Monthly Archives: October 2012

Please Excuse the Interruption

I decided the site could use a face lift, so for the next few hours, the theme will be changing frequently as I play around with options.

Look forward to a shiny new jendempsey.com! ūüôā

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Storms and Lists (but not lists about storms)

Hurricane Sandy is now bearing down on the east coast. The images are terrifying. And magestic. What awful, amazing creative inspiration.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you buckle down and survive the storm and its aftermath over the next few days. I know I’ll be contacting several close friends later tonight to see how they’re managing, where they’ve relocated to, and what I can do to help. I hope everyone is safe, dry, and warm this stormy day.

***

In writing news,¬†I’ve been frantically composing lists for¬†SW. Once upon a time, I was an obsessive lister: groceries; types of flowers I wanted in my (current and future) garden; Must-Read-Books releasing in the next month, two months, before Christmas. Since we are in the last week of October, the final week before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve attempted to organize my thoughts in every spare moment by composing lists on my characters (their traits, locations they’ve lived, pets they’ve owned, family relationships), the setting (businesses downtown, road names, natural features), scenes I’ve written, scenes I need to write, names of secondary characters…. You name it, it’s probably jotted down somewhere.

I do believe I have a slightly better grasp on¬†SW‘s¬†world. Which is good.

… But.

In the midst of all my organizing, I’ve also noticed a severe decline in actual¬†writing¬†taking place. I’ve allowed my OCD listing to overpower the story itself.

Not good.

My epiphany today: It’s all fine and dandy to delve into prep work, but at some point, we just need to sit down and write, lists and research be damned.

Will all my compulsive listing help my writing process over the next month? I have no idea. But my goal this week is to strike a better balance between prep work and writing. I don’t want to know this much about my characters and fail to bring them to life.

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…Can music save your mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow…

No, I’m not throwing around song lyrics for the heck of it. (Really, though,¬†is¬†there ever a bad reason to quote “American Pie?”)

This is what has been on my writing-mind of late: SW‘s Playlist. No pressure.¬†Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just need to assemble a few tunes with the power to blank out the rest of the world.

Uh huh.

For those of us who prefer to write far from home and its plentiful temptations, chores, and distractions, a writing playlist (and an excellent set of earbuds) is key. (Nothing like coffee mugs clanging and neighbors conversing to put you off your grammar.) Beyond the immediate benefits,¬†I’ve also found that the songs I choose greatly influence the composition itself– molding scenes, intensifying the mood, giving my words an echo I might not have otherwise recognized — so I’ve become verrrrrry deliberate in what I select, and the order in which I select it.

A good friend of mine writes to a smorgasbord of international pop (read: American Top 40 circa 1993, but in foreign tongues). Another prefers hard core electric guitar riffs. Me? In the past, I’ve found it difficult to work with other people’s lyrics rolling in my head.

Here’s an example:

A few years back, I was rocking out, writing, to a certain power ballad. I was on a roll: The words just streamed from my fingertips, tempting me to raise a Fist of Triumph for the success of the poem. I was so excited about it, in fact, I immediately emailed the draft to another poet.

…minutes later… <phone rings>

Poet Friend: “Umm, Jen?”
Me: “Hi! You already read it? What do you think?”
Poet Friend:¬†<pause> “Were you just listening to <name of a very well known band>?”
Me: “Wow! How did you know?”
Poet Friend: … “Yeah. Have you read your poem?”

Needless to say, I found it necessary to switch to instrumental music after that.

Now I’m working on the playlist for SW. I find myself once again drawn towards songs with lyrics. (Really loving Mumford and Sons at the moment.) Maybe¬†I should attempt a mix? Make a couple different playlists, in case the classical/instrumental soundtrack is needed? Perhaps I should form different song collections by intended mood/theme? Hmmm….

What specific songs or genres of music do you write to? Is there an artist that makes you want to pull out your pen and scribble away? Or are you one of those horrible, horrible souls who can sit and write anywhere, regardless of exterior noise? ūüėČ

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Submission Hell

 

Okay, that may be a wee¬†bit dramatic. Perhaps “Submission Limbo” would be a better title.

For the past week, whenever I’ve needed a break from¬†SW, I’ve focused on revising poems– some ancient little things, leftover from my MFA days, others very new, only just squirmed onto paper. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this genre of late, and it was invigorating to delve back into the nuances of sound and language, view my poems as fresh beasts. And beasts some of them were. <shudder>

I figured, since I was already at it, I should also check my poetry submission log, the excel worksheet I use for tracking all my poems and chapbooks out in the world.

<cough>

If computer programs could get dusty, this one would be riddled with mites.

It was time to reenter the publication circuit.

I threw together a few different submission packets, sent them out to maybe a gazillion different journals and magazines.

It’s been a few days now. Most of my submissions are still swimming out in the ether, as expected. But it’s nerve-wracking, folks. Even though I’ve been an editor on a couple journals and I remember the time + energy this process takes, even though I know I won’t receive notification for weeks, if not months,¬†I still have to force myself not to obsess and check the submission managers 29 times a day.

(Yes, 29. Yesterday I failed. And I counted.)

How do you handle the submission process? What strategies do you have for thickening your skin during the painful publication/rejection wait?

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Battles …(plus reference to delicious baked goods)

It’s not often that I have¬†an entire 24-hour period¬†free of responsibility or strict plans. Holy mackerel, I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks: I envisioned sleeping in, delving deep into my story without needing to watch the clock, maybe baking some heal-the-sick-amazing double-chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. The day was going to be perfect.

