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There are a lot of new books being released today, but of the pile I brought home from my local independent bookstore, this one seems the most fitting to share today since it was inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

I have only read the book summary, but I love the idea of being able to transform and take flight … literally. Dragons have fascinated me for years. Looking around the room where I am typing this post, I can see five dragons. My current favorite is Scribbles.

As you can see, he carries a pencil. Scribbles is one of my writing buddies, and I have been doing a lot of writing lately. He’s not the best conversationalist or beta reader, but he’s a good listener.

Writing is good for me in these crazy times, and I am tackling a big writing project, so for the time being I am going to be a writing dragon.

Find your own dragon.

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May Day.

Beltane.

The first of May.

It’s a brand new month starting on a Sunday, and the day practically felt like summer.

I ended up with approximately 56,000 words in my 130-page Came NaNoWriMo project. While I didn’t really stick to my original plan, I am pleased with the accomplishment. Even better, I have a plan for the next step, which I have never taken with a NaNoWriMo project before: review and revision. In the past, I get to the end, breathe a sigh of relief, and pretty much walk away.

This time, I am going to read through everything I wrote during the month of April and expand on it. And I am going to do it longhand. I printed out the document and pulled out a notebook. Actually, I built a notebook. A few years ago I came across something called a disc-bound notebook. Pages and covers were held together by plastic discs along one edge. The advantage is that you can add, remove, and rearrange pages. Since I am not sure how many pages I will need for the project, being able to adjust the number means that I won’t end up with too many or too few. Being able to rearrange the pages means that I can pull an idea out, expand on it, and put it in a separate section.

The original content will be written in black ink, and any additions or revisions will be written in whatever other color strikes my fancy. I am starting with purple.

It’s a daunting task, but I think that it is going to be an excellent writing exercise. I haven’t set a deadline. I am just going to see how it goes and work on it in small chunks.

Some of my other ongoing projects did not fare as well in April. I finished reading one book instead of two, and I only cast of one pair of socks (although I think I am still on track for my goal of 25 pairs in a year) and made very little progress on sweater knitting. My regular journal doesn’t have any entries for about the last half of April because I used all of those words toward my Camp project, which is fine because my real writing goal is to write every day, and that daily discipline is still intact.

With the start of a new month, I can pick up the projects which got put down for a while and even start some new projects. This is an unfamiliar feeling. Usually when I don’t meet a goal, I have a sense of failure. Now I have a feeling of excitement about being able to get back to projects which were interrupted.

I am quite certain that this new mindset and outlook is due to tackling projects in smaller increments and to successfully working on those projects every day for a while. If I have done a small bit of something every day for several months and then I miss a day or two or even a week, I know that all I have to do is the next increment, and I will be back to making progress.

It turns out that the compounding effect of incremental change actually gives you some cushion so that there isn’t a feeling of regressing. The progress you have made so far is still there, so all you need to do is take the next step forward, and you are back on track. Who knew?

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Many writers, myself included, are drawn to writing tools, advice, and inspiration. Do they have to potential to make us better, more productive, and happier writers? Yes. Is at least half their appeal the opportunity for distraction and procrastination? Assuredly.

(Knitters have the same sort of relationship with the website ravelry.com. Is it a fabulous resource for patterns, techniques, and support? Yes. Do we fall down rabbit holes looking at patterns and posting in discussion groups and admiring projects when we could be spending that time actually knitting? Without a doubt.)

Today’s distraction, er, tool comes to you courtesy of the amazing story collective The Moth. Stories shared during Moth events are told by a person standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It is not recitation or speechmaking. There are no notes, and there is no memorization. It is an organic, ancient, and undoubtedly nerve-wracking process, but it is not without preparation. These spoken stories involve as much craft and revision as anything written.

Over the last 25 years, The Moth has developed a program to help people tell their stories, to take an idea and learn how to not only share it but bring the audience into it. On April 26th, aspiring storytellers will be able to get their hands on How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.

Have I read the online excerpt on the Random Penguin website? Yes, I have. Have I read the sample on the website of the largest online bookseller? Yes, I have. Am I tempted to preorder it from my local independent bookseller so that I can get a pre-order bonus? Most certainly. (Do I have unread books about the craft and skill of writing on my bookshelves? Indeed, I do. Is that an impediment or a deterrent? No, not really.)

Based on what I have read so far, this book is not only for writers and performers. It is for anyone who wants to share a story with anyone else, to build connection and community. Isn’t that connection something we need in these wild and crazy times? I think so.

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Or maybe I love it when order starts to emerge out of chaos. I sort of had a plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then in the face of having rather a lot of things on my plate, it went a bit off the rails. I could call it project scope creep. I could say that I incorporated multiple goals or disciplines into one so that I wasn’t really giving up any of them, but the focus had shifted.

