Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Novel-Beginners' Amnesia (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

This month at YAOTL, we’re talking about the lessons we had to learn over and over. Practically everything about writing books is something that I’ve had to learn over and over. But probably my biggest headslapper is this one:

I’ve published two novels and have another in production. Before and in between those novels came other novel-length manuscripts that reached varying degrees of completion. My point is that I should be familiar with the book-writing journey by now, right? But apparently, no matter how many times I travel this road, I am destined to suffer Novel-Beginners’ Amnesia with each new project.

I forget how hard it was to write my earlier books. I forget how many false starts and deleted scenes and rambling drafts I produced. I forget about the doubts, the times I set aside the manuscripts. After all, those books are now complete and polished to a shine, and I don’t miss what I had to take out.

So my particular brand of delusion is the expectation that I’ll sit down and type a coherent story, proceeding forward every day while knowing and believing in the story, and finishing each day satisfied with my progress. Why I believe this, I have no clue. No book I’ve written has ever worked this way.

I suppose I fool myself into thinking that now I know what I’m doing; I’ve learned how to write a book! Well, I have. I’ve learned how to write the books I’ve already written. (Go ahead and ask me to write my first book all over again: I can totally do it!) What I have no idea how to do is to write the next book, because I learn the story as I go along. The characters don’t always do what I expect. And I worry the whole time that the book isn’t interesting enough, big enough, important enough.

Bird by Bird cover

I also hear other writers complain about the difficulty of drafting a story. In her classic book for writers, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about this very thing: “We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.” Anne Lamott is a more accomplished writer than I am, yet for some reason I still expect to sit down and spool out a first draft like that ticker tape she speaks of.

Perhaps Novel-Beginners’ Amnesia has a purpose. Perhaps it is designed to protect me, to allow me the glow of hope as I sit down at the keyboard. Perhaps without it, I would break down weeping and banging my head before I even started. Perhaps I wouldn’t even try if I remembered how difficult it is.

But when I’m in the thick of the first draft, it helps to peel that amnesia away and remember: Oh, yeah, this is what it’s like. Slow and uncertain and full of dead ends, like a GPS with very spotty reception.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Starting Again, Again (Patty Blount)

The premise behind the movie, Groundhog Day, is this: you screw up and get to redo the whole day, over and over again, until it’s right. Think about that for a minute. Screwed up? Jumped to an incorrect conclusion? Said something mean? No problem. You get a mulligan. In fact, you can have a whole lifetime of mulligans, until you get it right.

The X-Files tried it with Mulder trying to foil a bankrobbery until nobody dies. Supernatural also did it with Sam trying to prevent Dean’s death. The key is for each protagonist to figure out what detail, what seemingly tiny thing had to change to end the mulligan loop.

In real life, we may get to live each day only once but yet, some lessons we must learn over and over again.
I’m a person who suffers terribly from self-doubt. I’m horribly sensitive and frequently take criticism to heart. Publishing novels is probably the worst possible career choice for someone like me, but I suppose you might say I still haven’t learned my lesson.

I love writing. Staring at a blank screen or page and watching it fill not merely with words, but with figments of my imagination – people, places, conflicts – it fills me with joy. I never believed I’d be lucky enough to publish one of my stories, to share it with readers who love it as much as I do.

And than I was.

You’d think that after acquiring an agent, signing a contract, and publishing a few books, I’d have confidence leaking from every pore.

But I don’t.

I still doubt myself but the one thing that's changed is I don’t give up the way I used to. That’s why it took me so long to reach this stage in my career. If someone said they hated my words, I tore them up. It took me a long time to stop listening.

That’s my do-over. What’s yours? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Every book is worthy (Lauren Bjorkman)

Here’s a lesson that keeps coming back to me.

Don’t criticize a book …

just because it has speling erors

or bizarre. Punctuation!

or uses similes like they’re going out of style

or has as many clichés per page as there are grains of sand on a beach

or uses adverbs obsessively excessively obnoxiously

or, the, sentences, are, choppy

or you just couldn’t get into it.

