My First Week of Just F*#king Writing Stuff

Last weekend, I vowed to “Just F*#king Write Stuff.” Inspired by an off-the-cuff comment about writing from The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, I decided that I would try to write three pages every day, even if it was three crappy pages, just to keep the machine working. This week, I met with mixed success, but I suppose that’s to be expected. Judging by my notes below, I’m going to have to try harder to not only set aside non-work writing time, but also to protect that time so other obligations don’t intrude too much upon it–and so that sleep doesn’t have to be sacrificed for writing.

I’m hoping that within a few weeks, the three daily pages will become a habit and I won’t need to track them like this to keep myself honest. But in the meantime, here’s how Week One went.

Monday: Three pages done! I had to fight hard for those pages though. I had a couple of hours to myself in the morning, but there were a lot of distractions, so I only got two pages written. That third page was done at 11:30 pm, just under the wire. But I did it!

Tuesday: Not so successful today. Wrote about three pages of material for a client, but only a paragraph of fiction. I guess some writing is better than none…?

Wednesday: FAIL. I’ll cop to hanging out in Starbucks with some good friends for a couple of hours in the morning while our kids were at camp (and it was worth it!), but after that I didn’t have a minute to myself until 10 pm. Our power had gone out at 9 though, and didn’t come back until 1:30 am. I suppose I could have written longhand by candlelight, but… no. I made big plans to make up for lost writing on Thursday though.

Thursday: I didn’t completely make up for the Lost Wednesday, but I did make up a little–four pages written. I did three pages of my novel draft and one page of other nonsense (which Hardwick says counts for something).

Friday: I’m attempting to write now, but EVERYONE is home and it’s just too damn loud. One kid is reading, but the other is dancing and singing out loud in the living room, and the husband is hammering something or other (and occasionally cursing). I’ve holed up in our bedroom to try and make some progress on the manuscript. I need to get a few more pages done to send my latest chapter to my critique group, which meets this week, so I’m off to try again.

Saturday: I got a page and a half done last night, and another three today. I still have to fill in two to three pages of material before I can submit it to my critique group so that page and a half makes sense.

Sunday: Three more pages done! Again just under the wire, before midnight.

So, overall, it was not bad but not great. Part of the problem is that I’m not writing very fast. An hour or two should usually be more than enough to write three pages, but it was taking a lot longer than that. I’m hoping that once I’m a well-oiled writing machine, my pace will pick up.

Onward!

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“Just F*#king Write Stuff”

So I’m writing a novel. At least, I’m trying to. Off the top of my head, I’d say that the biggest obstacle has been finding the time, but that’s not 100% true.

Indeed, I’m always strapped for time. Between my corporate freelance writing and editing “day job,” taking care of the kids, and my volunteer responsibilities, I’m pretty damn busy. I usually have at least one outstanding client project, so whenever I have a few minutes to write, I feel like I should be working on that.

But lately, the other equally big obstacle has been deciding what to write about. I have the general idea of my story, but I’m blocked on a few things so that’s making it hard to work on the manuscript. It’s making it hard to work on this blog too, and any other non-paid writing projects, for that matter.

Many published authors, when asked how to conquer this issue, have said some version of “Well, you just have to keep writing.” Usually, my reaction is some version of “Easy for you to say, Published Author.”

During the last few weeks, I’ve been working on some home improvement projects (more distractions!), and while doing that, I’ve been listening to The Nerdist podcasts. The Nerdist is a project by Chris Hardwick, a former MTV host who wanted to write and talk about sci-fi/fantasy TV, movies, comics, cartoons, and pretty much all other nerdy entertainment. He’s got a blog, the podcasts, a Youtube channel, TV specials, and oh yeah–he wrote a Nerdist book. Basically, rather than waiting for the entertainment job to come to him, he invented an entertainment job that he’d love and uses technology brilliantly to get it to the masses. And he’s really funny.

So I was listening to a podcast of one of his live shows and an audience member asked Hardwick how he gets past writer’s block. What he said was, more or less, “Well, you just have to keep writing,” but he said it like this:

“You have to sit down and just force yourself to write and it doesn’t matter what comes out of you, you just have to get the wheels turning. Even if you spend an hour writing shit, it’ll get the wheels turning so that later you will be struck by the good idea that you’re looking for.

