What I did on a Sunshiny Day

Yesterday was Sunday, and Mother’s Day, and perhaps the most beautiful day we’ve had in Maine yet this year. Temperatures in the 70s, sunshine, everything you could ask for. My apartment, which tends to be a little cold during the winter, has actually been overheating. I forgot it did that. This winter was especially brutal. I’ve always lived in places with cold and snow in the colder months, but this year it seemed to just keep coming. I’m still a little paranoid about this Spring thing. I don’t quite trust it. Warm weather? Us? Must be some kind of set-up. Where’s the catch?

Yesterday was too beautiful to stay inside, so Mr. Huntington and I took the ferry to Peaks Island, the most popular of the islands in Casco Bay right off the coast of Portland. My roommate Brackett met us at the ferry and gave us a quick tour; his family has a cottage on the island and he happened to be out there the afternoon we decided to take our impromptu trip. After walking around some rocks by the sea and getting a tour of Brackett’s cottage, we walked down Island Ave to the ferry landing and sat in the sunshine and ate ice cream while waited for the next boat back into town.

The rest of the day was taken up with dinner, and laundry, and not much else.

What do you do when it’s a beautiful day, and you’d rather be outside than at your computer desk writing?

Is there value in disciplining yourself to the desk, to the work? What sacrifices do you make to further your craft, and where do you draw your lines? How do you navigate the boundary between distraction and things you need, things that feed you?

A Tale of Woe

Three weeks ago, while on a flight from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, my computer died. I didn’t do anything to it, it wasn’t jostled or harmed in any way. I was just scrolling around while I drank my in-flight ginger ale. I let the macbook attempt to connect to the in-flight wireless, and took a look at that illustration I’d been working on for a couple weeks.

Guess who?

Guess who?

And then my macbook slowed down, and stopped responding.

So I restarted it!

And never got past the long-in screen.

So I tried again, and again. Eventually the startup screen showed a blinking image of a folder with a question mark. This was the exact opposite of reassuring.Pmhp4

Consensus was, I had a busted hard drive. There went all my plans of being a semi-productive writer and illustrator while on vacation. The good news—the really excellent news—was that I’d backed up my entire computer before I got on the plane that morning.

I had no choice but to enjoy my florida vacation completely guilt free. I spent a lot of time with family I don’t see very often. For most of my life, holiday gatherings have been a four person affair (my mom, dad, brother, and me), but this Easter I celebrated with…well, we never did get a head-count, but at least 35 relatives of some degree or other. In Florida, everything everywhere was green, a nice contrast from the Maine of a few weeks ago. I went running by the Suwannee river, went swimming in the ocean in APRIL, paddled a kayak through salty inlets to the sea, and saw dolphins, wild horses, an alligator, and many birds.

Back in Maine, my first prerogative was a trip to the Apple store. They checked my computer in on Monday and told me I could pick it up on Tuesday. I had both days off, and the half hour bus ride to and back from the Mall took a good chunk of time from both days. On Tuesday, there was good news! They hadn’t needed to replace the hard drive; only the connector cable. All my stuff was still there, and my computer was back to normal. Much rejoicing, etc. I brought it home, and commenced browsing the internet and getting caught up on my favorite webcomics. And then, my computer, staaarted    to       slooooooooow                 dooooooooooooowwn.

I restarted it, and got stuck on the log-in screen for a long time. Like, half an hour. It kept trying really hard to function normally, but it took an intolerably long time to accomplish anything, and eventually crapped out every time. The nice fellow on the Apple Support line was able to schedule me another appointment at the store for after work the following day, an appointment I missed because my work day started and finished a half-hour later than normal, without warning (this week, my schedule changed to two hours earlier instead). In the end, I couldn’t go back until Saturday, where my computer was again admitted for repair. Got it back on Sunday, good as new, this time with a brand new hard drive.

And that’s the story of why my productivity has plummeted for the past three weeks. Now it’s the weekend. I have three days off in a row, I’ve warmed up with writing a blog post, my apartment is less of a mess than it gets sometimes, and I just finished my second cup of coffee for the day. I’m going to get to work.

I probably won’t accomplish a lot in the next few hours. I probably won’t meet my goals this weekend, this month, or even this year. But I have to keep plugging away at it, a little bit at a time and in whatever way I can, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.

Ruminations on The Struggle

So I’ve ben sketching. It took me three months to post 31 sketches, but this week, I’ve done that many since Wednesday. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the struggle to make art, about what it all means. I’m at a point in my life when I’ve recommitted myself to my artwork and writing countless times, and I’ve been ruminating on how delusional it is to believe, every single time, that I’ve figured it out, that this is what I do from now on, that I won’t need to recommit myself again because this is it, forever. I’ve been thinking about how invigorated I am by change, by new routines and new ways of working, and how bizarre it is that with each NEW thing I think I have found the thing that will ALWAYS work. I’m realizing it is the change itself that always works.

