Detritus of my craft

The detritus of writing
I just noticed these things lying about my living room.

(It’s a bit grainy, because it’s night-time.  And I won’t remember to take a new picture in the morning.)

I know that I’m in the writing spirit because I have many important bits of the writing craft lying around my living room.

From top to bottom:

  • The most awesome, portable, roll of fine-point markers, by Staedtler.
  • My previous LFG notebook, Clairefontaine because I love them, and quad because it’s more versatile than lined.  Cloth-bound.
  • My new LFG notebook, also Clairefontaine, also quad, but spiral-bound. (I just started this one, so the previous one is still hanging around.  It will move onto a shelf once I’m settled into this one.)
  • The stack of pages (held together with one of my favorite pens) that is my Vampire Story printed out.
  • The large spiral unlined notebook I use for brainstorming when the small quad paper isn’t working.
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter*, which I loved the first half of years ago, and which I decided to pick up again this weekend.  I’ve just learned (again, since presumably I learned it the last time I read it) what a canon is and what a fugue is.
  • Very large (ok, “very” in my little non-artistic world) drawing paper, for extra-large brainstorming.  Not often used: but used this weekend.
  • And finally, chocolate.  Duh.

(The picture does not include my laptop, because I am using it and didn’t think to include it as one of my writing-things, even though it is.  I have selective blindness, sometimes, often without explanation.)


* I swear I don’t usually have so many^ things with the odd^^ “dt” sound pairing just lying around near each other.

^ i.e. greater than none

^^ odd for English, obviously.  I assume “dt” is German in Staedtler and Hofstadter?

Fits & Starts

There’s this theory that if you do a little of something every day, eventually you’ll have accomplished a whole lot of it.  For example, BIC—Butt In Chair—stands for sitting your butt in the chair every day, regardless of whether you “feel like it”, and just writing.  The corollary is, if you do a little every day you’ll get in the habit of doing a little (or possibly more) every day, and so it’ll be less of a struggle to do every day.  Twenty-one days to create a habit, or whatever that number is supposed to be.

But then there’s also this theory, which is mine, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and there isn’t enough energy in my body, to do a little of all of the things I want to do every day.  Writing, house-keeping, paying attention to my people, WORKING for money, gardening, brushing my teeth (ok, I manage this one every day pretty well), sleeping (if I could only do without…), knitting, listening to interesting & educational podcasts.  Etc.  Oh yeah, and READING.  I do a whole lot of that already.

So instead, I tend to binge on those things.  I’ll spend a weekend vegging because I’ve been pushing too hard for too long.  I’ll spend another weekend away Doing Something.  I’ll spend the next weekend catching up on housework* and maybe knitting and watching TV.  I’ll spend another weekend on a knitting or sewing project.  Another weekend caring for my garden.  In most cases I’m not devoting the whole weekend to that activity, but rather a significant portion of my energy.  Same goes for weekday evenings.  This past week, I spent a lot of evenings between work and paying attention to my significant other.  Other weeks I manage to write in the evenings.  Other weeks I manage to at least compose a few blog posts.

I feel guilty when I haven’t written several days in a week.  I feel guilty when Ben’s hat is sitting half-made for several months.  It was his Christmas present.  With any luck it’ll be finished by next Christmas.  I have a sweater I want to start making some day**.  I have tomatoes that need my attention, and kefir & yogurt to make at least weekly, and …

But maybe it’s not so bad to accomplish things in fits and starts.  I do make progress on those things.  I keep them all going, one way or another.  Not always “on time”***.  The thing is, it’s not that I’m slacking off.  OK, I’m not consistently productive on any one thing.  But that’s not my style.  Maybe it’s time for me to accept my style as the one that works for me, and stop trying to be the person who does the same things every day, or even every week.

And by the way, I’ve read 27 books so far this year.  So I’m clearly not slacking off on my reading.  :)


* Apparently it’s been four weeks since I last did laundry.  :-/  That’s long even for me.

** I have to buy yarn first.

*** See: laundry, hat.

It’s OK to stay in bed and read all day.

Being exhausted, achy, and miserable yesterday, I spent nearly all day lying in bed, reading (and finishing) NORTH & SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell.

I just couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed for longer than a meal.  Part of that was because I was miserable and achy, and part of that was because I’d totally fallen into the mid-19th century England that Gaskell described.  Fancy clothing, proper manners, class distinctions, people dying right and left.  Cotton mills, and strikes, and a passionate, scowly man who, despite being part of the upper-crust of his city, wasn’t quite a gentleman—not by London standards.  I was sucked into it, I had trouble imagining what in my real world could possibly be more important or more interesting than Margaret moving to a strange new town, than Thornton and his mill, or—I’ll be honest—whether Margaret & Thornton could manage to both like each other at the same time.

