NaNo Day 13. Nightmares.

13 Nov

Please just excuse me while I scream.


So, yah. The frustration and anxiety are eating me alive about now. And I’m generally not a fan of being eating alive by anything. That’s just…yuck.

But we are on day 13 of NaNo. Unlucky day 13? I’d like to blame it on superstition and numerology, but honestly…this has been building since before November and has just now hit a pitch that is giving me nightmares and has me sitting here at the computer gasping for fresh air .

Last year was the first year I finished NaNo. It was an amazing experience. I pushed myself past barriers I didn’t know I had, and yes, there was anxiety there too. But I don’t remember it being this bad, although that could be due to the Twizzler induced sugar highs, and the pure thrill of realizing for the first time that I could do this, I could get to 50K.

And I was so proud of myself when I reached that line. I was floating for months after that. Until I realized that I’d been following all the rules of NaNo, i.e. have fun with it, don’t worry because first drafts are supposed to suck, and no one ever needs to see it except for you. I found that strangely comforting during NaNo 2010. Until I reached about day 29, and hurriedly wrote a terribly flimsy ending to my half-told 50K story, and on December 1st realized that my book was heavy on the 50K and very light on actual story. It really went no-where.

My characters spent entire acts just wandering around campus, getting to know their surroundings and the other people in their lives. Which might be fine, for about half a chapter, if they had just awoken from a 10 year coma, but as far as I know they had been conscious throughout the last decade and this went on for the majority of my book. I’d gone into it with an idea for an event that I wanted to have occur, a big, life-changing, world-altering event and wanted to see how these characters dealt with it.

But, I didn’t really know who my characters where or how “The Event” worked, or whether the event was supposed to happen at the beginning, middle or end of my story and so I just wrote whatever came to mind. Sometimes I made up new characters and wrote from their point of view, sometimes I just let them wander through the airport in Paris.

Plot holes abound. And at some point at 3am at a write-in at Denny’s I’m pretty sure I was challenged to have my main character smoke pot. I’m not sure if it was her or I with the awesome inability to withstand peer-pressure, but yep, mid escape for her life and trying to save the world, my character decides to gets high.

But I was determined I was gonna finish this thing. Because, well I have issues with finishings, and it seemed kind of an important step to becoming a published author, so I committed myself to this mess for the forseeable future.

I spent the entire summer studying structure, and learning about plot and all those things they don’t actually teach you in creative writing classes. And became utterly overwhelmed and confused. I found 6 or 7 systems that I sort of liked, none of them completely. And none of them seemed compatible with any other.

Finally, I decided I was going to give this thing a few more months and then box it. I’d give it another shot as my NaNo 11 novel. Keeping some of the characters and the setting, as well as one or two scenes that I had actually liked from round one, but for all intents and purposes starting over and writing it as an entirely new book.

I spent part of September and all of October, trying to build my world and understand my characters and nail down an outline of sorts.

And when November 1st came, I was off and running.

Until about 3 days later when I was just… off.

Everything I had learned over the past year was just screaming in my head: You aren’t doing that right! Whyyyy are your characters so bo-ring? You aren’t supposed to have so much exposition. Show don’t tell! What happened to your inciting incident? Your dialogue is lame! That is so cliche’. Wasn’t there supposed to be a goal in this scene? Ever heard of conflict? Really, you are going to move everything around again? Wait, that character isn’t even supposed to exist! Blah Blah Blah. Voices, screaming at me so loudly that I can hardly even think to type.

And then there’s the outside pressure.

Last year. This was just a fun experiment to see if I could actually do it. Everyone else was in the same boat as me. Some of us failed, some of us succeeded, but we were a family, and we were all feeling the same things, and we cheered each other on and it was amazing, ridiculous fun.

This year, the fun has been eaten by outside expectations. There are the expectations of my family and close friends who know I have been working on this project for an entire year now and are beginning to doubt my sanity in continuing; or, I suspect, that I’m even working on anything at all.

I can understand this even. Writing a book looks so much easier from the outside. You can’t imagine the blood and sweat and tears and unbelievable amounts of time that go into writing one. Especially the first one. When you are still learning how to tame this thing.

