A Good Idea to Steal: A Table of Contents

I admit it. I’m a notebook jumper. It is rare that I fill a notebook to capacity before skipping to a new one.

Because I’m a little neurotic and slightly OCD when it comes to my writing (my family would tell you I’m nowhere near OCD in my regular daily life), I find it somewhat stressful to have several notebooks “going” at once — which is what I’ve been doing. One notebook for short stories. One notebook for blog entries. One notebook for ideas. One notebook with novel bits in it.

If I misplace a particular notebook, a project goes missing for a while. Much easier, and more satisfying because I like to be able to see my work add up, to fill one notebook before moving on to the next. Not only do I have everything at hand and the freedom to write what I want, when I want, but when the notebook is full I have a testament to how much work I’ve actually done.

And when I stack up the filled notebooks…I’ll have stacks.

So recently, I decided that I would be brilliant and use tabs to indicate when I switched subjects/projects within a notebook. Different color tabs indicate which project I’m on.

This seemed really smart at first, but then I kept forgetting which tab meant which project.

About a week ago, I’m complaining about my system to my friend John — which is what I do.

He says, “Use a table of contents.”

I say, “Nerd.”

He says, “No, seriously. Number your notebook pages first thing. Leave the first page of the notebook blank. Whenever you switch projects, go to the first page, list the project and the page number.”


I’m doing it. Though, I can’t bear to lose even a page of a notebook, so I’m Table-of-Contents-ing on the cover of my notebook. I figure if I need something later it’ll be good to just look at the cover and see what’s in the notebook at a glance.

If you’re looking to keep a writing notebook/journal, you should do it too. And you can even use tabs, so you can flip easily between projects.

Guest Post: When Women Write Men

Today, I bring you a special edition guest post from our friend John.  Last week, I talked about men writing women, and we thought it would be fun to get the other side of the story.  So, without further ado, here’s what John has to say about it.

“How do you write women so well?”
“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
As Good As It Gets
It is in the spirit of gender equality, that I say women can’t write men either. Or rather, women who do a good job of writing men can still fall short.
I tried to read My Sister’s Keeper, but I was so put off by Picoult’s absurdly written lawyer, I nearly threw the book across the room. There was no way anyone could convince me that this was a real human being. However, Carolyn Parkhurst with The Dogs of Babel has written a protagonist that is not only believable as a human being, but you might even get the sense that you have met a guy like him before.
There are a couple of issues at work here. First, you have to understand the human condition enough to create a believable human being. Second, when it comes to anything that modifies a character beyond just being human, you have to focus on perspective.
Full disclosure, Ali really is a woman, and I really am a man. I also happen to be over a foot taller than her. Now, just from a physical standpoint, she has the advantage of seeing things on the bottom shelves of the bookstore where I possess the advantage of seeing the things on the top shelves. In this case the key to understanding each other’s perspective is to either squat down or learn how to build a ladder.
There is another issue at work here: Double Standards that often get ignored. When a man “can’t write a woman,” he is viewed as inexperienced in talking to girls and is to be pitied or ostracized. When a woman “can’t write a man,” it’s because “men folk are just too confusing to understand.” Which I find particularly amusing, because men generally aren’t a very complicated group of creatures. If you can’t figure them out, I challenge you to reassess how much you’re really paying attention. 
Also, it is a fundamental fallacy to assume that the experience of a group is completely homogenized. Just the fissures between feminists regarding how to fight for equality is enough to know that if you’re going “to talk to women,” you’re best served talking to a variety of women. I’ve met Stepford Wives with some of the most awful, degrading opinions of men, and granola hippy feminists who are able to tick off rather unique things men have to endure, and respect men for doing so. You have to make sure you’ve got your newly acquired perspective in perspective as well.
Basically, it comes down to the same things you have to keep in mind with any topic you wish to write about. Do you due diligence, stretch your imagination to include a perspective that doesn’t come naturally to you, and make sure you’re not building your ladder wrong. This is not anything new, regardless of the topic.
As for all of this talk of women depicted in chainmail bikinis: Yes, they’re impractical. Yes, they are probably uncomfortable. But, the goal of putting a woman in a chainmail bikini is NOT to present a believably strong woman. Fun Fact: A character called Jirel of Joiry was written in the same era as Conan the Barbarian. She was written to be just as physically strong as a man, and wore armor, but it was always worn with practicality in mind. She was the creation of a writer called C.L. Moore, who also was a woman. However, if you look at the cover of Weird Tales where Jirel first appears, she is in no way dressed as she was in story. She wore something more befitting an alluring damsel in distress.
Here’s why women get dressed up in chainmail bikinis and are forced to stand in ridiculously uncomfortable and awkward positions: All of that work makes them look AWESOME. Men who see a woman in a chainmail bikini are more likely to spend money on whatever creative vehicle is being advertised with a woman in a chainmail bikini rather than a regular bikini, and especially rather than something practical. Some businessman took biology and eventually discovered the connection between spending tendencies and how they are tied to evolutionary-borne instincts that are steeped in how humans go about looking for a reproductive mate. 
In other words, sex sells. But, it’s not always the writer’s fault that their characters are being tramped up. If you’re going to take issue with that, take it up with marketing executives and book cover artists first. If they blame the writer, then you know where to go next.
And just for the record, C.L. Moore’s depiction of men was fairly thin and one-dimensional as well.

