When The Student Is Ready

When I started StoryADay May back in 2010, some of 100 or so people who took part really stuck with me. One was Gabriela Pereira, who had just finished up an MFA and was transitioning from student to working writer. We shared an enthusiasm both for writing and for the hair-brained scheme.

Back then, I was a couple of years ahead of her in the online, community-building, content-marketing , writing-for-pay experience. Now she has soared into the writing world as a leader, a teacher, an inspirer and, in her own words, Chief Instigator at her project:  DIY MFA.

This afternoon I tuned in to her latest webinar, sort of as a favor. I’ve heard the talk before, live and in person, and was really just showing in case no one else did. Of course, there were tons of people on the call, loads of questions from attendees, and Gabriela fired people up and sent them away with tools and techniques to make their writing better, as always.

But — it shouldn’t surprise me, but it did — what I hadn’t expected to happen was that I had a breakthrough about my own novel-in-progress, while listening to Gabriela talk. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the turning point at the mid-point of my novel needed to be. More than knowing it, I could *picture* it.

I rushed off to my office and scrawled three pages of notes, opened up Scrivener and started adding scene cards to the second half of my novel’s file. I got super excited, and then realized how much writing I had to do…then chose to see that as exciting too!

Did I mention I’ve heard this talk at least twice before?

Lesson learned: when you find a teacher/mentor/friend whose words you really connect to, stick to them. Revisit their lessons. Re-read there books. Get on webinars and conference calls with them. Ask questions. Go over and over their lessons at different stages of your development and the development of each of your projects.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears, as my old mate the Buddha apparently never said.

If you want to get in on the remaining webinars in Gabriela’s current series, here’s some info:

Perfect Your Plot, Structure Your Story – December 14

Rock Your Revisions – December 21

 

(Some links on this page—the webinars and the one to Scrivener—are affiliate links, but I never recommend anything I don’t believe in 100%.)

Being Kind To Future Julie

This morning I was working on a non-fiction project that has a real deadline and real paycheck attached.

After a couple of days of feeling under the weather it was a real joy to wake up feeling fine and energetic today.

But I did not let that fool me. I knew that there was still a real danger of me allowing myself to get derailed, stuck or caught in a loop of procrastinatoin if I wasn’t vigilant.

So I did all the things I’m supposed to do: I got dressed in clothes that are semi-professional looking; I put on my tiny, desktop humidifier with the hinoki essential oils (which Is supposed to make me smarter, but which in reality is just something I’m using to trigger my brain to understand that We Are In Work Mode); I gathered all my notes and decided to focus only in a certain slice of the project; I activated Freedom to stop me accidentally surfing Facebook; and I set a timer for 45 minutes, to create some urgency and to promise myself a break. I even made a coffee date with a friend for this afternoon, so that I knew I couldn’t catch up on any missed time, later.

Sometimes all this works, and sometimes it doesn’t,

Today I decided to try another technique I’ve seen in productivity manuals. I tried to focus on Future Julie and how happy she would be when she has a finished draft that she can let sit for a few days. I thought about how grateful Future Julie would be when not struggling under the weight of a huge amount of work, and how happy she would be that she could work on what remains, with a lightness that would not otherwise be there. I picture Future Julie finishing up a really kickass article because she wasn’t horribly stressed.

And today, at least, it  worked.

 

 

Future Julie Thanks Past Julie

[NB The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links]

The Playlist of The Book

Spotify thumbnails for Spiked!The novel I’m currently writing is set in 1986.

To get me in the mood, I created a custom playlist in Spotify, containing all kinds of groovy chart music that I was listening to back in 1986.

I looked up the UK chart hits from 1985 and 1986 and picked out all the stuff that I didn’t absolutely hate (interestingly, most of the stuff I left out was the stuff that my American friends remember fondly: American hair bands and such).

You can listen along, and then, when you read the novel, you’ll be sure to recognize the songs that get name-checked in the story!

Open the Spiked! playlist in Spotify

Recharging The Batteries

Batteries
I love sitting alone in a room, with just my ideas and the silence and the limitless possibilities of my imagination.

But there are days when I really envy people with bosses, and other people looking over your shoulder, and all the trappings of a job, to keep you honest.

