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.

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.


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!”

The Waiting Game

January is nearly over and I still haven’t heard from either the publisher or the literary agency who requested full copies of my manuscript. I knew this process would be slow and I know that no answer is better than a solid “no” at this point, but I’m starting to answer calls from unrecognized numbers, hoping that it’s good news, and if you know me well, you know I’M ON PINS AND NEEDLES HERE AND BEGGING FOR A LITTLE MERCY. 

I’ve already begun planning my next big rewrite, assuming that this first round of querying is a bust. 

But there’s hope, yet. 

Always hope. 

So, back to reading short stories by Ted Chiang, who’s rocking my face right off. 

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 5

And we’re back with another Thursday’s Tiny Things to Write About!

And now for a little creative nonfiction.

Where would you choose to be exiled?

Assuming I’d be exiled in my current state of affairs, able to take only what I have and on limited funds, I think I’d head to SE Asia. Very likely, I’d end up in sunny Thailand. My little money would go farther there, the challenges of everyday living would distract from my homesickness, the distance would seal the separation and afford me some closure. And, perhaps most importantly, I’d know I could find a job teaching English.

What three essential items would you take with you?

Passport, credit card, Kindle

If I’ve got these three things with me, I can figure out the rest along the way.

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 4

Here’s the next installment of Tiny Things to Write About!

You accidentally hit Reply All – and everyone received an uncensored rant about your boss. Write the follow-up Reply All. 

April fools!!!!! Ok, so it’s not actually April (hahahahahaha), but the boss-man’s birthday is coming up in just a few months and I thought I’d kick off a good-natured roast in his honor as a surprise kind of thank you for being so awesome (cause it wouldn’t be a surprise if we did it ON his birthday, would it?? Hahahahaha) and I thought maybe everybody could reply all with their own rubbing jokes?


642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 3

Merry Christmas, folks!

We’re back with another Tiny Things Thursday! Pick up your own copy of 642 Tiny Things to Write About and join me in these delightful runs at flash fiction. Be sure to post a link in the comments if you join in!

For today’s challenge, I’ve added my own stipulation that the answers take the form of a drabble. I’ve adjusted the definition of a drabble just a bit to say that it must be EXACTLY 100 words in length. And off we go!

Write about a time you broke…

A bone:

My favorite bone breaking tale is of Coach Sizemore and the Broken Elbow. He was determined to teach me basketball, bless his soul, and would allow none of my teenage awkwardness or lack of talent to divert him. So he tossed me the ball during practice, told me he was going to guard me one on one, and I was to drive the lane to make a layup, no matter what. I drove the lane. He guarded and aggressively egged me on. And I knocked that honorably discharged, twice-my-size gentle giant so hard to the ground, he broke his elbow.

A heart:

Stefan (pronounced Shhhhtefan) told me I was like a pearl wrapped in shards of glass. Lovely, he said, but requiring careful handling. Then he asked me to marry him. He was tall and handsome and sweet, with an unfortunate German accent (just isn’t as sexy as the British or South African accents), and he looked bright-eyed and hopeful as he awaited my answer on the rain-slicked basketball court of the school we lived in that summer during a one month internship. I smiled, thanked him for his sort of kind words, and declined. He nodded like he’d expected as much.

A law:

I have a problem and it’s my sister’s fault. My sister has a habit of pinching leaves off of succulent plants. It’s a small kind of thievery, one that goes completely unnoticed, but since you can grow a full plant from a single leaf, she’s pretty much shoplifting. So it’s her fault that I started “pinching” rocks from public parks for our garden border. It’s a victimless crime. But my mom says that it’s an embarrassment and the bottom of my stroller is getting  worn where I stash the stolen stones. I have a problem. And it’s my sister’s fault.

A promise:

There is something I have learned never to promise. It is the oldest promise I can remember and one I’ve broken time and again. I’ve lived on three continents, in nearly a dozen cities, in perhaps twenty different homes. And each move has meant the passing of a season, the end of a story, the death of a network of relationships. I am too nomadic, too invested in the next bend in the road to commit to the unending and rewarding labor of staying in touch. So “I’ll stay in touch” is now a promise I know not to make.