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.

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Cleaning House

This weekend, I was feeling weighed down and buried under. And sure, I’ve got things to be stressed and worried about—but I have a lot of really positive things going on in my life too. As I usually do in these situations, I started looking around and asking myself, “Okay, then what’s the problem?” As I looked at my bed, floor, bookshelves, and dresser, I realized my living space was quite literally buried under stuff. This weekend, I’ve been digging out.

Part of the problem is that I’ve moved back into my childhood bedroom, a bedroom that stayed pretty much full while I lived in Michigan and collected more stuff. Another part of the problem is my chronic disorganization and inability to put my things back in their place when I’m done with them. I’ve been trying to deal with my stuff since I moved back almost a year ago (!!) but then the files I was filing papers in got left in the middle of the floor, mid-file, and became MORE of the problem instead of the solution they were supposed to be. I actually solved my laundry system a few weeks ago, but failed to implement my system after the next time I did laundry, so once again it didn’t help (although the system did work, once I started using it again). Follow-through is my issue; I can clean and organize just fine, but keeping it that may be a life-long battle. Still, having a harmonious workspace is so important to accomplishing anything creatively. This happened in college too. Gotta write an essay or make an illustration? Clean your room. It feels like the worst kind of procrastination, but it’s also the most necessary preparation. Getting your space in order helps get your brain in order. It lets you think.

I’ve made huge improvements to my space in the last few days. I may have put the files in the chest under my bed along with everything else that still needs to be filed. Even if I haven’t finished the filing system, I got it off the floor. The big box of college notebooks and memories that blocked the way to my bookshelf is now also under the bed, and blessedly out of sight. Today, I sorted through cards and correspondence going back to elementary school. I’m trying to create systems for future storage, and I’m trying to make my space more pleasant and functional (how about hanging my earrings on a screen instead of keeping them in crowded boxes on my dresser? And what about framing and hanging those posters?). I’m also working really hard on the follow-through. The most important part of this is that current projects cannot be left out on the floor when I go to bed at night. They must be dealt with and put away.

This photo shows a scrap of the recently liberated floorspace, as well as all the BOOKS I can now access unimpeded.

This photo shows a scrap of the recently liberated floorspace, as well as all the BOOKS I can now access unimpeded. You can’t see it in this photo, but there’s another large bookshelf to the right, behind the door.

So that’s what’s been going on here. It’s not very exciting, but it’s a big deal for my personal well-being. I love being able to reach my bookshelf, and I love actually wanting to spend time in the place I sleep every night.

I know I still owe two Race to the 8th prizes. I hope to get them to you very soon! There’s also some other bits of news I should tell you, but this is all for tonight. Cheers!

-G

Writing Marathon Day 6, and Tonight’s Contest Winner

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 9.33.29 PM

Six days in!

The Writing Day

I’m not sure there was a writing day today. I had a really lovely day though; I exercised, played my harp, stir-fried some celery, had a great lesson, bought some oat bran, snuck in a tiny bit of writing that went really well, enjoyed choir practice. I’m hoping to dash out this blog post and get some more work in tonight. I’m past the part of chapter 11 that was really hard, and the editing process seems to have smoothed out again. It’s just that life got in the way today, and since I really like my life right now I don’t feel too bad about it. But hey, maybe I can still get some work in tonight!

Also, by the way, my number of followers has been climbing steadily this week, and I want to thank you all for that. I also seem to be following behind on responding to individual comments, but even if it takes me a day or two to get back to you please know that I read your comment and loved it.

Okay, we need a blog topic.

And the winner is…

Jess. Congratulations, Jess!

Jess is a friend, and one of my classmates from the Illustration program at Northern Michigan University. She’s a really great artist, so you should definitely check out her online portfolio: Icarus Falls Design.

Jess very kindly provided me with a question or a prompt to choose from, and even though the prompt looks like a lot of fun I am going to choose the question, because I suspect it will take less time to answer and I’d really like to make some more headway on Chapter 11 tonight.

Jess’s entry: What motivates you? When you’re thinking about writing or drawing, what is it that gets you to actually sit down and pick up the pen? What’s the first part of the project or story that comes to you?

