Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Requisite Post

I started an essay yesterday. But it was my birthday. My husband took me out to lunch and we had the usual errands and I had Ladyesong rehearsal and so on and so on. So I didn't get it finished. I looked at it. It's not going to be ready to post today, either. It's one of those things where you know what you want to say, but the words aren't coming out right. That's all in a day's work, though, when you're a writer.

My husband also bought me a really cool coffee mug. It's this year's holiday mug from Peet's, a local coffee house chain. The sentiment seems especially appropriate for a writer. It says, "One cup is worth a thousand words." Do you think if I drink enough Peet's coffee in my Thousand-Word mug, I'll write thousands of words? It does seem to tug at me to write words.

Oh, and lunch was wonderful. We went to Max's. I had a baked potato stuffed with veggies and garlic shrimp. It comes with a Caesar salad. Paul got a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. I traded him some salad for a few fries. Perfect.

Both of the choirs I'm in sang "Happy Birthday" to me. It was way cool to be serenaded in multi-part harmony. And they were in tune, of course. What a concept! I wish corporations that own chain restaurants would ditch the idea that waiters have to sing unless they're going to give one of them a pitch pipe, so they start on the same note, and teach them how to sing a melody on key. I guess that's a common musician's rant. The off-key singing hurts our ears.

My mom's gift will go to celebrate the holidays with my family. We haven't had everyone together since last summer. So, I'm using my birthday money to take the whole family out to dinner sometime soon. We just have to coordinate schedules, which becomes extremely difficult after they're grownups and have lives.

Tomorrow is the end of the line for all of you NaNoers. Congratulations to all who have completed the required 50K. I'm cheering on all of you who are close. You can finish! And a great big cheer to all who started and got words. Any words you got means you succeeded. So, if you didn't finish, there's always next year. You get more words next year. And more the next. And eventually, you finish. That's what happened to me, anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm glad you all decided not to ask me food questions after all. I've had so many errands the past two days I haven't had time to post. I need to get lunch in a few minutes, then start some cooking. I'm looking forward to this. I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. So, you all enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations. I think we're going to make this a good one, despite the difficult times we're facing. We still have a lot of blessings in our lives. Like--family and friends. Our good health. Being able to participate in music again. My book's going pretty well. I have a lot to type in, then you'll see how well it's going because I can move the progress bar. We've been blessed with generous friends who have given us tickets to concerts this year. A friend is sending me a laptop and then I can type in the stuff I write away from home while I'm away from home and it won't pile up. These simple things that make life special are what I'm grateful for this year. What are you all grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Week--Food Seems Appropriate

Here in America, Thanksgiving week makes us all go nuts about food. How do you cook a turkey again? After all, it's been a year since you last cooked one. Maybe longer, if you rotate the cooking among various relatives. People make themselves crazy worrying about whether the food is absolutely perfect. Of course, the Thanksgivings that get talked about are the ones where it isn't perfect.

My grandmother used to go all out. She made her ravioli dinner and a full turkey dinner. And along with three kinds of pie, we got cake and ice cream because the family celebrated my November 28 birthday whenever Thanksgiving was every year. We got overstuffed and one lucky family got to take the ravioli leftovers home. We didn't care about the turkey leftovers. We'd get more turkey at Christmas. It was the ravioli that were special.

I look forward to Thanksgiving because I love turkey, and so does my family. I got in the habit of cooking it several times a year, especially since it's always one of the cheapest meats you can buy. I discovered that it's super easy to roast a good turkey. The cooking magazines keep adding steps--brining or dry brining, sticking herbs under the skin, putting stuff in the cavity, trussing--or not, high heat roasting, grilling, and now, (shudder) deep-frying. I guess it gives them things to write about. But now they're writing about the simplest way to roast a turkey and have it turn out well. I can see how it can be confusing to someone who hasn't done it before. What makes Thanksgiving harder than a normal dinner isn't the turkey. It's that you're cooking for more people than normal and making more courses and different types of dishes than you usually do.

