Yeah! You Twine That Algae!

Most of the time, the story of how a story is made is boring. The Great Story Birthing often takes one of the two following forms:

  1. The Hollywood Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of a shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, and, shower still running, pen an entire story in one sitting.
  2. The More Often Version: I, THE GENIUS, shout EUREKA! while I’m in the middle of my shower, abandon the tub for my study and a pad of paper, remember that I most often write on a laptop, eagerly tap out five brilliant lines, go eat a slice of an entire box of pizza, forget about the story, return to it a week later, try again, hate myself for not being a better writer, eat an entire box of pizza, and repeat this cycle for several years until something finally manages to reach a somewhat conclusive ending, oftentimes because my house is at that point flooded and I have other things to take care of.

Sometimes, though, a story is something you carry with you throughout your life — something that grows as you grow, both personally and as a writer who goes from thinking ALL SENTENCES ARE COOL to knowing the precise rhythm and feel that make her heart sing.

And that, friends, is the story of the story I’ve just had published on InfectiveInk.com, And How the Algae Twines!

The first time I wrote this story, I was a sophomore in college, staring out my dorm window at the shifting snow drifts howling across the campus quad, thinking of another time when the world was also made of snow and I could feel my first real relationship reaching its zenith and beginning its long, slow descent into the frozen ground. The result: a creative short essay, and the feeling that I wasn’t done.

The second time I wrote this story, I was mored on the shores of a criticism-ridden grad school workshop, trying to be a better writer than I felt I could be. Somehow, I stumbled upon this old essay, languishing in an ancient Word file, and found myself horrified at my use of language, yet intrigued by the thoughts, images and emotions that lay behind it. I returned to my keyboard, and tried to remember what it was to feel. The result: a thirty page behemoth, with ten pages of striking imagery, ten pages of a writer reaching for a moral, and ten pages of a 24-year-old woman, demanding her true experiences find an outlet. And a workshop with an excess of praise and an excess of criticism that would change my writing forever.

The third time I wrote this story, I had been torn down to my core. There were no safe places left — not for me, not for my work. Everything I did was wrong. There was no warm hearth upon which I could nestle. After so many years of fighting for independence, I was on my own and barely able to breathe. Left with the few words that meant something to me. The few words that wouldn’t leave me alone.

It’s been three years since the third time. Three years, and this story has won awards, and finally found publication. The joy of finally seeing this story in print…well, I can’t quite put that into words. Nor can I promise I won’t write this story a fourth time, as I navigate the shriveled climes of my very non-snowy setting. But I can say that the story of this story — this story that began nine years ago and continues on — is one I will carry with me, wherever I go. This story has not left me.

You can read And How the Algae Twines at InfectiveInk.com.

When Brains Grow Claws #Feedmeseymour

It wasn’t too long ago that I was riding the crest of a creativity wave. Which, by the way, is a lot better than a perm wave.

Is there something in my hair, or is this…my hair?

As I finished my quest to blackmail myself into completing the first draft of my very first book, ideas were popping up everywhere. Inside the world of my book, I was writing flash fiction, diaries, poetry, songs. Showing off to myself…for myself.

And then, once the deadline passed, I collapsed. Which is kind of something I do…

For the length of my academic career, I’d push myself to the max only to return home during breaks, put on a hoody, sleep for twelve hours a day and communicate in grunts. Except, ever since I’ve come out of graduate school and worked both freelance and on my own businesses, that’s not really something I can do. Because, even though the robots will one day be able to write better than me (thanks for the heart attack, Wired senior writer and not my boyfriend, Steven Levy) they can’t do it yet, and I can’t afford the robots that will do my accounting and marketing.

And so, my hibernation this time around has been work, work and more work. I hid from my book:

But, no matter what form my creative, deep-thinking hibernation takes, it’s only a matter of a month or so before my brain reawakens. Kicking. Screaming.

FEED ME SEYMOUR. FEED ME ALL NIGHT LONG.

It starts as a tingle in my fingers and lips. My muscles need to move, stretch, show off what they can do.

Push it! Feel it right in those phalanges!

