Sunday, June 28, 2015

Struggling in June

I started the summer so well. Woke up, went to my beatboxing class, then headed to Starbucks to pound out some words before heading home for a tasty salad and a fun beach read.

The schedule was working. It was working, dangit!

And then, well... life.

We went camping at Devil's Rock in Arkansas, where we hiked and tie-dyed t-shirts and sat around the pool every day. I ate s'mores and spaghetti and cinnamon rolls.

I gained weight.

My dad got married on a boat in Okoboji. I made fruit salsa, guacamole, and chocolate chip cookie dough dip. Shane grudgingly carved a fruit shark (which turned out to be fabulous). We went swimming at an indoor water park, and I did about 30 rounds on the lazy river. The lazy river ain't called that for nothing. I was lazy, y'all.

And I gained weight.

There were a few work days at school for teachers to map out curriculum. I spent eight hours each day sitting in front of the computer, chomping on chocolate, figuring out my essential learning targets and prerequisite skills and unit benchmark assessments.

Aaaaaaand I gained weight.

You can see where this is going.

It's terrifying to me, almost hitting a 100 pound loss, then watching the weight creep back up again. Of course I know the answer is to stop eating everything in sight and get my butt back to the gym. But somehow it doesn't seem that simple. Something is always coming up. An impromptu trip to the movies (with candy and popcorn, of course). An evening playing board games with the in-laws (which obviously calls for pizza). The farmers' market with its fresh donuts, breakfast burritos, and PBJ rangoons.

So, here I am, 10 pounds heavier than when the summer began. I've gotta put on the brakes. Figure out my strategy. Reset my attitude and reframe my thinking about all of this. Maybe I can do the summer things but do them more reasonably. Next week I'm going to a Dave Matthews concert with Shane. Instead of going out for a calorically (and financially) insane dinner, maybe we could eat at Subway and then bike to the concert. Or I could make one of those eggplant recipes I've been pinning like crazy. Maybe for the 4th of July I could make a fun red, white, and blue fruit platter. I need to do something because we've got quite a lot of summer left (bet you've never heard a teacher complain about that before!).

The other thing is that I haven't been writing as much as I should, but that's a whole other post.

So tell me, how has your summer been going? Am I the only one struggling with the lack of structure?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Making the Most of May

Ha, so I feel really guilty for not blogging in so long, especially after Katie's nice comment on the last post. But it is what it is. I'm busy with school, family, the usual. Not really writing much because I'm between revisions, although I'm trying to get back into the habit.

As of today the school year is finished, and I've got all the time in the world. Believe it or not, it's almost harder for me to write during the summer. The expectation is that I'll be able to write six hours a day and crank out a book in six weeks. But I always end up putting the writing off, thinking I'll do it later, and then it never happens. Or we go on vacation and it's hard to get away from everyone to get that hour in. Or I'm just lazy. Yeah.

So I've made a schedule for myself.

Here's what it looks like:

8-9 coffee, breakfast, Pinterest
9-10 work out
10-12 write at starbucks
12-2 read
2-5 write
5-??? (family time, fun)

It's a little bit looser than my schedule during the school year, but that's good because the summer is meant for relaxation. I need to refill my teacher well just as I do my writer one, and that requires time away from kids, time to reflect on the school year and think about how to do things better next year.

As for writing, I'm about halfway through a revision of a thriller I started a couple of summers ago. I love reading something I wrote so long ago; it's like a different person wrote it! That's really given me the objectivity I need to hack it to pieces and start all over again. I don't know if anything will become of it, but it's been fun.

What are you all working on?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Crap, It's (Late) November

I guess I should aim to blog once a month, at least, though it feels somewhat like shooting virtual postcards into cyberspace.

(Hey, how's it going? Turned in my book, graded approximately one.million.papers, lost 10 pounds, finished The Magicians series. You?)

I don't know what to say here anymore. I really don't. Writing has become something strange in my life, an animal that morphs from obligation to addiction to obsession to something evil that I avoid at all costs. No, not evil. Just draining. I need to get away sometimes to play the Sims on my phone and bake pumpkin muffins and watch American Horror Story REFILL THE WELL.