Not every book is for every person. Just because I don’t love a particular book, doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

I'll try to remember that the next time I read a sucky review of Miss Fortune Cookie. (And I'll try not to let the good reviews swell my head, either.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Which I Learn a Lesson Right Before Your Eyes

It’s a bit humbling to have to think about the lessons I had to keep learning over and over again. Because it seems like it’s all of them.

And I keep thinking I have this one (the one I’m about to address) right, but then it turns out I don’t have it right enough. Or, as the old saying goes, “The road narrows.”

I’m not as good as I should be at saying no. It took me years to say no to people who wanted me to travel across the country to speak. Almost as long to admit the truth to myself: that even though I felt resentful of all the travel, it wasn’t their fault for asking. It was my fault. I still felt guilty for saying no. So I said yes, then resented the time away from my writing. I said yes to get out from under the pressure I felt when I said no. But that pressure is not put on me from any outside source. That’s me pressuring me.

Lately I’ve said yes to a small handful of local talks, thinking that would take up far less time. But when it’s actually time to get dressed and go do it, I realize it’s still pulling me away from my writing. And I really, really wish I’d said no. It’s so clear when it’s right in front of me that yes was not the right answer. But at the time I said the word out loud, it seemed like it would be okay. So now I’m clearer on the fact that I need to draw a much finer line on public speaking. Again, nobody’s fault but my own. All the other party did was ask. I’m the one who said yes when I should have put my writing first.

Then there are things I say yes to because I really do want to them. The things I enjoy being part of. Like this blog.

But about a week ago I remember tweeting something along the lines of: "There’s something wrong with the hours in this day. Like they’re not calibrated correctly or something.” Every time I looked at the clock, I thought, No. Can’t be. That can’t be right. Day after day I do a series of things I agreed to do, none of which involve working on my novel in progress. And then the day is gone.

So it is with great regret that I announce that this will be my last post on this blog. Now that I’ve identified this lesson, I need to show I've learned it. My plate is too full, it’s my own fault, and I need to clear off everything that isn’t finishing the current project.

I’ll miss this one. But you’ve got to learn your lessons. Sooner or later.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Getting beyond Ground Hog Day by Wendy Delsol

My first three completed novels didn’t sell. The next four did. And I currently have three—yes, three—WIPs (works in progress). That makes ten books with beginnings. Ten books with what I felt were go-the-distance plots. And seven books to which I tacked the highly satisfying “the end.” Still, I have to admit that when it comes to writing I experience Groundhog Day sensations. Constantly.

New day, same doubts: Haven’t I written a variation of this scene before? Don’t all my characters end up sounding the same? Why am I tackling the family theme again? Isn’t this resolution similar to (insert title’s) resolution?

New day. Same doubts. New day. Same doubts. New day. Same doubts.

And let’s not forget the film and line that must, in the darkest of moments, haunt every writer: The Shining’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

So how does one leap frog over Bill Murray without becoming Jack Nicholson? How does one make a little bit of progress each day?

What works for me is small, achievable goals.

I’m personally on the 500-words-a-day plan. Monday through Friday. At this rate, I rack up 2500 words a week. 10,000 a month. My books end up in the 70,000-80,000-word range. That’s about seven or eight months per project. And 500 words a day is doable. I know writers who shoot for as much as 2,000 a day. A side note: If I don’t make my words by Friday, I work the weekend. On the other hand, if I exceed 500 in a day, I can absolutely put those in the bank for a day when I come up short. The whole point is to stay on track. And to finish every day with a sense of accomplishment. Of a goal met.

Granted, just getting words on paper doesn’t guarantee progress on those bigger-picture questions: Haven’t I written a variation of this scene before? Don’t all my characters end up sounding the same? Except, the process of posing such questions indicates attention to and an awareness of my writerly crutches. Which I can then deliberately set aside and attempt a few tentative—and perhaps hobbled—steps in a new direction.

