What Leslie Knope and I have in Common

Ummm, it’s not the hat.

Do you ever try to match yourself or people you know to your favorite characters on TV? Teddy and I do it all the time, but I think our closest “matches” are Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. This is me:

Ben Leslie2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is Teddy:

ben gif2 ben gif3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I didn’t know better, I’d think the writers had eavesdropped on actual conversations we’ve had.

 

I’d never watched Parks & Rec consistently until last fall, when Teddy and I binge-watched seasons 1-6. (I still haven’t watched the last season because last seasons make me sad. If I haven’t watched it, it’s not over, right?)

 

At the time, I was feeling pretty crummy about myself. I had finished the rough draft for a novel, but I had no idea where to go from there, and I had the sinking feeling that it might be fatally flawed. I was left without a project. So I guiltily watched too much Parks & Rec, and then I noticed something. Leslie and I are a lot alike when it comes to work.

 

Leslie loves working. All she does is work work work — on vacations, on her days off, when she’s sick. Always working. When she can’t work, she makes up new subcommittees and community projects and runs them all herself. If Leslie doesn’t have a government project to do, she spirals into a lovable, super caffeinated tornado.

 

I do the same thing when it comes to my creative projects. Even if I’m not directly working on them, I’m thinking about them. I love projects, and I always want to be working on (at least) one. And if I don’t have a project, I get stressed and irritable. (Sorry, Teddy!) I’d love to be working on a creative project right now, I just can’t swing it. It’s felt like I’ve been running into one brick wall after another. I was thinking about it recently and I realized that in the past year I:

 

  1. was diagnosed with PCOS
  2. made drastic lifestyle changes
  3. lost 45 pounds (woohoo!)
  4. had to change my birth control because it wasn’t doing its job (not in a pregnancy scare way, but in a “my period started a week early AGAIN?!” way).
  5. had gallbladder problems which means I’m getting my gallbladder out in April

 

That’s a looooot to handle. And I realized recently that writing a novel sounds totally exhausting and not fun right now. The thought of seeking publication/ marketing sounds like self-imposed torture. (Just like Leslie, I have the tendency to be a *smidge* hyperbolic.) I just do not have the creative energy to pursue that at this stage of my life.

 

It’s honestly terrifying to type out those words. I know there are lots of people who might be rolling their eyes at this post and saying, “Really? That’s what’s stopping her? She just couldn’t cut it, I guess.” I also didn’t want to admit to myself that writing wasn’t working for me. Haven’t I wanted to be an author since I was 12? I’ve literally been working toward this dream for over a decade. Does this mean I’m a failure, or worse, that I’m giving up on my dream? What do I do now?

 

I don’t know the answer to the last question, but for right now I’m trying to show myself grace. I’m still writing down random story ideas and journaling. I’m trying to read about other interests/ think of new things I’d like to try. And Teddy has told me 1500 times that even if I stop writing now, I can always come back to it. I’m *finally* starting to sort of believe him.

 

I keep thinking about the recall vote that kicked Leslie off of city council. That setback didn’t stop Leslie Knope, and this won’t stop me either.

 

Note: If you are working on a novel or other big project, this post is NOT intended to discourage you! This post is talking about how writing isn’t working for me right now. I’ll be the first to cheer you on from the sidelines! Go get ‘em, tiger!

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On Sharing Your Work: The 7/7/7 Challenge

When Jean Thomas (aka @mizwriterlady) challenged me to the 7/7/7 challenge, I was a little hesitant. (So hesitant that I hardcore procrastinated on actually publishing this post.) I love talking about the creative process, but I actually tend to keep my actual rough draft under wraps. I’m not sure why I play it so close to the chest with my rough drafts — maybe because there’s no context and I’m worried that it will be completely terrible? So while I don’t think I’ll be posting whole chapters of my rough draft anytime soon (trust me, it’s for your own good), I do think it’ll be good to loosen up a bit and show a little more behind-the-scenes action.

 

Also, side note, I’ve been thinking about putting up a portfolio with some of my college essays and other writing, but I’m not really sure how to go about that. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know!

 

And without further ado, here are my 7 lines from page 7 of my (now finished) first draft:

 

Tarand walked beside me with his bow over his shoulders. “Don’t pay any attention to Aladar, m’lady. He knows you’re right… but you know how he feels about manticores.”

