Go On, the World is Round

Every once in a long while, I wake to the world as it is.

Every once in a long while, a veil lifts, and I see the little ruts that have been dragging at my footsteps, guiding my path by centimeters and by finger widths until I find myself miles from the distant point on the horizon where I thought that I’d been headed.

Every once in a long while, I stop asking myself why I’ve not been writing, why my kids aren’t sleeping, why my heart is pounding, and I jump.

It doesn’t always go well. With writing, most particularly, the first few forays back into discipline and exercise are painful, exhausting, producing almost nothing I can stand to read. Reestablishing healthy routines with my children often goes much the same way, for the first three days or so. And there’s a very, very good reason for the fecundity of exercise plans, diet regimes, and self-help guides available on the internet these days: we none of us care for ourself very well at all.

Annie Dillard says that leaving your writing alone for a while is a dangerous thing, once you try to reenter that room and begin again. While you were gone, she says, that clever bit of writing will have grown teeth and claws and will be hungry for a pound of flesh. We have to go back with chair and whip ready, she says, like lion tamers. (The Writing Life)

I propose the same goes for any discipline which we have relaxed and seek to restore. Restoration is a messy, exhausting, often painful business. We know the good things that come at the end of long days of discipline. But we’ve been enjoying too well the gluttonous indulgences and laziness that seem to cost so much less, in the short run.

But then, every once in a long while. We wake. We see. We leap.

We write.

Pomodoro: An Exercise in Hope

I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. It’s not the usual trend for me. I have almost always read exclusively fiction; mainly novels, really; mainly 19th century novels out of Europe. I know. Time to branch out. Now that I’ve dabbled in the genre somewhat demeaningly labeled “self-help” I find myself more and more addicted to books which address issues I’ve always struggled mightily and farsically to manage through my own wit and strength.

The three books which have caused the deepest tremors in the foundations of how I operate in every day life are How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gotten and Joan Declaire, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.

I bring up these three books because they’re awesome and you should read them all. I won’t review them here since my focus is fiction, but seriously. Drop what you’re doing and go read them.

I also bring them up because each of these books is intricately connected to the success I’ve had in writing of late. I’ve gained insights into my own areas of emotional intelligence (and areas where intelligence is sorely lacking) and this has informed my characters and relationships in my fiction. I’ve benefited greatly from hearing about healthy and life-giving boundaries that “keep the bad out and let the good in”, instead of following the opposite pattern… MY usual pattern. And from Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection, I’ve learned a brand new definition for hope, one which ties directly into a strategy I’ve been employing just to get words on the page in my life overrun with diapers and dishes and the myriad blessings of a quotidian life.

So now, the roundabout way, we finally come to it: The Pomodoro technique, a simple tool I discovered while surfing Facebook (See, Wormtongue? Facebook surfing does have its uses. (Note: I’ve named my inner critic Wormtongue.)).

Pomodoro is simple enough: set yourself a task, work at it for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break. Repeat this pattern four times and then take a 30 minute break. Start over. I tried it out with writing and found that not only did the 25 minutes fly by while while they normally crawl while I strain to put words on the page, but my writing efficiency also increased with each 25 minute session. 200 words the first session, 500 words the second, 700 words the third, 900 on the fourth. Over 2,000 words in a single sitting and the time felt too short! (My brain also felt like a bowl of jelly on merry-go-round but that just means it’s been working, right?)

No matter what your work is, what your goals are, what tasks you set for yourself, this technique can be a very effective tool for motivating and sustaining your efforts. And as a very high bonus, this technique can also be an exercise in Hope.

According to Brene Brown, hope is not an attitude but a practice. This practice is made up of three parts: 1. setting goals, 2. striving towards those goals with perseverance, and 3. believing our own adequacy and worthiness to achieve those goals. Hope can also be based on belief in the adequacy and worthiness of someone else, of course. My hope in heaven, for example, is not founded on my own adequacy or worthiness but on the adequacy and worthiness of someone else altogether. But the pattern stands.

I set out to read and write this year, to make it part of my unconscious habits. I want to expand my palate and my knowledge by reading books outside my usual genres. I want to draw the connections between treatises on emotional intelligence and sci-fi space operas and odd literary exercises in introspection. And I want those connections to lend depth and maturity to my writing.

Just three months in, I have found my mind to be much changed. As though dormant parts of my soul are surfacing. As though my mind, a starving and exhausted creature, is being brought back to life by a feast. I’m reading decent books and extraordinary books and really, really bad books. Life-changing and inane, spectacular and miserable. Each one of them is working its changes on me as a thinker and a feeler and a writer, either by opening my eyes to gorgeous new vistas of possibility or by pointing out ways of writing and thinking and seeing the world that I just don’t like. (Finding out what you don’t like can be as helpful as reading the crazy greats!)