I felt lazy.  I felt like I was stealing time from the things I need to do–chores, keeping up with people, contributing to feeding my significant other and myself, watering my poor plants—and from the things I want to do—continuing projects I don’t have time for during the week, working on that story I’m in love with writing, writing blog posts because I like telling the world what it’s like to be me.  Etc.

But I LOVE to read.  I get absorbed into other worlds, other people’s lives.  I love it so much that I’ve taken up writing my own stories, because they don’t exist for me to read yet and I want to know what happens.  I love watching movies and TV, but I love books in this whole other way.  It’s immersive, not just visual and aural, but a truly engaging book will give me a whole-body experience.  I feel emotions and believe opinions that aren’t my own, because the characters feel and believe those things.  When I read for an hour at a time, it’s a nice pastime.  But reading a book all day—that feels like living the story.

That has its risks, too, of course.  When a story becomes more important than real life, is something out of balance*?  Is it escapism?  Or is it just truly enjoying an activity that isn’t bad for my health?

I don’t know.  But aside from the guilt, I liked spending all day reading.  And I felt less exhausted, achy, and miserable.  So it must be OK, right?


* Don’t they write creepy stories about books taking over a person’s life, a character sucking out the reader’s soul and living in her body?  Hmm…

I rode my bike!

Today was a beautiful day, and Sally came over and dragged me out on my bike to ride by my coast.  I didn’t freak out, I managed (with help) to re-inflate my tires, and I even rode down the hill that my house is on.  Last time I went for a bike ride, I walked down the hill, to avoid having to figure out traffic and a hill and riding all at the same time.  But I had my Sally with me, and we just powered on ahead, and it was fine.

The coast side trail we rode on is paved, nearly flat, and apparently goes about 3 miles.  And if you can stop panicking about balancing on this narrow little thing long enough to look up from the road, it has amazing views of the ocean and the hills.  It was sunny, and because it’s still spring there weren’t many pedestrians out (so I didn’t have to worry about hitting too many of them!).  Apparently there was a pretty strong wind, and of course it was with us on our ride south, and then against us on our way back home.

I started out very tense, very stressed, but once we’d been going a little ways I relaxed and was able to enjoy myself.  (I think, too, it hurts more when I’m stressed & tense.)  We didn’t go the whole three miles, because we reached a point where it was swarming with people cleaning up the beach and decided to turn back and stay out of there way.  Which was really just as well, because of that headwind.  The ride back was far more exhausting than I expected.

As soon as we got back to civilization (i.e. roads with cars), which is also where the hill starts, I got off and walked.  Sally rode back up the hill, and I was very impressed.  As soon as I stopped huffing and puffing.  ;)

And now, I’m lying on the couch, achy and tired.  Less than 6 miles*, and no hills, and I’m exhausted.

I need to do this more often.

* I checked google maps, and between my neighborhood, and the distance we rode on the path, it was about 3 miles out, and since I walked part of the way back, it was less than 3 miles back.  :p

The Mondays

I’m suffering from a bad case of The Mondays*.  You know, when it’s not just a Monday, but it’s the Monday, when everything is going to go wrong, and it’s not even 10am yet.

Like that day when you came wide awake at 3 in the morning (having been having bizarrely normal dreams, that weren’t even interesting to reflect on), realized the heater was on for no good reason, and you had to go turn it off.  And then you laid in bed for half an hour, wide awake, before finally getting up (quietly, so as not to disturb your significant other) and taking your book into the living room to read yourself to sleep.  And when you finally start dozing off, an hour and a half later, you don’t actually feel sleepy, like “oh, being asleep will be so comfy!”, you just can’t keep your eyes open anymore.  So you go to bed, and do fall asleep, and then all of a sudden the morning rolls around!  Who signed up for this?  And you prop one eye open to see how bright it is out, and realize you were dreaming about people who could turn into cats**, and then fall asleep again.  When you finally get out the toothpicks (to prop your eyes open) and drag yourself out of bed, you feel so crummy that you don’t even want to make breakfast.  But then you notice that your kefir is way over-kefired***, despite the fact that just 10 hours ago it was under-kefired†, and you decide that’s ok, it’ll still taste fine in a smoothie.  And then you attempt breakfast, and then have to go lie down on the couch for an hour because you have no energy or brain function.††