This scares me, because I worry that in my quest for change, for newness, I will never be able to finish anything. This reassures me because I have been working on Wanderlust, a single project, for seven years, and I’ve never given up on it, not even for an instant. I get discouraged and stop working on it for months or years at a time, but I never truly lose sight of it, and I’ve never considered quitting. It’s only my methods of working that change.

I read an internet article recently about what separates amateurs artists from professionals. One of the things listed was that amateurs are always working, always perfecting, and never finished (I’ll try to find the article again to post later on, but right now I’m trying to finish this post before work). If I want to make the leap from amateur to professional, I have to start finishing things. I have to start sending Wanderlust out, I have to start getting rejections. I’ve been thinking about the amount of work I need to complete before I can do that, and I’ve been thinking about how to get it done.

We had one warm day last week. It got up to fifty degrees (F). I’m still in a good mood.

My current New Thing is returning to traditional media for sketches. It’s important to work with yourself, I think, to make things as easy as you can for yourself when you are asking for big efforts and great things. I, for instance, have developed an aversion to pencil dust. I don’t like it on my fingers, I don’t like how it collects in the bottom of my backpack when I store pencils and a sharpener in one of the pockets. So I was sketching with pen, for a while, and I bought some mechanical pencils the other day. They’re pretty annoying for filling in large spaces, and using them for loose work goes against everything I’ve been taught, but for right now they’re what I need for remembering anatomy and working through thumbnails as I prepare to dive into, and maybe finally complete, some real work and some illustrations for Wanderlust.

sketches

Ballroom Dancing (Our First Class)

Last Sunday night, Mr. Huntington and I attended our first class of a six week Beginners Ballroom Dance Course. And this is why we keep going to our jobs that leave us too tired and worn out at night to do our writing and keep up with our blog (a royal “we”. Mr Huntington doesn’t have a blog). We go because, when you hear some swing music playing and ask your boyfriend if he knows how to dance, and when he responds that he would like to learn but never has, it feels great to say, “Do you want to take a class together?” and to know that you can afford it, that it won’t break the bank, and that you won’t even have to eat rice and beans for the next week.

So we signed up for a class. We’ve paid ahead for six weeks of lessons at Maine Ballroom Dance, a large studio right on Congress Street in Portland, ME. In the past, we’ve seen the African Dance class through the studio windows while stuffing our faces at the Congress St. Bar and Grille. I remember feeling vaguely envious and dissatisfied when I compared my own inactivity to the people moving and jumping and making use of their bodies for something other than mindless intake. Last Sunday, the studio was bright and empty when we drove by in search of parking. By the time we parked and came back to the studio, another couple had arrived, and we all introduced ourselves and wrote out our checks to the instructor. It turned out that only the four of us had registered for the class, which is nice because we get a lot of personal instruction. The other couple is friendly and cool. They’re also younger than us, which is a new feeling for me, at nearly 25, to look at another adult couple and think, “they’re a younger couple.” We were all excited and a little nervous as we waited for the class to begin.

We learned two steps each of the foxtrot and swing at the first class. We’re going to be learning four dances total, including the waltz. I’m excited that swing is included on the docket, because swing dance is my favorite and I was disappointed that the Beginner Swing lessons didn’t fit into our schedule. I was the only one who raised my hand, sheepishly, when the instructor asked if we had any previous dance experience, but I don’t remember too much from the ballroom dance club I attended briefly in college, and in some cases I remember just enough to get in the way. I may learn the steps without too much repetition because I have been foxtrotted around a room before, but, because I remembered a previous partner telling me I was too limp in the stance, I overcompensated and my teacher told me I needed to relax into the position. And in swing, though I know the swing beat and I can rock-step with the best of them, I had forgotten (or never realized) that there’s a difference between open and closed position (in open you step straight back, and in closed you step behind your other foot), and I was doing the closed position step in open position and had to be corrected.

It felt really good to be dancing again. Mr Huntington enjoyed it too. You know how you feel responsible for the other person’s enjoyment when a group activity is your idea, like when you feel guilty for bringing someone to see a movie that turns out to be not very good, even if they said they wanted to go? I felt really gratified when my boyfriend got involved in the class, stopping us in the foxtrot for an earnest discussion of our stance and watching the instructor attentively as she introduced each new concept. We spent the first twenty minutes of dinner at the noodle bar down the street discussing how the class went, and where we need to improve as a team. We both had a lot of fun, and as Mr Huntington pointed out (“Not to be all mushy and cliché,” he said) it’s really good for us as a couple, for learning how to work together and for building our communication skills. We still need to do some practicing before six o’clock tomorrow, but I’m really looking forward to our next class.

