Monday, August 31, 2009

Double Day

I know I'm busy all the time. If I have an extra hour in the day, I tend to fill it with four activities that keep me up until late at night. I always put twice as many items on my list of things-to-do than I can possibly finish in a day (and I keep a daily Things-to-do listing, too, which is more OCD than anyone else I know)...

But I still want more time. I finished a spat of grading yesterday at around 4:30. Pretty good time. But it was too late to do a bunch of other things I wanted to do. I still managed to do dishes, clean the kitchen, tidy up the house, make dinner, read a chapter of my creative writing text, watch some TV with the hubby, read to my kids and put them to bed, and read a little of Dicken's David Copperfield (for my bookclub in September).

Ah, if only time were limitless. If only I could decide, one morning, that I just had too much to do to get it all done in 16 hours. I could just turn in my "Double Day for Free" card and add more stuff to my list. 

What would I add?

1.  Take my kids to the park.
2.  Exercise another hour.
3.  Read my sister's book in one sitting.
4.  Do piano lessons with both kids. (I haven't had time to do so since we came back from vacation!)
5.  Watch the second Lord of the Rings movie.
6.  Finish reading through my creative writing textbook.
7.  Weed the garden.
8.  Repot my indoor plants.
9.  Sew Crystal a few dresses for school.
10. Make Halloween costumes for me, Richard, and the kids (I think we might just all be vampires this year).

I could think of a ton more, but these would already take me over two days (weeks?) to do. Darn. 

What would you do if you had a Double Day?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reading and Grading

I am just about to start my last reading "assignment"--my last promised read-thru of another writer's work--and I hope to be able to spend most of the weekend on it. 

Unfortunately, I also have to grade papers (yes, more reading, but with the added plus of giving a grade (yick). Fortunately, the assignment I'm grading seems pretty straightforward, and my comments do not need to be extensive. Still, I imagine grading will take most of the morning--after which I'll be walking in a parade, and then back here by noon to grade again (and hopefully FINISH). 

Interestingly, both of these tasks feed one into the other. Certainly, I enjoy reading fiction more than an assignment (with some exceptions, if the fiction is ghastly), but with both I am, in a way, grading. I'm offering grammatical feedback, making notes throughout, explaining my own expectations (whether I am patting on the back for meeting these expectations or telling the writer I want more), and my goals are pretty much the same, as well. 

In fact, my main goal with each activity is to make someone else's work better.

And that, my friends, is what has kept me teaching for the last 16 years. And it's why I am usually willing to read other writers' rough drafts, too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Pouring!!!

The last few weeks of summer were just sliding along, peacefully. And then I began class. Okay, two classes. A wonderful set of classes, a little grading here and there, some new things to learn.... It wouldn't be too hard, I thought to myself. No more than 3 classes at a time. 

But I had made the mistake of applying for a bunch of jobs last year. And now that they are almost ALL panning out, I am up to my eyeballs in classes. I have two online classes right now, which end in October, I pick up two more (perhaps THREE) starting in mid-September, and then will likely pick up FOUR more in October, on an 8-9 week schedule. WOW!

I'm hiring a maid. In fact, I'm probably going to pay for an hour or two of babysitting a few days a week, right after school, just so I can get all the grading done. Can I pay someone to sleep for me, and transfer it? Who needs sleep anyway?

It's not like I'm an art teacher, who gets to play soft music in class while everybody sits around and paints a vase of flowers. Grading papers takes a while. I have to grade hundreds of papers in a single class--and to have 1-2-3-4-... oh, my God, EIGHT classes in a single semester (maybe NINE), well, I must be insane.

If one of my future blogs ends with gibberish at the end and trails off to nothing, you'll know I've gone off the deep end. Please look for signs I've lost it, and call the authorities. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Update

Sorry that I haven't been writing... but I've been reading, and that doesn't count toward my writing requirements to be able to blog... 

My reading is almost done, unless Rocket Scientist sends me her novel. (hint, hint.)

Hopefully I'll talk to you soon!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Most of my blog entries are about writing. I give all sorts of advice (or more appropriately, just tell you what I've figured out about myself, since I'm in no real position to give advice at all), and hopefully that encourages all of you to write better, keep writing, find time for writing, prioritize writing, etc.

And that's all well and good, but don't forget reading. If you're stuck in some writing project--or even if you aren't--reading can be so good for you. For one thing, it's FUN. Different places, interesting characters, magic, adventure, extraordinary events... it's all there for the taking.

