#amwriting: Process & Projects

My hopeful attempts at regular blog updates are always derailed by real life, this time I’ve been hopelessly sidetracked by summer (when teaching ends and I become a full-time mom for three months) and moving (twenty-one years of STUFF) to a new house. Now that we’re finally getting settled in and it’s almost time for everyone to go back to school (but it’s only July!), I’ve decided to start going forward with some writing projects.

There are three, to be precise, because three is the magic number, right? I’ve also heard from some time management experts that it’s good to have more than one project active (so that you can work on ones that require different levels of time and energy as needed), but that more than 3-5 projects at a time is a bad idea.

The projects:

An academic research paper, which I’m submitting for funding in a few weeks and then trying to turn into an article. This is simply to keep my career afloat, but I do like the process and I’m interested in what I’m writing about, so I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky in this day and age to like my job.

My novel. This hairball has been building for almost a decade and I’m ready to cough it up and spit it out. I’ll soon be looking for beta readers for this one, so keep your ears open if you’re interested.

Finally, I’m working a project called Timekeeper Stories, an interactive storytelling project/alternate reality game that I’ve been working on since last year (the idea came to me the day after the election-HA HA). For those of you not familiar with the genre, typically the PM (puppetmaster) stays hidden and anonymous, and the game is played is if it’s not really a game, but taking place in real life (“this is not a game”). However, this time around I’m experimenting with the genre a bit and trying some new and different things, so the frame story itself will be somewhat unconventional in that it will be autobiographical, and I will provide different different entry points to each story over time (trailheads), which will allow varied levels of participation and immersion. People will have the option to just read the story installments as they are posted, OR they can also interact with story characters and work to solve mysteries and puzzles which appear in the stories.

My motivation for this project is to include a broader audience for the stories (typically ARG audiences are a a very small, select group of people), and to play around with the potential for using this genre for educational purposes.

Why share and discuss these projects before they are completed? I recently read a book called Jay Lake’s Process of Writing, which is a distillation of his blog posts on writing. I found his blog and was sad to learn that he passed away from cancer a few years ago, but his blog is still there and I was captivated by how completely and honestly he shared his writing process: the ups and downs, the good with the bad.

There is little discussion of the writing process itself, and I think this kind of transparency not only helps writers, but students as well. There is certainly no transparency in academic writing, which is something I have struggled mightily to do and have failed at miserably, filling me with a sense of shame and isolation in my career. However, I’m determined to learn the craft and plan to share what I’ve learned here, in the hopes that it might help someone in the future.

Finally, I need the discipline of a daily writing practice, and I like the idea of creating a small amount of public accountability. Already I’ve had some feedback on social media which has greatly boosted my motivation and resulted in an extra long writing session this morning.

I’m off now, to write.

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Lately

Lately, my stepdad has been sending me blogging ideas, which makes me think I should dust off the old blog and write some stuff. It’s hard when you haven’t blogged in almost a year and feel like you should write something special and momentous. Then I realized that I should just start somewhere. Anywhere.

Lately, we’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to think or write or do much of anything else. I remember when my kids were babies and people would tell me how much harder it would get when they were older. At the time, I was breastfeeding, changing diapers every hour or more, and not getting more than two hours of sleep in row. I thought they were nuts.

Now I realize that when it comes to kids, things don’t really ever get easier, they just change. I get more sleep and change fewer diapers, but now that my kids have a full array of linguistic strategies at their disposal I spend a lot more time negotiating sibling squabbles and bedtime routines, supervising homework, and discussing the finer details of bee life. Yes, I did indeed know that honey is bee puke. Thank you for reminding me, Oscar.

Lately, I’ve realized that our toy days are numbered. This first came to me when I was shopping for Oscar’s Christmas presents. It occurred to me that it would only be another year or two before he was no longer interested in toys. Certainly he will be interested in Legos, video games, art supplies, and books for many years to come, but I’m talking about little kid toys, the kind that sometimes feel like they are taking over our house. I know that one day I will blink and they will be gone, replaced by smelly clothes cast off in all directions, cell phones, and requests to borrow the car.

A few weeks ago I insisted we pull out the Thomas the Train sets and play with them. Oscar thought I was a little bit crazy but he obliged me. He played with his little sister for a short time and then lost interest in favor of a new book. I can’t tell you how much I love to see my son sitting around reading, but it gives me a pang to realize I’ll probably never see him build train tracks out into the living room again, spending hours creating one disaster after another with Thomas and Percy and Henry and James. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He still plays. He love action figures and Legos and will play for hours. But he asked me to stop putting the Thomas the Train container in his lunch box. “I’m too old for that now, Mama.”

Lately Aria has stopped calling me into her room in the middle of the night, every night (it still happens). It feels good to sleep through the night, but I looked around the other day and realized that most of the baby paraphernalia is gone from the house. I honestly don’t miss having babies around, but what bothers me is that the transitions don’t always happen with fanfare and documentation. Oh, sure, we take pictures of first steps and first days of school and lost teeth, but not of the last time our kids ride in the front seat of the shopping cart or need help getting their shoes on. Most of the transitions and changes happen in the midst of our hectic daily routine, and aren’t noticed until much later.