So, in addition to the turkey, there's gravy and pie crust to obsess over. And yeast rolls or biscuits, if you've never made them from scratch before. And doing the salads and veggies fancier than usual. And cranberry sauce and yams and nontraditional recipes that are family favorites. And appetizers and first courses, if you're doing a super formal meal. It can seem overwhelming.

There are ways to make it all much easier, so you can focus more on what you're thankful for and less on worrying about what needs to be done next to get dinner on the table. The first thing to do is to look at the menu. If you're not having a huge crowd, maybe you don't need so many different dishes. People get too stuffed if you put out too many appetizers, so keep them to a minimum or skip them, if there's not much time between when they get there and when you serve dinner. You don't have to serve a soup course, either. If only one person likes a particular dish, maybe you can skip that dish or have the one person who waits all year just for that dish make it. You can save yourself a lot of work by cooking the turkey, stuffing, and gravy and having everyone pot luck the rest of the meal.

Another thing is to do as much ahead of time as possible. You can make rolls in advance and freeze them. You can do the same with pies. Cranberry sauce is really simple to make and it's better if you make it 1-2 days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. You can caramelize thawed pearl onions a day ahead to add to a green veggie. You can toast sliced or slivered almonds a day ahead to put on a veggie dish. Tosted pecans are great for sweet potato dishes. You can cook bacon bits in advance and use them to liven up rolls, potatoes, or veggies. Grated cheese is another simple ingredient that you can add to rolls. Fresh herbs can be used in any dish.

The last trick is to buy some things preprepared. Rolls and desserts can be purchased at a bakery and they're just as good as what you can spend a lot of time making yourself. You can buy a complete meal from many grocery stores and some restaurants, but we were disappointed in the food when we were invited to dinner at someone's house who did that. The food was bland and way over-salted. The turkey was dry.

My plan for this year, because I'm in my mom's kitchen, is to get the rolls and dessert premade. I'm doing the cranberry sauce on Wednesday. I'm not doing giblet stock for the gravy. I'm using canned, no-fat, low-sodium chicken stock, which I'll use to baste the turkey. That will give it more of a turkey flavor in the gravy. I'd love to cut one more course and just do stuffing, because we don't have that many people to feed. But my family insists on potatoes and I only get stuffing once a year.

So, does anyone have any Thanksgiving cooking questions they'd like answered? Or recipes you'd like me to post? Write me a note in the comments and if I get any, I'll post them as my posts for the next two days.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Serious About Writing

First, I'm feeling much better, thanks! Second, Paul didn't get the job. He got a very nice rejection email, though. That's unusual in today's business world and we appreciate that he took the time to write. On to a topic I've been thinking about for a couple of days.

Serious about Writing

A bunch of us writers were chatting about writing. (What else?) We were observing how much we'd all grown in our writing during the past couple of years. One woman said that she noticed how much faster she'd improved after she "got serious about writing." I don't remember who it was that said that, but we all agreed. Then we started discussing what it means to be "serious about writing". It's different for each person, I think.

Up until a few years ago, I mostly wrote when I felt like it. When an idea hit or I wanted to play with stories for my own pleasure. I got better, but not very much better. I don't think it was just because I wasn't writing a lot that kept me from growing, either. I think it was that "serious" vs. "hobby" thing.

When writing was a hobby, I'd get a story idea in my head. Then I'd write whatever came to me that seemed to fit the story. I wasn't trying to accomplish anything other than amusing myself. That attitude reflected itself in my writing. For example, I didn't try to make sure I'd put everything on the page because no one else was going to read it.

I also didn't try to discipline myself to write at any particular time. I just made sure my writing stuff was available and wrote when I felt like it. Writing had the same place in my life as my needlework projects, cooking a new recipe, learning a new flute piece, or any other of my many hobbies and interests.

There's nothing wrong with that. I think writing stories for your own amusement is fun. I still do it, especially when I want to play with a concept and see if there's really a story there. Or it's something I know isn't going to sell--like sticky, sweet "fluffy bunny" fantasy. I love writing that when I'm feeling down. There's something about writing colorful, sparkly stuff that brings my mood back up.

