Cat Therapy

July 24th, 2014

Willow

Sometimes, when work is stressful and you feel like you’re being stretched way too thin, you need to take a break and hang out with your cat. Willow gives me this great look as though she’s thinking, “Why are you so stressed, human? You’ve fed me and you’ve cleaned my litter box. Your obligations are fulfilled for the day. Why not take a nap in the sun?” Good question, cat.

Writing Recap: July 13-19, 2014

July 20th, 2014

New words written this week: 2,884

Book 2 total word count: 38,735

I didn’t get nearly as much done this past week as I did the week before, and because of all the regular reasons people don’t get their writing done. My job has been very demanding of my time and promises to be even more so in the coming weeks.

It’s been tough. I like my job, but it’s been very difficult to strike a balance between my day job and my writing. I know, an age-old problem. I tell myself, “Hey, it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks, but you can regroup afterward and write more than ever,” but lately I’m wondering when “afterward” really is. There will always be more work and more tasks demanded of me than there are hours in the day.

Maybe what I need to learn is how pushing back and protect a few hours every day to do the work that’s most important to me. Maybe I need to learn to say no to the things that don’t matter so I can focus on the things that do.

Writing Recap: July 6-12, 2014

July 13th, 2014

New words this week: 3,052

Book 2 total word count: 35,881

Early last week, I struggled with a particular scene that wasn’t working. I forged ahead anyway, hoping I’d break through and find the thing that would make the scene work. I put more words on paper but the characters stared back at me and shrugged like they had no idea what to do next. That’s never a good sign.

At that point, my superego spoke up, as it usually does when I struggle. It cleared its throat and turned on its megaphone. “This story is the worst and so are you,” it said. “You’re an asshole for thinking you could write in the first place. This a mess. I bet you don’t even know where it’s gong, do you? You’re the only one who will find this interesting or exciting or good at all. Seriously, bro, give up before anyone else sees this.”

I hate it when a voice in my head calls me “bro”.

Why is it so hard to turn off the screaming doubt and negativity while pushing through a first draft? The voice wants me to fail. It has all my insecurities on speed-dial. It’s cruel, it’s mean, and it never shuts up. If you do any kind of creative work, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the anti-muse and it’s the worst.

A first draft is supposed to be the playground you build in order to find your story. It’s the place where you test things out, meet characters, and try to understand what the story is about. Large portions don’t make sense, and that’s okay. When it’s done, you go through it, reinforce the pieces you like, and discard the pieces that fell apart. You make it strong. You make sure each piece has a purpose. You clean it up and make it attractive.

But the superego doesn’t have patience for all that. It’s uninterested in the process. It wants a perfect, polished product. It’s unable to understand the purpose of a messy first draft. All it wants to do is loom over your shoulder and make sounds of disappointment until you quit. It’s the middle-manager from hell.

So I went for a walk and thought about the story and what I wanted the troubled scene to do. My thoughts wandered after a few minutes, as they usually do, to another important subject, probably dinner. While the voice was distracted by thoughts of food, a solution worked up its courage and presented itself to me. It had been there all along, a quiet little scene hiding in the corner, but my superego had been yelling so loudly that I didn’t see it. And it was exactly what I needed.

It’s a totally different scene with completely different characters, and it feels right. It packs a bigger punch than the one I’d been struggling with. I went home, made some notes, and I’ve spent the week working on it.

My superego has been pretty quiet since then. It’s probably brooding somewhere, waiting for its next chance to strike.

I think this next week will be a good one for Book 2. I’m more sure about its direction, the magic is working again, and I’m beginning to see the shape of the thing.

Most of all, I can’t wait to share it with you.

Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale in San Francisco

July 12th, 2014

Flying Dog's Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale

This past Spring, Flying Dog released Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale. They describe it like this:

Dead Rise was brewed to highlight the indelible, bold character of OLD BAY with citrus hop notes and a crisp, tart finish. Pair it with tables piled high with shrimp, corn, and Maryland Blue Crab.

Plus, it benefits a local cause:

Dead Rise was brewed to celebrate OLD BAY’s 75th anniversary and proceeds benefit True Blue, a program that advocates on behalf if the Chesapeake Bay’s 5,500 watermen.

Old Bay in a summer ale? It sounded crazy. It sounded awesome. I needed it in my life. Desperate to find it, I tweeted Flying Dog to see if I could get my hands on it out here in San Francisco, but sadly, it’s a Maryland-only treat. This Maryland boy became very homesick. I resigned myself to living vicariously through friends’ third-party descriptions on Facebook and Twitter.

But luckily, I was in Maryland a few weeks later to visit my parents. My dad and I scoured every beer store in the area, but alas, each place was sold out. But it was impossible to be disappointed because, that same weekend, we celebrated my mom’s birthday with an epic crab feast.

And then I came back home to San Francisco, got back into my work routine, and resigned myself to the harsh truth that I’d never get to try Dead Rise.

And then I got home from work a couple days ago and discovered a mystery package waiting for me. My dad, it turned out, sent me a couple bottles and an amazing Orioles beer mug.

I just finished the first bottle and loved it. I think it was my friend Josh who came up with the perfect way to describe it, back when it first came out: “It tastes like the beer you have when you’re in the middle of a crab feast and still have some Old Bay on your lips.”

Greatest. Care. Package. Ever. Thanks for this taste of home, Dad!

Bonus image of Willow investigating my treasure:

Willow investigates Flying Dog's Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale

Writing When I Think I’m Too Tired to Write

July 10th, 2014

By the time I get home from work, especially on hectic days, sitting down to write seems arduous. I feel exhausted and mentally used up. All sorts of alternative tasks present themselves to me. I could curl up and read. I could click hours away on the internet. I could sink into the couch and watch TV. Hell, I could brush the cat or scrub the inside of the kitchen garbage can. After a long day, everything seems easier and more relaxing than writing.

Even now, writing this post, those options all seem pretty great to me. (Except for maybe the garbage can thing.)

But here’s the secret: once I open my computer and force myself to put my fingers on the keyboard and write a few sentences, I can go for hours. I have to force myself to get started, but once I’m there, the rest flows by itself.

For me, the trick is to get over that first hurdle, break through that wall that says I’m too tired to write, and allow myself to tap into the place where fiction comes from.

Tonight, I wrote about 800 new words for my next book. I’m excited about the direction it’s going and can’t wait to finish the first draft. If I’d chosen to spend my evening in some other way, would I have ever discovered these secrets about my story? How many characters and scenes have slipped away forever on the days I didn’t put my fingers to the keyboard?

I should remember that the next time I try to convince myself that I’d rather sink into the couch than write.

The Writing Process: June 29-July 5

July 6th, 2014

New words this week: 1,514

Book 2 total word count: 32,829

Travel threw me off of my writing routine this week, and I only eked out a little over 1,500 words. I’m not super happy about that number, especially since I was writing close to 2,000 words every day a month ago. I’m looking forward to diving back into this story, which I’ll simply refer to as Book 2 here until I’m ready to share more about it. (And get around to coming up with a title. Titles are hard.)

I hate going for long stretches without touching the story I’m working on. It’s like working with a block of clay. If you put it down for a while, it goes cold and you need to rework it with your hands for a while to warm it, soften it, make it pliable again, and for your fingers to remember the shape of the thing you were trying to make. This week, I’ll work hard to keep the clay warm.