I haven’t had the heart to tell them yet that this is probably just a practice novel. That it will likely never see an agent, let alone a publisher or sit proudly on a shelf as proof of the work I have put into it. My niece and nephews don’t get the concept that you can be a writer and not be JK Rowling or Eoin Colfer or Kaleb Nation or Aprilynne Pike. These are the only writers they have for reference and the idea of this book failing to make me into an over-night celebrity and best-seller just doesn’t compute for them. But I have to love them for their child-like faith in me.

There’s the few writer friends I have who know what I’m working on and expect at some point to be able to read this novel, to give feeback or critiques or point me along the next steps on the path. And of course, I adore these people and don’t want to let them down…but I also don’t want to miss out on the place I’m at in my life where I have such wonderful writerly people as these around. People that are better than me, and that I can learn at the feet of. I feel the need to take advantage of my blessings, and to just suck it up and BE a competent writer already!

But, I sit here now, at day 13, and although, I’ve lagged along pretty much at par on my word count, I have no story. Despite my word-building and outlining, this thing is a bigger mess than the first one. I’m realizing that my process is to write a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. Which means that to get a novel of 80k words, just a first draft, I’ll probably end up writing more like 160-200k words. Which means, November 30th is not going to be even close to the end of my sucky, ugly, must-hide-in-a-deep-dark-hole first draft, and I have no idea how long it will be until I have something that I feel ready to share. Do I give it the rest of the time that it needs, or do I make a clean break and start fresh? I really feel the need to see this through to the ugly end, but how can I justify giving that much more time to a project that will go in a drawer.

It’s also intimidating knowing real writers. Either a) They don’t need NaNo. or B) They crank through this NaNo thing like they are slicing through jello. 50k words within the first 3 days, first week, first 2 weeks. Worse yet. They are ready to share these masterpieces while they are still writing them. And they are so NOT sucky first drafts.

This throws my whole notion of what is possible with NaNo, right out the window and I feel like I must not be trying hard enough. But my Neanderthal brain, as hard as I push it, cannot produce anything close to what they can on a first draft. I’m not sure if it can on a 10th draft.

I know, I know. Put the inner editor away, you say. And I can for a while, while I’m writing. It’s when I look up from the page and return to the real world that the pressure starts to build again and I start to ask myself…. can I do this? Can I do this at all? And even if I can do it once… taking years to get it right, that’s when my problems really start, because then I hopefully have an agent and a publisher and am expected to crank this stuff out on a much more regular basis and…. and…. my brain starts to explode.

Anyone else out there stuck in the quicksand with me today?

I’m off to gorge myself on Twizzlers and re-read Mr. Baty’s book about all of this somehow not being a problem.

Stumbling Up the Creative Path.

3 Oct

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Wow. Had this on an auto-play loop for a while this evening.

Because…I know this.  In my head I know it.  But, my heart tends to forget it quite often.  Today procrastination was apparently my favored art-form until a friend posted this on Facebook and it hit a nerve.  In a good way.  It helped release that deep breath that I’d been holding since last week (or possibly preschool?).  The one tied to that ugly knot that tends to grow in the bottom of my stomach when anyone mentions wanting to see what it is I write. Yah that one.  That one has been especially testy since realizing that a substantial requirement for my new writing group is that we actually share what it is we are working on. {Terror}

This little reminder came at an interesting time in regards to my blogging as well. Lately,  I’ve been trying to figure out the point of all this silent screaming in the dark.  I suppose this too I knew all along*.  It’s not just getting things off my chest. It’s not simply putting something out there to see if it gets noticed. It’s certainly not about trying to impress or please anyone but myself.  It’s more about learning as I go and making this whole writing thing a little less scary because I do it every day and I get better at it as I go.  And sometimes I need to just fail and make mistakes and let things be messy.  For me that’s the hardest part.  Being brave enough to let others see those imperfections.  And yes, it’s somewhat about making connections in ways I really don’t anywhere else.  But, above all, it’s really about putting in the work towards becoming the kind of artist that I see in my head.  Because that girl I totally admire and respect, and can’t wait to meet.  So if you see her wandering around out there in the dark… just remind her to take a deep breath… and get back to work.  I promise I’ll thank you someday!