I’m trying to strike a balance between making it through each day as it comes, creating happy memories, and holding onto the little details that make life with children so unique. As the saying goes, it’s the longest shortest time of your life.

Web Logging: A Personal History

The original term for a blog was a web log, coined in 1997. The word blog started being used regularly in 1999. I discovered blogging in 2005 at the age of 34 and started my on-again, off-again relationship with reading and writing blogs. A few of my early attempts at blogging were lost in transition from one blogging client to another, so this blog only goes back to early 2009 and the birth of my son, Oscar.

I got really into blogging when Oscar was born and I discovered “mommy blogs.” Back then, blogging was very different, and mommy blogs contained daily stories, tirades, and confessions about parenting. Twitter was used for actual conversation instead of people throwing off pithy one-liners in a desperate attempt to get retweets. I wasn’t on Facebook back then, and Instagram didn’t exist.

However, over time things changed, and I abandoned most of the blogs I read. Many of my favorite bloggers because popular, and once that happened, their blogs were riddled with ads and most annoying of all, click-through posts. Click-throughs are what you do when you rely on ad revenue, because they generate more page views. As a reader, they are annoying as hell. Basically, they give you a line or two of a post (or just at title) and make you click through to read the rest. The popular mommy blogger Dooce took this to a whole new level of douchery by making even her photos click-throughs. That’s when I stopped reading her blog.

The next two things that happened to blogging were Facebook and Instagram. Unfortunately, I found myself a bit besotted by the high level of interaction in Facebook. When I post a blog post, I get about 5-10 views and on rare occasion, a comment. When I post a comment or photo on Facebook I get hundreds of views, sometimes as many as 50 likes, and quite a few comments.

Personally, I haven’t been able to get into Instagram, although I know many people love it.

I feel that blogging, at least, what I used to love about blogging and reading blogs, has changed to personal branding. Now it’s all about product placement, sponsored posts, and mostly staged Instagram photos of people’s fabulous lives and fabulous shoes.

I find it all very boring.

Thankfully, there are a few blogs that I still read and love. None of these are mommy bloggers. Most of them are writers, none of whom are famous. My favorite blogs do the following:

1. tell stories

2. make me laugh

3. make me excited when I see a new post

4. don’t have ads

5. aren’t on Instagram

6. don’t have click-throughs

7. generate quality content on a regular basis

My new goal with blogging is to emulate these blogs. Not to go viral. Not to get famous. Not to increase page views. Not to generate ad revenue. But simply to give people something I love: good writing and storytelling.

The Worth of Words

I’ve always lived in the borderlands. No place to call home. I am not a mother. I am not an academic. I am not a woman. I am not rich or poor. I am not a teacher. I am not a writer. I am…me. How does that find expression? Who are my soul mates? Others like me, certainly. There are many. They identify themselves to me at school, at family gatherings. Pulling me aside, quietly, secretly: “I just wanted you to know that I really like what you wrote about blah blah blah…”

It’s like water in the desert.

That’s what pulls me back to this blog. That’s what compels me to to put my pen to paper. It’s why I write and why I read. Just this morning I read a line in a book that startled me with its truth. It’s very important to remind people that there are threads connecting some of us at the deepest levels. We may not be the best teachers, students, parents, daughters, or friends; but we are the best for each other. We are there for each other beyond time and space.

A writer’s words carve their way into my soul like nothing else.

I am cleaning vomit off of my son at 3:00 A.M.. I am nursing my daughter back to sleep at dawn. I am standing at the kitchen counter wiping up crumbs, the words I long to write spilling out of my fingers and eyes and ears, lost forever to the wind because I don’t have the time or energy to create books, or stories, or articles. But they are there with me, these other women. Across time and space. Anne Lindbergh, Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, Sylvia Plath, Anne Tyler, Sharon Olds, Faulkner Fox, etc. They whisper in my ear, “I know, I know.”

This is what I can give. I can tell other mothers, other writers, other women, that the journey is hard. It’s hard. But if I can give you words that you can weave into a blanket, or a life raft, or a balloon, than I have given you everything I can give.

 

 

 

 

I don’t think I’m tall enough for this ride…

Spoiler alert: I use the word “boob” in this post. You may want to excuse yourself now.

Here’s an old cliche: Life is a roller coaster.

Everything seems up and down for me lately; I live with extremes. One moment I’m savoring a predawn cup of coffee and reading about what Gwyneth Paltrow packs for a flight to London (as if) and the next minute I’m juggling two cranky kids, one of whom wants to be permanently attached my boob and the other who can’t decide whether or not he wants jam or honey on his peanut butter toast.

Today when I left the house there were crying kids and diapers that needed changing, and let me tell you, it was wrenching. Then I drove in relative peace and quiet to my office (the fifteen minute drive to work is the only time I am truly alone). Then I advised a few students, none of whom have the faintest idea what they are doing. Now my office is quiet and I’m boiling water to make coffee. I drink a LOT of coffee.