And about the other famous groundhog character, the rodent prognosticator: Nothing personal, Punxsutawney Phil, but in a four-season climate, there is always more winter after February 2nd. About six weeks of it. But day by day, six weeks is doable. As is a little forward momentum each day.

Happy belated Groundhog Day to all.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time to Lift those Heavy #%#% Weights by Jody Casella

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Groundhog Day is when the Andie MacDowell character tells the Bill Murray character that she majored in 19th century French Poetry in college and he busts out laughing. The exchange makes me, a squishy Creative Writing major, both laugh and cringe. I wish I was sitting at the table next to those two so I could point out that she is the guy's boss. Three cheers for squishy liberal arts majors!

Back when I was working on that Creative Writing major, and long before--for as long as I could read and write, actually--I knew that I wanted to be a writer. And I did write, pretty much every day. Not for school. Not for publication. Not even to share with anyone else. I wrote because I liked to write.

So why do I have to learn, over and over, that I like to write? Why is each day a struggle to sit down, open up whatever file I happen to be working on (ie. this one), and begin tapping at the keyboard? It doesn't seem particularly hard, right? Tap tap tap. See. Easy peasy. And I know from experience that once I start, I fall past the words on the screen and into wherever it is that words come from. Time slows and stops. The room, my surroundings, my own body and mind slide away. When I climb out at the end of a session, I'm wrung out, but exhilarated.

Writing is not backbreaking physical labor. It's not like painting trim on McDonalds restaurants out in the hot sun or washing two hundred pizza pans in steamy water or flipping t-bones on a grill during a lunch rush (all jobs I've had by the way). Nope. These days you'll find me sprawled out in my pajamas on a couch with my computer perched on my lap. Nothing physically draining about that, and yet...

It's exhausting to dive down into the deep dark pool every day.

Add to that the pressure you get from the outside, anxieties about whether or not the thing you're writing will ever be published, and if it does get published, worrying about whether people will like it. It's hard to forget about all that and psych yourself up the next day and the next day and the next.

Here are some tricks I've tried (and still try) to get my BIC (Butt In the Chair):

1. Create a proper writerly mood. By brewing tea. Or lighting candles. Or playing music.

2. Lock myself into my home office. Or haul myself out to a coffee shop or to the library. (I read about an author who wrote her novels holed up in a coat closet so she wouldn't have any distractions. Hey. It was worth a shot.)

3. Read books on craft or creativity. My favorites: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Stephen King's On Writing, (I stole the deep dark pool metaphor from him.) War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and everything by Natalie Goldberg.

4. Read books in my chosen genre or outside it--anything that will inspire, motivate, remind me why I love creating books in the first place.

5. Set up challenges. "Race" with another writer or flip an hourglass. When I'm feeling particularly masochistic, I forbid myself from going to the bathroom or eating a meal until I get a page or two out of my system.

6. What has seemed to work the best for me is setting a word count goal and simply not shutting down for the day until I meet it. I stole this idea from Stephen King too. God love the guy. He writes 2000 words EVERY day, including weekends and holidays.

Just coming up with this list makes me think again about how silly it is that I've got to work so hard to gear myself up to do something that I love to do.

The weird truth is that writing is hard easy work. There are no magic gimmicks or shortcuts. Except this: you sit down.

You tap.



PS. One final thought to leave you with. Every once in a while I hear a person say wistfully that she'd like to be a writer or that she has a great idea for a book, but when I press, I find that she doesn't write. Yeah, I feel your pain, but I wish I could channel Ronnie the Body Builder and tell the person THIS. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moving Out of the Way (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

Lessons it's taken us a while to learn... where to begin? There are so many! But the one I seem to have to learn daily has to do with my writing process. One thing I have learned is that every writer's process is different, and what works for one writer will not necessarily work for another.

I've learned that my process has a lot to do with listening -- listening to my characters, listening to my story, listening to the words, listening even to my setting. I have to listen. The problem for me is that I worry that I will listen and all I will hear is silence or the random, anxious chattering of my mind. And so I avoid the listening.