On days when I am tired, or under the weather, or when I make the mistake of looking at the news before I start work, it can be hard to force myself to switch into creative mode. Which project to work on? Let me think: which one feels the least like heavy lifting? None of them? Well, there’s no one watching, maybe I’ll just watch a clip of Colbert…and this video of some actor being interviewed, and this news show about something depressing…and how can three hours have passed?!

Recharging The Batteries

The best thing I can say about today – work wise- is that I did some recharging of the creative batteries.

[update: 7:09 pm: Success! I went out to a coffee shop and fired up the laptop. Something about only having 40 minutes stripped away all the insecurities and I added a few hundred words to my novel. More fun than that: I had my character flipping through some photographs of suspects only to discover a face she never expected to see! I hadn’t expected to see it either, and it certainly puts the cat amongst the pigeons…but not in a way that overly-complicates things. Just makes it more fun. Wheee!]

I read this interview with Ridley Scott about replacing a Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in a film that is coming out next month. The man turns 80 next month and his work ethic and excitement for what he does, leaps out of the words.

And I watched this interview with a great Gerwig, who was super-excited about doing more of her work.

The absolute best thing about the day, though, was getting to walk into town through perfect autumn weather, for a sneaky wee lunch date with my man. (Aw!)

The Antidote To The News

Whenever I let the misery of current events get to me, there is no better cure than to tune my brain to someone who is doing what they do, and doing it with love and zest and near-maniacal passion. I don’t even care what “it” is. There is something energizing and kind of sexy about anybody doing something they love.

So: What do you do to recharge your batteries?

Storyboarding

One of the reasons I write is to get the ideas out of my hamster-wheel brain and into some kind of organized form.

It’s one of the reasons I like writing non-fiction. Fiction is a blast, but non-fiction feels like solving a puzzle.

MIND MAPS AND SOMETHING MORE

When I’m in the early stages of a project, I’m a big fan of the mind-map. You know, those big spidery diagrams that allow ideas to spill out of your brain in any direction, and land, semi-bundled, on branches on the page.

Usually, that’s enough to keep me on track.

Today I was working on an article and I felt I needed something a little more structured, but I can’t get behind a simple list. Lists just feel so…linear. And un-visual. (That’s not a real thing, is it?)

I’ve been taking notes in Penultimate — the Evernote hand-writing note-taking app. I discovered, when I clicked ‘new note’, that they offer a ‘storyboard’ template, along with their ruled pages and blank pages and dotted pages and all kinds of other templates.

So I gave it a try.

And now my article is neatly divided into four sections with goofy sketches a the top to remind me what each section is meant to be about.

StoryBoarding

Now I’m thinking that might be a better way to go for my novel revision, too.

A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST

I’ve heard people talk about storyboards before, but I could never see how I, a non-artist, non-film-maker, could make them work for me. I’ve been around long enough to know that if I try something just because it sounds cool and new, my productivity drops off while I learn the method, then it may never be a method I need.

But sometimes I get kind of stuck and need to try something new. That was me, today.

I was faced with the prospect of being overwhelmed by a wall of notes. Creating these storyboards, complete with sketches, helped me signpost my way through them.

FORCING IT VS. FINDING IT

Sometimes forcing something new into your process slows you down. Sometimes trying something new reinvigorates your process.

Today’s experiment was a win.

Do You Know The Dashing White Sergeant?

I’m writing a story set in Scotland and I just realized it needs a ceilidh scene.

(In case you’re wondering, a ceilidh (KAY-lee) in this context is a wild dance with lots of Scottish country dancing. There are other, more sedate definitions, but this is the kind I like to go to.)

Here’s the traditional tune, with some fairly well-behaved dancers:

Here’s how the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society would like everyone to do the dance:

And here’s the kind of barely-contained confusion and chaos it usually causes, given that half the people at a ceilidh will have never danced it before, being from somewhere other than Scotland. This is not helped by the fact that most of the Scots won’t have danced it since they were last forced to, in Primary 7 PE class, where they spent most of their time trying not die from touching the hand of a member of the opposite sex, rather than committing the steps to memory.

It’s a heck of a lot of fun though.

I wish it was me, not just my protagonist, who was going to a ceilidh!

