Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some days, you panic. And then you keep going.

Sometimes you have those days of writing when you're intricately describing the way veins in a leaf can bleed through cells of liquid green and then you pause and you think to yourself... wait, maybe I don't want veins in my leaves, maybe my leaves should be needles instead.

And that makes you think, wait... maybe I don't want to be describing leaves, maybe I should step back and look at the tips of the branches, the way they knot and gnarl.  Or maybe I don't want to deal with the spindly twigs, maybe I need to back up the camera more, gaze up at the canopy and blur the green.

Or maybe... maybe I don't want to be writing about trees at all.  Maybe I want to be writing about flowers, great gopping mounds of color and petals dripping with ants.

But what if that's not right either?  What if I don't want to be writing about nature at all?  What if I've found myself waist deep in all these chapters having to do with leaves and I'm meant to be writing something else.  What if I've no passion for leaves anymore?  I just found myself writing them because I walked past a tree one day and thought, "Oh, that's passing interesting," and I started writing and now months later I have a treatise on these stupid leaves that aren't even right?

What if it's wrong?  Not just every word, but every concept, down through the roots of it poisoning the soil?  I've been mucking about in notions of leaves, shifting their hues, turning them dry and brown-edged and then back to wet sticky green trying to find what fits the story -- so obsessively wrapped up in the details -- when the entire concept could be totally wrong.

What if I'm supposed to be writing something more... better than leaves?  More passionate, more noteworthy, more interesting, more original.  But now I have all these words about leaves, what am I supposed to do with them?  Burn them and use their smoke to signal for help?  Start over and ignore that in a month I might wonder why I'm wrapped up in the way color shifts down the shaft of a cat's hair plucked from its tail and wonder if I should instead be describing the softness of white on a cat's belly or what if I should be writing about dogs and not cats or what if I shouldn't be writing about animals at all?

There are days like this, where the panic is so high in your throat you can taste it every time you breathe.

Libba Bray wrote something about it recently that was so perfect that when I sent it to my husband he said, "Yep, that sounds like you."  Libba said you have to keep going and she's right.

I've learned to take a night off, let dreams replace the taste of panic in your mouth.  It's always better in the morning and if not better, it's at least clearer.  What looked like a yard of stale leaves after a late autumn storm might be more like a massive pile of possibilities waiting to be jumped into.

Sometimes you take a wrong turn and you end up talking about leaves when maybe you should be talking about flowers or cat hair or some other detail any one of a millions paths could lead to.  In revisions I always say you should question everything -- there is nothing sacred in the draft.

Maybe tomorrow I'll love my leaves.  Hopefully.  But tonight I shall go out, spend time with friends, let the dark of night shutter the trees from my view.  I've had enough of leaves today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Reading Life

One of my goals this year has been to read more.  I know that may sound strange given my profession, but I started realizing last year that I just wasn't reading enough.  When I was growing up I'd devour books on the weekend, usually staying up until all hours of the night.  Then, once I hit college I sort of... stopped.  Sure I read for class but I rarely read for pleasure anymore.

Part of that was guilt -- the feeling that if I was going to read anything it should be the mounds of homework I was always behind on.  Part of it was also my perceived lack of free time.  Once I graduated I spent more time reading and the year before law school I practically lived off books as food -- I chewed through several a week.

Law school was a lot like college -- I felt that if I were going to take the time to read it should be the mounds of course work (again, I was always behind -- even if I was up to date with the assigned reading there was *always* something else to read such as study guides and outlines).

And that's when I realized how busy life could be (though I'd later learn it could get a WHOLE lot busier) and that if I wanted to have books in my life I had to make time for them.  No longer was reading something I could binge on during a slow Saturday.  That's when I made the conscious decision to read before bed every night.

Let me tell you... this step, almost more than anything else, made me feel like I was turning into my parents who always read before sleep.  And now I realized why they did that -- there was no other time in the day. For a while this step solved my problem -- it got me in the habit of reading daily and I slowly made my way through the books on my to-be-read pile.

But last year I realized this short bit of reading time was no longer enough.  I'm drowning in books so much that my to-be-read piles have become more like mountain ranges (as I type this I have 25 unread books just sitting on my coffee table, five tossed on the couch next to me, a dozen on my ereader and towers of them lined up against my dining room wall -- not to mention the bulging bookcases and stacks on every other horizontal surface in the house).

I could probably break the books down into categories: craft books, research books, friend books, CP books, blurb books and then general reading books (books that look good, recommended books, books to stretch my horizons, etc etc etc).  But even then it's hard to prioritize what to read next (though CP books almost always skip to the head of the line -- I've read three in the past two weeks).