Then I read about a brainstorming exercise which is brilliantly perfect for writing. Maybe I am the last to know and everyone, or at least lots of people, writes this way, but it is completely liberating in the sense that it allows you to jump around between different ideas and don’t have to try to follow a linear plot or outline.

Let me see if I can explain.

I am about halfway through Lost and Found in Paris (and loving it). I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I need to provide a little bit of context, most of which can be found in the book summary.

Our heroine Joan flies to Paris with some obscure but valuable sketches for a potential buyer. The sketches are stolen. The thief leaves behind a clue which includes a poem\riddle\invitation and a copy of a page from one of her father’s notebooks. She figures out the first message, and when she arrives at the appropriate location, a security guard hands her a second envelope.

Nate, her romantic interest who is trying to help her recover the stolen sketches stops her from opening the envelope right away. He asks her to tell him what she thinks is in the envelope. What might be the next piece or pieces of information based on what they already know? Joan is skeptical.

He explains the exercise this way: “My sister leads the brain-storming sessions.  She went to business school, so there’s a method to her madness.  It works.  It gets your brain pumping before you have to zero in one the question at hand.  When we’re trying to anticipate what might go wrong or right with a project, it opens us up to other avenues of inquiry when we think about all possible scenarios.” (pg 139)

They proceed to brainstorm possibilities, following different avenues of thought, looking for connections.

The concept didn’t make any sense to Joan at first, but it totally clicked for me.

I don’t have to write a linear story, even if I want to eventually end up with one. I don’t have to stress about picking a direction. I can start with an idea, a scene. I can set up the scene in different ways, and then I can tell the same story different ways or create different stories altogether. I can follow each thread from each starting point, or I can mix and match later on, keeping what works together and setting the other parts aside.

Instead of having to know what “really” happens and committing myself to one narrative, I can try out a whole bunch of different scenarios — no matter how ludicrous — follow each one as far as a I care to, branching this way and that as I go, and then backtracking to a certain point and starting a new branch or thread. (Yes, I am just going with the mixed metaphor.)

I tried it out with one of the ideas in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I decided to use as a month-long brainstorming session to just get ideas out of my head and into a document, so I think that I was pretty close to this newly-discovered process already. The problem is that I was letting myself get stuck on not knowing where to take a story or how to explore an idea for fear of not getting it right (even though I know it is not about getting it right the first time).

Now I can ask myself, “What are the things that can go right with this storyline or scenario? What are the things that can go wrong?” Do a little preliminary troubleshooting and then start trying out the possibilities.

The more I write out this idea, the more obvious it feels, but it was a complete watershed moment for me this afternoon. Maybe it’s the magic that starts to happen about halfway through a NaNoWriMo project. Whatever the case, I am feeling inspired, creative, and energized! I look forward to a weekend of writing.

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The fine folks at NaNoWriMo are forever suggesting fun and interesting tools for writers, and I think that the Hero’s Journal is my favorite, perhaps because I have been doing more journaling lately. (I have to say that I am not a big fan of journal as a verb, although in this case it is a gerund, so the verb gets to work as a noun. I am not sure if that usage is better or worse.) The phrase “the exhaustion of toxic productivity” resonated with me.

I will note that if you have serious issues with either Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, these journals might not be for you. If you enjoy epic fantasy, quests, and magic, then these journals look like a fun writing exercise to help you build your writing confidence, cultivating a daily practice, or working through a writing slump — to name just a few options. It is designed for anyone — from kids to adults — who has a goal, and the goal doesn’t even have to be writing related. The journals turn that goal into an adventure.

The physical journals are a bit pricey, but there is a PDF version which you can use on a computer or print to paper. Even better, you can try before you buy with a generous 71-page free sample of each journal. Just enter your e-mail address.

If you like extras, there are side quest decks to enhance your experience, and according to the Instagram feed there have and will be other goodies like stickers and pins. There is a newsletter, too, which I would image also provides announcements about such things, but the Instagram feed has news as well as pretty pictures. The FAQ page has more details and tips for using the journals.

I have downloaded both samples and look forward to trying them, although I will probably wait until after Camp NaNoWriMo is finished. Watch this space for a report on my findings.

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When I searched the web for a graphic of 200, I found this cute and appropriate illustration. I checked out the website, too, and I have to say that I am definitely a fan of the idea of teaching math as a life skill rather than just a course.

Why did I need a graphic of the number 200, you ask? Well, I was preparing to bemoan my inability to manufacture time and wanted to reread my post about increments in a day to remind myself what I had already bemoaned. When I pulled up the list of posts, the number at the top was 201.

I have written two hundred posts to this blog! Very sporadically and over many years, but 200 all the same.