I jump right in, hoping to make up the story -- at least then something is happening. I don't have to sit quietly and wait to see what might show up. I'm being productive. Except the stories I make up are nowhere near as good as the stories that want to be told, the characters not as alive, the settings not as whole, the stories not as well plotted. Really I have the easiest job in the world -- shut up and get out of the way. Strangely, that is so much easier said than done.

I suspect the same is true in life. We spend so much time planning and organizing and trying to control everything. But I often wonder what would happen if I treated life the way I treat writing. If I made it my goal to listen to what needs to happen next instead of trying to have it all figured out and cleverly designed. Maybe life is clever like my characters, who are much brighter and trickier than I could ever be. Of course their genius only comes through when I make space to allow that. Otherwise I squeeze all the life out of them by trying to make them that way. When I can make a character leap off the page, I know I've succeeded in staying out of the way.

So I guess I'm still learning this lesson, even though I intellectually know it. I need to remind myself daily: get quiet, let them have their say. It'll save me a ton of work, and their story and my own will be better for it in the end.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writing with Flexibility (Stephanie Kuehnert)

That's me in sixth grade on the gymnastics team. I wasn't Gabby Douglas or anything. Not even close. I got about as far as back walkovers and I could do them on the beam, which was pretty sweet, but I didn't advance beyond that. I could also do the splits, both sides and the middle.... well, almost the middle.

I can't do that anymore, but thanks to Pilates I'm still decently flexible even in my thirties. Physically that is... When it comes to my writing routine, flexibility is something I've really had to work on... Again and again and again.

I'm a perfectionist, a list-maker, and a planner. I love having goals to strive for and a routine. I can be a bit of a control freak at times (okay, a big control freak sometimes.) To a degree this is a good thing. Organization helps me juggle my busy life of way too many jobs. Being goal-oriented and driven is what has kept me writing, always determined to beat my personal best.

But it also can handicap me. I get frustrated when the words don't flow like I think they should, so frustrated that it blocks me. And, ever since I quit my office job to try to string together other jobs (bartending, teaching, and freelancing writing) to have more writing time, I've been in search of the perfect routine. Because it has to be there, right? And I have to find it. Routine is what makes people the most productive. Write every day is advice I've been given over and over again.

So I determined that writing in mornings, starting first thing before email and other tasks, is what makes me the most productive. And then I read an article about how people are most productive in 90 minute chunks, so I created #90minWrite because I always felt bad because I could never seem to write fast enough to do #1k1hr sprints like other writers. I'd convinced myself that writing fast doesn't work for me because I'd written fast through a draft of my Bartender Book and I'd completely gone off the rails, had to rip out an entire subplot and rewrite it. I also decided at some point that I had to write books in order. I'm not sure why. My first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, was totally non-linear. I wrote it by the seat of my pants and had fun... until I got stuck. Clearly going in order and plotting some would prevent that disaster. But not plotting too much because I plotted my Modern Myth YA so much that I completely lost interest in writing it halfway through. Oh, also I have to have goals and personal deadlines because I need those, right? Otherwise I'll procrastinate.

Is your head spinning from all the rules I created for myself? Mine certainly was. It completely shut me down for a while last year because I felt like a failure who couldn't keep to her goals, who couldn't write fast enough, who totally fucked up if she wrote too fast, who could never keep to her routine and when she got off track on Monday morning, it meant the rest of the week was totally lost to her.

Then, as I mentioned here a couple of months ago, I took my writing (well, and myself) to therapy and one of my therapist's key points was that I need to focus on ritual not rigidity. Okay, so I work best in the mornings. When I can do that, awesome. When I can't, taking a deep breath and brewing a cup of tea can help me get into the zone. Sure, writing in 90 minute chunks works best for me, but sometimes if I only have half an hour, I can still use it or if I can take a whole day like I used to do when I was in school, awesome.

