Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category


Have you noticed it’s been absent lately?  Writing, that is.  Not just writing on the blog, but writing about writing on the blog.  Writing in general.  And though I often (always?) go through periods where I am too crazed to even consider knocking out some pages of my book, things have been different lately.  It hasn’t even been on my mind.  I haven’t missed writing or thought about writing.

On Tuesday, I had to take the bus home, but I deliberately didn’t bring my folder with my novel outlines, character sketches, and the sheets and sheets of dialogue disguised as doodles and scribbles.  (Most of this dialogue is related to random acts of international violence, so I try to hide it in purple-inked scribbles, lest the person on the bus next to me thinks I am INSANE.)  Instead of my folder, which I left on the counter, I brought a book.  Someone else’s book.  And I just read.

The disappointment hit me last night.  I’ve dropped the ball on this book–not by the absence of writing, but by the absence of effort to write.  I don’t blame it on lack of time or on Nellie priorities; rather, I blame it on my own distraction.  I’ve let other ideas push into my head (as I occasionally do)–ideas about other projects, other initiatives, other blogs.  I’ve thought about making this blog more than it currently is.  I’ve thought about a lot of things, and I’ve let them get ahead of me.

I do this sometimes.  But most of the time, there is a voice in my head that intercepts me before I go too far down one road or another.  Occasionally I slip by and get out ahead of myself–like my outline for a new book on vacation rentals (which, by the way, had an awesome title and set of chapters sketched out).  I still think it was a good idea, but it’s not an idea worth pursuing.  Not for me, anyway.  When I spend time writing a novel, I’m committed to the journey.  If the novel doesn’t, ahem, pan out, I’m okay with it.  I consider that attempt just one step toward my next, better novel (the one that is sitting sadly on my counter in a yellow folder).  But these other ideas–like the vacation rental book–none of them are about the journey; they’re about what could be at the end of the journey.  For some reason I perceive them as easier, quicker…

And yet, not what I actually want.

They’re really nothing more than distractions.  And usually I can succeed in filtering those out–my internal spam collector is generally amazing.  But somehow, lately, it’s been shut off.  Letting me go too far with other thoughts, and not bringing me back to (my) reality.

Sitting on the bus with that book was a disappointing moment.  (About 95 disappointing minutes, to be exact.)  But it was what I needed to turn my filter back on.

Distractions tend to pile on top of me like heavy weights.  I’m lighter today.  And I’m thinking about writing.


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Next Steps

I’ve been missing from the blog for a few days.  Strep and stress grabbed me in one helluva chokehold, and I’m only just beginning to get my voice back and to reclaim a modicum of sleep from the cough that has held me hostage for nights now.   I finally feel as though I’m turning a corner and gaining the upper edge on this plague, which is a relief because I’ve got a lot on my taskpad in the next few weeks.

At the beginning of the year I mentioned that my resolution was to keep my priorities in the right order, and that’s definitely true; more specifically, however, my goal was to be happier professionally so that I could be happier at home.  I regret the rollover effect that work can have on home life, and it seemed to me that it was time to modify my path.

On Monday — after four years with my current shop — I gave notice at work, and on February 14 I will start a new job.  After a month of talking about the ‘what ifs’ — what if they make an offer, what if this is my new work home, what if I actually get to do this — it is surreal to make the transition to ‘they did, it is, I do’.  The organization had this position open for more than six months searching for the right candidate, and I knew the moment I heard about it that it was the right job for me.  I get to stay in the foreign policy world I love, but I’ll be more deeply immersed, working closely with experts and scholars.  I get to work with an amazing group of hard-working, dedicated colleagues at one of the most well-regarded shops in town.  And — the part that I can hardly believe — I’m finally going to be writing.  In fact, my title finally has the word ‘writer’ in it.

When I think about it, I realize it’s the right next step for me and the perfect amalgamation of my professional experiences and my personal interests.

I have G, I have Nellie, and now I finally have the opportunity to write.  2012 has me feeling very content.

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On writing. And not writing.

Last week was the writers’ conference I attended in 2010, and it was very strange thinking about my writing life then versus my writing life now and the expectations I had of where my writing life might be these days.  Last October I had finished a novel that had its share of flaws and had received its share of rejections (some helpful, some not).  I had lost steam and was wondering where to go next when I attended the conference.  Being around writers, published authors, people who wanted what I wanted, was such a boost.  I knew what the book needed, and I finally had the motivation to fix it. 

It was immediately obvious that ‘fixing’ a completed novel is much harder than writing the first broken version.  Everything needed to be recast, and each tweak rippled through the storyline like a rug being shaken out.  With every piece I moved, three more had to be subsequently altered.  And so on.  I worked fervently for a few weeks, but my progress stalled when I went out of town for two weeks to Halifax and Nashville.  I was committed to getting back into my writing groove during the holidays, but life had other ideas when we got pregnant that same month.  (Granted, there was a window of a couple weeks where I didn’t know I was pregnant, but holy hell, I have never been so tired in my entire life, even if I wasn’t sure why.)