“I know, Tarand.” We stopped and waited for Aladar to catch up with us. “I hate hanging back because of the Oleficis as much as he does. But I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

The walk back to the horses was silent, each of us dwelling on our own thoughts. Retracing our steps was bitter for all three of us — after all, we weren’t accustomed to having to turn away. But we’d been forced to do it more and more often lately.

 

How do you feel about posting your rough drafts online? I don’t mind it in a workshop or class, but for some reason posting it online makes me suuuper nervous! I’d love to hear what you think!

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Five Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

Five Things I Learned

Photo courtesy of Death to Stock

 

If you’ve ever read Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds, you’ve probably seen his “Five Things I Learned while Writing…” series, where different authors list five things they learned while writing/ publishing their latest book. (If you haven’t read any, this is one of my favorites.)

 

I love those posts, and while my novel is nowhere near publication, I did finish the first draft, which is a HUGE deal considering how many novel fragments I have scattered in old notebooks. So I thought I’d write about the five things I learned writing my first draft:

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A Quick Life Update

Making friends with our new neighbors.
Making friends with a super cute new neighbor.

 

How has your week been? I hope it’s been a good one! My week’s felt like an old Friends episode — remember the episode where Monica’s mom says she “pulled a Monica” because she baked a fake nail into her lasagna? That’s pretty much been my life this week.

 

But besides my “pulling a Monica” moments, I managed to finish my rough draft on Tuesday! I had originally planned on finishing it by November, and then I decided I could finish by October 15… and then I finished a month early. I still can’t believe it! I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it, which I’m planning on talking more about next week. So far this week I’ve been celebrating with ice cream, and I’m planning on visiting a bookstore and getting some tacos this weekend!

 

Teddy and I decided to eat vegetarian for a week, and so far it’s been going pretty well! So far we’ve stuck to old favorites like Joy’s spicy vegetarian tortilla soup and Jeanine’s spring green lemon & basil pasta. Tonight we made some quick pickled veggies which weren’t as quick as we expected… so we went to Chick-fil-A. But that means our pickled veggies will be ready for dinner tomorrow. I’m excited! We’re not planning on becoming full-time vegetarians, but we’re hoping to incorporate more vegetarian meals during the week, so it’ll be nice to have some favorite recipes in our back pocket. I have my eye on this jalapeño and cauliflower mac n’ cheese for next week!  

 

I’ve been craving a non-writing project for a while, but ever since I finished my rough draft I’ve been pinning so many DIY projects — and I’m the girl who avoids DIY projects at all costs! (I usually agree with Victoria: DDIY — Don’t Do It Yourself.) Right now I’m leaning toward this weaving tutorial: now all I need is a loom and some yarn.
That’s pretty much all I can think of that’s new around here. Hope you guys had a great Thursday, and that your Friday is super short!

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Game of Thrones + Writing the Book You Want to Read

Plot Inspiration

 Sources: Row 1: a / b / c — Row 2: a / b / c — Row 3: a / b / c

 

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been told to write the book you want to read about a million times. I always assumed it meant that you should write the kind of book you like to read. If there was a gap between what I wanted to read and what existed, I never really considered writing the book myself.

 

That all changed when I realized I had an imaginary version of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read GOT, even though it has some of my “shut up and take my money” plot points: fantasy, political intrigue, and royal families squabbling over the line of succession. Yes please! But the gore and sexualized violence have always made me hesitant to pick it up. The thing is, I know enough about the plot from Tumblr and friends who have read it to know that I really like Sansa, and Margaery Tyrell, and that Joffrey is a total tool bench, and so sometimes I start to wonder, “Should I read it?” But then I hear about something gruesome that keeps me away.

 

I was catching up with a friend earlier this month (and commiserating about our novel-writing woes), and since neither of us has been able to get into GOT, I joked that I was writing the Game of Thrones that I would want to read. My story has elf royal families fighting over who’s going to be the royal family in 17th century France — so basically, the political intrigue between the different houses in GOT, but without the blood and gore and creepy plot points.

 

If you remember my post about imposter syndrome from back in March, the idea of writing the book you want to read really helps with those writing doubts. I love the idea that writing is a form of collage.

 

What do you think of Game of Thrones? Are there any stories that you want to like but just can’t get into? Maybe they can give some inspiration in what you’re writing/ making right now!

