I am thankful that I only have a (small) paper and a class standing in between me and Michigan.
Well, not including half of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
I am thankful for parents who raised me on The Road Trip. I’ve dropped quite a few jaws lately discussing my whirlwind holiday plans, but thanks to you guys, 32+ hours in the car over a span of 5 days doesn’t really faze me at all. Hey, at least I don’t have a paper due on Monday like I did LAST Thanksgiving!
I am thankful (and incredulous) that the semester is actually winding down and that I have a manageable amount of work ahead of me, some of which can be done during those 32+ hours in the car.
I am thankful for the seemingly endless amount of opportunities that keep falling into my lap.
I am thankful that after December 3rd, I can read books that were not published in the 19th century.
I am thankful for the little excitements of the holidays: baking, parties, twinkly lights, carols, gift buying, 2011 planners, etc
I am thankful to be continually employed.
I am thankful that I get to spend 2 weeks at home over Christmas. Oh goodness… so, SO thankful.
I am thankful for those who are waiting for me there.
My life is more like a roller-coaster ride than a life, and I spend a lot of time trying to decide if I like it like this or if it is killing me.
I could go off on a string of roller-coaster-related analogies – climbing the tracks in anticipation, exhilarating terror at the fall off, the fact that I am about as lapsed religious as they come but whenever I’m standing in line at Cedar Point, I always say a little prayer for myself and for my sister, Betsy, who actually hasn’t been on a roller coaster with me in years, and my GOD what does THAT mean?
But I won’t. There are too many to choose from. You get the idea.
I don’t really remember the last time I had a day off without homework or certain-responsibility looming over my head, but I think that day was probably in August, and I was probably at my parents’ house. Although, visiting home comes with a startling long list of responsibilities of its own: people to see, teeth to be cleaned, hair to be cut. We spent a little over a week in the great state of Michigan, and I saw 2 friends and their families, spent 2 days in Lapeer, had 2 appointments, junked my car, got my cat spayed, went to a cross-country meet, and spent 2 days in Mansfield, Ohio.
Yes, one of those days was my last day off.
My life reached fervor pitch last June, when I found myself working 20 hours a week, taking a rigorous course taught my two of the smartest women who teach at my school, and hauling out to Somerville two days a week to a swanky internship.
And I survived, I really did. I picked up a lot of great survivalist habits, like camping out at Starbucks at 6 a.m. with my homework before launching into a 9-hour work/school day. And I learned lots of handy migraine fighting techniques along the way.
But somehow the overextended sprint turned into an overextended marathon. With two major assignments due last week, I found myself really questioning my ability to keep this up. What little time I wasn’t doing homework or reading or trying to write a g.d. novel, I was most likely weeping. All of the justifications I made for my choices started to dissolve. I had clearly packed my schedule to the brim not so I could be successful, but so I could be miserable. Maybe it was time to say “no.”
I thought about this all last week while I recovered from the previous week’s academic horror. I brainstormed ways that I could do more than survive next semester: I wanted to survive and also spend a little time not feeling like I would rather fall off the face of the earth than wake up in the morning.
And then, on Friday night, the roller coaster throws me another g.d. loop. Of course.
So I return to where I was last May, quietly contemplating the decision before me. That first internship, the one that hastily rejected me, has come a-calling.
And for those of you who question my capacity for idealism, I give you this: I still want to get in line for the stupid roller coaster. I’m saying a prayer for Betsy. I’m imagining that, somehow, with ingenuity and a schedule so carefully stacked it might crumble with a slight shift in the wind, I think I can do it and I think I can be happy doing it.
Holy crap. I am behind. So during my last report, things were already flagging. This past week, I kept coming up short – 300, 600 words short – and the next day always felt worse. I was happy to be at least LESS behind than I was the day before, but never quite caught up.
Then, I had that paper due Friday that needed major rethinking/reworking.
Then, I had an 8 page paper to write for my literature class.
I had a limited amount of time and an unlimited amount of stress, and I made the executive decision to abandon novel writing until today, 11/16/2010. And I’m also trying to toss back 150 pages of Louisa May Alcott and a critical article before 3:30 today… so yeah.
Turning in my paper yesterday afternoon felt like crawling out of a cave. I don’t even want to get into the details of how I wrote this paper, but let’s just say it was a brief, excruciating process that involved installing LeechBlock onto my browser. At any rate, I hit the “send email” button and immediately suited up for a run. The sky was completely gray, I was the only one running, I was really sweaty even though it was kind of cold, and I couldn’t tell if my stomach was empty or full and I generally felt weird. I felt like crap. The feeling continued on into the night, like I didn’t want to even deal with all the shit in my life I’d been putting off in order to complete my schoolwork.