Side note: If you’re in the Aberdeen (Scotland) area, and need a good ceilidh band, I can heartily recommend Yous Dancin?

(“Yous Dancin?” being the traditional way to ask a lady to dance, in my part of Scotland. Best delivered in an off-hand, I-don’t-really-care-either-way kind of fashion. The correct response being “You askin?”, followed by “Aye, Ah’m askin” and “Then Ah’m dancin”.

Or a shrug. A shrug will do, too.)

15 Things About My Dad

15 Things About My Dad, for Father’s Day

He was in the year above (Sir) Billy Connelly at school, and only knew The Big Yin because his name was similar to that of one of my Dad’s best friends.

He and his friends, in the early 1960s, listened to a new Beatles song on (pirate) Radio Luxembourg, learned it, and played it for a Glasgow crowd before the single was officially released.

He met Neil Armstrong (several times) at the airport and told me his passport simply listed his occupation as “businessman”.

He remembers exactly where he was when he heard Kennedy was shot. It was that big a deal, for young folks in Scotland.

I am a better singer because he listened to me and said “That’s great, but how about…”

He taught me that phrasing is important.

He is a fabulous singer.

He is endlessly curious.

He married his first love, and still adores her.

I love Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, ELO, Mike Batt, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Lynne, Martin Taylor, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, because of him.

I believe I am writer because he read my stories, poems and lyrics, and told me they were good.

I am fascinated by scientific explanations for things because of him.

I believe it’s possible to have faith in things we can’t understand, because of him.

He taught me that stubbornly sticking to your values is so much more important than doing whatever will make you popular.

I believe I can do anything, because he believes it too.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated The Globe In An Act Of Her Own Making

Image of earth from space

This story was written as part of StoryADay May 2017. It is being posted here as part of our annual StoryFest Showcase. It will soon be available in an audio version via the 999 Words or Less Podcast. Special thanks to author Phil Giunta, for the opening line.

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday.

#

The note was tucked under a button-cover on the instrument panel.

#

The air pressure settled with a hiss. Unlatching my helmet, I wished, as always, that I had got rid of the ‘glamor girl updo’. Next time I’m shaving my head, no matter what the contract says.

The single viewport in the control room was my only window into open space. It had been three weeks and I was ready to drink it in.

But first, the light of the departing shuttle’s engine-burn had to fade. As it did, I squinted against the white-bright glare of the shuttle as it filled my viewport. I turned to watch the last unnatural shadow I would cast for a week creep across the panel behind me. When I turned back, the craft carrying the crew of the Opticorp Satellite Rotel had slid from view.

I was as alone as it is possible for a gal to be, in 2172.

#

Who signs up to be the lone caretaker of a between-bookings space hotel? The same kind of person who used to want to be a lighthouse keeper. A person comfortable in their own skin. A person at ease in their own brain.

People like that—people like me—make other folks uncomfortable.

And so we wall ourselves up in hermitages and lighthouses and libraries. Or we set out to circumnavigate the globe alone on foot, in coracles, dangling in gondolas from balloons, in prop-engined aeroplanes, strapped atop experimental rockets, or tucked inside the planet’s first permanent orbiting hotel.

#

The note was a joke, of course.

In all the PR materials they make it sound like important work: personing the station while it’s empty. In theory I’m all that stands between the company’s massive investment and an unforeseen disaster. The PRers even created a dramatic simulation of my digital double spotting some flaw and heroically correcting it just as the next batch of high-paying tourists pull up at the docking port.

Fake headlines spiraled in: Disaster Averted! Lone Hospitalitynaut Saves Station! Heiress Proves Her Worth!

Oh, didn’t I mention? I’m, like, the most famous person on (sorry ‘off’) planet Earth.
I’m Gaia. Yeah, that Gaia. No other name required, right? Daughter of Alandria Flores, the mega-trillionaire and former President of Pacifica. First quad-parented baby in history. Scrutinized, analyzed, and sometimes-fictionalized every moment of the past 24 years.

I’m good PR, but I almost didn’t get the gig. Alandria was putting some serious pressure on the company to block me, so her assassination couldn’t have come at a better time. For me, I mean. She was in the middle of an election loop, so it wasn’t great for her—on many levels—but when she went up in that column of smoke, at least it meant my dream didn’t have to.

