Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: Becoming Obssesed with Your Project

Well, I've become completely obsessed with the book project. This week, I forced myself to take a little time off to let the thing rest. My fingers have started feeling itchy from the lack of drafting.

I'm filling my time by writing a new book review (Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam), checking in here, and of course, doing my full-time paying job with the middle schoolers. I also called to schedule some overdue appointments and got my car serviced.

"When's the book getting published?" one class asked me today.

"Maybe never," I said, "but creative projects aren't always about the end result. "They're about the process of making the thing."

"You could always make your own book on the internet," one kid said. I appreciated that. I'll consider it when the time comes.

Anyway, I've noticed some side effects of becoming enveloped in a writing project. A big one is that I cannot just read a novel. Instead, I'm constantly thinking about the author's structure. Like, "What is the writer doing here? This is too much 'telling,' and yet, I'm still engaged. How did she make that happen? How is she working the transitions work between narrators? This plot has no action, and yet I can't stop reading. Why? Oh look, another commercial fiction story wrapped up in a bow at the ending! Where's the action on the first page of this one? Why am I bored right here?" And on and on. I guess this is reading like a writer? It's interesting, but it's also gotten a little out of hand.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Things I'm Learning

As you know, I'm a life-long learner. Trying to write a book has been one big learning experience.

I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I thought deep down that because I've always had the desire and because I read quite a few books, I'd just know how to write one.

For better or worse, that hasn't been the case. I did not just intrinsically know how to write a book. I've had to study and research and take classes. I've made spreadsheets and storyboards and written lots and lots of drafts. This is making it seem like I'm done. I'm not done, but I've made progress.

I've also had feedback.

Sometimes feedback is tricky to digest, but I've gotten to the point where I look forward to it. Something I've learned recently via feedback is that I tend to be good at writing dialogue and less effective at writing setting.

I agree that this is true, and so right now I'm going to practice writing setting details about the inside of a school. It's an exercise that I just made up. Here's what a high school might look or smell or sound like:
  • White-washed cinder block with bits of gray showing through in the places where the backs of metal chairs have rubbed the walls at the conclusion of each class period, the back row kids standing up so fast that their chairs slide out behind them.
  • The fourth-period class that enters the room with a chill attached to their thick cotton sweatshirts, fresh from a non-sanctioned off-campus lunch.
  • The earthy, sticky smell of a kid who thought he could go one more morning without a shower, his greasy, cheekbone-length hair pushed back from his hairline and then falling down in thick ribbons toward scattered stubble on his jaw.
  • One hundred tattered copies of The Things They Carried stacked precariously on a side shelf, some spines facing out, others in,  the corners of covers and pages of the ones on top turned up like bumpers.
  • A blue plastic trash emblazoned with the recycling icon, white papers variously crumpled, poking out from the top. A giant wad of wet pink gum spat in the middle of a recently graded test. The test was a B.
  • A teacher unlocks her classroom door in the dark morning, the room stale smell - a mix of Cheetoh's and Old Spice - wafts up from the carpet. She flicks on the fluorescent lights and checks to make sure the plastic, industrial clock above her desk matches her watch.
  • In the middle of reading Chapter 12 aloud to the class, the strobe light begins to pulse, followed quickly by a jarring blare, a high-pitched tone that made her molars ache. The students heads popped up, and she said calmly, "Fire drill. We're going out door 17. To your left." She watched each of the students file out, grabbed her laminated attendance list from the hook by the door, flipped off the lights, and entered the hallway. She stood, her back flattened against the door, as the students filed past, their faces reflecting a emotions ranging from glee to anxiety. "Is this real?" one asked her. She shook her head. In truth, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't. Finally, she joined the teachers who comprised the end of the throng. "Damn it," said one, "I was giving a test."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break Review

Well, the time has come to return to my paying job. It's been a lovely reprieve here on spring break, and I've accomplished plenty of tasks. Here are some highlights:

I'm sort of finished with the complete rough draft of my book project. In the last week of break, I forced myself to write 1000 words per day. I once again learned the lesson that writing begets writing, and by the end, cranking out the words wasn't totally excruciating. Except on the days that it was. When I say "sort-of finished," I mean that I still have to write some scenes, but very few compared with the number I've already written. Don't worry: I'm going to keep going.

I have supported Shef in the getting of his braces. Braces are mighty unpleasant. None of us like the braces. Shef especially doesn't. I think later, like in several years when his teeth are straight, we might all be grateful that we spent thousands of dollars on braces.

I spent time with many members of the family, and I was reasonably well behaved throughout. I hosted a family dinner, I met a cousin I'd never known before, I went on a whole vacation with my in-laws, I spent full days with my children and my dog. And there was almost no yelling.

I think we can all agree this was a successful spring break. I'm going to give it 5 of 5 stars. That's how good I think it was.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Should You Have Children in Your 20s?

