Stealth Workouts

Twice a week, I find myself driving twenty minutes across town. I drop off a child. One hour later, I pick him up again. It’s not worth the gas to go home, and the place is pretty remote so there is nothing else within miles for me entertain myself with, except for a connected gym and a trampoline park which are both wildly overpriced.

When these appointments started, I would sit in the foyer on a squeaky plastic chair next to a fake plant and a table littered with board books, old issues of Highlights Magazine, and pamphlets about how to talk my kid out of doing drugs. I mostly chatted with the security guard or played solitaire on my phone, since I couldn’t ever seem to remember to grab a book, but if I was really on it, I would bring headphones and take French quizzes to win fake internet money with which I could buy little outfits for my avatar, a green cartoon owl named Duo.

It was low-grade terrible but could have been a lot worse. I could live with it.

Then, while spying on the security guard, I realized that of all the surveillance cameras he monitored—the halls of all three floors, the elevators, all doors in and out, several views of the parking lot—none of them were watching the stairwell. So with his blessing, I went to check it out.

Concrete steps with metal and rubber grills on the edges. Painted metal handlebars. Three dusty buckets of mysterious construction materials stuffed under the bottom flight. You know this stairwell, I’m sure. You probably have one at work, or your apartment building, or your doctor’s office. These are actually all the same stairwell, dimensionally connected across all space and time no matter where you enter or exit, from the florescent lights at the top to the patterned carpet at the bottom, covered with dust and the powdered remains of ten-year-old leaves, with maybe a skittle or two and a crumpled plastic juice bottle to liven up the scenery. You’ve been here before, but maybe you didn’t stay long because it looks like the kind of place that a homeless vampire from the 1700s might skulk while he tries to figure out where it all went wrong and what the heck ‘yeet’ is supposed to mean anyway.

Inspection thus passed, I sat thoughtfully in the foyer again the next visit. “You know,” I said to the security guy. “I should probably go walk stairs or something instead of just sitting here.”

“Do it.” He was probably tired of me hanging around making small talk while thumbing curiously through wall racks full of pamphlets about AIDS or safe sleeping positions for babies or how to make friends when you feel like nobody understands you. “You won’t be able to get back through the doors at the top of the stairs, but if you come back up before the elevator shuts down at five, it’s not a problem.”

Now, this building is literally connected to a gym. But as I have mentioned once or twice (or a thousand times), I am the cheapest of skates. I compare the price-per-ounce of every grocery I buy, every single week, just in case they went and changed it on me. I will always choose to languish sick at home an extra week than spend the ten dollars to see a doctor at my husband’s work’s health clinic. Every time. So why would I go to the gym when I have this perfectly serviceable creepy stairwell at my disposal?

It started out small. I clomped up and down the steps in my oversized winter boots for a quarter hour before coming back up to wait for the boy. But why stop there? If you have three flights of stairs, some buckets, and a pile of floppy plastic wall trim, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Things got more complicated. I started timing exercise sets on my phone—squats, stair sprints, planks, crunches, and so on. I wore tights and sports bras under my street clothes. I ditched the boots under the stairs. Then most of the outer layers of clothing as well. The workouts stretched in duration and intensity. But as that happened, I started to look more and more like a crazy person—especially considering that there was a fully equipped gym three feet away on the other side of the wall. I started to get self-conscious. Then, on the rare occasion that someone else was actually using the stairs to go up and down floors (who does that?), I started hiding. With the squeak and slam of a panic bar, someone else would come in the stairwell and I had moments to assess if they were above or below me, going up or going down, and then, drenched in sweat and wearing crazy tight pants and stripey socks, I dove beneath the stairs to squat pressed against the wall like a startled Gollum in a cave (except his hair is better than mine).