The thing that usually gets me back to a story, and actually working on it, is the name of the main character. I don’t entirely understand this, but mentally I hang a lot of their personality, their very essence, on the sound of their name. So when I find myself walking around the house and whispering “Vanya” under my breath, well, I know it’s time to get back to creating him on the page (in image and word). Having the wrong name for a character can also be a major roadblock to working on something. Upon my return from Thailand, I had to complete a fiction writing assignment in order to receive credit for the trip. I already had one very good scene for the story that I had scrawled down in my sketchbook on the tour bus as we drove away from the ruined city of Ayutthaya, and I had the basic plot, but I was stumbling over the name of the main character and without it, I couldn’t make any progress at all. Then I took a shower to to clear my head, and the name came to me: Hadley. Just weird enough to be interesting, and with just the right sort of old-fashioned feel to it. It seemed both original and classic. Hadley. Now the story could begin.

Of course, motivation is a big, huge, complicated thing. Right now, I am motivated by tons of things. Here are approximate samplings of motivated interior monologue: “This has taken too long and I need to work harder so I can be done now.” “I want this to be done, yesterday.” “My only justification for living with my parents and not having a real job is that I’m working on this, so I’d better work on it.” “I can’t wait to see the finished book.” “I’m ready to stop messing around with the words and start illustrating them.” “I want to be rich and famous.” “I want to start marketing my book.” “I want to tell this story as well as I possibly can.” “I freakin’ love this story!” “I need to finish this and find out if anyone else will love it.” “I get to write about pretty boys and magical harps today, how cool is that?” “Ogodyes this scene… except I can make it even better, here, here, and here.” “Okay, need to work on this today because… Taniel. Vanya.” “Vanya.”

Somehow, it all comes back to the names. In the peculiar alchemy of my brain, they seem to encapsulate everything else.

Thanks so much for your question, Jess, I had fun answering it! You will receive your name-doodle prize in a week or so, and by the end of February at the latest.

And it looks like I do have some time and energy left to tackle a bit more of Chapter 11. I will let you all know how it goes tomorrow!

Writing Marathon Day 2, and Our Next Contest Winner

Calendar Day 2Second day of the marathon! Here we go:

The Writing Day

Today I got through the majority of Chapter 10: Swamp Times. I have about a third left (and I may have to delete half of that, I’m not sure yet). There was a tricky scene in the beginning that took several hours to sort through and re-write, but I admit the rest of it was already fairly polished, so the cleanup was pretty smooth-sailing—in hindsight, anyway. It still took a while. These things do. I also spent some time working out a timing issue with how the whole end of the novel goes down, and adjusted a few bits in earlier chapters accordingly.

I had a headache again this afternoon, and so I present to you:

Tips for Writing with a Persistent Headache of the Dull, Achey Variety:

1.) Make a blog event and contest out of your writing struggle. Writers need accountability. If people are expecting a progress report from you by the end of the day, you’re gonna make some progress. (Seriously, you guys are helping so much.)

2.) Write in Bed. This is a terrible idea on a good day. Usually, you’ll do your best work sitting upright at your desk. But on a bad day? When you’d really rather be sleeping? Working in bed can be just the compromise you need to trick yourself into being productive.

And I guess that’s all I have on the subject. Do any of you have any tips to share?

Don’t forget to read yesterday’s post for yesterday’s winning blog topic, in which I elaborate on the inner thoughts, feelings, and frustrations of a Boston street lamp. Also, you can still get in on this contest thing; I’ve made a temporary link under the website banner with the explanation and the rules, with the form at the bottom. There will be six more winners after tonight.

Okay. Drawing tonight’s winner.

And the winner is...

Grace, of Homeschool Hijinks! Congratulations, Grace!

Grace’s Entry: What does your planning process look like before you begin writing? Do you have huge detailed outlines or do you just jump into the fray or something in between? Do you chew on a story for hours or months before deciding to do something with it on paper?

What a good a good question! And the answer is that my planning process looks like everything, at some point or another. Usually, though, there is a single idea or an image that captures me, and I “jump into the fray” with it. A lot of these don’t go anywhere. I have tons of notes on scraps of paper (and, more recently, in computer files) of fragments and beginnings of stories. Sometimes I get an image first; Vanya, the main character of Wanderlust, came to me after a period of artists’ block (which is exactly the same thing as writers’ block, if you’re wondering). Suddenly (in the middle of math class, my junior year of high school) I drew this sad little boy, and it was one of the best things I’d ever drawn. I knew exactly who he was, too: the wandering harper. I drew him alone for a little while before I realized his best friend Taniel, and at the time they both existed in a medieval fantasy world. I tried to use them in a few comics/graphic novels that didn’t go anywhere, but it wasn’t until a whole year later that I thought, “Wait, wouldn’t it be cool if they lived in the modern world?” This was good for a few Vanya-in-fishnets illustrations for me and my friends to swoon over (we were into emo boys at the time) but it wasn’t until I decided to write a book for my senior project that I realized Vanya and Taniel were the perfect subjects. And so, Wanderlust was born! I don’t remember how I planned out the plot for that first book, but then that book sat around for five years, while the idea continued banging around in my subconscious and I got better and better at writing and arting. Five years later I’m working on the book I’m working on now. It has a plot very similar to the original, but it’s overall way more awesome.

