Miss Frizzle, Colored at Last!

Thank you for your patience last week. And look, I finally colored the thing! Whee!

And just a heads up- today is the first day of another session of Camp Nanowrimo, so this month I will be lazy and stupid while I direct my brain power in other directions. We’ll have lame art and reblogs and who knows what else. Should be fun times!

Happy writing!

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Excuses, Excuses

My last three four days have included:

  • Three four doctor visits
  • Two three ER visits
  • Two family members on exciting new medications
  • No sleep whatsoever
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding
  • More pus than I ever thought possible
  • Hey, look, we hit our deductible!
  • And now with facial scarring- maybe plastic surgery to come?? The fun never ends!

As such, there will be no update this week. Check back next week for some long overdue art. Thanks for your understanding!

Trial Separations: When It’s Time for a Break

After writing last week about ways to keep your mind limber while on a writing break, I promptly went on a small week-long writing break. Thirty-one members of my immediate and extended family were in town, we were camping for days, and what had started as volunteering to pick up the food from the grocery story quickly morphed into me being in charge of all things food related. I had an absolute blast, but it just wasn’t feasible to be doing any writing work. (Thus I find myself last-minute typing this blog post up during my lunch break.) I hadn’t really planned be to taking a break, but it just happened. (Sorry, that-one-deadline.)

Breaks happen. Sometimes they happen when you plan for them to, like when I know I’m about to birth a human and I’ll need some time for my brain to readjust to endless screaming needs, or when I know I’ll be car camping on the side of the road without electricity for a week or more. At other times, breaks happen without warning or a plan, like when a computer suddenly breaks or there’s an emergency that needs immediate and full attention.

And then there are the in-betweeners. The breaks that happen maybe a little unexpectedly, maybe a little uncertainly. These are the breaks that don’t have to happen necessarily- you could probably keep writing if you really worked at it, but for one reason or another you don’t.

Deciding to take a break from writing is very personal and everyone does it for different reasons. I’m a big fan of powering through and writing every day, no matter how little, no matter what’s going on, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Heck, sometimes that doesn’t even work for me.

So here is a short list of some perfectly legitimate times when it might be appropriate to take a break.

Your life is busy and you have rent to pay.

The sun is shining and you haven’t left your cave in three days.

You’re feeling burnt out and are bored with the sound of your own writing.

You want a break.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, it’s totally fine to take a break. That’s right, even just wanting to take a break is a totally legitimate reason to take a break, and you don’t have to plan for it and schedule it in for it to be ‘allowed’. We writers can be a pretty miserable bunch- frustrated when we’re writing and frustrated when we’re not. I am the queen of hurling abuse at myself whenever I’m not living up to my own high standards.

It does not have to be this way. We would never treat other people like this, so why should we treat ourselves so poorly?

There are a lot of really good reasons to take writing breaks and sometimes those breaks are actually more beneficial than just powering through. Taking a break allows you to see your work with fresh eyes. It can refresh you mind and allow you to approach writing again with new ideas. It can fight burn out and help you relax (or pay for groceries, or visit your grandbabies, etc).

A break does not mean that you are quitting writing forever, or that you’re not a ‘real’ writer, or that you lack willpower. It simply means that now isn’t the best time for writing and you’ll get back to it when you have something to say and the time to say it. And until that time rolls around, don’t feel bad about taking a break. After a little recovery time, you’ll be back at the races and stronger for the time you spent on the bench.

Take care of yourself! Be kind to yourself! And- if it works out- happy writing!

Of the Atrophy of Brains and Brawn

(Oops. I have family visiting and we stayed up until one playing dice last night and I completely forgot to post this thing. Sorry!)

Summer always seems to hit me like a golf club. Smack! And we’re off!

