Why I “Dirty Bulked” My WIP

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Yesterday at the gym I was talking with a trainer who said he’d gained 30 pounds by “dirty bulking.” My face must have told him I had no idea what he meant. In case you’re in the same boat, evidently it’s a method where hard gainers put on weight by eating junk food, massive amounts of it. “Oh, you mean what I do every day,” I said. Which isn’t entirely true, but it isn’t entirely false either. Depends on the day.

I recently dirty bulked my WIP. Yup. I’ve been changing directions/characters/locations in my novel, and I needed to print a copy because I revise best when I can see it in front of me and can mark it up, circle things, underline.

Because my MS was only at 185 pages or so and I wanted it to be a nice round 200 pages before I printed it, I dirty bulked. My writing version of eating donuts and ice cream, though, is “navel gazing” and philosophizing. (Navel gazing is just what it sounds like — you’re writing stuff that probably does not at all advance the plot. Likely no one else cares about it. Not an iota.) I was actually proud of some of it when I first wrote it. It flowed. It was “thinky.” I explored the meanings of words that are important to me such as loyalty and feminism.

So, junk writing done, I hit print and out of the printer flowed warm pages covered in ink. Happily I sat down, pen in hand, a chunk of the MS on my handy dandy book stand that my dear Barry bought me for Christmas last year. How excited I was to move things around, make big changes. Discover just how genius my new path was. That’s when the dirty bulk showed itself to be made of junk food. (Cue the “wunh wunh” music.)

Suffice it to say I have only put in the changes for 150 of those pages into my MS and I have already had to lose 15 pages. Fifteen bloated, useless (to the novel) pages marked out. Gone. Junk.

Do I regret my self-indulgent dirty bulk? Not entirely; I saved some of it. Some of it was just for me in real life. Some of it was to know more about my characters and their struggles and their beliefs, which are sometimes in conflict with mine. I make them argue their side so I can understand them, even if I don’t agree. Sometimes I have to write characters I don’t like or identify with. (Mini-lecture: I refuse to say “with whom I identify.” Because I’m under 50 and because that flawed “rule” has been shown to be ridiculous and it is one with which I won’t put up — please tell me you get the joke.) I do respect my characters and their right to be who they are.

It will be interesting to see how much of this last 50 pages I lose. I enjoy purging my closets and cabinets, and it’s the same with words so it’s not as if I’ll mourn what I get rid of. I don’t think every sentence I write is priceless. When my agent asked me to prune my last MS, I was happy to do so, and she was pleased with the results so it’s a skill worth having. Still, maybe next time I’ll think twice before imposing an arbitrary page count on myself to spare myself the rapid slash of my inky sword across miles of words. (If you guessed that I would have cut the last half of that sentence if I read it anywhere else, you’re right. But I’m feeling playful so it stands.)

Whether you dirty bulk with words or junk food, there’s no judgment here. Let me know how it goes. On second thought, since I’m trying to stay away from donuts, maybe save the food porn and just let me know if you dirty bulk your story.

Write on, my friends, write on.

 

 

 

 

Featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Podcast!

I’m so excited! First of all, I adore podcasts and Chicken Soup for the Soul is now podcasting. Did you know that? I’ve been enjoying them from day one.

Imagine my delight, then, when I recently received word that one of my stories will be featured on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s podcast tomorrow, March 10, 2016. They had a teaser for it on today’s podcast, and I found myself dancing around the house in happiness already.

It’s my story from “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions” that I’ve blogged about before, based on a wake up call I had in the form of a dream a few years ago that transformed my marriage.

If you’re a podcast listener, please head over to ITunes tomorrow and take a listen to not just the broadcast featuring my story, but all of the other fabulous Chicken Soup podcasts for an uplifting moment in your day.

And if you happen to miss it tomorrow, don’t worry: it will be available in their archives to hear whenever you’re ready.

I’m taking my mom shopping tomorrow, and I can’t wait to put on this “radio show” when I have her in the car to surprise her. Shhh…don’t tell!

