Writing Files

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Welcome to the new design of The Little Things! (If you’re reading on a reader, e-mail, or Facebook, please click over and take a look.)

I explained the purpose and meaning of this upgrade at the end of my post, yesterday. I don’t plan to substantially change anything about the content of my blog, but I’m hoping that the new look and tagline will inspire me to stay focused on my purpose: “Finding meaning in my everyday experiences.”

Thanks again go to Lisa VanDamme, for helping me understand what I am doing here. And I would also like to thank Tori Press, of Red Queen Design Studio, who designed my new banner – isn’t it beautiful? You can’t blame Tori for any inconsistencies in the rest of the design, though. I’m responsible for that, and I know it still needs some tweaking. But if I had waited to get it just perfect, I’d have never made the change.

I’m 20 weeks and 1 day along now, and feeling great!

 

I’d be feeling even better if I could manage to slow down and get more sleep, but we have been incredibly busy since we returned from our trip. (I have the next installment about half-written – hold tight.)

We’ve been to three movies in the past two weeks. This is just crazy. We usually see one movie a year if we’re lucky. But there was a “parents night out” babysitting thing at Sam’s gym which we took advantage of (we saw Source Code which was ok), then Sam had a friend sleep over (yes, she is at that age already) and we took them to see African Cats (which was also just ok), and that’s when we noticed that Atlas Shrugged was still playing here and there, so we got a babysitter and saw that with some friends. (Too bad that one didn’t even rise to the level of ok.)

On Friday, we bought our new car, the Honda Odyssey! It is so full of technology and good design that I feel privileged to drive it. We got the remote engine starter and a tent that attaches to the back and other accessories to make it even cooler. There are two things I don’t like about it, though. First, it’s hard for me to get in and out of it. This might be partially my big belly, but I think it’s more about being short. I was so used to my RAV4, which is the perfect SUV for short people, and I was spoiled. Also, the Odyssey is really hard to park. I’m sure I’ll get better at it, but nothing will change the fact that it is so wide it takes up almost an entire parking spot. Sure, it has sliding doors for the kids, but I still have to get in, and it is a rare thing when I can open the driver’s door past the first notch. This makes getting in and out even more difficult.

Oh, one other thing I don’t like about my new car – apparently, it is invisible. Twice in the first few days, people came really close to crashing into me. Once someone turned left in front of me, causing me to have to slam on my brakes almost to the point of squealing tires. Then, a taxi came into my lane on the freeway and I had to slow way down to avoid a crash. I honked at him and he followed me until I turned off on a side road. Strange. I’m a very defensive driver and these things don’t happen to me often. But worst yet, yesterday, on my way to the dealership to get the accessories installed, someone actually did hit me. I had pulled over to put the dealership address into my GPS (I was being safe, goddamn it!) and I stopped in a parking lot in the lane so that I was blocking some parked cars. But the lot was very quiet and I figured if someone needed to get out they’d honk. I could have parked in a spot, but, well, you know, parking that car is really hard! Bad call. I put my car in park and put on my hazard lights. Ten seconds later, a woman backed out of her spot and rammed right into the side of my car. I cried for ten minutes. I cried the entire time we were exchanging information, and then pulled into a parking spot and cried some more. The damage isn’t too bad, but my side and front bumpers will need to be replaced. My perfect, shiny, new toy will never be quite the same. Luckily, the woman was honest and her insurance company has already accepted full liability. Now I just have to go through the hassle of getting it repaired. Sigh.

More importantly, buying this expensive vehicle that would be totally useless if we weren’t about to have three children has not made me more paranoid about losing the twins. Maybe the 20 week ultrasound was the real turning point for me.

Besides all of that, we’re also getting our new deck stained (we had to wait through the winter for the wood to dry out), and we planned a quick trip to see the grandparents in early June, and we got rid of a ton of stuff from our basement including a refrigerator, and we attended Jean Moroney’s Thinking Tactics Workshop (which was excellent – I wish I had more time to write about it, but if you have the chance, you MUST go), and Sam started up swim lessons again, and I made a little progress on my homeschooling plans, and I contacted some people about some ideas I have about a new Big Project I’m working on (Montessori-related), and I got my hair done, and had two moles removed, and had my final meeting of the year with Sam’s teacher, and, somewhere in there, I finished unpacking and got caught up on the laundry. Oh, and Adam got a motorcycle!