Only then you’re trying to write an email to work, to tell them that you’ll be in late today, and then you remember that your phone hasn’t been syncing work email for a while (and even when it’ll pull email, it won’t send email, so people aren’t getting messages they should be getting, and you’re looking like a lame-ass), so you have to try half-a-dozen different mail apps to see if any will do better.  And then you realize it hasn’t been syncing your work calendar to your phone’s calendar, which it used to do.  And really you didn’t like the default mail app anyway.†††  So you spend your hour on the couch with your phone (battery quickly draining), trying to figure out if anyone else has had this problem, and what they did to resolve it.  And when you FINALLY get the thing working, it tells you that your company requires some crazy-strict restrictions on your personal phone, just because it’s connecting to work email–which you can almost understand, except that it gives power over your phone to some random geek who might push the wrong button and wipe out your phone‡.   But you accept the bizarre restrictions anyway, and wonder if that’s why your email hasn’t been working for all these weeks.  And then your phone’s battery dies.

Or maybe those things don’t happen to you?  And really, it could’ve been worse.  The world could’ve exploded.  I might have needed to be in right early, and too bad that I was brain-dead.  (And hey, I seem to have gotten my brain back.)

It’s still The Mondays.

* Yes, I just made that up.

** That was pretty cool actually.  The human/cat in question was able to walk over the (very hilly) highway 92 that I take to work every day, which is 8 miles long^, in just an hour.  Why it was doing that… I forget.

^ Right, it’s actually lots longer than that, but my section is about 8 miles.

*** In other words, it had been sittingout for about 48 hours, and had completely separated into whey and a thick, solid layer of soured milk.

† Still sloshy like milk, not thick like yogurt.  And it might have been longer than 10 hours ago, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

†† But at least the neighbor’s cat came over to keep you company.

††† It wouldn’t zoom in or out on the email body, and if the email was too wide for the screen, you couldn’t make it scroll over to see the rest.  Seriously?

‡ I’m a geek, I know how these things go.


I’m cleaning my office.  It’s neck-high in papers, mail, and stuff that needs to be put away.  Or maybe dragged to the curb and shot.

Part of cleaning my office seems to include things that aren’t actually cleaning, as such.  Like, donating to charities that I want to give money to.  Or paying bills.  Or ripping those CDs, so I can put them in a box and put the box away somewhere, so they aren’t taking up space in my office.*

And it occurs to me that I have (usually) small piles of papers that need taking care of “not right this minute, but sometime soon”.  And the problem with that theory is that “sometime soon” doesn’t often come along.  Or when it does, it’s not technically “soon” anymore.

So, that implies I need to have a scheduled time that is “soon”, to take care of these things.  And “soon” should come around at least once a month.

How do other people manage this?

* Or, you know, posting to my blog because I’m having profound thoughts on the subject.


I’ve been thinking about what’s important to me lately.  It’s become absolutely clear that I don’t have enough energy to do all the things I want to do or should do.  It’s frustrating.

So, I figured I should make a comprehensive list of what’s important to me (in no particular order):

  • My sanity
  • Having enough money to have food and clothing (i.e. my job)
  • My family & friends
  • My writing
  • Other creative pursuits
  • Becoming a better person

Honestly, “other creative pursuits” could probably drop to the bottom of this list, except when it relates to “my sanity”.

I’d be happy to drop “my job” off the list, except that I’d just have to replace it with some other source of money and/or food and clothing–which would probably take just as much time and energy as the job, so I might as well just stick with the job.

I struggle with “my family and friends”.  None of my family and friends gets to see me as often as they would like.  So, I think it ends up lower on the list than it ought–and so it definitely can’t fall off the list.

I think it’s pretty clear around here that “my writing” is a priority for me–but at the same time, it’s not as high on the list as it would need to be in order for me to become a professional writer.  I don’t write every day.  Sometimes I don’t even write every week.  *shame-face*  Maybe I’m just a hobbyist.  Since it’s one of the things I define myself by, I’d hate to relegate it to “hobby” forever, but … is it more important than the food & clothing that come with having a job?  Is it more important than my friends and family?  Is it more important than my sanity?

This is really the crux of my dilemma.  I put quite a lot of stock in “my sanity”.  I “need” 8-9 hours of sleep every night.  I “need” down-time, in which I’m not harassing myself about what I “ought” to be doing.  And when I get home, and the idea of figuring out how to switch my brain into thinking about something different–like, my current novel–is just so painful, I can’t even fathom it.  So I lie on the couch with a book, or a movie.  And then I get absorbed into the movie, or the book, and I don’t ever switch back into brain-functioning mode.