 

When All You Want To Do Is Edit…Wait, That’s Not A Thing?

I’m sure that somewhere away from the page, away from my keyboard, the weather is really just as hot as they claim.

I’m sure that ice cream still tastes fantastic, especially chocolate chip mint and caramel swirl (but maybe not together).

Undoubtedly vacation will come and I will be pulled from the editing zone by my husband holding plane tickets in one hand and my suitcase in the other. (So maybe at some point before the end of summer I should pack unless I want him doing it for me. I don’t. I really don’t.)

Until then, my head is deep into editing. In fact, I resent anything right now that is not me, pen in hand, paper, or putting those notes into my latest draft.

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And, egomaniac that I apparently am, I’m kinda crushing on my own writing at the moment.

Don’t worry — I’ll get over it. Self doubt and agony “But am I any good?” will return to paralyze me. I had one of those mornings earlier this week. Um, it might have been yesterday. Until then, I’m enjoying myself.

Are you wondering where I found the time to pound out this lil’ missive?

The next pages up to edit are printing right now is how. (Pardon me while I shake my print cartridge to get the maximum number of pages before changing it. What, you don’t do that? You should give it a try.)

Oh great. Now my printer’s not working. Time to bang on it and curse. Wait, I’ll try shutting it down and restarting it.

Where’s my personal assistant? What, I don’t have one?

Note to self: start vetting discreet, efficient personal assistants with great techie skills who also like to clean house.

You’ll notice I started off by saying all I want to do is edit? Well, I sense a shift in mood coming on. Where’s that blasted ice cream? I could have it eaten in the amount of time it is taking this printer to shut down and come back on. For the love!

I suspect I now have black ink from the cartridge on my face and possibly on my new blouse. Merde.

Rescued blouse, did a visual check of face: all clear.

Unplugged printer, started alignment because printer demanded it.

Now it is spitting out pieces of blank paper.

I have no idea what this printer is doing now.  It claims to be aligning after getting jammed and wasting four pieces of paper.

And WHERE IS MY ASSISTANT? Oh, that’s right.

I do have someone who has offered to work for me when I’m ready; all I need do is say the word. Word. No, wait, not yet.

The printer says the alignment has failed.

My mom calls and says she has found a (redacted) that (redacted) wrote before (redacted). Now trying not to cry.

But the printer is printing again, even though it is telling me that the ink cartridge is low. I know; I shook it so I could squeeze thirty more pages out, remember, printer? Because I’m thrifty that way. Looks like I’m only going to maybe get 20 this time. Better than nothing.

Bemoaning that I want ice cream that I did not buy. No! Stop thinking about…

I am about 60 pages shy of printing the rest of my novel. This is on purpose. My process is this: edit a hard copy, maybe 50 pages or, ideally, a chapter or two. Then I put the edits into my computer file. Because otherwise I get really cranky trying to make all of those corrections at once. I like editing, but not looking between paper and screen. I prefer all paper or all computer, with my true preference leaning towards the hard copy.

Today, though, it was nice, editing. Though even after I transferred the changes I was left with a hastily scribbled note to myself that there was a character who had walked offstage, never to be heard from again. Historically speaking that’s true, but I wanted my MC to be guilted into thinking about her. So I was able to add that with a few strokes. Yay for notes.

After having struggled with my printer (I will not change the cartridge, not yet, even though the pages are getting lighter) because if I do I will print the remainder of my book and I will try to rush through the edits not because I want to be finished but because I get single minded.

But the interruptions have been sufficient to return me to this world for the evening, I think, anyway. I may just put my newly printed pages into my backpack for tomorrow and take my evening walk.

Wait, didn’t I hear something about it being warm out?

Creative or Rule Follower?

My first conscious act of creating was in response to my elementary school principal’s command. She gave us a sheet of paper covered in circles and told us to come up with ONLY things that did not exist.