A New Challenge for December

So I won NaNoWriMo. Here’s the proof:

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 6.44.32 PM

So, yay me?

It was a pretty cool thing to do. I wrote 50,000 words, and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t feel satisfied by this victory. I’m still hungry. It was fun to work on a different project for a while, but finishing NaNoWriMo doesn’t mark any progress on any of the other goals (writing and art) that I’ve been trying to achieve for the last couple years. I proved I have enough time to 50,000 words in a month. This month, I need to use that time to get stuff done.

I liked having a monthly project, though. That’s a nice, solid amount of time to focus on something. In December, instead of having a word goal for each day, I’d like to make some art each day. Therefore, I’m challenging myself to make 31 sketches during the month of December. My idea is that these can be warm-up sketches, twenty-minute sketches. A short exercise that won’t necessarily use up my entire creative output for the day (I’m hoping I’ll be able to sketch and then write, or sketch and then work on a more complicated artwork), but that will at least ensure SOME amount of creative output.

What do you think? I’d like to post sketches on the blog; do you want to see them? And would you prefer daily sketch updates, or a dump of several sketches every few days or week?

Here’s today’s sketch. I call it Grumpy Self Portrait. I tried to capture that back-to-work-the-Monday-after-Thanksgiving feeling, and I really focused on the expression and the asymmetry of my face. (And yes, I did a sketch yesterday for Dec 1, so this is sketch #2. I’ll share #1 later this week.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 8.05.06 PM

 

Please tell me what you think about the new project, and how often you’d like to see updates on the blog. Also, if any art folks are interested in joining me for this December Sketch-A-Day adventure, please let me know; it would be great to have some company. 🙂

 

NaNoWriMo: Final Countdown

Two days left, and my word count is 42,318. I wrote 7,036 words today (November 28), and I have to write 7,682 words in the next two days if I want to hit 50,000 by the end of November. The next two days are vacation days, so I’m pretty sure I can do it. I stalled during the middle two weeks of the month, but I’ve been playing some pretty intense catch-up since Saturday. Here’s the graph of my progress so far (the grey line represents the target goal of writing 1,667 words per day):

Thanksgiving NaNo Graph

 

For those of you who read my last post following week 1 of the challenge, I actually did manage to keep up my word count for the entirety of that weekend (days 8, 9, and 10 on the graph). I was so very tired at the end of it, though, that I couldn’t get it together to do any writing on my workdays the following week. Oh, and I didn’t know where I was going with the story. I haven’t known where I was going with the story, except for a few tiny revelations that were enough to keep me trucking along and putting words on the page. I didn’t really find the answers to any of the big questions until about 7:30 pm today. So my NaNo project isn’t a narrative, per say. It’s about 40,000 words of me flailing away at the story, writing (sometimes in depth, sometimes not) about any aspect of it that I could write words about, and world-building and begging the world to tell me what it’s all about so I can keep writing and win this silly and arbitrary 50,000 words by November 30th challenge. The project won’t be done at 50,000; it will be just getting started. And actually, I’m pretty sure the flailing-away-at-your-story-in-any-way-you-can is pretty much the point of NaNoWriMo, so the event is doing its job. During those flat periods on the graph above I didn’t think I was going to finish, and I thought that was okay because the story just wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t ripe. But I still wanted to win, you know? I still wanted to finish what I set out to do. And while marathoning some words today, trying to reach that arbitrary goal that will make me a NaNo “Winner,” I did find that piece of the plot and world-building I was searching for. Not that there aren’t a gazillion other problems I don’t even know about yet that are gonna crop up later on, but my point is that writing is the best thing to do for writing. And that’s the point of this entire exercise, right?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and a big congratulations to my writing buddies (http://amorecolorfullife.com/) who already won the 50,000 word challenge. You rock!

NaNoWriMo Week 1

Hello Blogging World!

It is the one week anniversary of the beginning of National Novel Writing Month 2013. Three weeks to go. I am on track, and my novel word count is 12,613. I have succeeded in writing 1,667 words or more each and every day this week.

And the surprise is, it wasn’t even that hard. Turns out there IS time, in every day, for a few hours of writing. I haven’t even given up any of things I consider important. I’ve gone to work, kept my room on the functioning side of clean, and maintained a social life. That’s right, a social life. Plans for a drink with a friend on Friday? Finish the word count, then go out. Social running event with friends on Saturday? Finish the word count, then go. Coffee with the boyfriend on Sunday? Bring the computer to the café, and get a start on that word count. What I haven’t been doing, or doing a lot less of, is schmutzing about on the internet and watching television.