This morning felt better, but I’m still a little hazy. So I’m thinking about two things:
1) Daily habits are really important, even if they don’t seem particularly effective. If you wake up and sit down with your writing every day, first thing in the morning, then your mind is moving in the right direction, even if the words come slowly or you feel crappy or your mind just goes numb – at least you are going through the motions. My mind shouldmust be ready to start writing today, now that I am out of the cave, but because I let go of “the motions,” it’s like my body and my habits have to readjust. It’s exactly like trying to exercise again after taking a few weeks off – you had good reasons for skipping the gym, and you were okay with your choice, but as soon as you start up again, it’s like your body and lungs didn’t get the memo that it was “okay” to take a break. They still hurt and it’s still harder than it would have been if you’d kept up the motions.
2) Going into a cave is not something I knew I could do, really. I’m a consummate multi-tasker. I juggle a lot of baskets, and not just since grad school. I’ve always been a basket juggler. And I thought that it made me happy, in a Renaissance Woman kind of way, but there was something elementally satisfying about turning off the world to write that stupid paper. I shut off other priorities, one by one. Class reading? Gone. NaNo? Sorry. Cooking? Take out. Laundry? I can pick through piles of clothes for a week. Socializing? No. No. No.
And I got it done. I’m not going to make any guesses about my grade, but the work did get done.
This seems like a useful skill to develop. It’s kind of fun juggling baskets, but I worry that it’s not great if you want to get SIGNIFICANTLY better at something. And I would like to get significantly better at writing fiction.
I want to marry you. If you’d forgive my obligations to the Icy Hot Inventor.
I never buy albums, but I’m glad I bought yours.
Dear Guy at the 7-11,
Thanks a whole ton for charging me a dollar six for a cup of ice.
Dear Starbucks Doubleshot,
You are the reason I wake up in the morning.
Dear Library Science Professor,
Please have pity on my poor grade and my only recently apparent lack of understanding of the material. I promise that once I get a real library job, I won’t attempt to do real research without assistance from an expert.
I hope you know that your blog is the #1 Most Awesome Thing.
Dear Peachy Peach Pie,
You are one year old today. We are so proud of you! Except when you bite us. You should probably start growing out of that soon.
Dear Simmons College Administrators and Higher Ups,
Thank you for providing us students some useful accoutrement of learning, such as 400 free pages of printing each semester, copy machines that sometimes work, and food service stations that only charge you a quarter for a cup of ice.
However, I speak for the general student population when I request the following accomodations:
1) Said food service stations should have Saturday and Sunday hours. Much like the Graduate Student, Caffeine Addiction never takes a weekend off.
2) We students deserve access to staplers that are able fasten together more than 10 pages without the back page flying off and disappearing in our bookbags.
If you would like to use some of my tuition money for this purpose, I would readily encourage your endeavors. One credit hour should cover 75,000 cups of ice and 200 or so gold plated, high-efficiency staplers.
Would it have killed you to stop writing after… oh… 400 pages?
I see you have not written yourself in the past few weeks. I hope you will cooperate now that I am giving you my undivided attention.
Dear NaNoWriMo Novel,
I’m not avoiding you because you suck… I just have other, graded things to worry about for the next few days.
Okay, maybe I’m avoiding you because you suck.
Dear Non-Required Reading,
I’m waiting for you. We will have six luscious, wonderful weeks together, soon. Your patience will soon be rewarded… assuming I can keep you from the clutches of the Boston Public Library for a few more weeks.
What nonsense are we going to get into over Thanksgiving? Let’s make a Nonsense Plan.
Dear Carbon Monoxide Detector,
WTF?? We did not all die in our sleep, so it seems unlikely that there was ACTUALLY deadly, invisible gas in our apartment last night at FOUR IN THE MORNING. I hope you feel bad about freaking my boyfriend out. And after I woke up to the freezing cold after opening all of our windows, just in case? We are officially fighting.
Dear Only Other Two Girls On Campus This Early On A Sunday,
Did you really have to sit at the table next to me to talk about your Four Loko fueled evening? Out of all the tables in the entire school?? Good grief.
Thanks for holding out for so long into the fall. Although running sucks, I’m starting to get cranky when I can’t go, and I’m not quite sure how to run when it’s under 40 degrees outside yet, so thanks.
Dear Daylight Savings,
You are terrible.
Take a hint from Weather and help me out by not turning out the sun before I can get home and get my running clothes on.
I read one page of the book you sent me, and I instantly decided that I was not allowed to read another page until my required reading is done.