Pregnancy exhaustion combined with new priorities — like wallpapering closets, for example — took over.  And the energy I had to rewrite the book faded away.  But the motivation to write — the desire to work on a novel — never did go away, and so I started a drastically different book.  I poured myself into the research, the outline, the character sketches, the scene lists, and more.  I vowed that I would have a ready-to-write book by the time my maternity leave started.

And I did.

I imagined that maternity leave would be full of breaks and pauses while the baby napped — opportunities for chores, a long block for writing, and time to cook a wonderful dinner and wind down before G got home.  I kind of feel like someone, anyone, could have mentioned that maternity leave never goes that way.  Of course she doesn’t nap, and I do the majority of my blogging and emailing with a sloppy, one-handed keyboard poke reminiscent of first grade typing class.  And my chores and my dinner prep are crammed into one hectic block of time that lasts from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each night where I throw everything together and hope the clothes come out clean and the dinner comes out (semi) on time.  And there is always a moment where she is screaming but I have just. three. shirts. to. fold, or she is crying but I’m on top of four hot, sizzling, splashing pots on the stove and can’t possibly hold her until they are off the burners and I am out of the way. 

And I really tried to write — I tried to build in a set time each morning where I would write a little bit at a time — but while I got one chapter down fairly quickly, I am still only one chapter down.  And I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen, so I put away my notes last week to avoid the guilt I felt every time I looked at them gathering dust (or, yanno, massive quantities of dog hair). 

I’m okay with the fact that it didn’t work out.  The purpose of maternity leave isn’t for writing novels; it’s for taking care of Nellie and doing everything in my power to let her know that she is deeply loved.  In the end, if that’s the only thing accomplished over 14 weeks, it’s a success.

But the truth is, I really like this book I want to write.  And when I took out the outline, I was totally jazzed by everything I had come up with in my pregnant state of mind.  But I know that in a few weeks I will go back to work, and my day will be organized by commute, by work, and then by the precious moments I get with Nell before bedtime.  And so I wonder…

How do people do it?  Where do I find the time for writing, so that it isn’t just always there, in the back of my mind? *

*Really, this isn’t a rhetorical question, so if you know, please send detailed schedules and/or winning lottery tickets.

Nell has her two-month doctors appointment tomorrow, which means shots and explaining to my doctor why the insurance denied ALL of her newborn care claims from the hospital.  The insurance company’s explanation, which I think should totally float with the doctor, is that their system simply isn’t that smart.  Riiiight.  See, hour on phone with insurance company = hour not writing!  <– Full circle.

But after her appointment, G and I are escaping with Nellie on her first little road trip.  I hope to share lots of stats, photos, and stories next week after a brief blogging hiatus.  I don’t have internet at the Chalet, because sometimes computers should just stay home.  Especially when they’re not being used for things like novels.

Requisite Nellie photo: I got her out of bed early this morning to go to the Honda dealership for the El’s scheduled maintenance, and she was still a little sleepy while I got us ready to go.

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On (new) Writing

I get a lot of questions — fair questions, really — about when people are going to read the book I wrote.  I have a mostly love/quasi hate relationship with that book.  It has a lot of flaws, and I think the majority of the book needs to be slightly rewritten (which I did start doing once a long long time ago…).  The truth is that the book wants to be something that doesn’t quite line up with what I wrote; frankly, the writing doesn’t currently match the content.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to just start from scratch and use none of the old content — knowing the plot, knowing the characters, and knowing what it needs to be this time around might make it easier just to start writing from page 1, rather than trying to squeeze the existing content into a new mold.  And maybe I will do that one day, but not today.  I love the book for what it taught me about outlining, about characters, about writing every day, about creating a cohesive (or, yanno, NOT) story.  I look back on that book and I don’t think, well that was daunting — I can’t imagine doing it again; instead I think, now I know how to do it — the next one will be so much better.  And so I am glad the first book was what it was, and I am also thankful for what it wasn’t.  It wasn’t the book I’ve always wanted to write, (yanno, the book on international espionage and conspiracy, obvi).  Because now that I’ve gotten that first, difficult, rusty book out of the way, I can actually write what I want to write.  So now I’m at the beginning again: outlines, character sketches, plot discoveries.  If there is anything I learned in the last book, it is that nothing can be forced.  The characters will make their own decisions; their actions will beget consequences and conflicts; and I just need to be patient while that works itself out.  Then I can write it.  And this time, confidence is high.

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I miss writing.  Desperately.  I miss creating characters, imagining scenes, watching storylines come together, and tracking word counts.  I thought about putting it on the last blog post under ‘things I miss’, but I didn’t because doing so was almost an admission that writing had been replaced by all things baby.  And I don’t want it to be that way; I really want to get back to writing before this pregnancy jig is up.   Time is moving faster than I anticipated, however. Last night I said to G, “in three and a half months, we’ll have a baby.” 