That was a little round-about, but it demonstrates a pattern I’ve followed over and over again. I get really excited about something and just start doing it, and then later, often MUCH later, I pick it up and bring all sorts of new ideas and experience to it and turn it into something so much better than the original thing. And since I’m mostly working on Wanderlust right now, all those other things I’m not working on are undergoing subconscious development right now. A 70 page hand-written story about a dryad I wrote while homeschooling in seventh grade re-surfaced as a series of art projects in college, along with a partial rewrite that has so much more going for it than the story did before. Didn’t have enough time to actually finish it or really work on it at the time, but someday it’s going to come up again, and it’s going to be awesome. As for huge detailed outlines, for me those come later. I make an outline when I’m a third of the way into a book and realize I have no idea where it’s going. I make outlines to figure out what I’ve already written, and to help me get it straight in my head. Today, I outlined the entire plot of my novel by days of the week (it starts on a Friday and ends on the Saturday a week later). So I use outlines as a tool, when “pantsing” it (writing by the seat of my pants) starts to break down.

Thanks for the blog topic, Grace! If there’s a moral here, it’s that I am so grateful for all the writing I did in elementary school, middle school, and high school. It made me the writer and storyteller I am today. You’re already doing awesome work (hey everyone! You can read some of Grace’s stories at her blog!) so keep it up, and you might be surprised where it takes you. 🙂  Also, you will be receiving your name-doodle prize in a week or so, and definitely by the end of February.

And hey writers: How would you answer Grace’s question? Do any of you work in a totally different way than I do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

-G

A Day For Thinking, and Making Changes

Sorry for the lack of updates last week. Also, thanks so much to everyone who read my story at the Story Shack, and for all the congratulations and encouragement.

Today, and for the past few days, I have been thinking about this quote:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

(The quote has been attributed to both Albert Einstein and Rita Mae Brown.)

Right now I am asking myself, What am I doing over and over again that just isn’t working? What could I do differently? and What things have I stopped doing that I know have favorable results, and that I should return to?

I turn these questions back to you, if you’re in the mood for some self-reflection. What are you doing over and over again that just isn’t working? What could you do differently? and What things have you stopped doing that you know have favorable results, and that you should return to?

-G

Very Inspiring Blog

I have been nominated for an award! Many thanks to Ben over at Shudderingwords for the nomination. He is writer working hard on his book, and also blogging and doing the college thing at the same time. Pretty inspiring stuff!


Since it’s right after thanksgiving, I’m going to use this as an excuse to list fifteen blogs I’m thankful for. I recognize that this functions a little like a chain letter, and if anyone I’ve nominated would rather not take a whole blog post to continue the chain I won’t be in the least offended. Just know that I enjoy your blog and I hope you keep doing what you’re doing!

Below are the rules for the Very Inspiring Blog Award so please follow carefully:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
3. State 7 things about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

SEVEN THINGS ABOUT ME (as if this blog hasn’t been completely about me since day one…)

1. I’ve spent A LOT of time practicing my harp this week. This is still the new instrument honeymoon phase, but… I really love it. I feel like this is what all of my musical training has been leading up to. I’ve never felt this at home with a musical instrument before.

2. This was the first time I’ve been home for Thanksgiving in five years. I kept thinking it’s Christmas, since that’s usually the only holiday I’m around for.

3. I used to hate mushrooms. Then in my early teens I decided to like them, because I realized that hobbits like mushrooms. I now genuinely love the taste of mushrooms.

4. My bedroom at home (where I am currently staying) is painted a very dark, highly-saturated purple. The trim is dark grey. The paint job in general is very sloppy, which, now that I’m a sort-of professional painter, drives me crazy.

