Monday, August 18, 2014

When do you find time to write?

When do you find time to write? This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get. It's a fair enough question. I have two small kids that are with me pretty much full time, and who wake up at the crack of dawn to carry on with Very Important Small People Things. [Said important things typically involve: scooters, hot wheels, and fighting over the red lego because it is everything that anyone could ever want on this earth. Ever][Seriously, though- how do they go from sleeping deeply oblivious to the world in one instant and then ready to party like it's 1999?]


It's kind of funny because since having children I actually write more than I used to. Maybe it's because I know my time is precious and so I conserve the extra minutes I find and utilize them better than I once did. But in any case, for those of you who asked in the hopes of finding such time yourself in between chasing little ones, cooking, and cleaning, here are the top five ways I find time:
The cleaning is done. Sort of. I mean mostly. Okay. Enough to pass. But not enough to wow anyone who values a spiffy and shiny home. The truth is, if I truly mopped, vacuumed, scrubbed and made this house sparkly clean, all while two little tornados children run through turning everything upside down, I would have time for little else. I know there are many who can maintain a shiny sparkly home while picking strawberries with babes and baking homemade keylime pies all while dressed quite smartly but that just isn't me. I know with limited time, I have to choose how to spend the evening hours and it's not going to be spent polishing my garbage can though it might be spent polishing my sentences for a book. Plus, I read this article that the most creative people flourish in clutter- so I'm not messy! I'm just creative! It's part of my method. [That's my story and I'm sticking to it]
more or less the perfect metaphor for trying to clean with two kids.
Naps are a godsend. If you've read this blog for any length of time you know I'm a nap-writing preacher! Don't squander that nap folding laundry! Write Write Write. And when only one of the brood naps, Sesame Street [or Super Why or Curious George] is manna from heaven. I use that time with the four year old curled up to me watching Super Grover 2.0 unleash the power of technology, while I get some writing in. And I don't feel guilty about it one iota. [though why is Grover now Super Grover 2.0? I loved him just as he was. I know he's just a puppet, but you can see the hurt in his eyes. Cute as he is, Elmo just came along and ruined everything for him].
Do you see the pain in Grover's eyes? because I do.
I have a moleskine and I write the heck out of it. Because my baby enjoys seeing if my laptop could double as a good football, I tend to keep it out of sight when he's awake. So if a story idea is rumbling around I write it down the good old fashioned way. My moleskine writings probably resemble petroglyphs to an outsider but the notes, sketches, and venn diagrams work for me to sort through ideas, angles and possibilities while also modeling literacy and a love for writing and creativity for my children. Sooner or later if I'm sketching while they play, we wind up, all three of us, sitting at the kitchen table with pens, crayons, and markers, writing.
Evenings and weekends are precious. After washing up, kids in bed, a cuppa tea and conversation with the spouse, I'm on my laptop working. I know I have a handful of hours. I do not squander them when a story is calling my name. And all hail the dreaded football season that is almost before us and the silver lining of increased writing time it will produce for me. Weekends too are used to write. I'm picky with what we choose to do as a family and we take care to make sure I get large blocks of time to write when a spouse is around to push swings, make breakfast, etc.
Truly, we have ten million things pulling us in fifteen million directions. But life isn't a dress rehearsal while we wait for the real thing. The realness is right now. And it's limited. And even if it doesn't feel like it, we ware making choices with our time. What matters, we must make room for in our lives. And for me, writing is as necessary as food. I have to do it. And so, I find the time. Look at your day. See where you can squeeze it in. And then- grab those Spanx and squeeze it in.

I'm using Wednesdays, as 'writerly' Wednesdays to answer questions that pop up on the writing process and journey to publication, if you have any questions do share! It's just one person's journey and perspective but I'd love to share what worked for me with writing my novel as you work on your own creative journey.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writerly Wednesday: Writing Partners

Many a moon ago I had a story idea. I doodled my thoughts. Wrote down snippets and sketched out characters. It took me years before I went from thinking about Naila and her life to finally summoning the courage to put her story down in writing.

And yes, I use the word courage because it wasn't easy.

There were many second guesses. Sure I had written memos and briefs galore for law school and yes I wrote for some newspapers and magazines but this was undertaking a work of fiction. A novel. Did I have the stamina and the determination to write a full length novel....  did I have the ability?

I think it was the ability part that frightened me most because the thing is: first drafts are ugly. I don't mean it in some abstract sense. I mean- they are just hideous things. I didn't realize this at first. When the story was first coming to me fast and furious from my heart to the screen, it felt like a thrill. A rush. I was excited and ready to do the happy dance as the words laced together before me. Yes, I was quite pleased with myself.

very happy man

But once I finished that first draft. Once I finally gave myself some space and revisted the words that had flowed from my soul. I looked at them and thought:




Any writer will tell you this is normal [except one "Bobullah" who smirked and said he had no idea what I was talking about as words flowed from him like a spring in the desert--which OK-- he is, I suppose, the grand exception to the norm].

                                 Not Interested

For the rest of us writer folks, first drafts are awful. Even Ernest Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is shit. But knowing that doesn't really help any when you're toiling away on weekends and evenings and all you have to show for it is something you want to print out of your computer just so you can cast it into a fireplace and watch the hideousness burn burn burn.

