Thursday, June 28, 2018

In Search of Efficiency

In many aspects of my life, I can work quite efficiently. In my teaching life, for example, I get 90 non-supervisory minutes per day. I often create the presentations for six or more lessons, process and provide feedback on 150 or so assignments from the day before, and make three or four phone calls. Occasionally I even eat or use the bathroom. I've become a master at squeezing so much into such a brief time.

At home, with the duties of family life, I'm great at using my appliances and doing one task and finishing another while that one simmers. In forty-five minutes each morning, I can prepare and pack four lunches; feed, medicate, and walk one dog; wash a load of dishes; dog-proof the house for departure; and make sure all four Bryants leave with the right things in their hands.

But when it comes to writing, even though I've been doing this professionally for four years now, I can't seem to be efficient. I am productive, but I am continually frustrated with my rate of production.

I have gotten better. I can produce more words in a shorter amount of time for sure. I have become more disciplined and can make myself stay focused on a single task until it is complete. I use a variety of organizational tools to keep me on track and meeting deadlines.

But there are just so many tasks now…my TBW (to be written) list grows steadily, and I want to be able to get these projects completed more quickly, but it just doesn't work that way for me. Even now, on summer vacation, when my days are more my own to sculpt and use, there are not enough hours in the day for what I want. And even when I have ALL the hours, I can only productively write for so many of them before something snaps and I have to let my poor brain rest.

Art isn't supposed to be efficient.

That's what I tell myself anyway. Art is messy. It's a process, and false starts, blind alleys, and backtracking are part of that process. The first draft of anything is shit, right? Hemingway said so, and people paid him for his words.

But I am impatient to get all my stories out there, into the hands of readers.

Play is part of it. Meandering. Wandering. Seeking. None of these are efficient, start-to-finish clear pathways. But the work suffers if you try to circumvent that.

So where I stand today is back on that tightrope, trying to find the right balance that lets me move forward and feel productive, finishing work and getting it out there, but doesn't make the work itself dull and plodding. Making art on a schedule that doesn't make me or my family crazy. Setting the bar high, but not so high that I can't feel my fingers brush it from time to time.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Yellow Crayons Save the World

I'm re-watching Stranger Things this summer vacation because I loved it and my youngest daughter wanted to watch it. We're at the part where (vaguely describing to keep from spoiling) they're staging an intervention for a character, by telling him all kinds of stories about how much they love him, all their happy memories and even some unhappy ones. Trying to reach the boy within and save him by making him feel.

And it struck me again how much I love this trope.

From Meg Murry who saved Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle in Time by helping him remember that he loves and is loved to Xander Harris who saved evil Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a yellow crayon story. I eat this stuff up.

Every time I see it. Pow. Right in the feels.

Every brainwashed, possessed, or mind-controlled person who is rescued by the loved ones screaming "I know you're in there somewhere!"

I guess I'm just still that far into the idealistic side of the idealism/cynicism scale that I want to believe that no one is beyond reach, that enough love can rescue a seemingly lost case.

It's not true often enough in real life. But in fiction, heck yeah!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Another Transitional Phase

I'm going through another transitional phase. This one doesn't have a new name or category, not like "teenager" or "graduate" or "mother" or "divorcee" or "wife" did.

I don't get a new title, just new circumstances to adjust to.

Daughter, the elder, graduated high school and will be leaving for college in August. Daughter, the younger, completed elementary school and will become a middle schooler this fall.

These changes in educational venue are coming with changes in our house, a room shuffle, changing a bedroom into an office and changing who sleeps in which room.

I feel weird.

I mean, I always feel weird, but this is a weird I'm not used to.

I'll still have a kid at home, so I'm not an empty-nester, but my first fledgling is flying on her own now. On any given day, she will prepare her own lunch, plan her own schedule. I won't know, necessarily, if she's had a good day or a bad one.

That feels so strange. We've always been so close her whole life. I want her to go to college and be a successful adult, of course, but at the same time I want her stay right here and be my little girl forever. Parenthood and teaching, two roles where the goal is to make yourself obsolete.

On the other hand, my other daughter will attend the same school I teach at now. I'll know MORE about her school day than I've ever known before. I'll know all her classmates and her other teachers. I'm probably even going to be her teacher at some point, since I'm the whole Spanish department at my school. She'll spend time in my classroom with me instead of at aftercare after school.

And me? I don't know what this means for me yet. Will I have more time to myself? Will getting that office make a big difference in my writing productivity?

Throughout my life, I've been told that I was going through a phase. I guess I thought I would be done going through phases when I became an adult. I guess I'm learning that life isn't a game you can learn to play well and just keep playing. The rules change all the time. Here's hoping the next phase is a good one!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What's in a name? #IWSG June

It's the first Wednesday again, which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. The June 6 question - What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

The awesome co-hosts this week are Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, Tonja Drecker, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! Be sure to pop over and see what they have to say, too!

For my Menopausal Superhero series, both the titles and the character names came pretty easily. Going Through the Change was the working title pretty much from day one for the first book, and finding Change of Life (book 2) and Face the Change (book 3), was a quick sidestep and a little bit of thinking about phrases using the word Change. Not too difficult. 

Naming the characters was a little tricky, but still not anything I struggled over for long. Once I'd gotten far enough in to know about how old my characters were, I just went to census records for popular names during their likely birth years. I was going for an "everywoman" kind of feel for these characters, so giving them common names (Helen, Patricia, Jessica, Linda, Cindy) went along with that. 

There were some personal Easter Eggs in there as well, since Helen was my grandmother's name (though she preferred to go by Liz, a nickname off of her middle name, Elizabeth) and Patricia is my mother's name (though she prefers to be called Pat). I have a cousin named Jessica, too (who goes by Jessie). I liked Linda because it's a bilingual name and Linda Alvarez lives her life in two languages. 

Other works have been harder to name. His Other Mother (unpublished) went through a lot of titles while I was writing it. For the longest time it was just called Sherry, after the main character, even though I knew that wouldn't be the title in the end. 

The short story I finished last week still hasn't settled on a title even though I think the story is otherwise complete ("The H.O.A" or maybe "Late Bloomer"). Sometimes I can't title something until I've written it completely and the title rises up and suggests itself somewhere along the way. 

In my current WIP, working title Thursday's Children, the main character has been named Kye'luh the whole time, but I've tried out a bunch of different spellings for it: Ki'lah, Kai-luh, Kyla, etc.  Her youngest cousin used to be Jared, but became Camden when I realized I had two J characters with two syllable names: Jason and Jared. Could be confusing. 

A name can be so important. It can give ethnic cues, generational information, geography hints. The same with names of books. The title can give you tone and genre, as well as a hint as to the plot or theme. These seemingly little choices, can really impact a reader's experience with your work! 

How about you, friends? Got a character whose name you love? Or would change given the chance? how about a book title? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.