I never seem to transition well between the quiet lethargy of winter to the frenetic busy-ness of summer. In particular, my physical activity goes zero to sixty once summer starts. I do basically no exercise during the winter, but in summer, I bike commute and play rugby and generally cavort around with my family- canoeing, hiking, minor home construction projects, the works. These first few weeks of summer can be pretty rough until my body adjusts. Soooo much soreness…

Getting back into writing again after a break can feel a lot like that too. I mean, I never completely stop writing- like I never totally stop walking around and lifting things during winter- but there’s definitely a difference in pace between when I’m actively pursuing writing with a love-of-my-life passion and when I’m doing it just because I know I should be. Take this summer for instance. As I mentioned last week, I’m not doing much fiction writing. And by “not much,” I mean hardly any at all. I’ve also been known to take breaks like while vacationing for weeks or months on end, or after having a kid or going through some other massive life changer. These breaks aren’t always avoidable, and you might not always want to avoid them completely. Sometimes breaks can be a good thing (more on that later).

But to go back to the exercise example, just like I always tell myself all through winter, I shouldn’t just stop everything. Yeah, cutting back might be a good idea for a variety of really good reasons, but I always plan on getting back on the wagon, and it really would be better for me to just do some exercise throughout winter. And so I usually talk myself into doing an ab workout here and there, or maybe a few squats- just enough to make sure I realize how pathetic I’ve become. But as pathetic as these efforts are, they are really truly better than nothing. Every little bit is going to make the summer transition that much easier (and my overall health that much better).

There are little writing things you can do even during a writing break that will help make the transition back into full-steam-ahead writing a little smoother. Here are a few things that I like to do even when I’m technically on a fiction writing break.

Write Blog Posts I don’t know why I am so do-until-I-die dedicated to blog posts, but I really like them. I love the steady schedule and the public accountability of them. I like that they force me to constantly come up with fresh content. Even if they’re not fictional and sometimes not even fun, they keep my writing muscles limbered up.

Jot Down Story Ideas It’s true that you get more ideas as you work on the ones you already have, but that doesn’t mean that all ideas completely stop when you’re taking a break. And some of these ideas are really great ones that should be revisited later. Keep writing down all your cool ideas, and then you’ll have plenty of material to play with at the end of your break.

Read Books Nothing keeps the brain fed and well nourished quite like a full and varied diet of good literature. Whether or not you’re on a writing break, you should always have a ready answer when someone asks you what you’re reading right now.

Tell Stories Even if you’re not writing them down, keep telling people stories. Tell folks about your day, about that funny lady at work last week, about when you lost your phone and where you finally found it. Tell them about something you’re proud of, or something super cool you saw someone else do. A pause in writing does not mean a pause in storytelling.

Learn New Things Some of the funnest stories I’ve written have come about because I was learning about some wacky little nonfiction slice of life (human or otherwise) and I thought, “Huh! What if this, but with that?” My brain is not happy unless I’m constantly learning new things. And when it’s happy, it poops out little story ideas (that I of course write down). So nourishing!

There are tons of things that I could share about keeping your writing brain in shape, and I’m sure you fair readers have a bunch that you like to lean on in those hard times when, for whatever reason, you can’t write as much as you’d like to. None of these things (except maybe the blog post writing) take up that much time. They’re simple and easy and fit neatly around the rest of my day. That makes it easy to keep doing all these things with all due diligence! And if you have any writing brain limbering tips you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to give those a try too!

Until next week, happy writing (or not)!

Hiding Bodies (and the Terrible Things I Don’t-Do for Love)

Jasper

This is not Jasper. I can’t bear to look at pictures of Jasper right now.

Trigger warning/disclaimer: This post includes senseless chicken deaths and dog hate. It should also be said that, yes, I feel crass heavy-handedly bringing my writing into serious situations like these. It is not my intention to make light of any death whatsoever, no matter how small. But this is my life. If I cannot draw from my experiences- the good, the mundane, the spectacular, the awful- then I wouldn’t have much to write about. If you read this post and feel the need to tell me I’m horrible, please know that I agree with you and feel horrible enough already.

