"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Monday, January 15, 2018

Halfway

In case you weren't aware, I'm writing a novel. Actually, you probably weren't aware because I've specifically not mentioned it on this blog until now. But yesterday, I hit an arbitrary milestone towards my arbitrary word count goal of 80,000 words, and it felt like time to announce: I made it to the halfway point.



Halfway. The term implies that something is in the process of becoming something else, but it's also a pause. On Dictionary.com the sample sentences for halfway are as follows: "He stopped halfway down the passage"; "She woke halfway through the night"; and "I'm incapable of doing anything even halfway decent." Besides the humor in these sentences (especially the last one), I find that the halfway point is a time for reflection. So I'm reflecting.

It's hard to know what to say about this book because for so long I've avoiding calling it what it is. I avoided saying that I was writing a novel (except to my family) because I didn't want it to fall into the ever growing category of "Projects Laura Says She's Working on But Never Finishes." Besides, the same goal has shown up on my new year's resolutions every year for probably the past ten years: "Write a book!" Always with so much enthusiasm. Always with so much hope.

I've never gotten as far with a project as I have with this one, and miraculously, it feels like I might actually finish it. But right, I'm supposed to be reflecting. I'm such a future-oriented person that I tend to see every accomplishment as a gateway to the next big thing. I need to stop doing that. I need to acknowledge all the work that went into making it happen.

So let's start from the beginning. This isn't like other things I've written, where I can pinpoint the exact moment the idea came to me. I do know when the seed of the idea appeared, though. It was the summer of 2014, and I was working at the Harris County Archives. The office was quiet, and white, and I was cataloguing the dates and contents of documents in a series of boxes, so I often listened to music and podcasts to fill up some of that quiet, empty space. I listened to two podcasts back to back: the "Wild Ones" episode of 99% Invisible and the Radiolab episode about the Galapagos Islands. I'd always had a passing interest in the Galapagos, but these two episodes filled me with curiosity. Who lives on the islands? What was it like in Darwin's time vs now? The islands loomed in my imagination: they felt untamed and magnetic and completely mysterious. I knew immediately that I had to write something set there.

I got as far as writing the first paragraph of a short story called "Mother and Daughter Go to the Sunny Galapagos," before in classic Laura fashion, I abandoned it. For a year. One day I re-opened the document, re-read the paragraph and let it grow into something larger. Something with more scope than a short story. Something that could, maybe, one day, be a novel.

I think there are a couple of factors that have made this project easier to write so far:

1. No re-reading. I hardly ever go back and re-read what I've written after writing it. That's not to say that I don't edit as I go - I can write and re-draft and tweak whatever I've written that day as much as I want. But as soon as 24-hours have passed, I don't look at what I wrote the day before unless it's just to remind myself where I am. If I did re-read whole passages with even that little bit of distance, I don't think I'd have the confidence to keep going, no matter how much I told myself "It's a first draft. It's supposed to be bad."

2. Loose structure. I think I've finally figured out an outlining technique that works for me. Basically I make a list of all the scenes I know I want to write, in somewhat chronological order. As I write, I move those scenes onto a list of existing scenes. That way I can see what I've written and what still needs to be written at a glance. I write in what is basically chronological order, but if I really get stuck, I let myself skip ahead to important scenes from my list that I really want to write.

3. Cutting myself slack. I want to finish this draft. I want to finish it so badly it hurts sometimes, because I know exactly how far I have to go, and how bad I am at writing every day. But I also know that I'm not the kind of writer who can just pound out 2,000 words a day and not care if they're bad. I like being happy with what I've written that day, even if it's only one sentence that I'm proud of. My goal is to write as quickly as I can without turning the experience into a chore. I even let myself "start over" when I thought – 25,000 words in – that the novel needed to be told from a different character's perspective. It took me 5,000 words of back-tracking to figure out that no, that wasn't the case.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm really proud of how far I've gotten. I still have another 40,000 words to go, but somehow they don't feel as daunting. Because I'm halfway. And I'm pausing. And that's a good feeling.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Eight Creators to Follow in 2018

The internet is a vast source of inspiration, but with the seemingly endless access to creative people and their work, it can be difficult to find the ones who are doing the things that truly inspire you. I spent most of 2017 being inspired by other people - mostly artists and writers and youtubers - and I felt like I should honor that inspiration by writing about them. I think they're all going to do great things in 2018.