But in the back of my mind, that ten-year-old girl who loved Nancy Drew kept nagging at me. She always wanted to write stories for other people to read. I researched the business of publishing. I asked myself some important questions about what I wanted my writing to be. If I managed to sell my work, there would have to be major changes in how I approached my writing. Writing would be a job, not just a personal source of amusement. My friend, Wen, talks about noticing how hard her husband worked, how many hours he put in. And she decided she could do that, too. All of the writers I know, and the ones whose blogs I read, work very hard. I knew I'd have to do that, too. I'd have to face deadlines. I'd have to be a business, with all that boring record-keeping. I'd have to be the main publicity for my stories. I wondered, "Do I want all of that or do I just want to play with stories?" I dithered around, doing the "what if thing" writers do. Eventually, I asked myself the question that answered all the other questions. "If I live to be 90, what would I regret the most?" My biggest regret concerning my writing would be not giving writing for publication my best shot. If I gave it my best shot, but never sold, I'd be OK with that. I wouldn't be OK with not even trying.

By this time, we were online and I started searching for things about writing. I discovered Holly Lisle's Forward Motion and for the first time in my life connected with other people who wrote stories. I took classes and tried to apply what I learned to my writing. I bored Holly, Sheila, and all of the more advanced writers in chat with endless questions, which they were gracious enough to answer. I still bug all the writers who know more than I do with endless questions and they're still gracious enough to answer. Other published authors who deserve lots of thanks from me are Zette, Wen, Tambo, and Catie. (Note: For links to the blogs of some of the generous, but not yet published writers, who have been so very helpful, see my sidebar of links. There are too many to post in this essay.)

One thing all the pros agree on is that you read regularly. That's no problem. I've been a bookworm since I was three and kept asking my mom what all the words in my books were. I've been reading in many different genres and lots of nonfiction ever since. That's the easiest requirement for me, as a writer, to do. I don't read the same way I used to. I still read for enjoyment, but I also reread and take apart books I think are especially well-written to see what the authors did. Looking at books in that way has improved my writing.

Writing regularly, the "butt in chair" thing, is the one thing absolutely every successful writer says you must do. It's the very first advice you'll get if you ask a published writer how to do what they do. I figured that if every pro said it, I ought to do it. So I did. Some people insist you must write every single day, not even skipping holidays and birthdays and other things that make life worth living. I'm not in that camp, in case you couldn't tell. I've noticed that what's important for my muse isn't writing the same number of words absolutely every day without fail. I always see my muse as a 4-year-old girl with brown pigtails tied with red ribbons. She wears red overalls, a white T-shirt with red trim, white socks and red tennies. Luckily, she has a grownup brain, because I deal with grownup subjects in my books. And like any child, what's important to her is that I write when I say I'm going to write. It's as if she's waiting for me and if I don't show up, she gets disappointed and won't come out to play the next time. Although learning to do the "butt in chair thing" regularly, rather than whenever I felt like writing, was important to my development as a writer, it wasn't the main thing.

The main thing that made a difference was a distinct shift in my attitude toward my writing after I "got serious". To me, getting serious was more about that attitude shift than anything else. I changed my writing goal. Instead of my goal being "having fun", it became "becoming the best writer I can." Surprised? I bet you were expecting my goal to be "getting published". Getting published is a dream. Writing the best I can is a goal. So, that became my focus. And I think that focus is why when I "got serious" about my writing it began to improve faster. That's what getting serious about my writing means to me. What does it mean to you?

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Very Short Post

Someone writing a list of things bloggers should and shouldn't do said you shouldn't write posts telling people you're not posting today. He exempted people writing blogs mainly for family and friends. Since I fit in that category, at least for now, I'm going to happily assume you all care about why I'm not posting as regularly as I usually do. Today, it's because I've got what Paul had. I feel lousy. I'm crawling back to bed as soon as I can take NyQuill without overdosing the meds. See you all when I'm better.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