So I decided I needed to find more reading time.  The first step was figuring out where I spent my time and how to shift it around and right away I noticed something: because reading is something almost always fun, it never feels like work.  And because it doesn't *feel* like work I have a hard time allowing myself to focus on it during the work day even though it's something I should be doing for my job.  I'd find myself haunting message boards or reading blogs before I'd put down the computer and pick up a book.  For some reason, just being at the computer feels more like work that lounging with a book.

Really, all I had to do to find more reading time was (a) acknowledge it's part of my job and (b) allow myself to take the time to read.  Simple, right?  Sometimes it is -- especially editing CP books or skimming through craft or research books.  Other times I have to make the conscious decision to step away from the computer and pick up a book.

At the end of the day I realized it comes down to this: prioritizing reading.  During my tour I was talking with one of the media escorts who pointed out that if everyone gave up watching Wheel of Fortune (or some other 30 min show) every day and read instead they'd get through several books a year.  I'm constantly talking to people who lament their lack of time to read but when you ask them about TV they'll go on and on about all the shows they watch.

I know how easy it is to let a reading life slip away -- to queue up the DVR rather than flip open a book or to think there are other things that have to come first.  I've been there and sometimes I'm still there.  This year I pledged to be more conscious about how I spend my time -- to think about what I prioritize and then divvy up the hours of the day accordingly.

I prioritize reading -- reading broadly, trying new books outside my comfort zone, trying to keep up with my obligations while still expanding my horizons.  My day reflects that: I read first thing in the morning, last thing at night and hopefully more time in between.

Every day I choose to live a reading life and I hope that each of you choose to live your life according to your priorities as well, whether that be reading or some other passion.

Friday, May 06, 2011

It lives!

I live!  I have much to blog about but I've been lacking the time to actually sit down and write said blogs.  And I haven't wanted to short-shrift my blog readers so I've ended up just sort of letting the days pass in blog silence.  Sorry!

This same thing happened last year when I left for tour -- I tried to stay on top of things, tried to blog and tweet but then as time stretched thin I was lucky if I had a chance to speak to my husband before collapsing into bed at the end of the day.  I just did a quick calculation and discovered that since mid-December I've been away from home more than I've been at home (in the last 137 days I've been away 71 of them and home 66).

Perhaps this accounts for the messy state of my house?

And of course I'm leaving town again.  Sunday I head to Weslaco Texas to speak and the next weekend I'll be at the Edward's Memorial Library near Charlotte (hear that NC peeps?  I'll be talking nearby!  They'll be selling books!  Come out!  Details here.)

I've truly had amazing times with all the travel -- so much that it's difficult to put into words (and to find the time to wrangle said experiences into words).  For example, last weekend I was the keynote speaker at Richland County Library's Kids in Print reception where they unveiled a truly fantastic literary magazine full of kid's poems, stories, photos, pictures, etc.

A friend of mine recently said that the best thing you can do in the world is find your tribe -- those people who are like you in so many ways.  The librarians at the Richland County Library are totally my tribe (if they'd accept me).  Seriously -- some amazing people down there (Columbia, SC -- my husband's local library growing up) and an equally amazing library.

In my scant time at home I've been diving back into the book I'm working on.  I'm still in the obsessive plotting/craft stage which necessitates me taking lots of long walks as I figure out bits and pieces.  Thankfully it's been *amazing* weather here and the park behind my house has a wonderfully sloping expanse of lawn that's perfect for lounging and pondering.

I've also read some great books!  I shall share them!  First, I'm a MASSIVE fan of Sarah MacLean.  She gets better and better and the only thing I don't like is having to wait for more.  Her latest Regency set romance, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart just came out.  It's awesome (and isn't YA, FYI).  Go forth and purchase and love it as much as I do!

Second, I think I may have been remiss in posting about Saundra Mitchell's The Vespertine.  This one has been out for a few months and I still can't stop thinking about it.  She is a gorgeous writer and this one is full of yummy romance.

Third, Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler.  I've actually had the first of this series, Hunger, at home and haven't read it.  But Rage caught my eye and I started it on a whim and WOW.  Her writing is stunning and the character is fascinating.  I couldn't put it down -- truly phenomenal on all levels.  This isn't a book for the faint at heart -- it's tough and raw and can be brutal emotionally but it shouldn't surprise anyone that these are the kinds of books that really stick with me.

Fourth: Wither.  I actually read this several months ago (and blurbed) and it's finally out!  Lauren DeStefano's writing is also very wonderful and I loved the claustrophobia of her dystopia.  I'm definitely looking forward to the next in this series.

I know there are other books I've read and loved recently but they're scattered throughout the house and it's time for me to get back to working on that next book.  I still hope to blog more about the amazing tour and other exciting things!  Sorry for the long absence!