“So never let the excuse of, like, ‘I don’t have anything to write about’—just fucking sit down, even if it’s just gibberish— ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’—doesn’t matter. Just fucking write stuff to get it out so you can keep the machine greased. Because what’ll happen is that you’ll start to get afraid to write if you don’t do it, ’cause you’ll be like, ‘I don’t ever have anything to say.’ So you just have to force yourself to sit down let your fingers start moving and it’ll unstick the wheels and you’ll write.”

For some reason, that hit me. Maybe it’s all the cuss words? Maybe it’s because I love The Nerdist and worship Hardwick and his crew as pioneers in new media? I don’t know. But for whatever reason, it hit me. I need to keep the machine greased. I need to not worry about “wasting time” writing material that I won’t keep (which is something I really try to avoid when I’m getting paid by the hour).

I need to just fucking write stuff.

Beginning Monday, I’m going to commit to writing at least three pages a day, even if it turns out to be gibberish, just to unstick the wheels. And I’m writing it down to make sure I really do it.

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The Art of the Cardigan: Lessons Learned at AWP

Last week, I attended my first writers’ conference, AWP 2012. This is a big-deal conference in the writing world, and I just lucked out that it happened to be held in Chicago this year. It was overwhelming and inspiring, so I thought I’d share a few things that I learned:

  • Once I am published, I will need to obtain a wardrobe of chic, artfully draped, long cardigans in dark colors. (Corollary for men: If you’re under 30, the cardigan must be Mr. Rogers-style and be paired with black-framed hipster glasses; if you’re over 30, you can just go with a sport coat—no cardigan required.)

  • It’s really cool to hear famous authors read from their books. The national award-winning authors I saw at AWP include Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage), Jennifer Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad), Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres), Darin Strauss (Half a Life), Isabel Wilkerson, (The Warmth of Other Suns), Jaimy Gordon (The Lords of Misrule), and Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). I know a lot of you loved Henrietta Lacks, so you’ll be pleased to know that Skloot seems like the kind of person who’d be fun to meet for margaritas.

  • It’s also really cool to “discover” authors who I hadn’t heard of. If you’re looking for books that are not on the best-sellers lists (yet), check out Alexi Zentner and Alexander Yates for literary fiction; Kristen-Paige Madonia, Kat Falls, and Bridget Birdsall for young adult novels; Amina Gautier for short stories; and René Colato Laínez for young children’s books. Colato Laínez’s The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez looks especially fun (El Ratón Pérez is the Latin American/Spanish equivalent of the Tooth Fairy—in the book, the two characters accidentally meet at the home of an American boy with immigrant parents), and the author is an entertaining speaker.

  • Translations aren’t just for Greek epic poems that you had to read in high school. A lot of publishers specialize in English translations of books from other countries. I picked up a copy of Children in Reindeer Woods by Icelandic author Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Amazon and B&N don’t even have it ready to sell yet, but I’ve got it! Muahahaha!

  • Not all literary journals are full of relentlessly depressing stories and abstract poetry. There are some fun, unique journals that you might not always find on the bookstore shelves. Fairy Tale Review (variations on familiar fairy tales), Kugelmass (humor), and The Normal School (a blend of humor and other offbeat pieces) particularly caught my eye. I bought copies of those and will probably look into submitting too.

  • My obsession with funky-colored pens is not uncommon to writers, even in this technological age. A lot of exhibitors were giving away cool pens. Score!

  • A lot of them were also giving away pins—my favorites are the ones in the photos here.

  • Wait until the last day of the conference before buying anything—the exhibitors don’t want to carry all those books and journals back home, so they’re selling them at a discount or giving them away!

Have you ever been to a book-oriented conference? Have you ever met a favorite author? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

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Ready Player One: A Love Letter

I finished Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One a few weeks ago, but if I’d written this post then, I would have come off like a squealing 12-year-old at a Bieber concert. So in the interest of maintaining my professional decorum, I gave myself some time to chill the frak out.