I've been thinking lately about how Shef was born when I was 26, and Mac was born when I was 30. It came up because I've been pushing myself really hard to finish the first full draft of my book project. Yesterday, I imagined trying to finish it with an infant or a toddler around.

I mean, that seems impossible. On the other hand, I think having kids and still doing stuff taught me how to maximize time - a skill I've used for this book project, too.

Because I did do stuff when I had infants and toddlers. I did My Stupid Master’s Degree. That took four years. It was super hard, especially that one time I almost failed Intro to Literary Theory. Instead of failing, I made myself write a final, 20-page paper on something I didn't even understand. The simulacra. Or anal rope. Something. I can't even remember.

I also ran some marathons. I did those almost stubbornly. Like, you can't stop me from running this! Don't even try to stop me! I did them, and one time I covered the distance even faster than I had before the children were born.

I had new jobs that I performed without sleeping full nights.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, my endeavors are maybe easier now? I'm grateful to have a teenager wandering around asking to learn how to do laundry and moaning about the pain of new braces and an eight-year-old playing too many video games and refusing to clean his room. 

After all, these are people that have reached the age of reason. "I'm busy making myself write 1000 words per day right now. I'll talk to you in 30 minutes." They grumble about it, but they walk away.

So what am I even saying? I guess the point is, if you're thinking about having a baby and writing a book at the same time, I feel like that's going to be really hard.  But now that I'm considering the big picture, maybe it won't be harder than finishing a graduate degree or running your fastest marathon. 

So, just keep trying to do stuff if you feel like it, regardless of the children. That's the message. 

It'll work out, and you'll be happy you had the kids whenever they arrived.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quarterly Review

I'm a few days late on the Quarterly Review. Oh well, I'm a few days late on everything this year. It turns out, Late is mostly fine and with very few consequences. I wish I could now give that message about lateness to my 19-year-old self. I used to freak OUT over being "almost late," which was ten minutes early. 

Anyway, The Quarterly Review is a series of little lists. Here we go:

Three Great Books I've Read This Quarter:

  • I read one thing that's required for everyone, and it's The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You might have heard of it, as it's getting buzz like nothing else. For instance, people are saying it might be the YA "book of the decade." And I agree, it's a total package, for sure. Here's my Goodreads review. I'll have a full review of the audio version on Literary Quicksand soon, too.
  • A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan hit rather close to home, as the protagonist is a 38-year-old mother of three who feels like she might suffocate beneath her many responsibilities and ambitions. Full review HERE.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is incredibly ambitious - each chapter represents another generation's experience of slavery and its aftermath, from the Gold Coast to 21st-century California. I admire the intersectionality of the pieces and the way the book keeps (white) readers on the hook for their complicity in systemic oppression. 
Three Things I've Learned:
  • If I take a children's chewable Benadryl along with my glass of wine, I'm less likely to break out in psoriasis spots after consuming the alcohol. Yay! Thanks, Jane!
  • When you're writing a novel, it's helpful to classify your scenes as "Action," "Suspense," or "Reflection." And then, when you're placing those scenes within a chapter, remember that you can't have two non-action scenes in a row. Because, #pacing.
  • I already knew this, but now I'm recording it and putting it into action: If you're a teacher (like me), it's not a good idea to accept week-night invitations during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. Got that? The answer is, "NO," or, "raincheck?"
Three Pieces of Advice from Mac:
  • Never go around to people and say, "You look ugly."
  • Never say to your mom and dad that their marriage was a bad idea.
  • Never play basketball in the house, or else you might dribble yourself in the head.
You're welcome.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Talent Show Teacher Act

Can we talk for just a second about the Talent Show? It happened again this year, and something amazing transpired. It's this: I was actually named Dance Captain.

You know before how I was a self-appointed Dance Captain, and nobody knew that was actually my job?

Well, this year - THIS year - I was asked specifically in an email from a show organizer to be Dance Captain. She used the title, "Dance Captain," with the caps as noted. That's how I know it's real.

I also - and I'm not trying to brag; I'm just being honest - I also came up with the concept for this year's number. It's more of a "show" or a revue, if you will, than an act. The deal is that my friend Lynne, a Talent Show organizer since the inception of the Teacher Act in, like, 2003, is leaving our school at the end of the year to become the director of the middle school at an educational institution in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  My idea was to do bits and pieces of her greatest talent-show hits to send her off in style.

From there the concept was developed by others, but my initial idea remained central. If you watch the video, you'll see segments from "Napoleon Dynamite" (4:50), "High School Musical" (6:45), "Thriller" (8:00), "Single Ladies" (9:42), "Party Rock Anthem" (11:20), "Love Story" (12:40), and then we all "Juju on that Beat" to close at 15:00.

Just so you know, I am the Dance Captain in the High School Musical segment. At 6:45. I also know how to Juju on that Beat. I got special tutoring in the juju from my 28-year-old colleague who laughed openly at me during our lessons. But still. #dancecaptain #talentshow #urbanpop #juju