 

I am so tired, but now is the only time I have to do all of these things. And they’re all really good things that I want to do. So blogging is taking a backseat, yet again. In fact, I was considering taking an official break from blogging, until someone posted a quote on Facebook that reminded me of how valuable it is to me. The quote was about travel, which made me tune in:

‎”The difference between travel and tourism is simple. A tourist experiences disconnected sights and sounds and enjoys them without drawing meaning. A traveler roams the earth, digests what he sees and hears, and collects them in a framework of understanding, which he both brings to his travels and deepens with travels. The former is a pleasant interlude in your life. The latter is about life itself.”  –George Friedman of STRATFOR (HT: Jason Crawford)

Of course, this reminded me of what I’m trying to do by journaling our Italy trip. But it also reminded me of the purpose of my blog. My blog is my way of integrating my experiences. It’s my way of making everything in my life meaningful, by tying all the Little Things to my greater values. I didn’t even know that this was what I was doing, until Lisa VanDamme helped me to understand it. In her Making Poetry Part of Your Life course from OCON 2010, she taught us how to first understand the words of the poem, then to isolate what is important about it, then to abstract away from the concretes to understand the universal meaning (which, in poetry is often just a particular emotion or type of experience), and finally, to find a moment from our own lives that has the same meaning. She taught us that once we had internalized a poem this way, it would always be there as a concrete reminder of that meaning, so that in the future, when these moments occurred, we could recognize them and bring all the depth and beauty of the poem into the experience. She called it living life “through the artist’s lens.” She taught us that this is how we could find meaning in everyday experiences. And after class, she came to me and told me that that was how she saw my blog.

It was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received about my writing, even though, in some ways, I don’t feel that I live up to it. But she was right – this is what I am trying to do. And so I won’t quit blogging. And, finally, ten months later, I’m ready to reveal The Little Things’ new design and tagline to reflect what I learned in that class. Tune in tomorrow.

I think I might have to let go of the major plot element I had planned to use in my book.  I did the research I mentioned in an earlier post, and learned some facts that would make it difficult to construct the plot I had intended.  I’ve been struggling to find a way around the problem, but I’m starting to stretch and stretch so much that I’m losing the theme and the feeling of coherence that the story had.

I think I’m going to need to let go of this idea.  I still have my characters and the basic situation, but the particular major conflict is going to need to change.  It’s so hard to let go!  I loved my idea.  But I guess this is all part of “the process.”  I recall Ayn Rand saying something about how a good writer needs to be a ruthless editor, and that she had cut passages from her novels that she thought were brilliant, but which were not necessary to the story.  I’ve gotten pretty good at this kind of editing on my blog (you have no idea how many brilliant nuggets you’ve missed!), but this kind of cutting is new and painful.

The good news is that I had a pretty good laundry list of ideas before I hit upon this one, so I’m going to revisit that, and I’m going to query my subconscious for even more ideas.  That part of the process was energizing and rewarding, so even though I’m taking a step back, I’m sure I’ll still enjoy the work.

I haven’t been working on my fiction writing as much as I would like to lately, but I do find an hour here and there to work on my story.  I’m hoping that things will lighten up after New Year’s and I can get back in a groove again.

I’ve run up against two new challenges.  First, I can no longer bring the whole context of my story to mind in just a few minutes.  I usually have to read through my notes to get back to the place I need to be in my head.  This makes the logistics of working on the story much more difficult because I don’t have access to my notes while walking the dog or driving around town.  Right now, I have notes in a paper notebook and in a Word document, so I need to be at my desk.  I’m considering trying to summarize what I need to know into a few sentences and putting that on my new Droid phone, which is always with me.  That might be enough.  That phone has already helped me a lot by allowing me to make voice recordings with the touch of a button.  I use that feature all the time.  Hurray for technology!

Another option is to try some outlining software for writers.  I’ve read about such software but I’ll have to go back and find out if it does what I’m looking for.  Any suggestions on that, anyone?

Next, I’m in a research phase.  I’ve already done research in the form of trolling for ideas, and that’s how I found the key element of my story.  But now I have to get more detailed.  I usually don’t like doing research but so far this has been kind of fun.  I guess research isn’t so bad when you’re actually interested in the subject, as opposed to writing some paper for school on a topic you picked because you had to pick something.  I’ll have to keep this in mind for my future homeschooling days.  Still, since I’ve never liked it, I’m not particularly good at research so I’m having to figure out what resources are out there and how to find things and all of that kind of stuff.  That part can be a bit tedious.