Because I loved this book. Really, really loved it. It’s set in a dystopian America in the year 2044, where most people are dead broke and living in city slums or “stacks”—trailer parks where the trailers are stacked dangerously high in the interest of saving space. However, there also exists a virtual reality, the OASIS, in which nearly everyone in the world works, plays, and attends school. Friends are avatars who you interact with every day, but may never actually see in person. Virtual travel costs virtual money and occurs via virtual vehicles.

When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, he leaves behind a video game-style scavenger hunt, the winner of which will inherit his multi-billion-dollar fortune as well as ownership of the massive virtual world. Our hero, 18-year-old Wade Watts, joins the millions of gamers worldwide who join the hunt for the virtual keys to the ultimate prize.

Halliday came of age in the 1980s, so most of the scavenger-hunt clues and games are related to movies, videogames, and music of the era. Wade and his fellow hunters become experts on 1980s pop culture to get into Halliday’s head and decipher his puzzles. For instance, Wade’s obsessive knowledge of the movie War Games and the Rush album 2112 turn out to be valuable skills in his quest.

Of course, as in any good ’80s action story, there is an evil corporation that is looking to beat our hero and take over the (virtual) world. As the end of the contest grows closer, the stakes grow higher in the virtual scavenger hunt and in some cases, have real-life consequences.

Ready Player One is funny, fast-paced, and clever, and I might had shed a tear here and there. (I admit to nothing.) It’s Cline’s first novel, although he has written numerous spoken-word pieces and screenplays, including the hilarious indie Fanboys.

If ’80s pop culture isn’t your gig, then this probably isn’t the book for you—although I think that sci-fi/fantasy fans of all ages will appreciate this great yarn. As a sf/f-loving child of the acid-wash decade, I adored every page of it. Warner Brothers has reportedly secured the movie rights, so read it now and be ahead of the curve!

(Side note: While researching Cline’s publishing history for this post, I found out that he owns a DeLorean—which he has modified to look like Doc Brown’s time machine in Back to the Future! How awesome is that? Now I love him more.)

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Bad PR = Good News?

The old saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR has turned out to be true, at least in the case of the book I just finished.

I picked up Lauren Myracle’s Shine after the National Book Award committee accidentally included Shine on their Young People’s Literature shortlist instead of a similarly named book. When they realized their mistake, instead of just adding the sixth book, they went public in saying that Shine had not made the shortlist and essentially forced the author to withdraw. Even though the book had been deemed good enough to make the nomination list, the committee apparently decided that public humiliation was the best way to go.

But the author handled the whole situation with such cool and grace. Despite feeling like crap, she withdrew but requested compensation for her trouble—in the form of a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation (Shine is about a girl trying to solve the violent hate-crime suffered by her gay best friend).

So this was a writer I wanted to support, and I bought the book—and I definitely made the right choice. Shine is a complex, heart-pounding mystery, with rich descriptions of setting and a vivid cast of characters. (Full disclosure: I’ve had a thing for gritty young adult lit lately.) The themes of gay bullying and drug use also make it a timely read.

The publishing media reported that Shine saw a big bump in sales during and after the book award debacle, so I hope that the net result for Myracle is that she’s gained a whole new set of fans.

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Blackout!

As much as I’d like to participate in the Internet blackout, I don’t know how to take down my blog for the day. (Well, I do, but I’m not confident that I could get it back up tomorrow!)

So instead, I’m linking you to information about SOPA/PIPA, the legislation that could literally wreck the Internet as we know it. It was initially designed to try and stop Internet piracy, but the bills go too far. Way too far. They eliminate the “due process” and “innocent until proven guilty” system that our government is supposed to be based on.

If you haven’t done so already, contact your senators and representatives and tell them to vote against these bills. Sadly, one of my senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. He has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from big media, so don’t think that’s a coincidence. But that didn’t stop me from pestering him anyway. When he loses the next election, I want him to know why.

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Published!

Well, sort of–it’s a review, not my own fiction. But it’s for Ploughshares, one of the most well-respected literary journals in the country, so I’ll take this one as a win.

I mentioned here a few months ago that I had been selected to review a past issue of Ploughshares, edited by Sherman Alexie–and here is my piece! Read and enjoy.

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