But I'm not just talking about reading good stuff. All sorts of reading can be fruitful, even if it doesn't have the FUN payoff. For instance, if you read a book that ends up being dreck, try figuring out what you hated about it. Maybe it was one glaring problem, or maybe it was a whole laundry list of ghastly awful errors. Even if it was terrible, it can offer you insight about what to look for in your own writing. Who knows? You might actually be committing some of the same faux pas yourself.

I also find it fruitful to read other writers' rough stuff. Perhaps they venture into a genre I haven't tried, or do something magnificent with a scene. Maybe their insight helps me figure out a problem in my own writing project. Even if their stuff isn't good at all, helping them by offering feedback and marking errors not only helps them, but also helps me edit my own writing more effectively. Since the stuff is rough, and feel more able to note what scenes falter, to see where the momentum shifts or drops out completely, where characters disappear for too long, or where scenes aren't descriptive enough (at least for me). 

Reading work in-process helps me see how to affect my own process more, how to make my work better once I return to it. As an added bonus, it means other writers owe me, that I'll have faithful, honest readers to offer me feedback when I need it. That is probably the best result. 

I finished my play this morning (hurray!), so now I'm off to read a long list of other writers' drafts. And I'm looking forward to it. I should learn a great deal from the experience.

How long has it been since you've helped out a fellow writer?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Since I've already worked on my play for TWO hours this morning (hurray for me!), I can blog... 

It appears that "revision" was the incorrect word to use for the work I've been doing on my play. I've essentially been rewriting it. Only one scene escaped the scrap pile. 

What have I done to it? Well, after my fabulous playwrights group (I so love them) delved through the first scene, the number one piece of advice I received was "tighten." But I couldn't just take out a few exchanges. I had four women all talking around each other, creating a world where the main character--Mary, the youngest of the four women--had no power, no say in how the others perceived her. How was I supposed to tighten that?

The solution? Not cutting out bits of dialogue here and there. That simply wasn't enough. I printed off the scene, then deleted the electronic copy and started over, this time with the main character and only her mother, who was on the phone with a third character. Suddenly the misunderstandings, the mixed up memories, and the shifts in control occurred between the two most important characters, and no time was wasted in trying to develop two other women who were not key to the play's ideas.

A 26-page scene became an 11-page scene, and went from distracted and manic to focused and powerful. Was it easy? Not at all. But it worked, so I don't mind the extra time it took in the slightest.

Once the two characters were gone, though, all but the second scene fell, too. But I realized that the main weaknesses of the play would also be resolved, and the action would have a focus I could never have accomplished had I held onto those characters. 

Suddenly the arc of the story became clear: two arcs, one with the main character moving up, slowly making choices that would allow her to live, while her mother's arc fell, as her disease ate her mind, turned her into a child, and finally killed her. In the past, readers (actors, theatre people, playwrights) had asked me which person the story was about. Now I knew the answer. It was about both of them, moving in different directions. One story couldn't work without the other.

I have probably an hour of work left, and the play will be done. I already know how the final scene will play out. Amazing what I can accomplish when I don't hold myself back. 

What's most ironic is that this is exactly what my main character learns... not to hold herself back... 

Art imitates life.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A New Pact

I'm really sorry to have to do this, but I've been fighting myself every day for most of the summer. You see, while I've been involving myself in all sorts of activities, from reading books I love (or know I will love, once I read them), to playing piano, to camping, and even to working on my two new online courses, I have NOT been writing every day.

So here it is. From this blog on, I am no longer allowed to write my blog on a given day until I work for AT LEAST one hour on my writing projects. I don't have to choose a certain project, but the one I work on has to be one of the projects I have on hand (there are plenty of them!)... and I have to work on it for a good, long while. 

If you don't hear from me for the next few days, it's because my id is still holding off my superego. However, if I write tomorrow, it's because I am finally on task again. I can certainly use any encouragement I can get. I still haven't figured out why I'm fighting it (since the urge is still there, and it's the reason I get up every morning), but I haven't truly spent time on my writing in about a month. It's time for me to stop putting it off, stop leaving it at the bottom of my to-do list for the day. I intend to stay up at night--late, if necessary--if only to make sure I keep doing what I love. 

Wish me luck! And I hope to be able to blog VERY soon!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happily Making Do

It seems that life never gives one exactly what one desires. For instance, this morning, after being away from my home for THREE weeks, the number one thing I wanted to do is get to the Y and do my beloved Zumba. 

But then my kids, worn out from their time at Grandma's, slept until nearly nine a.m. Only a half hour to get them ready! And both wanted to wear their new tennis shoes... must get them laced, de-tagged, etc. And breakfast--almost forgot about that.