Then things started to get really weird. I mean, time is hard to come by and I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I would do French quizzes while getting sick glutes on the stairs. I texted ladies from church about their ministering assignments and upcoming enrichment activities as I did wacky belly-dancing core workouts. I brought my laptop if I was behind on my word count for NaNo, and did this awful plank-while-sprinting thing where I had to get so many words before I could stop (which really just made for bad words and bad exercise form). I would max out the volume on my phone and listen to scriptures, running up three flights of stairs at a dead sprint while blasting the commandments of God handed down from Mount Sinai in this weird stairwell that I was making waaaay weirder by the day. I would do all these things in the same workout session, waiting for my kid to finish his appointment and never quite having enough time to finish everything I started. I was multitasking on a whole new level. And if that squeak-bang door announcement ever sounded, and it did at least once a session, I would instantly kill the volume and flee to the bottom of the stairs, squeezing down into a sticky ball of social anxiety wedged between a bucket of paint and a half-used box of powdered wall spackling, just add water.

I was being so incredibly weird, and I loved it. Man, it would have been miserable and mortifying if someone caught me at it, but good golly, it felt like I was getting away with a crime every time someone went through that stairwell and didn’t spot me. Just earlier today (no, this hasn’t stopped, and it’s not about to), I didn’t turn off my French quiz quite fast enough and the last echoes of “Avez-vous apporté-” were still sounding in the stairwell when someone came in. They paused, silent, then came uncertainly down the stairs. They paused again at the bottom of the flight, standing just before the door to leave.

Maybe they heard the labored breathing I couldn’t quite stifle. Maybe they could smell the scents of fresh sweat and discount-bin Lärabars. And then maybe they decided I was that 1700s vampire and it was best not to investigate. They left, leaving me feeling like I had just reached a whole new level of got-away-with-it rapture.

You know that NaNo Badge you can earn for writing where you probably shouldn’t? Oh yeah. Badge unlocked.

Self Care in the Pit of Despair

Trigger warning: mild reference to self-harm, suicidal ideation, anxiety, mood disorders, and vampicorns.

Well, folks, looks like it’s that time of year again, when I want to sleep 16 hours a day and fantasize about a truck wheel rolling over my head. Ahhhh, autumn…

My mood tends to tank pretty quickly once we pass the equinox. With more darknight than daylight, it can get tough to stay chipper and I didn’t start the season out being very good about spending time with my happy light. That, and it’s been pretty stressful for a lot of darned good reasons that aren’t about to go away.

But I am determined to not have another really bad winter already! Determined!

…Yeah. It’s great to tell myself that, but I haven’t been doing much about it lately. Last week, I was busily shelving books down at the library before school got out when I suddenly felt sick to my stomach, lightheaded, and hot. I stripped off my jacket and whined to the librarian, who immediately asked me if I’d eaten today.

She knows me pretty well, that lady.

So yeah, there’s room for improvement, and I’m ready for a revamp. Just deciding not to be depressed doesn’t usually work for me, but altering my behaviors can definitely lighten (and shorten) the mood. And perhaps the first thing on my alteration to-do list should be:

Eating and drinking. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I’m busy. Even when there’s ‘nothing to eat’ in my fully stocked disgustingly-privileged-middle-class-American kitchen. There is something to eat. Eat it.

The light. It is easy. It is mounted on the wall right next to the desk I sit at every day. For normal people who live in normal places, it is right outside that window that your normal house has. Embrace the inner kitty. Bask.

Compliment all the humans. This is a bit of a weird one, but I swear it helps me. When I get to where I absolutely despise myself, it helps to turn some of that focus outward. I compliment cool earrings and swanky clothes. I compliment smiles and hair and jobs well done and beautiful laughs and anything. People love it. And it makes me feel less loathey. (Another way to turn focus outward? Public service! There are always people in need! Check out justserve.org if you need ideas.)

Doodley-do. Again, this is weird, but it works for me. Sometimes when I’m really down in the dumps, I scrape, cut, and pinch myself. I tend to do it on my arms, particularly my left arm. But if I take a sharpie or one of my inking pens and doodle beautiful patterns on my arms, I don’t do it. I don’t know if this will help anyone else, but it helps me.

Stretching, meditation, and/or yoga. I feel like a doofy, entitled, time-wasting hippie every time I start, but I always feel calmer by the end. I’m terrible at meditation when I get in low moods or when the anxiety’s running hot, but I can still stretch out and I feel better afterward.