West Side Story & Writing List

West Side Story

West Side Story was wonderful. Barbara did a superb job, as I expected she would. I wonder if the cast loses 10 pounds during the show's run. It's a very physical show with about half of it dance numbers. They hired one of the runnerups from one of the American Idol contests to be the lead. Bernstein's music was so over her head. She had awful pitch problems and was obviously hired more for her publicity value than for her ability. The demanding score is really not suited to a pop vocalist. It's very, very sad when the understudy has the best voice in the whole show. She sang "Somewhere" from offstage and she rocks. My other complaint is more that I'd forgotten that it had a very 50s "forced to be not quite so tragic" ending. They wimped out and Maria didn't shoot herself. She should have. Her suicide would have meant they could have made their point without the long, moralistic speech at the end. Which brings me to my writer's list.

The Writer's List

The writer's list is from Sheila's blog--PBW's "How Not To" post about good writing. In honor of Sheila's fondness for "tens", I've come up with a list of ten.

1. Wimp out at every opportunity. Back off from the emotional scenes because you don't want to feel bad when you write.

2. Use every dialogue tag you can think of, except "said", and modify them all with appropriate adverbs..

3. Add tons of description, using at least two Thesauruses* to find better words than the ones you normally use.

4. Make sure every sentence is grammatically perfect, especially in the dialogue.

5. Do not use contractions or slang.

6. Make sure your main characters are as sweet as pie and your villains completely evil. That way your readers know which is which.

7. Be sure the murderer is the minor character you introduced in chapter one and never showed or talked about again until the climax where that character is pointing a gun at your detective and everything gets explained and the detective brilliantly avoids being shot.

8. Be sure you put your character through every torture you can think of, without regard to whether they fit the story or not. Just pile in tons of action and fights because you need conflict.

9. While you're at it, be sure to include lots of graphic sex. It sells books.

10. Don't give your characters anything to do while they're talking. The dialogue is too important to have other stuff get in the way.

*Note: Please don't correct my Latin. I have no idea what the plural of Thesaurus is and I doubt I'll use it often enough to make looking it up worth the time.

Other Stuff

We should hear about the job tomorrow or Tuesday. Continued prayers, lit candles, good vibes, etc. are appreciated. It would be a great birthday gift if he gets a job before then. I have a meeting about getting some training to help me be more hireable. I haven't worked since 1999 due to health issues. I hope to be able to get that taken care of by the time I finish whatever training I end up doing. That will depend, of course, on whether Paul finds a job with benefits before then. Everything in life is like a line of dominoes. One thing can topple the whole thing and until you get all those dominoes back in place, you can't put your life back together.

I notice I haven't been posting as regularly as I like to. We haven't been home and my computer time is a bit more limited these days, what with my son and husband using it for Civ IV and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, now that we discovered that Chris can only play that one on our computer, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What's Going On These Days

My life always seems packed and busy, but mostly with the minutiae we all have to deal with every day. I think one reason we like fiction so much is that fictional characters lives don't have the boring stuff in them. I'm in "too many errands" mode, again. We have a lot of things to do and can't do them all in one place. We got some of it done this morning, but the rest will have to wait until Thursday.

Paul has a meeting this afternoon. I'm going to have him drop me off at the bookstore so I can write. Tomorrow morning he has his three-hour networking session. I'm going to go to the bookstore and write then, too. In the afternoon, he has an interview. Woohoo!! I'm going to stay home and type in the writing I did in the bookstore.

Back to the interview--I'd appreciate you all sending any good vibes, lit candles, prayers, whatever you do to send good luck and stuff our way tomorrow. I don't know what benefits come with this job, should he get it, but if I can get to a doctor, I'm probably going to have to take some classes in MS Office software and try to find some sort of office job. I don't think this job will pay enough for us to live on just his income because apartment rents haven't come down. Drive down any street and every apartment complex has for rent signs. Many have "move-in" specials. Or the weirdly phrased "Free rent" sign. I don't get landlords. Apparently, they'd rather have empty buildings than lower the rent to what people can really afford on the wages companies these days are willing to pay.