Yeah, that's it. Refill the well.

But today it just so happens that I have a few extra drops to spare.

Not many, but some.

I've started something new. My voice is changing like I'm an adolescent boy, trying out a deeper tone, and it's fine it's fine until SQUEAK! it's not. It's almost painful, or it will be for a paragraph or two, until I let myself breathe and the words come. They are coming, slowly, but they are there, as well as the story, looming before me, in outline only. Loose plot points, connect the dots. The stars.

I thought maybe I'd do NaNoWriMo, but no, I'm pacing myself a bit more moderately. 1,000 words a day; that's something I can manage in the hour or so between school and home. The time in between, when I've taken off my teaching hat (which I imagine is something rather Mary Poppins-ish) and before I put on my mothering one (Mickey Mouse ears? hairnet?).

An hour is more time than you think.

And an hour plus an hour plus an hour, well, it's everything.

So here's to minutes stolen, kept hidden, safe.

May they mate and multiply and manifest into something truly memorable.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fangirling Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb. Wally Lamb. Wally Lamb.

I met Wally freakin' Lamb last night!

He is one of my all-time FAVORITE authors. I remember reading She's Come Undone in college and not being able to believe that a GUY had created this character, Dolores Price, that resonated so strongly with me. He really captured the protagonist's struggles with food and weight accurately, exploring all of the emotional triggers and underlying reasons for an eating disorder (in this case, compulsive overeating).

He's written several fantastic books since then, but his recent We Are Water leapt to the top of my all time favorites list. I'd forgotten how much it moved me until he read an incredibly powerful passage last night, and I just felt this lump of dread in my stomach, because I knew where it was heading. What I love about Wally Lamb is that he's able to explore the light and dark sides of people and how they interplay throughout a life. For instance, in the piece he read last night, a boy performs an act of heroic generosity, and it directly leads him into one of the most shameful acts imaginable. But you can't completely hate him for it because you see everything leading up to it and understand how circumstances beyond his control could give birth to the demons he struggles with.

Lamb talked about how he volunteers as a writing teacher at a women's prison and his inspiring experiences with his students there. He shared a student's heartbreaking piece that conveyed a theme that he often explores--how one's background can set them up to fail before they even get a chance. What's important about Lamb's work, though, is that he shows how a person can have everything against them and have sunk to the absolute bottom but still somehow find the strength to swim back to the surface and save themselves and their loved ones. His stories exude hope.

And he manages to reach both ends of the spectrum... he does tragedy so well, but he's also hilarious! I had some serious writer envy when he read the piece about his signing at a Costco the size of Delaware and how a little girl came up and asked him how much he wanted for a Sharpie. Haha, and how a man slowly led his wife away after being told that We Are Water is about a wife leaving her husband for another woman.

He's brilliant. Just brilliant. So excited that I got to meet him.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Brand New School Year

"I don't have a job. I am a job." ~Jacob Bacharach, The Bend of the World

A nut job, maybe.

That's what it feels like this time of year, tap dancing in front of the students with my syllabus and dry erase markers. It's a great time of year--the fall--don't get me wrong. Everyone is still smiling. The caffeine is still working. No one is failing.

As with my writing, I'm trying something new in the classroom. Well, our whole department is. As a district, we've adopted Springboard's pre-AP program, which is carefully matched with the standards set forth in the Common Core. Although rigorous in content, it is delightfully (and somewhat maddeningly) elementary in execution, urging teachers to decorate their bulletin boards with mountains so students may envision themselves traversing up the rocky terrain of rhetorical skills. I have a word wall displaying literary and academic terms such as "claim" and "concession" and "syntax" in red and purple and blue. Every time we use a collaborative strategy, I hand a tiny checkmark to a student to attach to our running chart.

And I love it.

I'm not being snarky. I really do love it. My inner elementary school teacher is coming out, the me that led crowds of five- and six- and seven-year-olds in endless rounds of camp songs and taught them how to make flux capacitors during craft time. I'm seriously considering investing in Crayola stock at this point in my life.