After numerous false starts (most likely due to unrealistic expectations), I am finally having fun. I haven’t quite found a groove yet, and the site needs a thorough facelift, but those things will happen in due time. The persistence will continue to pay off.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has read and followed so far!!

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As I spend Camp NaNoWriMo brainstorming writing and story ideas, I am still thinking about cooking and baking robots, so I started doing a little research.

Nautilus magazine has become one of my favorite science resources. The description on the website says, “Our stories take you into the depths of science and spotlight its ripples in our lives and cultures.”

There have been several articles about robots recently, so I have added them to my reading list.

Somehow my brain segued into the idea of writing a story with a female mad scientist — brilliant STEM ladies using their powers for, well, not necessarily evil, but definitely not for selfless good — and I tried to come up with ideas for reference. I came up empty other than possibly Harley Quinn, but somehow mad psychiatrist wasn’t working for me. I remembered correctly that Poison Ivy is a scientist who is labeled as an eco-terrorist. Possible. Possible. Closer to what I had in mind at any rate.

I posed the question to my small social media circle and was rewarded with a list of possibilities. Several were from video games and anime, so they will expand my horizons. The most perfect example I got was Screenslaver from Incredibles 2. She is so perfect that she borders on cliche. There is also a character from my current favorite book who qualifies.

Now that I have a starting point, I know a little better what I am looking for as I sift through books I have read and movies I have watched.

Then I can start writing my own.

MWA-HA-HA!

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It’s getting late, and it is a work night, so I need to get to sleep, but I am going to sneak in a quick post and hope that I can stay on track because even though I am going to post about what I was planning to post about, there are other things running around in my head which are trying to take over the post (and are apparently encouraging me to try out a Marcel Proust imitation).

In the book Sourdough by Robin Sloan, the great, unsolvable problem at the robotics company which employs the heroine Lois is the “egg problem” — teaching a robotic arm to properly crack an egg into a bowl.

SOURDOUGH SPOILERS (sort of)

When Lois decides to scale up her bread making enterprise, she enlists the help of a robotic arm, and there is a wonderful chaotic scene in which the arm recreates her own initial breadmaking attempts with great accuracy. The flour sprays everywhere. Dough ends up on the counter, the floor, the cabinets as she tries to configure proper, effective stirring technique. Ultimately she tackles the egg problem, and, as so many great discoveries are, the solution is an example of less being more.

Today I learned that some fine folks in the field of robotics are teaching (read: programming) robots to make pizza dough!

To really get the whole picture, I think you need to read the book and the article, but the article is shorter, so maybe start there.

And I need to stop here. Otherwise I will be up much later writing much longer about robots and technology which will somehow segue into electricity and waste, and then I will make an abrupt leap into being inspired by an artist talking about process which led me to think that there were lessons in there about story building which could be used for Camp NaNoWriMo, which officially kicks off in about 25 minutes.

Posts could be interesting for the next few days. Or maybe just rambling. Time will tell.

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I wasn’t sure what I might want to write about today. It wasn’t a very exciting day — a nice, quiet Sunday. I did cast off a pair of socks (my second pair for March), and I definitely need to do a sock post, but that means remembering to take pictures when there is decent lighting to be had. I haven’t committed to the next book I am going to read yet, but as I was looking into the Patricia Highsmith collection, I came across a couple of contenders, and one of them got me to thinking about one of my linguistic pet peeves.

One possibility is East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman, an author who was born in Pakistan and grew up in London. The tagline on the front cover is: “From small-time drug dealer to MI5’s reluctant secret weapon.” The cover art has a kind of vintage feel, and I tend to be drawn in by the look and feel of a book, so I gave it a try.

The book starts with a quote from Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Chapter one opens with the protagonist introducing himself, identifying as a Muslim, explaining what that means in his specific case, and describing his experience as a British-born Muslim. This is a perspective and experience quite different from my own, so I was intrigued. “Sign me up,” I thought.

In the third paragraph, the profanity started, and I was a little less inclined to keep reading. (I probably will because I am interested in this character and his journey.)

It wasn’t a lot of profanity, but it didn’t serve a purpose either. I know that lots of people are free and easy with the expletives these days. I don’t find it offensive so much as unnecessary, annoying, and distracting. A well-chosen expletive can be extremely satisfying and get a point across when more genteel language just won’t do.

These days, however, profanity is as common as punctuation … or the ubiquitous (and equally annoying in my world) “like.” I end up thinking that the person just needs a more expansive vocabulary.

Certain four-letter expletives are everywhere these days, and I wonder if they are losing some of their potency. There is usually an asterisk or two in the words, so they haven’t become completely acceptable.

I’m not out to censor profanity at all. If you want to use it, have at it. But is the word or expression you are using really the most appropriate or effective choice for the sentiment or idea you are trying to communicate?