Another thing I've had to be more flexible (and realistic!) about is my goals. I beat myself up when I set big goals for myself that I don't meet, even though, the thing is, I have met deadlines before. I'm totally capable of it. Putting unnecessary pressure on myself is pointless because I know when I'm procrastinating versus when I'm doing the necessary daydreaming part of the writing process.

I've been preaching to my students forever that every book is different. You  might write one in order and another non-linearly. One might need a lot of plotting, another might not. While sure, I generally tend to get stuck around the 3/4th point of every book, what I need to do to move forward is different every time and just because writing fast was a disaster once, doesn't mean it will be this time. Also, every writing day is different and new.

Part of flexibility is trusting yourself as a writer, which is definitely scary to me, but I'm trying my best. I've been working on this Contemporary YA since August. I allowed myself to speed write around the tough part and have been speed writing for most of this year in the hopes that I'd have a rough draft completed like now. I kept telling myself that even though I knew there was a lot to go back and fix at the beginning and in the middle, I had to keep pushing forward (because that's another rule that every one tells you and I've broken it a lot and ended up slowing myself down on occasion). I also felt like it would be really satisfying to say, hey I have a complete draft. But for the last week or so, I was really just writing crap in order to write. I wasn't seeing the scene or the story. I had a vague idea of the events but I really did need to go back to the beginning and flesh out certain sections and get to know my characters better to be able to round those ideas out. (I should mention I took about 6 weeks off at the end of last year because my cat died and I was dealing with all kinds of life stress, but instead of going back to the beginning then, I pushed ahead.) Finally, last Wednesday I said, you know what, be flexible, trust yourself and do what this book needs, which is not for you to rush forward and write "The End," but to go back and figure out how to get there.

Though I didn't the satisfaction of writing "The End," I definitely feel better when I set down to write (or rewrite as the case is now) these days. I'm still a little nervous about this choice, but I'm trying to trust myself and strive for this kind of flexibility:

What about you? Are you a flexible writer? What things are you doing to try to be?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The biggest learning experience of my life

When I was twenty-three, fresh out of college with a teaching degree, I decided I wanted some adventure. So with almost no preparation or forethought, I accepted a job teaching English in Pachuca, Mexico (La Bella Airosa: The Windy Beauty...go Groundhogs!).

Within a week I was ready to go back to Missouri. Despite this being an expensive private school, it was underfunded, understaffed, and they had no acting principal. Most of the English teachers were older, married couples, and I spoke such little Spanish it was very difficult for me to meet people. Internet was non-existent, Pachuca was far away from Mexico's many natural and cultural attractions, and people down there put ketchup on their pizza. I didn't even have a telephone.

I had never been so lonely in all my life. I felt I had made a huge mistake. My contract obligated me to stay for two years, and I didn't think I'd last a month. All I wanted to do was go home, and that was not an option.

For the first time in my life, it was all down to me. I could no longer rely on my parents for help. If I was to get through this, it was going to be alone.

Best decision ever. After a couple of months, I started speaking Spanish (I sounded like Tarzan, but still). I made friends. I explored. I begin to feel at home. Instead of two years, I stayed for three, and it wasn't easy to leave then.

Sometimes, the biggest regrets in life turn into our greatest successes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Opinions Are Like Noses--Jan Blazanin

 Opinion: noun 1. A belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. 2. A personal belief, attitude, or appraisal.

When Fairest of Them All was published in 2009, I thought the hard part was behind me. My book’s future would be filled with sunshine, lollypops, roses and an outpouring of praise from reviewers and readers alike.

How could they feel anything but awe and admiration? I’d revised and rewritten it more times than I could remember based on the sage advice of my agent, editor, and friends. The manuscript had been honed to a fine point, copyedited and proofread to perfection. Critics would gush, and awards would pile up.

My published friends warned me, “Don’t take the bad reviews personally.” What bad reviews?

The first reviews were good. Teens Read Too awarded me the Gold Star Award, early bloggers seemed positive. My confidence rose. The book was a success.