However, I did start watching No Reservations while I fold laundry, which is greatly improving the quality of my life.
So thanks for that 🙂
Dear Internal Bodily Temperature Regulator,
Seriously, what is the deal. It can’t really be 2 degrees in every room I ever enter. Yesterday, I wore a long-sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, thick socks, and a blanket, and it was 60 degrees out.
Are you broken?
Dear Tomorrow Night,
I can’t wait to meet up. It’s going to be you, me, How I Met Your Mother, and some mad Speed Reading Skills. I might invite a bottle of wine, if you don’t mind company. Oh, and maybe this pie. Get ready. I’m going to blow your mind.
It looks like I might make it to 100 books this year, despite the lack of novels on my class reading lists.
I’m not complaining, but every semester spent reading 7,000+ picturebooks (Spring) or 7,000+ page 19th century novels (Fall) takes away time from the Read A Giant Mountain of Books objective. Last fall, I was reading at least 600 pages a week, but those pages were divvied up over three or four titles instead of crammed into one Long, Long Book.
This is my first exposure to the glory that is 19th Century Children’s Literature. And this includes some obvious titles: somehow, I lived almost 26 years without reading Little Women or Tom Sawyer. How did that happen? I have no idea. I was probably too busy reading The Babysitter’s Club.
Anyway, I’m growing more accustomed to the 19th century cadence of language, the Boy Book and Girl Book paradigm, and the sheer force of will power required to make it through a phonebook sized novel with the tiniest words still visible to the naked eye, and I’m finding myself strangely fond of some of the stories.
Our professor told us that, at some point during our semi-chronological reading list, a book would click in our head, telling us “Oh, this is a book for children!” You see, in the 19th Century, children reading novels was A) not widely possible because a lot of kids were illiterate or too busy being poor or working on a farm, B) not enough of a money-maker to warrant a whole genre to themselves, and C) kind of anti-Christian and immoral. So those 700 page monsters were not really written for children, but for women who didn’t mind reading about a child protagonist.
This week, I’m reading What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, and even after one chapter, I knew exactly what my professor was talking about. THIS was a book for children, and I was enjoying breezing through it this week, even while nursing intense homework assignments and other mental-breakdown type situations.
However, I am not quite accustomed to the 19th Century Children’s Literature Horror: the moment when you are reading when you realize exactly what craziness is going on between author and reader, child and adult, and society as a whole.
I’m breezing along with Katy and her appealing younger siblings. Katy is a freewheeling, Jo March type tomboy, who will obviously need some discipline over the course of the novel. I get that. So she gets on this tree swing, after her curmudgeonly Aunt Izzie tells her not to. Alright, so something bad is going to happen, since the narrator told me that the swing is broken. She’ll fall off, get punished, and then move on to the next chapter-long trial of her character.
I should have seen it coming, but I was completely BLINDSIDED when Katy flies off the swing and blacks out, waking up to find out she is at risk for some kind of SPINAL CORD INJURY, and must now submit to the 19th Century Medical Treatment of Laying Down in Bed, Immobile.
Of course, the doctor says 2 weeks, but the 19th Century Horror keeps her in bed for TWO YEARS.
Moral of the Story:
To discipline an unruly (albeit well-meaning) young woman, you must simply hobble her until she learns the patience, humility, and grace of a complete invalid.
Oh, Contemporary Realistic Young Adult Fiction, you are calling my name…. See you in January of 2011!
Folks, this is the point in the month where I start kicking myself for doing so little planning. Sitting down to write is mostly painful: the pulling words to pulling teeth analogy is feeling apt. If I had any idea what I was going to write when I sat down, I think the Opening a Word Document Anxiety would be alleviated.
But looking on the brighter side, I’ve met almost all of my daily goals since my last check up. I fell behind on Saturday – I forgot how the weekends can be rough for me. See: all of my homework that I never get done on my days off. This is a bad habit. I would really like to use this extra time to get ahead, because I will be spending the 24th and the 28th in the car, and the days in between shuttling around between friends and family, and then only two days to recover and finish.
Plus, oh, final projects and school.
I also decided to switch points of view last week, from first person to third. But maybe I’ll switch back. Because I can.
My YA novels usually begin in my frustration with a situation that many teens find themselves in, something that makes me upset. (WINTERGIRLS = Eating Disorders, f.ex.) But I think that if I focused on plot first, the stories would never go beyond “problem novel” fare. To me, the most interesting element is character. So I ponder a situation, do a lot of character freewriting, and wait for a new voice to pop into my head and start whispering. I do not worry about straightening out the plot bones until after I have written a mess of a first draft.”