That’s where I’m at right now.  The story is definitely becoming more defined.  It used to change dramatically each time I worked on it, but now the basic ideas are in place.  I have four characters who are pretty well defined and a few other optional ones.  The main characters have clear motivations in regard to the plot, although I’m having trouble with a sticky issue with one lady.  It’s almost like solving a mystery, trying to find a way to weave all of these things together.  Sometimes I think I have the answer but then I go back and realize that I didn’t account for some other element. 

Bottom line:  I’m still loving it!

I apologize for the lack of good posts here lately.  Somehow, I seem to be very busy lately.  I’m working on a couple of home maintenance issues (why do all the light bulbs burn out at once and why does it cost $8000 to paint the interior of your house?), some insomnia problems (aka, too much thinking), a lot of laundry (aka, poop clean up), and a little bit too much Battlestar Galactica (Adam and I are watching the whole series straight through on DVD – we never saw the last season so no spoilers, please).

When I do feel like writing, I want to spend time on my fiction.  I feel some conflict between that and the blog.  I was worried about this problem arising, but I thought the two were so different that I’d have time and motivation for both.  I might have been wrong.  I’m hoping that this is just a glitch, but right now I’m just thankful that this problem gives me an easy blog post.

On Friday, an older post of mine (Children Vows) was published at Mamapedia Voices (welcome, new readers!) and I had a completely new blogging experience:  I got a lot of negative comments.  I’ve been told publicly that I should not be a parent.  Thanks, everyone – I feel like a real mommy blogger now!

I read every single comment after seeing how intriguing the first few were.  The audience at Mamapedia Voices is a general audience of moms (and dads, I’m sure), whereas my regular readers are mostly Objectivists, a lot of them parents.  It was fascinating to see the difference in the responses.  The Mamapedia comment that captured the difference best was from Kala, who said, “Wow…I don’t even know how to respond to this. I’ve never seen anything like it.”  I was surprised to hear that because this particular post didn’t seem like anything too unusual to me.  But then I thought about it:

  • I say that my husband and I are having a child for selfish reasons.
  • I say that our priorities are career, marriage, and then child, in that order.
  • I say that with rational people, there are no conflicts of interest so that what is good for us as parents is generally good for the child.

All of these principles are so integrated into my life (and most of my friends and readers share them) that I don’t think about them as being that far from the norm.  But, of course, they are – especially the idea that selfishness is a virtue.  In my world, it’s easy to forget that most people think selfishness is the biggest vice in the book.

The most interesting comments were those that misunderstood the essence of the post.  First, it seems that many people believe that career means money.  I was chastised for putting money ahead of family.  That’s so funny to me.  The idea that the only value in a career is the money it brings is so foreign to my way of thinking that I never would have thought to clarify it (and I’m not going to clarify it here).  Even more common was the misapprehension that when I said that my husband and I were clueless when we wrote the Children Vows, that I meant we now think they were a mistake and we now renounce them.  And re-reading the post, I can see that the readers did have some basis to think what they did.  Coming from their context of believing selfishness to be a vice and parenting to be the ultimate act of altruism, it would be hard to believe that I was truly advocating selfishness in parenting.  When I said we were clueless, I was a little unclear about exactly in what way, and I don’t think it was a totally unreasonable interpretation for some to think that I was saying that I had no idea that I was going to have to sacrifice.

Of course, I did not mean that at all.  We were clueless about the details.  We still hold the same principles, but now we know that the challenges in holding them are different than what we thought they would be.  Travelling with a small child is easy.  Showering is not.  And, according to my principles, I have worked hard to keep showering.  I will never, ever use the cowardly excuse of sacrifice to give up a value.  I will keep working for all of my values.  That is the point of the Children Vows.

These comments reminded me of how difficult it is to try to communicate to both Objectivists and non-Objectivists at the same time.  I’m not interested in defending or promoting Objectivism, but I do like to write about how I apply Objectivist ideas in everyday life.  It’s hard to strike a balance between setting enough context for a general audience and not boring those who already share the same core beliefs.

And then I realized that this tension is exactly what has been so difficult about coming up with good plot-theme ideas for my fiction writing.  I have no interest in defining an entire philosophy in a novel as Ayn Rand did.  I want to write good stories with what I’d call “medium-depth” themes.  But because my most basic beliefs are so unconventional, it is difficult to get to those themes without going all the way back to the core ideas.