Reading with loved ones. Usually my kiddos, but often students at the school too. They love it, I love it. ‘Nuff said.

Busy, but not too busy. This is a very fine line to tread. Sitting around moping because I don’t feel like doing anything isn’t going to improve my worldview. But being so busy that I’m stressed out of my mind won’t either. The trick is to be busy and useful, but not so much so that I’m at a dead sprint from one thing to the next and feel like I’m going to start dropping balls at any moment. Balance is key.

Actual sleep. I just want to stay up until I’m passing out from exhaustion because I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts in the dark, and then sleep until two or three in the afternoon the next day. Is that too much to ask? Well, when I have a million children to get to school, it is. Go to bed, Jill. Future You will thank you.

I’ve had this idea rattling around in my head for a picture book about a little unicorn who goes to a Magical Creatures Convention to get her hoof in the door with the elite GOODLI club, buuuut accidentally gets bitten by a vampire instead. Not quite the impression she was hoping to make. Her hopes and dreams vanish in a puff of sparkly purple smoke and she’s left trying to figure out where she fits in now.

Sometimes I feel like that little vampicorn. I want to be all glitter and cupcakes all the time, but sometimes I’m just not. Sometimes I’m bats and hematophagy instead. And that is okay! I will always have these mood cycles that make it hard for me to know where I fit into the world when I feel like a different person from one month to the next. It’s. Oh. Kay. My mood disorder is such that I know I’ll come around again, even when I don’t feel like it. The badness won’t last forever. And until it goes away again, taking better care of myself through the badness will make it all that much more liveable.

So as the seasons shift from summer to winter, and maybe you’re getting ready for another harried month of NaNoWriMo, just take a minute to check in with yourself. Maybe you have a little room for improvement in your own self care too! Your alterations to-do list will probably look a little (or completely) different from mine, and that is great. Know what helps you, and do it!

Until next week, happy writing!

Parenting v. Censoring

I work with kids and books. Like a lot. I work for a childhood literacy nonprofit and I volunteer basically all my during-school-hours free time at my sons’ school library. I also write children’s literature, dabbling in everything from the occasional picture book to can’t-stop-addict-levels of YA. Oh, and I am raising a herd of wild bookivores, constantly saving all our pennies for our next raid on the used bookshop.

Pretty much everyone knows I am That Mom, so I understandably get asked for book recommendations a lot. And I got one last week that stuck with me a bit more than usual.

Probably because it annoyed me.

The mom wanted a time travel middle grade book, preferably part of a series. So I started rattling out whatever floated to the top of my head. As we proceeded, I offered yet another series title and then hemmed and hawed a little at whether it was more sciencey time travel or more magical time travel. You know, just to explain the flavor.

That was a no-go. She didn’t want anything fantasy. Not even remotely. In fact, she was looking for this series as a way to ween her child off of this dumb fantasy kick he’d been on.

The conversation ended pretty quick after that.

Now, I am not the most perfect laissez-faire parent on the planet. As my sons’ school librarian can witness, there are some books the children will not be bringing into my home. (Except during banned book week. Then there is so much Captain Underpants around this place. *claws at eyes* SO MUCH CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS.) But shuttling a child away from an entire genre of books because—what? they have magic? they’re made up? Seriously, after this kid’s been successfully weened off fantasy, is the rest of fiction at large under the gun?

Now there is a lot of stuff that I personally choose not to read. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want the rest of the world reading it. As a general rule, censorship is for military-uniformed evil overlords cackling in their plushily-appointed offices. I don’t like. Honestly, I don’t really understand anybody who thinks hard censorship in any form of media is a good idea.

However, the game changes a little bit when the little absorby-brains belong to children. I mean, I don’t let my kids watch movies that I sometimes want to watch. (I mean, the Iron Giant and Star vs. The Forces of Evil proved to be just too terrifying. Nobody sleeps for like a week after the kids watch a ‘scary’ show. Can you imagine if I let them watch Invader Zim???) There are lots of books, music, and movies that I don’t necessarily want the kids ingesting for lots of reasons. Am I required to defend those reasons?