Make It Stop: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

You’d think after last week that there was no more drama to be had. You’d think wrong! But it is Tuesday, so it’s time to be accountable for writing stuff.

1. I did finish a chapter of The Line. It was like pulling teeth for every single word, but the chapter got written! The struggle I’m having with writing is a schedule shift. The soon-to-be four year old doesn’t nap anymore. Pfft! There went my hour-a-day time. Without it, finding time has been a chore. After discussions with Shane, we have fleshed out a new schedule – it’s not every day, but should buy enough time to get stuff down on paper…and let me out of the house. So cheers for that.

2. Almost done with a new short story. I’m diggin’ it and that’s what counts. Just gotta write out the last scene and ta-da! I’ll be finished with that.

But, damn, this was a doozy of a week.

My grandma is still in the ICU with weird tubes and stuff stuck all over. She’s doing better, but it’s still stressful.

Last Thursday night, the car’s fuel pump gave out on Shane on his way home. I’ve been minus a ride for a few days while the mechanics get parts and whatnot. Stuck, stuck, stuck. (P.S. Thank you to Ali and John – who kept me entertained while I waited in the car for the tow truck – long story on how I was the one who wound up waiting – on a really dark, kinda spooky stretch of road. They endured the phone cutting off and me talking to AAA, who needed directions to the spooky stretch of road.)

The Big Doozy: And Sunday night (read: super-early Monday morning – 3:00 a.m.) Shane tripped on something in the bathroom and clonked his head on the bathtub. He managed to knock himself out and received a b*tch of a cut above his right eye…that bled a lot. After keeping him awake and doing all the stuff you’re supposed to do, I took him to the Urgent Care in the later morning. He needed ten stitches.

Yeah, the week isn’t starting off too swell.

And to top it off – insult to injury! – I’ll probably have jury duty tomorrow. Everyone keep your fingers crossed that when I call the jury line tonight I won’t have to go in.

Random Post of Awesome: Braggin’ on a Buddy!

Hey guys, just got great news that my buddy John’s short story “Not Ready for Her Close-up” was accepted for publication at the Barbaric Yawp. Congrats to John for his acceptance. And a big thank-you in general to the hard working folks at these magazines–they do it for love, not money.

Shaking in their boots (or sandals, it is summer….)

The Great Writing Race is here!

And there are a surprising number of takers for this years challenge.

From June 1-July 31 I shall engage the most talented of my friends and, apparently, family in a race to finish my novel. (Well, that’s what I’m hoping’ll happen.) The reward? Bragging rights, of course, and dinner at a restaurant of the winner’s choice. John and Ali are already shaking in their boots.

But last time Ali cleaned up–over 40,000 words in two weeks. They weren’t even bad words! They were coherent. She is a true champion, a.k.a. the Person to Make Cry.