We were given tickets to see the local American Musical Theater production of West Side Story on Thursday night. I don't know if tickets are still available for the last performances. The run ends on Sunday. If you're local and are interested, here's the info on all of their performances: American Musical Theater of San Jose. Barbara Day Turner, our church choir director, is the music director for this play. They're doing Gypsy in March. It's one of our favorite shows. Paul played Mr. Goldstone in a community production before I met him. Maybe we'll be able to go to that one, too.

She also is the founder and music director of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. We're going to their Winter's Gifts concert in December. For more information: San Jose Chamber Orchestra. One of the pieces listed in the program was composed by our church organist, Michael Touchi. Personally, I don't know how Barbara and Michael manage to fit the very active church music program in their busy professional schedules. But I'm very glad they do because it's such a pleasure to work with them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Enchiladas Suizas Casserole

This is one of my favorite ways to use up those bits of leftover roasted chicken meat that are too small for sandwiches.

Enchiladas Suizas

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

Chicken filling:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts or
12 ounces leftover chicken meat--shredded
1 can black beans--drained and rinsed
2 medium scallions--sliced
2 medium limes--juiced
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Tortilla layer:
10 medium flour tortillas

Sauce:
1 large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 chipotle peppers--minced, with 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
12 ounces canned diced green chiles
1/2 cup flour
1 cup any kind of milk or
1 cup whipping cream or
3/4 cup 1% milk and 1/4 cup creme fraiche or
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk and 1/4 cup whipping cream
2 cups chicken stock

Cheese layer:
4 ounces cheddar cheese--shredded
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese--shredded

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven: 400º F. Lightly oil a 13x9x2-inch pan with olive oil.

2. If you're using raw chicken, poach, cool, and shred chicken breast. Combine shredded chicken with the beans, scallions, lime juice, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Stack tortillas and cut into quarters.

4. Combine shredded cheeses in a small bowl.

5. Combine chili powder, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, and minced chipotles in a small bowl.

4. Heat olive oil in 5-quart saucepan. Add onion and saute until soft. Add chili powder mixture. Cook about a minute. Add diced chiles. Add flour, mix well, and cook until you don't smell that raw flour smell. Whisk in chicken stock. When there are no lumps of flour, add the milk or cream or milk & creme fraiche. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened.

5. Spoon 1/2 cup sauce into the bottom of the casserole. Then layer the ingredients as follows:
  • Layer 1: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/2 of the chicken; 1/3 of the cheese; 1/3 of the sauce
  • Layer 2: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/2 of the chicken; 1/3 of the cheese; 1/3 of the sauce
  • Layer 3: 1/3 of the tortilla pieces; 1/3 of the sauce; 1/3 of the cheese
6. Bake 20 minutes or until filling is hot and cheese has melted.

Notes:

1. This is best with fresh cilantro, but if all you have is dried, use 1 tablespoon. If you don't like cilantro, leave it out.

2. Chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. You can buy them in cans with adobo sauce. I chop one pepper extremely fine and add 1 tsp. adobo sauce. You can adjust it for your personal taste.

3. I use whole wheat tortillas in this recipe, but you can use regular flour tortillas. I haven't tried using corn tortillas. They might be good, too. If anyone tries corn tortillas, let me know how it worked for you.

4. Diced chiles come in 4-ounce and 7-ounce cans. I buy either 3 small ones or 2 large ones, whichever is cheaper. They're not spicy enough to make a difference, so I just toss in the extra 2 ounces when I use large cans.

5. If you're using raw chicken, poach and cool it before you preheat the oven and make the rest of the recipe.

6. The sauce--there will be lumps from the onions, so don't look for a perfectly smooth sauce. What you're aiming for is to have no dry flour left before you add the dairy because the flour blends more easily into the stock than into milk.

7. The Dairy: This recipe works with any combination of milk/cream. The difference is that it's richer with whipping cream than with nonfat milk. If you can find or make creme fraiche, the 1% milk/creme fraiche blend makes a sauce as rich as using all whipping cream, but with 1/4 the fat. The evaporated skim milk blend is almost as good as the creme fraiche option.