But not everyone dished out five star reviews. Four star reviews. Or three.

Some readers couldn’t identify with my main character. Some out and out disliked her. My writing style was annoying. The story was “too different” from the YAs they were used to reading. There wasn’t “even a hint of romance.”

The kicker was this one star review on Goodreads: I really didn't like it, it was boring to be frank. I couldn't get into it and it was a book I kept putting off reading. i'm not punishing myself anymore, I read for enjoyment not for torture.”


A hundred words of praise couldn't take the sting out of the disparaging reviews. My friends reassured me. It was one person’s opinion, basically meaningless. Maybe so, but that one person hated my writing and, by association, hated me.

When A & L Do Summer came out two years later, I braced myself for the unenthusiastic reviews. There were some, and they hurt. Then I began paying attention to the reviews of books I’d loved. Brilliant books I wished for the talent to write. Guess what? Some readers hated them. Some reviewers panned them. If those books didn’t get 100% glowing reviews, what chance does my writing have?

I still haven’t learned to dismiss negative reviews. How can I when my books are me? But I’m trying to be more philosophical. Writers pour their hearts into their work and each of us gets at least an occasional awful review. I'm drawing solace from the excellent company I keep.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Following My Own Path (Sydney Salter)

Only two more years to go, I remember thinking, as I listened to Linda Sue Park speak at my first SCBWI New York conference. Certainly her path to publication could be mine as well? I've read 100 books in my genre, I've honed my craft, mostly, yeah, I'm sure I can check that off the list... 

During my pre-publication years, I spent a lot of time listening to the number of years/manuscripts/rejections successful authors counted on their journeys toward actual books. My numbers: 5 years, five manuscripts, 5 inches (?) of rejections. Do they matter? Nope.

Once published I shifted my attention to the paths of fellow authors: book tours, fancy promotions, ads in glossy teen magazines, starred reviews, foreign rights, fans & followers. Not much good came from that kind of author-versus-author comparing. I only found myself getting unproductively jealous.

So I bought myself a green-eyed monster and put it in charge of envy. And I plodded along on my own path feeling more content. Mostly.

Yet I still find myself watching other people's paths. Hmmm, Author X had a six year gap between books, I'll think, only three more years to go...

Maybe I need to get a stuffed groundhog to put on my desk?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Groundhog and Me

I am sitting inside with a blizzard raging outside. And I'm supposed to be thinking about lessons that took me a while to learn. And I'm thinking about writing lessons, and life lessons. And I realize that while I am a voracious learner (just finished watching an hour of How It's Made on the Science channel because I love learning how stuff gets built), I am a terrible learner of life's lessons.

Basically I KNOW what to do, I know what's worked and what hasn't, and yet I am still convinced that things will be different, that I can change them. Here's where I invoke Dr. Phil.

I was once watching a Dr. Phil episode and he was talking to guests who had problems. They continued to do the same thing expecting different results, and finally he asked, "So how's that working for you?"

It was a line I've thought in my head a million times since, whether it be a writing challenge (procrastinating because you can't figure out a scene, how's that working for you?) or life (this person is driving you crazy but you continue to deal with them the same way you always have, how's that working for you?).

The simple answer for Dr. Phil's guest and for most of us: It isn't working. So do something different!

But changing is hard. It takes discipline and work. And old habits die hard, if they die at all.

I am really lucky to have a best friend who (thanks to years of therapy and just general all around brilliance) comes up with lines that are so common sense and yet I want to smack my head and say, "Why didn't you think of that!"

You know why? Because diagnosing other people's problems is easy. Telling them how to solve their problems is easy. There is an objective detachment and lack of fear that the solution to a problem will take work and maybe cause some discomfort.

So, how does this relate to writing? Sometimes it's hard to look at our own writing and see the obvious - the holes, the disconnects, the characters and plot lines that just don't add up. And that sucks. And our writing needs a Dr. Phil. My Dr. Phil is my agent, my other best friend, my boyfriend. I tell them what I'm struggling with and their solution is so obvious. But so hard. Change an entire plot line? Go back and reevaluate a character? Eliminate a scene? Argh.

