Friday, February 26, 2016

Rethinking the list

Ah, the to-do list. It's the staple of my life. It's the plan I follow to get me through the day, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

I love crossing things off, and it's a source of great satisfaction when I finish a list, or at least the most critical things on it. The non-critical things I didn't get to go on the next day's list.

It's so organized! So controlled! So efficient! So ... list-y!

The trouble I have is when I add new activities to my life. (Or when I have new activities imposed on me, such as "doing the taxes" this time of year, or doctors' appointments, or running out to buy new sneakers because the old ones are falling apart.) For a brief time, I delude myself that I can still do everything. And then the mound of items I push from one day to the next, the growing pile of the undone, forces me to face reality.

Choices, choices. I've talked a lot on this blog about letting go, and I have let go of a lot. But there is still more. There are still choices to be made, things to be put aside.

It's okay not to do everything. It's amazing how often I must remind myself of that fact.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New adventures

Late February and the month of March will be a very busy time for me. I'll be doing a few new activities, and I expect I will probably be online less often, because there are only 24 hours in a day and I already manage to fill them all.

I talked before about how my decluttering is making room for new things--not only objects, but activities as well, and I'm looking forward to actually trying some of those new things.

Yet part of me still loves to have days when I have no outside obligations, days when I can sit home and write and read and reflect and set my house in order. I won't have as many of those days in the coming weeks, but I'm sure I will happily reclaim them when spring is well underway.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Creative workouts

Creative work sometimes needs a shake-up, a stretch. I like trying new things when I'm between big projects. Here are some examples to try if you're ever so inclined:

Write a short story all in the second person.
Write a story in the format of a letter or email.
Write a story in the format of social media posts.
Write a poem in a form you've never tried before: sonnet, villanelle, concrete poem, etc.
Write a scene using only dialogue.
Write a poem or story emphasizing any of these: alliteration, hyperbole, onomatopoiea, metaphors.
Write something in rhyming couplets.
Write an updated version of a myth or fairy tale.
Write a monologue or stand-up comedy routine.
Produce an ekphrastic work (i.e., based on another work of art, such as a musical composition or painting).
Use a photograph as a writing prompt.

Some of these exercises you may have done back in school, when you were first learning what these concepts were. It can be fun to try them again now that you have more tools in your toolbox.

The point is mostly to flex the creative muscles. If an exercise turns into something that can be used in a serious project, it's just a bonus.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


It's extremely cold here right now, and it affects our lives. We've had people change weekend plans on us, and my daily walk was very different.

Weather affects us. I'm sometimes mystified by books in which it never rains or sleets or snows, although the story is set in a place and time where this weather should occur regularly. The characters are never panting from a heat wave or shaking rain off their umbrellas; they never trudge through snow or snuggle in front of a fire. There doesn't seem to be any weather at all.

I'm not recommending a weather report in every story. I'm just suggesting that writers think about whether this part of the setting can be useful in influencing the characters, flavoring a scene, or even setting up critical obstacles. We live with heat, cold, lightning, tornadoes, drought, floods. Does your character have a leaky roof? A temperamental furnace? Does he know the sound of tornado sirens? Has she seen the aurora borealis? Does she lie awake on hot sheets, wishing her family could afford air conditioning? Does he live on the street? Does weather bring them closer to, or push them farther from, the other characters?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Unexpected magic

It snowed all day yesterday, one of those storms that sends lots of whirling flakes into the air to look all important and impressive, except that they never add up to anything. We had perhaps two inches on the ground when we went to bed, and it was supposed to stop around one in the morning.

It's still dark when I leave for work. When I peeked out the window this morning, what I could see in the dimness didn't look much different from the way it had last night. It wasn't until I opened the door and stepped out into it that I realized: Hey, it's still snowing!

The world was fresh and crisp and quiet. It's the compensation for having to get up so freaking early.

It snowed most of the morning, but still didn't amount to anything. A most strange storm, but a welcome surprise. Sometimes when you open the door and walk out, you walk into a little bit of magic.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Making sense

When building a fictional world, it's difficult to ensure that everything makes sense. We envision things a certain way; we have plot-related reasons for things to happen a certain way. But our pursuit of plot can make us overlook more obvious alternatives. I was recently working on a story in which I had to keep asking myself, "Why don't the characters just do so-and-so; it would be so much easier?" It's like the scene in Indiana Jones where the swordfighter attacks, and your first expectation is, Oh, there's going to be a swordfight here, because we've all seen swordfights on screen a million times. But Indiana Jones has a gun. And then you think, Oh, of course! There's no earthly reason for him to use a sword.

Characters should not walk when they could fly. A trapped character will look for ways out of his situation; we have to make sure readers don't think of options that we ignore. Characters need a food source and a water source, and these should make sense for their environment. Characters living in the desert should not be eating seafood, unless they're rich enough to import it. A civilization needs ways to enforce rules, dispose of waste, treat sickness, educate children. Not all of these need to be explicit. But the story should allow room for them. I remember being driven crazy by stories that implied that characters never needed to eat, sleep, or take a bathroom break. We don't need to see all those breaks, but we should get the sense that there is room for them to happen.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Finding our people

The latest issue of the SCBWI Bulletin is out, containing an article by yours truly. My article is about the New Jersey Authors Network (founded by Jon Gibbs), which you may join if you live in or near New Jersey, or may use as a model for your own state network if you live elsewhere.

The power of author groups and networks has been incredibly valuable to me. From my initial critique group, to my debut author groups, to the Kidlt Authors Club and NJ Authors Network, most of my promotional opportunities, professional tips, and emotional support have come from such networks.

I'm going to sign off now, before I burst into a rousing rendition of "People (Who Need People)." Because what people don't need is to hear me sing. But I do cherish my writer groups.