1. Fran Menses: I tend to admire people who make a ton of stuff, and Fran definitely falls into this category. The sheer amount of things she creates on a daily basis - youtube videos, drawings, zines, travel journals, stickers, you name it - is mind boggling. I love her aesthetic - all pastels all the time - but more than that I love her quiet encouragements to her followers, her love for illustration, and her relaxed sense of humor. Plus she recently debuted a planner in her online shop, and it's literally the best planner I've ever owned.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite Videos:
A Week in the Life
Organization
One Scary Thing Every Day
Kew Gardens
Other links:
Blog
Instagram
Shop
Patreon

2. Synchronized Swim (Jessie Epstein + Amy Bornman): I've been following this blog since its inception, and oh. my. goodness. it is wonderful! Jesse and Amy write gorgeous, tremendously thoughtful personal essays about life, books, music, and faith (among other things). They are both so observant of their emotions and what it means to be a fledgeling adult, and every post has this richness to it that's hard to describe. If you read any blog in 2018, it should be this one.

Where to follow: Blog
Favorite posts:
Green Light by Jess
The Braid by Amy
Airplanes, Revisited by Jess
Practice by Amy
Other links:
Instagram
Sync Swim Shop
Amy's Shop

3. Ariel Bissett: Ariel has enough energy and enthusiasm for twelve people. When it comes rushing out of her, usually in the form of a video, it's impossible not to feel inspired. I've been following her Youtube channel for a while, but the past year has brought a noticeable change: the the quality has gone up, and she's branched out from solely talking about books to talking about her creative endeavors as well. Since then she's created a zine, launched a podcast, and started freelancing. Ariel is the kind of person who bravely follows her curiosity wherever it leads, and I can't wait to see where it takes her next.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite videos:
No Longer a Student
Writing a Book
Taking a Gap Year
Deep Talks
Other links:
Website
Podcast
Patreon

4. Robin MacArthur: Surprisingly, this is the only published author to make the list. I first discovered Robin's work at the Texas Book Festival last year, when I read the first couple pages of her short story collection, Half Wild, and couldn't leave without buying it. I don't usually fall in love with short story collections, but Half Wild was different. The stories seeped under my skin and settled there. I've since learned that the author lives in a cabin she and her husband built from scratch on land that has been in her family for generations. Her first novel Heart Spring Mountain comes out this month and I can't wait to be swallowed whole by her words again. In the meantime, I'll keep myself occupied by enjoying her cozy Instagram feed.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite posts:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other links:
Website
Design Sponge Profile

5. Fran Cacace: Fran is amazing. She's a filmmaker, writer, and youtuber who's putting herself through school with a full-time job. On her youtube channel she talks frankly about creativity and mental illness, and doesn't sugar coat the difficult parts of creativity. I love re-watching her old nanowrimo videos, where she filmed her progress every day while working on her novel. I've honestly learned a lot of things from her, not the least of which being that it's possible to write a ton of words AND watch a lot of television, and that it's important to prioritize mental wellbeing over productivity. Also be sure to watch her awesome web-series about working in a library: it is funny and true and heartfelt.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite videos:
NanoWriMo Day 7
2017
I Wrote A Scene
Finishing A Book
Other links:
Blog
Web Series

6. Delita Martin: Delita is an amazing artist who makes beautiful, mixed media prints showcasing African American women. She incorporates pattern, fabric, and hand-stitching into her work in such interesting ways, and her portraits feel personal and moving in ways that floored me when I happened to discover her work in a show at the Galveston Art Center. If you can find a way to see her work in person, do it, because the scale makes them even more stunning.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite Pieces:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other links:
Website
Behind the Scenes

7. Ashley Mary: I love Ashley's colorful abstract paintings, but I especially love watching her instagram stories, where she shows closeups of her work. Her instagram feed makes me want to take up oil paints, if only for the amazing textures and colors she creates.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite Posts:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other Links:
Website
Online Shop

8. Leena Norms: Leena is another youtuber that I've been following for years, and I just can't get over her videos. My favorite series she's done is called 40 Questions with Leena, where she made an astounding 40 videos in 40 days answering questions posed by her viewers. I aspire to Leena's level of curiosity and playfulness, and I can't wait see what she does next.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite Videos:
Is it Bad to Age?
The Five to Nine
Congratulations, You Did Nothing
How to Get Everything Done
Other Links:
Podcast
Patreon

I encourage you to check out the work of these amazing women. I hope that you will watch their videos and read their books and appreciate their art, and if you can, support them buy buying something they made. Making it as an independent artist, wether you are freelancing or doing side projects alongside a regular job, is one of the most difficult things you can do, and it's even harder to constantly self promote. These women manage not only to make the things they love, but also to share the behind the scenes progress of almost everything they do, and to me that's what makes them so inspiring. I hope you enjoyed this list, and that it leaves you ready to take on the new year!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year Thoughts

So I always seem to have a lot of thoughts around the beginning of the new year: resolutions and goals and lots of wishy washy feelings around my birthday and what I want my life to look like in 2018 and all those fun existential questions. I've been working on a blog post about people who inspire me and who I think are going to do really great things in 2018, but that post just isn't going to happen yet, because I want to it to be as concise and well-written as possible (and there's a lot of people to profile!). So you're getting this instead, which I'm sorry to say is just a snapshot of my brain right now. Here goes.