It isn’t as though I’m lacking inspiration — I have plenty; I’m not even lacking time or energy — I feel pretty good and do remarkably little thanks to my activity-rest (and thanks to G who is not on activity rest and does a lot).  I just can’t narrow down the ideas in my head into a workable scope. And I’m terrified of starting a new project (because goodness knows I don’t have the mental capacity to do the final fine-tune edit the other book needs to find its world of completion) that will be too complex for me to tackle fully.  And by tackle fully, I mean knock out a draft.  Three months to put one full novel draft down.  I feel like I can do it — the last book took six months for the first draft, and that was primarily because I had no idea how to sit down and write a book.

My dilemma?  If not inspiration, time, energy, or even motivation?

My head, and this silly international political world I live in.

I am desperate to write a single-location, single-detective mystery.  Just a book.  Something I can write to keep my writing fresh.  Something I can practice on.  Something that lets me knock out a first draft in three months and feel okay shelving it for a while with the baby.  I don’t want to say something easy — I don’t think writing a book is every easy.  But for the love of everything, can’t I just think of something that doesn’t require major research, a masters in political science, and a spider web plot that spins me in circles like the last one. (Yeah, yeah, still need to fix a few shortcomings in that one…)

But every time I start with something simple.  I kill off person A in location A and think to myself, now that wasn’t hard.  I only need motive.  And a bad guy.  But then I think, well person A is only dead because person A was doing major illegal cross-border, international activities, and he was acting with person B from country X and person C from country Y, and now all three of those guys are dead, and discovering why will expose a secret political undercurrent that will shake the very fundamentals of US-EU relations.


I think I’m broken.

But I’m determined to start writing a draft by May 1, which gives me two weekends to take the story I want to write, remove approximately thirty characters, and eliminate three countries, the CIA, and an underground political movement in eastern Europe.  Or, yanno, if you have a plot that you’re just dying for someone else to write (that involves, for example, one small town in the United States and NOWHERE ELSE), then I’d be set.

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puppies and portobellos

G is at work tonight. 😦  All night. 😦

So it is just the four of us.  They have rubber bones with chewy rings on the outside and I have…well…my laptop.  And wine, of course.

So I made up a new recipe tonight. My delicious beef stroganoff recipe, with eggplant and mushrooms instead of beef and mushrooms. (And without the dill.  It seemed silly to buy dill for one.)  And instead of noodles, on top of wilted spinach.

As it turns out: delicious.

My Ballbuster wine from Tait didn’t hurt. (I actually bought a second bottle because, after opening this one on Monday, I realized I should have saved the screw top for the weekend. Screw top wine is SO much easier in the Pocs.)

Even though I’m not at all ready for Thanksgiving or the idea of Thanksgiving, I’ve shamefully begun watching Christmas movies. Love Actually on Saturday when G was at work, and Elf tonight.  I know, I know.

But I heart these movies.

Speaking of Christmas, the Christmas cards I made were delivered today. AND I LOVE THEM!!!! 

No hints. Except one: Santa is in them. 🙂

I had a meeting in Georgetown today which was awesome for two reasons: delicious lunch(!) and proximity to Barnes and Noble. It is so hard living in a county without a bookstore. I bought two new books for the weekend:

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif GW Persson. (The next Stieg Larsson? I HOPE SO!)

And an oldie but goodie that I never actually read: The Bourne Identity. As it turns out, in my massive book rewrite (i.e., writing an entirely new book), I am writing a chase scene that takes place on top of a building in Thailand.  And I think I suck at it. So it occurred to me to read how others write chase scenes. And who wrote more rooftop chase scenes than Robert Ludlum?  I’m pretty stoked to spot-read this book.

About that writing… it’s moving slowly.  Sigh.

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Ghosts and Pumpkin Beer

Happy Halloween! It doesn’t seem very Halloweeny today, and I’ve decided that Halloween on a Sunday blows.  Instead of staying up all night watching scary movies (a la last year), we’ll watch Sunday night football.  Instead of cooking up Halloweeny food (idk, pumpkin soup?), we’ll have a normal dinner.  Because, yanno, it’s Sunday. 

I spent the morning writing — it’s almost NaNoWriMo time! — and then I went to Giant and stocked up on all sorts of G foods.  I leave on Tuesday for (gahhh) 9 nights, and I’m not looking forward to it. But the house is stocked with soups, chili, meatloaf, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and other ‘can be prepared by microwave’ foods.  I also got dog food (looking out for the little guys this week).

Now we’re watching football with pumpkin beer and bison burgers, and it occurred to me I hadn’t shared pictures from the El’s first road trip. I never got my Petsmart gift card in the mail — maybe it will come soon, since it’s been like 6 weeks?? — so I had to get creative with my doggy-proofing.

A step by step guide to making your car three-lab-proof:

1. cover head rests of front seats

2. cover rest of front seats with old t-shirts, and cut slit in front for seatbelts — bonus points for shirts with writing

3. fold up back seats

4. cover back seats with trash bags

5. position baby gate vertically in the center between front and back seats to prevent dogs from getting into the front

6. stack up luggage on either side of baby gate to reinforce it and further protect front seats

7. jam the back area with dog pillows and blankets to create one giant, comfy, three-dog crate

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