I know. That sounds harsh, right? I imagine some of you have relationships with your various parents that are a little more nourishing than mine. I’ve read novels. I know it happens. I just can’t imagine what that would have been like with Alandria. I mean, let’s be honest. Can we? You knew that face. The set of her jaw. The way she calculated every move ten places further than everyone else? If you were a citizen of Pacifica she probably cared more about your welfare than she did about mine.

I’m not bitter. Just trying to explain how I can be so casual about watching my Primary Parent vaporizing on a livefeed.

Anyway, it worked out for me.

And no, in case you’re wondering, I had nothing to do with it.

But the ‘grieving daughter’ bit did play well for the cameras, and you can’t think that Opticorp hated that.

#

But you probably know all this. You’ve probably seen the documentaries.

So why am I writing this down?

Because it amuses me to think of an alien—either from another region of space, or a human so far into the future that they might as well be—finding this and reading my story, in my words. It’s an exercise in figuring out how I would present myself to someone who doesn’t know who I am.

It’s not an opportunity I’ve ever had. How am I doing?

Plus, I have about 167.5 hours to kill until this caretaker shift is up.

#

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday

#

It’s a joke from the Chief Steward. But it’s a joke in more ways than one, because if anything did go wrong there would be almost nothing I could do, and less time in which to do it.

So why am I really here?

From the company’s point of view: PR.

And from mine? Well, let’s just say I put up with the ‘glamor girl updo’ clause in the contract because of the other clause. The one that says ‘no cameras, no livefeed’ while I’m on board.

#

Sometimes, the Steward told me, the guests take one look out of the offside viewports and that’s all they can handle. They think they’re looking at nothing. They slam the shutters down and spend the rest of the trip with their eyes fixed on Earth—a place they’ve mortgaged themselves to escape, for one expensive week. The vastness of it is too much: too empty or too full; too limitless or too oppressive. They feel too small.

Me? I spend my weeks here looking only outward, into…everything.

And one day soon, when Opticorp’s finished testing their long-range voyager, and are looking for the first woman to travel beyond the reach of human communication, you can guess who’ll be standing on the launch pad, helmet-in-hand, looking up.

###

What Kids Learn At the Middle School Drop-Off

I don’t often drive my kids to school but this week their dad was away and it rained a lot, so I took over that task.

Since I don’t do this often, I’m not as inured to the horror of the experience as their dad is. (Apparently he rants a lot less than he used to.)

As my blood pressure inched up, I tried to figure out just what was so infuriating to me about the casual flouting of the school’s rules that I witnessed every day.

Surely I wasn’t so intolerant that I couldn’t understand why someone might want to hold up the flow of traffic so they could let their precious angel go in the front door instead of the side door like they’re supposed to. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? I still have to wait behind you either way…

Here’s The Big Deal

I finally figured it out this morning.

Here’s the real reason I get so steamed up about people who ignore the principal’s repeated requests (and big, new signs) to go down THIS lane not that one, and stop at THIS point, not some random point that makes sense to you:

  • Every time you drive down the middle lane instead of going around, where we’ve been asked to drive, you show your child that the school’s principal is someone whose instructions can be ignored…by your family.
  • Every time you drop your kid off at the front door instead of the side door, you demonstrate that inconveniencing other people is ok, as long as it makes life a little more convenient...for your family.
  • Every time you double park at the gym doors and then pull out in front of me, you model to your kids that it’s OK to disregard the safety of others as long as it makes life easier...for your family.

And Here’s Why I Care

I care, because if you show your kid, day after day after day, that disobeying the school authority figures is OK for your family, that being selfish is OK for your family, that disregarding other people’s needs is OK for your family, how do you think your kid acts inside the building…with my kid?

When the teacher asks the class to be quiet, but you’ve shown your kid that the rules don’t apply to them, what do you think they do? Do you think about how that affects the education of my kid, who has trouble concentrating when the room is noisy? Does it matter if the teacher gets so frustrated that they assign them busy-work instead of teaching them the good stuff? Or if the teacher sends home a ton of homework because they couldn’t get through everything in class?

When your kid mocks my kid down for not wearing the right shoes, and upsets him, does your kid come home and worry about that? Or do they never give it a second thought, because you’ve demonstrated, day after day, that other people really don’t matter?