Though I think John may have beat her the time they raced together. But she could’ve beat him by a hair. They can correct my errors in the comment section.

Then we have Matt and Marie. Matt, my brother, who has finished at least three novel-length pieces. Marie, the steady work-horse who has finished not only two novel-length pieces that I’m aware of, but also multiple short stories and revisions of those self-same novels.

I, however, have a great deal to gain from winning this:
1. A complete manuscript that I am motivated to finish!
2. The Bragging Rights
3. Food
4. Bragging Rights
5. Making Ali cry
6. The pleasure of writing in order to beat other people, and brag about it.

Quiver, people! Shake, shiver, and move outta my way!

Christopher Moore Stuff

Went with Shane, John, Oliver, and Ali to see Christopher Moore in Boulder last night. Here are my notes:

1. It’s nice to see an author (a successful author, let me add) in the flesh because it proves that mere mortals are capable of having really cool careers.

2. If anyone asks me, at a book signing when the movie is coming out, I’ll be irritated. I swear, Moore had to answer at least five/six questions about movies that don’t exist while here was a perfectly good, perfectly entertaining (I hope–haven’t read it yet…) book that’s right in front of them. Books are okay, people! You don’t need fancy CG effects in your brain.

3. Two guys–older, trying to look scholarly, I fear that they may have been actual professors from the university but I hope they’re just wannabe intellectuals, passed our little group in the hallway asking whether Einstein had showed up because the place was rather crowded. We showed them our books and they go “Eh, never heard of him.” (One still asked Moore’s name after three of us showed them the cover.) Well, I’ve never heard of you or your man-boobs either.

4. We didn’t win the hat for traveling the farthest because Ali didn’t speak up (I tried, but she claims she doesn’t wear hats. I guess we know what to get her for her birthday)…and some guy from Wyoming thought he came farther. Hello! Geography people. Pueblo’s clear down to almost New Mexico.

5. By the time we got our books signed, I think Moore was feeling the strain of it all. He smiled but was obviously tired. I think, deep down, as much as he talked and dropped the *f* bomb and was all witty, he’s just a nerd writer like the rest of us. We’re not actors or musicians who have to constantly go out in front of people. We sit at a computer and type stuff and hope people read it…but we may not have the energy to talk to those people all night.

With Apologies to Virginia Woolf

A little while ago, I requested that people send me reading lists. On one of the lists John mentioned that I should definitely pick up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. This is one I’ve read before, but considering the slight funk I was in, better to read a book about fiction, women, and writing by one of the greats.

Here’s the problem.

One of the main tenets (actually the main tenet…note the title of the book) is that one must have ‘money and a room of one’s own’ in order to write. And I looked around at my life and noticed that I have neither of those things.

Money: yeah, pretty much, no.

A room of my own: I share a loft with a husband and a baby. I do have a desk, but if I use it when I’m ‘free’ to use it, I wake everyone up and there goes any chance of creativity. Sometimes I’m so not-alone my skin is tingly from just being in the room with other people. At least I’m with people I love. (For example, as I am writing this brief blog, my brother has gone through the room in order to use the bathroom and I can hear the baby and my husband crawling up the stairs, heading my direction-wait baby tumbled now there’s crying….)

Anyway, I’d like to amend this oh-so-famous tenet, because if I am to become a writer I cannot do it in the way Woolf accomplished her career. Times are a bit different. Let’s look at it in the spirit I think Woolf meant:

You cannot be a writer without freedom and a spot to jot.

You must have freedom in order to create. Nowadays, women are not bound to the idea that we should be uneducated, the idea is, in fact, abhorrent. We can have our own money, property, and pursuits of happiness without anyone (except maybe a couple Neanderthals) thinking the less of us. By freedom, I also mean that you must have some free time.

So, freedom: Yep, I am not restrained by social convention. And if I don’t have free time, I can definitely make it. Observe: brothers have left the bathroom and loving husband is comforting tumbled baby and I’m still writing this little blog…which is actually longer than normal.