1. Reading slumps. Ironically, I've been in a bad reading slump ever since I started working at a bookstore. I think it's because I've gotten so used to describing books to people that it makes me feel like I've already read them. Trying not to put too much pressure on myself and let myself fall back in love with reading when the time comes.

2. Days off. Since starting a full time job my attitude toward days off has completely changed. I used to think that I had to use my weekends to DO things - I had to be productive and go on adventures. I still want to go on adventures sometimes, but I don't feel quite as guilty for sleeping in or spending an entire afternoon reading. Today I literally wrote in my planner that I wanted to spend at least 2 hours curled up with a book. Now my days off feel like this magical, special time that's just for me to do whatever I want with. And it's a really nice feeling.

3. 2018 Bucket List. Okay, I know I just said that I feel less guilty about using my days off to actually relax, but one of my goals for 2018 is to do more activities that I love but don't get to do very often. Mostly things like kayaking, roller skating, and being outside. Some other things on my list are: become a regular at an establishment (coffee shop/library/bookstore), go rock climbing (nerve wracking because I'm not sure how I feel about heights, but it also looks really fun), and visit a museum/gallery I haven't been to yet. So yeah, I think I'll be happy if my days off are about 60% recharging, 40% putting in that little bit of extra effort in to go somewhere and do something new.

4. Writing. I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. I realized that writing itself, putting words on the page, isn't difficult. The hard part is everything that surrounds writing: the self doubt. The stress over deadlines. The wrestling with one idea over another. Every day we come to the page with all of this baggage, and every day we have to wrestle it to the ground just to even begin. It's exhausting. As soon as I embrace this fact that the physical act of writing is easy, the fear and self doubt don't have as much power over me. *Disclaimer*: That's not to say that figuring out story and character and revision isn't mentally strenuous, because it is, but in the first draft putting words on the page is so much easier if you don't have to deal with all the mental angst. I've been trying to focus on just putting one word after the other, and so far it's been working.

5. Turning 23. My birthday is the day after tomorrow, and I'm honestly surprised about how calm I feel about it. 22 was a weird birthday for me. It felt like the year I was "officially" a twenty-something, no turning back. I know there's never any turning back, but 20 and 21 still felt like a part of teenager-dom, you know? Anyway, I'm looking forward to a relaxed birthday surrounded by the people I love most in this world, and really, what more could you want?

6. This blog. I've had a lot of thoughts about where I want this blog to go in 2018. I want to post more, obviously. I want to write more about my writing process, and hopefully give some advice that might be helpful. I want to write less rambly and thought-dumpy posts and more thoughtful essay-like posts. (With obvious exceptions, because sometimes you just need to write down everything that's in your head. Case in point.) I want to share more photos of places I've been, and find more creative ways of conveying information. I want this to be a warm space, a comfortable space, a space for feeling and thinking and being curious. That's really what I want for 2018 in general.

Today was the first day in two weeks that the sun came out. Even though it was colder than most Texans would think possible, it was a beautiful, clear-eyed day. The kind of day where the sky is so bright that it doesn't look real and the air so cold that it bring tears to your eyes. The kind of day where you look at the sunset, a smear of pale yellow and rose petal pink, and can't tell if you're crying because of the cold or because of the beauty or both. Here's wishing you many more days like that in 2018. (Maybe a little warmer.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

End Of Year Thoughts

2017. The year I graduated college. The year I started a job at a bookstore. The year of Hurricane Harvey. The year I witnessed the sun slip into blackness; the year I was surrounded by a 360 degree sunset. My first winter in four years without seeing snow. Hopefully the year I finally finish the first draft of a novel. A transition year - half in school, half in the "real world."

I've always been more inclined to look forward than to look back. Reflecting on the past does not come naturally to me. Whenever I try, the days come back to me in a hazy blur and I think, "Was that this year? Was that yesterday? Was that last month?" It's around this time of year when I start making plans in earnest. I ready my planner for January. I draft lists of resolutions. I prepare to re-set my life, take stock, even if it rarely lasts more than a couple of weeks. This year, though, 2017 feels like unfinished business. I'm not ready to be catapulted into the wilds of 2018. I have too much to finish, and for once, it feels like some of those goals I made this time last year are actually within reach.

I don't really know what this post is supposed to be. Probably just another vague post about "something coming," about all that potential that I'm just barely learning how to grasp onto. Sometimes I feel like I'm always on the cusp of productivity, of figuring out what it is I want, of the next big project. I'm never in the middle, I'm always just starting out. Or maybe it just feels that way because in my own idealistic way, everything feels like beginning. Maybe I'm in the middle and I don't even know it.

What I'm really trying to do is remind myself to move slowly, take it all in. Not to spend so much time planning for the future that I miss the present. 

