Reading Problems: Focusing

I often lament that I don’t have the time to read as much as I want. I have to get my writing done, go to my job, finish chores, walk a dog, spend time with a husband. I look forward to things like airplane rides when I’m trapped in one spot with nothing but my book to help while away the time.

With reading lists like this, who has time for weird anxieties?
With reading lists like this, who has time for weird anxieties?

Then those moments arise, and as I try to read, try to sink into whatever book I’m working through at the moment, I can’t focus. In a different house, with the television occupied, the people I wanted to talk to off for an extended errand, the dog asleep and my car keys believed to be with previously mentioned absentees, I should have had the time to read. I should have finished reading the memoir I’m working on right now and started the novel I’d also brought along for the trip. But I could not focus. I kept thinking of vague “things” I should be doing, places I should go (though I had nowhere in mind), people I wanted nearby (though I get annoyed when they distract me).

Sitting and reading for hours, without a reason to feel guilty for it, is so rare now that I think I no longer know how to do it. I know how to read in bits, a half hour before work, in between pieces of conversation, while trying to ignore the television in a crowded room. Long, focused reading (not counting when editing my own or a critique partner’s manuscript) is a childhood skill I seem to have lost. And I want it back.

Writing Problems – The Stop

Last week I finished the rewrite on my novel, and sent it off to my critique partner to read. Since then, I’ve tried to figure out — what do I do?

Before I started on this rewriting mission, I had plenty of other projects I was working on. Reviews, short stories to write and edit, blog posts. These were things I concentrated on for a short while, a couple of days or maybe a few hours at a time, and I grew accustomed to moving between projects to keep me interested and prevent burning out on one thing.

Then, for over a month, I went back to this story, a story that I spent most of my creative time on for the past few years. I let myself get immersed in just this thing, and aside from some other obligations (some real some self-imposed) I didn’t write anything else.

Now, I’m back to that after time, waiting to hear comments and find out if more massive edits are required before I move onto the next stage again. I could go back to writing those stories, working on those other projects…but coming down from that big thing, I feel like much of my writing energy is temporarily diminished, and it’s hard to get myself back into the habit of jumping between stories and ideas.

So I’m doing little things. My critique partner sent me work of her own, almost as long as what I sent her, so I’m reading that, making comments, concentrating on helping her. And I’m letting myself stew on another novel idea, one that’s been taking shape in my head for a couple of years but still hasn’t formed any fingers or toes. I’m also going over already-written stories, ones I want to edit, fix, and send to friends so I can make a try at publishing them in magazines. Mostly, though, I’m reading, taking in children’s fantasy and adult memoir and emotional graphic novels, filling myself up with other people’s words more than I would when in the middle of my own story, letting my brain just take a break from writing and read, filling myself up so when it’s time to really, really write again, I’ll be ready.


Do you find you need a break between projects, or at least big work? What do you do to build up the motivation to write again?


Shared Character Experiences: A.J. Fikry and Turkish Delight

I’ve been following the trend of every other library staffer that I work with, and started reading Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. At one point the title character, who is a bookseller, is having a conversation with one of the book reps that’s come to town vaguely about food in books, and he brings up something that also haunted me — Turkish Delight.

“…I always wanted to try the Turkish Delight in Narnia. When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a boy, I used to think that Turkish Delight must be incredibly delicious if it made Edmund betray his family…And it turned out to be this powder, gummy candy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my entire life.”

“Your childhood was officially over right then.”

“I was never the same,” A.J. says.

When I was in fifth grade, we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as one of the assigned readings. I loved the book, yes, but I kept thinking — Turkish Delight must be amazing. I remember imagining the vivid red of Edmund’s mouth as he ate it, which invoked all my favorite flavors of candy: cherry, strawberry, or even, still my heart, raspberry.

Turkish Delight is not something a regular American kid encounters in the Shaw’s, so for years I never ate it, and almost forgot how much I’d wanted to. Then my husband (then my boyfriend) and I went to a candy shop on Cape Cod. A candy shop that sold European candy — including Turkish Delight. I was so excited. I’d finally get to try it! This delicious candy that Edmund loved so much! I bought one, and once in the car I ripped it open and bit in.

I think this is the actual brand I tried. Don’t try it.

I don’t remember the flavor. I think my brain is protecting me, trying to diminish the extreme disappointment. I only remember it was hard to swallow, and I didn’t finish the awful thing.

It’s true that most things are never as amazing as you thought they’d be. You expect them to at least be edible, though. I’m just glad wide-eyed 10-year-old me never encountered Turkish Delight outside a book. I might have never trusted an author’s culinary taste again.

Writing Problems: Calling Myself a Writer

A friend recently posted this article by Chuck Sambuchino on her Facebook page, and the title alone had me clicking immediately: When Can You Call Yourself a Writer? He lays out when you can call yourself a writer personally, and when you can call yourself a writer to the world, basically now, while you’re writing, whether your published or not.

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, but it hasn’t always been something I’ve wanted to admit to other people right off the bat. Obviously, once they’ve known me for more than a couple of weeks, it’s hard to hide the fact of what I do, or want to do. But to actually come right out and say it is something I’ve felt uncomfortable with.