8. Making your own creme fraiche costs about half what it costs to buy it, but requires that you plan ahead. Here's how: Take 1 cup whipping cream and mix in 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Make sure the buttermilk has active cultures. It should say so on the carton. A glass jar is a good container, but any nonreactive bowl will work. Cover it and let it sit on the kitchen counter until thickened. This usually takes 24-48 hours. It's done when it's a bit thinner than sour cream. It also will be slightly sour, but not as much as sour cream. Then refrigerate. The food safety folks, who are overly conservative, IMO, say it keeps for about three days. I've kept mine for as long as two weeks without any problems. You can tell when it needs to be thrown out because it gets moldy. Or it gets yellow and thick, which means it's soured beyond being edible.

I love to use this stuff in a mixture with 1% milk in cream sauces, custards and quiches, cream soups, etc. It gives that texture you miss when you substitute milk for cream without as much fat. I use a 3:1 ratio when substituting. Then adjust it the next time I make it, if I need to.

9. The other low-fat alternative: You can substitute plain, nonfat or lowfat yogurt for the milk. I don't like to because it curdles so easily. What you have to do is bring the yogurt to room temperature. Then temper it by putting some of the hot sauce into the yogurt and warming it up before you put it in the sauce. Cook it on very low heat until the sauce is thickened. Use a lower oven temperature--no more than 350º F. Check after 30 minutes and then check every ten minutes until it's done. I'm not sure of the exact time because I haven't done it this way for years. The trick is to catch it as close as you can to when the cheese melts and not let it cook too long. I think that's a pain, so I go with the slightly higher fat variations mentioneded above.

10. You can do everything in advance and just pop it in the oven before you serve it. It will take about 45 minutes from the refrigerator and maybe 30 minutes if you let it sit out for an hour before you put it in the oven. Those are approximate times. Every oven is a bit different, so you have to adjust the time to how your oven works.

Mangia!

© 2000 by Linda Sprinkle

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Grit

Psychology Today has an interesting article this month about what makes a person successful. The summary of the article says: " We're primed to think that talent is the key to success. But what counts even more is a fusion of passion and perseverance. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all." They define grit as: "the determination to accomplish an ambitious, long-term goal despite the inevitable obstacles.-"

The article discusses these qualities considered important to success:

  • Talent
  • Ability
  • Ambition
  • Optimism
  • Focus
  • Persistence
  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Ability to accept criticism

One thing the article doesn't discuss is what they used as a definition of success. However, their examples imply that success is measured by the person pursuing it. Achieving the goal they set out to reach equals being successful. And it's important that the goal be set by the person pursuing it. Grit is a quality they say comes from being passionate about the goal, and few people have that kind of passion for a externally-imposed goal. I've seen that in action with my kids wanting to do only the homework that interested them.

I've seen the theory proposed in this article work in the stories my writer friends tell me about how they went from unpublished to published writers. They wrote a novel. Took their rejections and kept writing more. They didn't stop writing and didn't stop sending out the work. They believed they would be published if they worked at it long enough and worked hard enough. The one piece of advice every pro writer gives is this: put your butt in the chair and write. And that's really what it comes down to in the end. No matter what else happens, you have to put your butt in the chair and write. Then believe in your work enough to send it out.

The beauty of what the article is saying is that you can build the qualities that bring the most success by practicing them. You can't build talent and ability, but they're the least important. Passion is something you can find by trying things until you discover it. Sometimes you have to do a lot of something to find what area you're passionate about. I love reading a lot of different things and I've written pieces in all of the genres I enjoy reading. But I realized they had one thing in common--all of them had some sort of crime. I had one of those aha! moments. I started focusing on the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I became more consistent without really trying because I'd found my passion. Once I found that passion, developing persistence seemed easier. The passion became my motivation.

I think discovering your passion fuels optimism and ambition, too. Because when you're doing something you love, you expect to be successful at it. And you want a bigger measure of success than when you don't really care about what you're doing. You push yourself harder and challenge yourself more. You reach higher because it matters to you in a way other things don't. I think ambition is where being able to accept criticism comes in. If you're aiming high, you have to be the best at what you do. That means you need input from others because you don't see your work the way they do. By being able to accept and learn from criticism, you grow and get closer to your goal. But I think that along with accepting criticism, you have to develop a sense of when it's useful and when it isn't, so you don't waste time trying to please everyone or lose track of your own vision. Passion also fuels your focus. If you're passionate about something you focus your attention on it.