Then there comes the inevitable neural clawing. My neurons are fingers, squeezing any bit of stimulus or complex information that made the mistake of waltzing into my hungry mind when it only meant to go for a morning stroll. I feel like I’m going to die if I don’t take some complex scientific or philosophical problem and piece together all the scattered bits into one discernible whole.

I must analyze some thing. I MUST ANALYZE ALL THE THINGS.

And then there come the dreams. When I’m in the middle of a creative flow, my dreams are dead, white space; there’s just no energy left for anything complex. But when I’m craving creativity, my dreams are Hollywood blockbusters. In high school and college, they were torturous, dramatic movies with complex narratives that ran an entire arc. It’s all going wrong, there’s a tornado on the horizon, there are spies and intrigue. The world is saturated with impossible feats and colors. Something is after me, and it’s not far behind.

These days, they’re just as vibrant but less dramatic. Absurd, in most cases. Playing PRISON TELEPHONE at the PRISON.

A dramatic plea from the Real Mr. Ed to set the record straight about the sanitary habits of buffaloes.

I’m actually a buffalo. This horse look is for TV only.

And let’s not forget this gem from 2006: Not Without My Spleen: One Director’s Look Into Power, Bureaucracy and Body Parts. I’d say more, but I used it as the basis for a story and I’m still looking for a publisher.

Sure enough, after month’s of placid sleeps, last night I had a very involved dream about a woman named Yaddis who was trying her best to be respected in a male-dominated workplace. It was a musical, and the men performed a catchy if misogynistic song and dance number about not wanting to sit next to Yaddis in the lunchroom. I believe it went something like:

Yaddis, Yaddis.  Ain’t gonna sit next to ya Yaddis, Yaddis.

Yaddis: she smells!

Whether or not this was a dream about feminism or about the perils of being named Yaddis, I’ll never know.

What I do know is this. I can feel the pressure building behind the dam – ever more so as a rare rain falls from the Austin skies (well, not so rare that it couldn’t toy with Ira Glass last week). That moody, writerly feeling is descending. I can see my characters, sitting in the dark, dank hallway. Shivering. Cold.

Come to me, my pretties. It’s time for us to remember what adventure is all about.

Houston, we have a book. And hair.

Thanks to all who came out tonight and all who sent support from afar! Tonight was the perfect celebration for a very sweaty, panicked month that packed BIG RESULTS. It was great to see everyone and I can’t wait to see all of your projects on Accountabillibuddy!

And major kudos to Write By Night for hosting, Brian Nicolet for being an awesome writing coach, Adam David for some excellent shear work, my family for listening to me read all 29 first drafts of my first chapter, and STEPHEN LEVY for being the most wonderful, supportive boyfriend a girl could ask for.

And now for my next feat: revising the entire thing!

Oh boy…

Week 4: Don’t. Take. My. HAIR. @write_by_night #blackmailme

If weeks 2 & 3 were all about procrastination, week 4 was all about what happens when a procrastinator realizes they’re completely screwed. Creation out of fear. Specifically, the fear of looking like a bald old man:

I'm assuming that when you shave your head the entire structure of your face changes too.

And so, to avoid devolving into a grumpy old man* with no family, friends, or  rebellious teens looking for a father figure to love him, a fire was lit under my butt.

*Man this automatic keyword thing is a stitch, just go ahead and click on that grumpy old man link and see what the machines have decided is the most relevant page.

A massive, somewhat life threatening fire, kind of like the one they set on Sesame Street when I was a kid because apparently torching Big Bird‘s nest was supposed to teach us some sort of a life lesson.

Look kids! Elmo is attempting to put out a fire that seems very likely to put a horrific end to all of the characters you've come to know and love!

And you know what? It worked. No, not the fire safety episode of Sesame Street. All that managed to do was send me into my parents’ bed for the next five years. I mean the impending deadline of head shave DOOM. My entire attitude changed. I went from this:

To:

And you know what? The world as I knew it didn’t end. Yes, I wrote a lot of  crap. In fact, I believe the crap to gold ratio was a solid 10 : 1.

But some of it was gold. Some of it was so funny, I thought of quitting everything and moving to New York to be a comedy writer. No! A song writer! No! THE BEST WRITER. My usual delusions of grandeur upgraded from something manageable into something dangerous.