All of this curriculum work has necessarily drawn my attention from my WIP for the time being. I'm sitting with 2/3 of a completed draft and swishing the plot around in my mind during my commute, considering possible character connections and ways to tie up loose threads. I know that I need to get back in the zone, carve out the time to write. I also know that, for me, opening the document after a period of time away is sometimes the most difficult step.

Gah. Okay.

*screws up resolve* *opens document*

Here we go.


P.S. Just (this morning!!) finished Jacob Bacharach's The Bend of the World and completely loved it. Conspiracies, drugs, and snarky social commentary. I've been discussing "voice" with my students and am tempted to draw some quotes from this book to show how personality can come through so strongly in writing. And his "blogarach" is awesome.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Trying Something New

I've officially reached the 1/3 point on my current manuscript.

My instinct is to keep plugging away until I have 250-300 imperfect pages to go back and tackle in the revision process. But there's this technique that Megan Miranda has been using that I kind of want to try. I remember a few years ago when she was working on HYSTERIA. She wrote 1/3 of the book, then went back and revised. Wrote 1/3 more, went back and revised. Then wrote the final 1/3 of the book, went back and revised the whole thing. Her final revisions were a lot less painful during the final round.

I think I'm going to try it.

This morning I spent an hour or so preparing revision notes for the first third of my story. It's amazing how many inconsistencies already need to be worked out. As we've established, I'm very much a pantser, making things up as I go along, throwing in whatever occurs to me. This can make for an exciting storyline, but it's not always so... logical.


So here I go, back to the beginning, to color in the outline I've laid down, to make sure everything connects and that my flashbacks are woven in seamlessly. It's kind of depressing to think I won't reach my word count goal as quickly as I'd wanted, but I'm thinking I'll end up with a much stronger book if I do it Megan's way.


In non-writing news, Sherlock! I'm obsessed. It's been a while since I've been so taken with a TV show. I'm only on the second season and am savoring each episode, knowing that I'll never get to go back and watch it again for the first time.

Yay, and professional development. I'll be attending trainings all next week for the new AP curriculum. Yeah, yeah, it'll be fantastic, and I am looking forward to honing my teaching skills... but... but... it's summer...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reading Like a Writer

'ello, lovelies!

Hope your summer is swimming by scintillatingly. By that I mean: filled with wonderfully action-packed books! I just got back from the lake, where I made a dent in my to-read list. The first book was Jennifer Weiner's THE NEXT BEST THING, a fun romance about a TV writer in Hollywood. I enjoyed the love story, of course, but I found the insider talk about television production fascinating. I've been reading Weiner's books since college, when I devoured GOOD IN BED. TNBT is her tenth novel, and she's as talented as ever.

Today I started listening to THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.J. Carey. I'm not sure where I got the recommendation... I think it was from some list on Goodreads. Anywho, it's a post-apocalyptic zombie book--right up my alley. It's really exciting... like ROOM by Emma Donoghue crossed with WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion. If you're looking for pointers on how to write a pageturner, you should definitely check out this title. 

Which brings me to the point of this post. Since I'm in writerly mode, I've been reading everything with an ulterior motive... to see how the stories work. Today, in particular, I've been thinking about characters and how an author manipulates the reader to either like or dislike them. I love the little girl in THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, so I made a list of all the things that made me want to root for her. I also made a list of all the traits that made me hate some of the other characters so I might use them in my own villains. 

Another trick Carey uses really well is introducing some type of question before the end of every chapter, so you HAVE to keep on reading. This is something I thought I had down with Slide and Impostor, but I really struggled with in ELT (which... truth be told... is maybe why even I started getting bored with it). I need to step up my game.

All of this babbling is just to say that I read books very differently from how I used to. Stories are intricate machines that have lots of moving parts and screws holding everything together, which you might not see if you're not looking closely. Often times you'll find a device that might work perfectly in your own story. As I was driving today, I had to pull over and furiously take notes about an idea I had for SNSB, the YA novel I'm working on.

So... what have you been reading lately? And what have you learned?