We were going to be late... but only by a few minutes. But then, oh no, where are the YMCA ID cards? I'm sure I put them in a "safe place" before I left, so I'd remember where to find them. Yes, by now the irony is killing me. Then, a solution: I'll just show them my drivers license (it's worked before). 

But then, the insurmountable obstacle: no keys. You see, I left my car and other keys behind when I left for Houston, and they have yet to return to my purse (darn!). I could walk to the Y, but the Zumba class would be more than half over by the time I got there... and the kids would be whiny (it's about a mile and a half to get there). So that was a deal breaker.

You might think this is the Whining Blog... but it isn't. What did we do? Well, my daughter is restarting her Wi Fit this morning instead, and then we are going to put our little Zumba/Bellydancing jinglebelts (are they called sashes?) on and DANCE, DANCE, DANCE!

I have to remind myself sometimes that it takes far more energy to whine about a problem than it does to solve the problem. Problem solved! 

(Maybe I should take a picture of the jinglebelts so you can see what they look like!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Be Happy Day

Last night on the telephone, my husband called himself "lazy." Now, while there certainly are days when my husband does absolutely nothing but eat and watch football all day (and those days are coming up, since football season has begun), he called himself this after spending about 4 hours or so exercising--after work. It seems after going to the gym for about TWO HOURS he decided to put in some more effort running up and down a hiking trail to some falls near our home. These falls--Wallace Falls--are really spectacular, but even getting to the bottom falls (the lowest of the three hiking areas) takes about an hour... and he ran up to the third landing--the Upper Falls--and back down in about two hours total. 

And yet, after all that, he called himself lazy. 

Only the lord knows what he's looking at when he examines his day... and it reminds me of how typical it is for us to see the hole in our own beings--however small it is--and blast it out of proportion so that we can still think ill of ourselves. I can lose 90 lbs., yet still criticize myself for the tummy bulge I will always have. I once complimented a coworker of mine, a woman who was always gracious, always perfectly dressed, always beautifully put together. I told her how wonderful she looked--how wonderful she always looked, and she replied, "If only I could lose these last ten pounds." 

What the hell was she talking about? I wondered, skimming over her 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame. And yet this was what she was thinking. 

In graduate school it was the same: fellow students who received a test back and obsessed about the five points they'd missed, not the 95 points they'd managed to get. We are too hard on ourselves, too quick to judge ourselves to find the flaws.

Yet, I suppose, another alternative isn't so great, either (and you know this kind of person, too): This one is so busy finding the mote in other's eyes, so to speak, that he can't see the huge log sticking out of his own. Easy to feel good about one's self when one sees the rest of the world as so comparatively imperfect. 

I have a solution to all of this, though--it's one I work at for myself, at least, and it makes me much happier. I was reminded of it while checking e-mail this morning, for my daily astrology reading (through MSN) told me to keep being nice, to spread my joy and kindness around, since I was one of the sources of kindness remaining in the world (or roughly that, since I didn't save the reading). Here's my joy to share: You are a great person, as am I, and the more we concentrate on our talents, our inner joy, and what we do have, what we do well, the happier everyone will be. Instead of picking at yourself all day (or others, though you probably don't know who you are if you do that), find the all the good you can today. Write it down, if you have to, if the happy thoughts won't stick in your head for longer than a moment. 

Now, once the day is done, come back and share what you noticed. Spread your own happiness around a bit. I'll let you complain another day, but not today. 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Good with the Bad

I'm back! 

Well, sort of back, since I'm now at Rocket Scientist's place, having one more week of break. And I admit I don't want to write my blog. I've resisted it for several days now, even though I've had computer access at my fingertips. I've even read and commented on other people's blogs, but until this morning, I had not the least inclination to write one of my own.

I am very excited, however, about beginning my online classes. I'm working on four classes total, all online, and the prospects are scintillating (at least for me). 

Now, I'm sure many of you would cringe at the possibility of teaching. I know that most of my friends would do so, anyway. But I love to teach! I'm not sure which I love more, teaching or writing. Okay, so I know I love writing more than grading. Then again, I love grading about as much as I love sending stuff off to publishers/agents. Both activities fill me with fear and loathing. 

Isn't that the way the world works, though? Nothing fabulous in life is without its share of dread? I love my children, but some days I want to chuck them out the window. I adore teaching, yet I have never found a way to make grading a happy experience. I could not live without writing, but even after years of practice I still cannot send off a query without the urge to chuck my lunch up (sorry Rocket Scientist--I know you hate that image). 

I guess I can't have the good without the bad... now if I could only figure out a better, more productive way to face the bad... without all the dread. 

Any suggestions?