Sketches, and Writer with a Day Job by Áine Greaney

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Quick and dirty sketches of my two principle characters.

Hello! It’s been over a week since the Unicorn Writers’ Conference now. Life’s been pretty good. I’ve even been exercising. I’m trying to leave my book draft alone for a little while, even though Eileen Albrizio‘s workshop  at the Conference made me want to FIND and DESTROY all the adverbs. I have been getting positive feedback from the good folks reading the current draft, though, which is awesome to hear. To keep my oar in and try to cultivate the habit of writing every day, I’ve been futzing around with book two. It’s still in the very early stages of development, but I’m playing with some ideas and I like what’s shaping up so far. Mostly, I’ve been sketching and working on thumbnails for the rest of book one. I need to really tackle those illustrations soon. For now, I’ve been sketching with a cheap ballpoint pen and hoping that the permanence and nonchalance of the medium will take some of the pressure out of making pictures. It’s a ballpoint pen. I have to ACCEPT that the things I make with it will NOT be perfect—and this frees me up to just DRAW.

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he's turning out

Some sketches for a secondary character in Wanderlust. If you can ignore the one on the bottom right with the panda eyes, I like how he’s turning out

 

urlOne of my favorite (ha ha. They were all my favorite) workshops at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference was Writer With a Day Job with Áine Greaney. Writer With a Day Job is also the name of one of her books, which I bought and she signed for me. If you ever get a chance to meet Ms. Greaney or attend one of her workshops, I highly recommend it. She is a delight to listen to, and not just because of the Irish accent. She is a very clear and demanding speaker who holds your attention, makes you laugh, and says a lot of very true things that make you think, and keep thinking. She has a soft a soft voice and wields this power gently; the overall impression is of kindness, hilarity, and respect.

You might wonder why I chose this workshop, since I have no day job to speak of. Well, not having a day job isn’t really a sustainable life choice. I’m even starting to suspect that having regularly scheduled, gainful employment, would help my writing—and this was one of the points of Greaney’s workshop. In fact, when I flipped through my Áine Greaney book looking for likely quotes, I came upon this: “Your day job can give you the structure you need to get things done” (19). I also found, in my notes from the conference, this bit of wisdom: “[Having a day job] takes [the] ego and financial burden away [from the writing].” That really resonates with me right now, because, as much as I’m living a cushy little existence as a writer/creative with parent-provided room and board, I am trying very hard to enter into the adult world and take responsibility for myself and for my obligations. In short, making those student loan payments at the end of every month stresses the crap out of me. If having a job meant I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, it might actually free up more energy for my writing and creative pursuits. I attended this workshop in anticipation of getting a day job in the near future, and I attended the workshop to learn how to do it when I’m in the position of having a job and needing to write. It was the best choice I could have made; Greaney’s workshop gave me a lot of hope for my future and for the future of my writing and creative endeavors.

The most important thing, Greaney said, is to ask ourselves this: Why do I write? What is my deeply personal reason for writing? What do I want from my life as a writer?

When I asked myself these questions, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I remembered that it isn’t about getting published or making money and getting recognition for my work. I want all that, yes. I want it bad. But what it’s about is telling these stories. What it’s about is the love I have for my characters and the deep compulsion I feel to make something physical and tangible and shareable out of the stories and people I’ve created in my head. That, at the heart of it, is why I’m doing this—not for money or fame or a job. This realisation means—well, it means it’s okay if I have a day job for YEARS before the writer/illustrator lark can be my full-time occupation. It means that, as long as I’m creating and sharing these characters, I won’t have failed. The only way I will be a failure as a writer and an artist is if I stop working and creating every day.

I can’t share the whole workshop with you here, so I highly recommend you check out the book if you’re interested. You’ll find a lot of good strategies about how to fit writing time into your busy schedule. I especially liked how Greaney talked about transitions between your work (or your life) and your writing. Sometimes you can’t go straight from one to the other, and it helps to set up transition rituals (like finishing that cup of coffee, or spending twenty minutes journaling, or putting on a specific sweater) that you always perform to get from one place to the other.

I came away from the workshop with two overall messages. The first was: If being a writer is truly, deeply important to you (refer back to that deeply personal reason mentioned above), then do it, any way you can. Write every day. Make it happen. Use whatever available time you have, and make it work for you. And the second message? Be nice to yourself. Accept that you won’t be brilliant every day, and move forward on your writing anyway. At least visit it, even on the crap days when you have nothing left to give. It will all add up, and you will move closer to your writing goals.

Writing Marathon Day 1, and First Contest Winner

Race to the 8th Day 1It has begun! Now, the savvy among you may be looking at that cool calendar graphic and wondering if I spent the whole day creating it, rather than writing. To you, I can proudly say that I stayed up late to finish it last night so I’d have the whole day free today. More of you might be wondering what is up with the unicorn and the sparkles. Well, did I mention we’re doing this whole thing because the 8th is my birthday? My birthday has always been about unicorns and sparkles. That’s just how it is.