I wonder if setting a timer for myself might help.  Read for 30 minutes, then go pick up the notebook and stare at it with a pen in my hand for at least 30 minutes.  If the pen happens to scratch symbols onto the page, all the better.  I think that’s called BIC*.  When the 30 minutes are done, if I want to go back to the book or the movie, then I may.  Hmm…

This doesn’t resolve how to have time (and energy) for all those other things.  Like, learning to be a better person.  Spending time corresponding with the people who are interested in corresponding with me.  Knitting that hat I told Ben I’d make him for Christmas….

* I may have to remove the piles of paper from all around my office in order for this to work^.  And I seriously need a comfortable desk chair.

^ You say I’m procrastinating?  Who, moi?

I am up Early

It’s 6, and I’ve been up for an hour, and it only just occurred to me that I should blog about this.  Liza, awake before the butt-crack of dawn?  On purpose?

The idea was that I would wake up an hour early today, and go for a walk before getting ready for work.  (Ben would wake up early, too, but he doesn’t hate mornings as much as I do.)  Now, “an hour early” is a variable thing, since I wake up anywhere from 7:30 to 8:30.  But I figured 6:30 seems reasonable, until I remembered that the sun doesn’t rise until about 6:40, and we have a big ol’ hill that hides the risen sun for at least an hour.  So, 6:45, then.

And I don’t keep an alarm clock, or any clock, in the bedroom.  Which may explain my hour-long variation in typical waking-up time.  So I moved a nice analog clock with a charming bell into the bedroom last night, even though it’s been losing time for quite a while.  I reset it to “real” time last night, and set the alarm for 6:30.  But while I was lying in bed I thought, wow this could go really wrong when that alarm doesn’t even try to wake me up until 9am.  Not to mention that I can’t tell whether it knows the difference between AM and PM, or if it’ll just ding twice every day.  If it does know the difference, it probably thinks it’s PM now, not AM, and so we extra won’t get an alarm.

In light of this clock-problem, last night as I was falling asleep I told myself to wake up around 6:30 or dawn, whichever seemed easier.  (This often works for me, I just don’t usually bother.  I mean, who would want to be awake then?*)

So this morning when I found myself awake, and it was dark out, I scrunched up my eyes to tell whether it was really dark out, or just nearly-dawn and getting lighter.  (By the way, it’s just starting to get lighter now.  Charming, really, like watching sunset in reverse.  Huh.)  The house across the street has rather bright lights, and just over the hill from us is a greenhouse that keeps lights on most of the time, and we have these huge dark pine trees behind the house that look pitch-black against even the night sky, and the moon might have even been out.  So, there were lots of explanations for a light-colored sky that don’t involve it being nearly-dawn, but I was awake, so it must be close, right?

Wrong.  It was 5.  But I was already awake, and going back to sleep for an hour (or an hour-and-a-half, or two hours) would just make me not want to wake up again**.  So I got up.

And I worked on my vampire story revisions.  I’d had some pretty useful ideas as I was falling asleep last night (there’s something a bit disturbing, though, about falling asleep while thinking about a vampire story, even if I do know how it turns out), which I hadn’t gotten up to scribble down then because I was going to be waking up early and wanted to be rested.

It has yet to be seen whether this “walking” thing will be effective, or whether I’ll just be zonked all day.  (And I still have half an hour before I’ll feel justified in making Ben wake up to keep me company.)

* Aside from at least 3 of my favorite people, plus my father, who are all decided morning people. I don’t get it at all.  It’s still night-time.  I could be asleep.

** Not to mention that I suspect I’m allergic to our forced-air heat, and that part of my trouble with mornings has to do with the heater being on for an hour before I wake up.  And at 5, the heater isn’t on yet.  It’s on now of course.

Loose time

I have a loose relationship with time.

For example, getting places on time.  I can’t do it to save my life*.  There’s this joke in my family that there’s time, and then there’s Olmsted Time.  My dad was an hour late to his own wedding.  No question he was standing my mom up–they’d had breakfast together!  He was just late.  I’m late to things I want to go to, like dinner with people I love.  Whatever I’m doing now is right in front of me, and the other thing is farther away.

Then there’s estimating how long something will take me.  I know it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.  So why does it take all day?  What are those other things that come up?  Is it just that it takes me an hour to get into the right headspace to actually accomplish anything?  Is it that I’m interrupted too much?  Do I just not focus well enough?  Probably all of the above.  I know other people can’t plan around me if I can’t tell them how long I’m going to take to finish, but how do I estimate accurately without way overestimating?