(That said, a small clarification on why I don’t like Captain Underpants books: I think they’re obnoxious. I don’t hate that the characters are disrespectful to authority figures or anything like that. The kids are free to read them anywhere I don’t have to see it. They can have their desks at school chock full of Captain Underpants books and that is fine. But if I hear so much as one tra-la-la…)

Part of a parent’s job is to shield their kids from bad stuff—‘bad’ usually being a somewhat subjective term. Another part of their job is to raise their kids up to be good people—‘good’ being another subjective term. Parents go at these objectives in different ways. Sometimes the routes don’t make a lot of sense from the outside looking in.

I don’t know what was going through this mom’s head when she decided to steer her kid away from the fantasy genre at large. My annoyance with her was a knee-jerk reaction, but maybe she has really good reasons that I just don’t know about. Maybe I’m a judgmental monster. Parenting is tough and there will always be someone there to deem your best effort not good enough. If I don’t feel like I need to defend all my own reasons for not letting my kids read something I object to, why do I feel entitled to this other mom’s reasons?

I wish I had a clearer conclusion, but this is murky stuff. I can’t make the call on what is appropriate or inappropriate reading for another person’s family. It could be that forcing someone to allow what they don’t agree with is a problem right along with removing other things that they might want access to. I suppose that’s a thing each parent has to decide for their own home.

What do you think? What’s the line between thumbs-up-you-are-an-involved-parent and boo-on-you-you-censoring-dictator? Does that line change over time as a child grows? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below! And until next week, happy reading!

Why Am I So Bad At Goals Whyyy

So this post was originally intended to be a halfway-into-the-year check in on my writing goals. Due to some scheduling issues, we’re a bit past the midpoint, but I’m doing it anyway. Because deadlines are for mortals, which is a response that probably will give you a lot of insight into the way my goals are going so far this year.

The short answer is that I’m doing awfully. At everything.

My reading goals were progressing beautifully until summer struck and then all bets were off. I didn’t read a single book over the entire summer that wasn’t for work, and it was difficult to squeeze even that much in. *claws at own face* I can’t live like this.

Giving myself more leeway on short story writing maaaay have been a mistake because I took that leeway as an excuse to do next to nothing. I have written two short stories so far this year. Two.

Editing is likewise a giant sinkhole so far this year. I just started editing Blood and Ebony about a week ago and have made it about halfway through the first chapter. And… that is all. Yikes. Zero down and three to go.

And I guess I started my one new draft of a novel, but realized about halfway in that it’s terrible and has some plot holes you could fly an Airbus A380 through and I have no interest in finishing it before the year is out. So… back to square one on that, I suppose.

My rejections goal for the year is currently sitting at fifteen of my forty-eight rejections, which is terrible in and of itself, but made exponentially more terrible by the fact that that is all. I have nothing more currently on submission right now that counts toward this goal. So unless I get my rear into gear, that number is going to stay at fifteen. At the beginning of the year, I had intended to have all the subs out that I needed for the entire year (plus a little extra under the assumption that some will be accepted) by the end of September, giving those rejections time to trickle in over the rest of the year. Yeah. Not happening. This goal is so far sitting at flaming-airplane-wreck-two-minutes-before-takeoff level of fail.

Soooo… yeah. That’s where I’m at.

But I have excuses. Do you wanna hear my excuses? Please?

My biggest excuse is that a few of those probable rejections turned out to be acceptances—and on pretty big projects, too. On top of my having normal day jobs, I’ve been working on these projects, steadily, daily, for about three months now and it’ll be at least another month before they’re all completed. It’s taking up nearly all of my free time.

Other excuses have been of the much less fun family emergency variety. Just this summer we had a string of chicken tragedies and three unique medical emergencies. (Unless we want to count each of my son’s complications as their own thing. Ah, dog bites. The emergency that keeps on emerging.) These things take time, and they also take brain power. I can’t work very effectively if I’m worried that my husband might need surgery (still a possibility) or that my son might lose an eye (off the table—whew!).

