Monday, July 30, 2012

Ode to Messiness



This is me. I have a very slight memory of this day, though I couldn't have been more than two or three. My mother tells me we were making cabbage burgers at the time. I am not at all surprised that I was a messy baker back then because I am still a messy baker (and cook) today.

I have had to clean cookie dough off of walls because I let the beaters out of the bowl and dough goes flying everywhere. More than once, I've called one of the pets into the kitchen - either the cat or the dog - and told them to eat the food I dropped on the floor while cooking. Flour doesn't normally stay in the measuring cup, and neither does just about any other dry ingredient.

The garbage disposal in the sink has saved me from making even worse messes. Peeling vegetables is easier now that I can just throw the peels down the sink (though I think I still manage to get some on the floor in the process) and I just put an egg shell in the sink instead of leaving a trail of egg white on the counters in its trip to the trash can.

I must say, though, that despite my messiness, I manage to create some tasty meals and baked goods. Thanks to Pinterest, I've been trying a lot of new recipes and while some have turned out so-so, others have been a rousing success - especially this chocolate chip cookie recipe.

But I'm not just messy in the kitchen.

Ask my mother about the stacks of paperwork and books and stuff in my bedroom as a kid. Apparently she couldn't take it for very long stretches of time as I would sometimes come home from school to find it all organized. I loved that.

Contrary to what you might think, however, I keep a pretty darn clean house. My living room is very organized. Everything is in its place, and that's just the way I like it.

However, my office is another matter...

I blame my father for this one, as my mom would often try and clean his office. She gave up, though, when he couldn't find paperwork after she cleaned, and thereafter she had to grit her teeth and leave it in all its messy glory.

(As an aside, I am starting to think I owe my mother an apology for her cleaning so much...)

Yesterday I spent the entire day at home. We'd already bought groceries for the weekend, and as my daughter is finished with summer softball, we had no practice to go to. I was quite excited to write all day.

But the mess had accumulated in my office. Bills, stacks of paperwork, research, wayward notes, and piles of books had become too much. So I got to work. I organized, tossed stuff, filed paperwork, put books away, and made the place presentable again.

Every time I clean, I vow I won't let it get this way again. It does anyway.

There is probably a lesson in here somewhere, but I've failed to learn it so many times that I think I'm a lost cause.

However!

I have learned one thing about messiness in regards to my writing.

(Ah! you're thinking. She is going to tie this to writing!)

Yes. Yes I am.

My writing itself can be messy - words, phrases, descriptions, etc. - for the first draft.

But, the plot cannot.

The last novel I wrote began on a whim. I had the germ of an idea, so I sat down and began to write. I was blissfully unaware of what direction I was going and really didn't care. I would discover it as I went along. Unfortunately, what I discovered is that I am really good at making messes.

Granted, this was the first story I wrote where I didn't really have any sense of direction. Most of my other stories I've plotted out enough to know my beginning, middle, and end (though I still didn't have some very important elements worked out). But not this one.

Fixing that story cost me months of writing time. It was a huge, colossal mess. I resolved I wouldn't do this anymore with my novels, couldn't, in fact, if I wanted to make the best use of my time.

I realized that while I could be as messy as I wanted to with the pre-writing phase - and believe me, I tend to be all over the place in trying to figure everything out - I could not translate that messiness to the first draft. I needed certain things hammered out before I started. I implemented this new way of thinking for my next novel (thanks to this stellar book on plotting), and the actual writing process hasn't been nearly as messy this time around.

That is a good thing.

The moral of the story? Being messy in the kitchen is fine. It's even okay in the office for a short time.

But messiness in my plot? Nope. Can't do it. Does this make me a plotster vs a pantster? Probably. It's the method that works for me. I know it doesn't work for everyone, and that is the beauty of human nature.

I do find it fascinating, though, that I can be messy in some areas of my life - my office, my cooking, etc.- but not in others - my fastidious living room, the way I fold laundry, cups stacked just so in my cupboards, etc.

I am a study in contrasts.