All that after just three months. I look to the next 9 months with great excitement and renewed vigor and… Hope. One book at a time. One story at time. 25 minutes, then striving to rest. Keeping my eye and focusing my energy on only those things which challenge and drive and inspire me toward my heart’s desires.

The world is indeed wide and weird and a wonder to behold.

Book Review: The Sparrow

“Kinda spooky, ain’t it. Hell of a lot of coincidences. Like we say back home, when you find a turtle settin’ on top of a fencepost, you can be pretty damn sure he didn’t get there on his own.”

Russell, Mary Doria (2008-05-27). The Sparrow: A Novel (The Sparrow series) (pp. 121-122). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Father Emilio Sandoz of the Society of Jesus has never considered himself to be a mystic or a saint. His faith is not founded in a “feeling” about God, or even in any kind of love for Him. Sandoz was attracted to the centeredness, the morality of the faith as a mere boy, when he was rescued from the slums of La Perla by a Texan Jesuit priest with a penchant for swearing and an eye for diamonds in the rough.

So when first contact is made with an alien world in the neighboring galaxy of Alpha Centauri, and that first contact comes in the form of lovely, wistful, transcendent music, Father Sandoz is astounded and amused and intrigued. But when he and each of his closest friends turn out to have the precise skill sets required to make the journey out to this new world, he is shaken. And when, against all possible odds, Father Sandoz and those dearest to his heart land on that far away alien Garden of Eden just eighteen short months later, he is transported. For the first time, he feels, he has encountered and fallen in love with the Living God.

But crossing languages, cultures, and species is a treacherous business. As missionaries throughout the millennia of human history have learned, the cost of leading the vanguard of discovery can be very, very high. How will a fledgling faith hold up in the face of loss and suffering and despair? Can we love a God who takes away as much as He gives, who is neither simple, predictable, or safe?

Mary Doria Russell accomplished in her debut, award-winning novel what I thought was impossible in the modern age. She married the foremost theories of medicine and technology with one of the oldest and most rigidly structured religious faiths. She took atheist and Jesuit characters and treated each with the same honest affection, bound them together as a family unit, and then dissected them in a ruthless pursuit of literally “universal” truths. She did not shy away from a single charged, political question. She looked the reader in the face as she led us to an abyss we all recognize, but work very hard to ignore.

I have a new favorite book, folks. And I am challenged, once again, to expand my own view of what’s possible to achieve in fiction.

To Amazon or Not to Amazon, That is the Question…

Since the first time I mentioned to someone that I was actively seeking a publisher, I’ve gotten confused looks and the same question, over and over again: Why don’t you just self-publish an eBook on Amazon?

I know I’m not alone when I say that getting published the traditional way, with an editor and/or agent, with a carefully bound tome of printed pages that I can smell and feel and turn over in my hands, is quite simply my heart’s desire.

That is my goal for my novels: I want to see them on my bookshelf. I want spines with “Amy Deringer Robinson” printed on them resting between Poe and Salinger. I want books.

But my short stories… Well those I might be willing to self-publish as digital bite-sized fiction.

Thoughts?

Anyone have experience with this?

Anyone like to buy short stories on Amazon?

Still Reading, Still Writing

I don’t have a book review for you this weekend, but it’s for the best possible reason.

I just can’t bring myself to rush this book.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Ted Chiang’s short story collection “Story of Your Life and Others”. This man has a peculiar genius for micro fiction. But no, I’ll go no further. I have to keep reading.

I submitted to the Angry Robot open submission call today, which makes for nearly 60 submissions of my novel since I completed it last Fall. I’m still suffering a sore temptation to rewrite the whole novel from its very beginning, but for now, I am recommitting to the goal of publishing with journals and magazines as I endure the long wait for feedback on my book.

Whatever it takes to keep writing, writing, writing.

Back to it!

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 7

Full disclosure, I’ve skipped a day in this adventure of 642 Tiny Things to Write About. Describing my first, my last, and my next kiss just felt a little too personal for these pages. And so we move on to the next:

Write instructions for how to do something you haven’t learned to do since you were very young (blow a bubblegum bubble, or swim, or tie your shoes, or make a paper airplane, or build a snowman, for instance).

“Now, don’t pull from the end like that. No wonder you’re frustrated. Hook the back edge with your thumb, like this, and tug down toward your heel, then pull it out and over your toes. One more. You try it. Not from the toes, remember? Start behind your ankle, pull down, around, and… Off! Ha! I see those little toes!”