Roller-coaster.

I sit down at my computer to write. I open the file that contains my novel and get downright giddy as I nail a sticky plot point. Then I open the file containing feedback from my editor on the academic book I’m writing and I feel like jumping out the window. Then an email alert pops up and I see that I have another stupid and pointless meeting tomorrow. Academics love to call stupid and pointless meetings at the last minute. Then I take a peek at a fashion site to see what all of the hip people are wearing this fall.

Roller-coaster.

I used to think of this way. You enjoy the ups and endure the downs. When you’re miserable you think, “This too shall pass.” Then I saw the following quote:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

If we wait for life to get good before we enjoy it, we will be waiting a long time, and it will be over before we know it.

I felt a sense of peace when my five-month-old woke me at three o’clock this morning. I brought her to bed and smoothed her sweet fluffy head and let her nurse. I was deeply, deeply exhausted. I started thinking about all of the things I have to do, about all of the things I want to do, and about all of the things I will probably never get a chance to do. And then a voice in my head said, “You’re doing the most important thing you could be doing, right now.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I take care of my children. They love me and need me and I will be the center of their universe for such a short time.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I grade papers. My students value my feedback and I have the opportunity to help them become better writers.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I read and swallow the difficult feedback I get from my editor. This will make me a better writer. My editor values me enough to keep pushing me through this project.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I read People Magazine and drink Starbucks. We all need downtime and mindless entertainment.

When we took Oscar to the fair this year we put him on his favorite ride, a little red roller-coaster made just for kids. Last year he loved it. This year he cried helplessly in fear for the first few minutes of the ride. It was so hard to watch! Then something happened. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and endured. Finally, he looked around and smiled. And when he got off the ride, he wanted to go on it again.

There is no such thing as balance

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman

Balance:

a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.

I don’t have it, I’m never gonna get it, and I no longer want it.

I know mothers who have it all. They are beautiful, thin, popular, and happy. They have nice houses and bake cupcakes in rainbow colors. They undertake projects that would make Martha Stewart blush. They arrange play dates and act as community organizers.  They have good hair and buy organic and vacation in places with beautiful blue water.

1. They are insane.

2. I call bullshit.

I sat in the audience yesterday at a conference listening to Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, talk about being a writer. She talked about writing and life and anger and childhood and teaching and being yourself. She said,

“Speak the truth, even if it makes your voice shake.”

I had a revelation when I was listening to her. I don’t want balance. I want passion.

Heather Sellers writers:

“Successful book writers are very rarely also:  history society presidents, garden club secretaries, book group members, rumba instructors, feng shui consultants, yoga experts, and leaders of the town’s spring clean-up committee. When you’re writing a book, you do not have time for: meetings, grant writing, sonnet competitions , sprawling vacations, breeding dogs, or renovating the bathroom.” ~from Chapter after Chapter

The subtitle of this is  “Balancing Writing and Motherhood,” but who the hell am I kidding?

The only thing I balance is a plate of cheese and crackers as I ignore cobwebs and crying babies and go upstairs to sit at my computer and write.

The only thing I balance are teetering stacks of ungraded papers on top of books about how to write and novels I love to read and wish I could write.

The only thing I balance is a baby on one hip while I turn up the volume on Yo Gabba Gabba, stir the soup, dodge Legos, step on Cheerios, pour juice for my toddler, and pour myself another cup of coffee.

If you don’t like my house, my hair, the way I dress, the way I parent, or how I spend my time, frankly, I don’t want to know you.

I’m done with balance.

I’m done with waiting to give myself permission to be the writer and the person I want to be.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…

Ah, sleep deprivation. I’d forgotten how bad it is. It’s a unique form of torture and I wish congress would pass a law to put a stop to it. Luckily for me, my little torturer is very cute, so I forgive her.

We are not accomplishing a lot around here lately, unless you consider eating too many carbs and downloading blogs to the Kindle to be an accomplishment. I can really pack away the egg sandwiches and spaghetti! I might write a new diet book: How To Lose The Pregnancy Weight…Never! As for blogs on the Kindle, what a revelation! I’ve been devouring books and novels, but figuring out how to subscribe to and read blogs has been life-changing. Reading other blogs always makes me want to be a better blogger.

So far this summer my days have been structured around feeding Aria, entertaining Oscar, trying to get enough work done at home to keep from getting fired, and struggling to keep the house from sliding into chaos.

I have a huge to-do list, which includes finishing a report for work, getting a chapter to my editor, catching up on prep and grading for my summer school class, prepping my fall classes, writing articles for this blog, taking pictures of my babies before they grow up, and doing something that resembles exercise.

I am aching to get back into my own writing. I miss writing. This blog calls to me. My novel calls to me. I’m finally beginning to stretch my creative brain in the sunlight after a long, cold winter and I’m starting to get ideas for articles, stories, and poems.

Now, if I could only get some sleep!

But Mr. Sandman brought me a dream more real and wonderful than any I could have imagined. He brought me this: