writing recap 2018: w39

This past week was generally better, both in terms of process and writing. Through a combination of reflection and tips from Deep Work, I’ve settled on a new daily framework that seems to work for me. As with everything else, it’ll need to be tested a bit more, but I have found it very helpful in organizing and providing structure to my day.

This week, I roughed out two additional flash fiction pieces — codenames “the hair thing” and “something something chess.” (Literally that is what the Word docs are called. I am bad at coming up with titles. I’ve read many short stories this year with amazing titles. How do?) Both need significant rewriting, but the first drafts exist now where they didn’t before, so that’s something. I also added several thousand words to a fairytale project. This was the thing that started as a short story last week but is quickly becoming something else altogether – I think maybe it wants to be a novel? It doesn’t really like labels…

As I’m working on these shorter pieces, I’m struck by how much better/lighter/happier I’ve been. I don’t know how much of this is leaving behind that other novel project, in which I was finding less and less joy, and how much of this is stumbling upon this new project, which is much more in line with things I read and have always wanted to write. Or, I guess, how much of it is related to process.

I’m a bit antsy and nervous about tomorrow since it’s the first day of Inktober and thus the first day of my Flash Fiction Inktober Mash-up challenge. But that’s okay. I just have to remind myself to focus on the process and not the product.

flash fiction inktober mash-up

For the past month I’ve been receiving emails or seeing social media posts about Inktober and NaNoWriMo. Apparently, fall is the season for daily challenges.

I did both challenges last year with varying degrees of success.

Inktober (daily ink drawing for the month of October) was something I decided to participate in as kind of a lark. I found it to be immensely satisfying though — it was a nice way to work in another creative medium and add some structure to my day.

But.

Right now, I’m trying to get words out onto a page. I need practice pulling together a tight story arc. I need a way to let myself be playful and experimental again, instead of holding each thing too preciously, too worried about perfection to create. And I need to refocus my energies on process instead of product.

And since it’s hard for me to pass up a good prompt list, I decided to smush the Inktober prompts onto a bunch of writing prompts I’ve been collecting, thus creating a FLASH FICTION INKTOBER MASH-UP CHALLENGE. (Please read that to yourself in your best announcer’s voice. Whether silently or aloud is up to you.)

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well then.

And, of course, it was fine.

Not that having foreknowledge of that did anything for the nerves. Is there some number of times I have to prove myself right before I’ll actually believe myself?

Tuesday night was my first time at any sort of writing group. As it was my first attendance, I mostly sat quietly and observed. Though really, I’ll probably do that for my second and third times as well. (Maybe fourth or fifth. Although at some point my impatience may outweigh my reticence.) As with any larger group (there were about 30 people in attendance), the levels of discussion varied quite a bit. And everyone wrote different things, though speculative fiction was in the majority.

We spent about an hour discussing humor, its function in writing, how to approach it. Here are some things I wrote down about it:

  • Re: using a sense of humor to convey instability or opposition to social norms — does humor have to be funny?
  • Humorous things:
    • Rapid recontextualization
    • Punching down (is this actually humorous?) vs punching up
    • Comic drops
    • Juxtaposition of dissimilar things
    • Call outs (references)
    • Call backs e.g. running jokes
    • Anti-humor – the joke is that it’s not funny.
    • Meta-humor
  • Don’t try to write jokes. Write a character with a particular view of the world and let them loose.
  • A great joke that undermines the character weakens the story.
  • Humor vs comedy: Robert Mankoff – “All comedy has humor, but not all humor is comedy.”
    • Humor is broad – whatever makes us laugh. But the laughter can make or reinforce a point you are making. It can be used to control tension.
    • Comedy is intentional. The laughter is the point of comedy.

After the discussion, we split off into groups to do critiques. I won’t detail that bit as much here, but let’s just say that if you ever needed an example of highly differing tastes…

Another point that just got reinforced for me was this: most people don’t actually know how to give good feedback. It’s one of those things that people take for granted as easy or natural to do, but is a difficult skill that needs to be learned and practiced (just like everything else). But since you can’t make people be better at stuff, you can shift focus to the way that you receive and interpret feedback instead. Hence, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen should be required reading.

All in all though, I had a good time. It was nice to be around people who had similar interests, particularly since my day to day is very much solitary now. There are a few kindred spirits there, I think, and I’m curious to see how this building community thing will go. I’ve never actually had to do it in such a deliberate way before; I’ve always had a cohort of people around me, and we were always just thrown together without much planning (At least on my part. I imagine there was a lot of planning i.e. scheduling on someone else’s part, though probably not with the aim of forming friendships.). So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to go about this, though I guess like any other relationship, it’ll be about listening and showing up. And I can do that.

travelogue: brussels

Part one (Amsterdam) here.
Part two (France) here.

After parting ways with my family, A and I took a train from Bordeaux to Paris and then Paris to Brussels. Honestly, at this point we were pretty wiped out from traveling. Also, while in France, the sun riled up my eczema and I had contact dermatitis to some sunscreen and then got a heat rash. So we resolved to take it pretty easy in Brussels. We saw a few museums (we’re both suckers for a good natural history museum), sat in cafes, and ate tons of chocolate. There isn’t a lot to recap here, so I’m leaving you with a bunch of pictures.

Since we were in Belgium it seemed like the perfect time to do some comparison chocolate eating. Our favorite was Elisabeth Chocolatier. It’s maybe mid-tier, so somewhat affordable. The chocolate is exceptional. The flavors are varied and interesting. Plus, it features chocolate and confections from local artisans.

And that was our summer trip to Europe!

nerves

It was one of my New Year’s resolutions to find more community this year, so I can’t even claim that I didn’t know this was something I needed to do. Still, I dragged and dragged and dragged my feet until this month because the idea of putting myself out there with a bunch of strangers prickles my skin with anxiety. (Why these things give me stomach-clenching nerves while talking to patients and families and running codes when I was doctoring didn’t so much is a whole different thing altogether.)

It’s easy enough to put off doing something you know you’re supposed to do; reassurances of tomorrow or next week can go on forever until you’re dead. But then sometimes it feels like the universe is telling you a thing (I know, I know, confirmation bias), and it just seems wrong not to listen.

When I went to MRK’s author event a few weeks ago, it was after I had spent a good several days mustering up the courage and stolidly ignoring my jerk brain. But the thing that really cemented it was that I went ahead and bought her books through the Left Bank website and indicated that I was going to pick them up at the event. Because then, the etiquette bit of my brain chimes in and is all like “But you said…” and it seems like it would be rude not to complete that social exchange.

So I went. And it was fine. And I did not die of embarrassment. Really, no one much paid attention to me (duh. and thankfully). Except. I ran into an author friend of one of my brothers-in-law. I had met this person twice before, I think — once two years ago and then once again almost exactly a year after that at consecutive birthday events. (Not my birthdays. My bro-in-law’s.) We reintroduced ourselves and got to chatting, and soon enough, he introduced me to a couple of his writerly friends and told me about a writing group they all attend. (Universe: Go find a community already. Sheesh. DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU?)

That writing group meets tonight. And I’m going.

I mean, I was feeling waffly up until this past weekend, but I have to now.

The author friend wrote me an email yesterday morning to check in and attached the pieces that are going to be critiqued. He went to the trouble of making sure I knew where it was going to be and where to park. He took the time to write such a nice, thoughtful email. And then etiquette brain was like, “Now you have to go. He went to so much trouble!”

Plus, I have told A, my sibs-in-law, this author friend, and now you that I’m going to attend. So, etiquette brain, who does not like broken promises and does not like people going to any trouble, won’t let me back out even though I still have most of the day to make myself nervous.

Thanks, etiquette brain.

travelogue: france

Part one (Amsterdam) here.

We took the train from Amsterdam to Paris to meet up with my family. The high speed trains a pretty comfy, although the tickets we got ended up putting us in a weird private car across from another couple. You can’t even look out the window. I tried very much to just focus on a book. They ate snacks very loudly.

Once in Paris, we walked around quite a bit. Saw the Eiffel tower from afar, saw the Louvre courtyard. It was still blindingly sunny and distressingly hot. Which meant many shade breaks and stopping in cafes for fortifying sugary snacks.

The plan was to be in Paris for one night and then take the train to Bordeaux the next day. But then, it turned out that the train was cancelled due to some electrical failures. My mom spent a long time in discussion with the hotel concierge, and then we ended up in a chartered van, driving 7 or so hours to meet the barge for our river cruise. It’s not really travel unless something goes awry, is it?

We spent a week on the barge cruising along the Canal de Garonne with little day trips to see the surrounding countryside. There were fields upon fields of sunflowers everywhere we went. In the evenings, we had amazing meals prepared by the owner of the boat who has been honing his culinary talents for the last ten years.

 

It was luxurious and ridiculous (in a good way) and not something A and I could have ever done ourselves. We got to drink a good amount of wine. I learned some things about wine-making and armangnac distillation. We got to pet a bunch of goats. And, of course, I got to spend a lot of time with my family (it’s pretty difficult to wrangle all of us together at once).

I also now have someone who is willing to send me delicious recipes. Admittedly they are all in French, but that’s what Google translate is for.

Part three (Brussels) here.

book blind dates

Went to Bookfest yesterday with a friend and wandered around the booths. While we were walking about, we came across a display of books all wrapped in brown paper. I’d heard of book blind dates before, but I’d never actually come across on in the wild. In exchange for a small donation, you got a literary surprise (one surprise for 3$ or two surprises for 5$). The hints on the cover ranged from the effusive to the hilariously concise.

Here are some of my favorites:

I went home with these:

Such a great idea for fundraising.

travelogue: amsterdam

Long overdue travelogue, but better late than never and all that. Or something. The main issue with waiting for so long before putting any words down about it is that I then have to piece together stuff because I’ve forgotten a lot of it. Or maybe that’s a good thing because then there isn’t as much minutiae, and there are more pictures. Picture me shrugging here.