And it's likely I would have done just that. It's likely this book would have stayed in my mind's eye or simply as a word document staring back at me at a computer screen or kindling for a melancholy flame, but there's a huge reason that didn't happen: Tracy Lopez.

Tracy has been my friend forever and she happened to be an amazing writer. She was contemplating a novel and so we agreed to write and trade and read and be honest. We weren't seeking unabashed adoration but a critical read through with feedback relayed respectfully.

Over the years with many pieces of fiction between the two of us we sent chapters or full manuscripts, we wrote notes and comments, and lived each other stories closer than anyone else. Tracy read my query letters, she helped tweak my synopsis. She told me when something was working.


And she told me when I needed to go back to the drawing board.


And now, as I brainstorm and draft my third and fourth novels, she's reading them too and critiquing them along the way. I read somewhere that a writing/critique partner is critical for any writer and while I can't speak for all writers I cannot imagine writing any of my books past, present, and future without Tracy's trusted advice. Stephen King said it's important to write your book for one person, imagining them as their audience and my audience of one when I write my novels always was and remains Tracy.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get lately relate to advice on writing. How to plow through and get the thing written. The biggest thing I can tell you is to find a writing partner:
  • Who is also writing: The funnest part of this is writing for someone and knowing you also will in return be reading their writing. Not only is this fun though it teaches you a lot about your own work to critique and edit someone else.
  • Who will tell you the truth: It's tempting to hear that your work is the most beautiful thing ever and absolutely perfect, but if your writing partner says this about your first draft, unless you are Bobullah, it's likely not the full story. You need to hear the truth because you want to make your draft the best manuscript it can be and the only way to do that is to hear how you can improve it.
  • Who will share that truth gently: They can't just go through your post red-lining it. That HURTS. Ask your writing partner to share what they loved and also to share what could be improved [instead of what sucks].
  • Who is reliable: A novel is a long and complex undertaking so make sure to pick a writing partner who will be willing to stick with you for the long haul.
  • Who is trustworthy: It's such a fragile time writing that first draft. You want to know that your story will stay with them and not shared with anyone else. You want to know that they will honor that confidentiality just as you will do for them.
I'm thankful for my writing partner who fills all the above criterion and more and after all the back and forths of chapters and paragraphs, it brings me no small measure of joy to see the galley of Written in the Stars resting on her bookshelf next to books we both read on our writing journeys. 

Hope this was helpful! I'm hoping to share stories and advice from my writing journey here. If you find it helpful please let me know and I will try to make this a regular feature. If there is anything in particular you are wondering about, please also share as I compile future posts on the writing journey.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tyrant and the dangerous narrative of The Other

Growing up, the people who look like the men in my life on the Western television screen never played the romantic lead or the dashing hero- instead, they played the bad guys or the comedic relief- the bumbling gas station employee or the hilarious [fill in the blank] who would soon be outwitted. Fast forward to present day and not a great deal has changed, after all, we're still in an era of Homeland, a show I watched initially hopeful for complexity but which ultimately devolved into a woman shrieking as she held the Quran belonging to her secret Muslim husband, who in truth did quickly transition from good American man into a beer drinking, adulterous, Muslim terrorist upon conversion.

When I heard about Tyrant, the beloved baby of the creator of Homeland and 24, I wasn't exactly optimistic. When I read the premise, an assimilated Arab American living the happy middle class American life with his wife and kids with nary an evil thought in his head until... he returns to his fictional Arab country and devolves into a monster, I was understandably sickened.

But when MPAC was said to be a consultant on the show and had, from what I read, given their thumbs up of approval for the show, I thought okay. I'll try it. I'll watch.

And then I watched. And well, it was so terrible that it veered slightly into the absurdly comical. And as NPR, Alan Sepinwall, Daniel Fienberg, AV Club, all pointed out, it wasn't bad just beacuse it relied on caricatures of Arabs and because it had a white British man pretending to be Arab because "no Arab was good enough" to play the part, it was bad because it was bad. With shows oozing nuance and complexity like Breaking Bad, The Wire, True Detectives, and Mad Men, maybe we as a cultural viewing audience have grown more discerning.

But it's troubling that such shows are made. That a show like Homeland draws the "logical" conclusion that a conversion to Islam equals terrorist activities and wins Emmys while giving all it's viewers implicit messages of who I am, leaves me ill.

This Ramadan is a hard one. This Ramadan I see so much pain around the world. I see little kids dying because someone has deemed them other. I see one sect of Islam declaring another an abomination and taking it upon themselves to settle the score because they see them as the other. I see the KKK handing out candy in South Carolina to help children join their cause against the other.

I see a world that is suffocating in the narrative of the other.

And it makes me think about the show Tyrant. It came out a few weeks ago but today for some reason it's been on my mind again. I think it's because while shows like Tyrant make for bad TV on many creative and artistic levels, the show isn't just bad TV-- it's dangerous TV.  Shows like Tyrant help us write off an entire group of people because it promotes full force the narrative of the other. And that has real life consequences. It has the consequence of creating an us and a them. It can be the difference between crying at the image on the screen or shrugging and scrolling. It can be the difference between calling a congressperson or saying that's just how they are. It has the consequence of closing hearts. And that is the most dangerous kind of show there can be.