*[Note to self: Install more RAM in brain]

The Day That Changed Us

11 Sep

It’s been ten years and I still don’t have the right words.  I think we seldom do have the words for the things that change us.I see people online talking today about where they were then, and I find it both touching and somehow almost inappropriate at the same time.  As if it’s too sacred, too personal a memory to just throw out for the world to see.  Yet, they’ve all seen it already haven’t they? Haven’t they lived through the same thing as me?  Maybe it just feels like someone else’s pain that day might cheapen mine.  Make it less meaningful. And mine might feel like a slap in the face to someone who lived through it close up.  Someone who lost people they knew and adored.It’s odd, because it sort of profoundly broke us all.  All of us that were there to remember it…. it broke our hearts, it united us in this shared moment in time.  We all experienced essentially the same thing. It’s our generation’s JFK.  I wonder what other shared tragedies lie in our collective future?So, even though I’m posting this here because in the end I felt I had something to say, however in-eloquently… I wrote this just for me, so I would always remember where I was and what it felt like on that day.

September 11, 2001

I am getting ready for work in the morning when the power goes out.  Not an uncommon occurrence for me.  Most days my hairdryer is more than the breaker can handle and I have to go flip the switch.  I  am living in The Polo Club apartments off of University then, with Jeni I think.  This time however, the switch doesn’t work, the power is off everywhere and I walk out on the patio and start talking to some of the neighbors, trying to figure out what is happening, if anyone has called it in. No one outside says anything about New York or DC.  I don’t think any of them know yet.  It is still quite early in the morning in Arizona.It is my mother who calls just then. From work.  (She must have called, because I’m certain she didn’t know how to send a text message 10 years ago.  That much has changed.)She says something about a plane hitting the pentagon. And the towers. And more attacks, DC and New York, but all she has is her radio at work.  To turn on the news. That is the news at this point.  I immediately feel the numbness of panic. This is bad.  I know nothing except the power is out and the pentagon had just been attacked and my mind makes crazy leaps.  Is the government still there?  Has the white house been hit? What about Phoenix?  I think certainly the whole country must be under attack.  You forget how big the whole country is at moments like that.  I can’t turn on the TV because the power is out, so I get in the car to listen to the news and without really planning to, start driving to my parents house.  I assume the power is out there too, it just feels like the safer place to be I suppose.The radio on the way there is the news of course.  By this time a plane has hit the 2nd tower and the first one has just gone down.  So I try to picture that in my mind.  But I can’t.  I just can’t.

It’s less than a three-minute drive to my mother’s house.

The power is on.

But the house is eerily empty.

Everyone is at work or school.

At some point I must call and say I’m not coming to work or they call and say not to come.  I honestly don’t remember doing any of that.  But I know I never make it to work that day.

Instead, I sit there alone at my mother’s house glued to that television all day long.  I think the majority of the country does the same.

The first tower has gone down by the time I get to a television and the little footage they have to replay at this point is far off and scratchy. There is so much dust on the ground it is already hard for camera’s to get close, and so you just have the faraway shots.  You have the shots from across the river of the skyline with one tower smoking and the other one gone, and you have reporters reporting what people are saying on their blogs, because that is the most reliable news source at the moment.  You have people emerging from blackness covered in blood or thick gray soot, screaming or simply too stunned to speak.

And then in front of my eyes, almost in slow motion….the second tower goes down.  I know there are still people inside that tower and I am bawling and even screaming at this point, clasping my hand around my mouth to keep the noises inside, but no-one is there to hear me.  I realize I’ve probably been crying for a while now but I was too distraught to notice. The reporters, for once are at a loss for words. It goes like this throughout the day, but that moment, watching that second tower fall is etched so deeply into my consciousness that even now, ten years later – writing this, that image cuts at me. My fingers shake and I can hardly breathe.

I try to imagine some of the things they are describing.  People jumping or falling from open windows before that 2nd tower goes down, but I can’t.  I’ve never seen the towers in person, so the scale of it doesn’t quite make sense.There are updates from the pentagon.  I finally hear from someone that my uncle wasn’t there when it happened. He is safe. And I let out that breath I didn’t know I was holding.No-one knows if this is over yet.  There are threats of an attack on The White House.  Another plane down in Pennsylvania.  The world is falling apart and I don’t know if it will ever stop.  If things will ever go back to “normal” again.