At the end of July, A and I went on a trip to Europe. This trip was two years or so in the planning by my mother — she wanted a way to wrangle my family altogether and finally found a week that worked, so she booked a barge cruise in France. Since it’s been years since A and I have traveled somewhere else alone together, we decided to extend the the trip fore and aft. A had never been to Europe before, but didn’t have particular feelings about places to go. And I have been to Europe before, and wanted to go to Amsterdam and Brussels. So we started off in Amsterdam.


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View while walking the first morning before most of the city was awake.

We spent a good amount of time just wandering around. Neither A nor I feel strongly about seeing all the sights or doing all the things; we tend to like to just be in a place. See a couple of things. And then eat a lot of food. So we were both perfectly content to spend most of our days walking about.

Except.

Apparently we showed up during an unseasonable heatwave. Most of the friendly locals kept commenting to us about how uncharacteristically hot it was. To which we, with sweat dripping off every surface, would reply, “Huh. You don’t say.”

Except we didn’t say that because neither of us say things like “You don’t say.”

Instead, we had to limit some of of sojourns so that we didn’t melt like butter in a hot cast iron pan.

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Sidestreets and a crooked house.

The first full day that we had in Amsterdam was also the day of our tattoos at Ink District Amsterdam. We strolled along some of the canal streets in the morning, had some Dutch pancakes (fittingly at a place called PANCAKES), hit up the Amsterdam museum, and then went and got our ink.

The next day, we went to Micropia, which is an exceptionally well done museum about microbes. There were microscopes all over the place, bubbly flasks, and a stamp scavenger hunt. There was also a huge tardigrade in the lobby.

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An even more crooked house. No one seemed alarmed.

On our last evening in Amsterdam, we decided to have some Dutch food, so we went to Greetje which was around the corner and down the street from our hotel. We decided on the tasting menu because why not try all the things? It was ostensibly three courses, but much more like 17 courses. The starter is a “tasting” of all six of their starters, there was a main, and then the dessert was a “tasting” of all eight of their desserts (they have a pretty generous definition of “tasting,” generous and delicious). And that’s not including the bread and amuse. Or the coffee that came with butter cake. We basically had to roll our way home. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, I highly, highly recommend checking this place out. All the food was wonderful.

I managed to snap a pic of the starters and the desserts, both served “high tea” style. I ate the bread, my amuse, and my main before I thought to snap pics of those.

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The view from our table at our last dinner in Amsterdam.

The next day, we were on our way to France. I wish we had had more time in Amsterdam. Maybe sometime in the future we’ll be able to go again. Preferably not at the height of summer…

Parts two (France) here.
Part three (Brussels) here.

writing recap 09/21/2018

I’ve spent the last few months working on a novel project that has been running me down. It came in stops and starts anyway, and then I crashed into a wall with worldbuilding issues. I stopped, established the rules of the world, rewrote, and then wrote again, but even still. Each word on the page felt like I had to pull teeth.

A lot of it has to do with the running litany of fears that I have going on in the back of my mind. It was a quiet enough susurrus that I thought I could ignore it, move past it. But my jerk brain wouldn’t let up, and the fears worked their way under my skin. Every time I opened my project, the recitation broke over me, and it just became harder and harder to write past it.

I spent the past couple of weeks working on process. I’ve let mine get messy and out of sorts due to travel and side projects and hoping my house will put itself in order. But I know better than that.

Process is deliberate; entropy is the default state of things.

I needed a reset, but I was going back and forth on whether or not I should take a break from the novel. Because you’re supposed to finish things, right? Was I taking a break because I just wanted to avoid doing the thing? Or was I taking a break because I just needed a break? Can you tell the difference? Sometimes I can’t.

Then again, sitting there and agonizing about it while my processes crumbled wasn’t really helping either.

So this week, I forgave myself for setting the novel aside temporarily. I’ve been working on a few flash fiction pieces instead. Little ideas that I scribbled in my notebook for “a later time.” It has been liberating and gratifying, and it’s nice to not start the day with task aversion and self-flagellation. I’ve started implementing a ritual right before I sit down to write, and I’ve been a little less rigid about timing. Thus far, I’ve completed draft one of one flash fiction piece, am mostly done with another, and am about a third of the way into a short story.

Finishing things is important. I know that novel is going to be there when I go back to it. And I know I’m going to finish it. But sometimes it’s easy to forget what victory feels like when you are in the midst of a huge project. I was denying myself the option of working on other little things during the novel slog because I didn’t want to distract myself. I didn’t think about it as a way to recharge instead, to remind myself that I can actually complete a project.

The question now is, how long should this break be? At what point am I just avoiding the novel again? I’m thinking 2-4 weeks will hit the mark for me, but I’ll re-evaluate at the end of next week.