I’m actually a little disgusted with myself for not realizing earlier how simple it is to make time in my day if I set a solid goal. Why didn’t I think of this earlier, you know? Why did it take NaNo to make me realize how fungible my time is, how much of my not-really-doing-much-of-anything time could be replaced by working time. I hope… well, I am wary of making sweeping statements because I have a great deal of difficulty sticking with any new routine or way of living beyond the first week or two, but I hope that when NaNo is over, I will remember how simple it is to find time in the day to work, and I hope I will apply that to all my other long term projects and goals.

Also, it’s not all smooth-sailing. We’re at week one, and my NaNo Novel is on the rocks. I really like what’s going on with the characters, and I like how it’s all developing, but at 12,000 words it’s hard to keep writing without knowing a few things about, you know, the plot. What is  the super-secret evil mastermind goal of my villain? What’s he doing it all for? How is Cor going to stop him, and what is Cor saving him from?

I’m hoping I’ll have a revelation while I’m driving the bus today. And then I’m going to have to try to make my wordcount in the car or something, because Mr. Huntington (the BF, and a very handsome fellow) and I are traveling to my folk’s house this evening to stay for a few days. Which, by the way, I only have about an hour to pack for before I have to go to work, and Friday is one of those days at work where they ought to just give me a time-traveling bus already, and perhaps an extra dimension in which to eat lunch.

So anyway, there’s your update. Can I power through the plot void and stay on track with my NaNo Novel, or will this be the weekend my word count falters? Stay tuned.

My NaNoWriMo Novel

So I’ve decided. I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year. National Novel Writing Month. Writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. This is the first year I’ve been in a place where it sounded like a good idea (click for my thoughts on the subject a year ago). It’s a whole month where I won’t be working on Wanderlust, true, but I’ll be getting great writing practice, learning how to fit writing into my schedule, and maybe even making some writer friends in this area. I think it will be a lot of fun.

And you probably want to hear about the book.

It’s…

Well.

It’s something that I’m personally really excited about, and that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past year. Yet even as I’ve been world-building, collecting pieces of plot, and making exciting discoveries about how everything comes together, I didn’t think I’d actually be able to tackle the project for years and years. For a number of reasons. You see, it’s about these two guys. With Wanderlust my main focus right now, it doesn’t seem entirely wise for my secondary project to be ANOTHER story about a couple of guys—even though they (Cor and Tristan) are entirely different characters from Taniel and Vanya, and their story is a completely different sort of thing. The second thing is… it’s high fantasy. Swords and sorcery. Battles and blood. I have read a lot of high fantasy, and it’s one of my most favorite genres, but there’s a lot of it out there, and a lot of it is crap. I… this is probably my own issue, and I’m probably accidentally discounting some really good work, but I have trouble asking people to take me seriously as an aspiring author writing high fantasy when I know there are so many people out there writing books in LOTR inspired worlds with all their made up, fantasy-sounding names and it just isn’t any good. I wanted to establish myself with the urban fantasy, maybe that dystopian kinda book I’m working on, before I ask anyone to take my high fantasy seriously. And this project… It’s not just high fantasy. It’s high fantasy with history, with lore. The actual storyline I want to write deals with the aftermath of the big war ten years before. Beyond that, there’s some really long-ago history about why this [special] [magical] country functions the way it does. And farther back, the mythology. Looking forward, I even have an idea for the thousand years later story when all the magic has faded from the world (… or so everyone thinks!).

And those are the reasons I find my own story problematic for me, myself, right now. They’re also the reasons I think it will make a great project for NaNoWriMo. I need something that I’m not under too much pressure to take seriously, especially if I’m going to be banging out 50,000 words in a month. I also tend to have a really scattered writing style on a first draft anyway, and (not sure if this is entirely kosher with the nano rules, and I don’t really care) I’m giving myself permission to work on the lore, the backstory, all the connecty bits, whenever I want to, even if I’m not sure how they fit into the main narrative. It’s all part of the project, and I’m going to let all of that count towards the 50,000 words. And this really is a project I’ve been putting a lot of thought into, despite everything, and I’m excited to see where it goes if I let myself get to work.

The project. I haven’t even field-tested the title, you know? What if it just sounds dumb? I called it Tredaf back in high school (yes of course this is a resurrected project, but it’s really honestly changed A LOT since then and anyway I’m starting over from scratch) but that’s the name of the magical country and I think the country itself needs a name-change. The current working title is… badadadum… The Legend of the Blood Tog King. Or just The Blood Tog King. And here’s my question; a real, serious question. You can put your answer in the comments. Does it sound dumb?