People speculate about tall buildings being forever abandoned.  They put alerts out for other targets. Nuclear power plants….. there’s one an hour or so away.  Water treatment facilities…. there’s one literally yards from where I’m sitting.

The nation is successfully terrified that day.  We go to sleep uneasy, uncertain, scarred.

But we wake up and most of us live.

A few years later I move to New York City.  Ground zero remains a huge hole ripped out of the heart of downtown.  I still can’t imagine the towers there.  I still can’t get that scale right in my mind.  I walk by it a hundred times. Each time it is impossible to do without thinking about that day.  And I wonder now how many millions of people have walked that same walk.

On the 3rd anniversary of the attacks, I am there.  It is beautiful.  Not just the names and the stories of the individuals and their families, but the spirit of those of us watching, just a fraction of those who will never forget.  There is a palpable solemness all over the city that day.  People smile more, but there is a sadness behind their eyes.  I wonder how many of them saw this first hand.  Trying to get home that day, I am stopped for nearly an hour as a procession of motorcycles ride down the street.  Thousands and thousands of them.  They are fireman and policeman from all over the country who have come to honor their fallen brethren.  Big tough men, in black leather who remind me of my Dad.  They wear flags around their biceps or foreheads and solemn looks across their faces.  They ride together, but they don’t speak.  Each of them caught up in their own profound experience.  Just like we all felt on that day.

Yesterday, a man on the radio said that 9/11 hadn’t actually changed anything in the US.  It hadn’t really changed the way we live our lives.  Yes, it takes a little longer at the airport, he relented and to get into some buildings, but it hadn’t really changed anything about the experience of being American.

If that’s true, its only because we didn’t let it.  And if we didn’t let it, it’s only because the experience taught us all, individually that we were not willing to live in fear.  We would not relive that day, every day for the rest of our lives.  It made us each stronger, more vigilant, more connected, more determined, more brave.  In short, it changed everything.

At least, I know it did for me.  9/11 forced me to grow up in many ways.  It marked the beginning of me standing up for my own opinions.  It changed the way I felt about my fears.  It made me determined to obliterate them…  a life-long process.  It ultimately made me more aware of the world in general, and feel a need to understand differing points of view. It taught me that people still believed in sacrifice and compassion and doing the right thing.  It helped me to move to New York, despite my fears… and to trust in the spark of goodness in the people around me.

There are still no words for the lives that were lost that day.  Tragically.  Heroically.  Pointlessly.  And I know nothing I say can ever come close to honoring that fact.  But I can remember that their loss changed me.  That I am a better person than I was before that day.  And take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one.

Sometimes Online is Awesome

9 Sep

I don’t know how it got to the point where it’s been six months since I posted anything on here.  That just makes me feel… old.  But, I suppose I found myself a bit overwhelmed by my various online self-induced obligations and needed a break and some perspective from the real world.

Which mostly means I’ve been working on my “real” writing projects, and studying, and reading books that I don’t have to review and spending days and weeks at a time without even checking my email.  (I don’t suggest that last part if you get as much email as I do).

I’m still not sure what my new take is going to be with this multi-blogging project. I’m hoping to get things consolidated down to one pressure-free space. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime….

I ventured back onto Twitter today and found myself wandering down a little rabbit hole that led me to something I had to get on here and talk about. is a collaborative project helmed by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt that is just ur-cool in my humbly opinionated brain.

It’s all kinds of artists, film-makers, writers, animators, editors, musicians, composers etc.  just throwing stuff out there and working together to remix it and make it awesome.  If things fly, Joe has the Hollywood connections to make impressive things happen.  But, it’s really just about creating something amazing.  And doing it together.  It’s not about ego or making a name for yourself.  Everything you put up on the site is free to be borrowed from and worked off by others.  This is like artistic utopia people and I’m loving it.

Check out one of the short-films they screened at Sundance and SXSW this year, then go contribute some of your talent and/or opinons to the cause.

Caught My Eye: Tulips

18 Feb

Before they came the air was calm enough,

Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.

Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.

Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river

Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.

They concentrate my attention, that was happy

Playing and resting without committing itself.

~ From Tulips, by Sylvia Plath

My mother sent a version of these photos and the text below to me in an email today (which reminded me of the poem) and kinda filled me with awe, so I wanted to share.  I tried to track down the original source or photographer with no luck,  looks like it’s been traveling around the interweb  for a couple of years now.  But, I did stumble onto this version with the gorgeous photos made into a video and set to one of my favorite songs, which is even more magical! Enjoy a little glimpse of spring to come.