The Writing Day

Well, today was not perfect. I was tired, headachey, and dealing with all sorts of cravings for all the foods I’m not eating. I was not in any way immune to the distractions of the internet, or to the temptation to check and see if I had any new contest entries every five minutes (I didn’t). Still, I did okay. I made a good start. I’m proud of myself. Today, I completed my revision of Chapter Nine: To the Wolves. Admittedly I’ve been working on this chapter since, god, since Christmas, but I’ve been working on it so long because it’s tricky. There’s this one part I finally polished off today where I’m writing about one thing and trying to reference this other thing, but it has to be done without looking like I’m referencing the other thing, and without being too obvious. This is what I meant when I said my progress reports wouldn’t make much sense to you. But hey, Chapter Nine down. Tomorrow I can move on to Chapter 10. In total, there are 12 chapters and an epilogue. Seven more days. This might be doable. There are, of course, still a few clean-up matters to attend to in the earlier chapters, and I’m just now considering ANOTHER re-write of my opening pages, but still. We’re moving along. Tackling Swamp Times (Chapter 10) tomorrow!

One More Thing

before we announce the winner, because it is too good not to share. I had a series of interesting dreams this morning. In one of them, I found my soul mate at a very dodgy, second rate carnival in Michigan. I know it was second rate because they wouldn’t stop the ferris wheel even though I was CLEARLY only holding on by one hand and about to fall to my death. I found him (my soul mate, who was someone I had never seen before in my life) just outside the paintball room/funhouse. We were both so surprised :). In my next dream, however, I was back in Maine and in the same house as a serial killer. You will be happy to know that I did the right thing, and set Beyoncé free. My own fate was still up in the air, however, so it’s good I woke up when I did!

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for. I realized pretty quickly that I wanted EVERYONE to win, so we’re doing this by a totally random draw. I’ve got names in a container beside me at my desk. I like the noise they make when I shake them. I NEED MORE NAMES, PEOPLE! Entries are still open.

Okay. Drawing a name now.

And the winner is…

Elise! Congratulations!

Elise, by the way, is a friend of mine from school, and she is also the lady who is marrying Leftenant Weatherby (Tom Rich). I am so excited for both of them. 🙂

Elise’s entry: Rewrite one of your favorite (or most hated) scenes from the perspective of another character or onlooker.

Oh geez, Elise. This could be a five-day prompt! It’s a really intriguing proposition, and I recently saw something similar on another website as an exercise for fleshing out secondary characters. There are also some really cool ways I could respond to this that I wouldn’t actually be able to share, because of spoilers for Wanderlust book 2, if you’d believe it. But here goes:

Conveniently, I have this scene illustrated, although there is not actually a streetlamp in evidence in this picture.

Conveniently, I have this scene illustrated, although there is not actually a streetlamp in evidence in this picture.

The street lamp at the corner of Baker and Fifth* was uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable because there was a person standing underneath it. Not that the streetlamp was unaccustomed to humanity passing by on the sidewalk below; it was just, that, well, they usually passed by, and didn’t camp out holding a sign for several hours. Actually, this little bit of humanity had been there even longer. It had first showed up when the streetlamp was still lit, a good bit past the point when the late hours of the night transitioned into the early hours of the morning. It had stumbled down the street from the direction of the tavern on 7th, and had curled up in the lee of the steps of the print shop. It slept until the streetlight followed its program and shut itself off, and until other passers-by made noise and got on with their business of passing by. Then it—which the streetlamp supposed was a boy, or a young man, even though it had long blonde hair like a girl—had woken up, looked miserable, and sat in the grass for a long while. He was carrying a few heavy bundles, though he didn’t open them. Go on, thought the streetlamp. Go get breakfast. I bet you had a hard night. But you can make today better. Go on, move along. The boy just sat there. It was infuriating. Finally he stood up and picked up his bundles. Alright, thought the street lamp. Now you’re getting it. But instead of walking down the road, the boy went into the print shop. The streetlamp couldn’t hear anything that happened in there, but the boy came out carrying a sheet of paper with something written on it. And then he proceeded to stand underneath the street lamp, just stand there, holding that sign. The streetlamp wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. This wasn’t one of those neighborhoods. They didn’t even get much homeless here, and what they got usually preferred the other side of the street. So what was up with this kid, and why here, of all places? And why did he look so sad? And what did it say on that sign? The streetlamp waited over an hour to find out. The whole time, the kid barely moved. A few cars slowed down as they went past him, presumably to read the sign, but they sped along quickly. Finally, a blue ford pickup truck came down the road. The ’92 model, unless the streetlamp was mistaken. The pickup truck slowed down. The street lamp would have held held its breath, if it could breathe. Then—yes, the pickup truck stopped. The boy let his sign flutter to the ground, and put one of his bundles in the truckbed before climbing into the passenger side and closing the door. The truck drove away. The street lamp looked down, and saw that the kid’s sign had landed face-up. The streetlamp could just make it out: “Broke Rock Star Needs Ride.” Huh, thought the streetlamp. Glad he found what he was looking for. And then the street lamp got on with its daily business, entirely oblivious to the fact that it had just witnessed the beginning of a grand adventure.