It’s about this guy, Cor Daggerhand, who is blood brother to Tristan, the king. It’s a country where bonds between people have magical properties, and none more powerful, or more dangerous, than a blood bond. [These bindings are symbolized by tokens, worn around the neck or pinned to clothing. Over many years of use, the word “token” degenerates to “tog”, which now describes the whole concept.] Ten years ago Cor and Tristan won the great war, and Tristan reclaimed his rightful throne. Days after the victory, however, Cor skedaddled, and left his brother and the entire country behind him. Upon his grudging homecoming (the start of this book), he discovers that the past ten years have changed Tristan into someone almost unrecognizable—someone with terrible plans for the nation they both call home. Can Cor battle his own blood-brother to keep his beloved country free? And has the king truly turned evil/gone mad, or can Cor save Tristan from himself?

Someday I will finish this sketch.

Tristan and Cor (an unfinished sketch)

The Creative and the Subconscious

I dreamed the other night that I owned a beautiful book. I’d acquired it at a great discount at one of those places one sometimes acquires beautiful things at a great discount—the bargain bin at NMU’s bookstore, in this particular case. It had a sapphire and lavender cover, the colors fading and drifting into each other like a sunset. Think the cover of Bitterblue by Kirsten Cashore (one of the [many] [really good] books I am currently reading), but shinier. It wasn’t a story book; it had pictures and text and paintings of magical creatures and words about how to write and how to make art and references for mythology and all other sorts of things. Or only a few of those things, or none of those things at all. What I knew was that it was a beautiful book, and full of all the wisdom and inspiration that I most especially need. Something I was glad to have, and something I wanted to hang onto. With a lot of reverence, I placed the book on my shelf—and here, I ran into trouble. The spine of the book held both the title (some word written in silver flowing script, with multiple S’s) and an image of a white creature, either a dragon or a unicorn. When I placed the book upright, so that the title ran the correct way and the book would open right-side up when pulled from the shelf, I discovered that the creature was upside down. Ah, I said. It was a discount book, after all. I flipped it over, so that the creature was upright and centered, braced against the bottom of the shelf—and now the words were upside down, and ran the wrong way. No matter how many times I re-oriented the book, I couldn’t get it right.

Maybe you’ve already guessed my metaphor.

Nothing’s changed. I still want Wanderlust (the writing, the art) more than anything, but I’ve gotten lost somehow. I’m tripping between the pictures and the words, not sure what I should be working on, and unable to accomplish, or finish, anything—and all the time hunched beneath and wading through the pressures of REAL LIFE, and most days too tired (or too engaged in other things) to make headway on creative projects at all. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know which way to hold it, and I can’t seem to get it right.

I present you with this blog post sheepishly, ashamedly, like a thief who returns a stolen object at arm’s length, ready to run. I haven’t been following your blogs, or reading your tweets or keeping up with any of you, my internet friends and supporters, and some real life friends too. When I withdraw from the internet, I do so pretty completely. Also, I noticed that each of my sporadic posts over the past MANY moths ends with something like, “I promise I’m going to start blogging more regularly. No, I mean for real this time.” Therefore, this time, I make no promises. What I usually forget about blogging, though, is how it makes you write. Writing is writing. All practice helps. And right now, I do need help.

One more thing. Something I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. November starts in, what, a little over a week? I am… eep… considering doing NaNoWriMo this year. You know, that crazy thing where you write a novel in a month. I’m still undecided, but more tempted than I’ve ever been before. More on that to come. Maybe. If we’re all very lucky, and I manage to write another blog post soon.

-G

First Week in Portland

So I’ve moved to the city. To the Big Town, if you will. It is not the biggest of big towns, but it is the biggest town in Maine, and it’s a whole lot bigger than both my college town and my tiny hometown. So far, I like it a lot.

My little room is great, my roommates are great, and I’m excited to start my new job. I got a free haircut today by volunteering as a hair-model for someone learning how to cut hair, and she did a great job! I even went for a really great run this morning. And, perhaps most importantly, I have a really wonderful desk. We found it at a yard sale yesterday, and my dad helped me move it in this morning. It takes up half the room, but that’s okay. I want my creative endeavors to occupy the most important place in my life, so my desk should be the most prominent thing in my bedroom. It’s symbolic in all the right ways.

And actually, I’m going to keep this blog post short because I just want to get to work. I’m also going to eat dinner, but mainly the getting to work thing. Ciao!