The lessons never end and the learning goes on. Even after ten published books. Popping out of a hole once a year to predict the weather? That groundhog has no idea how easy he really has it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

No Explanation for Me--Kimberly Sabatini

I am a die-hard optimist. (almost) I'm attaching the almost for fear of awakening the gods of "never-say-never" and incurring their wrath. Those gods give me the willies. The only thing worse than being an unshakable optimist, is being an optimist that's been well shaken. *shudders* It's better not to prod them while they're sleeping.

Ask most of my family and friends and they will tell you (or remain quiet while rolling their eyes behind my back) that while my glass-half-fullishness has perhaps served me well, it has also been one of my greatest weaknesses. It causes me to be described with words like gullible, naive, wimpy, and the always popular--a glutton for punishment. Occasionally, it's just been easier to call me an idiot. And it might surprise you, but often, I see their point. There are days when I don't just look like a door mat, I feel like one too.

But here's the thing. I know the reason why this trait is my own personal groundhog day movie.

This part of who I am never changes, because I don't want it to. It's rather simple. We do not become, who we do not want to become. I like being optimistic.

Despite the my grass is just as green as your grass attitude, there are days when all those ugly words, stick to me like I'm wearing a velcro suit. But what helps me is that I know a secret. Optimists embody, what I consider, some of the greatest words in the history of words. (Even the made-up ones like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.) This vocabulary is in my soul.


 I am hopeful and I believe in wonder.

And on the days where the "never-say-never" gods are really messing with my head and it feels like someone has called me an idiot one too many times, I sing this to myself...


I no longer wonder why there's no explanation for me. I hope this never changes. I believe--with love, with patience and with faith--I'll make my way.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Right Risk by Joy Preble

I started teaching high school English when I was 21 years old. I liked it. I found it challenging. I found it exciting and fun.

I did not always love it.

I said I loved it. I thought I loved it. I sometimes loved it, but there were many things I did not love and that is not the same at all.

The truth was that I was afraid of risk and because teaching well is not an easy task, I mistook this for risk. Don’t get me wrong: There is indeed an inherent and often large amount of emotional and intellectual and at times even physical risk in teaching 6 classes of 30 10th graders a day, especially if you’re doing it right. But it was not the risk I needed—which was the artistic and personal risk that comes from telling stories and writing stories and creating them in a way that other people who don’t even know you feel compelled to pay you cash for them or otherwise compensate you for what is essentially you, sitting in dirty yoga pants, eating peanut butter and making stuff up.

It took me a long time to understand that. Periodically, I’d quit teaching for other jobs or for different teaching jobs, each time thinking that I was chasing the risk. Always during those times, I’d coincidentally plot out novels or non-fiction books that I planned on writing. But it never occurred to me that WRITING THOSE BOOKS WAS WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. Yes, I am slow that way.

So the Powers that Be or Fate or Karma or Whatever You Personally Call It finally intervened. They gave me the worst school year ever while I was writing one of those books—the one that would become DREAMING ANASTASIA. It was the kind of school year where each day during lunch you eat your yogurt and you think about walking to the car and driving away. (There is a scene like this in a John Updike short story. The guy walks out of the building with just his umbrella.)

Instead, I finally finished writing the darn book.
I am sure that the PTB heaved a sigh of relief. They were running out of cosmic anvils to heave at my head.

I’d quote Thoreau to you here – that line about ‘lives of quiet desperation,’ but I don’t think that’s quite right or fair especially since many days I miss teaching, just not the paperwork and endless standardized testing that sucks the life out of everybody, and the occasional administrator that would make me think of that line from the Trouble with Tribbles episode of Star Trek where Scotty tells Kirk that the Klingons called him a ‘tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood.’ 

Either way, I think I’m risking the right stuff now.
Hope you all are, too.
Would love to hear your 'Groundhog Day' repeated it til you got it right stories!