I was in the fifth grade. This principal was the strongest woman I knew — she was probably close to six feet tall, a large, craggy woman with a deep voice and half a dozen children if I remember correctly. She had only to look sideways at a student for that student obey. I both feared and adored her.

Now, here’s the thing: when she gave me that paper, I knew I HAD to do what she asked, because she was the principal. Because I was afraid her eyes could melt me. And because I had already incurred her ire two years before by wearing shorts and a strappy top to school, not having ever been told it was against the rules until she announced over the intercom that such attire was inappropriate. (I was not the only offender). I was mortified and spent the rest of the (very) hot day wearing my jacket, though my teacher begged me to take my jacket off. I refused, preferring to at least cover up my arms.

This principal, all eyes, glasses on a chain, and moles, now wanted me to lie, as it were. So I learned to create on command.

It turned out that I was the only one who obeyed — everyone else came up with basketballs and such, things that already existed. I had no idea that my worksheet would land me in the principal’s office for further questioning. She was taking, she told me later, a class on child development and because of that she asked me more questions based on what I had drawn. Why had I made an electric soccer ball? Why had I come up with a cheesy rat tunnel?

I have no idea if my answers satisfied her, but they did make me realize I was different, and that was invaluable. And better yet, she let me leave her office alive.

Recently I asked my husband this, though: was I creative because I did what she asked or was I more rigid than the others  because I felt compelled to follow her directions? Perhaps she scared me into creativity. Barry’s opinion is that she inadvertently helped me free my creativity. I suppose either way it doesn’t matter, but I am grateful, and I kinda miss her.  Go figure.

Writing and Little Women

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I’m reading Little Women with an online group, and in my excitement I went to dig out my copy only to discover — gasp — that I couldn’t find it.

The novel is one of the foundational books of my childhood, of my life. That I couldn’t find a single copy in our house shocked me. Why, just a few years ago I distinctly remember buying a couple of beautiful copies at a quaint local bookstore. I know I passed one along to my mother for her birthday, but I was convinced I had kept the second, until my search turned up nothing. (I may have inadvertently left the book at my former workplace where I taught. Which is fine if it’s getting some use.)

I started first searching the bookshelves in my and Barry’s bedroom. I was sure I knew just where that book was. Nope. The more I searched, the more frantic I became.  Finally I gave up and asked Barry if he minded if I bought another copy. So I did. Unfortunately, they shipped me a different edition than I ordered. Then they apologized and said they do not have the one I wanted, but they let me keep the one they sent and refunded my money, so I was satisfied, mostly, although I had hoped that the one I ordered would have extra essays and such in it. This one does have a nice introduction, but that’s it.

I can’t say how old I was when I first read it, but I was probably eight or so. The book captivated me! I read it more than once.

While I didn’t have any Barbies as a child, somehow I did have a fashion doll of some sort with dark hair. I decided she was Jo. Because I was so worried that my father, as hers had, would be called away to war (not that a war was going on at the time that I was aware of as a child, but still) I had her sacrifice her hair just as she does in the book. Yes, I cut into a sweet bob and was quite happy with it. I also made her a gray poncho out of a scrap of fabric and had her become the last woman in the world because a nuclear war had occurred. The poor young woman was left to take care of all of the children orphaned by the war on her own, which she did admirably (in Little Men and under the pine trees where I took “her” to tend her family), although I had no Professor Bhaer to give her.

Jo was my favorite character in the book, and I sometimes made life choices based on hers. I decided to become a writer. (That desire comes from several places, actually, but she is certainly one of the reasons.) In Little Men she opens an orphanage. Even as a child I picked out a huge, neglected green house in my hometown that I thought would make the perfect orphanage. (Alas, it was eventually torn down and I subsequently modified my ambition. But my husband and I did adopt two of the twelve children I had originally planned to.)

Perhaps the deepest print she left on me was her struggle to turn from writing “garbage” fiction for money versus writing from a deeper place: she wrote sensationalistic stories to send her dear, dying sister to the seashore. Who couldn’t understand that? And yet when Professor Bhaer gently redirects her, she quickly repents and vows to write only things that are worthy of her.