The present is this:
-Fall color in the leaves (finally)
-Christmas careening toward us in all its tinselly glory
-Sitting in warm coffee shops and jotting down bits of other people's conversations
-Wrestling with big writing projects, mapping how much I need to write every day if I want to finish by December 30th, veering wildly between thinking I can do it and thinking it's an impossible, inhuman task
-Writing rambly blog posts just to get myself back into the habit
-Coveting clothes I can't afford; falling in love with Juniper scented candles, even though I've never been the kind of girl who has the urge to burn candles; trying not to fall prey to the consumerism of the season
-Tentatively listening to my Christmas playlist, then deciding I'm not in the mood for Christmas music and listening to something else; wondering when the Christmas bug will bite me this year 
-Working on carrying everything deeply, all at once
-Devolving into sentimentalism
-Signing off now

For those of you still reading, I'm sorry for the word vomit. Feel free to comment your own wishy-washy seasonal feelings below.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Letter to October #2


Dear October,
       I am surprised, again and again, by things coming back to me. This morning I sat in a coffee shop, and didn't write, even though I meant to. This is not the first time I have chosen to do the opposite of what I know I want. It will not be last. This is certainly not the last time I will tell you about it, October. Instead, I wrote in my car on my lunch break. I was sitting in my car with the air conditioning on because sitting in the park I had gone to was getting too hot because it is still ninety degrees here.

This morning, at the coffee shop, when I was supposed to be writing, I asked about a ring I had lost a few weeks ago. I love wearing rings, but like sunglasses, I have a tendency to lose them. Anyway, it was a long shot. The barista wanted to know what kind of stone it was and I felt silly for asking about a $6 ring that had been missing for weeks, but I told her it looked like an opal. And suddenly there she was, holding it out to me.

I've been thinking about why some things return to us and others don't. Why we're plagued by the same problems, but we don't recognize them. Why good things happen again and again, and we're surprised by them. Why is it when we set out to do something, it makes it harder to do it? Why is it that something as simple as getting a ring back can feel so gratifying, like some piece of the universe has clicked back into place?

I took more pictures today then I have in a long time. I took a picture of my coffee cup, the flowers climbing up a telephone pole near the bookstore, droplets of rain on my windshield. These letters make me notice more, October. That's another kind of return. A return to who I am in October, the girl who takes note. I wonder what else I've been missing.

Laura


Song of the Day: The Water by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling


Letter to October #1




Dear October,
      Well, here we are again. You arrived on my day off, which was lovely. It wasn't until I started a real job that I understood the true meaning of a good day off. Even when I was in school I didn't cherish weekends the way I cherish a free day now. It doesn't have anything to do with not liking my job (I love it, in fact), but everything to do with suddenly relishing the gift of free time in a way that I hadn't before.

This morning I went to brunch with friends and felt like a millennial, I guess, though I don't really know what that means. It's still weird to me sometimes, hanging out with people as though it were still summer, as though it was just another year. But it's not summer. And my friends have jobs now, and we're not waiting for the next semester to start, we're out there making life happen.

All summer I would wake up and think to myself, "This is your life now." It wasn't a resignation or a defeat, but a reminder. A reminder that I'm not waiting for anything anymore. A reminder that I could go in any direction. Now, I don't have to remind myself as much. It's amazing how quickly we adapt, how ready we are to inhabit whatever space is provided us. I thought I wasn't ready for you, October, but I guess it's only a matter of time.

Laura

Song of the day: Midway by Bad Bad Hats

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Letters to October Announcement!

Hello Everyone! Sorry I've been gone for a little while. Luckily you'll be hearing from me a lot more frequently in the next few weeks, because it's that time of year again: time for Letters to October. For those of you new to this little tradition of mine, it was inspired by Emily Diana Ruth's Letters to July and Carrie Hope Fletcher's Dear Autumn series. Each day I write a letter to the month of October, and pair it with a picture I took that day and a song I've been listening to. It's a little project that helps me take stock of how my life has changed, and helps me notice more, instead of letting the days slip past without a second glance.

I don't want to get too sentimental too soon, but a lot has changed since my last Letters to October in 2015. I've graduated college, moved back home, and started a job at my favorite independent bookstore. In the past my Octobers were filled with mounting stress as the semester's work load got more intense. Now, I'm working full time and my days, while stressful at times, are more structured than they were at school. I was also in Iowa, where the transition to fall was obvious - blustery days, changing leaves, a biting chill to the air. Now I'm back in Texas, where we're lucky to get a handful of cooler days, and we don't get true fall colors until December.

Needless to say, I'm excited to see where this year's Letters will take me. I hope you'll join me, and I'd love it if you made your own! If you're so inclined, you can read past letters in the Letters to October tab.

Until tomorrow!

And, just for fun, here's a song of the day: Die Young by Sylvan Esso