When your kids disobeys school rules and shoves my kid on the stairs, do they understand that the safety of others is important?Or do they complain to you about stupid rules and mean teachers and tattle-tale kids? And do you back them up?

Obey

We live in a society. Societies only work if we have rules that we all agree on and we follow them.

I’m not talking about slavish, stupid following-of-rules. If your kid is on crutches and you let them out at the front door, I’m not going to honk at you.

  • But if you just can’t wait and follow the rules because your whims are more important than the principal’s instructions, what message are you sending to your kids?
  • If you’re in such a hurry that everyone else can go hang, what behaviour are you modeling to your kids over and over again?
  • If you put others in danger to make your morning more convenient, what is wrong with you?

And, thanks to you, I am now demonstrating to my kids that it’s fine to judge people and call them names, as long as you’re behind the wheel of a car.

Sigh.

I guess we all have some work to do…

That Time We All Begged Obama To Help Syrians

Got a little steamed up on Facebook this morning. Posted this in response to an asinine comment on a friend’s wall. Posting it here because I want to hold onto this outrage. Unlike our outrage at celebrities, this one is, I think, worth nursing.

The Background

  1. Bashir Al-Assad has attacked his people with chemical weapons. Again. Or maybe he hasn’t, and we need to investigate it further before we act1
  2. The Russians are blaming the rebels. The US is blaming Assad. Trump is saying it hurts his heart and we should probably Do Something.
  3. A friend posted this heart-wrenching BBC story about a young man who lost his entire family, including his 10 month old twins. (You don’t have to watch it. You can imagine.)
  4. And in the comments someone my friend allows to communicate with her for some unknown reason, turned it into an advertisement for the Idiot-In-Chief.
Quote: Trump did what Obama couldn't and finally we are taking a stand as a strong country again

“Trump did what Obama couldn’t and finally we are taking a stand as a strong country again”

I couldn’t even.

And then I could. (Before I knew that Trump had ordered an attack)

Reposted below.

That Time We All Begged Obama To Help The Syrians

I agree. Obama should have taken action when we concluded in 2013 that Bashir Al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people. But if he “couldn’t”, let’s ask why.
Was it because the American people, sick of 12 years of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks) demanded the president bring troops home?
 
Was it because, in 2013, the Republicans in congress shut down the government, rather than compromise over the budget? If we couldn’t even agree on a budget, how were we going to pay soldiers we sent into a new war?
 
Was it because the citizens of the great United States of America, that grand experiment in liberty and democracy, were too busy being outraged by Miley Cyrus’s twerking to read about the strangers across the globe being gassed by their own government?
 
Was it because that president understood that he was there to do what we told him, and we did not tell him to intervene in Syria?
 
Was it because he didn’t love his Muslim buddies as much as we thought he did, after all?
 
Was it because the Republicans were, in the wake of Sandy Hook, too busy opposing gun control measures that would expand background checks and limit who could buy military-style assault weapons?
 
Or was it because he–and only he– didn’t care?
 
That’s right, I remember how everyone was talking about the Syrians’ suffering.
I remember how Congress pleaded with him to help the burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
I remember when Doctors Without Borders begged for our help to keep a maternity hospital open so that those conjoined twins (among others) could get help and we told our government to help; and I remember how the twins (and all the other babies) went on to live  happy and full lives.
I remember when we opened our doors to the refugees fleeing this crisis, and when we housed and fed hundreds of thousands of them.
 
Oh wait. No I don’t.
 
We didn’t care, so he couldn’t do a thing.
WE didn’t care, so we encouraged this president to ban them from seeking refuge here.
WE DIDN’T CARE, until it suited us to use it as a political football.
 
Shame on President Obama for not acting. Shame on President Trump for turning away the refugees. Shame on us for ignoring this slaughter for years and years and years.

[Updated 1: 35 pm 7 April 2017] Some More Things

Retweeted by @SolomonJones1

Trump tweeting about NOT attacking Syria

“He calls it as he sees it”

  1. Bearing in mind that a, I wrote this before I knew Trump had sent missiles, and b, Kennedy spend WEEKS deliberating what to do about the Cuban Missile Crisis….