It’s a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, but it has made me think more about word choice, and not only when it comes to profanity. There are plenty of words which feel … lazy or generic to me. Saying something is stupid or good or bad. Really? Is that the best description I can use?

Even as I wrote this post, I struggled with some of my word choices. In a few instances, I don’t particularly like the choice I made, but I couldn’t think of a better choice. If I come up with words or phrases I prefer, I might come back and edit. In the meantime, I am going to go with the flow and send my linguistic musings out into the world.

P.S. Hello, new followers! ~waves~ Welcome to my little corner of the internet.

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(Random thought: Am I supposed to capitalize blog post headings like titles? I guess they are like articles, but they don’t feel that formal or official. I suppose I could look it up and at least find a best practice somewhere. Until then, I’ll improvise as the mood strikes me.)

(Also, this choice to just write and post and not worry really takes the pressure off and pretty much obliterates expectations. Cool!)

Note: This post might qualify as containing spoilers for The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, so if you plan to read the book, proceed with caution. I’m sharing some thoughts I have about one of the characters and a connection I made as a result, but not revealing any major plot points or developments.

In The Paris Apartment, as Jess tries to figure out what is going on with her brother and what might have happened to keep him from being at the apartment when she arrives, she talks to the other people living in the apartment building. There are also chapters told from the point of view of those people, and they reveal their interactions with Ben.

As I was reading, I decided that Ben might not be as sincere or as good a guy as he seemed. Charming? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. But also sharp and observant and not above using his charm and charisma for, shall we say, less than altruistic purposes. I got the feeling that he might have been up to something. A bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, even. You think he’s a caring friend who is showing genuine interest and concern, but is he? Did he come to Paris with a purpose, plan, or agenda?

Eventually it clicked for me that there were hints of Tom Ripley in Ben. Nothing so sinister or violent as the talented Mr. Ripley, but a young man with charm and charisma who could talk his way into and out of situations as the need arose or an opportunity presented itself. Someone who was a bit of a chameleon as it suited his purposes. Ben’s adopted family provided him with a good life and education, but he didn’t have a lot of money. Even if he did always seem to catch a break and come out on top, he wasn’t able to live like Nick, the wealthy friend who got him into the apartment in Paris, and he may have resented it.

Being reminded of Tom Ripley got me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith and that I should read beyond Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I knew that she was a prolific writer, and I wondered whether she kept letters or journals and whether they had been collected or published. A quick search turned up Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta and published by W.W. Norton just a few months ago.

When Highsmith passed away, she left behind an extensive personal history in the form of 18 diaries and 38 notebooks. The volumes contain a total of about 8000 pages, documenting not only her life but also her evolution and growth as a writer.

From the editorial note at the beginning of the book: “Pat essentially maintained a double account of her life: whereas she used the diary to detail her intense, at times painful personal experiences, she used the notebook to process these experiences intellectually and muse on her writing. Pat’s notebooks were workbooks, and a playground for her imagination…. Her diaries help us better understand the notebooks…. While the two formats can be read independently of each other, when read in tandem they help to gain a holistic understanding — in Pat’s own words — of an author who concealed the personal sources of her material for her entire life, and whose novels are more likely to distract us from who she was, than lead us to her.” (The digital excerpt I am reading does not have page numbers or I would include them here.)

Two accounts. The raw, personal, intimate events in one and the reactions, ideas, and creativity they spawned in another. All I can think is, “Brilliant!! Absolutely brilliant!”

I often hesitate to read published letters or diaries because they are such private works. Sometimes I shy away from reading memoirs of people who interest me because I don’t necessarily want to know more than I do from experiencing their art or music. For example, I have a copy of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen sitting on my bookshelf, and I still haven’t decided whether or not I want to read it. He’s an amazing storyteller. He’s thoughtful, insightful, observant, and well aware of his own flaws and imperfections. On the other hand, I have a very personal relationship with his music, and the music and the live performances may be all I need. I might not need or even want to know the stories behind it all because it might change my relationship with the music. It’s a tough call.

In contrast, I very much want to read Unrequited Infatuations: Odyssey of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Consigliere by Stevie Van Zant, one of the original, if not continuous, members of the E Street Band. Except for the solo years, he is always there on stage to Bruce’s left, and he has had many endeavors and adventures away from E Street, so I am fascinated to read what he has to say.

Returning to Highsmith, the introduction to the new book indicates that she clearly meant for her diaries and journals to be collected, preserved, and accessible in some form. The editor notes that certain people have been anonymized to protect them and their families, so while personal and intimate, it’s not an expose. I like and admire Highsmith’s writing style and respect her as an important literary figure of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. This “behind the scenes” look into her writing process as much as her life, however, sounds like it is right up my alley.

I shall investigate further and report back.

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