I’m pretty much a “live and let live” kind of person who truly believes we need to make our own choices, but I am with Professor Bhaer on this one. While perhaps his objections came from a place of moral concern for what she was writing, I do agree that we should only write those things that come from our souls. We should attempt to ignore what others expect or want us to write and create as if we never need a reader, an editor, or a publisher. There’s time to consider whether or not something needs tweaking later…craft is a different issue. But first write from your deepest depths.

Write on!

Life Hack: Of Podcasts and Procrastination — Both Can Be Your Friend

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Procrastinated, I mean. In the past I’ve felt bad about it. When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t usually procrastinate. I have so much to say that I could pretty much write nonstop. But there are times…

Today began with a fun talk with my husband before he went off to work. Then I took an invigorating run followed by a leisurely breakfast. I was happily on the endorphin express. But.

After breakfast this morning I discovered that didn’t want to get dressed because I didn’t want to pick out clothes because I wasn’t in the mood to make choices. (I did it anyway, of course.)

Then I didn’t want to load my too heavy backpack onto my coat and lug it to the café where I am working. Once there, I didn’t want to unbundle and set up all of my things: computer, books, paper, pens, plug the computer in by crawling in the floor in front of everyone, etc. Things that I do everyday without thought have been more difficult today.

And even though I own probably 50 scarves, I forgot to bring one, which bummed me out. Thankfully I am wearing double layers. (Note to self: tuck a neutral-colored one into your backpack for the future.)

Still, once I got here I made my daily “I will do/the universe will do” lists. Okay, I only wrote the “I will do” list. I know what I want the universe to do and most of it reads like a honey-do list: Shampoo the carpets, replace the caulk in the bathroom, put up the Christmas decorations. Things that don’t have to be done today, but it would be nice if they were done before our eagerly awaited holiday visitors arrive. (I have evolved to the point that I know those things will get finished, and I also realize that they have no deadlines attached, so we are good. In fact, some of those might even prove to be fun.)

And oh yeah, Universe: make my dad well.

So here I sit, proud that I have made as much progress as I have. Except I don’t want to do anything on that list I promptly hid after writing. After tunneling into my fiction for the weekend, I am finding it difficult to make the switch to nonfiction today.

My dad is in the hospital and I’m worried about him. I’ll get to see him tonight, but I wish I could ease his suffering and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. If you know me, you know I can’t handle feeling helpless. I suspect this is the cause of my unease.

Before you think I am just foisting my ho-hum attitude upon you, read on. Because I just discovered today that procrastination is my friend and it can be yours, too. (Minor bit of required diversionary backstory forthcoming.)

I am a podcast junkie. I listen to them when I run. I listen to them while I cook. I listen to them while I clean. Don’t ask me what kind because it depends on my current taste, which is always changing.

This morning I was listening to one while I was stretching, and I was thrilled to hear someone say that when you procrastinate, what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself from taking action before you should. That is, your mind is not in a place where it’s time to do anything, so don’t make a move until it is. I LOVED hearing that. It was just what I needed today.

Maybe I needed to think about my dad a little today after I called my mom and got the not-great prognosis. Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t jump right into my usual routine and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.

Maybe that hesitation I feel is because the right people aren’t available to interview today anyway, and if I just wait until tomorrow they will be.

Maybe by writing this today, I am not procrastinating at all, but I am writing it for someone who needs it as much as I do.

For some reason, though, I suddenly feel ready to look at that list again. Perhaps this time I will see friendly letters looking back at me that inspire me instead of an enemy with a whip (which the list sometimes feels like, no matter how slim I make it). Here’s hoping.

Honor Your Process: Know When to Write and When Not to!

Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.

A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.

Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.

But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.

Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.

Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. 🙂

Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.

In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.

NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.

I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.

When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.

I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.

I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.

The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.

Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.

Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!
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