Literary Juggling Acts

As both a writer and a reader, I used to be a one-story-at-a-time kind of person. But in the last few years, I’ve discovered something awesome: I know how to juggle!

For much of my writing life, I always felt like I had to finish my current project before I could move on to the next one, even if I was so stuck that my forehead was leaving dents in the metaphorical wall I kept slamming it against. But a few years ago, I realized that unless deadlines are involved, I don’t have to do that.

So I started juggling.

When I got stuck on my novel, instead of trying to force my way through one painful word at a time, I started working on a play. When I got stuck on that, I switched back to the novel. And when I became stuck on that, I switched again, back to the play or on to a short story. Rinse and repeat. I found that whenever I circled back to a project, I wasn’t stuck anymore. I knew how to move forward. It was like my subconscious had used the time to perform a banishing spell on whatever issue had me previously bogged down.

Of course, in a recent post I mentioned how I had to stop working on short stories for a while in order to finish a novel. Because that’s another thing I discovered about my process: knowing how to juggle doesn’t necessarily mean you should be juggling. At that point in time, I wasn’t feeling stuck on the novel—quite the opposite, I was super excited about it—so there was no need for me to keep jumping back to short stories. Yet I kept doing it anyway because short stories are shiny and fun and distracting.

So that’s the writing part of this post: juggling can be a great way to keep yourself moving forward instead of wallowing in writer’s blockian anguish. But it can also keep you from finishing a project if you’re not careful.

Now for my more recent discovery: juggling with reading material!

As with writing, I used to feel like I had to finish a book before I dared pick up another one. In college, though, that was impossible. When one half of your double major is English literature, you have to read a crap ton of books each semester. So college forced me to not only juggle, but to read faster than I cared to (I’m usually a slow reader). But when it came to reading on my own time, I was strictly a one-book-at-a-time kind of gal.

Until I tried some more juggling.

Back in September, someone recommended a writing book that I really wanted to dig into (Screenwriting Is Rewriting by Jack Epps, Jr.). I was in the middle of reading a novel (Star Daughter by my awesome friend Shveta Thakrar), which normally would have dissuaded me from starting something else, but 2020 is the year of tossing norms out the window, so what the hell, right? I think it helped that the books were in different formats. Star Daughter was a hardback I could read while curled up in a chair with my morning coffee, while the Epps was an ebook I could easily whip out while doing stuff like brushing my teeth or waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office.

Then I got really crazy in October and tried reading three things at once.

I doubt I’m going to graduate to having four books going at once. But I’m liking the balance of having a fiction and nonfiction read going simultaneously. Now maybe slow-reading me will be able to get through a few more books per year than usual.

Because juggling.

Rediscovering Words

So I lied about eventually having a more substantial post last week (not that I think anyone was eagerly awaiting one, especially given my half-assed blogging tendencies of late). I had intended to write a post last week, but I got distracted by something that was probably far more worthwhile for me. I rediscovered how much I like words.

I’m a fairly slow reader, so once I started grad school, I didn’t have much time to read anything beyond assignments for class. And as soon as the spring semester ended, I had a big pile of critiques to get through for TNEO. But then, last week, a beautiful thing  happened: I was done with critiques, and I had before me an evening with no rehearsal, schoolwork, meetings, or anything else to do or go to. So I read. Fiction. For fun. For the first time in months. It was glorious. And it continues to be glorious.

In addition to getting to lose myself in someone else’s words for a while, I also got to rediscover some joy in my own words. Even though I’ve still been working on fiction these last several months, my writing routine during my spring semester . . . well, I no longer had one. I squeezed in what I could where and when I could. And everything I was working on was revision. With deadlines. And therefore pressure.

But last week, I started a new story. Every day on the train ride to and from work, I’ve been writing. And when there’s time in the evening, I write some more. And since it’s not revision, I’ve been able to use my old battle-worn AlphaSmart (aka VoldeSmart). In other words, no shiny things on my Macbook to distract me. Just me and my words and no deadlines. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to just play.

The Writerly (and Readerly) Update

As expected, this past week was rather weird for me schedule-wise.  Adjusting to the whole part-time from home day job shift was sort of like pulling on an old pair of pants; you’re thrilled they fit again, but it’s been so long since you’ve worn them that you’re trying to remember which tops look right with them.  As a result, the time I spent trying on metaphorical tops meant I didn’t do much fiction writing during the week.  At least until yesterday, when I finally got my ass out of the metaphorical dressing room.

After doing a small amount of research and photo scrounging on Thursday, I finally started the prequel-ish My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel short story.  Well, I had already written a first sentence or two and jotted down some notes a while back, but yesterday was when I finally sat my butt down and started writing in earnest.  The Silk Road Ensemble was kind of a "duh" soundtrack choice for working on a story set at a caravanserai, especially when one of the albums I have from them has a track called "Night at the Caravanserai."  And I threw Loreena McKennitt’s "Caravanserai" onto my writing playlist for good measure.

After working on the short story for a bit, I switched gears slightly and did an hour writing exercise with some online folks for the first time in forever.  Recently, I’ve imposed all these huge expectations on myself as a writer, which often has the unfortunate side effect of making me petrified when I’m staring down a blank page.  This was a good way to tell those expectations where to shove it.  I turned off Serious Writer Brain and just goofed off for an hour by writing something silly that will probably never go anywhere beyond the exercise.  It was also my first time playing with Write or Die, which was a great help in turning off Serious Writer Brain.

And finally, on to the reading front:

Readerly update under the cut…