5. I collect various editions, translations, and retellings of the Beowulf epic.

6. I have a lot of verse memorized, including that three-page monstrosity from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

7. I almost adopted a dog this week. It was a near thing. Common sense prevailed in the end, though, and no dog for me.

FIFTEEN NOMINATIONS

Chalk the Sun

Love this blog. Julie writes wonderful book reviews, and also writes elegantly about writing and life.

100 Owls

These owls are cute and majestic. Really nice art.

Ayesha Schroeder

An aspiring writer with an intelligent voice. She also posts tweets from literary agents once a week, which is a really great resource.

The Wizard’s Tower

A writer figuring out how to do it, and being honest about his struggles and triumphs.

Any Singular Woman

Dark, sexy poetry where the rhythm is always spot on.

Black Tea & Birds

Lovely short poems that are pleasing, surprising, and satisfying.

Elizabeth Creith’s Scriptorium

Someone who already has a career in the writing an editing field. The blog is following her current work on a novel called The Swan Harp. I don’t know anything about it, but it has the word “harp” in the title and I can tell Ms. Creith is an excellent writer, so I’m sold!

Homeschool Hijinks

A blog about a girl named Grace who is a home-schooled writer. As a former home-schooling writer named Grace, I find this particularly cool.

A Serendipitous Happenstance

A writer with a work in progress who writes really well about writing and health and other things. Always a pleasure to read.

Possible Truths

This blog is a personal journey; a snapshot of an intelligent person engaging with the world and asking the hard questions with an honest and unapologetic voice.

Kilolightyear

She hasn’t updated in a while, but there’s something about this blogger’s art and sketches that I really love.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

When I first discovered this blog, the current post was a photo of its author surrounded by goats. She is quirky and honest and the blog is fun to read. She’s also raising the money to visit her overseas lover, which is pretty romantic and cool.

Celeste DeWolfe

A real-life friend from school, and a fellow writer and blogger.

Ales to Stouts

You’ve all heard of the excellent Lady Higg? This is her blog, which granted hasn’t been updated in a while, but I find Lady Higg inspiring in general, and her blog will be awesome when she gets back to it.

Witnessing the Past: The Evolution of a Free Mind

Another friend from school, who is an excellent writer with a truly inspiring life story.

Writing, and How to Call the Storm

I keep reading it over and over, and I can’t quite believe the paragraph I wrote a few hours ago. It makes me shiver with excitement; it makes me shake with disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not here (Taniel! Why are you saying that?). Suddenly the story is blowing up here, in Chapter 4, in a way I never meant to happen. It’s scary, but it makes sense and it’s raw and it’s beautiful and it hurts, and it deals with that bit of mythology I just realized I’d neglected and  it adds more of that achey, real-life kind of pain just when I was worrying that the story didn’t have enough. In short, this was one of those magical writing moments. This was a crash of thunder, a spark of golden light, when my shaking hands were merely the vehicle for the story’s transferral to my screen. When a character had thoughts that deeply surprised me, thoughts I never meant for him to have. We all write for moments like these.

But I’m not here to brag.

Because this lightning strike? This flash of genius? I think I know how I got it, and I want to share. In fact, I think I’ve known this before, but it’s the sort of thing we forget, rather like the intro to a crazy dream. You’re gonna remember that bit right before you wake up, when you’re rallying the peasants with their pitchforks because you are the Queen of Jupiter and it’s time to take back the planet, but you’ve already forgotten how you got there, because it was so much less exciting. I mean, do you remember the last time you had to write an essay? How you hemmed and hawed and worked on your notecards and watched an entire season of How I Met Your Mother and did some research and thought about how cool your argument was, and didn’t really start writing the thing until 2 AM the night before it was due? How you’d been sitting there feeling uninspired and typing some occasional drivel for hours before that inspiration really struck? Well, here’s what I’m proposing, and I think it’s something we all know, despite how hard we try to forget: Those hours add up to something. Those hours of plugging away, of fixing a sentence here, a line there, when it feels like we’re barely working—these are what make the lighting possible. Today, for instance, I got a late start. I spent a really long time tightening a few paragraphs, I jumbled some things in that sort of worked but I knew I’d have to fix later, I grumbled at the inarticulateness of my notes and clumsily found some work-arounds for the sentences I’d been too lazy to fix before. I sat and grumbled and worked for one hour, for two hours, when it would have been easy to quit for the day, or to not even start in the first place. Yet I sat there, with my manuscript up on my computer and open on the table beside me. I put in my time. And then, right before dinner, when I should have been closing the computer and setting the table…

Lightning struck.

But only because I’d earned it.