“At first glance, it looks like a giant child armed with a box of crayons has been set loose upon the landscape. Vivid stripes of purple, yellow, red, pink, orange and green make up a glorious Technicolor patchwork. Yet far from being a child’s sketchbook, this is, in fact, the northern Netherlands in the middle of the tulip season. With more than 10,000 hectares devoted to the cultivation of these delicate flowers, the Dutch landscape in May is a kaleidoscope of giddy colors as the tulips burst into life. The bulbs were planted in late October and early November, and these colorful creations are now ready to be picked and sold as bunches of cut flowers in florists and supermarkets. More than three billion tulips are grown each year and two-thirds of the vibrant blooms are exported, mostly to the U.S.and Germany.

Their dazzling colors are thanks to the years in the 17th century when Tulip mania swept the globe and the most eye-catching specimens changed hands for a small fortune. But like a rainbow, this colorful landscape is a short-lived phenomenon. When the flowers are gone, the land will be cultivated for a rather more mundane crop of vegetables. The Netherlands produce more than nine million bulbs a year.”

– Original Source Unknown

Because Sometimes Living in a Tree Just Sounds Right

16 Feb

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Seriously, if it weren’t for the high cost of admission I would have figured out a way to live in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse at Disneyland long ago.  But I’m willing to socialize too.  Set me up in an Ewok village or Lórien from LOTR (yes my geek is showing) and I’d be perfectly happy.

Really the thought of moving anywhere with the least bit of imagination would thrill me right now.  I’m supposed to be packing for my move to Mesa next week and ugh.  Ugh.  I don’t want to deal with it.  Moving to another depressing box.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’ll be closer to my family.  I think.  I just hate dealing with moving in general.  I’m still not completely unpacked in my current  apartment after two years and the plan was to get something bigger so I had room for everything, but of course I’m ending up somewhere smaller instead. Finances and time and disappointment won out.  I think at some point during the process of searching I just gave up and said, fine…it’s a roof over my head, I’ll take it.  But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make myself excited about it.  Any suggestions people?!  How do we make moving fun?

The Before I Die Project

28 Jan

Photos By Subtext Projects

“[Artist Candy Chang] transformed a wall of [Dallas based East/West] Galleries into a giant chalkboard stenciled with the phrase, “Before I die I want to _____.” People can use chalk to write on the wall and remember what is important to them. This project is also about sharing and discovering the hopes and aspirations of the people around you. In addition to the gallery show, Before I Die is being installed on neglected buildings in New Orleans in hopes of improving both our physical environment and our individual well-being while understanding our neighbors in a different and enlightening way.”


I came across the above fascinating art installation today.  And I love that it’s being installed on neglected buildings in New Orleans.  I kinda wish I had one on my wall, for myself, for my friends and family… it’s such an intensely connecting concept.  I kind of think it’s appropriate that the proclamations are made in chalk as well.  I like knowing it’s okay to change my mind about what’s important, but I don’t have to.  I wonder if I could fill up an entire wall myself?

Here’s a few things I think I’d scratch out:

  • Before I die I want to touch someone’s heart and mind with my writing.
  • Before I die I want to watch my nephews and niece grow up.
  • Before I die I want to visit India.
  • Before I die I want to take care of those that have taken care of me.
  • Before I die I want to read thousands and thousands more books.
  • Before I die I want to eat pancakes at the White House.

Yah, OK, so that last one might be a stretch. (Unless the Obama’s are actively looking for brunch guests, in which case, do put me down)  It still sounds like fun!  The truth is there are probably thousands of things I could put on my wall.  Big and small, simple and outlandish. I’ve never been short on dreams.  The real question for me is not, WHAT do I want to do before I die, but HOW do I make those things happen.  I’m afraid that wall might look a bit more messy.  My plans are never step by step, this leads to that.  Life intervenes, and we skip ahead and fall backwards and jump to another wall altogether, all the while scribbling notes in the margins and wondering if this is really what we want after all.  For me, the messiness of the process is part of the joy of life.

But now I’m curious…what would be on your wall?

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