 

In the midst of my desperate brain-wracking, I rediscovered this from a month ago:

“Well I just had an absolute nightmare of a weekend. Literal blood and mayhem, and me running around the yard in a bathrobe screaming murder. And then I thought for sure I was going to get kicked to death by a moose while trying to rescue my stupid dog who was obliviously hiding bodies at the time.

“But my birds! My beautiful, sweet, egg-pooping, I-raised-you-from-chicks birds. My birds are gone. Maybe it’s stupid to be so heartbroken over livestock, but I loved them anyway and this was not what I wanted for them.

“I’m going to start bawling again if I think about it too much. I’m so glad my husband’s home. If I’d been on burial duty, I don’t think I would have made it out quite the same.”

And then a much shorter note two weeks later:

“The only thing more depressing than digging a grave is digging a grave in the rain.”

So it looks like I got to be on burial duty after all. Just think of all the character I must be building.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my dog. I know this is probably the worst thing I could confess on the internet, but he drives me absolutely nuts. He stalks me with his eyes everywhere and freaks out any time anything moves within like three miles of him. He’s disgusting and annoying and, despite being pretty smart on the doggy scale, mindbogglingly stupid about some things. Despite all this, I love him. I don’t like him most days, but I certainly love him.

Unfortunately for Jasper, I love my chickens more, and I like them too, and they’re actually useful. So when Jasper kills my chickens, he’s not winning in this equation. And when he kills them again, and then again, he’s paving the road right back to the shelter. But I don’t, don’t, don’t want to do that. I brought that dumb dog home with every intention of keeping him forever. He went for years without killing any of the chickens. They wandered around the property together without trouble. The chicks ran around his yard hunting bugs while he napped. His yard shared a fence line with the chicken yard and he kept the ravens and the foxes away. It was perfect.

And then it suddenly wasn’t.

The first time was an accident. The second time a slaughter. And this most recent one, despite my best attempts at prevention, was an act of single-minded determination.

So what do I do now? I have a helpless flock of birds that I lavishly adore, and a horrible slaughter-beast that I inexplicably love who is determined to kill them. Getting rid of the chickens would break my heart. Getting rid of the dog would break it too, and my kids’ as well. But keeping both seems to mean accepting that my sweet chickies are going to die horrible, painful, terrified deaths, and then I don’t even get to make any use of their bodies afterward, making their deaths pointless as well. And even if I do give up my birds to keep the dog, he’ll only go after my neighbors’ chickens. There are four flocks that I know of just on my block, and probably more besides. If all my birds were gone, Jasper would only go hunting further the next time he escapes.

But I just can’t get rid of him.

I don’t know what to do, and I feel like each night I go to bed without having made a decision is going to lead to the day that I wake up to find him with another bird in his jaws again. I feel like I’m breaking a little more with each dead bird. A cloud of awful inevitability haunts me all the time, and all the outcomes are terrible.

I’m too emotionally exhausted for graceful crafting here, so let me just draw the parallel. I am a miserable, distraught mess hurtling inexorably toward the breaking point; when you’re writing, your characters should be too. If your characters don’t have to make choices about things that matter to them, there’s no way those choices are going to matter to your readers. So make it matter.

Force your characters make the choices that make them sob violently and pull their hair and call everyone in their phone for advice and still be paralyzed with indecision because every outcome sucks. Force them back into corners with no good way out and take away all their ideal options, and then force them to make a decision with a time bomb ticking in the background.

Which is exactly where I am standing right now. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. I’m still paralyzed. But I know I have to figure it out soon. Until next time, keep hitting that keyboard, and wish me luck.

 

Postproduction Update: It happened, just two days after I wrote up this post. Jasper managed to get loose again. The poults got away, but all my chicks are dead. I cleaned the blood off his muzzle, held him, and sobbed for hours. I wept on the phone, and then all the way to the shelter. I sobbed in the lobby as I filled out the papers to make my “smelly puppers” available for adoption. Then I held him some more and cried and cried and finally handed his leash over to someone else. I could hear him crying for me all the way out to the parking lot.

The deus ex machina I was hoping for never came.