So, yeah. I’m still going to get myself as close to those goals as possible before the end of the year. I think I can catch up on the reading goal without too much fuss. Just two more short stories would put me above what I managed for last year, so that will have to be good enough. Editing might get trimmed back to just one book; if I really turn this thing around, maybe two. I’ll get about half of a first draft in November and try to finish the rest of it in December, so that one is still in the realm of possibility. But the rejections goal will definitely have to come down; I just won’t know exactly how much until I finish up these other projects. We’ll see.

All in all, I’m trying not to beat myself up too badly. I’m doing my best and I’m not just being lazy, so that’s a definite win in this game.

How about you fine readers? How are your literary endeavors going so far this year? Any wins to report? Any fails that could use some cheerleading? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Living in Alaska

Downtown Fairbanks. This is downtown, guys. SO CHILL.

I get to live in the best place in the world. Having grown up in the military, I got to experience a pretty significant chunk of the country and I can say with absolute certainty that Fairbanks Alaska is my all-time, no-runner-up-necessary, hands-down favorite. I will live here the rest of my life and scatter my ashes in its wind.

Alaska is glorious. It’s the biggest state by far, nearly a fifth of the US’ total area, but is home to about one five-hundredth of the US population (over half of which is concentrated in one town). Most of that area is wilderness and we’re fiercely proud of it. Alaska is home to seventeen of the country’s twenty tallest mountain peaks. We have over a hundred thousand glaciers. This place is giant, gorgeous, and you don’t have to deal with nearly as many pesky humans here. People are chill. Schedules are relaxed. Traffic is practically nonexistent. (Unless you live in Anchorage. Anchorage is basically a suburb of some Lower 48 town and doesn’t particularly count as Alaskan. *sticks tongue out at Mary*)

I got an interesting email last year from an ex-relative’s mother asking for some setting notes on living in Fairbanks Alaska. She was writing a story but hadn’t been able to visit, and wanted to make sure she got the light/dark thing right. I sent her an email and made a note to myself to do some setting notes on Alaska for the blog. So if you ever write an Alaskan story, here you go! (Free tip: come visit if you can manage it! You won’t be sorry!)

Population: Fairbanks Alaska is the largest town in the Interior, and the second largest in the state, with a population of a little over 30,000. This is a great, huge metropolis by Alaska standards, where most settlements have fewer than a thousand people. Fairbanks has most of the amenities you would expect in any American town, just less of them. There is one movie theater and three McDonalds’. We got a Walmart a few years ago and that was a pretty big deal. There’s at least one Taco Bell. So you can expect most of the same stuff you would see in a bigger town in the Lower 48, just less of it.

Light and dark: Fairbanks exists at an extreme latitude, and so the seasonal shifting of the earth’s orientation toward the sun is much more pronounced here. Therefore, the sun stays up nearly all summer, tapers down to equinox in the spring, and then wanes to hardly any presence in the winter. (Less so down in the southern parts of the state, but bonkers up on the north coast. In summer, the sun doesn’t set at all for over two months in Utqiaġvik, the northernmost town in the US.) Winter is dark nearly all the time. If you have a job or attend school during the day, odds are you will go weeks or months without ever seeing daylight. The converse is true of summer. Since most of us sleep at night, we can go most of summer without seeing the sun go down.

Cold: Yeah, it gets pretty cold here. Fairbanks is in the state’s interior so it can actually get pretty toasty in the summers too- sometimes into the 90’s, which is utterly miserable since nobody has air conditioning. Winters are extreme by Lower 48 standards, but have actually gotten a lot milder over the last few years. (Global warming is real, y’all. And it sucks. Ride your bikes and curb your plastic use. My glaciers thank you. *climbs off soapbox*) While years ago, it was very typical to spend most of winter at -20°F /-30°C with a cold snap or two of -40°F/°C, we’ve lately seen winters of -10°F/-25°C with two or three weeks at -20°F /-30°C. I haven’t seen it reach -50°F/-45°C in a decade. And while that sounds like a good thing on the surface, it’s not because of reasons I don’t have the space to get into here. Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you have questions. I love to rant.