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Auf Wiedersehen, 2014

Favorite 2014 Blog Posts

I can’t believe 2014 is already over! It’s been a year of big changes, and I’m looking forward to see what the new year will bring — hopefully lots of writing, reading, good meals, and trips to visit family and friends! I’m still mulling over my New Year’s Resolutions, so for now I thought I’d share my 10 favorite posts from 2014:

 

Jammy Dutch Baby

 

Brunch for Two

Because it’s a fun tradition that I’ve fallen out of, and would love to pick up again.

 

Treacle Tart (Attempt #1)

 

Treacle Tart and House Elves

Because I don’t track page views, but this post wins most spammy comments, hands-down. Also, I really like what I wrote, despite the funny note-to-self that slipped through the editing process. Oops!

 

Elsbeth Inspiration board

 

Sketchy: Character Development

I’m currently feeling really good about my story idea, and my Pinterest board storyboarding is still going strong. So much work ahead, but (hopefully) fun work.

 

Harry Potter

 

Dear Reader: Harry Potter Re-Read

Falling in love with Harry Potter all over again, and trying to decide how I feel about Dumbledore.

 

Apple Pie Two Ways

 

Apple Pie Two Ways

My two favorite apple pie recipes. There are no fancy lattice-tops or crimped edges, but they’re addictive.

 

30 Rock - Season 7

 

Twenty-two 

Some angsty feelings here, about being part of a generation that’s mocked pretty much incessantly for not knowing how to navigate a world that’s changing everyday.

 

 

Thankful

The counter to angsty feelings and homesickness, being thankful in a new town, in a new life.

 

Yellow Deli

 

My Writing Life

A little explanation of where I’m coming from as a writer.

 

Santa Monica

 

Pics or It Didn’t Happen: LA

My first travel post for the blog! It was a fun trip and a fun post to write, so hopefully there will be more travel posts in the coming year!

 

Food Blogger collage

 

Resources: My 10 Favorite Food Blogs

Secretly my favorite post, my oversharing tendencies are used for good here. Food blogs that are great for worldbuilding, photography practice, and recipes.

 

Auf Wiedersehen, 2014. It’s been real. Here’s to a full, happy 2015! I hope you have a Happy New Year’s Eve and relaxing New Year’s Day!

 

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My Writing Life

Yellow Deli
This is a photo from the Yellow Deli, a really popular study spot in Chattanooga. I can’t tell you how many papers I wrote there.

 

I’ve been talking about writing a lot here. I didn’t exactly plan to, but whenever I would think about a blog post, I always wanted to write about the creative process, about tips and tricks I’ve picked up, about favorite authors or artists opening up their studios and giving away their secrets. I can be an oversharer of things I like (hopefully not of TMI), and I love when others share what makes them tick.

 

But I started thinking, you guys don’t necessarily know about my writing life outside of this blog (unless you happen to know me outside of the internet). You won’t find my name on the New York Times Bestseller List or my picture in the back of a book at your favorite bookstore. I haven’t won any awards or prizes or even been published (unless presenting at a conference counts? Still not sure about that one.). So if you’re wondering why I’m talking about writing all the time or if I know what I’m talking about, I get it. So I decided to share a little bit about my writing… history? Experience? Now that’s a scary word.

 

I grew up reading all the time. I was terrible at sports but good at words, so I read all the books I could get my hands on. And while I loved reading, I didn’t really think about being a writer myself until I was in 6th grade, when Miss Shoup noticed that I liked writing, and encouraged me to keep up with it. She deserves a medal for that, because I found some of my elementary and middle school writing and journals this summer and it was HORRIFYING. But she still somehow found good things to say about it. I think that’s the mark of a great teacher- encouraging you while still pushing you to be better- and I’m really lucky to have had lots of great teachers.

 

In high school I wrote mostly research papers and a terrible poem here and there, but I was excited for college because then I would finally get to write fiction! And then I went to Covenant, which has a great, academically-focused English program. Oops. So I still wrote mostly research papers (usually at the Yellow Deli or another coffee shop if I could), and even got to give presentations at two academic conferences (which still blows my mind), and took creative writing classes whenever I could. Even when I was supposed to be working on other writing projects, I was always daydreaming about characters and plotlines, but I always decided that my ideas were stupid before I got very far. (To be fair to past-me, I’ve read through some of my old character descriptions and plotlines and they are, in fact, pretty stupid. A lot of my main characters mysteriously resemble my middle/ high school crushes, so I’m ok with the fact that those stories never saw the light of day.)