I’m going to be doing a lot more thinking on this issue.

Ok, are you ready for more good stuff?  I’m just bursting with it lately.  Again, during that horrible weekend of the miscarriage, I had an important breakthrough.  I finally thought of a good plot idea for a novel.

A little background:  I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember, but I basically just gave up the idea for about 15 years because, well, I suppose I just didn’t have the courage to try it.  About a year and a half ago, I read I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was, by Barbara Sher, on the recommendation of Jean Moroney.  You can read my About Amy page to find out how that influenced me to start this blog and to try to do non-fiction freelance writing.

I’ve completely dropped the idea of freelancing for magazines as I had intended.  I love writing my blog.  I love it more than I ever could have imagined.  But I have no desire to write the kinds of articles I read in magazines.  It’s mostly tripe.  I might be able to make money from it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it.  There are opportunities for writing quality, substantive articles, but to make money doing that you really do need to have some kind of specialized knowledge, which would defeat the whole purpose for me.  So I’ve been looking for some other way to write as a career.

Then, a couple of months ago, I re-read Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction and participated in an on-line book club discussion about it (thanks, MOBsters!).  My desire to write fiction returned full-force and I’ve been working on ideas ever since.  In the past, I’d always been able to write good scenes, but never to construct a plot or even to find a plot-theme that seemed worth exploring.  I’d just get stumped and wouldn’t be able to move forward.  My breakthrough was finding a seed of an idea that I am excited about enough to keep plugging away at it.  I like this idea.  It’s not too ambitious for a first effort but it’s not superficial.  The theme is very meaningful to me personally.  The events draw on knowledge that I already have (I don’t have to do a ton of research on designer molecules or the history of Albania).  The situation presents a wealth of potential conflicts to explore.  I like thinking about it.  I am loving the actual work, not just the abstract thought of finishing a novel.  And finally, I seem to be able to accept that I need to work on it incrementally.  It doesn’t bother me one bit that this might take me 10 years, or that I might have to scrap this particular idea and start over.  I can even accept that I might fail.  I must have made some progress on my time-sickness!

I’m obviously not going to share the actual story idea here.  For one thing, it is constantly evolving (it has already changed about 80% since my initial thoughts about it), and for another, I think it would hinder my thinking about the actual work to be reporting on it directly.  But I do want to share something of what I’m doing here on the blog, because, well, I think it is interesting, and maybe you will too.  (If you know of any writers who blog about their day-to-day work process, let me know – I’d love to read them.)

So to kick off this “Writing Files” thread, I’ll give you a little idea of what my work on this story consists of.  For now, I use my mental down-time (showering, walking the dog, driving) to think about the story.  I usually have to spend about 5 minutes bringing the full context of what I’ve already accomplished into the forefront of my mind.  This is difficult and takes an act of will.  Usually, as I’m doing this, I recognize what I need to work on next but sometimes I have to do a lot of thinking just to figure out what to think about next.  So far, I can hold all of this in my head without sitting in front of my notes.  I’ve already spent a lot of time on character development and clarifying my theme, and I’m still in the early stages.  But this is an interative process and now I’m working on the plot – more specifically, I’m looking for a climax.  In The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand gives this invaluable advice:

When you construct a plot, the first event to figure out is always the climax…First devise an event that dramatizes and resolves the issues of your story, then construct the rest of the plot backward, by asking yourself what events are needed in order to bring your characters to this point.

I actually already have the general idea of what my climax will be, and I have it in terms of action, not just something like, “the character realizes she must choose X or Y.”  But as I’ve used that climax to start working backwards, I’ve been realizing that I need to get just a bit more specific before I can really move on.  The ultimate conflict needs to be stronger or deeper or something.  I’m not sure what yet.  My next task is to make a “laundry list” of things that would be the most difficult, painful, dramatic, and intense conflict possible for the character I have in mind.  (Another tip directly from Ayn Rand.)  I won’t assess these ideas until later.  Right now, I just want to make a list and see what my subconscious brings up for me. 

So that’s what I’m working on now.  In future Writing Files posts, I plan to talk more about issues like how I get these ideas recorded before I lose them, how much time I spend each day working, any mental blocks I encounter, etc.  This has become a big part of my life now, so of course, it needs to be blogged.  I hope it holds some interest for you.