Wildlife: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been unable to get my kids to school because we have moose hanging around in our yard. Critters are everywhere in Alaska. I constantly have foxes and ravens trying to get at my chickens and we get the occasional neighborhood warning of bears or, more rarely, wolves. Animals here are large, scrappy, and they go wherever the heck they want. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds like, though. Like more southerly people who have to deal with the small and venomous crawling into their shoes (*shudders*), you just get used to a set of precautions while living alongside wildlife. Fairbanks, especially where I live on the hills outside of town, lives in close quarters with nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just have to accept that animals that would happily stomp me flat or eat me get right of way during the stroll to school.

Tourists: I know this might not be true of everyone, but I can’t recall ever being annoyed with the tourists here. Honestly, I kind of adore them. They’re always so happy to be here and want to talk with locals and have loads of questions. Tourists are fun and nice, and I enjoy chatting with them about where they’re from and what they’ve seen so far. I regularly invite them to my house for dinner. (Just had another one last night!) My kids and I always wave at passing tour buses, which have never tried to run me over on my bike. (High praise–I cannot say that for any other kind of vehicle on the road.) Sometimes you playfully mess with tourists. (Naw, if my car freezes up, I just saddle up the family caribou to go to work. Oh, but you have to be careful because if you take a deep breath when it’s really cold, your lungs will freeze.) But you usually let them know you’re kidding before they leave. And you do occasionally find yourself in the weird position of protecting tourists from themselves. (No, no, no, ma’am, you do not want to get close to the bear cub for a picture. Yes, sir, that thousand pound moose is an herbivore, but it will certainly still kill you.) But all in all, I like the tourists just fine. Even if they do ask about the currency exchange rate between Alaskan money and American money. ❤

PS- Did you enjoy this? Then go read CM Schofield’s brilliant Living By the Sea. And watch out for the seagulls!

Reblog: How to Become a Successful Writer and Work-Full Time

Hi friends! As you well know, it’s a NaNo month, and that means reblogging my way to a murky victory by reserving every iota of brain power for spitting out garbage first drafts! Hooray!

One of those distracting brain power sinks is my job. I work two or three part time jobs in the winter, but in the summer, I work one part time and one full time, leaving me little time or thought for writing. This summer has had the added complication of doing freelance writing work for three different operations all at the same time. So while I don’t have the time to do any fiction work right now, I am still writing, with a bonus of contractually obligated deadlines (which for me is a very good thing).

That said, this week, I’ll be reblogging a guest article from The Creative Penn, Ron Vitale’s How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job, which is a really long title. Later in the month, I’ll probably post a snippet from one of my projects, which I’ll tell you more about then. Until then, happy writing, and enjoy the article!

How to Become a Successful Writer and Work Full-Time at a Day Job

Back in 2008, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to write a novel.

Yes, I worked full-time at a day job and had two small children, but realized that if I wanted my life to change, I needed to either make a move, or let go of my dream. Having my big “four-oh” birthday on the horizon proved to be the kick in the pants that pushed me to act. I thought long and hard, but decided to take a leap of faith and try. I now have 7 novels on sale on various platforms and am working on my next.

I went from “wanting to be a novelist” to “being one.”

How? I did the following:

  • Made a public commitment to my family and friends, holding myself accountable.
  • Created a schedule that worked for my busy career.
  • Chunked the work into bite-sized pieces.

Believe in Yourself

All my life I had waited for someone to validate me as an author. To change that unhealthy behavior, I started doing. I wrote in the morning before work, read “how to” articles and started listening to podcasts on writing and publishing. I reframed my goals by choosing to invest in myself and my dream.

No longer would I wait for someone to discover me, I would discover myself. 

Ready to read some more? Find the full article here!

I Miss Plastic, and Other Tales of Woe

seal paintI stood helplessly in the grocery store last Friday, wandering in bewilderment up and down what had to be miles of grocery aisles. Everything I could possibly put on my grocery list was right here, but I couldn’t seem to buy any of it. I stared at racks that soared over my head and thought, ‘I just… I just want to make rice krispie treats.’

