Friday, July 8, 2016

Tell Me The Truth

The most useless person you could possibly ask to read and comment on your work is your spouse. Unless you have a spouse who is an editor or a writer themselves, otherwise, bad idea.

To my husband, every word that I tap out at the keyboard is brilliance, pure magic. Realistically, we both know that's not true. I have an Excel spreadsheet of rejected submissions to prove it.

Ideally, I'd like to find a local writing group, but time-wise this isn't really feasible right now.

I hear other writers mentioning beta readers and critique partners, but I've never really picked up the necessary networking or social skills to find any of my own. For years I've convinced myself that having someone else read my work before submitting it isn't really necessary, or that swapping critiques with a partner won't really add much to my writing, but I'm starting to think that I'm wrong.

Do you use beta readers or have a critique partner? More importantly, how did you find them in the first place?

Friday, July 1, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Even if reading wasn't one of the most important aspects of being a writer (does reading time count as working?), much of my day would still be spent stealing minutes here and there to sit down with my nose placed firmly in a book. I've read some truly phenomenal books this year, some good books, and others that I didn't quite finish because life is too short for bad reads. Here are some of my favorites, and for your benefit, I've managed to cut the list down to five.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
I first fell in love with Backman's writing after reading A Man Called Ove. Britt-Marie is a character that appeared in one of Backman's other books, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, and I definitely suggest reading it before moving on to Britt-Marie Was Here. Backman's insight into the human soul (in a non-religious sort of way) is absolutely stunning.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
This novel takes place over the course of a single evening at a fancy restaurant. Koch has the kind of pacing ability that I strive for, reveals necessary information without spoon feeding it, and depicts the lengths that parents are sometimes willing to go to in order to protect their children.

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty is easily one of my favorite authors. She has the brilliant ability to weave together multiple story lines and characters, and builds on conflict until explosive climaxes. Three Wishes isn't my favorite Moriarty novel, although it's still quite good, it just happens to be only one of two Moriarty books I've read this year. It follows the lives of three sisters (triplets to be exact) and the mayhem that seems to follow each of them.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I listened to this one as an audio book, and specifically went on longer runs than normal in order to keep listening. First off, Mr. Penumbra's bookstore sounds like the kind of place I need to be (floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, yes please!). Between its weird owner, even weirder customers, and a beautifully designed secret society, this book is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Sinisalo is a master of speculative fiction and this novel is no exception. In the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland, there are two types of women: eloi and morlocks, and only the eloi have the legal right to marry. Defective morlocks are sterilized, drugs and alcohol are contraband, and the black market smuggles chili peppers across the border. This one had a real HG Wells feel to it and I gobbled it up in a few sittings. This was one that I checked out from the library, but I'm certainly adding it to my own collection in the future.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thirsty, But In The Physical Way

I’ve always been thirsty. Not metaphorically or spiritually, just thirsty. My childhood nightstand always sported a cup of water at bedtime, and even now I can distinctly recall the plastic Pocahontas cup standing ready at the bedside.

Nothing has changed now. Every night, before padding up the stairs but after letting the dog outside for one last pee, I fill up a cup with water and ice to carry to up to bed. On nights that I feel particularly parched, I forego the plastic cup and fill up my two favorite reusable water bottles. And no, I don’t share with my husband.

A few months ago I noticed that I was drinking even more than normal. Even now, a cup of water is always at my side and I fill up several water bottles when leaving the house. So I did what everyone does. I Googled it. And convinced myself that I had diabetes.

I used to be a fairly unhealthy person. I didn’t eat well and exercise wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. After dropping and keeping off about 100 pounds I’m an overall pretty healthy person, but I was terrified that the damage had already been done.

A visit to my doctor ended in bloodwork and a two-week wait, during which I turned my unending thirst and handful of other symptoms over and over in my mind. Every activity was racked with guilt. Why hadn’t I moved more when I was younger? I could hardly eat without wondering how things might have been different if only I had exercised more self-control. And you know what?

It was my fucking anemia.

Iron pills, a bill of clean health, and I was reassured that some people are just thirsty. The dry, Tucson air doesn’t help much either.

The whole ordeal was an unnecessary strain that I put myself through, but I only recently realized how that situation mirrors my writing life. When starting a new story or gearing up to outline an idea I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while, I experience an extraordinary amount of fear. It follows me throughout the day, beating itself against my skull as I run farther and farther from actually writing.

And then when I do start writing? Well, then I learn that the fear was wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Whoops, There Goes Another 2 Months...

I've pretty much accepted the fact that I'm the worst blogger ever. I remember, I forget, then I remember again and panic internally for 3 weeks straight. Maybe it's not a healthy system, but it's my system. Here are the highlights from the past 2 months, and we can move on to more exciting things next time.

My husband came home:

And it was awesome.

I was published.

In 2016's SandScript.

You can get it here.

Visited the Grand Canyon for the first time.

They were clearly overwhelmed by its beauty.

And pitched a few tents.

And now I'm writing again, which is what I'm always doing I suppose. Right now I have 2 different short stories that I'm working on and a novel that I'm scared to touch. Something tells me a bottle of wine could help me get over that.

What have you been up to recently? Any trips, new stories in the works, or a new brand of coffee at the grocery store?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Rejected, Accepted, and Still Going

Excel has probably about a million different features and formulas, but honestly I don’t use any of them. My husband set up our budget spreadsheet and is an Excel master, but I’m more of a basic user.

