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All Work And No Fiction…

Makes April one cranky writer.

Last week I complained that I only wrote six pages on my novel. This week I can’t even say that I did that. I’m busting my ass to get this sample chapter of my non-fiction project done as soon as possible, and it just hasn’t left any room for my fiction.

This is true physically and mentally. While I have very little spare time, I feel like if I really wanted to I could make the space to work on my novel. After I put my girl to bed, for example, I could write a few pages.

But one of the things I never count on with writing projects is just how draining they can be. After writing for six or seven hours on the non-fiction project, I just don’t have it in me to do any more. Especially since shifting to my novel would mean a complete brain wave modification. Different characters, different structure, even the basic style of my writing is different when I do fiction.

So I’m trying to be gentle with myself. The chapter is coming along well, and should be done in a day or two. Then I can set all this non-fiction aside and focus on the novel for the foreseeable future.

The really juicy dilemma will be if I do get a book deal for the non-fiction project. What then? Do I set aside the novel indefinitely? Do I make Mondays Talulah Jones days, and devote the rest of the week to non-fiction? Do I toughen up and start writing pages after dark?

I’m not going to worry about it just yet.

The Balancing Act Continues

I considered writing out my to-do list as this week’s post. Ultimately I decided against it, because really – how boring would that be?

In a few weeks I move in to the Skidmore dorms for their Summer Writing Retreat, and I am so excited. Sure, getting ready to check out of my life for two weeks is partly what has my to-do list growing like a colony of bacteria on nutrient-rich agar, but once I’m there – it’s all about my fiction.

Just me and Talulah. Ahhhh….

Right now I feel like a neglectful parent. I only wrote six pages last week, and the worst part is, I know exactly what I want to be writing, I just can’t seem to find the time to get it down. In order to get the non-fiction proposal ready to go out I’ve been prioritizing that work to the top of my list, and Talulah keeps getting bumped. I wish I could tell her to hang in there. “I’m not abandoning you, I swear.”

Anyhow, I’m keeping the post short and sweet today. I’ve got s**t to do….

ps – I know the photo for this post has nothing to do with its content, but I’m feeling stressed and it always makes me giggle, so I thought I’d share.

Multitasking

For anyone who may not know, in March I took on a project I called the Month Without Monsanto. For the whole month of March I did my best to avoid all Monsanto products. It was ridiculously hard.

I blogged about it on my other blog www.monthwithoutmonsanto.com. Since finishing the project at the end of March I have been working on a book proposal called “Nonsanto,” and on Friday I met with an agent who is excited to work with me in putting together a proposal to take out to editors/publishers.

I am absolutely thrilled to say that I have an agent. She is smart, savvy, and genuinely interested in the project. She has asked me to write one more sample chapter (I already wrote an introduction that we will use in the pitch), and I am working hard to get it done in the next two weeks.

What’s the hurry? Well, in addition to the material being pretty timely, I am also headed to Skidmore in July for a writing seminar – a fiction writing seminar. And here is where the multitasking comes in. In the coming weeks I have to not only bust out a kick ass chapter for the proposal, but also keep moving forward on my fiction. It’s a wonderful dilemma. My first instinct is to just drink a lot more coffee, but…. I’m pregnant! The good news has just been rolling in lately.

I’m feeling a little daunted, but super excited. I have so much work to do, and anything that doesn’t get done before mid-December (my due date is Dec 15 – which is awesome, since our insurance deductible resets on January 1st) is going to be pretty much put on hold for a while, so there’s a serious fire under my booty. One cup of coffee a day simply isn’t enough. I wonder if my OB will understand. Probably not.

The Writer’s Notebook

I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Traditionally I fill one a year and buy myself a new one on my birthday. It’s a fun tradition, but what I learned last fall is that a journal is different from a writer’s notebook. Learning to keep a writer’s notebook has changed how I see the world. It has challenged me to become a better writer, and supported my story telling in ways I never really believed it would.

It was Janet Fitch who taught me to keep a writer’s notebook. When I took her class last fall she insisted that we all have a small notebook, and that we keep it on hand at all times. She pushed us to write in it every day, if not multiple times a day. Every day we should note the weather, pushing ourselves to describe it in a way we have never heard before. Every time we hear or see something that catches our attention we should write it down – in a way we have never heard before. And that (“a way we have never heard before”) changed the way I write.

Describing things, weather or people, in a way that is uniquely my own, over and over again, is hard. It takes training. I am getting better at it all the time. And the great thing is that every couple of months I take a few hours and type up everything in my journal and store it for future use. Now, should I need to describe Los Angeles in October during a sudden down pour, I don’t have to try to remember it – I just go to my file on weather and pull something out:

“The rain sounds like an argument. Insistent an imposing. I try not to hear, but it keeps getting louder. Reflected droplets splash up and hit my shins making me cold. Everything is shiny in this dim light and I can see the outline of drops clinging to the underside of the railing as if they too are trying to hide from the downpour, trying to stay dry.”

I may or may not use all of that, but it’s a great start, and it was written in the moment, looking at the rain, feeling it, hearing it – not just trying to remember it. It’s the details that make a story memorable, and the more you push yourself to notice them, and exercise your ability to describe them well, the better writer you will be. At least, that’s what Janet Fitch told us, and I for one believe her.

So if you are a writer, invest in a little notebook – something small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, and carry it with you always, and don’t forget a pen (there’s nothing sorrier than a writer without a pen). When you have an idea or a thought on how you would describe something – stop and write it. Pull over to the side of the road, make the checkout lady wait, ignore the kid’s request for juice for a minute and just get it down. That’s what being a writer is all about.