 

So now that I’m out of college and working a real job, my writing life looks pretty different. I have a self-imposed deadline for blog posts, so that makes sure that I don’t completely slack off on the writing front. I’m working on a fantasy novel inspired by one of my creative writing classes from my senior year. I’m thinking it’d be for middle grades, but I’m not 100% sure about that yet. I’m still working out the kinks, figuring out what my bad habits are (procrastinating, falling down the swirling vortex that is “research,” etc.). Sometimes the mindlessness of watching TV is really appealing after a long day at work, but I really want my writing to be that fulfilling hobby to come home to everyday. I read this blog post about Erin Boyle’s writing process for her book the other day, and I think I’m going to try out a similar process. Have a little writing “nook” (ideally a cute little office space, but this is real life, so probably the dining room table or the couch). Drink hot chocolate. Write. That sounds so nice, and I’m kind of excited for it.

 

So, what do you guys think? Was this interesting? Self-indulgent? (Yes, probably, but oh well.)  I’m toying with the idea of mixing in some more fiction-process-things, along with other booky, foodie, blogger things. We’ll see. And if you’ve made it this far, thank you. I really appreciate you for reading my words.


I’m going to L.A. tomorrow for a whirlwind weekend, which is crazy and exciting because I’ve never been! I have one gift guide queued for you over the weekend, and then I’ll be back next week!

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Twenty-two

30 Rock - Season 7

This has been a hard week. My first college loan payment, work hiccups, a cold front that I was completely unprepared for, and the nagging feeling that I should be doing something more productive– writing or doing laundry or cleaning my kitchen or working out or going to bed 15 minutes ago– have left me  feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted. Basically I was Liz Lemon by Wednesday.

 

It feels kind of lame to say, but I’m still adjusting to post-grad life. 2014 has been “the year” for so long– the year I would graduate college, the year I’d get my first job, the year I’d get married. The year my life would begin (cue Tangled intro). But now I’m on the other side of 2014, and 2015 is about to start and I am terrified. Instead of working toward the big events that come with big twinkly lights, my life is happening in small steps, repeated over and over and over until I reach little mini events; a paycheck, a weekend trip to California, my birthday (when Taylor Swift’s 22 will officially not apply to me anymore). I was never good at the small “busy work” projects in school, and now it seems like my life is all busy work. I’m trying to learn to embrace the process.

 

It’s weird to be part of a stereotype (millennials), and have it both fit you and not fit you at the same time (i.e. I’m feeling a little lost, but I am “responsible” according to the “grown-up’s” definition of responsibility- living on my own, having a job, etc.). And honestly the fact that I’m “responsible” and have a job doesn’t necessarily have to do much with me being actually responsible; I’m so so so lucky that Teddy and I both have jobs. I know so many people who graduated recently who are still job hunting or are stuck at totally crappy jobs. Which is really sad, cause they’re all smart, hardworking people. I wish I could give them all jobs, but Teddy always tells me I can’t adopt all the cats, and I can’t give everyone all the jobs. And that sucks. I swear if I read one more judgmental article about millennials I might find the author and punch them; I fully understand the irony of saying that while I’m talking about being a millennial. I’m sorry, but this is my ramble. Go write your own if you don’t like it.

 

Luckily there have been bright spots to this week. I started watching Arrested Development (because I’m literally the worst at keeping up with shows while they’re airing). I talked to my Mom for 2 hours on Sunday. There were blackberry morning buns for my mornings (and maybe a couple afternoons and evenings). I have food to eat and a place to sleep and a husband and cat to cuddle. I have a library card to borrow new books. I watch Top Chef on Wednesdays, just like I did in high school while I washed the dishes– that sameness is oddly comforting. Christmas is coming and I think I actually get more excited every year. Today is Friday (Thank God).

 

And even though this week has been crummy on the writing front, I’ve learned some things. I loved those blackberry morning buns I mentioned earlier, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write the recipe out for a blog post (which is why this post is coming on Friday instead of Thursday). Recipe posts are by far the hardest for me to write. For a while I was wondering if maybe I wasn’t cut out for recipe writing, but then I thought that maybe my process just needs some tweaking. So I guess we’ll see!

 

I also  realized that the story idea I’m working about right now began in my creative writing class from last fall. Which means that I’ve been working on this idea (off and on) for a whole year, which is huge considering how many times I’ve given up on my ideas before. So that makes me think that this story has something going for it, even if I sometimes worry it’s stupid and dumb and no one will like it.