Of course, though, reality is never so pretty.

1. My neighbors decided¬†something desperately needed hammering at a very early hour. Very early. And it had to take place on our shared wall, which butts up to my bed. …Grrrrrr. (I don’t know what it is about my neighbors and pounding things.)

2. I’d been in denial about chores.¬†They’ve piled up for a few days, and the dutiful, practical me insists I complete them before any writing take place.

3. Just checked my cupboard. Completely out of sugar. Uh huh.

Now, none of these hurdles is insurmountable– Meijer’s is just down the street, after all, and there are plenty of hours remaining this afternoon for laundry AND writing. But the day has certainly not progressed flawlessly.

I learned the same lesson this week with my story. You may know what I’m talking about: The characters¬†will not cooperate.¬†Originally, I had all these plot-points and plans for the long-term shape of the book, but noooooo, my characters had to go and grow personalities, and now a few of the scenes I’ve written no longer fit, and the protagonist insists on walking down a nasty, garbage-stricken alley when I know she should really be on the other side of town, and she stubbornly won’t say what I want her to say, and now she wants a tattoo, and¬†man, I have to re-sculpt my plan for the book. I’ve lost control over my story.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t a bad thing. The writing is growing organically, rather than sticking to a potentially-lifeless imposed script. I like that my characters are mouthing back.

But in this moment? Half of what I know about the plot and setting and characters will be chucked. It’s unsettling.

Who knows how this story will end up? Certainly not me.

Guess I’m in for a ride.

Yeah, I’m gonna need those cookies.

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Plotting Euphoria!

 

For the past week, I’ve¬†found myself very easily distracted by the smallest, sometimes craziest of things — the type of car making that awful racket down the road, the smell of a banana three days overripe, the precise date a local department store put out Christmas decorations and supplies. I’ve felt a bit like a puppy:

Oooh! A bunny hopping into the brush! What the heck is it doing in the city? See how it — wait! Look! Kids doing tricks on bicycles! Cool! I wonder if they’ve ever jumped off ¬†— what is that crazy racket next door? Gosh, it sounds like someone hammering the wall, or maybe they’re throwing heavy gym bags around, or maybe it’s that dance game on Xbox’s Kinect and they’re jumping up and down and that was so much fun for me and my brother the other night, I wonder what would happen if the jumping caused a 2 liter of pop to spill, or something broke off the table, maybe it was an antique lamp that came from Norway and…

You get my drift.

Here’s the thing, though:¬†Every single detail I am connecting to my story.¬†

It’s as if I can’t turn the volume down on my creative self. Since I reopened the box on this new writing project, everything I observe or do inspires a nonstop brainstorming session. That bunny mentioned above? It moved into a scene for my main character, hiking alone. The kids on bikes? They’re now part of a flashback to my protagonist’s first day of high school. That banging sound I heard broke into several scenes¬†which practically wrote themselves.

It’s not always this easy. Shoot, it’s never this easy, at least for me. And I’m not even convinced that these moments will enter into the larger picture for the story. But I’ve been so caught up in that world, learning my characters and the reasons they act the way they do, discovering molehills and mountains in the potential plot line itself, it feels as though I’m seeing the real world through a split lens.

Last night, I chatted with my dear friend Corey about our respective writing projects. (Corey is an absolutely amazing novelist — check out her blog at http://seecoreywrite.wordpress.com/) When I mentioned my insanity, she replied, “You’re definitely in plotting euphoria. Everyone goes there.”

Woooo-eeee, I hope so. And I hope my creative volume doesn’t turn down any time soon (even if I have people at work waving hands in front of my face and asking if I need to lie down).

So, what happens during¬†your plotting euphoria? Does your creative self demand attention, too? How long does it usually last?¬†And isn’t it kinda glorious?¬†ūüôā

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They say that time is a construct…

 

…and apparently I haven’t constructed in some time. ūüėČ A lot of major life changes have occurred over the past year and a half: I moved cross-country, taught first graders the rules of Bossy R, moved (again) cross-state, started two new jobs, and became a very devoted and frequently embarrassing aunt. (To strangers in the check out line: “Ooooh, look at this new photo of my nephew! He’s exactly 187 days old now, you know. Isn’t he the most beautiful and amazing baby in the history of the world?!”)

In the midst of all these changes, though, I lost my writing.

Okay, yes, there was the occasional poem composed for friends’ weddings, plus that night I freewrote about aliens before bed to clear my mind (you don’t want to know)… but overall, I’ve watched writing dissolve into that type of acquaintance-friend we all think about fondly but never seem to call.

Well, enough. No more blathering on about what-ifs and shoulda-beens, stories I found but didn’t have the creative gumption to explore. Today, this very moment, I am jumping-up-and-down-like-a-little-kid-at-Christmas¬†ecstatic¬†to begin a new writing project, one I’ve been brainstorming on randomly for a few years. It’s a young adult novel, and here are three very important points you need to recognize: 1) Young Adult is an entirely foreign writing genre for me; 2) Novel is an entirely foreign writing form for me; and 3) despite my irrepressible excitement, I’m scared witless about it. I’ve decided that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as November) is just the push I need to jump back into writing with both feet and an arm, reconnect with that vital part of my creativity I left behind, and overcome my long-standing reticence on the project.

I’ll be updating¬†much more frequently now, guaranteed, with all this actual writing taking place. ūüėČ We’ll see what problems, debates, questions, triumphs, fears, and never-thought-I’d-ever-write-this discussions arise!

I hope you’re as exhilarated as I am! ūüôā

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