good library.
  • Write one short story (I haven’t allowed myself a short story in years bc of all my novel-writing). I’m going to make an adapted excerpt of my novel count for this.
  • Apply to at least three writing residencies. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
  • Go to AWP in Chicago. Done.
  • While at AWP: try not to hide in hotel room the entire time. I am proud to say I only went up to my hotel room to sleep or for my 2 hour “introvert breaks” each afternoon.
  • Meet up with at least two virtual friends IRL at AWP. Matt, Roxane, Jimin, Yuliana, Roohi…so many wonderful people!
  • Find a writing partner for this revision of my novel.
  • I know this is one of those “everyday” items that are hard to achieve, but this one’s important: wear my fitbit everyday and move my body at least 5 miles a day (or a weekly average of 5+ miles/day). I did do this! And I walked 5 miles a day everyday until the 32nd week of my pregnancy.
  • Save knees, run less, but run 4 miles in a run. No running anymore.
  • Hold the “crow” pose in yoga–for more than 1.5 seconds. Ideal: 5 seconds. As of March 17: I can hold the crow pose for almost 7 seconds! And in fact, I could do crow until 20th week of my pregnancy.
  • Try a non-Tara class at my yoga studio. Every instructor offers new perspective. This did not work out as well as I’d hoped, because I totally didn’t like this new impromtu instructor’s teaching style. But will try others, and keep my mind open. (Update October 2012: Yes! I found great instructors in H and M).
  • Do/Try a juice cleanse at least once. I did another juice cleanse, and I loved it. I even got a juicer.
  • Decrease from 6 packets of sugar in my decaf latte to 2 (or fewer) packets. Oh totes did this thanks to the Blue Print juice cleanse. And it was pretty amazing.

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What Works For My Writing

desk

This morning, Nova shared a list of things that work for her writing. It was so inspiring that I decided to mull over what works for me–so that I could concretize what it is that works for me…and I could possibly inspire you, in turn.

It took me a long time to figure out what works for my writing. For years I tried to write in bed but eventually I learned that the only things I can do in bed is sleep, watch TV, read, and that-other-thing-I-won’t-type-because-G*d-knows-what-the-search-engines-would-bring-me. I also tried NaNoWriMo, and from NaNoWriMo, I learned that word counts don’t work for me.

Even so, my needs my novel’s needs change from time to time. Sometime my novel needs Bon Iver, other times Jonsí, and other times Tchaikovsky. Sometimes my novel requires tea and other times decaf coffee and other times a hot drink or a cold drink.

But in general, I’ve found that this is what works for me/my novel:

Writing Partners
A large chunk of my writing occurs when I have a writing partner–and by writing partner, I mean a good writer friend with whom I sit down and write. We will sit down at a dining table and write for a few hours in silence. Or at a café. Or even virtually. And I’ll let my writing partner know my writing achievements for the week. When we write drafts, we encourage each other and hold off on critique until requested.

I’ve had two writing partners over the span of my novel, and they’ve made all the difference.

And here’s the thing: for all my love of writing partners, writing groups do NOT work for me. There is nothing that will shut me down so much as three or more of us sitting down together to write. I can’t do it. Even though I often work at The Writers Room where writers sit in quiet, working, it’s just not the same as a writers group.

Music/Headphones
I can write in silence if there is really silence. As in, a house up in the woods. But if there are people around me, or if floorboards are creaking upstairs, or other writers are whacking tapping loudly away on their keyboards (i.e., every other writing situation), I need music. The music varies (for the last year, I’ve written almost exclusively to Jonsí, and the year previous to that, Sigur Ros, and for months previous to that, Mozart’s Requiem)–but music is pretty much a necessity.

I normally do not like headphones, but this past year, I found a pair of in-ear headphones I really like, and they’ve saved me and my writing in 2011.

Beverage and No Food
Sometimes tea or iced tea or decaf latte or juice…but I’ve gotta have a beverage by me while I write. If marathoners need beverages to run, why wouldn’t a writer need one while revising/writing a novel?

Also, if I eat anything substantial, the magic ends. I can eat as much a KIND bar, but that’s it, just like training for a marathon. So I’ll write until I get lightheaded.

Writing In the Morning and Early Afternoon
For the reason stated above (not being able to write on a full stomach), I mostly write in the morning through the early afternoon. (Kind of a bummer when I was working a fulltime day job).

But I also write in the morning through early afternoon for a reason that I don’t often mention. I was able to return to my novel a couple years after my left-thalamic stroke, but I would lose steam in the afternoons. My brain would just go KAPUT. Halt. Protest. Like, to the point where I wouldn’t know how to add 2+2. Anything important had to happen earlier in the day before my brain would poop out. So I wrote as soon as I woke up, and I still do.

Wearing Something as Close to Pajamas as Possible
I used to have an ugly ugly oversized LLBean plaid robe that I wore while writing. One year, in a moment of weakness, I was convinced to throw it away. (It was really ugly). Dammit.