 

So to sum up, here’s what I’ve been thinking about as 2014 winds down:

  • Learn to embrace the process.
  • Don’t compare yourself to the 30 year-old bloggers or ladies working in your office who seem to be better at everything than you. They’ve had more time to get their house decorated/ cookbooks written/ life together. It isn’t a race. (The 30-year-old part applies to me specifically, but seriously, don’t beat yourself up because someone else seems more successful. It’s no fun, and it doesn’t help you get there any faster.)
  • Stop creating the worst scenarios in your head all the time. It’s good for novel-writing… not so much for normal life. this  is good to remember.
  • Find new ways to eat your veggies, but don’t forget ice cream and cookies sometimes (like I’d forget. Ha!).
  • I started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and I’m not really into it. I feel like I’m reading Moby Dick with Superman as the big white whale. I’m going to give it a few more chapters, but if I’m still apathetic about it, I’m putting it down. I always feel a little guilty about not finishing a book, but I’m going to chalk it up to not being what I need right now. And that’s ok. Have you read it? Does it get any better later on? Am I the only person who doesn’t like this book?
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Sketchy: Character Development

Meg Chittenden quote

Along with the writing I do for this blog, I’ve also been working on two story ideas that will (hopefully) turn into novels. I’m trying to move past the planning stages to the writing portion, which has always been the biggest struggle for me in the past. Even when I was little I would come up with elaborate backstories for my Barbies but then when it was time to actually play with them I got bored quickly. So I’m trying to break my old, bad habits. At the moment I’m getting to know my characters better, which is both more fun and more difficult than I expected. I have writer friends whose characters talk at them, forcing them to scramble to transcribe as much as possible so they don’t forget. Unfortunately, my characters aren’t so helpful. Usually they flit around the edges of my thoughts while I throw ideas at them and see what sticks, like an imaginary game of 20 questions. Or those magnetic dartboard games where the darts fall right off the board unless you throw perfectly (which I never do).

 

One thing that’s been helpful for me so far is secret Pinterest boards for characters, setting, mood, and plot ideas, but after a while they tend to get cluttered. I recently stumbled on Emily Henderson’s Material Girls series, where she makes design mood boards for imaginary clients. (This one is my favorite.) I loved that idea, and since I’m kind of obsessed with moodboards/ inspiration boards anyway I thought making a more permanent (but still digital — at least until I get a printer) inspiration board for some of my characters would be a great reference point. Here’s my moodboard for Elsbeth, the 12 year-old protagonist of my fantasy story:

Elsbeth Inspiration board

 {sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5}

 

Elsbeth lives with her grandfather in a small village (in either Germany or France — I’m having a hard time deciding), and she’s just old enough to start wondering if the fairy tales her grandfather tells her are true. She works for the local brewer 4 days a week, mostly helping brew the beer and mead and taking care of the bees and goats. Adanne promised to give one of the baby goats to her next spring, and Elsbeth is beyond excited. She’s resourceful and spunky (try to think of a better word… fiery?), and is familiar with the forest that borders the village thanks to frequent trips with her grandfather. (These visits will be really important later in the story.) She’s fiercely loyal, with a hot temper and a vindictive streak. She’s not one to be left out of anything.

 

Favorites: taking care of the goats, gingerbread cookies, her Grandfather’s clocks (and dollhouse? Other toys?), her Grandfather’s stories, her friends (need to think more about them)

Dislikes: Thunderstorms (is that when her parents died?), bullies, being kept out of things, people thinking she’s stupid

 

I wasn’t expecting it to be so tricky writing such a short summary! I’m so used to hearing “show, don’t tell” that it’s actually kind of hard to just describe my character briefly. And while this is obviously veeery rough, it’s actually showed me a lot of the areas I need to think about more. For instance, I need to find more dislikes and flaws for Elsbeth besides the stereotypical “I don’t like sewing, or washing my hair, or clothes or other girly things like that. I’m not like other girls.” This worked out really well, and I think I’ll do it for some of my other characters, since it helps me figure out where to go next.

 

 I also love Chuck Wendig’s list of 25 Things You Should Know About Character (word to the wise, Wendig doesn’t shy away from profanity or the ick-factor, so if profanity-laced writing advice isn’t your thing, I might skip it). I also really liked this article about 3 goals for every character, and Yeah Write! has a great archive of posts about characterization if you’re looking for more resources.

What’s your process for character/ idea development for writing? Do you think mood boards are helpful, or do you think they’re only for designers and visual artists?

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