That was fun, thank you Elise! You will be receiving your name-doodle prize in a week or so (and definitely by the end of February. That’s a promise.)

I will see you all tomorrow. Happy Writing.

-Grace

*Totally fictional street names because I never bothered to research actual neighborhoods of Boston.

I Got Published Today!

No, I didn’t sneakily finish my book without telling you. But a month or so ago, I did link to an online journal called The Story Shack, and what I didn’t tell you was that I had already submitted a short story to the journal’s editor. My story was ACCEPTED, and today it was published at thestoryshack.com. The story is called Absolut (spelling intentional) and it’s only 400 words, so you should check it out if you have the time. The coolest thing about this is that I got to collaborate with the excellent Sherri Oliver, who illustrated the story. THAT’S HER ILLUSTRATION at the top of this post!! Make sure you check out her portfolio: http://snozzyo.wordpress.com/. It was a weird feeling, handing the illustration over to someone else, but this particular story is a little different than my usual stuff, and I don’t think my illustration style would have fit the story. I think Sherri did a wonderful job, and the hard lines and gritty realism work so well with the tone of the piece.

Anyway, go read it and tell me what you think: http://thestoryshack.com/2013/01/12/absolut/

Also, consider reading my last post, if you missed it; it’s a blog post that sneakily becomes flash fiction, and I’d love to know what you think of it: Vanya Snapshot: High School Chorus

Girl Talk

This is a poem I wrote to my best friend, Lady Higg, in Sebtember of 2011. The poem was also written to fulfill an exercise in iambic pentameter, which explains the form and the few syllables I’ve left out of words. I’m posting it now because THIS WEEK, Lady Higg and her worthy consort, Dr. Longbottom, are in the process of moving to a new town. Here’s hoping everything goes well for both of them in their new digs!

Girl Talk

So here’s to coffee in the morning. Here’s

to vodka drained at night. Here’s to all

the useless chatter that surrounds and feeds

and bleeds our damn dry souls. It’s not real life,

we said, while sipping tea and laughing in

a morning-after fog. And then, today,

“They found a body in a garbage bag,

a minute from my house.” Say what?

You may have trumped my three a.m., just talk-

ing, walking, and then, you know, my Saturday:

the car on third, the buildings and the bush

we hid behind and waited for the drama

to unwind. “Never fall in love

with Katie Couric,” sang your myst’ry creep

at four. A light was on, and I was prob’ly

losing hope already for a day

without a headache. Well, and that’s just how

it goes. But still. They found a body in

a garbage bag a minute from your house.

So yeah.

I hope you find a new apartment soon.

Some Poetry

The other day I posted a piece of art (this wolf here) and I’d like to share more art soon. I also have a full review of Breadcrumbs in the works, and several other ideas for posts. For variety, though, I think it’s time to share some words. I took a poetry class two semesters ago which I enjoyed immensely, and that taught me to think of myself once again as someone who writes poems. A lot of things I wrote in that class are too personal to share (sometimes you just gotta write break-up poetry. Some of it was pretty good. Doesn’t mean I wanna post it) but this poem is solidly in the realm of fiction. It’s actually the very first poem I wrote for the class, to fulfill an exercise in iambic pentameter.

 

You never knew how far I went to find

your weary ass that night, when you were dead

upon the doorstep, dead, but not too dead

to speak. And never mind that I was crying,

fainting, rhyming, raging, lying, ‘cause

you rambled dark and dreary, like a mad

man, like a priest. And though your lips were shouting

“Memphis!” and your hands were holding diamonds

still I held your body listless through

the darkly dripping streets. And so we wandered

more like lovers, more like leavers, more

like brothers, till the dawn-glow left us breathless

reeling sightless towards the sea.

 

 

I still feel a little weird about poetry as something one shares, because it seems incredible to me that anyone else wants to experience the same poems that I do. I memorize a lot of verse, and I occasionally inflict it on people because it’s hard to stop once I get going, but if someone asks me to recite a poem, I say, incredulously, “Really?” Do you know what you’re getting into? Won’t you be bored? I’ve come to think of poetry as a mostly private experience. The poems I know are for saying aloud in the silence, walking by houses in a twilight neighborhood where all the doors are closed, or wading in Lake Superior when the sky is black and the stars are white and the seagulls are an eerie concert, just out of sight. This class I took was amazing because it introduced me to so many different kinds of poetry, to good poems being written today, and to people my age whom I respect  and whose company I adore and who get just as excited about poetry as I do. Our professor made us feel worthwhile for everything we produced, and then challenged us to do so much better, and so much more.

Oh, and Wanderlust? I am puttering through Chapter 10, which is now Chapter 11. This is disconcerting, because this chapter has been Chapter 10 for years. I’m sort of writing off the map now, because I’ve changed the ending. What I’m writing now I’ve never written before, so this is the part where I try to get something down there to replace the nothingness, knowing that I’m going to rewrite and rewrite before it’s ever good.