But in general, I wear pajamas while writing–and because I can’t always write at home, I have to wear something as comfy as pajamas while writing in public. Sometimes I look around in the Writers Room and I see this gorgeous woman wearing what must be very binding skinny jeans and feet-pinching stiletto boots and I wonder, “How can she write?”

Because if I am wearing boots when I get here, I pull them off. I pull my socks off. And I put on a pair of bumble bee slippers I have in my locker just for the purpose of comfort. If I could wear pajama bottoms here I would. But in lieu of that, I’ll wear the comfiest pair of jeans I own, or exercise pants with a nice pajama-esque elastic waistband.

The 7 Train
When I get stuck on my novel, I will take a few hours and ride the 7 Train. For obvious reasons, this is only possible while in NYC. The 7 train’s noises remind me of my early childhood spent riding the 7, and in turn, I think it hypnotizes me and connects me to my subconscious. And it makes me happy.

Allowing Myself to Write Badly
I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to admit I am, and I spend a lot of my conscious energy telling myself, “There is more than one right way,” when I see someone doing something in a way I’ve never seen. There are good things about being a perfectionist–I’m an idealist who always wants to make things better.

But when it comes to drafting a novel and then revising a novel, perfection doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Each step is incremental and imperfect. I’ve got to get the words on the page before they can be made perfect. Once, I even made a sign that says, “Allow yourself to write badly,” and put it up at my writing desk.

It helped me get over a writing slump.

Blogging for Voice and for Clearing My Head
When I took piano lessons as a child, my teacher made me do Hanon exercises. These were variation on scales, with the purpose of warming my fingers up. Blogging is the same thing for me, especially if I’ve come back from vacation and I’m having a tough time finding my way back to my novel.

Blogging helps me find my voice, and refine my writing voice, and it helps me clear my head, and it helps me warm up my writing muscles.

But if my writing is going well, I blog less.

However, my piano teacher always made me do the Hanon exercises.

Journaling for Therapeutic Writing
I know that I bring a lot of my personal experience to the page–but I don’t need recent, undigested personal experience brought to the page (or blog). For that, I barf into my Moleskine journal.

I have really messy handwriting. Good luck reading what I barf into my Moleskine.

***

And then there’s the flip side–things that don’t work for my writing. There are SO many things that don’t work for my writing, but I’ve decided to share just a few with you here.

Word Counts
I start doing word counts, and I can literally hear the screeeech of brakes.

Heat/hot weather
Ah summer, you slay me.

My husband anywhere near me while I write
He is the biggest distraction. And when I’m at a tough point in my writing–believe me, I’d rather hang out with him than face the pain.

Writing in anything but an empty house
I wish I could write at home, even when people are milling about, but I can’t. My novel is selfish. It wants the entire house to itself.

Also, I’m convinced that the Muse is shy and won’t visit me unless I’m by myself.

Writing anywhere but at a desk/table
I have to be in a chair with a writing surface. Facing away from a window. With no direct sunlight (foggy or cloudy days are fine near a window).

Keyboard-Whacker-Typists
Exactly.

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Filed under Helpful, Writing

Exigency

Cat added to Mission sidewalk graffiti

Exigency: “Live everyday as if it were your last.”

My friend left a comment on my last post about my 2011 in review, to which I replied, “It has been an amazing year, one in which I decided to try to live everyday as if it were my last day on earth (and the fact that I really don’t know when my days in NYC will end helped lend to that scenario).”

I was given the gift of limited time last year–not limited days of my life, but limited days in my setting of NYC–a microcosm of urgent ground, in which I woke up every morning wondering what I could squeeze out of that day. That energy came with me even as I spent half the year in California outside of NYC.

And it has made all the difference.

I wonder what would happen if I gave myself the impression of limited days in which I could write? Something more than a deadline–? And in what way could I create that exigency?

Also–I am more than aware that 2011 was an agonizing and horrifying and awful year for many of you. For me, the “worst year of my life by a mile” was 2007. It ousted any of the years previous I’d spent depressed or dismayed or discouraged or broke.

But every year since then, I/we know that statistically speaking, nothing can be as bad as 2007. And that too, has made all the difference–to know where your bottom is, and to know you’ve survived that bottom (whether graciously or not, because in the end all that matter is that you survived), to have been broken and healed, and to know you’ve learned lessons, and to know you can make it through anything, go forward.

So for those of you who have had an awful 2011, I give you that hope. And now it’s 2012–and I hope 2011, now in the past, leaves you in the present with valuable lessons and knowledge and resilience.

And come to think of it, my awful year gave me urgency, too. There’s nothing like a bad year to tell you what it is you really really want out of life. And you’ll spend subsequent years reaching for it.

I hope in 2012 you reach for it–and get it.

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Filed under Life, Novel, Revision, The Personal, Writing