Still, a week wasn’t very much time at all, and as March 29th crept closer and closer, I became acutely aware of my fingers’ limitations.

Despite all of my efforts to make time stand still, March 29th came and left. I worked all through the day, and then: 12:01AM, March 30th. I stared at my computer screen. I stared and I stared. I closed my laptop and began to cry.

Join us at 7PM tomorrow, April 19th at Write By Night headquarters (1305 E. 6th Ste 4, Austin, TX) to see either:

  1. My head get shaved (thus the crying)
  2. My finished first draft (thus the crying)

RSVP here.

And for those of you who don’t live in Austin, I’ll be posting an update on this blog, so keep checking back. Until tomorrow! When I can sing “Tonight” and mean it!

Weeks 2 & 3: Procrastinating Overachievers RUIN EVERYTHING @write_by_night #blackmailme

When most people think of a procrastinator, they think of laziness. There’s my procrastinating teenage son, playing video games and not doing the dishes. There’s my procrastinating college buddy, having a good night in the frat rather than doing her paper.

Me, I’m more of a perfectionist overachiever. I procrastinate by doing things like running a half marathon (it just really needed to be run!) or baking cookies for the entire neighborhood Just Because. You can tell when I’m procrastinating because I’m getting a whole lot done. Except, of course, what I actually need to be doing.

That, after all, is why I decided to do this headshave blackmail. To overcome my procrastinating overachieving…ness, I needed consequences, and I needed them to be dire.

But after week one of the challenge, during which I was mostly productive thanks to a little performance enhancement drug called Tic Tacs, I was lured back to old habits.

ONE: I decided the business I’d slowly been working on launching should be launched RIGHT NOW. TWO: I said yes to writing about 25,000 words for freelance jobs, which included a major SEO job for a paper supplies company and a big literature guide for a Dr. Seuss book.

Soon, I didn’t know what I was working on when. I confused the paper project with the Seuss project.

*Note: That should read “beets,” but I’d bet Dwight is a pretty good DJ, too.

Paper product SEO crept into my book.

And, like the sneaky enemy it is, time fled.

A week to go before my head shave deadline. Never had I been more productive. Never had I further to go.

I’m not writing The Hunger Games

When I was in 7th grade, I won 2nd place in a contest for a poem I wrote about the Israeli prime minister’s assassination. My parents were proud of me, my grandparents were proud of me, everyone was proud of me right on down the line.

But I wasn’t proud of me. An hour before I had to go read at the award ceremony, I had a meltdown in my room. We’re talking lots of sobbing and plenty more throwing my body dramatically from my bed to the floor. The poem sucked, in my opinion, because it didn’t rhyme. And everyone else’s poems rhymed. Therefore, I did not have a poem. Therefore, my entire life was a fraud.

Now, as the lines for The Hunger Games reach from the Alamo Drafthouse to Timbuktu, I’m looking at the draft of my book and thinking, “My dystopia is no dystopia.” There is no teen killing teen action. There is no cutting or anorexia or suicide.

But there are Insult-o-bots, which rove the school waiting for that moment when you’ve fallen down the stairs and spilled spaghetti sauce all over your shirt to say, “Nice face.” There are “Get A Life Planes,” ready and waiting to write, “Nice job, loser” with exhaust in the sky. There is a word machine and a “muse” named Frank who has a Bronx accent, hairy armpits and spits when he speaks. There are anthropomorphic Shakespearian insults and word machines and chefs with steaks for heads. There is a kid named Alexander Grapefruit, with an all too appropriately shaped head.

So, what do you say? In our dystopic world, is there room for a sarcastic, self-deprecating, goofy dystopia as well as teen-on-teen murder?

I’m throwing myself from bed to floor here people. Because it’s 4.5 days before my book is due. And I’m telling you, it doesn’t rhyme.

III. Post-MFA, what do I DO with myself?

And now, the final installment of Post-MFA, what in the world do I DO with myself? Good question. Here are a few ideas.

http://www.writebynight.net/writing-help/post-mfa-part3

I’m getting some interesting comments so far and I’d love to know your thoughts. Especially YOU, post-MFAers! What have you done with your career so far? What works for you? What would you like to change? What do you think are ideal roles for writers? Chime in either here or over at Write By Night!