I am most productive** when I’m right up to the wire, need to be finished by the end of today and now it’s 7pm.  Don’t even get me started on deadlines in college.  I almost never wrote a paper earlier than the night before it was due.  (But they came out good.)

Mornings are the bane of my existence.  I hate waking up out of a comfy sleep.  I hate having to go be functional first thing in the morning.  Why can’t I just sleep some more?  Or read in bed?  Have a relaxing breakfast?

Evenings are the opposite.  I can stay up later and later, regardless of when I woke up or how tired I am.  If I took a nap today?  Not likely to go to bed on time.  If I stayed at work late?  I still want to have my relaxing time at home before sleeping (since sleeping leads to waking, and waking leads to Eep I’m already late for work!).  And I’m most creative on too little sleep, too much caffeine, and/or not enough food.  Why?  Because my brain hates me.

In order to work a normal day job, I need to be at work at a reasonable hour in the morning.  I even see the benefit of it, when I manage to be there early.  I get way more done in the morning, it’s amazing!  But my bed was so much more amazing.

The positive sides to my fleeting acquaintance with time: I focus on what’s going on right now.  I get shit done on a tight deadline, and it comes out good.  And I’m creative when I push the boundaries of good-for-my-health.

But I don’t want all of my deadlines to be that short, it gets exhausting and has negative effects on my personal life.  And incidentally, self-imposed deadlines?  Not at all motivating.

Why do I still feel like I’m failing all the time?

* Slight exaggeration, merely because I allot myself ridiculous amounts of time when it really matters.  But I can’t live that way.

** For some definition of productive.  This only works with things that matter.  Fake deadlines don’t do it for me.  And truly interesting things get done regardless of deadlines.

Welcome to Summer, and Second Draft-y

It’s a beautiful day!  Summer (sic) has finally arrived in Half Moon Bay!  The sun is warm, the breeze is mild, and I’m not leaving to go to work today!

Ben made a vegetarian chili last night, which I had for lunch today.  Om nom nom.  My favoritest co-worker ever brought me kefir* grains** this week, and I’ve started making kefir.  I put a few spoonsful on top of the chili, just like it was yogurt or sour cream or, you know, kefir, and I ate it, and it was delicious.  Mmm.

The other thing I did today was that I finally started the second draft of my vampire story, with a completely new main character.  I’ve been putting it off for weeks (since my last post), because I don’t really want to re-write the whole damn story.  But!  It worked out pretty well today, sitting outside in the sun (mmm, warm), I managed to see the first scene, and then I started writing.  It just kinda flowed.  The new MC has a voice, which the last one didn’t, and I’m unreasonably amused by her.  (Which makes me fear no one else will find her amusing… but that’s what third drafts are for!)  I think I wrote about 1000 words*** today, and felt much better about it than I would’ve about rewriting 1000 words of the first draft.

(Incidentally, 1000 words is about a fifth of the rough draft–which doesn’t seem likely for this second draft, because I’ve only just gotten to the point where the first draft “started” [after I hacked off the initial two scenes that sucked† and therefore weren’t counted].)

And yesterday I looked up who Mandelbrot was, and decided that I like him quite well as a namesake for my MC.  Who’s a girl.  I dunno, the name popped into my head, that she’s called Mandy, and it’s short for Mandelbrot.  And I couldn’t remember who Mandelbrot really was, so I was afraid he was a serial killer or something.  But no, he’s the guy who discovered fractals, which works for me, though I haven’t figured out why her parents picked it.

* It’s like yogurt, only runnier and different.  This morning’s batch was solid and wobbly just like yogurt would be, though it fell apart when I transferred it to a different container.

** Kefir, you see, is also a bacterial growth, just like yogurt, but the bacteria grow these gel-like modules around them, which are called grains.  It’s really strange, and looks a little like cottage cheese, and you strain them out before drinking the kefir (though you don’t have to), and then put them in a new container with new milk, and they keep growing.  Yum.  I’ll have to report more about this as I continue experimenting.

*** One of the troubles with writing long-hand is that you can’t give an actual number, without doing something dumb like counting.  Computers count for you.  Someday, maybe I’ll learn how to compose directly into a computer.  My recollection is that I usually fit about 150 words into a page of my notebooks, and I filled 6 pages.  But I seem to recall that sometimes the number was more like 200 or 250, and I don’t remember if that was in a different shape of notebook, or if it really varies that much depending on how big my words are.

† Ok, they didn’t so much suck as just not have a place in the story.  I did keep them, because some of the description was relevant.