A little background: each year, my family observes its own weird version of Lent. It’s not a part of our religion, but we’ve decided it builds character. And since we subscribe to Calvin’s Dad’s School of Character, calvin shovelingwhat it usually boils down to is forty days of making ourselves as miserable and deprived as possible. This year seems to be the granddaddy of denial and, guys, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.

My kids and I have been worrying a lot about penguins and baby turtles and dolphins and stuff, and so we decided to give up single use plastic. This wasn’t a completely naïve decision- I had been working at cutting back on plastics for several months going up to it- but holy guacamole, I don’t know if this is even possible in Fairbanks Alaska. We knew we would have to make exceptions for things like milk and medicine, but this is nuts.

Did you know that paper ice cream cartons are lined with plastic? And really any paper food container, such as shortening or my favorite almondmilk? As well as metal cans and aluminum soda cans? And the looks-like-metal-to-me twist off caps of glass bottles? The stickers on produce? Like everything ever? It makes me angry that I researched this at all because I thought things like glass bottles and fresh fruits and vegetables were safe. What the heck are we supposed to eat until Easter?

The thing is, the closer I look at my habits as a consumer, the more I notice all the ways I am a bad hippie (and, at least this year, a bad observer of Lent). Sometimes, when I’ve done everything I can do and it still doesn’t feel good enough, I just have to make a mental note and move on and hope that maybe, in a more perfect future, this will be fixable.

There’s a writing lesson here too. (I know you were waiting for it. [Although, really, I did just want to complain about plastic. Man, I would do some horrible things for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips right now.]) Everybody knows that first drafts are pretty ugly little things, and that can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the characters don’t feel real and layered, or maybe the plot got a little off course somewhere along the way. But one of my omnipresent reasons is the abundance of writing tics that slip in uninvited.

Writing tics vary from person to person. Some people find themselves using tons of brackets, or dropping necessary helper verbs, or writing in passive voice, or using the same three actions over and over. But the common thread is that these are the same sloppy little quirks that sneak into your writing over and over again, without your even noticing them. Drafting from scratch tends to dredge them up the most frequently because that’s when the ideas are first forming out of nothing, producing large streams of text for tics to sneak in with. Drafting is when we are most likely to write the way we speak, complete with all the hedges, repeats, and asides that are totally normal and acceptable in casual speech and informal writing, but less so in a finished piece.

Going back to edit is when I tend to notice my tics. And much like plastic in a grocery store, once I start looking, it’s everywhere. I swear, not a paragraph goes by without someone sighing. If I really want to shake it up, maybe they’ll roll their eyes instead. OR BOTH. But even knowing about the sorts of tics that I gravitate toward, I can’t seem to stifle them when I draft. They’re like dandelions.

Next month is Camp NaNoWriMo. I have been failing miserably at pretty much all of my goals so far this year, so I am determined to pick up the slack and get this thing back on track. I’m going to draft a brand-new story (a side story in-betweener novella in a series I’ve been working on forever), and I’m already anticipating all the funky little quirks that I won’t notice until the editing stage begins.

Your tics and mine are probably different, but just for fun, here are my most common writing tics. Maybe you’ll recognize a few from your own writing!

JUST, A LITTLE, SORT OF Okay, maybe I just like to hedge a lot. (I see you there, Just.) And on the other hand…

A LOT, VERY, SO Same issue, just bigger. (I can’t un-see all these ‘just’s. I’m not doing this on purpose.)

PET VERBS like sigh, pause, grin, and hesitate. Just these four words are probably a pretty good synopsis of most of my first draft stories. Look out for the pregnant pause. (Oh my gosh, there’s another ‘just’. Normally I would fix these, but I’m leaving them in for your benefit. You’re welcome.)

UNREASONABLY LONG SENTENCES It’s not editing unless I’m breaking behemoth sentences down into two, three, sometimes four much more digestible tidbits.

There are definitely more tics. Soooo many more. But at least I’m not quite as food obsessed as I used to be. I’d wedge in these Redwall-esque banquets and I swear, my characters did nothing and said nothing without a wad of food in their hands. Now they just fold their arms and slouch in doorways instead.

How about you guys? Any tics tend to crop up in your writing? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!