So, are you focusing your attention on your passion? If not, then the question is whether it's really your passion. I suppose the answer to that depends on what you're doing instead of pursuing your passion. I know that helping my husband find a job, which eats into my writing time, is both temporary and necessary. Spending some of my writing time that way doesn't mean I'm not passionate about writing. But if I were watching a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games, or doing other entertainment things and whining that I don't have time to write, I'd be questioning whether writing really is my passion.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Fun Stuff from Andi

Andi's been finding random fun stuff on the internet. Like:

Take the quiz: "Which Random Irish Gaelic Phrase Are You? "


Is maith liom bananai

Is maith liom bananai - 'I like bananas.' You're laid-back and you enjoy the simple things in life. Some might say you're a little too laid-back. Just what is it you're smoking, anyway?

Actually, nothing. You don't have to smoke weird things to be a laid-back Californian. You just have to have been raised in the 60s and 70s. Which I was. But I never smoked anything in my life.

And: The Monster Name Decoder is kind of a belated Halloween fun thing. Click on the picture, if you want to get a monster of your very own. I used an alternate spelling of my name for the first one because I liked it better than the one with an "i".


Lethal Yokel-Nabbing Demon of Anger


And for "Rose", my handle, I get:


Ravenous Ogre from the Sunless Earth

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo

I did NaNo in 2003. I finished with 52K. Yay, me! And I wish that everyone who's typing away, trying to get that 1667 minimum daily word count, reaches the finish line. For information about National Novel Writing Month, go here: NaNoWriMo.org. It's not too late to join the madness and the fun.

But in the past few years, I've seen way too much seriousness attached to NaNo. It was originally almost a prank. It was a silly game. It was a fun challenge some college kids thought up. Now it's become a way for solitary writers to get together with a community of other solitary writers and do a story at the same time. A bad story. A good story. A mediocre story. It doesn't matter what kind of story. Most of the fun is in writing with other people and in the satisfaction of seeing the words pile up. It's much easier to get those words if the story itself isn't the most important thing.

That's why I don't think doing NaNo is the best way for serious authors to write a novel they intend to sell, unless writing fast is your natural writing style. I admit that I get frustrated, though, when people who do write fast naturally promote it as "the best way for everyone to write". I've read lots of interviews with authors, books about how various authors write, author's blogs, etc. and have talked with many writers, both published and unpublished. They have shown me that there are as many ways to write a book as there are people writing one. I have friends who start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. I have other friends who write a chunk, then go back and edit that chunk. I have friends who work back and forth, adding setups to earlier sections of the book or revising as the experience of creating sends them off in unexpected directions.

In my case, fast writing doesn't work. And so, I don't do NaNo every year, as many of my friends do. OTOH, my friend Jean's completed books all began as NaNo novels. The year I hit the finish line with 52K, I learned two things from the experience. One--I can write regularly and get a lot of words. The flip side of that is that when I write fast, I tend to leave out important stuff and then get stuck. When I get stuck, I have to go back and add the stuff I left out before I can move on. I've discovered that I make more steady progress if I do the "adding stuff" as I go along, which precludes the NaNo approach of starting at the beginning and write to the end without looking back.

Two--I was reminded that writing is fun. It's way too easy to get hung up on how writing is hard work. It is. But without the fun to balance out the work, it becomes just one more chore to do, one that becomes an easy target for procrastination. So, I might do NaNo again, when I'm not living with my mother and have more control over how I spend my days. But if I do, I will be writing just a fun thing. No pressure to write something for publication. A busman's holiday. A time for my muse to play.

Good luck to those of you NaNoing this month. And for those who aren't, good luck with completing whatever your plan is. Oh, and in case you're actually paying attention to such things--my progress bar made some progress. I finally added more words to this chapter than I cut.