When I started attending Lesley, I began telling people “I need to do homework” when I meant “I need to write.” This was a much more easily accepted excuse to family and friends to not take part in something, or duck out early. People understand homework, but they don’t always understand the need to write a story that may never leave the realm of your computer hard drive. It was a crutch, though, something I could say in order to avoid explaining to people what I was doing and why I was doing it.

I’ve also had a hard time calling myself a writer to other people, especially outside my circle, because I’ve had very little published, and for a while none of it was paid for. That’s how I realized, through a conversation during a seminar, that I didn’t think of myself as a published writer, because I couldn’t tell people I was getting paid for it and without the “authority” of money it didn’t seem right to tell people that’s what I do.

I’ve become better about this, partly because it’s become impossible to hide. All my coworkers know I’m a writer, because I had to ask for chunks of time off twice a year to attend school. This has given me the chance to learn to grow comfortable talking about it, since some of them still ask me, with great interest and no judgement, how is my writing and what am I working on. Being open about what I do has also given me more opportunities at my job, as they’ve started to ask me to do projects involving writing, like Facebook posts and newsletters. Thanks to school, a large percentage of my Facebook friends are also writers (whether they get paid or not!) so it’s just unreasonable to hide what I do on there. And even with family and friends, it’s become easier to bring it up; yeah, I have a lot of creative buddies, but even others are willing to talk about writing when I bring it up, or want to actually read what I’m doing. Whether or not I get feedback from this, it’s a morale booster.

So, calling myself a writer to other people has been an awkward process, partly because I’m an exceptionally awkward individual. But doing it, finally, has helped me to be more confident in what I do, and what I’m trying to do, and has given me opportunities and a chance to connect with other people I did not have before (even if I’m still really awkward while I do it).

Other writer! Do you tell people that you write, even non-writing friends/family/coworkers? What do you tell them? Is it scary? Easy? Impossible?

Chocolate Stains in Library Books

I open my freshly checked out library book and prop it flat on the table. A few pages in, a chocolate stain appears, like a light thumbprint smeared across the words. Disgusting, I should think, annoying that someone should be so careless.

But I’m too absorbed in the words. Absently I eat my brownie, flicking crumbs off the stain and away from the crease of binding and paper, giving the book a light cleansing shake before returning to the story, and my snack. I think I’ll like this book.

Ideas Around a Fire Pit

This past weekend I flew out to visit Rachel, the dearest friend I made at Lesley. She showed me around her hometown, and her current-town, and drove me to see Steak and Shake and giant catsup bottles.

One night, while her husband was out visiting with her sister, we sat in her back yard and burned brush in her fire pit. Poking at the embers with the stick I’d claimed for myself, I started telling her about the story I’d just finished the rough draft for, a story that I can’t decide if it’s good, or bad, or worth the time needed to work on it. I gave her the key points, out of order, rambling a bit, and the ideas I was trying to convey — anger and resentment that burns inside you like an ember; a deep desire to have life go back to the way it’s “supposed” to be even if what you want is impossible; a need to be understood; an attempt to express yourself.

Rachel hasn’t seen any of the writing — I haven’t typed it up yet — but she had thoughts on my concepts, and words of encouragement that made me think this isn’t a boring, overdone idea, that it’s something that could succeed if I decide to just keep going with it.

And this is why I need writing friends, even if I never show them a word of what I put to paper (I will); they know what I’m going through, and what I need, not just want, to hear. If it had been a silly idea, I believe Rachel would have said so. But I also believe she wouldn’t have told me to give it up. She would have brainstormed with me, help me stumble on the direction I needed to go in to get the story right.

We talked about other ideas that weekend, both things that I’m working on, and stories she’s trying to bring to life. Not just around that fire: sometimes in pajamas on her couch, panting up a hill, driving around after eating milkshakes and whispering in a lavishly mosaiced church. Every time I just felt better about writing, more confident that if I just sit down, I can actually pound out something worth reading.

Writing Problems: Keeping a Routine

A great thing about working in a library is how sometimes a book just pops out at you, one you might have never known about before but now just looks so darn interesting. The latest for me is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry, a collection of descriptions of what different artists/writers/composers/what-have-you do/did as their routine while they created. come of it makes me feel like a lazy butt — really, Haruki Murakami, up at 4:30 am? — but overall it’s interesting, inspiring, and at times reaffirming. And, it’s made me think about what my routine is, and has been.Read More »

Rainy Day Comfort

Rainy DayI’ve said before that I love rainy weather. It dampens down my brain in a pleasant way that makes it easier to think, and focus, and just create. But I also just feel comfortable when it’s raining, the right amount of sleep to cushion everything while I’m awake.

On Friday after I took the dog for a walk through the warm, misty, soft air, we came back inside. I sat at the computer with my breakfast and the dog jumped on my lap, ridiculously warm and floppy with just the right amount of heaviness, like those beanbags you warm in the microwave and lay on your aching shoulders. I had written some already, enough for an early morning, so I caught up on vlogbrothers videos and ate my toast, dropping crumbs on the dog’s back while she dozed on.

Eventually, I had to go to work. I put off getting up as long as I was able. Rain outside the window, dog on my thighs, Hank Green singing J.K. Rowling songs on my screen, all backed by my desk lamp’s soft orange glow — I could have stayed there all day.