This is comforting for me, who is staring at a word document with multiple POVs, crazy plot lines and character relationships that seem to have nothing to do with each other, and no idea about what will happen next. But I’ve also been reading up on dramatic structure, and the takeaway from that research is that without structure, nobody will want to read your book.
But maybe, like Laurie does, I can take an entire draft – a Zero Draft, if you will – to figure out my characters, and in the next draft let them tell me what they really want to do.
A Glass Case of Emotion
This week was a big, fat reminder of how completely incapable I am at controlling my emotions, and how easily I let them sway my behaviors.
Last week, I was on a roll. I had this new scheduling system that was working out really well (shut up!), I was prepared for my classes and starting assignments early. I was nailing my wordcounts.
Then, on Friday, I got a poor grade on an assignment I worked really hard on. My professor’s comments were not terribly specific, and amounted mostly to “You need to change the focus of your research project.” This normally wouldn’t bug me – I’m not as big of a GPA fiend as you might think I am. However, 1) I worked extra-hard on this project, deliberately, and was not rewarded for my efforts, 2) The grade I received made it impossible for me to get even an A-minus in the class, and what was worse, 3) The project is ongoing, which means I still have another part of the assignment due, which apparently needs major revision and reformulation. And this part is due on Friday. Also, 4) hormones.
So yes, I was upset for all of those reasons, and suddenly, the insecurity I was feeling about my coursework seemed to trickle over to my NaNo Word doc, too. Anything that put me in front of a computer, really. And with the project deadline looming, and no clear work to be done to get a good grade, everything in my life feels kind of… crappy. I can’t really focus on anything.
This is obviously a problem, and it doesn’t just affect my writing. Even the magic schedule that was last week’s salvation is unappealing. I don’t know what to do about it, currently, except slog, slog, slog and try not to wish too sincerely for someone to put me out of my misery.
In what will probably become a regular occurrence this month, yesterday I found myself with an entire, delectable day at my disposal, but far too much to cram into it. Insult to injury: I began my impeccably planned day by failing to set my alarm properly AND once I woke, found that I’d set my clock 10 or 15 minutes slow. Who does that?
Anyway, for some reason I thought it would take me an hour to write 1667 words. It did not. I spent an hour in the morning and then another before bed, but after such a jam-packed day, I fell asleep before I could get to 1667.
Not the best start, but I did get up at 6:00 a.m. this morning and pushed it up to 2205 before breakfast. Hurrah!
A very brief history of Jessica vs. Nanowrimo:
2007:Finished, with a novel that I still think has potential, despite some MAJOR flaws that make me crazy just to think about them.
2008: Tried a new POV and an off-the-wall setting, but did not finish, mostly because I contracted a feverish illness THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING and yes, I still went Black Friday shopping, because I am an idiot.
2009: Thought better of taking the plunge, but did it anyway, resolving to intentionally write the stupidest story ever committed to words for the sole purpose of greasing my rusty fingers. After 10,000 words or so, decided that I didn’t have enough for my character to do for a full 50,000 words, and decided to invite two more narrators to the party. Did not finish, again because of an impossible Thanksgiving weekend, this one packed with two 16 hour car rides, numerous family obligations, a paper due on Monday, and A BROKEN LAPTOP SCREEN.
Aside from all of those circumstantial excuses, the only real difference between my 2007 success and my 2008+2009 failures?
I went into 2007 with a plan. I had characters. I had plotlines for each character. I had little arcs for the relationships between each character. I had a structure. I’d tried out the voices of each narrator to make sure I could write them effectively.
So of course, I would try to write a novel in 2010 without much planning. I am awesome.
What I Do Have: two characters, a vague idea of an ending, an idea of their main conflict, competing plotlines (which one will win?), a setting, character sketches, and a brand new notebook in which to write all of this down.
What I Need: a solid narrative voice (yikes), a clear plan to get from beginning to end, ideas for scenes, an idea of what good writing actually amounts to.
So in addition to setting aside writing time, I’m setting aside planning time. Today, I spent 15 minutes typing up as much of a favorite novel as I could, into a Word Document (Try this! It’s kind of fun to look at whatever words you respect as they once looked to the author: Times New Romaned on a white background), spent 15 minutes analyzing what each sentence accomplished for the scene or the novel, and then spent 30 minutes brainstorming ideas to write about because… um… I’m already out and it’s DAY 2, PEOPLE!
Writing is really, really hard and really, really scary.
Moody Author Photo:
Stay tuned for more updates as the month FLIES by… and add me here!