I use Excel to track my submissions. What I submitted, when it was sent off, where I sent it to, if it was an article or short story, and if it was accepted or rejected.

The “Rejected” column has me feeling a little beaten down. As writers, we all know that rejections far outweigh the “yes”s, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to take. For me, it’s not so much the individual rejections, it’s the image of them all combined in a tidy little spreadsheet.

Those few “yes”s, though? They’re the sip of water when I’m trudging through the desert, fighting to get over the next sand dune to that magical land of full-on publication. Recently I’ve had two articles published and not much else, although not for lack of trying and pitching and querying the shit out of myself.

Recently, though, I got a larger drink of water when I found out that my short story I’m Coming, Mary will be published in this year’s SandScript. That acceptance came at just the right time, as I had been struggling with my competence as a writer. I mean come on, you can only have so many people say, “Sorry, not for us,” before you start to question the validity of your chosen career path.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily the softest on the ego, but I still couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. Which is why I drink through the rejections. You know, sometimes.

How do you deal with rejections?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

4 Ways I Deal with My Depression

Last time that I discussed my struggle with depression I was in the process of seeking help…again. Right now, though, I’m doing OK. It’s work, a surprising amount of work actually, but it’s working.

I still have down days and up days, but in general the vast majority of days are riding comfortably in the middle, neither too or too high. Here is how I manage my depression.

1. Medicine
Look, some people despise the idea of medication. I used to be one of them. When I was a teenager I would sometimes flush my pills down the toilet because I couldn’t bear the thought of taking anything else. No matter what your thoughts might be on overmedicating or treating mental illnesses through pharmaceutical drugs, I thrive while staying on my medication.

There is one downside though – it makes me weirdly sweatier than normal. Silver lining of that downside, if I accidentally forget to take my medicine I become unbearably sweaty, like, to the point that once my daughter crawled into my bed at 3 in the morning and said, “Mommy…why is your bed wet?” No, I did not pee the bed. Also, I don't forget my medication anymore.

2. Exercise
Depending on the week, I average about 4-6 days of exercise. Primarily, I love to run, especially with my dog. I also hit the gym 2 days a week to strength train and I recently started working with a personal trainer. Honestly, the fewer days a week I exercise the more likely it is that I start sliding back into my depression.

I’m not sure what it is about exercising. Maybe it gives me a tangible accomplishment to focus on or maybe all the endorphins are giving my medication a boost, who knows.

3. Eating Well
I am by far not the only person in America who has struggled with dangerous deprivation and binge eating cycles. Fair warning, this will not result in weight loss. While part of my focus right now is to lose weight until I reach a healthier mass for my height, I’m doing it while eating well.

Yep, lots of veggies, no more late-night binges, and actually eating to avoid hunger, which actually helps with those late night binges. This also means coping with difficult or frustrating situations in ways that don’t involve food.

4. Breathing
I forget the actual name for this technique, but whatever. I call it 4-breathing. Closing my eyes, I breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out over another 4 seconds, hold it for 4, then start all over again.

Along with my depression and anxiety, I also deal with a lot of anger issues. I know, shocking. But among a number of other techniques, 4-breathing is one of my best tools to battle depression, anger, and anxiety. 

I don't think that there is any magic recipe for treating and handling depression, but there are a lot of tools out there that can be used to make things better. So from me to you, if you're struggling, remember that there is help, and when you're ready, reach out for it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing? Put it on the to-do list

Look, I get it, no one likes to-do lists. They have a bad reputation for being the tools of controlling individuals who have trouble letting go. “No, we can’t do that. It’s not on the list, see?”

But fuck it, I LOVE to-do lists. Mostly because I wouldn’t get anything done without them. Want to know something else? Something that might make you want to throw up in your mouth a little?

I also make to-not-do lists. Like, shit I need to avoid. They mostly look like this:

  • Dick around on the internet (there's nothing for you there)
  • Nap
  • Watch more than 1 hour of TV
  • Wallow in self-pity

And yes, I re-write my to-not-do list every day in my planner. Why? I’m a writer who works from home, I need a proverbial boss to pass by my non-existent cubicle every now and then to make sure I’m being productive. With my planner positioned right next to my keyboard all I have to do is glance over and, “OH EXCUSE ME SIR NO I WASN’T GETTING ON FACEBOOK OK BYE.”

But my to-do lists are honestly just as effective, even if my kids have been conspiring to keep alternating weeks to get sick while my husband’s deployment drags on for what feels like forever. One of the reasons that to-do lists seem to be shunned by creative people is the constrains that they can place on the creative process. There are many writers and artists who feel as if they can’t get down to work until inspiration strikes.

I’m of a different variety. Basically, force me to sit down and I’ll hammer it all out right then and there. For me, sitting down to the computer or the notebook is my spark of inspiration. Kind of. Look, if I don’t make myself do it, I’ll fall back on the old reliable, “Oh, I’ll get to that when I have a wider open schedule.” I never, ever have a wide open schedule. No one does.

To-do lists haven’t always been my best friend, and to-not-do lists are an even more recent addition to my game plan, but they’ve become invaluable assets to my writing goals and career. I might not mark off every item, especially when someone (not naming names but TOTALLYMYKIDS) is sick again, but the lists keep me focused and moving forward.

What are your feelings on to-do lists?