And that's just the way I like it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heat Wave

Wow. We have had temperatures in the 100's for several days now, with not a drop of rain to cool us off. Those who have given up on watering the lawn (and because of the city's "recommendation" not to water every day) have brown, ugly grass. My evergreen bushes in my front yard are even turning brown. I have never seen that before.

Yeah, it's hot.

And I'm not happy about it.

Luckily, relief is in sight. We have a chance of rain tomorrow and the temperatures are supposed to drop back into the 90s. That's a heck of a lot better than the 100's!

I've been writing, albeit slowly. I've also been reading a fantastic novel - I love it when I read a book that I don't want to put down.

What have you been up to?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Tools of the Trade

I started writing on my mother's manual typewriter in the 6th grade. I really didn't know what I was doing, having yet to take a typing class in school (that came later), but still, I plucked away, getting my fingers caught and using whiteout as I tried to get the thoughts in my head down on the page.

I also kept writing longhand on my yellow legal pads or just pages of loose leaf notebook paper. I remember getting cramps in my hand, but still kept at it.

When my Dad got a computer, I gladly exchanged the typewriter for the ease of clacking away on a nice keyboard. This was before Windows, though, so it was pretty much green words on a black screen. This made writing easier, and so did the typing class I took in school - on electric typewriters. Old school!

And then, of course, came the miracle of Windows (for the Microsoft users, like we were) sometime when I was in high school along with the ease of word processors. Ah! Black words on a white screen. It was so much easier on the eyes, and I could use the fun formatting techniques.

Around this time, I pretty much abandoned writing longhand. I could simply write faster by typing.

But then after college, I started journaling, and I wrote in longhand. I still journal today using an old-fashioned pen and paper. I love to write in cursive and despite our society's penchant for no longer teaching cursive in schools, I hope it never goes away. There's something organic and beautiful about those loops and curls that our words create.

What were your tools of the trade when you started out? How did they evolve?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Back When...

I had a very nice phone call from an old friend the other day. He recently retired from the military and had decided it was high time to start writing again after putting it on the back burner for several years. He called to ask me what advice I had for an aspiring writer.

I admit that I was slightly dumbfounded for a minute. How long had it been since I had walked in his shoes and been an aspiring writer? Years. I started this writing journey in the sixth grade. That's a long time ago.

But as I talked, I became more and more excited, eager to share with him the joy that is writing. I was so glad that he was taking this step and I tried to encourage him not to worry too much about the craft right now, but just to get the words down and write without that internal editor breathing down his neck.

How long have you been on your writing journey? If you had a piece of advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Why I'm Hibernating

This year's summer has been awful. We've had triple-temperatures some days - yes, over 100 degrees - and add the humidity in with that, and let's just say stepping foot outside literally becomes a health hazard.

My heart goes out to those people who have to work in this weather. My brother is a manager for a pool-building company and works outside every day building and maintaining pools. My other brother is a farmer, and spends a large chunk of his day outside working. Unfortunately, he's also smack in the middle of a severe drought which just makes the heat that much worse. And my husband is working outside at a temporary job while he's out of school for the summer. He sweats buckets and comes home just drained.

Me? I'm inside all day in an office. I have nothing, nothing to complain about.

But I'm going to anyway.

Ha!

Because summer drains me. I literally feel stagnant, like I can't move forward with anything. My motivation disappears. Maybe it's my body not being able to tolerate heat. Maybe it's my inability to go outside and enjoy nature because I feel like I'm in an oven when I do. Or maybe I have the reverse of seasonal affective disorder. In contrast to summer, I come alive during the fall and winter. My mood is exuberant and I'm literally filled with joy.

During the summer I am depressed. Each year gets worse and worse. This year, it's especially bad. I don't know if it's the day job, the rejection letters on my manuscript (I am thisclose to getting an agent, and it's taking an incredible amount of patience and perseverance to keep at it), or the fact that I really just need a vacation and have no money for it thanks to my surgery a few months ago, BUT, I cannot wait for autumn this year.

And it's only July.

Ohhhhh boy. It's going to be a long few months...

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net