You must also have a spot to jot. Stephen King is my example/inspiration here. Not only did he not have money when he started, but he also made a place to write. He wrote with a freaking typewriter on his lap! I at least have a computer. You can write anywhere-Ali is my example here, if you have a piece in your brain that will let you tune others out. Your spot to jot can be your brain, if nothing else…but eventually you do need a physical jotting place.

Spot to jot: The aforementioned desk. And my new toy: the lap desk with attached light. Awesome. Got some FJR work done on that yesterday.

With apologies to Ms Woolf-
If I followed her line of thought, I couldn’t write-or at least succeed. I don’t want to be an angry girl writer, writing to defend my right to write. A great many wonderful women have done that fighting for me (Jane Austen, the Brontes, Woolf herself).

Because times have shifted and because I want to be on the shelves next to her I must reject her most popular of tenets. I must do the work without money and without a room, but I think I retain the spirit of her argument.

Are there any real losers?

For those of you keeping track of Ali and John’s competition, I know you’re with me when I say:

Those two have done some work.

Word Count Math: Both have done about 80 or so pages in less than two weeks. That’s an amazing blast of words for those of us who are not Stephen King. And probably even for him.

While I know that some (read: Ali and John) would claim there is a definitive loser somewhere in the mix, I know they both kicked my ass for this month…and the next couple month probably!

Ali’s thesis is well on its way. John’s novel has taken off.

Nah, no losers.

Competition: Is It Right For You?

Iron John has proclaimed that competition is not for the weak, and I tend to agree with his argument.

I also say that competition, healthy and vital competition, is necessary for development as a writer. In my college classes there was a certain ‘squaring up’–‘partnering’–‘creation of nemeses’ amongst the classmates. In essence, one would pick out another writer in the workshop and basically try to ape them. We’d pick people who had similar writing styles/themes/issues as our own and try to bounce off them. If they had something we wanted, they were a nemesis. Our rival. Once we gained (or thought we gained an inkling) what they were accomplishing, we moved on and selected others.

It’s a growth process. But, you have to be willing to have your ass handed to you.

True for all competitions. Sure…you could win. But you could also get kicked to the ground and humiliated. Fear of humiliation=motivator. Anticipation of kicking ass=motivator. Whatever motivates you to get stuff written down, well, I say it’s a good thing.

So…should John and Ali decide to have a ‘my page stack is bigger than yours’ kind of competition…I say right on. Just remember, we will cheer the winner and throw pickles at the loser. I also say that the count should be words-not pages-because that’s a clearer indicator of quantity. Messing around with fonts won’t help you in that case.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Friday night, after closing on Thursday evening and then opening on Friday morning, I attended the Fourth Annual American Icon. Didn’t participate in this one–unless you count whooping and hollering for my buds participation.

And let me tell you: Deb, Fleur, and John kicked all kinds of butt.

Deb conquered her fear and stood in front of all those people and read like a pro. It was amazing. She claims her hands were shaking like crazy when she was done, but I didn’t notice. I thought she did awesome. Plus she (along with only our table–the cool kids’ table) won one of the door prizes.

Fleur, on top of the door prize she won (see? told you we were the cool kids–or at least really lucky) took “Best Tension” this year. That was the prize I won last year, so I’m glad the torch passed on to a worthy successor. See how I take all kinds of credit? Anyway, she earned it. She did an awesome job–especially after seeing her so nervous at practice. Practice makes perfect! and she was.

John in a suit jacket. Nuff said. He whooped up on all the action/adventure people. He came across professional and his presentation was spot-on. I’m pretty sure if just one guy had been on the panel of judges he’d’ve swept up.

It was great. For those of you plugging away all alone in a home office or on your lunch break, I highly recommend befriending your local writers. Not networking. Making friends. The most irritating part of the evening was the schmoozing. I had fun not because I was there to promote my book, but because I was supporting my friends in their endeavors. They shouldn’t be surprised to see me there: I’m invested in them and what they do. Their successes are mine too. I want them to do well. I’m pretty sure that’s why Shane and Ali and Nicole and John (different John…) showed up as well. Networking is getting your name out. Who cares?

You want people to care about what you do and why you do it. So, even though I didn’t read, I think I got three special prizes from my friends–their stories.